As a famous queen once said, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die,” and it looks like many Westerosi will be dying in the final season of “Game of Thrones” now that an army of the undead has breached The Wall. The entire series has been leading up to the epic conflict, the culmination of which has been dubbed “the longest consecutive battle sequence ever committed to film.”
“It’s an enormous jigsaw,” said Liam Cunningham, who plays Davos Seaworth. “If I ever decide to actually go to war, I’m taking the ‘Game of Thrones’ people with me. I’m taking [producers] Bernie Caulfield and Chris Newman because the work they did on it was absolutely extraordinary. I’ve worked on a couple of big Hollywood tentpole things and I’ve never seen anything the size of this.”
The extended battle has to accommodate hordes of the undead while also making time to focus on each of the heroes — especially if this is possibly the last time viewers will see them.
“We did more pre-preparation for this whole season than all previous seasons. The fight sequences were broken down. They were complicated. You’re trying to tell stories through battles so that takes time to structure it,” said Iain Glen, who plays Ser Jorah Mormont. “That has to pass through many departments, from a director through the fight coordinator to set it. And then you realize what beats you’re trying to create and where you’re trying to create them. The actors are brought in and then you have your input, ‘This doesn’t feel right for me.’ It’s a fair amount of preparation.”
Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth, joked that the battle had such an impact that she could still perform the movements to this day. “If I just went through it, yeah, it would come back quickly because I wake up screaming in the night from what we had to do,” she said.
Faced with an enemy that is difficult to kill and doesn’t need to eat or sleep, doom seems inevitable for the weary humans that have already killed off so many of their own in the struggle for the Iron Throne. But as long as mankind draws breath, hope exists.
“We’re so outnumbered with this. One on one, we’re not going to be victorious,” Christie said in an interview with IndieWire. “So we have to be clever on this particular fight. You have to remember the weapons that both sides have.”
On the side of the undead, the White Walkers are ancient ice creatures that are stronger than humans and can reanimate corpses to become zombie-like wights, which make up their army. This ability is key to their vast numbers, especially in a battle setting when killing the enemy can swell the White Walkers’ own numbers. The White Walkers have ice swords, while the wights use manmade weapons. They also have a fire-breathing wight dragon, formerly Viserion, among their ranks.
On the side of humans, regular weapons unfortunately aren’t going to cut it against White Walkers and wights. Only three substances have shown to make any difference: fire, dragonglass, and Valyrian steel.
Here’s a breakdown of those resources:
Fire has been shown to be an effective weapon against wights. Regular fire is available, but it’s also possible that the special substance known as wildfire — that stuff that Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) used to decimate the Great Sept of Baelor — could be spread among the undead. Also, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has two fire-breathing dragons who could roast wights easily.
The biggest problem with utilizing any kind of fire would be that it’s not easily controlled and best used at a distance. Once the enemy has engaged with the human army, it would be imprudent to flame large swaths of the battle.
Dragonglass, also known as obsidian, is a naturally occurring form of volcanic glass that Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) discovered can kill wights. That in itself is significant, but dragonglass also has one other benefit: It can arrest the transformation of a dead person into a wight. When a White Walker had shoved an ice sword into Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle), he was a goner but he didn’t fall under their control because the Children of the Forest had shoved a piece of dragonglass into his chest.
“Sam discovered that there was a huge mountain of dragonglass at the beginning of last season,” said Bradley. “I’m sure that if he knows that he’s out there, he’ll find a way of getting it out. We need as much of it as we can possibly get our hands on. He knows how essential it is; we want to give ourselves the best fighting chance that we can.”
Wights can also be killed if the White Walker who “made” them is killed, which brings us to…
Jon Snow (Kit Harington) discovered that his Valyrian steel sword Longclaw was able to kill White Walkers in the battle of Hardhome. It’s a type of lightweight steel that holds a keen edge and never needs honing. The only problem is that it is incredibly rare, which is why the blades are handed down through generations.
Only a few blades exist among those who are or soon will be at Winterfell in Season 8: Longclaw wielded by by Jon Snow, Oathkeeper wielded by Brienne, Widow’s Wail wielded by Jaime Lannister (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), a dagger carried by Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), and House Tarly’s ancestral sword Heartsbane. Samwell had taken that last blade from his home before leaving Oldtown, but he’s more of a scholar, not a fighter.
“The weapon is all very well and good, but it depends whose hands it’s in. Sam knows that even with a Valyrian steel sword, he’s not necessarily the man for the job,” said Bradley. “When he took Heartsbane it wasn’t necessarily just a practical decision. I think there was a lot of reclaiming his childhood as well, and then taking his rightful seat at the head of House Tarly. It was a kind of emotional hole he needed to fill by doing that. Maybe the Valyrian aspect of it comes into play later.”
As for Brienne, someone would have to pry Oathkeeper from her cold dead hands before she gave it up. “I think Brienne loves responsibilities, so she’s happy with that,” said Christie.
Unfortunately, the secret of forging Valyrian steel — using a combination of magical spells and dragonfire — has been lost. While Daenerys has two dragons who could provide the fire, the knowledge is missing.
There are two characters who could be of help: Samwell has always been one to hit the books and unearth long-forgotten or lost information. After all, he’s the one who figured out how to cure Ser Jorah’s greyscale and helped uncover the truth of Jon Snow’s parentage. As for Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), he’s now the Three-Eyed Raven, a person with “greensight,” knowledge of every incident everywhere in the past, present, and future. He just needs to know when to access it.
“The thing about Sam and Bran as a partnership, the reason that they are such a formidable force, is they’ve got very unique skills,” said Bradley. “Lots of people can fight and lots of people can swing a sword and cope with a battle situation in the physical sense. But Sam is the only person that can apply academia the way he can, and Bran’s the only person with that particular set of skills. So together, the reason they are in a great position to make a difference, is because without them, their entire skillset is lost. Nobody else is in a position to take that on.”
Although one might not think treachery could help win the war, a wild card could help the heroes at Winterfell. The maniacal Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) had left King’s Landing to fetch the Golden Company — a legendary group of mercenaries about 10,000 strong that also commands battle elephants — to aid Cersei.
However, Euron isn’t always to be trusted, which could work in Daenerys’ favor if he switches allegiances to her side. Even though they’re mercenaries, the Golden Company is famous for being extremely loyal, so it may all depend on who hires them.
“It’s my Golden Company. I can do what I want,” said Asbaek. “I can take them to the dragon mom or I can take them to Cersei.”
”Game of Thrones” Season 8 premieres Sunday, April 14 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.