Massive season 6 spoilers ahead, obviously.
When Game Of Thrones season five ended, Jon was dead, Arya was blind, Daenerys was a prisoner of the Dothraki, Cersei still had one remaining child, and winter was coming. When it finished, Jon was alive, Arya could see, Dany was the commander of the Dothraki, Cersei had lost her last son but gained the Iron Throne, and winter had finally come. Big wheel keep on turnin’, Proud Mary keep on burnin’.
Burnin’ was a theme of season six, which saw several women violently seize power, often by setting fire to stuff. Dany burnt a tentful of Khals to death and assumed control of their Khalasar, Cersei exploded the Great Sept of Baelor with wildfire and was crowned Queen of Westeros.
Eschewing fire, Yara Greyjoy nicked her uncle’s fleet of ships and set sail for Meereen to throw her lot in with Dany. And over in Dorne, Ellaria and her Sand Snakes stabbed every last Martell man and eventually made a revenge-inspired deal with Lady Olenna Tyrell, the last of her wealthy line.
Olenna’s lack of heirs was thanks to Cersei, who’d burned them all to death in her assault on the High Sparrow in revenge for a season’s imprisonment and her body double being forced her to walk naked through the streets in the season five finale. Proving herself every bit as unhinged as the Mad King, Cersei used a cache of Aerys’ wildfire to do her dirty work, culling a decent portion of the show’s returning characters in the process.
Scheming daughter-in-law Queen Margaery being among her victims, Cersei unwittingly brought about the suicide of her youngest son, King Tommen. Seeing the devastation his mother had wrought, poor Tommen took a short walk off a tall building, leaving Cersei and her brother-lover Jaime childless. Maggy the witch’s prophecy about all three of Cersei’s children predeceasing her was thus proved true.
Jaime Lannister has yet to jump out of a window, but at least seems to have stopped pushing children out of them. He and Bronn returned to King’s Landing fresh from successfully retaking Riverrun from the Blackfish (and saying an emotional goodbye to Brienne of Tarth, to whom Jaime gifted Oathbreaker for good) only to witness his power-hungry sister take the Iron Throne.
Between the Lannister queen’s instability and taste for Dornish wine, hers is hardly likely to be a long and happy reign. Dany, last seen en route to Westeros with an armada of ships and Cersei’s despised little brother Tyrion at her side, should ensure that. Dany is dead-set on reclaiming the throne for the Targaryens, and, unless Cersei has enough wildfire stashed away to take on three dragons, Daenerys Stormborn is very likely to win that fight.
It’s all for naught, of course, because the real battle is coming. The one between fire and ice, the living and the dead, Hardhome times a million.
The Seven Kingdom’s three main hopes in that fight are Samwell Tarly, Bran Stark and Dany’s dragons. The former spent season six travelling from Castle Black to the Citadel, where he hopes to research the White Walkers and find out their weaknesses. Sam took his two loves, Wildling Gilly and Little Sam, along with him, planning to drop them at his family seat while he went on to Old Town. His dad being a massive Wildling-hating racist caused Sam to rethink that plan, and the three of them stole away in the dead of night, taking the family Valyrian steel blade Heartsbane with them.
Bran Stark began season six with the ambitious task of learning “everything”. Taught to travel psychically through time and space by the Three Eyed Raven, he spent the season having visions of Westeros past, present and future. He saw how the Children of the Forest had first created the White Walkers by inserting dragonglass into the hearts of men (the idea was to use them as a weapon in their war against the First Men), and also learned the vital info that his step-brother Jon Snow was in fact, his cousin and a Targaryen heir.
Jon being the child of Ned’s sister Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen was a long-held fan theory finally confirmed in season six. It means Jon is Dany’s nephew, and therefore an even bigger player than he was previously.
Having been stabbed to death at the end of season five, Jon was brought back to life by R’hllor priestess Melisandre (who’s roughly a billion years old and looks it when she takes off her magic necklace) early on in season six. Remembering nothing of his time spent dead, upon waking, Jon immediately set about executing the men (and boy) who’d mutinied against him then quit the Night’s Watch. He planned to go south for a bit of a rest until Sansa showed up and convinced him to fight Ramsay Bolton’s army instead. He did that, won, and was crowned King in the North as a result.
Were it not for Sansa and Littlefinger, however, Jon would almost certainly have failed. It was Sansa who swallowed her pride and wrote to ask Petyr Baelish for the reinforcements that showed up at the last minute to rescue the Stark army. Sansa had refused Littlefinger’s earlier offer of help, what with him having married her off to sadistic rapist Ramsay Bolton to further his own power. Sansa not only took her revenge on her hubby by feeding him to his hounds, she also refused Littlefinger’s proposal at the end of season six. Baelish’s dream of sitting on the Iron Throne with lady Sansa at his side would have to remain a dream.
In a roundabout way, Jon also has Brienne of Tarth to thank for his victory in the Battle of the Bastards. She and Podrick rescued Sansa from capture by Bolton soldiers after Ramsay’s bride fled Winterfell with Theon Greyjoy in tow. Brienne swore allegiance to Sansa and accompanied her to Castle Black, where she told Melisandre and Davos that she’d killed Stannis in revenge for the season one death of Renly. Brienne was then sent to Riverrun to recruit the Blackfish to aid Sansa and Jon’s battle, but failed due to him going down in a last stand against the Lannister-Frey army.
Not wanting to face Jon, Theon left Sansa’s side after their escape and set sail for the Iron Islands. He arrived home to find his father dead and a Kingsmoot being held to decide his successor as leader of the Krakens. Theon endorsed sister Yara for the job, but the Ironborn instead elected their shady uncle Euron, last seen pushing Theon and Yara’s dad Balon off a bridge. (Balon had a knife out, so don’t feel too sorry for him.) Yara and Theon then stole Euron’s fleet and sailed it to Meereen with a few loyal men to parlay with Daenerys. A deal being struck, they all set sail for Westeros.
Not all. Dany sent Ser Jorah Mormont off in search of a cure for his greyscale after he declared his love for the Mother of Dragons.
Daario Naharis too, was left behind in Meereen to rule in Dany’s stead (and no longer in her bed). Fingers crossed he fares better than Tyrion, who, while ruling with Varys while Dany was being held by the Dothraki, struck an unpopular deal with the evil masters of Slaver’s Bay. Being evil slave-masters, they double-crossed Tyrion but luckily his old boss showed up on the back of a dragon just in time to rescue the situation.
Other than that, Tyrion spent most of season six drinking in Dany’s throne room and failing to get Grey Worm and Missandei to understand the concept of a joke. He missed his good pal Varys, who’d gone off to recruit more fighters to their cause and ended up brokering the aforementioned team-up between Ellaria Sand and Olenna Tyrell.
Speaking of redoubtable women, season six gave us our first proper introduction to leader of Bear Island, ten-year-old Lyanna Mormont. The audience more or less lost their mind over how cool she was and voted her the person we all wanted to be when we grew up.
Continuing that theme, Arya’s transformation into a Braavosi Faceless Man was cut short in season six as she realised she was quite keen on her existing face. Arya declared herself a Stark and quit the House of Black and White. When the Waif tried to murder her for desertion, Arya turned the tables, killed her former trainer, and escaped to Westeros.
Once back there, Arya quickly set about crossing more names off her kill list, the first of which was Walder Frey, host of the Red Wedding where her mother and brother were murdered. Not one to do things by halves, Arya cooked Frey’s sons in a pie and slit his throat. Now the only names remaining on her list are Cersei Lannister and Gregor Clegane.
One name had been taken off Arya’s list even before she left him for dead in season four: The Hound. Presumed a corpse, the Hound was found to be very much alive in season six and seeking redemption for his past crimes. Will he find it by joining Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion in the Brotherhood Without Banners’ fight against the White Walkers?
The White Walkers were responsible for the season’s saddest moment – the death of Hodor, real name: Wylis. Bran Stark was revealed as the cause of Hodor’s unusual disability – by warging into him to escape a White Walker attack while simultaneously in a vision of the past, Bran fried Wylis’ brain. Wylis’ past self psychically heard Meera’s instruction in the present to “Hold the door!”, giving him a seizure and leaving him only able to say a condensed version of the phrase “Hodor” forevermore. Hodor allowed Bran and Meera to escape but was torn apart by White Walkers in the process.
Excitingly, season six saw the return of a long-awaited season one character in Benjen Stark, brother to much-missed Ned. Since we last saw him, he’d been stabbed by a White Walker but brought back to half-life by the Children of the Forest who stuck him with dragonglass (an emerging theme…) and is now trapped Beyond the Wall. Benjen saved Bran and Meera’s lives before sending them on their way.
On the subject of magical resurrection, Melisandre ended season six being exiled by Jon Snow on pain of execution. Davos, who proved himself loyal to Jon and continues to be an all-round good sort, discovered the remains of the pyre at which little Shireen was burnt alive in season five and couldn’t forgive the Red Priestess for what she had done.
To recap then, key deaths in season six include: Hodor (my heart!); Ramsay and Roose Bolton (hooray!); Tommen, Grand Maester Pycelle (stabbed to death by children) and everyone present in the Great Sept for Cersei and Loras’ trial, which means the High Sparrow, Queen Margaery, Ser Loras, Mace Tyrell, Lancel and Kevan Lannister; Allister Thorne and the mutineers of Castle Black (boo!); Walder Frey and his two sons (hooray!); Rickon Stark (zig zag, Rickon!); The Blackfish; Trystane and Doran Martell; Balon Greyjoy; The Waif; the Three Eyed Raven; a bunch of rapey Khals; Osha (her throat slit by Ramsay); Wun Wun the giant (who died a hero helping the Starks defeat Ramsay); Shaggydog and Summer.
There were many, many more, obviously, but those are the headlines.
And so, after the Citadel released an unkindness of white ravens to signify the true arrival of winter, we anxiously await the arrival of season seven with one question in our hearts: Hot Pie, where are you and when are you going to come and sort out all this mess once and for all?
Game Of Thrones returns on Monday the 17th of July on Sky Atlantic in the UK.