game of thrones

Our 8 Biggest Questions About Game of Thrones’ Battle of Winterfell

Did Ghost make it out of the Battle of Winterfell alive? Photo: HBO

**Major spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3, “The Long Night.”

We did it, gang! We survived “The Long Night.” And though we’re still a little emotionally shaky, we’re not all that worse for wear. The Battle of Winterfell came and went, and with it, Game of Thrones’ mightiest, scariest adversary. We knew to go into this episode expecting the unexpected, but still, killing the series’ Big Bad three episodes before the end? That’s a move.

But we’ve got three episodes left, and there’s still a whole lot left for Game of Thrones to cover before wrapping up. Having the series’ biggest threat no longer looming over the heads of the living will certainly make things a heck of a lot easier… or maybe that’s just what series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss want us to think. We’ve got plenty of questions to pave the Kingsroad towards the show’s finale, so let’s get right into them.

Okay, so who do we know is definitely still alive?
Way more people than we anticipated, really: Jon, Arya, Sansa, Tyrion, Bran, Dany, Brienne, Jaime, Podrick, Missandei, Varys, Gilly, Little Sam, The Hound, Ser Davos, and Gendry. Also Cersei and Euron Greyjoy and everyone south of Winterfell.

And even though we did not know their fate by the end of the episode, Rhaegal the dragon, Grey Worm, Tormund, and Ghost (!), are all spottable in the trailer for next week’s episode.

And who was it that died, again?
Besides The Night King and his Army of the Dead, a ton of Unsullied and Dothraki (in one of the most chilling moments in the series, ever), and a heck of a lot of civilians in the Crypts when the old Stark bones were reanimated? (We knew those Crypts were a deathwish.) Lord Commander “Dolorous” Edd Tollett, Beric Dondarrion, Theon Greyjoy, Lyanna and Ser Jorah Mormont, and Melisandre, who closed out the episode disintegrating into nothing after removing her magical choker, walking out into the morning as the dawn began to rise. Shout-out to Lyanna murdering-while-being-murdered-by a giant, and Theon Greyjoy for having the biggest balls of them all, in the end.

Er, is that it? Weren’t a ton of people expected to die in this episode?
Great question, and a valid one, too, given that last week’s episode felt like an extended goodbye to a bunch of our favorites. With the way the episode was hyped as a bloodbath to end all bloodbaths—coupled with the fact that Game of Thrones made its name killing major characters without a care—it feels a little like more folks survived the battle than seems necessary for the story at this point. Like, I love you Tormund and Podrick, but: why are you still here?

What was that weapon Arya used to kill the Night King?
That little blade of hers is the one that’s been around from the beginning: it was sent north to kill Bran after his fall, and is made of Valyrian steel: perfect for killing White Walkers and Night Kings aplenty.

Does Arya killing the Night King mean that she’s actually “the Prince That Was Promised”?
Quick refresher: there’s an old prophecy, written in High Valyrian, that proclaimed a figure “born amidst salt and smoke” would wield a sword named Lightbringer to deliver the world from a great darkness (embodied by the Night King), commonly known as the “prince that was promised.” Before Jon Snow was her chosen hero, Melisandre believed (erroneously) that Stannis Baratheon was that prince. But High Valyrian words are often gender-neutral, hence why many have believed Dany to be this supposed savior. So: if Arya killed the Night King, is she that very hero?

Not necessarily. As Melisandre frequently posited throughout the series—right up until the end when she noted Beric Dondarrion’s death—“we all have a part to play,” and maybe this part was Arya’s. It makes a lot of sense, given her arc, and really justifies all that training we saw her do in the House of Black and White. Still, just because she physically killed the Night King and all his followers, that does not necessarily mean she will be able to “deliver” the world from darkness. Which, if we’re being real here, could mean many different things at this point. With three more episodes and Cersei Lannister’s Golden Company (but no elephants) to contend with on the horizon, Dany and Jon are likely still our best bets to change the game in the end. We’re happy to have the series prove us wrong, though, and end it all with the two Targaryens inventing elections and Tyrion and Sansa co-ruling while Arya and Gendry live in Winterfell, and who cares about everyone else?

So, what happens next?
At this point, the series has diverged so much from the books, it’s easy to assume their endgames may be wildly different. But the same person will likely end up on the Iron Throne in both the books and the TV series—if such a happy ending could even exist in this world—because George R.R. Martin told the series’ creators, roughly, how it all ends.

So to deduce what may be coming to us next, we have to look to Martin’s own words. And back in 2014, he explained to Rolling Stone that his interest in fantasy storytelling wasn’t necessarily in the fantasy element itself, but what comes after: How does the winner rule? Though often compared to his hero J.R.R. Tolkien, the two writers diverge when it comes to their interest in this particular question. According to Martin, “In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. … I’ve tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don’t have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.”

With three episodes remaining, a fight about who deserves to rule may take up a lot of what comes next, but it’s safe to bet that the show won’t end with a hero atop the Iron Throne, happily ever after, the end.

Who will the Realm support?
Ahh yes, the biggest question of them all. There are plenty of potential rulers in our midst, from the seemingly valid claimants—Jon, Dany, Cersei, heck, even Gendry since he’s technically a Baratheon, bastard though he may be—as well as the lesser, but arguably more deserving, like Tyrion, Sansa, Arya, and even Jaime. It all depends on who’s the most cunning and strategic. (I smell a tragic double-cross in our future) Because if the series has taught us anything thus far, it’s that what happened at the time isn’t always the story that ends up being told.

So if the Night King is gone, who’s the real big bad of the series?
It can’t possibly be Cersei, can it? Maybe we’re underestimating her ability to be more scary and menacing and powerful an adversary than the Night King, but she’s absolutely not at all as powerful as the Night King, even with the Golden Company sellswords at her side. So who’s the real big bad here? Is it magic itself? The maesters hellbent on trying to destroy it? The Children of the Forest? Or is it the gods, continuing this hellcycle at the expense of human lives, forevermore, because they demand entertainment? Honestly: our money is on that last one.

Our 8 Biggest Questions About This Week’s Game of Thrones