There are just a few days to go now before Game of Thrones season 7 begins. It’s admittedly the best time of the year for some, and Sunday's season premiere promises more of what we’ve come to love: scheming and plotting, stabbing and drinking, great lines and greater retorts, and of course dragons. But given the huge size of the ensemble cast, it can be tricky to remember who’s alive, what they are up to, and whose side they are on.
Of course, the best way to do that is to rewatch all six seasons of Game of Thrones. (In case you plan to, we've episode-by-episode recaps for season 5 and season 6.) But since not everyone has sixty hours to spare, we’ve gone ahead and prepared a quick refresh guide that will catch you up on all the biggest characters, and how far they have come since the beginning in 2011.
We’ve split them up into three factions – the Starks, the Targaryens, and the Lannisters – but that doesn’t always signify their last name, rather where their allegiances lie. We’ve also taken the liberty to speculate their survival chances over the course of Game of Thrones season 7, and feel free to argue with us in the comments section.
Note: spoilers below for all six seasons of Game of Thrones, obviously.
The bastard son of Ned Stark The son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark has seen it all, through life and death. Jon Snow has always suffered for doing the right thing, whether while disguising himself as a part of the wildlings, or later from his fellow Night’s Watch during his short stint as Lord Commander. After being revived by Melisandre in season six, Jon said he was free to go and joined Sansa in taking back their home from the monstrous Ramsay Bolton.
Though he acted insanely foolishly in the Battle of Winterfell, he was saved by the Knights of the Vale, whom Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish brought on Sansa’s request. Nevertheless, it was him that was installed as ruler – despite not having Stark in his name – and proclaimed King in the North. Having the wrong last name might prove to be a thorn in his new reign, which is also being challenged by the advancing White Walkers.
Survival chance: 8/10
For a character that few expected to last so long, Sansa Stark has proven herself to be a resourceful player after all in the on-going game of thrones. She has had to suffer a lot to get here though; first at the hands of her ‘beloved’ Joffrey, and then under the watchful eyes of Littlefinger who gave her in marriage to Ramsay Bolton to further his own plot, where she ended up being raped on her wedding night.
She ended up going back to him after seeing the lack of manpower in the Battle of Winterfell, which allowed her to enjoy the sight of her husband being torn to pieces by its own dogs. The ramifications of that decision, in that it puts her back in Littlefinger's debt, along with her own desire to become the ruler of Winterfell – now that she’s the eldest living Stark – will pave the way for her character up ahead.
Survival chance: 7/10
The rebellious Arya has proven herself to be a ferocious and independent character. Due to the atrocities levelled on the Starks, she has been forced to grow up much quicker than her late father would have wanted, first with Sandor Clegane and then two seasons in Braavos, where she trained with the unforgiving Jaqen H’ghar.
After refusing to do his bidding and herself ending up on the kill order last year, Arya vanquished fellow assassin "The Waif", before informing Jaqen that she would never be part of his “no one” troupe. Reclaiming her identity, she’s now back in Westeros, where she exacted revenge on Lord Frey for his crimes against her family. Quite a few people remain on her list, and a long-awaited reunion with Jon and Sansa (plus Bran, hopefully) will cause GoT-fans to cry happy tears in unison.
Survival chance: 9/10
The youngest surviving Stark, Bran, is on the path to become a seer. His knowledge of Jon’s true parentage and ability to warg/ see into the past were used by the show to provide bits of exposition, and will be useful going forward as the White Walkers march on the Seven Kingdoms.
Samwell Tarly was dispatched to the Citadel for a single reason: to learn more about the threat posed by the undead, and how to stop them. It’ll interesting to see if the show comes up with a deus ex machina solution, or the exercise turns out to be a fool’s errand.
From what we’ve seen in the trailers, the ever cunning Littlefinger seems to be whispering in Sansa’s ears, telling her to assert herself as the one true Stark ruler. Everything he does always plays into his interests, and he’s never been coy about his love for Sansa, trickled down from his fascination with her late mother Catelyn.
Apart from the improvised romance with Tormund that has everyone talking, Brienne of Tarth is one of the few that will stand by her values no matter what. She’s failed to keep most of her promises for that very reason – it’s another way author George RR Martin telling us what happens to good people in Westeros – but her devotion is marvellous.
No other character’s journey in Game of Thrones has been so empowering. Daenerys’ story began as the meek sister to Viserys, who was peddled around to further her brother's ambitions. At the end of season six, she had successfully managed to win the alliance of multiple Westerosi great houses to her cause, alongside the strength of the Unsullied and the courage of the Dothraki.
She presents the greatest threat to newly-crowned Queen Cersei, and she’s determined to return to the throne that once belonged to the Targaryens. Despite the benevolent image that she created by freeing slaves, the Khaleesi’s quest for power has come at a heavy cost, and thousands more will fall in the coming seasons. Now that we’ve confirmation of Jon Snow’s true parentage, a meeting with her nephew is highly awaited as well.
Survival chance: 8/10
Forever ridiculed by his own family members (except Jaime), and most others too, Tyrion’s knack for politics and management – along with the promise of Lannister gold – has helped him keep his head. He started the series as a philandering, spoiled member of a royal family who drank too much, and has become a wise man with no inheritance who still drinks too much, killing his own father to escape the death penalty.
Now that he’s inserted himself in Daenerys’ closest circle of advisors, Tyrion is going against his own family as the Mother of Dragons aims to wipe them out. He’d be more than happy to serve Cersei’s head on a platter, but how he manages to keep his brother Jaime alive will be a delicate balancing act, given that the twins swear by each other. There’s also the matter of keeping the Khaleesi from sliding down the same slippery slope as her father.
Survival chance: 8/10
A foolish, inexperienced man who prematurely betrayed the Starks in order to prove himself to his father, Theon is (almost) himself again after suffering at the hands of Ramsay for years. He first helped Sansa escape from Winterfell, and then joined up to support his sister Yara – who has always been the stronger one among them – in her quest to become the next ruler of the Iron Islands.
After the people chose their uncle Euron over Yara because she’s a woman, the brother and sister fled with a modest fleet and arrived in Meereen to propose an alliance with Daenerys. Lending their weight to the Targaryen cause, the Ironborn accepted that they would stop with their piracy ways. Their knowledge of the sea will be called upon as Dany pushes to take on King’s Landing, which will again bring them up against Euron, who’s now decided to support the Lannister cause.
Survival chance: 5/10
The engineer at the centre of the new alliance with Highgarden and Sunspear, Varys is always in tune with how the wind blows, thanks to his massive network of informants. That should come in handy given Daenerys is taking on King’s Landing, though only time will tell if his sparrows have fully thrown in with Qyburn.
Though Grey Worm and Missandei have become consistent and identifiable faces in Daenerys’ inner circle, their role is mostly relegated to carrying out orders. And if anything, the show is likely to give more focus to their budding relationship, whose future seems unlikely at best.
After getting thrown out by Jon Snow, who learned of her part in Shireen Baratheon’s death from Davos Seaworth, Melisandre seems to be trying her luck with the arriving Targaryen party, judging by the first trailer. What has seen in her fires now?
Having lost their beloveds at the hands of Lannisters, Olenna Tyrell and Ellaria Sand are now squarely behind Daenerys, who has promised them “justice and vengeance” with fire and blood. They have always been on the show’s periphery – Sand more so than everyone else – so it’ll be a miracle if we get more than the usual.
The most powerful female Lannister is now the most powerful woman in Westeros after her wildfire-led coup at the Sept of Baelor killed her biggest enemies in one fell swoop, and inadvertently led to her youngest son Tommen’s suicide. In the process, it fulfilled one half of the prophecy told by fortune teller Maggy to a 15-year-old Cersei, that she would bear three children who would all die before her.
Cersei has been close to the power core from the series’ beginnings, as Queen to King Robert. After causing his death, she served as Queen Mother to her two sons: King Joffrey and King Tommen. She’s seen both sons married to Margaery Tyrell, whom she had killed in the Sept of Baelor. Her incestuous relationship with Jaime has deteriorated over the years, owing to his inability to protect their children, though her isolation did spark it back to life in season six.
Survival chance: 5/10
Forever known across the lands as the Kingslayer, and introduced as a man willing to push a child out a window to protect himself, Jaime Lannister has come a long way on his redemptive character arc. His true intentions behind killing Aerys II, his camaraderie with Brienne, and his antagonistic relationship with his controlling late father Tywin have helped that cause, which have shown that he has more layers to him than his ruthless exterior.
His disinterest in political manoeuvring and endless support for his fraternal twin and lover Cersei has seen him being forced to take on projects that he’d rather not. With Cersei now Queen (and as shown in the trailers), Jaime will be asked to lead the Lannister armies to protect themselves against the renewed Targaryen threat. There looks to be a meeting with Daenerys’ dragons on the cards too.
Survival chance: 5/10
Unable to deliver on his initial promise of marrying the Mother of Dragons, Euron Greyjoy seems to be pivoting his interest and those of the Iron Islands to the newly installed Queen of the King’s Landing, something the second trailer confirmed. Given the lack of friends the Lannisters have, Cersei should readily accept the offer.
Qyburn has quietly been doing Cersei’s bidding well before she came to power, and he had a chief role in her Baelor plot, identifying that the caches of wildfire installed by the Mad King were still intact. Expect him to be rewarded for his loyalty, and more experiments such as those that brought back the Mountain.
Game of Thrones returns to air July 16 on HBO, July 17 on Hotstar, and July 18 on Star World.