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Game of Thrones details you need before watching season 8

The season 7 finale of Game of Thrones, "The Dragon and the Wolf," was the show's most-watched episode ever, drawing 16.5 million viewers on the night it aired in August 2017. Like the army of wights relentlessly advancing on the Wall, GoT's 7th season only seemed to get more powerful as it marched on, setting viewership records with nearly every episode. Taking into account multiple platforms and delayed viewing, season 7 averaged more than 30 million viewers per episode — a 34 percent increase over season 6. In television's Golden Age, with more viewing options than ever, Game of Thrones is a true marvel, and perhaps last bastion, of monoculture appeal. Its viewership has increased as the series has gone on, quadrupling its ratings since season 1.

Now we're upon the only season that matters in Westeros — winter. Yes, season 8 brings with it the winds of winter — even before George R.R. Martin — and the end of the series. HBO has announced a final season premiere date of April 14, 2019, marking the first of the show's last six episodes. Reportedly, the first two episodes of the season will be 60 minutes in length, with the remaining four each slated to be Wun Wun-sized extravaganzas at 80 minutes apiece. We've been away from the Seven Kingdoms for a long time — so with that in mind, here's a quick rundown of everything you need to know before you watch Game of Thrones season 8.

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Season 7's big reveal

Season 7's most shattering reveal came in the finale, confirming one of the longest-held theories in in all of GoT fandom: R + L = J. Jon Snow is not, it turns out, the bastard son of Ned Stark. He's actually the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark — and rightful(ish) heir to the Iron Throne. Ned Stark had lied about Jon's true parentage in order to protect him. As his sister Lyanna was close to death due to childbirth complications, Ned promised to keep her secret at all costs. Not even Jon knows he's a Targaryen, which is why — in true GoT fashion — this reveal was intercut with shots of Jon mid-coitus with Daenerys Targaryen, his secret aunt.

The incest isn't the most shocking thing here, but the ramifications of Jon having both Targaryen and Stark blood coursing through his veins. He's a walking, talking one-man song of ice and fire. This bomb was dropped by Bran, as the Three-Eyed Raven, warging back to a time during Robert's Rebellion — the big Westerosi blow out that predates the events of the series. Robert Baratheon cut down Rhaegar on the battlefield and seized the Iron Throne, setting into motion the narrative we've been following for seven seasons, but it was all based on a lie. When Lyanna left Robert to run off with Rhaegar, the story throughout the Seven Kingdoms was that she was kidnapped and raped by the son of Mad King Aerys. However, "The Dragon and the Wolf" depicts Rhaegar and Lyanna as deeply in love, marrying in secret just before they met their ultimate fates.

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Winter is here

Brace yourself. Season 7 closes with the imagery we've imagined since television audiences were first warned of winter's devastating inevitability in 2011. As Beric Dondarrion and Tormund Giantsbane look into the distance from atop the Wall, we see the undead army of wights led by White Walkers on horseback advancing on the Seven Kingdoms. The woefully outmatched remnants of the freefolk and the Night's Watch helplessly watch as the Night King flexes on the realms of men by having his new ice dragon huff, puff, and blow the Wall down. That's right: Queen Dany is down a dragon after Viserion gets taken out by the Night King himself during a wight hunt beyond the Wall. The undead dragon was is now the deadliest weapon in the Night King's arsenal.

So what's the deal with all the ice zombies? In short, wights are the undead hordes of soldiers who serve the White Walkers, former humans turned ice monsters that serve under the Night King. The Night King's true motives and identity aren't yet known, but we know that he's extremely powerful and can control the entire army with a sort of telepathy. Fire can destroy the wights, but only dragon fire, dragonglass, and Valyrian steel can kill White Walkers. Samwell Tarly has discovered that Dragonstone, the historical seat of House Targaryen, is sitting on a mountain of dragonglass. Jon Snow and his men have been mining it and turning it into weapons in preparation ever since. As for the Night King, it's unclear if anything can stop him. Valyrian steel has proven useless against him, disintegrating to dust when touching him.

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The Three-Eyed Raven

In the third episode of season 7, "The Queen's Justice," Bran tells Sansa, "I can see everything, everything that's ever happened, to everyone. Everything that's happening right now." He's describing the greensight, which he first experienced through cryptic dreams after losing his ability to walk in season 1. Bran is psychically summoned to meet the Three-Eyed Raven north of the Wall.

Psychically summoned to meet the Three-Eyed Raven north of the Wall, he's told he'll never walk again, but that he will fly. While it's never been officially confirmed on the show, it's implied that the Three-Eyed Raven Bran meets is Brynden Rivers, the former commander of the Night's Watch, who disappeared to live among the Children of the Forest — a mysterious non-human race that inadvertently created the first White Walker and likely anointed Rivers as the Raven. Brynden is killed by the Night King in season 6, leaving Bran as the last greenseer and the new Three-Eyed Raven. The scope and purpose of Bran's new powers are yet to be revealed, but will undoubtedly play a big part in season 8's storyline.  

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Winterfell

In season 7, the Stark kids have reunited in Winterfell. Bran's been ranging beyond the Wall in search of the Three-Eyed Raven. Arya has been training to become the perfect assassin with the Faceless Men in the Free City of Braavos, before being forced to escape their clutches. Sansa, however, hasn't been up to anything nearly as cool. She's been manipulated and used as a pawn in Littlefinger's ongoing chaos ladder machinations. By the time she finally becomes the Lady of Winterfell, all three remaining Stark children have been forever transformed. Much of their reunion in season 7 seemed to be fraught with tension.

Bran, dealing with the burden of near omnipotence, has difficulty relating to his sisters on a human level. Arya and Sansa are suspicious of each other's motivations. Who can blame them for having trust issues? Just when it seemed the Stark sisters would succumb to paranoia and suspicion, they got their act together and teamed up against their true foe, Lord Petyr Baelish. Littlefinger seemed to have successfully sown doubt about Arya's ambitions with Sansa, and when Sansa called Arya to the Great Hall for all the Northmen to see, it seemed as though she was prepared to use her political power to snuff out her blood rival. Indeed, the audience believed she was speaking about Arya when she said, "You stand accused of murder. You stand accused of treason." And then the switcheroo: "How do you answer these charges… Lord Baelish?"

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Littlefinger

Lord Baelish believed he'd driven a wedge between the Stark sisters when he led Arya to a damning letter Sansa had written while under duress in King's Landing years earlier. His luck had run out, however. He wasn't counting on Bran's greensight filling in the blank parts of the story that caused the division between Arya and Sansa. When Sansa accused Lord Baelish of capital crimes, he tried to persuade her that she was mistaken, only to be interrupted by the voice of the all-seeing Three-Eyed Raven. "You held a knife to his throat," Bran revealed, referring to Littlefinger's betrayal of Ned Stark in season 1. Arya stepped up and slit the throat of arguably the most important character in the narrative of the series thus far.

It was Littlefinger who told Catelyn Stark that the catspaw Valyrian steel dagger used in the assassination attempt on Bran belonged to Tyrion Lannister. In fact, it was Littlefinger who sent the assassin armed with the high-profile weapon. He betrayed Ned Stark, leading to his demise. He conspired with Lysa Arryn to kill her husband Jon and blamed it on the Lannisters. He killed Lysa by pushing her through the Moon Door and assumed control of the Vale. Then he married Sansa off to psychopath Roose Bolton, all in an effort to bend Lady Sansa to his will and control. These are just the highlights from an undeniable first-ballot Hall of Faces career.

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King's Landing parley

Set in the dramatically sparse ruins of the Dragonpit at King's Landing, the meeting of the heaviest hitters in the Seven Kingdoms in the season 7 finale gave the audience a taste of where everyone stands in the final stretch of the great game. Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion Lannister, Euron Greyjoy, Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, a dragon, a wight — all the major players and key elements in the struggle for the future of Westeros are front and center in one of the most epic non-battle sequences in the series.

Jon and Dany hope to persuade the Lannisters to at least temporarily call a truce and focus on the true enemy — the coming of the White Walker Army and the Night King. In order to convince Queen Cersei of the reality of the threat, they've brought along a wight. Loosing the zombie's shackles, the Hound proceeds to quickly cut it in half with a swing of his sword. As the wight survives the deadly blow, Jon demonstrates that fire is the most effective way to kill one. Cersei, shaken by the exhibition, agrees to the proposed truce on the condition that Jon won't take up arms against the Lannisters. Alas, Jon Snow cannot tell a lie — he rejects Cersei's offer, saying that he can't serve two queens, spoiling the truce and ending the parley.

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The Lannisters

In Tyrion's last interaction with Queen Cersei, in which he hopes to convince her to take up arms against the undead army bearing down from the North, he gets sidetracked by daring Cersei to kill him. "You love your family, and I have destroyed it… so put an end to me!" This is a common outcome of Lannister siblings' conversations. She debates ordering the Mountain to snuff out baby bro, but doesn't. Tyrion breaks the tense moment by downing several glasses of wine (another common outcome). 

As he attempts to find common ground with his sister as Queen Dany's Hand, Cersei reveals that her only concern is her family. It dawns on Tyrion that Cersei is pregnant. Following this conversation, Cersei abruptly declares that she'll send her armies north to meet the White Walker threat, and admonishes Tyrion to "remember my kindness." Of course, Cersei is on the verge of implementing her nefarious plan. 

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Cersei's plan

Cersei reveals to Jamie, her brother and father to her unborn child, that she has conspired with Euron Greyjoy: He isn't retreating to the Iron Islands as he's led everyone to believe. He's actually sailing to Essos to retrieve the Golden Company — 20,000 mercenary soldiers to seize and control Westeros while the armies of the Seven Kingdoms kill themselves in the North. Jamie wants nothing to do with Cersei's double-cross. He sees the reality of the White Walker threat, and desperately wants his beloved sister-mistress to understand as he does. Again, Cersei appears to be very close to giving the Mountain the go-ahead to kill her brother, but Jaime storms out before that can happen.

Jaime leaves Cersei's side, knowing the truth of her plan. It will be interesting to see what he does with this information in season 8. He's driven, more than anything, by loyalty and love for Cersei. He's motivated to keep the Seven Kingdoms safe for Cersei and his unborn child. In order to do this, he's got to take up arms against her cause. The audience last sees Jaime in season 7 riding into the unknown as the winter's first snowfall begins in King's Landing. 

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Heir to the Iron Throne

Who is the true heir to the Iron Throne? When King Robert was mortally wounded by a wild boar, he left no trueborn heirs, and his two brothers were killed in the War of the Five Kings. It follows that the King's Landing's previous tenants, the Targaryens, would have the strongest claim to the seat. Jon Snow, son of Prince Rhaegar, could be considered the true heir to the crown. However, Jon is still technically a bastard. This delegitimizes his claim to the Iron Throne considerably, and possibly opens it up for Daenerys as the last trueborn Targaryen on the planet.

Trueborn or not, the blood of the Dragon comes from the blood of Targaryens. Jon has Targaryen blood coursing through his veins. Daenerys has exhibited magical dragon blood properties — immunity to fire, and her ability to control dragons. Will Jon demonstrate similar abilities? Also, Daenerys believes she is unable to conceive children due to a curse from the witch that killed her husband. It's possible that the blood of the dragon could overcome this curse.

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The Prince Who Was Promised

In the world of Game of Thrones, there's a prophecy put forth by the red priests and priestesses of R'hllor surrounding an ancient hero known as Azor Ahai, or "The Prince That Was Promised." The legend holds that Azor Ahai fought back forces of darkness with a flaming sword called Lightbringer. He was prophesied to be born again "amidst salt and smoke." Many fans believe that Jon Snow is the Prince Who Was Promised. If this is true, it could bring about a tragic ending for the series.

Humanity's first dance with the White Walkers, the Long Night, is thought to have happened over 8000 years before the events of the series. Azor Ahai set out to forge the greatest weapon ever known. He worked on it tirelessly for 30 days, but when he tempered it in water, it broke. So he worked on it for another 50 days, and to temper it he drove it into the heart of a lion. Again, it broke. Azor Ahai then worked on his sword for 100 days, and called his beloved wife, Nissa Nissa. To forge his sword, he tempered it in her heart. It's said that Nissa Nissa's soul became one with the steel, and that sword was known as Lightbringer. If there is no other way discovered to destroy the Night King, we may see Jon — or Dany — forced to make the ultimate sacrifice.

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The Red Lady

When we last saw Melisandre, the Red Priestess of Asshai was delivering a very cryptic farewell to Lord Varys the Spider on the cliffs of Dragonstone in season 7's third episode, "The Queen's Justice." The Red Lady was clearing out of the seat of House Targaryen in advance of Jon Snow's arrival in order to sail across the Narrow Sea to Volantis, one of the Free Cities of Essos. In her mysterious goodbye, she told Varys, "I've done my part. I've brought ice and fire together… Oh, I will return dear Spider. One last time. I have to die in this strange country, just like you." 

Melisandre worships R'hllor, Lord of Light, and has shown she is capable of sorcery and powerful blood magic, though her powers and relationship to the aforementioned Prince That Was Promised have never been fully defined. Her destination is likely the Red Temple of Volantis, home to hundreds of Red Priests and Priestesses, possibly with power similar to Melisandre's own. This temple is guarded by a thousand-man army known as the Fiery Hand. It's theorized that Melisandre may return to Westeros in season 8 to tip the balance of power with her massive army. It's worth noting that in season 6, Melisandre was revealed to be hundreds of years old, so it's quite possible that she was in Volantis for the Doom of Valryia, the legendary collapse of the advanced civilization that birthed House Targaryen.

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Tyrion

In the season 7 finale, while imploring Queen Cersei to work with Jon and Daenerys to combat the northern threat, Tyrion deduces that Cersei is pregnant. The very next shot is a cut to the Dragonpit, original site of the King's Landing Parley. One fan theory suggests that, at some point during that time lapse, Tyrion may have struck an agreement with Cersei to ensure that her unborn child would be the king or queen to succeed Daenerys. Tyrion believes Dany is unable to have children, but his involvement in this plot would explain his look of great concern while listening to Jon and Dany having sex later in the finale.

Another popular theory involving Tyrion is known as A+J=T, or Aerys + Joanna = Tyrion. George R.R. Martin's books often mention the Mad King Aerys' lust for Tywin Lannister's wife, Joanna. Joanna died while giving birth to Tyrion. If it's true that Aerys is Tyrion's true sire, it would give new context to Tywin's final words to Tyrion — "You're no son of mine!" It could also explain Tywin's lifelong hatred for Tyrion. Perhaps we'll see Tyrion riding a dragon off into the sunset to close out this epic tale.