When “Game of Thrones” began, only the eldest Stark sibling had ruling and warfare in mind, but now that he’s dead, his brothers and sisters have taken up that heavy, fur-lined mantle. Season 8 opens with a massive war literally on the horizon as the White Walkers and their undead wight army have breached The Wall and are heading towards the world of men. First stop: Winterfell.
The stronghold of House Stark had always been the rock for the Northern people, which is why it’s appropriate that the series begins and ends at Winterfell. And it will be an ending, one way or another. If the humans are victorious, erstwhile bastard Jon Snow has a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne, Mother of Dragons notwithstanding. If the White Walkers win, humanity stands no chance of surviving.
As the weapons are gathered and assessed, the remaining Stark siblings have begun girding their loins and putting on their “Game of Thrones” faces. Here’s how Jon Snow and Daenerys’ nearest and dearest are faring as they prepare for the war ahead:
Sansa Stark, the Lady of Winterfell: The eldest living Stark sibling has been holding down the fort at Winterfell, and that meant teaming up with her sister Arya (Maisie Williams) to get rid of the ambitious double-crosser Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) in Season 7.
“Last season they were kind of very wary of each other because Arya was so different and Sansa was so different to the people that they knew when they were kids,” said Sophie Turner. “Now they’ve kind of realized that the differences are actually very useful, they worked very well together, and that there is still so much love there even though they’re so different. And so now they’re kind of embracing the differences, utilizing them.”
Arya Stark: The most well-traveled Stark offspring has had quite the emotional transformation from bratty little sister to cold-blooded assassin. When it comes to war, she’s more than ready.
“I feel like Arya is like, ‘no sweat.’ The thing that stresses Arya out is actual conversations with people. So if a great war is coming, she’s like, ‘Finally, we can skip to the fighting.’ Small talk, not so much,” Williams said.
Bran Stark: The Stark sibling who is now a greenseer has come more into his own powers.
“I think in Season 7 it was a little bit overwhelming because he’s kind of had the entire history of the universe downloaded into his head,” said Hempstead-Wright. “So understandably he was a little bit frazzled. But I think moving into Season 8 it’s a slightly wiser Bran, more akin to the Max von Sydow Three-Eyed Raven of Season 6.”
Ser Jorah Mormont: Daenerys’ most loyal defender had to take time off to get cured of his greyscale, but he’s once again by her side. The two share a bond after they were both exiled from Westeros, and in his absence, the Mormont clan was decimated to the point that the young Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) had to become the head of House Mormont.
“Jorah’s mindset — he wants to do what’s best for Daenerys and try and keep her safe and help her ascend to the Iron Throne,” said Iain Glen. “It’s funny for him because he’s going back to what was his, where he’d been exiled from, so that’s going to conjure a mixture of emotions. We’ll see what unfolds there with [Lyanna].”
At Winterfell, Jorah will also be glad to reunite with Samwell Tarly, who was responsible for curing his greyscale. “He gave him his life back. He was absolutely on the way out until Samwell Tarly decided to make it a mission of his to try and save him,” said Glen. “So, you know, know there’s a strong bond that’s been created there.”
Grey Worm: Another of Daenerys’ defenders is Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), an Unsullied warrior who was trained to withstand any pain or hardship. He should be uniquely suited to taking on the juggernaut that is the army of undead.
“I think the Unsullied at large [are prepared], but I think Grey Worm is shitting himself,” said Anderson. “I think Grey Worm is definitely prepared to die for what he believes in , but I do think that there’s, since he met Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), he questions it a little bit more. I think he’s afraid to die now because of who is waiting for him when or if he survives something. It’s weird for those characters because I think they’re fighting somebody else’s war.”
Tormund Giantsbane: As one of the wildlings, or free folk, Tormund has been living in the North without a formal king. But he’ll readily throw in with any leader who will oppose the White Walker army heading their way, especially after seeing the dragon-turned-wight burn down The Wall.
“Well, for the free folk, their whole life has been fearing this,” said Kristofer Hivju. “That’s why they wanted to get through that wall to save these people. They have been telling everybody about this for all time, so now it’s suddenly happening.”
Gilly: Samwell’s girlfriend Gilly also used to be one of the free folk living on their own, but not in the way Tormund was.
“It’s interesting in terms of Gilly and the wildlings because she’s sort of not one. She’s in her own category,” said Hannah Murray. “Growing up with Craster, she didn’t have any of the freedoms that the wildlings pride themselves on as much as Craster liked to give them this rhetoric of ‘you’re free up here.’ They, they were completely the opposite. Seeing her come into contact with those kinds of people is a very interesting idea.”
Bronn of the Blackwater: The mercenary who first aided Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and then his brother Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) was left in King’s Landing when Jaime decided to abandon his sister Cersei (Lena Headey) and help fight in the North. What’s a self-serving sellsword to do?
“He’s working that one out,” said Jerome Flynn. “He’s going to have a dilemma for sure, because you know that the guy who pays his wages has gone. He didn’t even tell him he was leaving. So he’s going to be angry about that.”
Beric Dondarrion: The warrior who was resurrected six times has lived several good lives, but now that the priest who had helped him come back to life is dead, this battle will probably spell his doom.
“This is it. If he goes then that’s the last time,” said Richard Dormer, who didn’t even entertain the idea of Beric turning to red priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) for another resurrection. “I think he’ll have nothing to do with that lady.”
Gendry of Fleabottom: Although Robert Baratheon’s bastard had been missing for many seasons, he came back in a big way in Season 7, just in time to help fight off the undead for the final round. As had been outlined earlier forging swords and making weapons would help the human cause against the White Walkers. Fortunately, Gendry was apprenticed to a blacksmith when viewers first met him.
Although Joe Dempsie wouldn’t specify exactly what kind of weapons he’d be making, he did acknowledge, “This is Gendry’s big blacksmithing moment.”
Co-star Jacob Anderson chimed in, “Gendry’s Big Blacksmithing Adventure,” to which Dempsie joked, “Yeah, that’s what I thought Season 8 was going to be called.”
”Game of Thrones” Season 8 premieres on Sunday, April 14 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.