It's all over! We can safely say Game of Thrones Season 6 ended spectacularly for fans and HBO. The finale, Winds of Winter, was the highest rated show in its history; notching 8.9 million viewers. Combined with On Demand services, the network expects 23.3 million viewers in total. Those are staggering numbers, especially when you factor in that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show on the internet. The backslapping ends on this last metric, Winds of Winter scored a perfect 10 on IMDB. It was certainly epic, setting up the chess pieces for the coming endgame.

The season began with Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) murdered by Ser Alliser (Owen Teale) and traitors in the Night Watch. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) held prisoner by the Dothraki horde. The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and his Faith Militant in control of King's Landing, with Cersei (Lena Headey) a prisoner in the Red Keep. Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) escaped the clutches of Ramsey Bolton (Iwan Rheon). Arya Stark (Maisie) was blinded by the Many Faced God during her training in Braavos. It was a bleak start for all of the primary characters.

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If there's one lesson to learn in this show, death is by no means permanent. Melisandre (Carice van Houten) resurrected Jon Snow through the Lord of Light. His awakening coincided with Sansa's arrival at Castle Black. At long last the Starks were united. They rallied the wildlings and House Mormont to retake Winterfell from the Bolton's. Daenerys, after being rescued by Daario (Michael Huisman) and Ser Jorah (Ian Glenn), burned the Dothraki Khals to death. She becomes their Queen and returned to Mereen in force.

The penultimate episode, Battle of the Bastards, unleashed the greatest action scenes yet. Daenerys and her dragons decimate the Masters and the Harpy rebellion in Mereen. Jon, with Sansa's recruitment of the Knights of the Vale, defeated Ramsey Bolton. The Starks reclaim Winterfell with an epic victory. Few characters get their just end, but there was tremendous satisfaction watching Sansa feed a bloodied Ramsey Bolton to his starving dogs. Arya completed her assassin diploma by dispatching the hateful Waif (Faye Marsay). Cersei got the last laugh in King's Landing by blowing up her enemies in a spectacular explosion.

Battle of the Bastards and The Winds of Winter brought the season to a fantastic close. There had been a worrisome lull during the middle. Season 6 was whole new territory having surpassed the books. I had some trepidation that the unpredictable nature of the story was in doubt. Thankfully that was not the case. The death toll alone surpassed anything done previously. The game is indeed still afoot.

Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss told Variety there are thirteen episodes left. Season 7 will have seven episodes, the six remaining for the final season. The loose ends have been snipped away. The remaining players are the three major families and the looming White Walker invasion. The Starks, Lannisters, and Daenerys Targaryen have all put themselves in positions of strength. Several new alliances are sure to be instrumental in the battles ahead. We'll recap the characters by region and their importance in the game.

When is Game of Thrones Season 7 release date?

<strong><em>Game of Thrones</em></strong> Season 7 Release Date

Over the past six seasons, there have been three things Game of Thrones fans have come to depend on. Each season will debut in either late March or sometime in April, each season will be 10 episodes long, and, in Westeros, "winter is coming." Those three aspects will change in Season 7, all because winter is finally here. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss confirmed this week that Game of Thrones Season 7 will be delayed, because the production now demands "grim, grey weather, even in the sunnier places we shoot." Filming is believed to begin sometime this month, which could mean the show may debut in May for the first time ever. As for the 10 episode seasons, that leads us into our next item.

Game of Thrones Season 7 will be only be 7 episodes long

<strong><em>Game of Thrones</em></strong> season 7

It wasn't a surprise when, just before Season 6 debuted, HBO issued a renewal for Season 7. Surprisingly, though, the network didn't confirm how many episodes this season will feature. As Season 6 was winding down, director Jack Bender revealed in an interview that Season 7 will only be seven episodes long, when asked if he would return to direct an episode next season. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have since confirmed that both Season 7, and the final installment, Season 8, will be shorter, although they wouldn't confirm how long each season will be. The running theory is that Season 7 will be seven episodes long, with the final season clocking in at just six episodes to close out the series, which may or may not be confirmed during the show's Comic-Con panel in just a few weeks.

How many seasons has Game Of Thrones been renewed for?

Daenerys from the East

Officially, the answer is seven, but David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have since confirmed multiple times that the show will end with Season 8. As we mentioned before, both Season 7 and Season 8 will be much shorter than the standard 10-episode seasons, but aside from the network's Season 7 renewal, the network hasn't confirmed any further details, including each season's episode count and possible premiere dates. With that being said, there has also been talk of prequel series' as well, with George R.R. Martin himself hinting in the past that the network has expressed interest in developing his prequel novellas, which follow Westeros characters named Dunk and Egg, set roughly 100 years before the events of the flagship books and series.

Daenerys from the East

Daenerys from the East

The Mother of Dragons finally makes her way back to Westeros. Daario (Michael Huisman), who was unceremoniously dumped, made the obvious statement, the Lords of Westeros have no idea what's coming for them. The pact with Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Theon (Alfie Allen) Greyjoy gave her the ships needed to cross the Narrow Sea. Her goliath army includes the Dothraki horde, the Unsullied, and three monstrous fire-breathing dragons. On Tyrion's counsel, she left Daario and the Second Sons to hold Mereen.

Where Daenerys lands in Westeros is the question. In Dorne, Varys (Conleth Hill) made an alliance with The Sand Snakes and The Queen of Thorns, aka Lady Tyrell (Diana Rigg). She's out for blood after Cersei (Lena Headey) wiped out her entire family. Dorne is the southernmost point of Westeros and its warmest region. Winter has come, but it probably won't get there quickly or be as brutal. It makes sense for Daenerys to land there. She can attack King's Landing from the south, have a base of operations, and be able to supply her huge army.

The most significant development for Daenerys was choosing Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) as Hand of the Queen. Tyrion is the smartest, most capable mind of all the characters. They seem to have established a real bond of trust. His knowledge of the seven kingdoms and his sister especially will be an invaluable asset in the conflict with the Lannisters. Daenerys will make her presence felt quickly. Tyrion may reach out to his former wife, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). Owning the South and North would have King's Landing surrounded.

Jon Snow: The King in the North

Jon Snow: The King in the North

The Starks finally taste victory after years of being decimated by their enemies. The most rousing moment of the finale was Jon Snow being chosen as the King in the North. His ferocious ten year old ally, Lady Mormont (Bella Ramsey), shames the North lords with their cowardice. Ramsey should be a lock to win the Emmy for Supporting Actress. The North rallies behind Jon, but this scene was almost exactly like Robb Stark's coronation. It didn't end well for him, but Jon is a proven leader in dire situations. With the North united, he is the best person to hold the line against the Night King and his White Walkers.

As Jon ascended the throne in Winterfell, Arya (Maisie Williams) struck the final deadly blow for house Stark. The girl has indeed become someone, a lethal assassin. She cooked up Walder Frey's (David Bradley) sons into a mince pie, fed it to him, and then slit his throat. The look of satisfaction on her face as he bled to death was classic. Arya's impersonation skills could be a game changer. It's logical that she will reunite with Sansa and Jon.

The biggest reveal was Jon's true parentage. Left at the Wall by his Uncle Benjen (Joseph Mawle), Bran Stark (Isaac Hempsted Wright) finished his time trance. He discovered that Jon is the child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. This means that Daenerys is his aunt. A shared heritage puts Jon in line for the Iron Throne, even though he is a bastard. More interesting is the possibility that Jon, as a Targaryan, may also be invulnerable to fire. We know that dragon glass, fire, and Valerian steel will kill White Walkers. A fireproof Jon and the sword given to him by Ned Stark make the perfect adversary to fight the Night King. Another thought, as Daenerys will use marriage to strengthen her position; she might unknowingly hook up with her nephew. The show has no issues with the incest storyline, but I pray it doesn't go in that direction.

Two events in the North may bode poorly for the new king. Jon banished Melisandre (Carice van Houten) after learning she burned Shireen Baratheon at the stake. The Red Witch has been wrong before, but she did resurrect Jon using the Lord of Light's power. He'd be worm food and the Starks would be nowhere without her. Even more dangerous is the spurned Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen). He was coldly rebuffed by Sansa when he asked her to share the Iron Throne. His face was menacing as the north lords fell in step behind Jon Snow. Varys was correct in brandishing Littlefinger as the most dangerous man in Westeros. Let's not forget he killed Jon Arryn, Lysa Arryn, Joffrey Baratheon, betrayed Ned Stark, and sold Sansa to the sadistic Bolton's. His machinations are sure to be in play.

Cersei takes the Iron Throne, but who is she without her family?

Cersei

Cersei's vengeance against her enemies was swift and merciless. Aided by Maester Qyburn (Anton Lesser) and her knowledge of the wildfire stored beneath King's Landing, she blew up the Sept of Baelor. Killing the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), his Faith Militant army, The Tyrells, the septons, Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover), and her Uncle Kevan (Ian Gelder) in one deft move. Then installed herself as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Jaime (Nicolaj Coster Waldau) returns to her with pure dread. Tommen (Dean Charles Chapman) committed suicide. The prophecy has been fulfilled. Her beloved children are all dead. Her wrath and vengeance will have no limits. But the Lannisters are in real trouble. They are bankrupt, have the North under control of the Starks, Daenerys en route, and most dangerously, the vindictive Queen of Thorns. Lady Tyrell is a force to be reckoned with. Cersei incinerated her son and grandchildren. That's a lot of enemies to fight. That said, Cersei and Jaime have gotten themselves out of tough situations before.

With all of that being said, all of Cersei's heinous deeds from the past six seasons have all been to defend her family against those threatening the Lannister name. Shortly after the Season 6 finale, showrunner D.B. Weiss teased that a big part of Season 7 will focus on who Cersei really is, now that practically her whole family is gone, except for Jaime, who doesn't seem to be terribly welcoming while watching her take the Iron Throne towards the end of the Season 6 finale. In short, Cersei now has the power she has presumably always wanted, but there is no one to share that power with. It will certainly be an interesting dynamic to watch unfold when Season 7 debuts next year.

Brienne and Podrick Escape Riverrun

Brienne and Podrick

The three families hold the most cards in the remaining game, but there are some players that will surely factor in the outcome. When last we saw Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick (Daniel Portman), they were escaping Riverrun on a raft. Fans of the books know where they end up, but the producers have not gone in that direction yet. So it is a complete mystery as to their fates. We can assume that they will make their way back to Winterfell and Sansa.

The Hound joins the Brotherhood without Banners

The Hound

Another powerful character to make a comeback is The Hound (Rory McCann). He survived his duel with Brienne, found a bunch of nice free folk to chill with, only to see them murdered savagely. He gets his revenge, then joins the Brotherhood without Banners. This is a key group in the books that haven't been explored as much in the show. I have a feeling that another resurrected character might finally show up. That's a spoiler, so no further details, but it does make sense.

Sam and Gilly at the Citadel of the Maesters

The Mountain

The best family unit in Game of Thrones, Sam Tarly (John Bradley-West) and Gilly (Hannay Murray), make it to the Citadel of the Maesters in Old Town. Sam is allowed to use the vast library as they review his petition to be a maester. He will learn something vital here in the fight against the White Walkers. Sam stole his father's sword, Heartsbane, also made of Valerian steel. My feeling is that Sam will be instrumental in the battle against the Night King.

The Mountain leads the Queen's Guard

The Mountain

Cersei's behemoth protector and brother of The Hound, The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), was last seen having his way with the bound Septon Unella (Hannah Waddingham). This deformed beast of a man is still undefeated in battle. He's the most powerful fighter in the Lannister's army. Cersei doesn't go anywhere without him. King's Landing may be at risk of invasion, but anyone who attempts to harm the Queen will have to deal with The Mountain first. I would love to see The Hound versus the evil older brother that scarred him.

Ser Jorah searches for a Cure

Ser Jorah

Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) regained his hero status. He rescued Daenerys, but contracted the Stone Man disease. Her last instruction to him was to find a cure, then report immediately back to her side. His loyalty is unwavering and a deadly fighter. I'd bet he somehow crosses paths with Melisandre. Her Lord of Light may grant him the reprieve he needs. Pure speculation of course, but he has an important part left to play in Daenerys' court.

Littlefinger's Next Move

Littlefinger

Littlefinger's machinations are legend. His lust for the Iron Throne has spurned destruction and chaos in Westeros. He was not happy to be rejected by Sansa. He looked downright homicidal as the north lords swore allegiance to Jon Snow. Littlefinger had announced that the Vale would support House Stark. He will undoubtedly use machiavellian tactics to undermine the King in the North. Or would he be so bold as to try and kill Sansa? She knows all of his secrets. He is vindictive and jealous enough to prevent her from finding another love. Littlefinger's next move will be critical in the game.

The Night King is death incarnate and coming for them all

Daenerys from the East

There have been no shortage of villains on Game of Thrones throughout the years, from King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) to Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), but none of them can hold a candle to the pure evil that is The Night King. We got our first glimpse at this character in the iconic Season 5 episode Hardhome, where he showed Jon Snow how he can turn a pile of corpses into soldiers for his undead army. However, D.B. Weiss teased in an interview last week that he doesn't perceive the Night King as a villain, but more as simply death itself. The Season 6 finale ended with Cersei on the Iron Throne, Jon Snow crowned as the King of the North and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and their massive army setting sail for Westeros. Regardless of who ends up on the Iron Throne in Season 7, they will have to deal with death itself, in the form of the Night King.

The remaining episodes should start in the spring of 2017. There's a lot to resolve in thirteen installments, but the producers can have episodes of different lengths. The Winds of Winter had a runtime of 69 minutes. I cannot wait to see the invasion of the White Walkers. My theory is that Bran Stark will be able to control the dragons with his warging ability. They can make more dragon glass and rain fire on the undead. Jon, Brienne, Jaime, and Sam have weapons that can kill the White Walkers. That's an event that may force every faction to team up. It's doubtful any alliances would hold after the climactic battle. It's hard to imagine Sansa, Danaerys, and Cersei at tea after all that's happened between them.

Julian Roman at TVweb
Julian Roman