Warning: This article contains extensive spoilers for Game of Thrones’s sixth season.
We’re in the midst of yet another Game of Thrones hiatus, but one thing is for certain: just how uncertain the next season will be.
It’s reached a point where most of the show’s characters are at the same place as their book counterparts in A Song of Ice and Fire, leaving the show with a couple of different options: Take the characters in a different direction (or push them further) before The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring are released, or spoil what George R.R. Martin is currently writing—unless The Winds of Winter comes out first.
For the first time in the show’s history, Game of Thrones will be largely running in uncharted territory for both show fans and book fans. But viewers haven’t been completely left in the dark. Thanks to on-set reports, actor résumé updates, and the occasional confirmation from HBO, we have at least some indication of where season 6 is going.
And if the hints from previous seasons are any indicator, it’s gonna be a wild ride.
1) A dance with delays
As far as we know, it’s not due to any production issues, but rather HBO’s scheduling. Last month, HBO announced that its rock ’n’ roll drama, Vinyl, will debut Feb. 14 at 9pm (a Sunday) and will run for 10 weeks, ending its run April 17. Even if Game of Thrones debuted the following Sunday, April 24—the earliest it could with Vinyl taking up its slot—it would still make season 6’s release the latest in the show’s run. That timing aligns with HBO’s confirmation that it will premiere in April. (In the past it’s premiered anywhere from March 31 to April 17.)
For most people, waiting a week or two longer isn’t really that big of a deal, but some fans believe that there was an ulterior motive to the delay: Game of Thrones is stalling so that Martin will be able to publish The Winds of Winter before season 6 airs.
And while there’s nothing to suggest that’s why Game of Thrones may air a little later than usual, there is growing evidence that The Winds of Winter will come sometime in 2016.
2) Reintroducing the Greyjoys
Game of Thrones has been largely mum about casting for season 6.
Last season the Greyjoys got sidelined in favor of introducing us to Dorne, but now they’re making a big splash in season 6. We already had suspected that the Ironborn would have a large role to play after a leaked casting call last season included a description matching Theon’s swashbuckling and ruthless uncle Euron. And it turns out it was pretty spot-on.
Game of Thrones has been largely mum about casting for season 6, with the exception of Max von Sydow, who will be taking over as the Three-Eyed Raven, and Ian McShane, who will be playing a small, mysterious role that some people believe is Septon Meribald. In the case of Euron, HBO’s hand may have been forced after Watchers on the Wall first reported in September that Pilou Asbæk was spotted filming what looked to be the kingsmoot at Ballintoy Harbour, Northern Ireland.
For his part, Asbæk acknowledged the casting with some choice words from the common prayer of the Drowned God, the religion the Greyjoys and those on the Iron Islands follow.
what is dead may never die— Pilou Asbaek (@PilouAsbaek) September 4, 2015
Around the same time, a drone flew over the Ballintoy Harbour set, and according to a set report, Asbæk and Gemma Whelan (Yara) were at Ballintoy Harbour, along with Theon. While Victarion Greyjoy, another one of Theon’s uncles, was nowhere to be found, someone who looks to be portraying Aeron was spotted, although that is less certain.
The kingsmoot, which was previously used to determine the next ruler of the Iron Islands, comes at a crossroads: Balon Greyjoy is dead, allegedly killed by a Faceless assassin hired by Euron. And since Theon—who just escaped Ramsay Bolton’s clutches in the show but is still captured and brainwashed in the books—really isn’t in any position to claim a throne for himself, it’s left to Euron, Yara, and other the other Ironborn to hash it out.
It turns out Melisandre’s blood magic demonstration all way back in season 3 has finally finished the job after all.
3) We’re about to see a lot of familiar faces—and they’re (probably) not being worn by any Faceless Men
While a new season of Game of Thrones often brings brings plenty of new faces, we’ll be seeing many of those characters we thought the show forgot—or feared were gone for good. Here is just a small sample of characters we haven’t seen in at least a season who might be returning:
Osha and Rickon, who were supposed to be heading towards the Umbers when we last saw them at the end of season 3.
Edmure Tully—who probably had the world’s worst wedding night the last time we saw him.
One of the most despised men in Westeros, Walder Frey, will finally show his face again.
Sibel Kekilli, who played Tyrion’s former lover Shae, has been spotted on set recently, although it’s unclear if she was visiting or may return. (She’s probably still dead, though.)
Rory McCann has also been spotted in Belfast, despite the fact that Arya left the Hound for dead the last time we saw them. But a major tinfoil theory supports that the Hound is still alive, and considering we might have our Septon Meribald and Elder Brother hybrid in McShane that might fuel that theory even more? Well, get hyped.
Still no Gendry though, who’s still probably rowing that damn boat.
We’ll also be seeing a lot of characters, both dead and alive, come to life courtesy of a theater troupe in Braavos—which may include a version of Arya Stark’s released Winds of Winter chapter or even that cameo from Of Monsters and Men. But will the tone of the troupe be closer to Hamlet’s play within a play or the Ember Island Players?
4) So about #KitHaringtonHairWatch…
Jon Snow’s “death” at the end of season 5 sent shockwaves throughout the Game of Thrones fandom. TV fans didn’t expect it. Book readers had a feeling but didn’t know the how of it until it aired. And nobody expected Kit Harington or the showrunners to confirm that Jon was dead so quickly—only minutes after the finale ended, according to Entertainment Weekly’s timestamp—or for HBO to keep pressing that point over the coming weeks and months.
But thanks to the Internet’s obsession with Harington’s hair, noticing just how much time he’s been spending in Belfast (where the main studio for Game of Thrones is located), numerous set reports, paparazzi photos of Harington on set (and in costume) participating in a battle sequence, and reports of an upcoming scene featuring him, Sansa, Petyr Baelish, and Ramsay Bolton, that didn’t really work out so well.
And director David Nutter, who directed “Mother’s Mercy,” even lied to President Obama.
Jon Snow is now basically shorthand in TV and pop culture for the audience assuming that you’re screwing around with them.
But on Nov. 23, just one day after The Walking Dead revealed the fate of its fan favorite character who inspired a few conspiracy theories, Game of Thrones addressed the Jon Snow question head-on with the release of the first poster for Game of Thrones’s sixth season. Despite what anyone’s said on the matter, Jon almost certainly isn’t dead here—at least not anymore.
So what do we know about Jon’s eventual return? While some fans have been theorizing how Jon gets out of this one for more than four years, there’s not much solid on how the show tackles that particular point. We just know that he eventually ends up in the north wearing what appear to be Stark colors in the middle of a giant battle with the Boltons, the Umbers, wildlings, and a couple of other familiar faces toward the end of the season (which we’ll get to shortly).
Only time will tell if fans get a scolding from the showrunners for “ruining it for everyone else” or taunts of, “Yeah, I lied. So what?” once that reveal actually comes to pass.
5) Will the Starks finally get an ounce of happiness?
It’s basically an unwritten rule in Game of Thrones that the Starks—a family once whole, respected, and untarnished (unless you count Ned Stark’s bastard)—will probably never reunite. Whenever there’s a chance that they might, whether it be Arya arriving at the Twins just before Robb and Catelyn Stark are killed at the Red Wedding or Bran not letting Jon find him at Craster’s Keep (in a sequence that doesn’t happen in the books), they don’t—and it usually ends horrifically.
But that could end this season. Sophie Turner, our Sansa Stark, was seen on the set of the same battle where Jon was already spotted—although in this case she’s believed to be more of a politician than a fighter. And because the Umbers are on hand for the battle, fans believe that Rickon and Osha will show up. (That is, if they’re not on Skagos, as is believed in the books.)
The only guarantee about this battle is that not every character we love will make it out alive.
6) Speaking of family reunions…
Samwell Tarly and Gilly’s journey toward Oldtown in order for Samwell to become a maester is one of the remaining book plots that still hasn’t been adapted, and in order to do that he’s getting a ripe old family reunion—only this one isn’t as happy as we imagine the Starks’ will be.
Thanks to casting confirmations, we know that we’ll be meeting Sam’s family next season: his father, Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner); his mother, Melessa (Samantha Spiro); and two younger siblings, Dickon (Freddie Stroma) and Talla (Rebecca Benson); Sam has two more younger sisters in the books, but they may all be consolidated into Talla. Since Sam gave up his claim to Horn Hill by joining the Night’s Watch, Dickon is now the heir to Randyll.
Before Sam left for Castle Black, Randyll essentially told him that if he didn’t renounce his claim and let Dickon have it, he’d have him killed, so we don’t imagine their reunion will be pleasant. It’s unclear right now just how Sam will react to seeing the rest of his family—or how they’ll react once they meet Gilly and Little Sam.
7) The sorrow at the Tower of Joy
We’ve already gotten a flashback last season courtesy of a young Cersei Lannister, but now that Bran’s back in the game, we’ll likely have lots of them through his visions in season 6. And one of them has major implications for one of the show’s biggest mysteries.
Game of Thrones will be filming the infamous Tower of Joy fight that finds Ned Stark, Howland Reed, and their men facing off against three members of the Kingsguard—the most famous and respected of which is Ser Arthur Dayne—shortly after Rhaegar Targaryen’s death. Ned is trying to rescue Lyanna Stark, but the Kingsguard refuse to disobey Rhaegar Targaryen’s orders to guard her even after his death. A battle ensues, with only Ned and Howland surviving. They find Lyanna covered in blood, who died soon after the battle. Fans believe that this scene will ultimately reveal that Lyanna is Jon’s mother.
Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran, has been spotted on set while the Tower of Joy sequence filmed, and while we don’t yet know who will be playing a 20-something Ned, Luke Roberts appears to be playing Arthur Dayne, and some people suspect that Robert Aramayo will play Howland Reed.
8) Checking in on the rest of Westeros and Essos
A lot has changed since we last saw the characters we love (and love to hate) in Westeros and Essos. Let’s do a quick check-in, shall we?
Reports indicate that Margaery Tyrell, whom we last saw stuck in the same prison as Cersei for lying to the Faith, will soon leave her cell as a broken woman—and a new convert to the Faith of the Seven. Although whether her Faith is genuine is yet to be seen.
Meanwhile, Tommen Baratheon has become so distraught about losing Margaery that he tries to break her out of jail (with help from his father/uncle Jaime Lannister) and may even hand himself over to the High Septon.
While Cersei is fresh off her Walk of Atonement—after she admitted to committing adultery—she still has to answer for her other sins. In the books she wants a trial by combat, and with Ser Robert Strong by her side, we could see her choosing the same route.
We don’t know how the impending fallout between the Lannisters and Martells will play out after the murder of Myrcella Baratheon, but it’s definitely not going to be pretty—especially for Trystane Martell, who’s currently on his way to King’s Landing. The same goes as to whether Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes will suffer any consequences from Doran Martell for killing Myrcella or whether that was all part of their plan.
But we do know that the Martells may be getting some unexpected guests to Sunspear in the form of Olenna Tyrell and Varys, thanks to Dame Diana Rigg and Conleth Hill being spotted in the same area as some as Doran, Ellaria, and Areo Hotah’s portrayers. The last time we saw Olenna and Varys, they were in King’s Landing and Meereen, respectively.
Considering the Martells and Tyrells—once allies to the throne—are both now at odds with it, could they perhaps be persuaded to support Daenerys Targaryen, who’s still across the Narrow Sea?
Meereen and beyond
At some point Daenerys, who was last seen surrounded by Dothraki, will be taken to Vaes Dothrak (a Dothraki stronghold run by the wives of former khals, or the dosh khaleen). And eventually a couple of Dothraki will will end up talking to or near Missandei, which we know thanks to a page of the script posted by a new Game of Thrones actor.
Ser Jorah Mormont and Daario Naharis, who’ve been trying to find Daenerys, appear to stumble upon a Dothraki meeting where they’re in the midst of deciding what to do about her—and may even include a scene that calls back to a major event all the way back in season 1.
Meanwhile, Tyrion and Varys are left to deal with the fallout of Meereen after the departure of Daenerys, Jorah, and Daario—and the former two receive an offer of help from a Red Priestess (who isn’t Melisandre).
We’re going to see Edmure Tully and the Blackfish again next season, but we’ll also be seeing some characters’ book plots get back on course after some redirection last season.
In A Feast for Crows, Jaime was sent to the Riverlands, not Dorne, in order to take out the remaining limbs of Robb Stark’s rebellion—those who didn’t die at the Red Wedding, anyway. He’s heading that way, presumably after he returns to King’s Landing, along with his bodyguard and travel buddy Bronn, as reports claim that the Brotherhood Without Banners will return and several “outlaw” characters will be cast. (Or could it be a version of the Brave Companions, a sellsword company with a nasty reputation?) And Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne, who opted to follow Sansa to Winterfell last season, may end up right back where her book plot had her: in the Riverlands.
And, if rumors prove true, we may end up seeing another very familiar face returning to the Riverlands, far from her new home in Braavos.
9) Will we finally get Lady Stoneheart?
An article speculating on Game of Thrones wouldn’t be complete without conjecture on Lady Stoneheart and whether she’s ever going to show up.
Stoneheart, the name Catelyn takes after she’s brought back from the dead by Beric Dondarrion, has had a looming presence over the past few seasons, despite never actually having been on the show. Fans expected her to show up after season 3—right after Catelyn’s death—and then we got nothing. We also got nothing after season 4, which essentially covered the latter half of A Storm of Swords (her first book appearance), and despite rumors, IMDb edits, and murmurs about spoilery episode titles, she still hasn’t appeared on the show.
So with seasons of disappointment behind us, take this tweet with a huge grain of salt.
**SPOILERS Season 6** CLOSE SOURCES Lady Stoneheart 'WILL' appear and command an army!— Irish Thrones (@IrishThrones) August 29, 2015
With Brienne and Podrick appearing in the Riverlands, the time may be ripe for it to happen. But can fans, who’ve been left disappointed so many times before, muster up enough excitement about it once again?
The short of it? ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Screengrab via HBO Go