BANK the fires, check your grain stores and tell the gates to refuse all raven-borne messages between 9pm and 10pm tonight; the final season of Game Of Thrones (GOT) is upon us.
Almost eight years to the day since this TV phenomenon burst onto our screens, audiences are finally going to find out who ends up ruling the Seven Kingdoms.
Over the years, GOT created a new standard when it came to mayhem in governance, with murder by boar as likely to redraw the lines of power as a wedding massacre.
The events in Westminster in recent months may have raised the bar in terms of sheer dysfunction (Varys would have brokered an alliance between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to defeat Jacob Rees Mogg and Boris Johnson months ago), but millions around the world cannot wait to turn our backs on the insanity of the real world for a few weeks and focus instead on the mayhem in Westeros.
Battles, there will be many. While Jon Snow has convinced most of the main players to unite for the fight against the The Night King and his forces as they breach the wall, Cersei Lannister’s priority remains keeping control of the Iron Throne.
And it is hard not to agree with her laser-focus on the end game. Even in a show known for its commitment to killing off beloved characters and not giving the audience the happy endings it craves, surely finishing with The Night King victorious is a horror too far.
Cersei is betting that the White Walkers and their wights will be defeated and I think most viewers believe the same. Establishing that wights appear to die when the white walker who turned them dies, as Jon and his band found out while beyond the wall in the last season, is surely the key to this conflict. Although the price of that knowledge was gifting The Night King a dragon of his own, which perfectly sets up the battle of ice and fire we have been waiting for since 2011.
Will the final season live up to the hype that surrounds it? Like the George RR Martin books on which the show is based, the pacing has lagged at times, with key events taking far longer than they should to happen.
Sometimes it felt like Cork’s Event Centre would be built before Daenerys made it to the kingdom she believes she was born to rule. But if the showrunners were determined to spread their most important characters as far from each other as possible, season seven gave us an embarrassment of riches when it came to gatherings and reunions. Fans’ opinions vary but for me the last season already began to pay off in spades the commitment viewers have shown, and I cannot wait for that to continue when season eight begins tonight.
From Jon Snow offering Jorah his father’s sword, to Brienne and The Hound’s casual discussion of her nearly-successful attempt to murder him, the labyrinthine plots that have sprawled since the Baratheon’s arrived at Winterfell have started to draw together.
For all the dragons, resurrections and wildfire, GOT has always been about characters and relationships, large and small.
Has there ever been a programme which showed a wider range of sibling rivalries and bonds? The Lannister trio, Arya and Sansa, the Cleganes, Yara and Theon. The drama between families has easily matched that between their great houses.
The show has always sought to highlight the effect the decisions of the great and powerful have on the masses. It has also worked to make sure the viewer is equally as invested in the commoners as those playing the great Game. I’m as keen to know Samwell’s fate as that of the Lannister twins.
As to who ends up on the Iron Throne, I honestly can’t guess with any certainty, which is itself a reflection on the skill of the writers. There is an argument to be made for a half dozen or more characters.
The only inkling I would be tempted to bet on is that it will be a woman. For all the show has made its female characters suffer, sometimes gratuitously, it has never denied their power.
Would any of the male contenders really make for as satisfying a conclusion as Queen Daenerys or Queen Arya? Possibly Tyrion, but he is surely destined to advise, perhaps as the Hand of his ex-wife?
There would also be a strong narrative structure in having a contender give birth before dying, leaving the child as the one destined to unite the Seven Kingdoms. We definitely have one expectant queen in Cersei, with a Daenerys pregnancy also heavily foreshadowed.
The attempted murder of a child set all the conflict in motion, the birth of another could play a major role in ending it.
Among the births and many, many deaths undoubtedly to come, I trust the showrunners to retain the vein of humour that has always leavened the tragedy of GOT. Never mind Dani and Jon, Tormund and Brienne is the romance we can all get behind.
To those who got up or stayed up to watch the screening at 2am this morning, I salute your commitment, but beg you — no spoilers.
In the world of Netflix and on-demand, this may be the last, best time viewers around the world are united in the wait to find out what happens. Let’s all enjoy it together.
The final series of Game Of Thrones begins on Sky Atlantic tonight at 9pm.