Who’s going to fighting? Who might die? The rumors are swirling.
While the seventh season of Game of Thrones is just starting production, there are plenty of rumors beginning to swirl about locations, potential plot points, and the one thing that’s been on everyone’s mind since the “Battle of the Bastards”: the next big battle. While we already know a bit about season 7 – including the fact that it will be shorter and start later than previous seasons – what we don’t yet know has me fascinated, as per usual. That means it’s time for a spoiler breakdown and some wreckless theorizing.
It’s worth noting before we get into my own wild theories that my good friend and Storm of Spoilers co-host Joanna Robinson has a great breakdown of the rumors so far over at Vanity Fair. For those that have a moment, go read that and come back. For the lazier among us, let me summarize: the production is scouting beautiful coastal locations, director Jeremy Podeswa is involved, they are casting large numbers of able-bodied men who don’t mind being either heavily bearded (ie. Dothraki) or cleanly shorn (ie. Unsullied), and they are looking to secure the use of a great number of horses. All of this sounds like the early machinations for a large battle set piece.
As Joanna rightly points out, Jeremy Podeswa is a potentially controversial choice to direct a big battle, but “Battle of the Bastards” director Miguel Sapochnik isn’t coming back for season 7 and Podeswa does have a lot of experience as a CGI dragon wrangler. And hey, anything that keeps him away from having to talk about the show’s sexual violence issues is a win for everyone involved.
With all of this new information in-hand, it’s time to make some predictions about when, where, why, and how this major set piece might take place. As always, remember that this is purely speculative work and even though I’ve been right many times before, I’m so often wrong. But I like puzzles, so here we go…
Who will be involved?
As the casting rumors suggest, the Daenerys Targaryen Coalition will be involved in a big way. Whether or not this will all take place before or after the rumored encounter at sea with Euron Greyjoy is anyone’s guess. For all we know, these things could all happen simultaneously (and chaotically). Either way, it will also likely involve the Lannister army led by Jaime Lannister at the behest of Queen Cersei.
It’s also worth noting that Daenerys’ new friends will likely be involved. At the tail end of season 6, Varys brought her allies of both Dorne and the Reach. The Dornish command would likely involve one or more Sand Snakes, while the armies of The Reach (loyal to Highgarden and House Tyrell) are led by Samwell Tarly’s staunchly anti-immigrant father Randyll.
Add this all up and we’ve got a laundry list of characters who could be on-site for this theoretical battle, including:
- Jaime Lannister and his man Bronn
- Daenerys, Tyrion, a host of eunuchs, Missandei, and a bunch of long-haired marauding rapists
- At least two expendable Sand Snakes
- Some indistinct Freys for the slaughter
- The Blackfish (just kidding, sadly)
- Sam’s dad (sans family sword)
It’s a murderer’s row of narrative collisions that could end in the deaths of numerous named characters.
Where will it take place?
Given the location scouting information, this battle isn’t likely to take place in The North. It’s also possible that it won’t take place at King’s Landing, either. Think about it from a strategic standpoint. Daenerys has four major elements to her army: the Unsullied who are great on land fighting in formation (not so great in alleyways); the Dothraki who don’t like being near water, let alone off their horses; the Dornish, Greyjoy, and Tyrell fleets on the water; and three dragons who are pretty much good on land, sea, or wherever.
If she’s going to conquer King’s Landing, she can’t just roll up to the battlements like Stannis did and hope everything works out. That’s how you get merced by Wildfire. You’d want to get your land squad on land, get those hairless Unsullied in formation, and use a sort of pincer attack via land and sea. Which means you must land your armies somewhere else. In the case of Daenerys, she has friends to the south in Dorne. It’s logical that she would offload her land-based armies in Dorne and try to move north toward King’s Landing. Trying to go anywhere north of King’s Landing puts her in the Riverlands (which, despite the demise of Walder Frey, is still controlled by Lannister forces) and even further puts her in Jon Snow territory. And we’re not really ready for The Great Targaryen Reunion just yet.
How can Thrones go one-up on Battle of the Bastards?
When you combine the Unsullied and all the phalanx movement we saw in “Battle of the Bastards,” you get a pretty good idea of what this battle’s ground game will look like. Pick an open field, put some Lannisters on one end and the Unsullied on the other and let them smash it out. But there has to be more to it than that – Dan Weiss and David Benioff are too into the art and strategy of medieval conflicts to keep it simple. Here are a few things to remember:
- If the two armies meet prior to any battle (as is customary), that puts Tyrion across from his brother Jaime. What fun!
- While the armies of Essos were completely flummoxed by dragons, the Maesters of Westeros do have plenty of history on the winged killing machines, including centuries of tomes about killing dragons. I’m not saying the dragons will be easy targets, but how interesting would it be for Daenerys to lose one of her children at the hands of say, an army led by Jaime Lannister.
- Three less episodes doesn’t mean three less episodes of budget. HBO is more than likely backing up dump trucks of money as I type this so that Weiss and Benioff can every one of their desired pixels. Which means that the scale and scope of said battle could be much larger than anything we’ve seen thus far.
Why not the White Walkers?
Let’s think about what makes narrative sense. Before Daenerys can deal with the biggest threat (the icy army of death from the North), she has to cure the lands of Lannister rule. This might not be as easy as one might assume, which makes it a storyline that feels right for an entire season. It’s even possible that this southern conflict preoccupies her in a way that prevents her from stopping the White Walkers from marching through Westeros. Remember her vision from season two? The shot of a snow-covered, dilapidated Red Keep?
This vision felt super important at the time. If it’s meant to be a literal manifestation of the future, we might see Daenerys bogged down in the South, forced to deal with Lannisters first then punished with the crushing weight of the oncoming cold. There’s part of me that wants this to be one of the last shots of the series. Daenerys, having fended off The Night’s King, has lost everything – her dragons, her friends, most of her kingdom – finding herself for the first time in the Throne room. She’s reached her ultimate goal, but at what cost?
I’m getting ahead of myself, of course.
We’ve got a long way to go until season 7 drops next summer and even longer to wait until we can start talking about the final moments of the series. For now, let’s be cautiously optimistic that season 7 is going to deliver a massive, dragon-filled battle (or two, who knows?!)