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‘Game of Thrones’: A primer for those who don’t watch the show

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Game of Thrones, arguably the most talked-about television show of the last few years, isn’t for everybody. For some folks, the fantasy element isn’t their thing, or the violence is too much. Whatever the reason, many people didn’t sign on when the series started up in 2011.

Now, as the series enters its final season and the premiere draws closer, GoT is on everybody’s lips. There’s talk of dragons, of White Walkers, of a gigantic wall, of people coming back from the dead. To someone not in the know, it can be daunting to wrap your head around it.

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We’re here to help — here are some fast facts about the show and its characters to get you through the next water-cooler conversation you encounter.

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(Note: it’s nearly impossible to encapsulate all eight seasons into a succinct post, so many facets are missing. These are the basics. Also, there are many spoilers below for those who haven’t seen the show.)

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Popular brands rush to cash in on Game of Thrones fever
Popular brands rush to cash in on Game of Thrones fever

What, exactly, is a “Game of Thrones”?

The show’s title is exactly what it is: a power struggle among warring houses, each looking to claim the ultimate throne — the Iron Throne — for themselves. Set in a fantasy world, Game of Thrones appears to take place in medieval times, but mystical phenomena like magic is commonplace. The GoT universe, created by author George R. R. Martin, is incredibly dense and packed with hundreds of characters and locations. Even for the GoT fanatic, it’s hard to keep things straight.

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What are the houses?

A perfectly reasonable place to start. There are nine “great” houses, each with a name carried by every member of said house — with some exceptions. Of the nine houses, there are some more standout ones, and ones you’re more likely to hear mentioned in conversation. For the purposes of prepping for the final season, the notable ones are:

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House Lannister
Long considered the richest and most powerful house, the Lannisters are known for their golden hair and for their saying, “A Lannister always repays his debts.” Represented by their symbol — what else? A golden lion — they are a fearful bunch.

From L-R: Tyrion Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister
From L-R: Tyrion Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister HBO

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey): A strong woman who never takes orders from anybody, Cersei is ruthless. Her allegiance is to herself and her twin brother, Jaime, who is also her one true love. Yes, you read that correctly. Cersei and Jaime are in an incestuous relationship, and over the course of the series had three children together. They are now all dead, and heading into the final episodes, Cersei is absolutely thirsting for the crown and will stop at nothing to get it.

Jaime Lannister (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau): Over eight seasons, Jaime’s edge has dulled slightly, and through much suffering and experience, he’s gained a softer side. Nicknamed the Kingslayer, he was known across the land as the best swordsman, though also a turncoat. Mid-series he had his right hand cut off, replaced with a replica hand, and that impacted his fighting prowess. Not as diabolical as Cersei, it’ll be interesting to see where his loyalty lies.

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage): Tyrion was born with dwarfism. Living in an archaic time, his entire life has been filled with torture and mockery, even from his own family. Tyrion is easily the smartest Lannister, and his intelligence makes up for his lack of physical prowess. Along the way, he has distanced himself from the Lannisters, even killing his own father. Like Jaime, will Tyrion choose his family alliance, or go for the betterment of the world by turning against them once and for all?

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House Targaryen

The Targaryens once ruled for three solid centuries, bringing times of prosperity to the kingdoms. After years of inbreeding, the Targaryen hair turned silver/white and their skin turned deathly pale. They sought to mate with each other to help preserve their family’s ability to communicate with dragons and resist fire, though a side effect is instability or insanity, traits possessed by nearly all Targaryens. Their sigil is a three-headed dragon. Following a brutal takeover, only two Targaryens survived. Now, only one remains. (This is partially true, but to keep things simple, just go with it.)

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Daenerys Targaryen
Daenerys Targaryen HBO

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke): Initially traded into marriage by her now-dead brother, Daenerys has risen up to become the leader of many different groups of people; her ridiculously long official title now reads Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons. And oh yes, that last part — Daenerys has three dragons, who treat her like their mother. They make her a formidable foe, and a contender for world domination.

House Stark
This is the people’s house, the one you’re supposed to root for. And really, why not? It’s filled with amazing characters who make up the majority of the show’s storylines. The Starks have a long, storied history, and are generally looked at as wards of the northlands (“The North” for short). They are hearty, strong and connected to nature. The Stark emblem is the direwolf, a symbol of strength and resilience. Like the Lannisters, many Starks have died during the course of the series. Here are the remaining notable members.

From L-R: Sansa Stark, Bran Stark, Arya Stark
From L-R: Sansa Stark, Bran Stark, Arya Stark HBO

Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner): The eldest Stark sister, Sansa has grown from an immature girl wanting to be a princess into a strong-willed woman helping rule Winterfell, the Starks’ hometown. She endured immense abuse in two marriages she was forced into, and still bears the scars.

Arya Stark (Maisie Williams): The youngest Stark sister is also the most ass-kickingest. Maligned and forced into “girl things” for the majority of her life, Arya took off on her own and followed her own path, becoming a powerful fighter in her own right. She carries her sword, Needle, with her everywhere she goes.

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Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright): After suffering a near-death “accident” at the hands of Jaime Lannister, Bran was left paralyzed from the waist down for most of his childhood. He eventually starts having visions and can now occupy the minds of other beings. It’s anybody’s guess what’ll happen with Bran in these final episodes, though there are many online theories that speculate he’s actually a villain.

Jon Snow
Jon Snow HBO

Jon Snow (Kit Harington): Arguably the biggest Stark-family character, Jon is not technically a Stark in name because he is a bastard, borne of another woman. (We found out last season that Jon is technically a Targaryen and the true heir to the Iron Throne, but instead of confusing you, we’ll just leave it at that.) There’s far too much to recount here, but suffice it to say he is now the King in the North, and he recently started up a romantic relationship with Daenerys. He is seen as the man who’ll save the world.

(The other houses, for posterity, are: House Tyrell, Arryn, Tully, Greyjoy, Baratheon and Martell.)

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Who wants the Iron Throne now?

Basically, there are three main contenders for the Iron Throne: Cersei, Daenerys and Jon Snow. Now, with Daenerys and Jon Snow “together,” they stand an even greater chance. But of course, nothing ever works out so easily. Daenerys and Jon Snow have the dragons and the support of many groups of people, while Cersei is cunning and as we’ve seen throughout eight seasons, literally stops at nothing to get what she wants.

To top it off, with all of Cersei’s children now dead, she has nothing left to lose and that is a dangerous, dangerous thing.

So what’s the story with the dragons?

HBO/YouTube
HBO/YouTube HBO

The dragons are legendary creatures and are thought to be a myth to many denizens in the GoT universe. Their existence is rumoured, but not necessarily believed. So when Daenerys shows up on the scene with her little reptilian monsters, people snap to attention.

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Thought to be extinct in the modern world, the dragons were mastered only by the Targaryens in the past (as mentioned before). Daenerys was given three petrified eggs as a wedding gift, and once bathed in fire, they hatched. Named Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion, it’ll be amazing to see what wrath they bring upon the world in these final episodes.

My friends keep referencing a wall. What is that?

The wall is a huge… well, wall made of ice, which extends “100 leagues” across the northern border of the kingdoms. It was meant to keep out the wildlings — a large group of people who call themselves “free folk,” who don’t abide by laws or customs of modern humanity. In the last season of GoT, the wall, long thought to be impenetrable, was breached.

I’ve heard there are some sort of zombies. Are those the White Walkers?

HBO/Courtesy Everett Collection
HBO/Courtesy Everett Collection HBO

You’ve got it. Picture the zombies from pop culture that you know and love. Now make them more skeletal and cover them in ice. Those are them. Their leader, called the Night King, is terrifying and he’s on the hunt for humanity. In fact, it’s the Walkers who successfully breached the wall, and they’re on their way to battle.

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For many seasons, we’ve watched the houses fight against each other for the throne. Now the warring factions may have to band together to defeat the Walkers, and put aside their war over power. But will that happen? We’ll just have to wait and see.

One thing’s for sure: GoT has never shied away from the worst possible outcomes, so we can expect a lot of blood, carnage and heartbreaking deaths to grapple with throughout this final season.

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