Asking a “Game of Thrones” fan what’s happened so far on the HBO fantasy epic is like asking a Christian what you missed in both the Old and New Testaments. Yes, the short and correct answer is just “fire, sex, murder, and the occasional resurrection,” but let them elaborate any further than that, and you’ll be there all day.
As “Thrones” enters its endgame Sunday, even die-hard fans could use a refresher on the past seven seasons, to remember who killed who, which alliances are going strong, and whose flings wouldn’t fly in all but three U.S. states (hint: most of them).
Some background: 17 years ago, Robert Baratheon rebelled against the Targaryen dynasty, seizing control of Westeros and leading Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen to flee across the Narrow Sea. When Robert’s adviser Jon Arryn dies suspiciously, he heads north to Winterfell, his queen Cersei and her twin brother Jaime in tow, to make old buddy Ned Stark step in… [cue theme song]
Making moves Ned is named Jon Arryn’s replacement and heads to King’s Landing (aka Westeros, D.C.), where the ruthless realpolitik catches him off-guard. Meanwhile, Ned’s “bastard son” Jon Snow joins the Night’s Watch, tasked with keeping savage wildlings north of the Wall so they don’t mess with ostensibly less savage Westerosians south of it. Someplace warmer, young Dany gets married off to Dothraki horse warrior Khal Drogo, eats a heart, gets pregnant, and starts enjoying herself.
'Game'-changer When Drogo dies and her baby’s stillborn, Dany walks into his funeral pyre with three dragon eggs she received at their wedding, emerging unharmed and the mother of three hatched dragons.
Worst person in Westeros Jaime Lannister. When Ned’s son Bran sees him getting it on with sister Cersei, Jaime responds by shoving him off a tower, hastening a war between Starks and Lannisters while leaving the kid crippled and comatose.
Surprise Twincest! Ned learns, as Jon Arryn had, that Cersei’s kids — including sadistic Prince Joffrey — were fathered by Jaime. But Robert’s killed during a boar hunt before this key intel can be relayed and, when Ned moves to instate Robert’s brother Stannis as king, he’s betrayed by palace schemer Littlefinger. Cersei sees him arrested for treason, and Joffrey’s placed on the throne.
R.I.P. Honorable Ned was a goner the moment he set foot in King’s Landing. After Ned falsely admits to treason and swears fealty to Joffrey in hopes of protecting daughters Sansa and Arya, in town with him, Joffrey — despite pleas for leniency from Cersei, who knows it’ll mean war, and Sansa, betrothed to marry him — has Ned beheaded.
Making moves Ned’s dead, baby. As the War of the Five Kings rages, his eldest son Robb takes the fight to the Lannisters, trouncing them repeatedly in battle while holding Jaime hostage. He’s less savvy romantically, marrying a field nurse instead of Walder Frey’s daughter, which sours their families’ alliance. Ned’s widow, Catelyn, asks warrior Brienne of Tarth to escort Jaime back to King’s Landing in exchange for Sansa, who’s still there, as well as Arya, who secretly departed to befriend a face-changing assassin.
'Game'-changer When Stannis sends his fleets to invade King’s Landing, Cersei’s cunning dwarf brother, Tyrion, uses supplies of explosive wildfire stocked beneath the city to decimate them in the Battle of the Blackwater. Reinforcements from father Tywin Lannister, plus new allies the Tyrells, send Stannis packing.
Worst person in Westeros Theon Greyjoy. Raised in Winterfell following his father’s failed uprising, Theon betrays the Starks — who’ve treated him like family — while Robb is off fighting. Claiming their home for the Greyjoys, he forces still-recovering Bran and brother Rickon to flee with simple-minded attendant Hodor, then killing two random kids and passing them off as the Stark boys. Theon’s rule is short-lived; he’s knocked out and ends up in a mystery sadist’s torture lair.
Surprise Look who’s White Walking! The Night’s Watch gets surprised by an army of the undead, led by one Walker on an zombified horse. Samwell Tarly, Jon’s friend on duty north of the Wall, is mysteriously spared, the enemy advancing past him toward a Night’s Watch encampment at the Fist of the First Men.
R.I.P. Renly Baratheon, locked in a power play with Stannis, underestimates his brother’s adviser/mistress, the red-haired priestess Melisandre. She gives birth to a Shadow Ghost Assassin, which murders Renly.
Making moves Tywin pulls rank on his kids, while the Tyrells’ arrival gives Cersei a nemesis: Margaery, married to Renly before the whole Shadow Ghost Assassin thing. She aims to wed Joffrey, much to Cersei’s dismay. Sansa, cast aside, is married to Tyrion, who decently opts against consummating their union. Jon, scouting north of the Wall, encounters wildling leader Mance Rayder, eventually fleeing back to the Night’s Watch. Across the Narrow Sea, Dany frees slaves and befriends Westerosi expats.
'Game'-changer Sam uses a dragonglass dagger recovered from the Fist of the First Men to kill a White Walker he encounters. No, it’s not a major battle. Yes, it still matters.
Worst person in Westeros Joffrey Baratheon/Ramsay Bolton (TIE). Joffrey threatens to rape Sansa and plots to make her eat her brother’s decapitated head, also murdering heart-of-gold prostitute Ros with a crossbow. But Ramsay Bolton keeps Theon – who we hate but not that much – chained in a dungeon, castrating him and mailing the severed organ to Theon’s dad (gross).
Surprise Brienne and Jaime get captured by Locke, a hunter sworn to House Bolton. After successfully talking the hunter’s men out of raping Brienne, Jaime gets cocky (sorry, Theon) and tries negotiating his own release. Locke chops off his sword hand to teach him about arrogance, or something.
R.I.P. After jilting Walder Frey’s daughter, Robb offers her an older, uglier olive branch in the form of his uncle. When Robb, his pregnant bride Talisa, Catelyn, and many Stark bannermen show up to those nuptials, Frey reveals he and the Boltons were offended enough to side with the Lannisters, slaughtering the entire Stark delegation at the now-notorious Red Wedding. Arya, traveling with Joffrey’s ex-bodyguard Sandor Clegane (aka the Hound), gets there just in time to watch, because God forbid a Stark should ever catch a break on this show.
Making moves Bran, who’s been on a magical vision quest, reaches the cave of the mystic Three-Eyed Raven, where he explores his prophetic “greensight” and ability to enter people’s minds. Oberyn Martell, prince of Dorne, sashays into King’s Landing for Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding. Littlefinger, up to no good, spirits Sansa away to the Eyrie, where he marries her crazed aunt Lysa, only to murder Lysa when he’s caught making a creepy advance on Sansa. Jon Snow’s return to the Wall gives the Night’s Watch an edge over Rayder’s wildling forces; a fierce battle at Castle Black ensues, with Stannis’s forces swinging in to save Jon and his men.
'Game'-changer Joffrey marries Margaery but is poisoned during his wedding feast. Littlefinger and Lady Olenna Tyrell — Margaery’s wily grandmother — did it, but Tyrion takes the fall. Demanding a trial by combat, Tyrion picks Oberyn as his champion, giving the “Red Viper” a chance to fight Gregor Clegane, Sandor’s cruel brother known as the Mountain, whom Oberyn believes murdered his sister Elia years prior.
Worst person in Westeros Tywin Lannister. Meanest dad ever Tywin tries Tyrion for Joffrey’s murder (despite knowing he didn’t do it), all the while bedding Shae, a prostitute with whom his son is infatuated. Once freed by Jaime, who does not want his brother executed, Tyrion heads to Tywin’s chambers. Heartbroken to find Shae there, he kills her and his old man before fleeing across the Narrow Sea, where he hopes to locate Dany and an industrial-strength therapist.
Surprise Oberyn appears to gain the upper hand but pauses to demand Gregor confess to killing Elia; he also hopes to prove Tywin, meanest dad ever, told him to do so. Instead, the Mountain knocks his teeth out, gouges out his eyes, then admits to the crime midway through crushing Oberyn’s skull, complete with all the squishing sounds you never asked for.
R.I.P. Ygritte, a wildling Jon caught feelings and broke his vow of celibacy for, is slain during Rayder’s assault on Castle Black. “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” she says, dying in his arms.
Making moves Arya leaves Westeros for assassin boot camp. Tyrion meets Dany and gives her bad advice. Admittedly, Dany’s doing plenty bad by herself in Meereen, the city she conquered; after an attempted coup, she’s carried off by one of her dragons. Tommen, Joffrey’s innocent brother who is now king, marries Margaery. Desperate, Cersei empowers a religious fanatic named the High Sparrow, which soon backfires on account of all that very sacrilegious incest she did. At the Wall, Stannis barbeques Rayder, then (at Melisandre’s suggestion) his daughter. Jon, meanwhile, is elected head of the Night’s Watch and brings Stannis’s fleet north to Hardhome, a wildling village.
'Game'-changer At Hardhome, Jon warns the wildlings about White Walkers and their undead armies; proving his point, they attack the outpost. During the battle, Jon realizes his Valyrian steel sword can kill Walkers; but when the walls surrounding Hardhome fall, he’s forced to retreat with any allies left alive. Jon locks eyes with the Night King in time to see him resurrect the dead into ice zombies.
Worst person in Westeros Ramsay Bolton. Littlefinger marries Sansa off to the noted sadist, still lording over Winterfell. While continuing to torture Theon — long-since broken and renamed “Reek” by his tormentor — Ramsay also brutalizes Sansa, raping her on their wedding night. When Stannis marches (unsuccessfully, as always) on Winterfell, Sansa and Theon leap from the castle walls to escape.
Surprise Cersei avoids confessing to sleeping with Jaime or killing Robert, but she’s charged with adultery and incest for sleeping with cousin Lancel. As punishment, she’s stripped and forced to walk naked through the city’s streets, a devastating turn for the power player.
R.I.P. Jon Snow, kind of. When senior members of the Night’s Watch object to Jon’s decision to ally with wildlings against the White Walkers, they stab him to death. Also, Stannis bites it, if anyone still cared.
Making moves Melisandre – in fact an old crone disguised by a magic amulet – brings Jon back to life. After executing those who betrayed him, Jon reunites with Sansa. They take back Winterfell from the Boltons, throwing Ramsay to his own dogs, who do us all proud by tearing his face off. Jon’s declared King in the North. After getting her Khaleesi groove back and saving Meereen from invaders, Dany sets sail for Westeros, flanked by a fearsome array of allies: Tyrion, Oberyn’s lover and daughters (who’ve taken power in Dorne), Olenna Tyrell, and Theon, whose uncle Euron has seized power back home.
'Game'-changer Training under the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran learns that Jon’s the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, making him Dany’s nephew. Nothing will stop this kid from spying on problematic couples.
Worst person in Westeros Cersei. Exacting revenge on the Tyrells, she blows up the High Sparrow, Margaery, and hundreds of others in a surprise strike on the holy Sept of Baelor, using the same wildfire Tyrion utilized at Blackwater to wipe out all her enemies. Tommen, in love with Margaery, kills himself out of grief, leaving Cersei as Queen of the Seven Realms (and also childless, since her boring daughter also got poisoned last season).
Surprise Arya, back from Braavos, uses newfound face-shifting abilities to avenge the Red Wedding. Baking Walder Frey’s sons into a pie, Arya makes him eat it before slitting his throat.
R.I.P. When the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave is besieged by White Walkers, Hodor valiantly fends them off, and we learn the truth of his simplistic nature. During the attack, Bran accidentally wreaks mind-possession havoc, creating a temporal link between Hodor’s younger and present-day selves that breaks the gentle giant’s mind, making him witness his death — and repeatedly hear one ally yelling “Hold the door!” — as a child.
Making moves Dany reaches Dragonstone, her ancestral stronghold, but loses two military skirmishes to Cersei and Euron. Some less important allies dead, Dany unleashes dragonfire on the Lannister army. Jon, knowing dragonglass kills White Walkers (thanks, Sam!), goes to mine it from Dany’s castle. They definitely don’t not flirt. A lot. For stupid reasons, Jon brings some merry men on a zombie safari.
'Game'-changer When Jon’s safari hits a snag, Dany flies to rescue him, somehow getting there before he goes down battling wights. The Night King uses a nasty-looking ice spear to skewer Viserion, sending Dany’s dragon to a watery grave. Reanimating him, the Night King then smashes through the Wall, descending on Westeros and preparing to pit Dany’s dragon babies against their undead sibling in a cheery reminder this show will always come back to children brutalized by their parents’ battles.
Worst person in Westeros Cersei, again. Everyone puts their ambitions aside for an emergency summit – except Cersei, who tricks Jon and Dany into thinking she’ll send her army north. Turns out, her real plan finds Euron carting mercenaries across the Narrow Sea to kill whoever survives her enemies’ stand against the White Walkers. Even Jaime thinks she’s the worst now.
Surprise Bran and Samwell accept their destiny in “Thrones” is to explain key plot details, revealing that Rhaegar and Lyanna secretly married before Jon’s birth, making him the rightful heir to the Iron Throne – even moreso than Dany, who’s now 1) Jon’s aunt, 2) his lover, and 3) totally unprepared to learn she’s been in a soap opera this whole time.
R.I.P. Seasons of scheming catch up to Littlefinger when he tries to manipulate the Stark kids, as he did their parents before. Bran exposes him for orchestrating Jon Arryn’s death, which set in motion the fall of House Stark. Sansa has Arya execute him with the same Valyrian steel dagger he maybe used in an assassination attempt on Bran and definitely used while betraying Ned in King’s Landing.