‘Game of Thrones’ Season 7 Preview: What’s Next for the Starks?

Isaac Hempstead Wright in HBO’s  Game of Thrones. (Photo: HBO)

The last six years haven’t been a great time to be a Stark, all told. Dad betrayed and beheaded; mum and older brother (and older brother’s pregnant wife) betrayed and butchered; remaining sisters separated, bullied, raped, taken into a religious cult and blinded; and youngest brother shot through the heart by the bastard of all bastards, Ramsay Snow.

But there was a glimmer of light for the gritty northerners during Game of Thrones Season 6, when Sansa (Sophie Turner) was finally reunited with her resurrected half-brother Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Tears were shed (on social media, at least), and the season ended with Jon being declared king in the North and everyone swilling mead from a cow’s horn.

All of which should mean that happy days are come to Winterfell again — were it not for (1) this being Game of Thrones, where you’re about as likely to see happiness as you are to see Wi-Fi; and (2) that sly glance between Sansa and the devil-on-her-shoulder Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), right after her brother was crowned king.

Aiden Gillen with Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones. (Photo: HBO)

“You saw through Season 6 and maybe even from the end of Season 5 that I’ve been trying to sow some seeds of doubt with Sansa,” says Gillen of his charge. “He’s whispering in her ear — doubts about her brother’s validity as a leader, in fact doubts about his validity as a brother at all. ‘How much of a brother is he really, you know, biologically? How much credit did you, Sansa, really get for saving him down at the Battle of the Bastards? Don’t you deserve a little more?’ That’s Littlefinger’s thing — he’ll push people. But Sansa doesn’t always take the bait because she’s getting clever.”

After spending nearly two seasons talking about herself in the third person, younger sister Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) finally broke away from the House of Black and White. Frankly, the whole Jaqen/Waif/Arya storyline felt like a ponderous cul-de-sac for one of the show’s best characters. When she finally said, “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home,” we all said as one that it was about time that a girl did just that.

Maisie Williams in Game of Thrones. (Photo: HBO)

Having made it back to Westeros, Arya then did away with a couple more from her death list, including the man who had had her brother and mother killed, Walder Frey. We may assume that a girl — sorry, it’s a hard habit to break — will come home to Winterfell this season, but if and when she does finally make it back, both Arya and Sansa will be very different women from the tomboy and the princess who left each other back in Season 1. They didn’t get on particularly well then; what will Sansa make of the cold-eyed assassin her sister has become? Will they work together or compete?

And what will any of them think of Bran, should he ever make it down from the Wall, where we left him? In general, when your little brother starts telling you he’s a three-eyed raven, it’s time to check the Kool-Aid.

“Bran’s in a bit of a predicament,” says Isaac Hempstead Wright of his character. “He’s lost Hodor, who was basically his legs for the past six seasons. We’ve lost his direwolf, who has got a very deep connection with Bran and is practically a part of him as well as also being quite a valuable protection asset. We’ve now lost Coldhands [Benjen Stark, Joseph Mawle], who came and saved the day last time. So it’s now just him and Meera at the foot of the Wall. On top of all that, he has now got this huge responsibility upon his shoulders of being the Three-Eyed Raven. He’s no longer Bran Stark.”

Isaac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark in Game of Thrones. (Photo: HBO)

At the close of last season, Bran’s visions revealed that Jon Snow is in fact half Targaryen — and so not Ned Stark’s “bastard” at all. “Through his visions, he’s got all this knowledge about Jon Snow and all the knowledge about the origin of the White Walkers — which may come in handy for defeating them,” says Hempstead Wright. “It all means that Bran is a really, really valuable asset for Westeros right now. And he needs to make sure that this information gets to the right people in time. As such, at the start of Season 7, Bran is on a mission to get to the right place and save the day.”

Game of Thrones Season 7 premieres Sunday, July 16, at 9 p.m. on HBO.