Game of Thrones characters with more meaning than you realized

The Game of Thrones universe is a place populated with so many compelling characters that it's often hard for viewers to know exactly who the show's protagonists are. Even casual fans of the epic HBO fantasy will recognize Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister (who, according to research based on screentime, are actually the three most important Game of Thrones characters), but when it comes to keeping track of all the other players in the game, even the biggest superfans are left scratching their heads from time to time.

Game of Thrones has always been a show that revels in subtle hints and foreshadowing; if you overlook the little things, you won't see the bigger picture. With the long wait for the eighth and final season underway, what better time to take a look at those under-the-radar characters who'll have a bigger impact on the upcoming endgame than you probably realized?

Beric Dondarrion

Beric Dondarrion spent a long time on the periphery of Game of Thrones, briefly portrayed by David Michael Scott in season 1 (Ned Stark sent him to hunt down the Mountain for unspeakable crimes committed in the Riverlands) and then by Richard Dormer in season 3. Dormer returned as the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners in seasons 6 and 7, when we finally got more of an insight into the character and his possible importance in the final season.

In season 7 he took his band of Houseless vigilantes north where he joined Jon Snow's party and came face to face with the Night King before being rescued by Daenerys, who lost Viserion in the process. Dondarrion was on the Wall with Tormund Giantsbane when the reanimated dragon blasted a big old hole in it, and the season ended with their fates unknown, though Dormer doesn't believe that the showrunners would finish them off like that.

"I think it would be a pretty uncool death for both those characters if they did die in the Wall," he told iNews. "You would expect something a bit more dramatic or to at least see them die." Dormer has seemingly confirmed that he'll be around in season 8, and there's every indication that he'll play a part in the culmination of the Azor Ahai storyline, whether that's aiding the Prince that was Promised in the battle against the darkness or even being revealed as the Prince that was Promised himself.

Melisandre

Red Priestess Melisandre has been a constant influence in the north ever since joining the service of Stannis Baratheon back in season 2. When Stannis turned out not to be the Prince that was Promised, she resurrected Jon Snow hoping that he was the real Azor Ahai. Jon is certainly one of the most likely candidates, but the jury is still out on this one — Daenerys could even turn out to be the Prince that was Promised, as the original High Valyrian prophecy was actually gender neutral.

When we last saw Melisandre she was being politely banished from Westeros by Varys (news of her burning Shireen Baratheon alive didn't go down will with Jon), though before doing so she dropped a huge hint that she'd be back in season 8, telling the visibly shaken Spymaster that both of them were fated to die in Westeros. Her days of whispering in the ears of kings might be over, but expect Melisandre to return to the Seven Kingdoms and shake things up one last time before she meets her beloved Lord of Light.

Where in Westeros can we expect her to show up? To answer that, we need to look back a little further to a prophecy she made in season 3. After kidnapping Gendry for his king's blood, the Red Woman stared into Arya Stark's eyes and told her they'd meet again. As Arya is going to be primarily based at Winterfell in season 8, that looks like Melisandre's destination.

Varys

With Littlefinger out of the way, Varys is now Games of Thrones' most devious character. In season 6 we learned that "the Spider" had brought Dorne to Daenerys' cause, and in the final episode, he stood at Dany's side as her fleet set sail for Westeros. But looking back, it seems as though Varys has been team Dany since the very beginning.

After learning she'd survived Robert's rebellion, it was Varys and his old friend Illyrio who arranged her union with Khal Drogo, giving her part of the army she'd need to take back Westeros. Also, despite their clear mutual understanding, Varys testified against Tyrion Lannister when he was found guilty of Joffrey's murder, only to later smuggle him out of Westeros and send him to Daenerys.

In season 7, the eunuch clashed with his new queen on occasion, leading some to theorize that he'd betray her for Cersei in season 8, though the pair seemed to come to an understanding on backstabbing before the finale. He did tell Daenerys that his loyalty was to the realm, however, making it clear that he would always put the people above his ruler.

Varys has intimate knowledge of Dany's war council and could potentially turn the tide in the fight for the Iron Throne should he decide to switch sides again. Chances are Varys will keep his cards closer to his chest than ever in season 8, especially after being told by the departing Melisandre that he's going to die in Westeros.

The Night King

The origin of the White Walkers was a mystery up until Bran Stark saw the Night King turning a human baby into one in his first Greensight vision. We saw him up close again in season 5 during the Massacre at Hardhome, when he locked eyes with an escaping Jon Snow as he raised countless dead Wildlings to fight in his army. But it wasn't until season 6 that we got some real backstory on the Night King and were able to consider his motives for the first time.

In another of Bran's visions spanning back thousands of years, we saw the Night King as a mortal man being turned into the first White Walker by the Children of the Forest, who intended to use him as a weapon against the invading First Men. In the scene, a bird's eye view reveals the Children standing in a circular, seven-armed pattern, the same pattern that Jon found corpses arranged in at the Fist of the First Men in season 3.

One theory is that the Night King is leaving a message about his creation and wants to meet his makers. The Children of the Forest that Bran encountered north of the wall were destroyed, but others likely remain hidden at the site of their ancient stronghold on the Isle of Faces, which could well be the Night King's ultimate destination now that he's broken through the Wall. One thing's for sure — his true agenda will become clear in season 8.

Jaime Lannister

Jaime Lannister unwittingly kick-started a chain of bloody events in the very first episode of Game of Thrones when he pushed Bran Stark from a tower window at Winterfell, crippling him. Since then, Jaime's sweeping character arc has seen him lose a hand, form a shippable relationship with Brienne of Tarth, and slowly come to the realization that his sister is mad. At the end of season 7, he finally abandoned Cersei and started the long ride north, where he'll likely end up leading the ground forces in the looming Great War.

He's always been an important character, but there's a lot more meaning to Jaime's story than meets the eye, especially if one hugely popular fan theory is to be believed. In season 5, we saw young Cersei's fate being read to her by a witch, who correctly predicted the death of her three children. What they didn't include on the show was the final part of Maggy the Frog's prophecy: "When your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you."

Valonqar is High Valyrian for "little brother," and there have been some huge hints that Jaime (born minutes after his twin sister) will be her killer — the shot of the pair standing on a map of Westeros, Jaime on The Fingers and Cersei on The Neck, being the biggest hint of all. Will the Kingslayer become a Queenslayer in season 8?

Euron Greyjoy

The character is definitely watered down compared to his book counterpart, but Euron Greyjoy still became a major player in the game of thrones during season 7 of the show. He first appeared the previous season, returning to the Iron Islands and murdering his brother, King Balon Greyjoy. When his plan to marry Daenerys failed, he took his proposal to Cersei Lannister instead, and after destroying the Sand Snakes at her behest, she promised him her hand once the war is won.

The last we saw of Euron, he was leaving for the Iron Islands having witnessed Jon Snow's captured wight in action, but Cersei later revealed he was really going to enlist the Golden Company. At this point Cersei is reliant solely on Euron, who the books suggest will be pivotal in the final battle — the character possesses an artifact called Dragonbinder, a horn he picked up while pirating around the ruins of Old Valyria.

Actor Pilou Asbæk has teased it before, but this ancient weapon is unlikely to turn up on the show now. Still, it's an indication of just how involved in the final battle George R.R. Martin wants Euron to be. In a pre-release sample chapter of penultimate installment The Winds of Winter, Euron even sits on the Iron Throne (albeit as part of a vision) with a "shadow in woman's form beside him, long and tall and terrible, her hands alive with pale white fire." Sounds an awful lot like Cersei to us.

Gendry

When Robert Baratheon's last surviving bastard son Gendry escaped death with the help of Davos Seaworth in season 3, we expected he'd be back the following season — or at least the season after that. Three seasons passed before we discovered that he'd actually been hiding in plain sight in King's Landing. He joined with Jon Snow in season 7 and went north of the Wall with his party, ultimately saving them by getting a raven to Daenerys before the Night King's army could finish them off.

This act will no doubt have convinced both Jon and Daenerys of his loyalty, and in return one (or perhaps both) of them will legitimize him in season 8, revoking his bastard status and naming him Gendry Baratheon. With that comes Storm's End, the ancestral seat of House Baratheon, unoccupied due to the death of his father and uncles. From here, Gendry (a gifted blacksmith, as we know) will create the weapons that will help Jon and Dany's armies defeat the White Walkers. This is all according to a detailed play-by-play prediction from Redditor thetripleb (via WinterIsComing), whose theories on season 8 went viral after he posted them in February 2018.

Actor Joe Dempsie admitted that forging dragonglass weapons might be Gendry's true purpose during an interview with Esquire, giving at least part of these predictions some credence. "I think he's someone who just wants to do his bit," mused Dempsie. "If that means hitting the hammer again, then so be it."

Samwell Tarly

Gendry might be the one forging the weapons that will defeat the army of the dead, but he won't be able to do it alone. There's plenty of dragonglass for the bastard blacksmith to work with; however, to create that all important Valyrian Steel, he'll need the help of Samwell Tarly. After curing Jorah Mormont of his greyscale, Sam brought his stint at the Maesters Citadel to an end, declaring that he was "tired of reading about the achievements of better men" and heading north to aid Jon Snow in the war with the White Walkers.

Before leaving the Citadel, Sam (one of the few people to have actually killed a White Walker) stole some old books that will prove to contain some vital information, and we're not just talking about R+L=J. Yes, Sam has written proof that Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, which is obviously huge news. That being said, there's much more to Sam's arc this coming season than the incest bomb he's about to drop.

In the season 7 opener, a book that Sam was reading featured an illustration of a dagger identical to the Valyrian Steel one used in Bran's assassination attempt. "I was literally told make sure that you linger on this page," actor John Bradley told The Huffington Post, indicating just how important this drawing was. The theory is that Sam carries with him the secret to forging Valyrian Steel, which he'll pass on to Gendry.

Sandor 'The Hound' Clegane

For years now, Game of Thrones fans have been dying for that big showdown between Sandor "The Hound" Clegane and his big brother Gregor, better known as "The Mountain." We saw the elder Clegane's power in season 4 when he crushed Oberyn Martell's skull like a melon, and the prospect of him facing the sibling he personally disfigured got even more mouthwatering after the Mountain was zombified by Cersei's experimental maester Qyburn.

The Clegane boys came face to face in season 7 during the parlay at King's Landing, but (despite the Hound ignoring all protocol and heading straight for his brother) the big blowout never happened. With only one season remaining, the countdown is now on for Cleganebowl, though there may be more to this oft-discussed fan theory than a simple sibling rivalry. In the show, Sandor looks the way he does because Gregor burned his face in a fire when they were kids. A fan theory on the brothers suggests that there was a reason Gregor burned his brother — because Sandor looked into the fire and saw his death.

The Hound is one of the few characters to have clear visions in the flames (he saw the mountain that Jon's party would pass beyond the wall), and the words he had for Gregor when they met do seem to support this. "You know who's coming for you," he told the Mountain. "You've always known." His connection with the flames also makes him another credible candidate for the mythical Prince that was Promised.