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Game of Thrones season 8 recap: Every episode, including the finale, explained

Credit: HBO

Part of the journey, as Tony Stark would say, is the end, and our Game of Thrones season 8 recap has come to an end of its own, now that the big finale has debuted at last. While fans are divided over how HBO wrapped things up for all its interweaving characters over the course of the 70 minute episode, you can't deny that The Iron Throne had its moments for the likes of Jon, Tyrion, Arya, and more, as we go into it in more detail below. 

That's right, we've summarised the entire plot of The Iron Throne, and every other episode in our Game of Thrones season 8 recap below, giving you a bitesize highlight of all the key moments in case you need to catch up or refresh your memory. Suffice to say, there'll be major spoilers for season 8 below, so don't scroll down if you want to go in blind. Meanwhile, the Game of Thrones prequel TV show hits the small screen sometime next year, so don't expect the end of Westeros just yet.

Game of Thrones S8.01 - Winterfell

The Game of Thrones season 8 premiere begins in symmetry with the very first episode of the show itself, but instead of The Lannisters arriving at Winterfell, it's Daenerys and an army of Unsullied, alongside Jon Snow and her band of advisors (plus two, increasingly hungry dragons). Cue a bittersweet reunion with the remaining Stark children, and a slightly more tense introduction between Sansa and Daenerys. The Lady of Winterfell remains sceptical of the Dragon Mother's right to the Iron Throne, it seems. 

Indeed, as the Stark homestead becomes the last stand for every last bannerman in the North, most still consider Jon their King, despite the fact he bent the knee to Daenerys in season 7. Which brings us to Samwell Tarly, who - after learning that Daenerys killed his family when they refused to surrender - finally tells Jon the truth of his parentage, and begs him to accept his birthright as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Jon, as you can imagine for someone who just learned he's sleeping with his auntie, is lost for words. Further north, at Last Hearth, Tormund, Beric, and Eddison discover a gruesome graveyard of corpses left as a sign by the Night King, who's marching ever closer to Winterfell...  

Meanwhile, in King's Landing, Cersei finally accepts Euron Greyjoy to her bed chambers after he brings her a new army in the form of The Golden Company. Unaware that Cersei is already pregnant, the self-proclaimed king of the Iron Islands wants to give the Queen Mother a prince, but it's possible she might pass off Jamie's unborn child as his own. Around the same time, Qyburn also asks Bronn to assassinate both Jaime and Tyrion for the Queen, but it's unclear if he's willing to go ahead with it at this point. Speaking of, the episode's closing scene sees Jaime arrive at Winterfell, only to be met with an icy stare by Bran Stark, who seems to finally remember the cause of his "fall" that kicked off this sorry chain of events all the way back in season 1. Fresh start, guys? 

Game of Thrones S8.02 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

Season 8's second episode, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, is all about the calm before the storm, as the Night King continues his march towards Winterfell, starting with the matter of Jaime's arrival at Stark HQ. While Daenerys considers all the things she could and should do with the man who killed her father, Sansa and Brienne of Tarth manage to persuade her to keep the kingslayer around... at least while the Night King is still at large. Jon, meanwhile, is avoiding Dany like the plague, cursed with the knowledge that the pair are related following the bombshell reveal Sam unleashed in the last episode. The Mother of Dragons instead uses her time to mend relations with both Tyrion and Sansa, though the question of whether the North will support this Queen isn't yet resolved following a testy conversation with the latter.

Later that evening, Winterfell's war council settles on a plan of action for the battle ahead. The idea is to send the women and children into the safety of the Stark crypts, while Bran is to be used as bait to draw the Night King out from his army and into the Godswood – killing the three-eyed Raven is the undead monarch's first step in his plans to wipe out the memory of mankind. By this point, Tormund, Beric, and Eddison have all made it back to Winterfell, as has Reek... sorry, Theon, who promises to protect Bran with his band of Ironborn, much to the joys of Sansa, who may well be sparking up a romantic relationship with this old childhood friend. Speaking of romance, Arya and Gendry also embark on a surprise fling after the latter finally crafts the dragonglass spear that Arya has been so desperately craving, while Tyrion, Brienne, Tormund, Davos, Jaime, and Podrick hang out by the warmth of the fire as they await their impending demise.

There's song, there's wine, there's even a story about Tormund killing a giant and suckling on the teet of his wife for three months (yes, really), and even a heartwarming scene as Jaime officially declares Brienne an official Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. I'm not crying; you're crying. It's not all fun and games for Jon and Dany, though, who are about to have their first lover's tiff after Jon finally reveals that he is Aegon Targareyn – rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Dany, as you might imagine, isn't all that happy about the news. Their argument is cut short, however, as episode 2 ends with the Night King's much anticipated arrival at Winterfell, alongside an army of White Walkers, setting the scene for next week's epic; a 90 minute-long showdown that promises to be the biggest battle in entertainment history. 

Game of Thrones S8.03 - The Long Night

The Long Night is all about one thing, and one thing only; the Battle of Winterfell. The war between the Night King's army and those tasked with defending Stark HQ begins, like all good wars, on the open battlefield outside the castle gates, as Daenerys' Dothraki army (lead by Ser Jorah) charge towards the undead, their swords lit up by Melisandre's magic, who has conveniently returned from her mystery endeavours in Volantis at the last minute to aid in the fight. The Dothraki are quickly defeated, however, and the undead masses return the aggression by charging into Winterfell's first line of defence, which includes Grey Worm & the Unsullied, Brienne, Jaime, Tormund, Sam, Eddison, The Hound, and Beric, among others. 

Meanwhile, Jon and Dany mount up and take to the skies on Drogon and Rheagal, reigning hellfire down upon the undead to take pressure off the ground troops, but it's not enough. Winterfell's armies retreat back into the castle, overwhelmed by the sheer number of attackers (RIP Eddison), but another helpful dose of magic from Melisandre to light up the surrounding trench buys them some brief time to recover. It's not long, though, before the Night King turns up riding an undead Viserion, and orders his army to use each other as a bridge to safely cross the trench. Inside Winterfell's walls, Brienne, Jaime, Arya, and others try to keep the invaders at bay (including Lyanna Mormont, who trades fatal blows with an undead giant), while Jon and Dany take on The Night King from above. The White Walker's leader eventually falls from his dragon, but Dany's efforts to burn him to a crisp prove to be useless, and he heads for Godswood, raising the dead (including the Stark corpses below the crypts) to keep Jon from pursuing. 

Meanwhile, Arya finds herself trapped within the Winterfell library, pursued by the enemy, but she's soon rescued by The Hound and Beric, resulting in a noble sacrifice from the latter, as Melisandre reveals protecting the Stark girl was his predestined purpose this whole time. Just outside Godwood, Dany saves Jon from a horde of undead Unsullied, but falls off Rheagan in the process, only to herself be rescued by Jorah at the last minute (which, sadly, doesn't end well for our loyal servant to the Dragon Queen). Within the Godswood itself, Theon and the Ironborn's ring of protection around Bran begins to crumble, as the Night King himself arrives, eventually killing Theon to leave the three-eyed Raven defenceless. 

But, surprise(!), just before he can plunge his sword into the youngest surviving Stark, Arya leaps onto The Night King's back, and thrusts a Valyrian Steel dagger into his belly, turning him and all of his followers (including Viserion) into ash. And thus, just like that, the Battle of Winterfell is over, with only five major casualties (Theon, Eddison, Beric, Lyanna, and Ser Jorah) to count. The episode ends with the sight of Melisandre walking out into the snow, removing her necklace to reveal her true self, and succumbing to a quiet demise. The Lord of Light, it seems, is finally done with The Red Woman for good. 

Game of Thrones S8.04 - The Last of the Starks

Episode 4 begins in mourning for those who lost their lives at the Battle of Winterfell, as the victors burn the bodies of the dead outside the castle walls. But grief eventually turns to joy as, later that evening, a feast is held to celebrate the defeat of the White Walkers. Daenerys appoints Gendry as Lord Baratheon of Storm's End, Tormund tries and fails to woo "the big woman", while Sansa and Sandor Clegane have a quiet heart to heart, looking back on how far they've both come since their King's Landing days. Spurred on by his new status as a Lord, Gendry proposes to Arya, asking her to join him at Storm's End, but she's having none of it. Jon and Dany also have an uncomfortable conversation in private, in which the Dragon Mother begs the former to keep his real identity a secret so she can successfully maintain her claim to the throne. But Jon is just too good natured to make that kind of promise, and eventually spills the beans to Arya and Sansa. In better news, Jaime and Brienne finally... uh, make their bed together, and all hope of a Brienne-Tormund romance is lost for good. 

The next morning, the War Council decide to begin their attack on King's Landing, with Jon and the Northmen setting out on horseback while Daenerys, the Unsullied, and her advisors travel to Dragonstone by sea. Tormund and the free folk, however, head back beyond the wall, taking Ghost with them, while Arya and The Hound sneak off to King's Landing for some unfinished business. Jaime, Brienne, Sam, Gilly, Brann, and Sansa are staying behind to hold the fort at Winterfell, but not before Sansa shares her secret about Jon to Tyrion, who then reveals the news to Varys. On their voyage to Dragonstone, the Eunuch and the Dwarf begin to express doubts about whether Daenerys should really be queen, with Varys eventually swinging completely over to Jon's side, and hinting at plans to assassinate the Dragon Mother outright. But, before any of that can happen, Euron Greyjoy and the Iron Fleet turn up out of nowhere, killing Rheagal with a barrage of giant arrows, destroying most of the Dany's ships, and kidnapping Missandei. 

The Khaleesi wants to respond with a full blown attack on King's Landing, but Cersei has tactically brought the city's populace inside the Red Keep, meaning an assault would result in hundreds of civilian casualties, so she decides to try bargaining with the Queen in the hopes of circumventing that scenario. Back at Winterfell, upon hearing the news of Cersei's attack, Jaime rides out to King's Landing, rejecting Brienne's pleas to stay with her, seemingly with the intention to go and save his sister/lover before it's too late. The episode ends at the walls of Cersei's increasingly shrinking kingdom, where Dany, Tyrion, Varys, Grey Worm, and a small group of Unsullied soldiers attempt to hold peace talks with the Queen Mother, asking her to stand down and surrender to avoid any further bloodshed. She responds by having The Mountain behead Missandei right in front of them, leaving Daenerys enraged, and ready for war. 

Game of Thrones S8.05 - The Bells

The Bells is an episode of two parts, the first section being a political thriller in Dragonstone, as the seeds of betrayal are sown and Varys begins sending letters about the truth of Jon's lineage to... goodness knows who. Jon himself has arrived at Dragonstone, too, but remains fiercely loyal to his queen despite Varys' attempts to entice him with his true calling as the one true King. Unfortunately, once Tyrion finally spills the beans to the Dragon Mother about Varys' plans, she burns the Eunuch alive. Meanwhile, it transpires that Jaime has been captured by the Unsullied on his way to King's Landing but, after organising an escape route from beneath The Red Keep for his siblings (via Davos' old smuggling connections), Tyrion secretly frees his brother, begging him to get Cersei to surrender and ring King's Landing's bells before Daenerys destroys the city completely.

The following morning, the siege of King's Landing begins, and the episode turns into a full blown war story. The battle kicks off with Drogon and  Daenerys' attack on the Iron Fleet, which quickly reduces Euron's navy to soggy timber, and destroys every last Scorpion crossbow that Cersei had up her sleeve. After Drogon takes out the city walls, Jon, Grey Worm, and the rest of Daenerys' army make quick work of The Golden Company, who surrender after a blistering defeat at the front lines. But, despite the ringing of the Bells, Daenerys has had enough of being the merciful Queen, and begins a full scale demolition of the city, killing anyone who happens to get caught in Drogon's barrage of flame. On the ground, both Jon and Tyrion are dismayed as the Unsullied begin to attack the surrendered army and innocent civilians while Dany unleashes hellfire from above, and Jon eventually orders his men to retreat. 

Cersei, meanwhile, has been watching her kingdom fall from the safety of the Red Keep in horror, and Qyburn eventually persuades her to make an orderly escape. Also in the Red Keep, however, are Arya and The Hound, who have arrived to take down Cersei and The Mountain respectively, but - after a heartwarming tete-a-tete - Sandor Clegane convinces Arya to forget her kill list and escape the city while she still can. For once, she takes The Hound's advice to heart, and leaves. Jaime has also managed to find his way into the Keep via a secret route on the coast, but finds a washed up Euron looking for his final fight. The two trade fatal blows with one another, but Jaime continues on in search of Cersei, despite receiving a mortal wound from the now dead Greyjoy King. Inside the Keep, The Queen, Qyburn, and The Mountain are making their exit, but bump into Sandor, whose big brother is so determined to fight him that he disobeys Cersei's orders to stay by her side and kills an angered Qyburn with a swift punch to the throat. And just like that, the long awaited Cleganebowl begins. We could describe the brutal fight that everyone's been waiting for in great detail, but the TL;DR is that the Sandor sacrifices himself to kill his own brother, sending them both flying out of the Keep and into the flames below.

A distraught Cersei finally runs into Jaime, who rushes her down to his planned escape route, only to discover that the way out has been blocked by rubble. The pair share one last hug before the Lannister's empire literally crumbles down upon them, killing them both. But, back to Arya, and her attempt to escape the city, as she witnesses first-hand the destruction and human tragedy that Dany is unleashing upon the city, and barely escaping the chaos with her own life. After being knocked unconscious, the Night King's killer awakes to a city strewn with ash, rubble, and corpses, and the episode ends with her riding out amongst the mass graveyard on horseback. One wonders whether the assassin has just added another name to her list, and if that prophesy about the green eyes may still be fulfilled after all... 

Game of Thrones S8.06 - The Iron Throne

The Game of Thrones season 8 finale begins in sombre, ominous fashion, as Tyrion looks upon the wreckage of Daenerys's assault on King's Landing, making his way up to the Red Keep and into the crypts below to find the corpses of his two twin siblings, Jaime and Cersei. As Daenerys gives a foreboding victory speech to her Unsullied and Dothraki army, Tyrion thus resigns as her Hand, and is taken prisoner for committing treason against the Queen. Jon, having seen what the new Khaleesi of Westeros is now capable of, is conflicted about his loyalty, and visits Tyrion in his cell for some advice. The last surviving Lannister persuades the Bastard of Winterfell to kill his own auntie/lover, and - upon finding Dany at the Iron Throne - he does just that, thrusting a sword into her belly as the pair embrace for one last time.  

Drogon, as you might imagine, isn't too pleased about the news, but refrains from killing Jon (perhaps because of their Targaryen connection) and instead unleashes his grief upon the Iron Throne itself, burning it down into a bubbling puddle of molten metal. The dragon then picks up Daenerys' body, and flies off... somewhere, not to be seen again. Flash forward several months, and we find Tyrion being held for trial by a council of Bannerman from all the great houses of Westeros, including Sansa, Arya, Bran, Brienne, Ser Davos, Sam, Gendry, Yara, Edmure Tully, Robyn Arryn, and a few unfamiliar faces. We learn that the Unsullied and Dothraki have held onto King's Landing since Dany's death, keeping Jon and Tyrion prisoner while negotiations take place over the fate of the Seven Kingdoms. 

The meeting quickly turns to the question of who should rule, and - while one proposal after the other is shot down, including Sam's idea of democratic governance (ha! what a concept!) - Tyrion finally suggests that Bran Stark should be the one to take power. Everyone present, with the exception of Sansa, who declares the North as its own separate kingdom under her leadership, agrees, and Bran deigns Tyrion his Hand as punishment to make up for his previous mistakes under  Daenerys. As for Jon, he is given a life's sentence as a member of the Night's Watch, and - after a heartwarming farewell with his siblings - rides North to the wall. Ayra, meanwhile, decides to set sail West of Westeros, beginning a new adventure to discover what lies beyond the borders of the mapped world (Do I hear those spin-off bells a'ringing?), while the Unsullied give up King's Landing and head back across the narrow sea to Naath, presumably alongside the Dothraki. 

Bran's new small council includes Bron as Master of Coin, Sam as Archmaester (who has, in true meta fashion, just helped publish a book about the recent wars of Westeros called A Song of Ice and Fire), Brienne as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, and Davos as Master of Ships. Bran himself is trying to track down Drogon, who still remains missing, but a productive small council meeting suggests things are finally starting to get better for the people of King's Landing and beyond. Game of Thrones' final, final shot, however, is of Jon, who is seen venturing North beyond the wall with Tormund, Ghost, and the rest of the Free Folk. A brief appearance of foliage sprouting through the snow as his new people take back their homeland suggests that Winter is finally over, and - though his actions have come at a cost - Jon may at last find some peace and happiness after all. 

For more, check out the Game of Thrones finale reactions to see how the internet responded to the final episode of HBO's titanic fantasy drama. 

Alex is a UK-based writer and editor, peddling his written wares to whoever will take them. You can enjoy his irrational stream of consciousness on Twitter at @alexavard95.