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Game of Thrones season 8 premiere date finally announced

Chime the bells, send out the messenger ravens, and get your oven prepped for a batch of celebratory Direwolf bread — the great mystery of early 2019 has been solved. We finally know when Game of Thrones will air its eighth and final season

On Sunday, January 13, HBO announced that Game of Thrones is returning to the small screen on Sunday, April 14. 

In typical HBO style, never opting for a simple statement, the network unveiled a short teaser announcing the Thrones season 8 premiere date and offering viewers a glimpse at what's to come in the final six episodes of the series. 

The 90-second clip, displayed above, shows the Stark children — Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams), and the sort-of Stark who is actually a Targaryen and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) — walking through the crypts of Winterfell. There, the stone-faced trio confront literal stone faces: statues of their father Ned Stark (Sean Bean), mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), and aunt Lyanna (Aisling Franciosi), Jon's real mother who married Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (Wilf Scolding) in secret.

It's the kind of chills-inducing stuff you'd expect from a clip teasing the final chapter of the epic fantasy drama, but things take a harrowing turn when the footage shifts to show Sansa, Arya, and Jon coming across statues of themselves — a hint that the Stark family may face a grim end in the last season of Thrones. While Sansa's and Arya's appear exactly as they do in life, suggesting that the sisters might die before the season is up, Jon's statue looks a bit older than he does now. Will Jon outlive his siblings (read: cousins, but he doesn't know that yet) and perish later on? Or is this just some trick being played on the Starks?

There's hardly a moment for the three to make sense of what they just saw, as a feather — the same one Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) placed in the hand of Lyanna's statue in the pilot episode of Thrones – drops to the catacombs' floor and turns to ice. The Night King has arrived, and the fight is on. 

Noticeably missing from this new Game of Thrones season 8 teaser is one very important member of the Stark family: the youngest of the bunch, Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who grew up away from Winterfell and his family under the protection and guidance of the Three-Eyed Raven. The old Raven died during the battle at the Cave of the Three-Eyed Raven in season 7, opening the door for Bran to ascend and become the new Raven. With his newfound abilities, Bran is nearly completely omniscient, and has access to thousands of events that have happened throughout history — including Jon's birth. 

A popular fan theory claims that not only is Bran the new Three-Eyed Raven, but he's also — pause to gasp — the Night King, the leader of the White Walkers and the greatest threat to the people of Westeros. Some fans believe that Bran constantly jumping from the past to the present in efforts to prevent the White Walker invasion and the gruesome end of the Great War ultimately trapped him inside the Night King. As Reddit user turm0il26 (the purported creator of the Bran/Night King theory) explained, "Bran believes he is eventually (with more knowledge) going to be able to rewrite history and that's why he decides to go back and stop the Night King several times, but fails every time, ending up fulfilling the timeline-circle and taking the identity of the Night King himself."

The meat of the theory suggests that Bran uses his powers as a greenseer (an individual who possesses magical abilities and can experience prophetic dreams) nd a warg (someone who "with the ability to enter the mind of an animal," namely a dog or a wolf, and "control its actions") to travel back to the inception of the Night King, created by the Children of the Forest by stabbing one of their own through the heart with a piece of dragonglass. Since the "past is already written" and the "ink is dry," Bran gets stuck in the Night King's body, and then "waits for himself to be born thousands of years later, knowing when and where he has to be to mark the young Bran, personally kill Brynden Rivers for hiding the truth about what would happen with him, and eventually … destroy the Wall with a certain dragon."

Now, after getting a good look at the new season of Game of Thrones, fans are thinking that it's actually Bran as the Night King who rocked up to the crypt and made things frosty and frightful. 

"I have been slowly allowing the Bran = Night King theory seep into my brain as time passes," one fan wrote on Twitter. "There's one living Stark who's not apparently 'invited' into the Winterfell Crypt. But then, it seems that maybe he shows up, but he brings cold with him." They added, "I'm so scared of the Night King and I don't want to see him ever again. But we have to and I'm TERRIFIED."

Anything goes on Game of Thrones, so the human Stark kids fighting their brother who's trapped inside a horrifying humanoid shell very well might happen. And it would definitely fall in line with the mood of season 8, which co-executive producer Bryan Cogman previously described as "an incredibly emotional haunting bittersweet final season."

"It's about all of these disparate characters coming together to face a common enemy, dealing with their own past, and defining the person they want to be in the face of certain death," he told Entertainment Weekly. "I think it honors very much what [author George R.R. Martin] set out to do — which is flipping this kind of story on its head."

Bran Stark being the Night King would be the story-flip to end all story-flips. Whether Thrones takes that route or not will be revealed when the series airs the first episode of its final season on Sunday, April 14.