All The Ways Game Of Thrones Set Up An Epic Battle Of Winterfell

game of thrones season 8 jaime lannister winterfell hbo
(Image credit: HBO)

Spoilers ahead for the second episode of Game of Thrones Season 8.

Almost every single season of Game of Thrones has featured a grand, cinematic, extremely deadly battle sequence that changes the entire game, and Season 8’s battle is going to come much earlier than in previous seasons. Episode 3 will see the White Walkers and army of the dead making their assault on the living at Winterfell, and all signs point toward the Battle of Winterfell as the most epic of the series to date.

Now, with the Battle of Winterfell approaching in a matter of days, let’s look back at all the ways Thrones set the stage for it.

The Dead March South

Game of Thrones has been building to the conflict between the living and the dead from the very first scene of the very first episode, and it’s finally coming on a truly grand scale with the army of the dead marching south, led by the White Walkers with the Night King presumably at the head, with undead Viserion as his steed. The Season 8 premiere ended with the reveal via the late Lord Umber that Last Hearth had been taken already, and Tormund and Co. were able to give the folks at Winterfell at least a bit of a head’s up about when the dead would arrive.

As Jon said, the dead do not tire, and they do not have the same weaknesses as living humans. The dead greatly outnumber the living, and then there’s the little matter of undead Viserion to worry about. Although Bran mentioned that Dany’s dead dragon was being used by the Night King, nobody seems all that fussed about Viserion wreaking havoc. Will that come back to bite them -- or perhaps freeze them -- when the battle starts in earnest?

The Night King Is The Target

Luckily, the living do have a plan for the battle that makes it somewhat less of a hopeless cause. Jon and the others who have seen the dead know that there are far too many wights for the folks at Winterfell to hope to defeat, let alone all the White Walkers on top of them.

The good news is that the journey beyond The Wall to capture a wight in Season 7 yielded more than an ice zombie to show off in King’s Landing: Jon and Co. realized that killing the Walker who turned a group of wights will take down those wights.

As fans learned back in the Season 6 episode that tragically saw the end of Hodor, the Children of the Forest created the first White Walker that would go on to become the Night King. He created all the other White Walkers and therefore was directly involved with the reanimation of the wights, so killing him should in theory take out the other White Walkers and the wights. Jaime raised the point that the Night King would know better than to expose himself in battle, but Bran explained why that’s not the case.

The Three-Eyed Raven Is In Danger

According to Bran and his thousand-yard stare, the Night King has been trying to kill the Three-Eyed Raven for many years, and while the Three-Eyed Raven was in many different incarnations. Thanks to the Night King marking Bran in Season 6, he can find Bran, and he’ll want to kill Bran himself. Everybody at Winterfell when the dead attack will be in danger, but the Night King himself is after Bran so that the endless night can begin and human history can be lost.

Luckily, Bran knowing this means that the living can set a trap and try to lure the Night King into a position where he can be taken out. It’s a risky plan, but the best one they have, and they can only hope that the Night King won’t get to Bran and take out his protectors where they wait in the godswood.

The Defenses Of Winterfell

The people at Winterfell are doing everything in their power to prepare for the coming attack, and they’re not actually doing a bad job. Gendry and the other smiths have been hard at work forging the dragonglass into weapons, and Episode 2 showed the hundreds of daggers that were ready to go, and there were some axes in the mix as well.

Gendry had already made a special axe for the Hound, and he made Arya’s weapon for her as well after she showed off her skills. Dragonglass fortifications went up all around Winterfell as well, and the Unsullied had their spears tipped with the material.

There are spikes and arrows and even catapults. Drogon and Rhaegal will presumably be flying around and roasting ice zombies en masse. I didn’t see a scorpion that would stand a chance at taking Viserion out of the sky, but my fingers are crossed that the good guys do actually have a plan for taking him down and the show just wanted to save the reveal for next week.

Plans are in place for the field of battle, before the fighters are inevitably forced to retreat behind the walls of Winterfell. Brienne will be in the field, commanding one of the flanks. The living are even planning on a fire trench of some sort. Additionally, there are some Valyrian steel weapons floating around. Jon has Longclaw, Arya has her dagger, and Sam handed Heartsbane over to Ser Jorah, citing his own inability to use it.

The living are as prepared as they can be, really, and they took their final hours before the fight to enjoy themselves. Podrick sang a song, Jaime knighted Brienne in a scene that makes me immediately fear for her life, the Lannister bros bonded, and as much merriment as possible was had by all who weren’t pondering their status as a secret Targaryen.

Oh, and Arya and Gendry hooked up, and in the long history of Game of Thrones sex scenes, Arya and Gendry’s is by far the one that took me most by surprise. My money was on Arya and Gendry getting romantic, but I always believed neither Arya nor Sansa would ever be part of a sex scene on Game of Thrones. Well, when you’re about to probably be murdered by ice zombies and their mystical overlords, seize the day! Or the blacksmith, as the case may be.

The Crypts

Not everybody will be in the field or on the battlements to fight the dead with Valyrian steel and dragonglass. Those who cannot, will not, or should not fight will seek refuge down in the crypts of Winterfell. Kids are going to be most of those in hiding, it seems, although young Lyanna Mormont is determined to fight alongside her men (and women) she trained to fight. Trailers revealed Varys in the crypts looking frightened, and Dany ordered Tyrion to keep himself safe below as well.

Despite getting some armor, Sansa will probably be leading her people from the safety of the crypts. As much as the crypts are the safest place in Winterfell to hide from the attackers, I’ll be surprised if there aren’t some scary moments when the dead are trying to break in. Crypts aren’t exactly designed with a back entrance. If Tyrion and Sansa are both down there, I doubt that the doors will be breached and the people hiding down there massacred en masse, but anything can happen.

The Teams Are In Place

The episode ended with the army of the dead approaching Winterfell, with the three horn blasts making it clear that these aren’t just Northern refugees approaching. Things are bound to get intense pretty quickly in the next episode, and characters may end up in drastically different places with totally different fighters backing them up, but there are some units seemingly in place now.

Brienne -- now Ser Brienne -- will be leading a group of fighters beyond the walls of Winterfell. Jaime requested the honor of fighting with her, and she vouched for him to Dany, saying that she would fight by her side, so those two will presumably be in the mix together. Podrick as well, I imagine. A bunch of people around them are probably going to bite the dust, but likely not major characters.

The Hound and Beric Dondarrion are likely to stick together for at least part of the fight after they shared a drink on the battlements. Sansa is probably going to be in the crypts with Tyrion, Varys, and other non-fighters.

Arya and Gendry were still in bed -- or what passed for a bed -- together when the horn blasts started, so they might start out as a unit. Whether they can stick together is a bigger question. Just like Brienne getting knighted makes me worry for her life, Gendry and Arya getting to be happy and unburdened for a bit makes me immediately worry about Gendry’s life.

Bran will be awaiting the Night King in the godswood with Theon Greyjoy and the Ironborn as his defenders, which… should be interesting. Theon is determined to make up for his past wrongs. He did what he could to redeem himself to Sansa, and she happily greeted him with a big hug in Episode 2. Will he redeem himself by saving Bran? And will he survive the attempt?

The wild cards for me at the moment are Tormund and the oh-so-dolorous Edd. Tormund could want to stay by Brienne’s side and continue what may be the weirdest love triangle in the history of the show, now that Jaime is in the mix. Edd would be an asset up on the battlements thanks to all his years at The Wall. Hopefully he doesn’t need Sam or Jon to burn his body at the end!

Finally, we have Jon and Dany. It was never specifically stated, but given how they ran off together after the horn blasts, my money is on the two of them on dragonback for part of the battle. I won’t be surprised if Jon is fighting on the ground at some point, though.

Dany Knows The Truth

Things are bound to be a bit awkward between Jon and Dany, assuming they both survive the battle against the dead. Shortly before the horn blasts announcing the arrival of the dead, Dany found Jon visiting Lyanna’s statue down in the crypts, and he dropped the truth on her. Considering it came in the very same episode that saw Dany assuring Sansa that she came North out of love for Jon, it was more than a little awkward.

Dany did quickly connect the dots that Jon as a Targaryen -- if true, since she doesn’t 100% trust the word of Jon’s brother and best friend -- would be the last surviving male in their family line and would therefore have a claim to the Iron Throne. She definitely didn’t look happy about it, and Jon looked like he’d happily go back in time and stop Sam from breaking the news if he could.

Will the bombshell affect Dany’s ability to focus in the field? Or her determination to protect Jon? We’ll have to wait and see.

People Are Going To Die

Alas, the battle is likely going to be a bloodbath, which may make the epicness of it somewhat hard to appreciate. We’ve known for a while that a lot of characters are probably biting the dust before the end of the eighth season, and all of the major players aside from Cersei are congregated at Winterfell, mostly expecting to die.

With all these significant, long-running, and/or beloved characters in the mix at Winterfell, some of them are going to have to die. It simply wouldn’t be realistic if good guys didn’t meet bad ends, although the pacing and travel speeds of the past two seasons indicate that realism isn’t the most important thing in the world to people who brought Game of Thrones to the small screen.

But who will die? I’m worried about Gendry, Jorah Mormont, Theon, and Brienne after the events of Episode 2 in particular, and I’m really only confident that Jon, Dany, Sansa, and Tyrion will survive. Grey Worm is on my list of characters kinda likely to breathe his last, and I’m not feeling great about Podrick’s chances after he sang his beautiful song this week. And what of Sam, now that he's handed over Heartsbane?

Basically, all the people who got to be happy this week strike me as either in danger of dying or of losing somebody very important to them. As once predicted, the Battle of Winterfell will take place in the third episode of Season 8, airing Sunday, April 28 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. It will be the longest of the eighth season to that point, so prepare for a long and intense installment that could be as heartbreaking as it is epic.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).