The next season of Game of Thrones will be unique -- a show that's been so heavily dependent on its book source material will suddenly be venturing out into unknown territory, with no more books to adapt. What's going to happen next? Here's everything we've been able to find out.
[A version of this article originally ran on October 28th, 2015.]
Suffice to say, going in, that this post will be jam packed with Spoilers and speculation for Game of Thrones season six -- as well as tons of details from the A Song of Ice and Fire book series the show is based on. If you don't want to know more about either, consider this your due warning. Turn back, before it's too late!
So, about Jon Snow...
One of the biggest mysteries of the new season -- and the source of many, many, many posts about the length of Kit Harington's hair -- has been whether or not Jon Snow would return after his seemingly fatal stabbing at the hands of his Night's Watch brothers during the finale of season 5.
Despite what members of the cast and crew have said ever since, Jon Snow will be returning for the show, and kick off a major new storyline for the character that has huge ramifications for the rest of the series. We first heard back in June that Kit Harington had been spotted in Belfast ahead of the start of filming for the sixth season, and there's been much speculation since, but it's only been more recently that we've seen solid proof that Jon is returning.
— BioBioChile (@biobio) September 27, 2015
That solid proof also revealed a major twist in that it appears Jon will no longer be part of the Night's Watch, and is instead playing a part in a huge battle to wrestle control of the North out of the hands of the Boltons. Kit Harington has been spotted filming scenes dressed in the leather armour of House Stark for a huge battle in Saintfield, Northern Irelend, which includes hundreds of extras dressed as Wildlings and soldiers representing the different houses of the North, Fans have speculated that the change of heart may be thanks to a resurrection from the Red Priestess Melisandre. Now that Jon has already died, he's technically fulfilled his oath to the Watch ("Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death.") and is free to do as he pleases; at the very least we know he will not return to his position as the Lord Commander, to which a familiar face is apparently elected in his stead.
A newer rumour even posits that Jon will be joined in his quest by an unlikely ally; After Stannis perished in the last season, Ser Davos Seaworth apparently will choose to stand with Jon in the battle. Backing this up, actor Liam Cunningham was spotted at a wrap party with the crew following the completion of the battle. These reports have since been bolstered by scenes released that feature Davos -- and a small group of Night's Watchmen -- rallying around Jon's corpse to defend it from Alliser Thorne and his treacherous allies, indicating that Davos at least plays some part in the process that sees Jon Snow brought back to life as well.
The northern battle is purportedly a major, major part of the season -- Sophie Turner, a.k.a. Sansa Stark, has also been spotted in Saintfield for filming of the battle (and once again, released footage has definitely hinted at her being there), and the scene will feature some big casualties, including two known characters being flayed and burned alive by Ramsay Bolton on massive crosses, and an appearance by the Wildling giant Wun-Wun. Suffice to say, this is probably one of the most important scenes we know about in the season so far. It's also one that apparently will culminate with Jon and his armies marching directly on Winterfell itself -- set reports for filming on the Winterfell courtyard set involved a scene that featured Sansa, Jon, Littlefinger, and Ramsay having a conversation together. This scene is apparently foreshadowed early on in the season with Melisandre having a vision of Jon at Winterfell, before his resurrection. Speaking of the Red Priestess, actor Carice van Houten has allegedly not shot many scenes for the show this season, but what she did shoot was purportedly shrouded in secrecy, lending credence to talk that Melisandre is directly involved with Jon's return.
Over the course of the show, Jon has been shown wrestling with his duty to the realm as a Night's Watchman and his duty to his family, so him turning his back on the Watch and throwing his lot into the ongoing battle for control in Westeros seems like it's going to be a major storyline in season six. But that's not the only big rumour swirling around with ties to Jon...
The Castillo de Zafra. Image by Wikimedia user Borjaanimal, shared under Creative Commons. This year Game of Thrones has been doing plenty of filming in Spain, but one location has had fans talking more than any other: the Castillo de Zafra in Guadalajara. Ever since the striking location was announced for filming, fans have drawn comparisons between the tower and an infamous location in Westeros, the Tower of Joy in Dorne.
Before the events of A Game of Thrones, there was a great civil war in Westeros called Robert's Rebellion, when Robert Baratheon rebelled against the ruling Targaryens and eventually took the throne. This was sparked by the Targaryen prince, Rhaegar, capturing Lyanna Stark, the sister of Ned Stark. Lyanna was kept in the Tower of Joy, until Ned and a band of Knights attempted to rescue her, only to have her die in his arms (of currently unknown causes). But a prevailing fan theory also posits that as well as finding his dead sister at the Tower, Ned also discovered her newly born son -- the product of a dalliance between Rhaegar and Lyanna -- and took him home under the guise of his own bastard, namely Jon Snow.
There's never been confirmation of Jon's true parentage in either the books or the show; it's one of the biggest mysteries surrounding Game of Thrones as a whole. But filming at Castillo de Zafra for what appears to be a flashback sequence to Robert's rebellion may end up confirming it -- recent filming reports claimed a fight between swordsmen took place there, including what appeared to be a young Ned Stark, the legendary knight Ser Arthur Dayne (who's been rumoured to be joining the cast for a while now) and Howland Reed, the father of Jojen and Meera (those kids who were travelling with Bran and Hodor).
Interestingly, there's recently been a further twist: Actor Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran Stark, was also spotted near the Castillo, indicating he was filming there -- so rather than a straight flashback, as the show did with Cersei Lannister's youth, it seems this sequence will be a vision watched by Bran while he hangs out with the Three-Eyed Raven beyond the wall. Bran's presence is also a hint that this is an important sequence related to the Starks, furthering the possibility that this is the incident at the Tower of Joy. Since these reports, the show has actively teased a return to the time period -- the trailers for the series have both featured scenes with men in the traditional leather armour of the Starks fighting a knight clad in armour, bearing the Targaryen seal.
Meanwhile, in King's Landing
Although events in King's Landing were a major part of the last season, we know surprisingly little about the ramifications of Cersei's "walk of shame" and what happens after she's freed from the clutches of the Sparrows, but we do know Season six will see the Sparrows relinquish their other royal captive: Margaery Tyrell.
— Els Bastards (@ElsBastards) September 14, 2015
A huge scene filmed in Girona involved hundreds of extras dressed up as the soldiers of House Tyrell, led by King Tommen, Mace Tyrell and, surprisingly, Jaime Lannister. The armed force apparently storms King's Landing's Sept to take Margaery from the High Sparrow by force, only to find her willingly set free by the Faith Militant -- it's rumoured that Margaery is freed because she's become a devout follower of the Faith, but it's unknown if that's true or just a trick on the part of Margaery to see herself free. Natalie Dormer has said during press for the season that she spent a lot of time filming scenes with a new "ally" that she hadn't performed with much in the series' past, perhaps indicating she'll be more closely aligned with the High Sparrow.
We don't really know much more about King's Landing -- other than the fact that the trailers show Cersei in a vengeful mood, using her new creation Ser Robert Strong to lash out against the Faith Militant -- but we do know where Jaime Lannister will head next, presumably after this incident with the Tyrells...
Return to Riverrun
To book readers, this is actually an older plotline that many of us thought would be skipped over by the show (it appeared mainly in the fourth book, A Feast for Crows) but now Jaime will indeed head to the Riverlands to stamp out the last remnants of Robb Stark's rebellion, in the form of the House Tully, holed up at Riverrun.
Both Clive Russell and Tobias Menzies will reprise their roles as Brynden and Edmure Tully respectively, taking part in the Lannister siege of Riverrun as it's broken by Jaime. But the Kingslayer will be joined by two unlikely, but familiar faces; Jerome Flynn, who plays Bronn, has been sighted filming scenes in Corbet, Northern Ireland with Jaime actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, which is unsurprising given Jaime and Bronn's Dornish escapades in Season 5.
But another interesting sighting in Corbet was Gwendoline Christie filming in the area, leading to speculation that Brienne of Tarth could reunite with Jaime, something confirmed in scenes from the most recent trailer, featuring Brienne and Pod in an area that had House Tully banners hanging. Before that, though, Brienne and her squire have a direct run-in with Sansa in the North, as she and Theon escape Winterfell. Maybe Sansa rejects Brienne's guardianship, leading to her returning to Jaime?
There's also been much wilder speculation about two other characters who could show up in the Riverlands. An Irish-based Thrones Twitter account recently alleged that the long-anticipated Lady Stoneheart (the magically revived and very angry Catelyn Stark) would finally appear in the season, commanding an army seemingly larger than the Brotherhood Without Banners she leads in the books:
**SPOILERS Season 6** CLOSE SOURCES Lady Stoneheart 'WILL' appear and command an army!
— Irish Thrones (@IrishThrones) August 29, 2015
It's not been confirmed, but with the show shining a major spotlight on the Riverlands, Lady Stoneheart's base of operations in the books, it's certainly possible. The rumour recently received renewed flurries of speculation with the revealed news that Paul Kaye would be returning to reprise his role as Brotherhood without Banners member Thoros of Myr this season. In the books, Thoros serves under Lady Stoneheart in the new Brotherhood, after Beric Dondarrion gives his immortality to Catelyn Stark in order to revive her.
The other potential character alleged to show up in the Riverlands is Arya Stark, seemingly abandoning her training at the House of Black and White to return to her homeland. There's not been much about her appearance there other than a supposed meeting with Jaime Lannister, and no sightings of Maisie Williams on location (she has, however, been seen filming scenes that appear to come from released preview chapters of the much anticipated seventh book in the series, The Winds of Winter, which take place back in Braavos). It's best to treat both this and Lady Stoneheart's alleged appearances as unconfirmed for now.
Aside from Theon's capture and transformation into Reek by Ramsay Bolton, House Greyjoy has largely been out of the picture in Game of Thrones for a few seasons. But in Season 6, they're apparently returning in a big way in an adaption a major storyline from the books known as the "Kingsmoot" -- a gathering of Ironborn captains to decide the next King of the Iron Islands, following the death of Balon Greyjoy.
In the books, several characters threw in their hats at the Kingsmoot, including Theon's sister Asha, known as Yara in the show. Ultimately Balon's brother Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk has been cast in the role) is crowned king after he appears at the Kingsmoot with a magical horn that can allegedly control dragons. A large scene filmed in Ballintoy, Northern Ireland, featured plenty of extras as Ironborn, as well as Euron and Victarion Greyjoy (another brother of Balon) earlier this year, aerial footage of which you can see below:
Interestingly, that footage was paired with reports that another Greyjoy actor was spotted filming there, namely Theon himself (Alfie Allen). Last seen jumping off the walls of Winterfell with Sansa Stark, it's unknown what happens to Theon between Winterfell and the Iron Islands: but it seems like he'll be parting ways with her before reuniting with his sister and the rest of his family in season six.
The Ian McShane Dilemma
While everything above might make Game of Thrones' sixth season look like the leakiest ship on TV, HBO and the cast and crew have desperately been trying to avoid that being the case -- with the exception of incoming guest star Ian McShane, who could not care less about the show's penchant for secrecy.
Although HBO has been tight-lipped about his role when he was cast, McShane has repeatedly gone on the record about his character, confirming that he would be involved in the resurrection of a major deceased character. Given there are multiple potential candidates for that role, it wasn't certain who McShane's character would revive, but signs quickly pointed to Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, who Arya left to die at the end of season 4. Not only had Rory McCann been spotted staying at the cast hotel during filming, McShane continued on his campaign of spoilers by telling multiple BBC outlets that he was reviving a major character, heavily hinting it would be the Hound when given the choice between him and Jon Snow.
Keeping up with the Khalasar
It's not just the characters based in Westeros that we've learned a lot about already; recently there's been a lot of talk about what happened to Daenerys after she found herself surrounded by Dothraki at the end of Season five. It turns out that Daenerys might find herself in the command of an even mightier force than she's ever had before.
The show's filming at Bardenas Real Natural Park in Navarre, Spain, featured 1,200 extras as members of a Dothraki Khalasar being led by Daenerys (presumably, the same group that found her), but it's what happens after that that is most interesting. Daenerys, tailed by Jorah Mormont and Daario Nahaaris, is brought to a huge meeting of multiple Dothraki Khalasars at a vast Dothraki encampment... and proceeds to rally them to her cause.
How does she do that? Well, it involves Drogon, her pet dragon; the creature allegedly burns down a massive Dothraki temple, and Daenerys emerges out of the fire in a similar manner to the birth of the Dragons at the very end of the show's first season. Daenerys will then seemingly take that army back to Meereen, where Emilia Clarke has been spotted filming with extras wearing both Dothraki gear and the armour of the Unsullied.
She'll need all the help she can get. Meereen is apparently in dire straits, with famine tearing through the city (leading to Tyrion apparently hallucinating an appearance of Shae in the face of a starving woman). At some point Tyrion is approached by a Red Priestess offering her help keeping the citizens of Mereen loyal to Daenerys. Then the slavers of Yunkai and Meereen will apparently join forces to assault the city, a plot point prominent in A Dance With Dragons that the show had previously skipped.
The beginning of the end?
This is less of a spoiler-y detail and more of an acknowledgment that the sixth season will be setting into motion Game of Thrones' ultimate endgame. The saga is moving beyond the books in almost every storyline at this point, and not only have cast members like Maisie Williams openly said that the series is starting to settle into its final stretch, recent reports stemming from an interview with producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss revealed that the sixth season of the show could be the final 10-episode season.
Although HBO were quick to confirm no final plans had been made, and that the 7- and 6-episode runs for seasons 7 and 8 mentioned by Benioff and Weiss were not accurate numbers, the producers had allegedly been planning shorter runs for the final two seasons since at least October 2015. Given some of the huge events we've been hearing about above, it makes sense that we're going to be seeing the setup of the show's climactic events.
And much, much more
Despite everything above, there's still so much we don't know about the Game of Thrones season 6. There'll be secrets and details we don't discover until the show actually airs, but rest assured, if you're still hankering for Game of Thrones spoilers, you can stay tuned to io9 after the show's sixth season finally premieres this weekend.