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Game of Thrones' most confusing moments explained

HBO's epic fantasy series Game of Thrones is on the verge of finally wrapping up its narrative with its eighth season. Arguably the biggest show on television in just about every respect, not only is it a huge ratings hit for the network, but it's also just plain huge, spanning dozens of locations, hundreds of characters, and sequences big enough that they look they belong on a movie screen week after week. That means the show is packed with details, and that means some of those details are bound to leave viewers puzzled now and then. 

With its seventh season, Thrones thankfully wrapped up quite a few loose ends — and clarified some others — as it heads into its endgame, but fans still have plenty of questions. Some of those questions won't be answered until the credits roll on the series finale, but a few can be explained by context, logic, and the cast and crew themselves. Here's a look at some things about Game of Thrones that may have confused you — and the explanations you've been waiting for.

SPOILERS for Game of Thrones ahead!

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The uneven passage of time

When Game of Thrones began, events unfolded on a somewhat smaller scale, and characters tended to cluster together. Sure, Daenerys was across the Narrow Sea and Jon was at the Wall, but much of the action in the first season revolved around the politics of King's Landing. As the story developed, various subplots splintered and characters scattered, and even though things are condensing as the show heads into its final year, the epic scope of the story has meant the series only has time for the big stuff. That's created some confusing moments for fans, as it often seems like events that would normally take days or even weeks (there are no jets in Westeros) unfold in a matter of minutes. You can go through and try to construct an elaborate timeline if you like, but the reality of watching Game of Thrones now means you just have to understand that a lot of boring stuff like travel is happening in between the dragon attacks and tense meetings, and that the various subplots aren't always unfolding at the same time. Here's how director Alan Taylor explained one such discrepancy in Season 7:

"[Fans] seemed to be very concerned about how fast a raven can fly but there's a thing called plausible impossibilities, which is what you try to achieve, rather than impossible plausibilities. So, I think we're straining plausibility a little, but I hope the story's momentum carries over some of that stuff."

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White Walkers vs. Dragons

The White Walkers are ice monsters from north of the Wall. Daenerys Targaryen's dragons are creatures that breathe powerful blasts of fire. So why is it that the White Walkers are able to walk through a wall of dragon fire during a battle in season 7? And how are the dragons able to so easily destroy vast swaths of the Night King's army while not destroying the King himself?

Well, the short answer is that White Walkers are a race of creatures separate from and superior to the army of the dead. The White Walkers were created from the First Men as a weapon, through magic ceremonies conducted by the Children of the Forest. The armies they command are made up of wights, which are reanimated corpses that can follow the White Walkers' commands but do not possess the same magical qualities (other than, you know, being the walking dead). A wight is just an animated corpse, and is quite vulnerable to fire. A White Walker is something altogether different, and the race's powerful relationship to cold seems to be strong enough that it can repel at least some dragon fire. At present, the only weapons known to definitely kill White Walkers are Valyrian steel blades and Dragonglass.

As for how the Night King is able to kill, convert and then ride a blue fire-spewing zombie dragon…well, even after seven seasons, we still don't know the full extent of his powers, and it's possible we never will.

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The many mysteries of Melisandre

Over the course of the series, the Red Woman known as Melisandre has exhibited a number of magical powers that have undefined scope.

The first example of this came in season 2, when she had sex with Stannis Baratheon and then gave birth to a hideous shadow creature which killed Stannis' brother and fellow claimant to the Iron Throne, Renly. It's a memorable scene, and it prompted many fans to ask why Melisandre wasn't just making shadow babies to take out her enemies any time she pleased, as it was clearly not a very time-consuming process.

Then in season 6, Melisandre removed her ever-present necklace to reveal her usual outward looks to be an elaborate glamour. In reality, she's an ancient crone and not a young woman. However, as many fans have pointed out, she's had the necklace off at least once before and still looked young. So was that a goof by the show's writers?

The short answer is we simply don't know. Melisandre still holds many mysteries, including how far her powers go and how often they can be used. Birthing a shadow might be a very draining process that she can't repeat, and the same bathing scene in which she removed her necklace revealed that she also keeps various potions for personal use, so her de-aging glamour might not just be tied to the jewelry. The point is, if you haven't figured Melisandre out yet, you're far from alone.

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Arya and Sansa's sudden team-up

The reunion of Sansa and Arya Stark at Winterfell was one of the most emotional moments of season 7, but it was quickly replaced by tension between the sisters. Arya's assassin training made her cold, distant and even sociopathic in Sansa's eyes, while Sansa's position as "Lady of Winterfell" reinforced in Arya the belief that her sister always felt superior to other people. That, plus Littlefinger's manipulation of them both, created a sense that the two were on a collision course, and for a while it seemed Sansa was about to order Arya's execution…until she ordered Littlefinger's instead.

The sudden turn that led to the Stark siblings teaming up to take down the great manipulator was one of the season's best moments, but for some viewers it crept up a little suddenly. Was all that arguing really just an elaborate ploy to make Littlefinger think he was winning, or did we just miss something? Well, obviously Sansa and Arya did some kind of planning before the execution, but according to Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran, it was originally going to be presented as something more concrete. A scene was shot that showed Sansa asking Bran to use his Three-Eyed Raven knowledge to verify Littlefinger's guilt and Arya's innocence, but it didn't make it into the show. Viewers were left to make assumptions instead of having it all spelled out.

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What happened to Tormund and Beric?

The seventh season of Game of Thrones ended on a true game-changer, as the Night King rode the re-animated dragon Viserion to the Wall and let loose a torrent of blue fire, melting the massive ice structure and destroying the Night's Watch fortress of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. This raises the stakes for everyone, as the army of the dead is now able to march beyond the Wall and into Westeros, but it was particularly perilous in the moment for two of Jon Snow's allies: Tormund Giantsbane and Beric Dondarrion. Tormund and Beric were left in charge of Eastwatch while Jon Snow traveled with Daenerys Targaryen to King's Landing, and were on the Wall when the NIght King attacked. When last we saw them, they were fleeing for their lives, running across the top of the Wall as it began to crumble. Season 7's ending leaves their fates unresolved.

So are Tormund and Beric dead? While it seems quite possible that Viserion's blue fire blasts were powerful enough to bury them under the Wall and kill them, in all likelihood the pair survived in some form. Throughout the latter seasons of the show, but particularly in season 7, they were established as vital characters in the war against the dead, and it's hard to believe they would be killed off-camera. There is one other possibility, though: That they did die, and we'll next see them as wights, reanimated to fight Jon Snow in the Night King's army.

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The army of the dead vs. The Wall

Speaking of the fall of the Wall, it resolved one of the most enduring questions on Game of Thrones, which has been lingering ever since the army of the dead was revealed: How exactly were all those wights going to make it South of the Wall? Jon Snow kept trying to warn everyone that the threat was real, but even if it was, the wall is massive — enough that perhaps a whole bunch of rotting corpses would have trouble climbing it. Fans theorized that perhaps the White Walkers would use the oncoming winter to walk across frozen pieces of ocean and go around the Wall, but in the end they didn't have to, because they got a dragon.

While it was certainly an efficient way to bring the Wall down, using the reanimated Viserion to do it also raised some questions — like why the White Walkers couldn't have used some other destructive means to simply bring the structure down, like catapults or other siege machines. Well, in addition to being labor intensive, it didn't address yet another problem: The Wall is more than just ice. It's protected by centuries-old magic, magic that the White Walkers couldn't get past. The dragon (an innately supernatural creature itself), coupled with the Night King's growing power in winter (and possibly his connection to Bran Stark), was enough to apparently overwhelm that magic. As for why its fire is blue…well, that's another mystery of the Night King's magic.

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Why doesn't Bran know everything?

By season 7, Bran Stark has taken his place in the world as the new Three-Eyed Raven. Through his lessons from the old Raven, Bran learned how to use his powers to witness events from the past (even selectively influencing them) and predict the future, gaining a sense of enlightenment and detachment that's left him somewhat cold to his siblings at Winterfell. It's through Bran's gifts that Sansa and Arya Stark are able to gather enough evidence to execute Littlefinger, and together with Samwell Tarly's research he's able to learn Jon Snow's true parentage. He's clearly one of the most powerful beings in Westeros now, so…why doesn't Bran just tell all his friends everything they need to know?

For one thing, Bran is still very new to his full powers as the Three-Eyed Raven, so even though he knows and has seen much more than normal humans, he isn't fully omniscient. His predecessor had many, many years to study and perfect his powers and knowledge, while Bran only has his training and what little time he's spent navigating his powers on his own. Plus, according to Isaac Hempstead-Wright, the Three-Eyed Raven's powers don't necessarily grant him access to all knowledge all at once. He has to know where to look and what to look for to truly understand something. As Hempstead-Wright put it, it's like Bran has a "Kindle library" in his head, but he hasn't read every book yet.

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The Prince or Princess That Was Promised

"Prophecies are dangerous things," Melisandre said when she met Daenerys Targaryen for the first time, and she should know. One of the prophecies that drives her arc in Game of Thrones has been puzzling fans ever since it was introduced back in season 2, and it still hasn't been fully resolved. According to worshippers of the Lord of Light, a savior is destined to arrive to rescue the world from "The Long Night" (which is what happens if the Night King gets what he wants). It's complicated, but this savior — known as "The Prince That Was Promised" — is supposed to wield a fiery sword and possibly be the reincarnation of a great warrior known as Azor Ahai.

Initially, Melisandre believed this savior to be Stannis Baratheon, but that didn't work out. With Stannis dead, Melisandre still believed in the prophecy, but realized she needed to find a new candidate. For a while there, she thought she'd found it in Jon Snow, but then realized it might be Daenerys Targaryen, because the original High Valyrian version of the phrase "Prince That Was Promised" doesn't actually assign a gender; it could also be "Princess That Was Promised." After meeting Daenerys, Melisandre believes that both she and Jon have a role to play in saving the world, suggesting that it could perhaps even be "Prince and Princess That Was Promised." We'll have to wait and see, but the prophecy is clearly set to play a role in season 8.

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The Last Direwolf

When Game of Thrones began, Eddard Stark found a rare litter of six direwolf pups, and his children convinced him to keep them. One went to each of his legitimate children, and the runt of the litter went to his bastard (that was the story then, anyway), Jon Snow. Now, as season 8 looms, only two remain alive: Nymeria, Arya Stark's direwolf, and Ghost, Jon Snow's striking white direwolf.

Nymeria's whereabouts were a mystery since early in Season 1, when Arya sent her away to avoid Cersei Lannister's demand that she be killed for biting Joffrey Baratheon (Sansa's direwolf Lady was killed instead). Nymeria finally re-appeared, now firmly established as the head of her own pack, in season 7, when it became clear that she was wild now and unwilling to return to Arya's side. That leaves Ghost as the only direwolf still loyal to the Stark family, but what's he been up to? Is he even useful anymore?

Yes, Ghost is still around, but he's mostly been cooped up in Winterfell lately, which has led some viewers to wonder if Jon has forgotten about his faithful companion. Don't worry. It's doubtful that Ghost will set out the final season, but for the moment Jon is choosing to keep his pet safe rather than risk him in battles North of the Wall. After all, he's the living embodiment of the sigil of House Stark, so he could be as useful for morale as he is in a fight.

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One living witness

At the end of season 7, Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly put their heads together and finally resolved the enduring mystery of Jon Snow's parents. Jon is not a bastard born of Ned Stark and an unnamed woman, but rather Aegon Targaryen, the legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen (Daenerys' older brother) and Lyanna Stark (Ned Stark's sister), who were secretly married. That makes Jon the last male Targaryen, and a legitimate heir to the throne of Westeros, as well as Daenerys' nephew. Now, the pair agree that they must tell Jon the truth of his heritage, which will change the game forever.

Or will it? After all, this is based on a young man who claims he has visions and another man who claims he read it in a book. The Lannisters already put Ned Stark to death over his claim that Joffrey's rule was illegitimate, and simply shrugged it off as some kind of conspiracy. Why couldn't they do the same now? Because there is one living witness to corroborate the truth.

Howland Reed, father of Jojen and Meera Reed, was with Ned Stark the day he fought back Arthur Dayne at the Tower of Joy, witnessed his sister's death and took Jon into his care. Ned and Howland were the only two men to leave that fight alive, and that makes him the only living witness with knowledge of Jon's true birth. Whether he'll come forward to present his account, though, remains to be seen.