It’s Game of Thrones weekend! The sixth season of the immensely-popular fantasy epic will finally hit small screens Sunday night at 9 p.m. HBO has spent the last two months steadily ramping up promotion for their defacto flagship series and for good reason – not only is it their longest-running and most successful series on air but it is also the first season made without one of author George R.R. Martin’s beloved A Song of Ice and Fire books as a basis (in a similar vein, writer/producer Bryan Cogman told Entertainment Weekly it’s best to look at the adaptation as the alternate universe of Westeros 2 relative to the books’ Westeros 1).
But that’s not all! Also covered this season (and here in this list) are questions about the death(?) of Jon Snow, whether the show can continue to top itself, how much Game of Thrones is left and when winter will finally come.
Click Next to begin the list! Beware, speculation and rumors abound!
6. Jon Snow’s fate
The biggest question driving fans made since last June: Is Jon Snow dead? According to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the answer is . . . a definitive yes. Of course, on Game of Thrones, the dead sometimes do not stay dead, as the White Walkers’ undead army and the resurrections of Beric Dondarrion have shown. Decay can be a problem though, so hopefully Melisandre (Carice van Houten) doesn’t wait too long the revive him; the premiere “The Red Woman” sure seems titled after her. In any case, set photos, HBO’s marketing campaign and Kit Harington’s hair have all conspired to keep fan hopes alive (pun intended) for the fallen Lord Commander.
5. The biggest battle yet
Rumored to have been nicknamed “The Battle of the Bastards” among crew (referring to Jon Snow and his evil counterpart Ramsay Bolton), this season’s Big Battle falls in the traditional ninth episode slot, previously home to Season 2’s Battle of Blackwater and Season 4’s Battle of Castle Black while last year’s Battle at Hardhome closed the eighth episode (that episode’s helmer Miguel Sapochnik returns for this battle). And the battle is big, the largest in TV history according to EW, and finally allows the show to embrace the intricacies of Medieval armies fighting, says Cogman.
“We’ve always wanted to get to a place – story-wise and budget-wise and time-wise and resource-wise – where we would be able to do a proper battle, with one army on one side, one army on another side.”
As far as the battle itself, it appears to be between an alliance of Wildlings and Northern Stark loyalists vs. their Bolton overlords, with Winterfell pictured in the background in the photo above. Oh, and those flaming flayed men? Rumors indicate among them are characters audiences know well. Speculate away.
4. Bran learns to fly
We haven’t seen Bran Stark since he finally met the Three-eyed Raven (who looked like a disappointing Gandalf expy compared to the decrepit tree-man the novels described) in the Season 4 finale but Isaac Hempstead-Wright’s character returns this season, with new powers under his belt. Screen legend Max von Sydow steps into the role of the Three-eyed Raven, a welcome step-up.
The question here is less what we’ll see but how much? Bran’s warging allow him access to the Weirwoods, ancient trees that have witnessed all of Westeros history. This magic allows the show to fill in important gaps and justify flashbacks the writers had previously shied away from, outside of a single Cersei flashback scene last season premiere. It’s an exciting way to get answers to our long-running questions!
3. There are no more books
For the first time in five years, Game of Thrones watchers and A Song of Ice and Fire readers are on the same page. George R.R. Martin confirmed in January what many assumed: he would not publish The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in his seven-part series, before Season 6 aired. This marks the first time in the series’ history (and as far as I’m aware, a first in book-to-screen adaptations) that the show will proceed with Martin’s material as a basis.
While the show began as very loyal, by the end of Season 2 the “butterfly effect” took over as changes mounted and began altering the narrative in unique ways. Season 5 saw the most of this as Sansa’s storyline diverted heavily from her book counterpart while Jaime floundered as the new Dorne POV character. How will the new season stack up without the books as bedrock? Does it get worse without a North Star to guide them? Or does it get better now that the creators are freed from constraint?
2. The beginning of the end
A big reason Season 6 is huge is because there are possibly only 13 episodes left once it is over. David Benioff told Variety that, while the current episode counts for Season 7 and a presumed eighth and final season are not known, they are looking at shorter orders such as seven for one and six for the other, mostly as a way of maintaining quality.
“I think we’re down to our final 13 episodes after this season. We’re heading into the final lap. That’s the guess, though nothing is yet set in stone, but that’s what we’re looking at.”
There’s also the matter of just how many characters and story arcs are reemerging this season, including the return of Bran, the littlest Stark Rickon (Art Parkinson), the Greyjoys, the Tullys, the Freys, the Dothraki, possibly the Hound (Rory McCann) and perhaps even Ned Stark (and his wife Catelyn?). Cogman told EW that while Seasons 2 through 4 were about the “expansion” of the world, Seasons 5 and 6 were about “contracting” it, and that means seeing familiar faces return to get their comeuppance/revenge/ resolution/all of the above.
Compared to previous seasons, the death toll of Season 5 was surprisingly low as Stannis (Stephen Dillane) was the only major character to be offed (well, Jon too but as stated in #6, that won’t stick). I think that will change in Season 6. I predict the demises of both Boltons (Michael Elhatton’s Roose and Iwan Rheon’s Ramsay), King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones, off to make his fists iron).
In addition, death is coming to the fore as both a plot and thematic device. The White Walkers’ leader the Night’s King (Richard Brake) made a big deal about his zombie powers at Hardhome, Cersei’s pet scientist Qyburn (Anton Lesser) seems to have cheated death with the Mountain and Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), the Red Priest who resurrected Brotherhood Without Banners leader Beric Dondarrion six times, is confirmed to be back as well. Even the marketing artwork features the Faceless Men’s Hall of Faces containing every major GoT character past and present, while trailers include quotes like “The Long Night approaches and the dead come with it” and “Make no mistake: the dead are coming.”
Combine this will my points raised in #6 and I ask: what does death actually mean in Westeros? Particularly the supernatural kind? How will the magic jive with the hardcore political realism that show has meticulously built while the White Walkers (they seem like transplants from a more traditional black-and-white fantasy, which makes me wonder whether they can truly be the all-encompassing evil they’re portrayed as) made their slow march south? And, honestly, how does this story conclude with anything other than the end of the world? The only question more horrifying than how to stop these ice demons is whether the Seven Kingdoms even can or should be saved.
I know it’s dark way to end this post but I think the fact that I’m asking myself that question shows how dramatically compelling Game of Thrones is. It’s a truly magnificent piece of entertainment and I’m very grateful as a high fantasy fanatic from youth that I get to not only watch it, but review it here at Heroic Hollywood. Hope you follow along!
Game of Thrones is back with its sixth season premiere, titled “The Red Woman,” airing Sunday 9 p.m. EST on HBO.