HBO’s “Game of Thrones” began as a fantasy drama and quickly turned into a worldwide phenomenon literally causing many to call out sick at work to binge-watch entire seasons. I hadn’t seen the first two seasons, but I relished spending a long weekend here at the Movie TV Tech Geeks screening room watching it in 4K splendor!

I’m not a big fantasy fan (although I loved “Lord of the Rings,” but something about “Game of Thrones” was different. It felt like I was watching an epic movie every week or back to back in my case. I always wound up letting them pile up so I could watch them like that as I get impatient watching one week at a time.

While HBO keeps all things GOT under wraps tightly since filming wrapped last summer, the cast have been doing interviews and dropping little hints along the way. We break those things down further if you want to avoid spoilers.

For seven seasons, you’ve ignored the lure of “Game of Thrones.” The multiple awards didn’t draw you in. Your friends debating plot twists each Sunday on social media didn’t move you. The “Is Jon Snow really dead?” storyline wasn’t enough; not even the “Hold the door!” memes sparked enough interest.

But now, here you are, with the final season days away from kicking off, finally ready to delve in. Since you don’t have the time (or probably the stamina) to binge watch the past 67 episodes, here’s what you need to know to follow along with a modicum of understanding when the eighth season gets underway on HBO on Sunday.

Game of Thrones family tree images chart.
Game of Thrones Family tree chart up through Season 8.

THE FAMILIES:

“Game of Thrones” is a family affair, with several Great Houses that love, fight, plot and conspire for the Iron Throne, ultimate power in Westeros. (Some love a little more than normal — the twisted affair between siblings Jaime and Cersei Lannister, for example).

The three families at the heart of GOT:

Games of Thrones House of Stark family.
House of Stark

THE STARKS

The series began with Ned Stark, Warden of the North, at his home, Winterfell. He and his family — wife Catelyn; sons, Robb, Rickon and Bran; daughters Sansa and Arya; and oh yeah, the bastard, Jon Snow — are living relatively quietly until they receive a visit from Ned’s old friend Robert Baratheon, now the king. Reluctantly, Ned agrees to become the hand of the king, kind of a ceremonial vice president position, and travels south with some of his family. Things don’t go so well, he loses his head and the family is scattered.

Shamed by his origins, Jon Snow joins and soon becomes a leader of the Night’s Watch. Think of them as a combination of border patrol agents and celibate monks who stand guard at the Wall, which runs across the north of Westeros and kept out the Wildlings, a fierce nation that doesn’t recognize the kings and princes of Westeros. Eventually though, the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings join forces against something far more terrifying: the Night King and his White Walkers, an army of the frozen undead, who when last seen have come crashing through the Wall.

By season eight, the other surviving Starks are: Sansa, who went from horrible engagement to horrendous marriages to, now, becoming the mistress of Winterfell; Arya, who survived on the run, picking up some deadly skills along the way; and a disabled Bran, a man with a mystical vision.

Game of Thrones Lannister family.
The purely dysfunction Lannister family.

THE LANNISTERS

The gold-obsessed family you love to hate. Twins Cersei and Jamie have been lovers since they were kids, becoming the not-so proud parents of Joffrey, who was briefly king, and two others, none of whom survived the show’s run.

Cersei was married to the king, Robert Baratheon, and has remained in charge in the capital, King’s Landing.

The youngest and wittiest Lannister sibling, Tyrion, a dwarf, is the black sheep of the family. Seems his sister still blames him for the death of their mother while giving birth to him. After killing his father and fleeing Kings Landing, Tyrion finds a second act as hand to a different queen, Daenerys of …

Game of Thrones Targaryen family tree chart.

HOUSE OF TARGARYEN

The Targaryens ruled Westeros before Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark and others brought them down. Daenerys, the only surviving member of the family, more or less, was sold into marriage with Dothraki leader Khal Drogo (later killed). She receives an interesting wedding gift: three dragon eggs. Before they hatched, making her the “Mother of Dragons,” the Dothraki queen learned she can stand close to the fire — correction, she can stand in the fire, without getting burned.

Daenerys decides to sail across the Narrow Sea and reclaim the Iron Throne held by her father, the mad king. He too had a penchant for fire, though it was more about burning people alive.

Her brother Rhaegar is also crucial to the story for allegedly kidnapping Ned Stark’s sister, Lyanna, before he and his family were killed.

Game of Thrones feudal England mixed with Middle Earth.

TIME AND PLACE:

Martin has created a world that’s make-believe but feels somewhat real. It’s like a mashup of feudal England and Tolkien’s Middle Earth with a healthy dose of sex, violence, conniving, power-grabbing, more sex, more violence and lots of full-frontal nudity.

Some other prominent places:

Dragonstone:

Former home of House Targaryen, an island where the dragons of the past resided with the family.

Essos:

A continent lying across the Narrow Sea from Westeros. It’s where Daenerys was hiding in the beginning, and where the horse-loving Dothraki roam.

Braavos:

A free city in Essos, home to the Iron Bank — to which the Lannisters owe some gold. Also home to the Faceless — religious types and assassins who worship the Many-Faced God of death, and collect faces of the dead from all over the world. Arya came up through the ranks here.

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Iron Islands:

Home to a naval fleet of warriors led by House Greyjoy, who son Theon was a ward of the Starks and has been through some rough times since then.

WHAT TO EXPECT NEXT

As the final season approaches, the three houses have pledged to unite their armies — along with the Wildlings— to fight their common enemy: the White Walkers. The zombie-like creatures have broken through the Wall and they now include one of Daenerys’ dragons among their ranks.

Game of Thrones Season 8 Deaths and Survivors
Game of Thrones Season 8 Deaths and Survivors

Curious As To Who Dies Next On Game of Thrones and Who Will Survive Season 8?

Spoiler alert: Computer science students at the Technical University of Munich have developed an application that scours the internet for data on the popular Game of Thrones series, and uses an algorithm to predict which characters are most likely to survive to the end of its final season.

Project supervisor Guy Yachdav said Friday survival rates are predicted using longevity analysis similar to scientific studies used to examine the effects of medical treatments.

He says although the analysis “relies on data taken from the world of fantasy, the exact same artificial intelligence techniques are used in the real world.”

The results? Daenerys Targaryen has the highest chance of survival, at 99 percent, and Bronn is the most likely to die next.

Only time will tell, but the series is notoriously unpredictable.

Game of Thrones Season 8 spoilers and secrets revealed.

GOT Cast Interview Hints and Spoilers

Jaime Lannister — Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

There’s no character who’s had a more drastic arc on Game of Thrones than Jamie Lannister. He began as the show’s nastiest villain and gradually transformed into perhaps the single most unlikely anti-hero.

What about the ending? Harpers Bazaar reports that Coster-Waldau appears in all six episodes of Season 8, but we don’t know for sure if he survives. (Jaime could die, and Arya could wear his face to kill Cersei, for instance.)

“It was the perfect ending,” he told E! Online. “I shot in this beautiful location. Obviously, I have to be careful here — it was the most beautiful place in northern Ireland. We had this amazing scene we’d been shooting for a couple days. It ended. The sun was setting. It was really spectacular.”

Does that mean Jaime has a touching final scene? Is it surprising?

“To me, [the end] was very satisfying but also very surprising and all the things that I was hoping for,” he told Huffington Post. “It still made sense. It wasn’t like one of those where the killer is suddenly revealed in the last act and you go, ‘Oh! I didn’t see that coming.’ Here, they’ve done a really, really good job.”

Arya Stark — Maisie Williams

Arya Stark actress Maisie Williams was only 12 years old when Game of Thrones began, playing a young girl who eventually grew into a badass Faceless woman.

In a cover story with S Magazine, she reflected on her work on the final season. “This whole season was really, really emotional,” she said. “When I came to shoot my final scene, I had already watched a lot of people wrap and seen all the tears and heard all the speeches.”

“It was just a really beautiful day, and a really great final scene for me,” Williams said. “It felt like the right time to say goodbye to Arya.”

“I ended on the perfect scene,” Williams told The Guardian. “I was alone — shocker! Arya’s always bloody alone.”

“I went back into my trailer after we wrapped,” Williams told Rolling Stone. “I took a shower, ’cause I was dirty. Arya is always dirty.” She talked of “really glorious sunshine” on “the nicest day” in Northern Ireland, and the whole production wrapped right after her final scene. (Could that lightly confirm a theory about her stealing Jaime’s face?)

Sansa Stark — Sophie Turner

On April 11, Turner hinted to Entertainment Weekly that in Season 8, Sansa “risks tearing apart her family” and notes a “huge amount of fighting between Sansa and Jon,” mainly because of his relationship with Daenerys Targaryen

“Sansa this season is very much enjoying becoming a leader in her own right and the leader of Winterfell,” she said, “and this year there are certain challenges of people who come into her life that threaten that. She has to go behind a few backs.”

In a Rolling Stone cover story focused on Turner and Maisie Williams, it was revealed that the Game of Thrones showrunners’ favorite Sansa scene was her last. “I feel very satisfied with the ending of the entire show,” she said. “Every story arc came to a really good close.”

More specifically, what was her last day of filming like?

“My last day was in Spain,” Turner told Games Radar. “We’d been shooting this really long scene for five days in the heat. And I was like, ‘Please just wrap me, so that I can be over and done with it.’ And I didn’t really feel emotional up to that point. I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m going to have a reaction. I don’t feel sad yet.’” Like many cast members, she did wind up crying.

Spain, however, is where scenes set in Dorne on Game of Thrones were filmed, which could be an indication that Sansa retreats as far south as possible at the end of Season 8. Do the Starks spread out across all of Westeros and each take control over a region?

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Cersei Lannister — Lena Headey

Queen Cersei Lannister began the series as a wicked antagonist whose cutthroat aspirations increased as part of her descent into madness and full-on evil. By Season 8, she’s a full-on villain that could outlast even the Night King.

In February, actress Lena Headey told ET Live, “I think people will be surprised at every turn this season.”

Despite playing a cold-hearted villain, Headey herself still dealt with the emotional fallout of working on the series. “I didn’t think I was going to be emotional,” she told Huffington Post. “I thought I wasn’t going to let myself get to that point because I had the last day to get through. And then when I left and I got in the car, I broke down in tears and I was … yeah, devastated.”

What was her actual last scene?

“My last day on set was really, weirdly tedious, because I just had to shoot going up and down these stairs,” she told Variety in January during Sundance. She echoed the same sentiment to The Wrap, saying, “I can’t tell you anything apart from I descend some stairs and ascend some stairs.” This one’s a bit confusing, but it’s possible that Headey filmed her last scene out of chronological order. We sincerely doubt Cersei’s actual last scene in Game of Thrones is that mundane.

iain glen peter dinklage game of thrones 506 unbowed recaap 2015

Tyrion Lannister — Peter Dinklage

 Even a small person can cast a big shadow, and this kind of imagery follows Tyrion Lannister in both the books and the HBO series. A drunken lecher eventually became one of Westeros’ greatest political minds. What’s in store for the end of his story?

In an October 2018 conversation with Vulture, Tyrion actor Peter Dinklage remarked on how odd it is that scenes are often filmed out of order, so sometimes the last scene an actor films on a production is nothing more than a simple transition sequence.

“It’s always anticlimactic for the character’s last day,” he said. “Nothing is shot chronologically, so you don’t get some big mountaintop scene or anything. It’s just, ‘That’s a wrap on Peter Dinklage.’” Dinklage called his last day on set “beautifully bittersweet.”

“I feel very, very — I’m trying to find the right word,” Dinklage said. “I think he was given a very good conclusion. No matter what that is — death can be a great way out.”

Wait … does Tyrion die!?

“I had all these ideas in my head and a version of one of them is how it ends up [for Tyrion],” Dinklage told Entertainment Weekly days before the Season 8 premiere. “David and Dan have a brilliant version of what I had. If I use any adjectives it will give it away. But I love how it ended up. And how it ends up for everybody. They had a beautiful gentle touch with some and a hard touch with others.”

Will Tyrion get that “gentle touch” or the harder one? Could he be a secret Targaryen? Is he the prophesized valonqar who kills Cersei?

Daenerys Targaryen game of thrones killed off season 8

Daenerys Targaryen — Daenerys Targaryen — Emilia Clarke

Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have compared the show’s ending to that of The Sopranos in terms of a controversial finale. Based on Emilia Clarke’s comments about her characters role in the story, it seems like Daenerys’ might have a central part to play in making the end so divisive.

Speaking to the Press Association, Emilia Clarke admitted to walking around London for “three hours aimlessly” after she was handed the scripts for Season 8. “It might as well have been raining and I would’ve just walked in it not knowing what to do,” she said, adding that when she filmed her final scenes for the show, there were “loads of tears.”

What of Dany’s final scene? It doesn’t sound good.

In a May 2018 cover story with Vanity Fair, Clarke hinted that Dany’s final actions might prove controversial. “It fucked me up,” she said. “Knowing that is going to be a lasting flavor in someone’s mouth of what Daenerys is …” Whatever happens in the last scene featuring Daenerys Targaryen, it will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth about the Dragon Queen.

Dany burning Randyll and Dickon Tarly alive in Season 7 might be just the beginning. Maybe they defeat the Night King early in Season 8 and the rest of the season follows Dany’s descent into insanity until we have a bonafide Mad Queen on our hands?

jon snow stabbed to death game of thrones finale 2015
Would Game of Thrones kill Jon Snow again?

Jon Snow — Kit Harrington

Jon Snow began the series as the frustrated bastard of Ned Stark, but these days he’s the King in the North and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, son to Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.

In a March appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert he described the experience of learning how Game of Thrones Season 8 ended:

“We had a table read through and I was the only one who hadn’t read the episode. I think I told everyone I didn’t want to know what happened, but really it was just laziness. The writers used me as a litmus test to see my reaction to things as the events unfolded, and they got some pretty good reactions.”

One key detail from this experience is frightening: “At the very end I was very shocked and surprised at certain events, and then I blubbed my eyes out. I cried.”

Like many Game of Thrones actors, the last scene Harrington filmed doesn’t seem like his last in chronological order.

“I think I got my final day changed about 18 times, to the point where I didn’t know when it was,” he said to InStyle. “I was like, ‘Just don’t tell me.’ Then it came, and I had that final scene, which was very average. I was just walking somewhere with [Davos Seaworth] and [Grey Worm]. It couldn’t have been more of a wet fart of a scene. But I completely broke down after it. I’d seen Peter Dinklage do his last scene earlier in the day, and he broke down.”

As for the ending of the entire series, Harrington suspects that not even he knows what actually happens. “I still don’t trust that the ending that was written down is the actual ending,” he told InStyle. “I think they kept it from all of us. The secrecy this year was just huge. No one I’ve spoken to has guessed the actual ending. No one has got it right yet.”

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