“The Great War is here.”
So declares Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in the seventh — and penultimate — season of “Game of Thrones.” Apparently, all hell is about to break loose, so brace yourself.
As HBO’s epic juggernaut closes in on its endgame, we still have no idea who, exactly, is poised to win the Iron Throne. But preview trailers have led us to believe that the coming episodes will heavily focus on three key contenders — Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), now ruling from King’s Landing; Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), the so-called Mother of Dragons; and Snow, the newly minted King in the North.
Let’s set the stage for Season 7 by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of our primary players:
When we last saw her: Cersei ascended to the Iron Throne following an explosive coup in which she wiped out most of her local enemies, including Queen Margaery, in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, the bloodbath led to the stunning suicide of her last living child — callow King Tommen, who had made the mistake of siding with his beloved wife over mommy dearest.
Why we should bet on her: Cunningly ruthless, Cersei is a survivor and master schemer who has proven that she can prevail when the odds are stacked against her. She’s backed by a formidable army and has a strong ally in her incestuous lover, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
Why we shouldn’t: She could be toast. In terms of sheer military might, Cersei is greatly outmanned by Dany’s forces, which include three dragons that have grown to the size of 747s. Also, during her rise to power, Cersei created a long line of vengeful enemies. And how long can she really count on Jaime’s loyalty? After all, he has already murdered one monarch for the good of the kingdom (hence the nickname “Kingslayer”). Will the killer instinct rise up in him again if Cersei veers too far out of control?
RELATED CONTENT: What Jon Snow’s true identity means for ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 7
When we last saw her: After subduing every rival in her path, the dragon mama set sail, with a massive fleet, across the Narrow Sea toward Westeros, hoping to claim the throne that once belonged to her father. She is accompanied by Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), the newly promoted Hand of the Queen. Also in her arsenal: That trio of fire-breathing behemoths. Talk about an awesome air force.
Why we should bet on her: In addition to the Unsullied and her Dothraki troops, Dany has the allegiance of the Greyjoys, the Dornish navy and the Tyrells (who have a huge grudge against the Lannisters). That’s an incredible amount of firepower — and did we mention those massive dragons? It seems that Dany could easily turn “the Great War” into her own private barbecue.
Why we shouldn’t: She’s in unfamiliar territory — out on the open sea — and the Dothraki are known to be fearful of the water. Also, Dany has often exhibited a divisive leadership style. It could prove extremely challenging to keep all her disparate allies on the same page. Does the savvy Tyrion have enough clout to convince her to be more of a diplomat?
RELATED CONTENT: Who will die next? We rank the top contenders
When we last saw him: The brooding warrior with the bountiful hair conquered sadistic Ramsay Bolton in the horrific Battle of the Bastards to reclaim the Stark family home of Winterfell. He was elected King of the North with his half-sister, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), at his side. It was an amazing rally for a guy who began the season as a dead man.
Why we should bet on him: Out of all the contenders, Jon is the most battle-tested, having defeated the Wildlings, wrangled with White Walkers and prevailed in the aforementioned bastards’ throw-down. Also, thanks to a major late-season revelation about his parentage (that he doesn’t yet know), Jon could possess more power than previously believed.
Why we shouldn’t: Jon is a stubborn, chip-on-the-shoulder kind of leader, who often lets his emotions get the best of him. And his impulsive decisions can lead to tactical blunders. He won the Battle of the Bastards only because reinforcements dispatched by Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen) arrived in the nick of time. Another major concern: The manipulative Littlefinger continues to hang around like a bad odor, trying to drive a wedge between Jon and Sansa.
Many fans have theorized that Daenerys and Jon could team up — not just strategically, but romantically. Would we want that to happen? And which of the two would actually be the alpha-ruler?
Also, let’s not overlook Sansa. She’s no longer the sweet and naive girl we met in Season 1. Ned Stark’s daughter has become hardened during her turbulent journey, and although her reunion with Jon was a joy to behold, she has already questioned some of his decisions. Will the tensions between them lead to a power struggle? Will Sansa ultimately come to believe that she should occupy the throne?
And then there’s the slimy Littlefinger. A master scam artist, he is arguably playing the game better than anyone. He’s so unpredictable and intentionally mysterious. We would absolutely hate to see him wind up on the throne, but we’d also put nothing past him.