The beginning of the end has begun, and that end will arrive a lot sooner than you think. “Game of Thrones” — which returns Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO for its penultimate seventh season — has just seven episodes this season and six next to wrap the most intricate, complex and ambitious story in TV history. But how? Fans have thousands of theories. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have hinted at none. George R.R. Martin has yet to finish the final two books of the source material, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” His ending could conceivably differ from theirs.

In fact, beyond the incessant clash of kings, dance of dragons and storm of swords, it’s hard to see how this could possibly wrap. There are dozens of storylines, hundreds of characters. Which one will lead to that final scene in 2018? Which beloved character will prevail — or won’t?

So let’s make this simple: What is “Game of Thrones” really about (or not about) and how might that hint at a possible outcome?


‘GAME OF THRONES’ IS ABOUT DUALITIES. “Dualities” are two properties that appear opposite in meaning, and “Thrones” is packed with them — light and darkness, north and south, east and west, night and day, fire and ice, realism and magic, true gods and false idols, “true”-born and bastards, country and city, seeing and blindness. Why all these opposites? Lots of theories, but a reasonable one suggests they’re about a dialectic of history. Martin’s fantasy history is built on real history — notably the War of the Roses — and the incessant strife of human affairs. Order comes from disorder, justice from injustice, power from weakness, faith from doubt. Divided within themselves, humans strive blindly toward a future they can’t see. It’s a tragic dialectic, hinting at a tragic outcome.

‘GAME OF THRONES’ IS NOT ABOUT GOOD VERSUS EVIL. There’s an easy temptation to see Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) — the “fire” and “ice” respectively of this tale — as the good guys, and the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) and his “White Walkers,” aka the Others, as the bad guys. But not so fast. In Martin’s dialectic, good and evil are conjoined in sort of a yin-yang embrace. Good comes from evil, and vice versa. They’re two sides of the same coin. Dany and Snow may be set on a course for a final showdown with the Others. They may even be set on a course for a final showdown with each other. Maybe the White Walkers aren’t even as bad as we think. (Could they be much worse than the humans?)

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‘GAME OF THRONES’ IS ABOUT SEEING. Seeing, or vision, is so important in the world of “Thrones” that Martin even built it into the structure of the books, where long chapters are based on individual characters’ own specific “points of view.” The so-called POV characters see only what they see, and are blind to what they can’t see, sometimes a fatal flaw. Of all the POV characters, only one has “greensight,” or the ability to see past, present and future in his dreams, as well as multiple points of view. This season, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) has also morphed into the “Three-Eyed Raven,” and has even greater powers of foresight, and the ability to influence future events. Bran has a role yet to play, either of good or ill, and almost certainly a major one.

‘GAME OF THRONES’ IS NOT ‘THE LORD OF THE RINGS.’ Seeing is a huge part of that other great fantasy novel, “The Lord of the Rings” — recall Sauron’s all-seeing “eye” — but “Game” and “LOTR” diverge otherwise. A few fans have been deluded into thinking that “Game,” like “LOTR,” is hurtling toward a final all-conclusive battle, where good will prevail over evil. That will not happen here. Martin, Benioff and Weiss never saw this as a good-triumphing-over-evil tale, so those waiting to see the crown go to either Dany or Jon may be disappointed.

‘GAME OF THRONES’ IS ABOUT SUBVERTING EXPECTATIONS. In the books and series, Azor Ahai (who has not yet appeared on the series) — the so-called “prince that was promised” — assumes a key role. In Westeros’ distant past, he (or she) defeated the Others, ending the last “long night,” and the Westerosi believe he (or she) will come again to end the next “long night,” or approaching winter, by defeating the White Walkers. Most of us assume Jon is that prince, and he may well be. But why not Dany, or even Bran? Maybe the White Walkers are expecting their own “prince” to help them beat the humans. Could that even be — gulp — Jon?! Azor Ahai is also known as the prince of fire, which isn’t exactly Jon’s specialty, but rather Dany’s. Yes, this is confusing, which is the whole point. Martin, Benioff and Weiss want to challenge your assumptions, perhaps demolish them. They may do just that.

‘GAME OF THRONES' IS NOT ABOUT HAPPY ENDINGS. Wish however hard you like, but “Game of Thrones” will not have a happy ending. At best, it will be ambiguous, or the show’s own version of going to a blank screen (as “The Sopranos” ended). In what many take as his inspiration for “Thrones,” Martin long ago cited the famous William Faulkner line that “the only thing worth writing about is the human heart divided against itself.” From the beginning and almost certainly to the end, “Thrones” has been that human heart divided, and its endless capacity for good and mischief. It’s about humanity divided against itself, and the barbarity that ensues. It’s not about the stuff that dreams are made of, but the stuff of nightmares.

So who will “win” the “Game of Thrones?” Don’t be too surprised if the winner also turns out to be the loser.