Editor’s Note: Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @GeneSeymour. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion at CNN.
The first season of the original “The Twilight Zone” included “The Purple Testament,” a 1960 episode set in the Philippines at the tail end of World War II. In the episode, a US Army lieutenant is able to tell who among his fellow combatants will die next by the brief illumination he sees on their faces.
What made me think about “Purple Testament” this past Sunday night was “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” the second episode of the eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” As with its immediate predecessor, this installment of the epic saga of the battle for the Iron Throne of Westeros represented a zone of calm, as the joint armies of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) prepare to defend the fortress of Winterfell against a wave of ferocious, remorseless “undead,” commanded by the Night King (Vladimir Furdik).
This coming Sunday’s episode, thus, promises to be not only the most viewed episode in the series’ storied history, but likely an all-time ratings champion in the history of made-for-cable-television. “Game of Thrones” has from its beginning come up with sudden and unpleasant surprises regarding which characters will buy the proverbial farm. At least with this episode, we’re prepared to have our guts wrenched and hearts broken.
But who? That’s been this week’s game with the “Game” and, like the lieutenant on that “Twilight Zone” episode, we keep insisting among ourselves we can tell by instinct who among Jon and Dany’s people will be devoured by marauding White Walkers.
Unlike some of you, I prefer to be surprised by whatever I see Sunday. But if you insist on some idle haphazard speculation, you’ve come to the right place. I’ll even give you the percentage odds of the characters dying.
Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) – Let’s start with the most obvious (and frequently mentioned) choice for martyrdom. His manful displays of repentance and regret before Winterfell’s tribunal seem tailor-made for a reformed cad preparing to die for his past sins. Yet it’s so tailor-made that it somehow seems too pat, too easy and somehow too premature. I’ve no doubt he’s got some harrowing moments in his immediate future – and only one arm left to carry him through. But it still feels as though Jamie’s got some unfinished business with his treacherous sister/ex-lover Cersei (Lena Headey). Call this one a red herring. 30%
Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) – On the other hand, the noble swordswoman whom Jaime knighted Sunday is, alas, set up all too perfectly for perishing in battle, and she will be the one whose memory will most likely make us teary-eyed Monday morning. She won’t go down easily or quietly, I’m thinking – which will only make things worse for those left behind. 80%
Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) – Just because Jaime may not find final redemption on the battlefield doesn’t mean another noble progeny tarnished by events won’t achieve ultimate glory through martyrdom. Poor castrated Theon’s had it rougher over time than just about anybody else bivouacked within Castle Stark. Still, he emerged from torture, mortification and his own cowardice as a confident and resolute leader of the Ironborn, pledged to defend Bran Stark a.k.a. the “Three-Eyed Raven” against the Night King’s hordes. Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) might just make it through. Theon, probably not. Theon: 60%; Bran: 20%
Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) – Daenerys’ most perpetually loyal defender has come back from the edge of death so many times that we’ve all but lost count. Yet her – ah – liaison with Jon appears to have pressed Ser Jorah deeper into the background – and with less for him to do and little time left for him to do it, his luck may have finally run out. His plucky cousin Lyanna (Bella Ramsey) refuses to stay put in the crypt and intends to be in the thick of it no matter what Jorah says. That nerve may be just enough to get her through; that and being too small for the enemy to see. Jorah: 65%; Lyanna: 35%
Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) – “See you on the beach,” Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) tells him. Sorry, kiddo, but you’re likely going to have to endure those nasty looks from the pale-faced northerners by yourself from here on. 90%
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) – She had her fun in last Sunday’s episode. But we’ve already seen flashes of her bloodied and running for her life in the dark that portend bad things coming. You do wonder, however, if they’re necessarily coming this soon, or further along the road back to Westeros’ citadel. Things look even cloudier, I fear, for Gendry (Joe Dempsie) with whom Arya finally consummated their long-thwarted love. Arya: 20%; Gendry: 80%
Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) – Herr Giantsbane’s fate is, in betting parlance, a “pick-em.” If he has any advantage, it’s that his “wildling” DNA is better acquainted with the White Walkers’ way of doing battle. Which likely won’t mean much since their “way” seems little more complicated than moving forward in a large mass and ravaging every living being in their path. Like many of you, I’d like to see Tormund hang around longer because he’s always good for a laugh. If you’ve seen enough war movies, though, you know those guys are among the first, or last, to get it in the throat. 45%
Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) – The “Onion Knight’s” chances are, as with Tormund’s, 50-50. Though once loyal to the late, frosted-flakey Stannis Baratheon, he has a too-school-for-school gravitas that whoever withstands the Army of the Dead will need for future endeavors. No assurances, though, that he’ll be spared. 50%
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), Gilly the Rabbit Keeper (Hannah Murray) – All these folks will be “in the crypt” while the battle rages and will be safe for as long as the undead can be held off. As a friend of mine observed, though, isn’t it plausible that White Walkers can climb stairs and open doors once they break through the fortress? Irrelevant, I think, since all of these folk are way too important to die just yet. Repeat: Yet. All: 5-10%
Jon and Dany – After eight seasons, it’s probably a fool’s errand to believe that anyone at any time in this savage, volatile land is “off the table” when it comes to violent, untimely death. That goes for Westeros’ latest glam couple, who just found out how complicated their budding relationship truly is. It’s not entirely out of the question that one of them could become a casualty before being able to truly digest the ramifications of each other’s claim to the Iron Throne. If so, we’ll just have to deal with it somehow. But killing them both off at the same time is borderline insanity even for this show. Then again, borderline insanity is what made this show run like a Rolls for almost a decade. Both: 5%
Bottom line: Rule nothing out.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the names Daenerys Targaryen, Jaime Lannister, and Missandei. The actor Sophie Turner was incorrectly referred to as Sophie Williams.