Enemies, Frenemies, Family, Lovers: A Game of Thrones Explainer
The 8th and final season of Game of Thrones is a mere few days away. Even if you’re knowledgeable about what’s at stake and who the players are, it’s still fairly easy to get confused. Euron Grejoy is doing what again for Cersei? Bran Stark and Jaime Lannister are connected how? Sansa and Tyrion were once married? These survivors have years of history between them, and it’s been—wait for it—590 days since the season 7 finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” aired. If you haven’t had time to binge watch the show all over again, or even get through GoT writer Bryan Cogman’s suggested 21-episode list, we’ve got you covered. Behold— our Game of Thrones cheat sheets.
Each of these cheat sheets is centered around one of our three main surviving houses—House Stark, House Lannister, and House Targaryen. The connections we’ve drawn here highlight the most important types of relationships between these characters. They are neither definitive or conclusive—there’s simply too much labyrinthine interconnectedness between all these people for a useful graphic. While everyone in a particular House has history together, some relationships are more pronounced than others and deserve special denoting. We’ve chosen to highlight only those more marked relationships for clarity purposes. Besides, when the Night King kills all of these folks and resurrects them, they’ll all finally be directly connected. (Ha?)
These cheat sheets can be useful to the well-traveled Westerosi and the amateur watchers alike. Print them out and use them as coasters. If you ever find yourself wondering what the connection between Jorah Mormont and Samwell Tarly is again, lift your glass of Dornish wine and check. If you want to know a bit more about their relationship, you can return to this article. We’ve embedded a ton of hyperlinks to previous Game of Thrones stories for those with Drogon-sized GoT appetites.
As an appetizer, here’s the official trailer for season 8.
Onto the connections!
The long-suffering Starks have managed to stay together despite years of catastrophe, betrayal, and murder. As the battle with the Night King approaches, they actually have quite a few friends left, and one really good leader (spoiler alert: it’s not Jon Snow).
Jon Snow is the nominal King of the North—although Sansa seems to have a better grasp of both tactics and politics (more on this later). Jon’s most important connection is obviously to Daenerys Targaryen. He bent the knee to Dany at the end of season 7 —after initially refusing to do so, claiming that his people wouldn’t accept a southern ruler. Of course, these two are not only allies, but they’re also now lovers, and, wait for it—family. Jon’s father is Rhaegar Targaryen—Dany’s brother. Jon’s mother is Lyanna Stark, Robert Baratheon’s former betrothed. The result of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s love affair—and secret marriage—not only gave Westeros Jon (Lyanna died during childbirth), but it helped lead to Robert’s Rebellion and the end of the Targaryen dynasty in Westeros. What’s even more interesting is that Rhaegar and Lyanna’s marriage would technically put Jon ahead of Dany in the line of succession for the throne. But Jon bent the knee to Dany and is now helping her resurrect the Targaryen dynasty. Confused yet? Imagine when Jon and Dany find all this out.
Sansa Stark has gone from pampered eldest daughter to one of Westeros’s most steely-eyed realists. Thanks to her, Jon Snow “won” the Battle of the Bastards. In reality, Sansa won that fight by getting the Knights of the Vale to ride to the rescue and save both Jon’s ass and the battle. As for her remaining connections, two to remember are with a pair of Lannisters. Sansa was briefly married to Tyrion Lannister in season 3 before she was forced to marry the sociopath and all-around monster Ramsay Bolton. Cersei Lannister is the mother of Sansa’s former fiance, the petulant and thankfully dead Joffrey. (Joffrey had Sansa’s father, Ned, executed in season one.) Sansa’s connection to Brienne of Tarth is also important. Brienne promised Sansa’s mother, Catelyn, she would protect her daughter at all costs. Catelyn was then murdered, along with Sansa’s brother Robb, during The Red Wedding. Brienne has gone on to do her level best to protect Sansa ever since.
Bran Stark has spent much of his time being dragged from place to place by his dearly departed manservant Hodor. Bran’s connection to Jaime Lannister began in the pilot when the curious and able-bodied young Stark spied Jaime and his sister Cersei making love. Jaime pushed Bran out of the window, paralyzing him. Yet Bran’s power would soon reveal itself. The warg’ing wanderer of Westeros has one of the most mysterious connections of all—to the leader of the Army of the Dead, the Night King. There have been insane theories about their relationship, but for the purposes of our cheat sheet, we’ll leave them connected without any real answers as to how—for now.
Arya Stark‘s connection to House Lannister, like all the Starks, is first and foremost based on the fact that the Lannisters killed her father. Her connection to The Hound is worth remembering. The two were travel buddies for a large portion of season 3. They parted ways when Brienne and the Hound fought—and Brienne won, decisively. The Hound, in agonizing pain and seemingly mortally wounded, begged Arya to kill him. She refused. Good thing she did; he’s now helping her brother Jon in his fight against the Night King. In Game of Thrones, as in life, sometimes it’s the things we don’t do that end up proving the most worthwhile.
We’ve called out the relationship between Davos and Melisandre because he really, really, really hates her—and for good reason. Why? Melisandre convinced his former boss, the exquisitely dour Stannis Baratheon, to burn his own daughter alive as a sacrifice to the Lord of the Light. The sickening gambit didn’t help Stannis any, and Melisandre’s rep as a seer took a hit. But most importantly, Davos adored Stannis’s daughter Shireen, hence his hatred for the Red Priestess ever since. Then Melisandre did something truly spectacular; she resurrected Jon Snow from the dead. So now, in classic GoT fashion, Melisandre and Davos find themselves on the same side. Fingers crossed they get their own Odd Couple-like spinoff, Melly and Davy!
The lovable Samwell Tarly is Jon’s former brother on the Night’s Watch and a budding Maester. His connection to Jorah Mormont is important; Samwell saved Jorah’s life by successfully operating on his greyscale at the Citadel, allowing Jorah to return to his rightful position as Daenerys advisor, protector, and long-suffering wannabe paramour.
Finally, Theon Greyjoy is proof incarnate of the Stark’s infamous, often self-defeating nobility. He took part (quite pathetically) in the sacking of Winterfell, and he initially did nothing to stop his own torturer—Ramsay Bolton—from torturing and raping Sansa. Yet eventually Theon did help Sansa escape, and now he’s once again fighting alongside the Starks against, among others, his brutally ambitious, cold-hearted uncle Euron.
A Lannister always pays his debts—but with Cersei in charge, House Lannister is about one thing and one thing only, ruling all of Westeros from the Iron Throne—even if everyone else in the Seven Kingdoms is dead.
Cersei Lannister‘s connections are myriad, mercurial and soaked in blood. She pledged allegiance to Jon Snow and Daenerys to help them fight the Night King, but it’s a damn lie. In reality, she’s got Euron Greyjoy marshaling the Golden Company so she can strengthen her hold on the Iron Throne while her enemies fight the ice zombies. Her ruthlessness sometimes leads to brilliance—like the time she wiped most of her enemies off the board with a single, devastating checkmate. At other times, however, Cersei’s fury and panting ambition blind her. This might end up being her undoing, and the person who turns on her might be the one she’s closest to…
Jaime Lannister should be the person Cersei trusts most in the world, but his long and interesting character arc has bent towards decency. Trailers for season 8 have suggested that, unlike his sister/lover, he will view the fight against the dead as his true mandate. Jaime’s connection to Brienne of Tarth is arguably the thing most responsible for his maturation. She was with him when he had his sword hand chopped off, humbling the formerly cocksure and lethal Kingslayer. She’s clearly someone who he respects, and it might be Brienne who convinces him that fighting alongside Jon and Dany is not only the right thing to do, it’s the only thing to do given the circumstances. Might there be something more between them? Tormund Giantsbane would be furious!
Qyburn is Cersei’s resident Dr. Frankenstein. He’s a sort of legendarily unethical former maester who was tossed from that noble order for conducting illegal human experimentation. Thus, he’s a perfect fit for Cersei, who is, ah, morally and ethically flexible. His most worthwhile act was resurrecting The Mountain, who was dying after he fought and killed Oberyn Martell. Qyburn is relentlessly creepy, yet thus far he’s been quite effective.
The Mountain—aka Ser Gregor Clegane—is a monster, but he’s not without family. His brother is The Hound (Sandor Clegane), and if there’s one thing everyone is dying to see, it’s Cleganebowl, a fight to the death between them. Their history is Cain and Abel-like awful, only in this scenario Abel doesn’t die, he just becomes a super grumpy killer with a little undying flame of nobility inside him. The Mountain pushed The Hound’s face into the flames when he was a child, maiming him and giving him his lifelong fear of fire. Like the North he now fights for, The Hound never forgets. Meanwhile, it’s unclear what, if anything, The Mountain remembers.
The once potent house was seemingly dead for years until a young woman and her trio of dragons burst on the scene…
Daenerys Targaryen‘s connections are relatively easy to remember. She’s aligned and possibly in love with Jon, who, again, is also her nephew. Dany’s taking her remaining two dragons and her loyal subjects to fight the Night King. She’s the one leader who truly inspires awe (thanks in no small part to her dragons). She’s the one leader who truly possesses god-like powers (she can’t be burned, apparently!) She has grown into her role and is the only other person aside from Sansa who seems like she might actually make a good ruler.
Tyrion Lannister could warrant his own cheat sheet, considering he’s the craftiest character in the show with a long history with just about everyone. He’s obviously connected to his fellow Lannisters family, but there is a lot of speculation that Tyrion’s got Targaryen blood coursing through his veins. The theory is that his nominal father, Tywin Lannister (whom he killed with a crossbow) hated Tyrion not only because he’s an Imp, but more importantly because he’s actually the son of the Mad King, Aerys II Targaryen, and Joanna Lannister. This would make him Dany’s half-brother and Jon Snow’s uncle. Setting that aside, Tyrion also has a rich history with Varys, Jorah, Jon Snow, Sansa Stark, and more. He’ll be a key player going forward, as he always is.
Varys has long been the best at going with the Westerosi flow. While Petyr Littlefinger liked to consider himself the master manipulator, he talked way, way too much. Also, his raspy voice was super annoying. Sansa and Arya played Littlefinger like a drum, and the latter slit his throat at the end of season 7. Varys, however, has served various dangerous masters and always with a whisper. Now he’s committed to Daenerys, in what he understandably guesses is his most important connection yet. Never count this eunuch out.
Missandei and Grey Worm are two of Dany’s most important and trusted allies. They’re also lovers. Missandei is a skilled and subtle ally. Grey Worm is the most courageous member of the already very courageous army, The Unsullied. They’ve been by Dany’s side for a long time, now, and their love affair has been like that hoary old quote; “‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.”
It seems fitting to end with Jorah Mormont, who seems to destined be a noble, courageous afterthought. Jorah is known to many as Ser Friend Zone. He’s loved Dany from the jump, but he’s never been more to her than a loyal servant, friend, and advisor. Then he was outed as a would-be traitor and banished, at which point the perpetually unlucky Jorah managed to get himself some greyscale (on a wild trip that included him taking Tyrion prisoner in a desperate effort to get back into Dany’s favor). When Dany eventually did take him back, she did so with a caveat; go cure your greyscale, old man! Honestly, she could have told him to resurrect the Drowned God and ride him like a bull and we’re pretty sure Jorah would have found a way to pull it off. It was thanks to Sam Tarly he was able to rejoin Dany, just in time to watch her and Jon snow fall in love.
Game of Thrones returns this Sunday, April 14.