Monday, 10 July 2017

GAME OF THRONES Season 7 Primer

Season 7 of Game of Thrones commences next week, so here's a look at the state of play as of the first episode of the new season.


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State of Play

The War of the Five Kings was believed over, but House Stark has proven unexpectedly resurgent. In an impressive display of both military and political acumen, the Starks have led a massive uprising against House Bolton, won the alliance of House Arryn of the Vale (as yet unengaged in the war, with completely fresh forces) and toppled the Boltons, retaking Winterfell in battle and executing Ramsay Bolton (who had already betrayed and murdered his father Roose).

Jon Snow, the bastard son of Eddard Stark who had been sent to the Wall and briefly ruled as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch before being stabbed (and, some say, killed and resurrected), was declared by the Lords of the North as King Jon Stark, the King in the North, succeeding his half-brother Robb, slain over two years earlier at the Red Wedding. Jon has allied with his half-sister Sansa, who commands the loyalty of the Knights of the Vale through her own alliance with Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, the Protector of the Vale. This alliance appears strong, but trouble may lie ahead, especially given Jon Stark's willingness to ally with the wildlings from beyond the Wall, the sworn foes of the North.

Meanwhile, in the west Euron Greyjoy has murdered his brother Balon and usurped the Seastone Chair, seizing command of the Iron Islands. His original plan, to force an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen, has been upset by his niece and nephew, Yara and Theon, seizing more than half of the Iron Fleet and sailing to Slaver's Bay to ally with Daenerys themselves. Euron's next move, whether to re-invade the North or seek alliances elsewhere, remains uncertain.

In King's Landing, Cersei Lannister has brutally moved against her enemies, wiping out the High Septon, the Most Devout and almost the entire the leadership of House Tyrell in one fell swoop. She now sits the Iron Throne as Queen Cersei I Lannister in her own right. Her rule of King's Landing is absolute and House Lannister remains a powerful force under her leadership, with its armies now under the direct command of the Queen's brother, Ser Jaime Lannister. The Crownlands also remain loyal to the capital. On paper, Cersei also commands the allegiance of the Riverlands through House Frey and, after the death of King Stannis, the Stormlands, the former vassals of her deceased husband, King Robert. In practice, the reliability of these forces, both fighting the Lannisters until just a few months ago, remains a chancy thing.

However, a new force has now entered the war decisively. Daenerys Targaryen, the Stormborn, the daughter of the Mad King, has arrived off the shores of Westeros with a vast fleet. She has forged an alliance with Houses Tyrell and Martell, who between them command the largest extant land armies in Westeros, and also with the bulk of the forces of House Greyjoy under the command of Yara and Theon Greyjoy. She also commands her own army of Unsullied warrior-eunuchs, the finest spearmen in the world, as well as several tens of thousands of Dothraki horse-warriors. Most formidably, she has the counsel and advice of both Tyrion Lannister and Lord Varys, two of the most cunning strategists in the Seven Kingdoms, and the service of her three dragons.

On paper, Daenerys Targaryen's victory over the Lannisters and her reconquest of King's Landing is inevitable, with the question then arising as to how she and Jon Stark will resolve any potential differences. But it would be foolish to so easily count out Cersei Lannister, who has overcome every obstacle thrown at her so far.

There are also wild cards in these wars to come. From the Wall flies news of vast armies of the dead gathering in the former wildling territories. The seer-prophet Bran Stark flees south ahead of this tide with news of his own. Rumour speaks of turmoil and bloody murder in the Twins, the stronghold of House Frey. There may also yet be fresh betrayals: not all of the Tyrell and Martell bannermen may welcome a return of Targaryen rule.

Season 7 of Game of Thrones starts airing on HBO in the United States on Sunday 16 July. Sky Atlantic will follow up in the UK a day later.

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