In my former life as an academic, I used to joke to my colleagues that Game of Thrones was essential reading as a standard operations manual for working in universities nowadays.
GOT as a manual for negotiating the world of research grants, where, figuratively, you either win the game or die and of navigating a path between the wheeling and dealing of the big-time professors, administrators, bean-counters, health and safety officers (hey, don’t underestimate their power). On many occasions, the internal and external politics between all of the players seemed to operate on a GOT-like scale. There were times I must admit that I felt no better than a denizen of the “Flea Bottom” in King’s Landing.
Given that internal politics in most organisations of more than a handful of people can feel a bit like GOT, from time-to-time, why not distract yourself with a little idle speculation about the upcoming Game of Thrones Season 8? I’m hoping to speculate on enough topics that I’ll be able to make a random hit and be able to say “I told you so!” The truth is that my speculation is unlikely to be any better than anyone else. But its fun isn’t it? [March 7: I’ve added new updates in notes at the end]
The Battle for Winterfell
The fate of Arya, from the recently released trailer above, would appear to be central to the fate of the North. We see through Arya’s eyes the wonder of dragons and the immense size of the Army of the North replete with Grey Worm and the Unsullied. Such a mighty force to fight the Battle for Winterfell! There are several indications that the battle doesn’t go the way you might hope. Arya is running scared from something. Is she running through the crypts of Winterfell? Trying to find safety? Bran and Rickon found safety in the crypts when Theon Greyjoy attacks and briefly takes over Winterfell in Season 2
Another indication that the outcome of the Battle may not be favourable to the living is that clues from cast members indicate that the battle occurs at a central point of the season (during episode 3). This is a departure from previously where the climactic battle is second from the last episode of the season. This might indicate that the battle is either inconclusive or lost.
If this is the case, survivors would likely retreat to the strategic narrow pass at the Neck. The ancient fortress at Moat Cailin. would be an obvious place for the last stand. In my opinion, this is too good a plot point for the show writers to ignore since it would resonate strongly with the idea of 300 Spartans holding the pass at Thermopylae. It’s also close to Greywater Watch, the seat of House Reed where they might be reinforced and supplied by Howland Reed’s crannogmen .
If there is a retreat to the Moat, then its possible that Arya is running through tunnels under the ruined fortress and not through the crypts of Winterfell. There is a possible clue that underground tunnels in the trailer appear to be much narrower than what we’ve seen of the Winterfell crypts, in previous seasons or in the teaser trailer? Perhaps Arya is not so much scared as desperate? Is she desperately searching for something or someone? Will Arya survive to the end? I hope so.
Does Arya get her revenge on Queen Cersei? She’s had a change of direction and heart since meeting with her wild direwolf, Nymeria, and Ed Sheeran and the group of Lannister minstrels in season 7. If the Battle for Winterfell goes the way I suggested, then you might not be so keen to see an end of Cersei since she’ll be the last best hope of the living.
Queen Cersei and the South
The trailer shows Cersei looking so confident and self-satisfied that you just want to reach into your device screen and slap her. Whatever it is, she thinks she’s winning? What has she got up her sleeve?
Quite a few things I believe. Firstly, with Maester Qyburn she believes that she can create her own army of undead. She already counts the undead Gregor Cleagane as her knight. She has other undead knights as well. Judging from Maester Qyburn’s fascination with the arm hacked from captured wight last season, they likely believe they can create their own army of the undead (I’m sure the details will be horrifying). What’s better than to have the undead fight the dead?
Furthermore, Cersei is likely to send her undead army to the Neck to hold off the army of the Night King at the same strategic point that the King in the North and the Mother of Dragons are occupying (assuming they both survive the Battle for Winterfell). Whatever remains of Jon and Daenerys’ army and Dragons will then be fighting wights and undead on two fronts with little hope for escape [1, 2].
Second, Cersei has apparently gained the confidence of the Iron Bank of Braavos as the legitimate ruler of Westeros, i.e., the person most likely to pay back the massive debts owed to them. Remember that the Iron Bank has previously sent Tycho Nestoris to meet with Stannis (season 4) and then Mace Tyrell (season 5) and have most recently met with Cersei (season 7).
Last season also revealed that Cersei secured a loan from the Iron Bank to hire the service of the mercenary Golden Company. In addition, to defending King’s Landing, I suspect the Golden Company will be sent to ensure that the South will bend the knee to her. No doubt there is still hostility between Cersei and Dorne for what happened both to her daughter Myrcella and for the defection of the Dornish fleet to Daenerys side in early season 7. Cersei will want to bring the Dornish bannermen, the only Westerosi land forces remaining largely intact, under her control ASAP. All good jobs for her mercenaries. Not a good time to be a proud Dornish man or woman, I’d say .
The third thing in Cersei’s favour is Euron and his navy. Most recently, Euron was sailing to Essos to deliver the Golden Company to Cersei. In the book series: “A Song of Ice and Fire“, Euron “Crow’s Eye” has a Dragonbinder horn that he seized from the ruins of the smoking islands of Valyria while he was in exile. He has said to the Ironborn (A Feast for Crows) that this horn can bind dragons to his will. However, Cragon, the man who Euron has to blow the horn, dies with his lips and lungs burning.
The plot device of a Dragonbinder horn is just too good for the writers to ignore. I strongly suspect that the horn will show up early during season 8 when Euron returns with the Golden Company, or soon afterwards. Is Euron still interested in marriage to Cersei? Will Cersei offer her hand in marriage to Euron in exchange for a Dragonbinder horn? Weddings are always so colourful  and eventful in GOT! I can’t wait!
Will Theon free Asha and both of them escape to take on Euron? It would make for an intriguing wedding crashing .
Does Cersi (and Euron, if he survives the wedding) gain control of Daenerys’ dragons through the Dragonbinder horn? Does a Dragonbinder horn bind ice dragons as well as regular ones? Which poor bastard does Cersei order to blow the horn?
If my speculation is anywhere near the mark, then Jon and Daenerys will be having a very bad time of it in the middle part of the next season. Who knows, maybe they won’t both survive? Kit Harington hinted in an interview that his character was going to have a sledgehammer blow applied during season 8. The “sledgehammer” he’s referring to could be from Cersei double-crossing Jon Snow or any of the other points that I’ve speculated above, or they could be from treachery. What’s a season of GOT without a liberal dose of treachery?
The worse treachery is from someone close to you. This time Varys, or Varys through Tyrion are the most likely suspects. Tyrion has been doing a lot of lurking about and talking with the ex-master of whispers (from the Small Council of Robert Baratheon). In particular, Tyrion was lurking when Jon and Daenerys had their liaison during the shipboard voyage to White Harbour at the end of season 7. What was that expression on Tyrion’s face?
I suspect his expression was not prurient interest or because he suspected that the liaison might have been incestuous. At the end of season 7, very few people suspect Jon’s true heritage. My opinion is that Tyrion has been too long in the company of Varys and is starting to see the worse in everyone and plots around every corner.
I think Tyrion respects Daenerys greatly, maybe he has a crush on her, but no real hope of realising anything more. I think he also respects Jon for his unwavering but sometimes inappropriate honesty. What I think worries him is that together they become very powerful. Perhaps too powerful for their own good. Combine this with what Varys “The Spider” has been saying about looking after the smallfolk and protecting the powerful from the worst of themselves, then you have a recipe for treachery.
Bran has supernatural powers that make him central to season 8. He’s a warg (a person with the ability to enter the minds of animals and perceive the world through their senses) and a greenseer (a person who possesses the magical ability to perceive future, past or distant events in dreams).
These powers allow him to serve as the “three-eyed crow“. Bran has the ability to greensee with Weirwood trees that are centuries old: he can greensee whatever events happened in the presence of the tree during its long history.
Bran can warg into animals such as crows and ravens and see whatever the animal can see. His warging ability can also control the animal under some circumstances; such as being able to send a flock of ravens to look for the Army of the Dead and the Night King. However, the Night King can also sense Bran and “touch” him so that he knows where Bran is at the point that they come into contact.
At the end of season 6, Bran showed the ability to greensee using the mind of Hodor in the present and connect with him in the past by bringing Hodor’s current mind into contact with a past mind (Willis, the young Hodor). It seems that this can only be done for someone with a damaged “simple” mind, such as Hodor and then only for a one-word vocabulary (Hodor for hold-the-door),
Furthermore, greenseeing in this way damages the brain of the subject (Hodor’s brain was damaged but this was not the case for his younger self, Willis). Greenseeing with a human presents a serious problem because of the paradox created by bringing a person’s mind in the past into contact with their future mind is disastrous for them.
It is widely rumoured by internet fan groups that season 8 will see magical combat between the supernatural abilities of Bran and the Night King. Whoever wins this contest decides the fate of Westeros. Many fan groups also believe that Bran and the Night King have warged into each other and have become, or are becoming, one and the same.
I’m hoping that magical powers are played with a soft-touch in the ending to GOT. The last thing I want to see is the contrivance of a deus ex machina ending after all these years of reading the books and watching the HBO series.
Tell me what you think in the comments below.
Notes added 7 March:
 There would seem to be two possibilities for escape: the crannogmen of the Greywater know of secret pathways through the swamps and marshes. It is also said that Greywater Watch has no fixed location and moves from place-to-place. However, as the actress that played Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick) in previous seasons, hasn’t been contracted for season 8, this possibility now seems farfetched.
 Another possibility is that Theon frees Asha and they together rescue the encircled remnants of the Army of the North by sea. As I reflect on it, this possibility seems more likely. For this to occur, Theon and Asha would need to defeat Euron first and then seize the Ironborn fleet. This scenario would be reminiscent of Hardhome, the climactic episode in season 5. In addition, Jon and/or Daenerys, with survivors from their Northern Army, would be presented with both redemption and a second chance.
 With the assassination of Doran Martell and the death of Prince Trystane, House Martell is officially at an end. However, Ellaria Sands and her daughters, the “Sand Snakes,” continued to use the Martell sigil and represented themselves as House Martell and Dorne (the Sand Snakes carry Martell blood through the deceased Prince Oberyn). At the beginning of season 7, Ellaria Sands aligned herself with Daenerys but now finds herself imprisoned at King’s Landing and the oldest 3 Sand Snakes are dead (the existence of Sarella and the younger 4 Sand Snakes hasn’t been acknowledged in the HBO series).
 Who could forget the Red Wedding? The penultimate episode in season 3. At the end of season 2, the wedding of Joffrey to Margaery Tyrell is sometimes called Purple Wedding because of the colour of the amethyst, in the hairnet worn by Sansa, that was used to smuggle the poison into the proceedings. Purple is also the colour of Joffrey’s face when the poison takes effect,
 A possible cover for the forthcoming book “The Winds of Winter” featuring either the horn of Jormun or the Dragonbinder horn. From Dan Selcke, in Fansided, available online; published 2016; accessed 7 March.