While one big question has dominated Game of Thrones conversation since the season five finale, there is so much more than Jon Snow to wonder about in Westeros. Here is a recap of everything you need to know and a preview of what's to come. The feature is basically one big spoiler so if you're not up to date, turn back right now!
Winter is coming: Jon Snow, The Starks & Winterfell
We'll get that big looming mystery out of the way first – is Jon Snow alive or dead? We've lost beloved characters before, and we're sure to lose more as the show goes on, but there has been no other character death that has affected the fandom in quite this way. We just refuse to believe it.
Are we in denial by thinking he might survive the vicious attack by his fellow Nights Watchmen? Maybe. It wouldn't be unlike the show to break our hearts, but all of the other characters that met their bloody ends had kind of run their course. Yes, we'd have much preferred to see Ned Stark, Khal Drogo et al stick around, but there wasn't this sense of 'they had so much more to give' about them.
This is where Jon's apparent death is different – his story was just picking up steam.. Yes it sends a message that nobody is safe, something we know all too well already (burning poor little Shireen alive was a particularly grim bit of proof of that), but it would be a missed opportunity to close the door on his past (we need to know for sure WHO his parents are) and future (we'd always seen him as a contender for the iron throne). There's also the whole revelation following that incredible battle at Hardhome with the White Walkers that his Valyrian steel sword can kill them so that has to be a thing, right?
Will it be Davos to the rescue?
The promo material is all very Jon Snow-centric and we can't help but feel that Melissandre and Ser Davos Seaworth will come to his rescue. Melissandre, who backed the wrong horse in terms of thinking the now dead Stannis Baratheon was the incarnation of the God of Light, is in need of a new hero and Jon Snow could be just that.
Whether Jon Snow lives or
dies lives, we might just find out the truth about his parentage anyway as big flashback scenes have been teased that show the young Ned Stark and a band of men fighting a group of Targaryen soldiers outside what is believed to be the Tower of Joy, inside which Ned's sister Lyanna is held by Rhaegar Targaryen. These scenes could shed some light on the R+L=J theory about Jon's true parentage.
The fella at the front looks a LOT like a young Ned Stark
Another Stark mystery we'd like solved - what happened to good old Benjen? He was presumed dead back in season one after he failed to return from a ranger mission, but the men that stabbed Jon used news of him as a rouse to lure him into the darkness to be attacked. Maybe this gentle reminder that he was missing was a set up for him to come back into the show?
In other big Stark news, this season sees the return of Bran and we will finally get to see what kind of adventures he has been having north of The Wall with the Three-Eyed Raven. Going back to season four when we last caught up with him, Bran, Hodor and Meera Reed had just come face to face with one of the Children of the Forest – the original non-human inhabitants of Westeros – and the Three-Eyed Raven who is sure to mentor Bran in harnessing his warg skills.
Bran will have changed a lot since we've seen him last
There has been no mention of young Rickon Stark – remember him? – since he was taken to safety by Osha after Bran decided his mission was too dangerous for his little brother to join him on. Rickon was a very young child in the first few seasons so didn't have much to contribute in terms of storyline but the fact that he is still out there is a big deal, especially as the war for the North kicks off.
In much the same way that Sansa was a pawn in the Bolton's plot to secure Winterfell, a young Stark would be an invaluable ally. Even if he's not up to much, it'd be nice to check in with him and see that he's, you know, still hanging in there, and hopefully being kept safe and out of sight by some Stark banner-men.
We can't imagine Littlefinger will be long about reuniting with Sansa
Speaking of Sansa, we knew as soon as Littlefinger took her under his wing there would be some dodgy scheme under way and last season saw her marry the one man that could make Joffrey look like a catch – Ramsay Bolton. Luckily Sansa, with the help of Theon aka Reek, managed to escape and the last we saw of them, they were jumping over the walls of Winterfell.
Theon and Sansa are on the run
Brienne of Tarth is in the vicinity so hopefully she will manage to track down Sansa again, and fulfil the oath she made to Catelyn Stark to keep her children safe. There's no guarantee Sansa would even accept her help, but after what went down the last time she turned her away we reckon Sansa might be more than open to getting Brienne's assistance this time around. Things can't really get worse for the poor girl!
On a plus though, Theon revealed to Sansa that he never actually killed Bran and Rickon so at least she now knows that her little brothers are still alive.
Also, it looks like things are about to hit the fan in the Iron Islands with the Greyjoys.
On a larger scale, the battle for The North is sure to be a brutal and bloody one judging by the scenes teased in the trailers. Can the Bolton army hold fast? We hope not.
Will Arya regret her trip to Braavos?
Last but certainly not least, there's Arya Stark and her adventures in Braavos. Last season she found her way to the House of Black and White and was reunited with Jaqen H'ghar, who agreed to train her to become a faceless man. Cleaning floors and washing corpses didn't exactly keep our little killer entertained however and she went rogue, marking another name off her kill-list in the shape of Ser Meryn Trant.
As she learned the hard way that breaking the rules doesn't go down well with the faceless men, she was punished by being made blind. Whether or not this is permanent, we're not sure, but, like her sister, she's already been through a lot and come out the other side so we're sure she'll keep on keeping on for a long time to come. It also helps your character's fate if the author's wife is a big fan!
When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die: King's Landing, The Lannisters & the Iron Throne
The Lannisters have been through a lot since their first appearance on Game of Thrones; Tyrion has killed Tywin, Joffrey was poisoned at his wedding, Myrcella was poisoned in Dorne, Jaime lost a hand and grew a conscience, Cersei has drank the red keep dry of wine and teamed up with Qyburn to make a Frankenstein-esque creature out of The Mountain's dead body...
As we left them, Jaime had travelled to Dorne to bring his niece/daughter Myrcella home to King's Landing to prevent her from being used as a political pawn or method of avenging Prince Oberyn's death - one of the show's more gruesome. Of course, though it seemed like they had managed to complete their mission, and Jaime even got to share a tender moment with Myrcella on their boat home, they could not protect her from Ellaria's poisonous plot. The fall-out from this is sure to be catastrophic.
Cersei too, even before the death of another of her children, had been put through the mill. Having been held captive by the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant you might have thought her hard shell would crack - especially after THAT walk of atonement – but we've a feeling it won't be long until she has her cunning head back in the game. As she faces trial for sleeping with her cousin Lancel, who is now a member of the Faith Militant, we're expecting Qyburn's experiment with The Mountain to come into play in the trial by combat.
Last season we were treated to a flashback scene of Cersei's childhood when she received a prophecy that so far has been ringing true. Cersei was told she would marry a King – check, Robert Baratheon was King and she his Queen; that they would have no children together but he would have 20 – yep, remember they were all (or most of them, remember Gendry?) were rounded up a while back lest they try to make a claim for the throne, and she would have three herself with "gold crowns" and "gold shrouds" – mmhmm. She was also told that someone "younger and more beautiful" would come along "to cast you down and take all that you hold dear." Lovely.
Jaime and Cersei have lost a lot but despite all of this he tells her in one of the trailers that "We're the only ones who matter, everything they've taken from us; we're going to get it back" which shows a glimmer of a new Jaime, one that would make Tywin proud.
Can Jaime and Cersei retain the Lannister's hold on King's Landing?
The Iron Throne is still in Tommen's hands, but the young Lannister - or, eh, Baratheon - was never going to be a good King and his fate was pretty much sealed when he failed to protect his mother and wife as they were imprisoned. How long he will last in this state of powerless power is unknown, but until the Faith Militant are defeated, the political landscape of King's Landing won't be the same. And as soon as the big guns start coming in from abroad and stake their claims on the throne, things will get crazy.
In one of the promo videos for the upcoming season we see Margaery, who is still technically Queen but imprisoned for lying about knowing her brother was gay, bowing before the High Sparrow – has she figured out a way of manipulating an exit-strategy? Can they even prove that Loras is gay, or that she knew? How will this effect Cersei and Jaime's plans?
Playing with fire - what is Margaery getting herself into?
Now on to my favourite Lannister, Tyrion, who had made his way to Meereen last season to counsel Daenerys. Things are pretty precarious for him as the rebels try to take back their city and push out the new rulers. Daenerys was famously saved by her dragon and dropped off to greener pastures (more on that later) leaving him, Varys, Missandei, Daario Naharis, Jorah Mormont (who has greyscale, don't forget) and the Unsullied behind to fend for themselves.
As Daario and Jorah go on a mission to find their Queen, the dream team of Tyrion and Varys will have to look after her empire in Slaver's Bay.
I will take what is mine, with fire and blood: Daenerys Targaryen & The Dothraki
We've become so used to Daenerys the Queen and liberator of slaves, that it seems like an eternity ago that she was sold to Khal Drogo by her older brother Viserys in return for an army of Dothraki men that he could use in his quest for the Iron Throne. How things have changed.
Back in her pre-mother of dragons days, Daenerys was unwillingly married to Drogo, before then falling in love with him. Of course, Game of Thrones doesn't like a good thing to last, so he died and so did their unborn baby. After this of course we were treated to one of the best scenes in the entire series - Daenerys emerging unburnt from Drogo's funeral pyre with three baby dragons.
While she earned the love of thousands on her travels around Slaver's Bay freeing people - and earned the title Breaker of Chains, because she needed an even longer name? - season five centred on her struggles to reign her new empire despite cultural differences and a resistance group, the Sons of the Harpy, forming to try to push her out. The season concluded with Daenerys and her guard becoming cornered by a large number of Sons of the Harpy, with her dragon, Drogon, flying in to save her.
Drogon, who was injured in the curfuffle in Meereen, carried Daenerys to a new land, full of green grass and hills, and while they rested they became surrounded by thousands of Dothraki horsemen. On seeing them flock to her, Daenerys quickly dropped her ring on the ground before they arrived. This could have been for one of two reasons; she wanted to leave a trail for Daario and Jorah who she knows will come looking for her, or she wanted to hide her wedding ring from her Meereenese husband Hizdahr zo Loraq because a Khaleesi is never supposed to remarry after her Khal dies. Maybe it was a mix of both!
So just how will the Dothraki khalasar greet her? Judging by the trailer they take her prisoner and she looks a little worse for wear, but how long this will last remains to be seen. Usually when a Khal dies the Khaleesi returns to the city of Vaes Dothrak to live out her days, but our Dany wasn't up for doing that and instead decided to lead the khalasar herself. She has a way with people so we're sure she'll talk herself out of it. If she can get the Dothraki on side this could be just what she needs in order to finally head across the Narrow Sea and claim what is hers.
So that's where all of our main characters are at the moment and the countdown is on until we hear that incredible opening theme again and get some answers to our many, many questions. The showrunners are saying it's the best season yet and we'll find out over the course of the next 10 weeks whether or not they were just saying it for the sake of it.
Game of Thrones returns in the US on April 24 with Sky Atlantic to simulcast the episode at 2am on April 25. The episode will then be repeated on Sky Atlantic later that day at 9pm. Check in with us every Monday for our episodic reviews and reactions.