If you have not read my previous post on Bran burning down King’s Landing, please go back and read that first, as this will make more sense after. While I plan to do an essay detailing how this will occur in A Dream of Spring someday, this essay will outline how I expect it to play out ON THE SHOW.
Disclaimer: Let me preface this by saying that although I expect Bran to burn down King’s Landing in both the show and the books, I expect the way it plays out to be vastly different between the two mediums. Like most of his story, I expect Bran burning down King’s Landing in the books to be a moment that is highly internalized, and I expect it to primarily revolve around the emotional and spiritual weight and responsibility of taking a life, compounded 500,000 times over. In contrast, the show is unable to depict highly internalized events and moments with the same effectiveness that a book can, and so I expect the burning of King’s Landing in the show to be a far more complex and calculated spectacle, involving far more characters and serving as not only the third “holy shit moment” but the centerpiece of the final season.
Though the show is often hard to predict due, I do expect there to be some narrative logic to the final six episodes, if for no other reason than filming and budgetary reasons. I expect that the showrunners will avoid redundancy, so I don’t see the season 7 budget being poured into multiple straightforward zombie battles in different locations with different cast members that all play out essentially the same way. Contrary to what many are expecting, we’re going to have a bunch of losing battles at a bunch of different locations before ending on a winning battle.
So, I expect each major set piece of season 8 to be structurally different.
Right now I’d like to focus on what I am guessing will happen in Season 8, Episode 3, which I expect will give us the big King’s Landing set piece. Of course, I could be off by an episode, and with the amount of detail in this prediction I obviously acknowledge the chances I’m wrong about a lot of this. So let’s have fun here.
One more time, if you haven’t read this, do that first, then come back.
“The gods have no mercy, that’s why they’re gods.”
– Tywin Lannister
The third episode will begin in the aftermath of an epic battle at Winterfell between the armies of the living and the dead. Though our heroes will have fought the army of the dead to a stalemate and forced them to retreat, they will have suffered heavy losses. Jaime Lannister will have come to the rescue with a force from the Riverlands, which will have been a major contributing factor turning the tide of the battle, but the Long Night will rage on, and the night is dark and full of terrors.
This episode will revolve around the faith of R’hllor and the Mad King’s legacy, and it will serve as the climax of the Lord of Light plot.
In the opening sequence of the episode, an injured Beric Dondarrion will find himself inexplicably drawn to the Winterfell godswood. There he will find Bran’s dead body at the base of the Heart Tree. For reasons I won’t explain here, I believe that Bran will have been killed in the battle of Winterfell. Seeing this, Beric will kneel down and pass his life force to Bran, resurrecting him like he did for Catelyn in the books. Bran’s eyes will open and the boy will look upon Beric Dondarrion, watching as the life leaves him and he lays down to die. In his final moments, Beric will glimpse the Lord of Light, and he will die at peace, finally understanding his purpose.
I’m pretty skeptical about that part, and I absolutely do NOT think Bran will physically die and be resurrected in the books. If this occurs at all I think this is a SHOW ONLY development, as it’s become clear that the consequences of death and resurrection in the show are totally different than in the books. I just think that with the constant questioning of the Lord of Light’s purpose for Beric, his final purpose is probably something important, and won’t be anything so simple as being killed by wights, but won’t be something as significant as slaying the Night King. I expect the show is probably preserving Beric’s book purpose of passing his life onto someone else. Though I could see a case for it being Jaime, or how the show cures Sandor of his fear of fire, I think it’s the most fitting for Beric if his purpose ends up being to bring back the Lord of Light himself.
Act I – The Fate of King’s Landing
1 : a military strategy that targets anything that might be useful to the enemy while it is advancing through or withdrawing from an area… the practice may target food sources, water supplies, transportation, communications, industrial resources, and even the locale’s people themselves.
Following the battle at Winterfell, Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon and co. will discuss strategy moving forward. They’ve survived the battle but they have not won the war, and the Night King’s army can rebuild by picking off smaller populations in the south. They will decide that a force should remain to protect the North, while the Tully army should move south to protect the Riverlands along with the Dothraki, and the Knights of the Vale should sail to Gulltown and protect the Vale at the Bloody Gate (which is already a great natural defense, but Dany might pledge half of the Unsullied). Jaime will plan to fall back rally the Lannister Army to defend the Westerlands from the Golden Tooth (the show goes out of it’s way to mention that some of the Lannister army are in the Crownlands, while the other half are in the Westerlands). They will thank Edmure Tully and Yohn Royce for their aid, and Daenerys will pledge to ride out on Drogon to protect them if and when the time comes. She will have earned their respect and they will take their leave. Then Dany will turn to Jaime, asking him about Cersei’s apparent change of heart.
Jaime will answer that though he cannot speak for Cersei, he honored his oath and came to their aid. Daenerys will express skepticism that a man who betrayed his own King can talk about oaths or honor, to which Jaime will reply that he betrayed his Queen by coming, and that Dany’s father had a penchant for burning his people alive, including Jon’s grandfather. Jaime will remark that seeing what Daenerys and Drogon did to his men on the battlefield, one might think the apple does not fall far from the tree. Insulted, Dany will ask if Jaime had such a problem with the Mad King’s burning people why the Kingslayer waited till his father was sacking the city and having her brother’s wife and children slaughtered before finding his conscience. Jon will interrupt that they are grateful to Jaime for his aid and ask if there is anything else they can do for him. He will say there is one thing.
Jaime will ask to see Bran.
Upon entering Bran’s room Ser Jaime will be greeted by name. Surprised, Jaime will ask if Bran remembers him, to which Bran will say yes, at which point Jaime will try to apologize for what he did to the boy, and Bran will respond by saying that he understands, and he forgives Jaime for slaying the King Aerys. He’ll say that he has seen the many lives that were lived thanks to Jaime, and that Jaime did what was necessary in preventing the burning of King’s Landing on that day. This will leave Jaime speechless, at which point Bran will mysteriously apologize to Jaime for what is to come, but Jaime will not ask what Bran means. Before Jaime leaves Bran will remind him that people do terrible things for love.
Most likely in episode 2, Theon will track down Euron and the Iron Fleet (probably at Ship Breaker Bay). The connection between Euron and storms is mostly in the books, but even in the show he calls himself “the first storm and the last,” and he attacked Dany’s fleet and kidnapped Yara in ‘Stormborn’, so I expect show!Euron will meet his demise at Storms End, probably falling into Shipbreaker Bay. In this confrontation, Euron will die, and either Theon or Yara will die while the other becomes ruler of the Iron Islands, though I’m still really not sure which. The one who survives will take control of the supposed 1,000 ships in the Iron Fleet, which will play a key role in episode 3.
Jon (staring at King’s Landing): How many people live here?
Tyrion: A million, give or take.
Jon: That’s more people than the entire North, crammed into that. Why would anyone want to live that way?
Later, having used his power to skinchange ravens, Bran will watch as a small force of wights ambush half of the Golden Company (the rest of them will come into play in episode 5). Given their lack of dragonglass, the dead will easily overrun the sellswords, their horses, and their elephants. This will either happen on their way to recapture The Twins or Casterly Rock. Maybe at the Trident? Off screen Bran will tell Jon about the ambush, and that the the Night King is going to use his new force to seize King’s Landing. Jon will immediately realize that the Night King adding the 1 million residents of King’s Landing to his army would spell utter doom for Westeros.
Jon: Lord Tyrion tells me a million people live in this city. They’re about to become, a million more soldiers in the army of the dead.
~ The Dragon and the Wolf
Being the seat of House Targaryen, Daenerys will see it as her duty to defend the city and it’s people from the Night King and so Dany will resolve to fly south to halt the army of the dead before they reach the city.
Tyrion will interject that without time to to get a properly equipped army all the way to the capital, Daenerys cannot hold back the dead with just Drogon (I think Rhaegal will die in episode 2). So instead Tyrion will propose that Yara or Theon (having taken back the Iron Fleet), should be sent with Davos and their 1000 ships to Blackwater Bay. There they can stage an exodus, smuggling the city’s population to more defensible locations (possibly Gulltown, White Harbor, Pentos, Lannisport, and Oldtown) before the dead even breach the city walls. With his connections and his knowledge of the layout of the city, Varys will direct the Unsullied in the evacuating the city, so Daenerys and Jon will only need to stall the army of the dead at the gates. Dany and Jon will agree to this plan, just hoping that Cersei will listen to reason and defend the city with them.
Essentially the plan will be not unlike the plan at Hardhome, only on a much grander scale. Get a bunch of boats, fill them up as much as possible with the people of King’s Landing, send them elsewhere as refugees.
Having spent time in King’s Landing before, Arya will volunteer to help as well, though her secret intention will be to kill Cersei (maybe Sandor will come too for his brother). Gendry will volunteer to join Arya, given that Flea Bottom is his home. One reason why I expect this to play out is that Arya rescuing people from the Others is likely going to be a big part of her storyline in the first half of ADOS, and this gives her a real “Nymeria and the Ten Thousand Ships” vibe.
Also, putting Arya and Gendry on an adventure together is going to be important in contextualizing Arya’s ending and the choice she’ll have to make.
Jaime: You saw with you own eyes! You saw a dead man try to kill us!
Cersei: And I saw it burn! If dragons can’t stop them… if Dothraki and Unsullied and Northmen can’t stop them, how will our armies make a difference?
Jaime: This isn’t about noble houses, this is about the living and the dead!
Cersei: …and I intend to stay amongst the living.
Cersei is fully aware that her armies cannot stand up to the army of the dead, and believes that her only shot at survival is to let Daenerys and Jon defeat the dead for her, so that in the aftermath of the Great War she can overcome their weakened (hopefully dragonless) army. This is exactly the strategy Littlefinger put forward to her in season 5 for dealing with the Boltons. But let’s be realistic, if the dead come for to King’s Landing Cersei clearly has no intent of defending the city she hates against the apocalypse.
Cersei Lannister intends to stay among the living.
So, at the Red Keep Cersei will be informed by Qyburn that the dead have overtaken a force from the Golden Company she had sent into the Riverlands, have added them to the army of the dead, and are not headed south on the Kingsroad. The city cannot stand against them, so having absolutely no intention of standing and fighting against the dead, Cersei will agree, and she will choose to abandon King’s Landing and it’s people in favor of a more defensible position (probably Casterly Rock, but if not then Storm’s End). Cersei, the Mountain, Qyburn, Cersei’s handmaiden Bernadette, and her personal guards will sail away from the city, with plans to eventually join up with the Golden Company. I expect that Euron will have fetched the Golden Company by the first episode of the season, and they will have been sent already (at least partially) to take back the Twins and Casterly Rock (or she could split them up and send some of them south?).
Either way, Cersei specifically plans to use the Golden Company to recover the lands that belong to her (she states this on two separate occasions) so Casterly Rock is a pretty safe bet.
Cersei: That thing you dragged here, I know what it is I know what it means. When it came at me I didn’t think about the world, not at all. As soon as it opened it’s mouth the world disappeared for me right down it’s black throat. All I could think about was keeping those gnashing teeth away from those who matter most, away from my family. Maybe Euron Greyjoy had the right idea. Get on a boat, take those who matter…
There is a set up for Cersei leaving King’s Landing in the books as well…
“Would that we could do the same to the rest of this foul castle,” said Cersei. “After the war I mean to build a new palace beyond the river.” She had dreamed of it the night before last, a magnificent white castle surrounded by woods and gardens, long leagues from the stinks and noise of King’s Landing. “This city is a cesspit. For half a groat I would move the court to Lannisport and rule the realm from Casterly Rock.“– Cersei III, AFFC
Act II – The Battle for the Dawn
2 : relating to or being a military policy involving deliberate and usually widespread destruction of property and resources (such as housing and factories) so that an invading enemy cannot use them
Jon, Dany, Tyrion, Davos, Varys, Arya, Gendry and co. will arrive at a snowy King’s Landing to tell Cersei that she needs to help them evacuate the city. To their surprise they will find the gates unguarded, the city defenseless, the Gold Cloaks AWOL due to lack of leadership, and they will realize that Cersei has abandoned King’s Landing. For the first time in the series, the Iron Throne is vacant.
Varys: So where will you go?
Varys: Good. If you don’t mind my saying, I don’t think you should return, to Westeros. I’m not sure you’d be safe here.
Melisandre: Well, I will return dear Spider. One last time.
Varys: My lady…
Melisandre: I have to die in this strange country. Just like you.
Instead of Queen Cersei, our heroes will be greeted by Melisandre, who will have returned from Volantis with the Fiery Hand, a holy army of slave soldiers from the Temple of the Lord of Light. The Fiery Hand will have pledged to give their lives to fight in the Great War against the darkness on the side of the Lord of Light’s chosen. Arya and Gendry will be distrusting of Melisandre, but given the dire situation Jon and Daenerys will accept her help, and they will begin preparing for a siege while they await the Iron Fleet.
On the night the of the siege, the Red Comet will appear in the sky once more.
When the army of the dead arrive to siege King’s Landing, Dany will ride Drogon and hold back the dead by burning the surrounded forests, while Jon and the Fiery Hand will defend the city gates. In the books there are Seven Gates, but it’s unclear how many there are in the show since exterior shots of the city show the city to be more surrounded by water than it’s book counterpart. My guess is that in the show it’s closer to 2 or 3. In the battle, Jon will use his blood to set Longclaw ablaze like Beric does, which ill inspire the Fiery Hand. Privately though, Melisandre will tell Jon that she has tricked people with a false Lightbringer before, and that Jon’s blood alone is not enough to banish the darkness.
The siege of King’s Landing will be comparable to the Battle of Helms Deep, while the evacuation will be comparable to the Evacuation of Dunkirk. Unlike the battle at Winterfell where the living will ride out and meet the dead, at King’s Landing they will stay back and defend the gates. This is because Winterfell is where the armies of the living will be at their full strength. Since Winterfell is not a choke point, if the living were to hide behind the city walls then the dead could simply go around, picking off smaller populations (not unlike how Robert described a hypothetical Dothraki invasion in season 1). Hence I believe the goal at Winterfell will be to break the Night King’s army right there. By contrast at King’s Landing the armies of the living will not be at full strength, and the city is essentially a dead end, with the narrow sea directly behind it. The goal will be to stall for an evacuation.
If you are looking for a historical parallel, it’s not totally unlike the evacuation of Dunkirk, in which some 300,000 allied troops were evacuated by sea. In this case it’s a million, and it’s civilians being evacuated rather than soldiers.
Euron: Build me a thousand ships… and I will give you this world.
~ The Door
Euron: It’s the greatest armada Westeros has ever seen. With the Iron Fleet, you own the seas!
Davos and Theon (or Yara?) will have the Iron Fleet positioned in the Blackwater Bay to save as many people as possible. Meanwhile Arya and Gendry will go to Flea Bottom and evacuate the most impoverish, and Varys will lead the Unsullied to go door to door, street to street, evacuating the city. At one point during the evacuation Varys will seemingly come to a realization and go missing.
Jon and Daenerys will have things under control at first, but they will begin to struggle holding back the dead once the Night King shows up on UnViserion, or once the undead elephants taken from the Golden Company show up and start ramming the gates.
Serving as a callback to how they met after fleeing King’s Landing with other orphans at the beginning of season 2, Arya and Gendry will lead a group of peasants and orphans from Flea Bottom onto a small boat and take them to the Iron Fleet. These will end up being the only surviving residents of King’s Landing.
Eventually the city walls will be breached, and Jon, Melisandre and the Fiery Hand will fall back.
Act III – The Voice of God
3 : directed toward victory or supremacy at all costs : RUTHLESS
As the Battle for the Dawn enters the city, the situation in King’s Landing will devolve into utter chaos. Dead men will swarm the city, clashing with fire wielding religious fanatics, overrunning the Unsullied, and butchering civilians as they try to flee. Dragons will fight each other in the sky while on the ground undead elephants rampage through the streets. Melisandre will tell Jon that he must go to the Queen and their child, and that together they must end the Long Night and bring the dawn. This will shock Jon, who will not yet know that Daenerys is pregnant.
In the sky, Daenerys will panic, realizing that they have failed to evacuate the city, and the Night King is about to take all of her people into his army. Daenerys will find Jon by his flaming sword and tell him that the city has fallen. Jon will join her on Drogon and tell her that their only hope is to kill the Night King, and together they will attack the Night King on UnViserion, stopping him as he tries to raise more dead, and pushing him past the gates of the city. Jon will tell Daenerys to fly up next to UnViserion and stay close. When Drogon gets close to the blue eyes wight dragon, Jon will pull a Daemon the Rogue Prince and jump onto the Night King’s mount, trying to slay him in the sky. The Night King will do what he can to try to throw Jon off, bringing UnViserion down for a crash landing outside of the city. Jon will roll down the hill, ending up a distance away from the Night King.
The Night King will rise first, unaffected by the fall. Jon will stagger to his feet, Longclaw no longer on fire. Struggling to stand, Jon will stare up at the Night King who has begun lifting his arms to raise the dead, just like he did at Hardhome. With the battle still raging within the city, we will watch as dead men throughout the city open their cold blue eyes, beginning to rise, many of whom ironically wearing the banner of the fiery heart of R’hllor. Even Melisandre herself might be raised.
We will then cut to Winterfell, where we’ll see that Bran has been sitting in front of a fire, watching all of this. At this point we will discover what the Three Eyed Raven has been up to.
Varys: Isn’t that the point of being a fanatic? You’re always right. Everything is the Lord’s will…
Kinvara: Everything is the Lord’s will… But men and women make mistakes. Even honest servants of the Lord.
Varys: And you, an honest servant of the Lord. Why should I trust you to know any more than the priestess who counseled Stannis?
Tyrion: My friend has a healthy skepticism of of religion. But we are all loyal supporters of the Queen.
Kinvara: Everyone is what they are, and where they are, for a reason. Terrible things, happen for a reason. Take what happened to you lord Varys, when you were a child. If not for your mutilation, at the hand of a second rate sorcerer, you wouldn’t be here, helping the Lord’s chosen bring his light into the world. Knowledge has made you powerful, but there is still so much you don’t know. Do you remember what you heard that night, when the sorcerer tossed your parts into the fire? You heard a voice call out from the flames, do you remember? Should I tell you what the voice said? should I tell you the name of the one who spoke?
In the original draft of this dialogue, Kinvara was going to ask if Varys would like to know where the voice lives. Note that immediately after the conversation above, we got a cut to the cave of the Three Eyed Raven and witnessed the scene in which Bran became the Three Eyed Raven.
Also, neither Mel, nor Stannis, nor Thoros, nor Beric, nor Jon, have ever claimed to have heard the Lord of Light. The only instances in which people have heard a mysterious voice have been Ned at the Tower of Joy, and Hodor the day he became Hodor.
“Yet I still dream of that night, my lord. Not of the sorcerer, nor his blade, nor even the way my manhood shriveled as it burned. I dream of the voice. The voice from the flames. Was it a god, a demon, some conjurer’s trick? I could not tell you, and I know all the tricks. All I can say for a certainty is that he called it, and it answered, and since that day I have hated magic and all those who practice it.” – Varys (Tyrion X, ACOK)
Just like with Hold the Door, we will cut to Bran’s astral projection in the past, watching a boy struggle and protest in a darkened room as he is bound by a strange robed man. The boy is forced by the man to drink a potion, after which he will become unable to really move, but the terror will not leave his face. From the boy we will then cut back to Varys in the present. Varys will have been missing for much of the siege, and we will find that (like an activated sleeper agent) Varys has been in a trance like state, spilling barrels of wildfire, leaving trails of the glowing green substance throughout tunnels underneath the city. In the past, Bran will watch as the sorcerer goes to the fire and holds a blade over the flames, chanting in a strange tongue. It will become clear that the boy is Varys, and we are looking back at the moment he was cut (in fact I believe we may have already seen the casting call for young Varys). The boy will wince in agony as the sorcerer cuts him and takes a bloody mass to the fire, calling out to the fire as it changes color. As the boy stares helplessly into the flickering blue flames, an invisible Bran will stare back at him. As the Three Eyed Raven begins to whisper, we will cut back to Varys in the present. Varys will snap out of his trance, like a sleeper agent having completed his task.
Varys: My little birds are everywhere. Even in the north, they whisper to me… the strangest stories.
~ Lord Snow
As it turns out, the very first little bird to whisper to Varys had three eyes. Varys will finally understand what the voice in the flames had said to him all those years ago. The voice he dreamed of over and over. And with a heavy heart the Spider will utter his last words:
“I was grievous sad to hear about your son. And him so young. The gods are cruel.” – Varys (Catelyn IV, AGOT)
Note: In Bran’s vision of his father in the dungeons beneath the Red Keep, Ned Stark is actually staring at a torch held by Varys. This is where Varys criticized Ned for being merciful, and also where Varys urged him to serve the realm.
We will then cut to Daenerys who is mounted on Drogon, watching as the dead massacre the people as they flee. We will cut to Bran, who’s eyes will go white, and then back to Drogon, who will suddenly turn away from the Night King and fly toward the city. Confused, Daenerys will try to command Drogon, but find that she has completely lost control of her child. At this point Drogon will begin breathing fire down onto the city, setting off a cache of wildfire that will quickly spread out in a spiral pattern matching the patterns created by both the Children of the Forest and the White Walkers, before engulfing the city completely.
“There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.” – Melisandre
As the fire spreads, the living members of the Fiery Hand will look up at the sky and in their final moments they will call out “Lightbringer!” as the Red Sword of Heroes descends upon them, illuminating the night and burning away the living along with the dead. Melisandre will fulfill her destiny and die in the strange country of Westeros.
Eddard: Tell me something Varys, who do you truly serve?
Varys: The realm, my lord. Someone must.
Beneath the Red Keep, Varys will be engulfed by wildfire, dying alone in service of the realm. The boy raised with actors, who once learned that each man has a role to play will finally understand his, and he will play his role in secrecy.
Throughout the city, the people of King’s Landing will stare up at the Mad King’s daughter as she lives up to her father’s legacy. Grey Worm and the Unsullied will stare up at the night sky as the Queen who gave them their freedom, sentences them to death. His plot foiled, the Night King will retreat north on UnViserion and Jon will watch as flames consumes the city of one million. From the bay, Davos, Gendry, and the survivors from Flea Bottom will watch as their home is burned away. Tyrion will lament the utter failure of his plan to save the city. Worst of all, Missandei will watch as the Queen she has dedicated her life in service to sacrifices the people she had once liberated, including the man she loves.
All the while, Daenerys Targaryen will fly over the city, looking down at hundreds of thousands of her people crying out for mercy as the fire takes them, all while she pleads to her child to stop.
Still, he will not stop. The gods have no mercy. That’s why they’re gods.
The entire population of King’s Landing, both combatants and civilians, living and dead, Fiery Hand and Unsullied, will be burned away in wildfire (save for the small group of survivors from Flea Bottom who will be evacuated by Arya and Gendry). Melisandre will die. Varys will die. Grey Worm will die. The army of the dead will have their numbers essentially decimated, and the Night King will retreated back to the Lands of Always Winter on UnViserion. The plan to save King’s Landing will be seen as an utter failure. Jon and Tyrion will shoulder the responsibility, but despite Bran’s secret god-like intervention, it will be Daenerys who is blamed for making the call and sacrificing everyone in the city. A grief stricken Missandei will lose faith in her Queen. Unable to face anyone, Daenerys will fly away, horrified at Drogon’s actions and her inability to stop him from burning he city. Thus Dany will send herself to the Wall.