Game of Thrones’ fifth season was, in the eyes of many, one of its least graceful, what with the gratuitous sexual violence, the meandering character arcs, the de-emphasis on political intrigue and…whatever Dorne was supposed to be. But with Season 6 a tantalizing 24 hours away and George R.R. Martin’s books now (mostly) in the rear-view, fans have renewed hope for Westerosi greatness.
Here are the eight most exciting storylines to look forward to and the nuttiest fan theories that now, somehow, actually seem plausible. Needless to say, spoilers up to Season 5 lie ahead, along with irresponsibly rampant speculation for what may or may not happen as Game of Thrones approaches the beginning of the end.
Jon Snow Will Rise Again (and We’ll Discover His True Lineage)
The show’s cast and crew have been asked whether the bastard of Winterfell is “really dead” approximately 9,999 times—but that was never really the right question. There are a number of ways that Snow could rise again, whether it’s through transforming into a White Walker, warging, or the healing power of R’hllor, Melisandre’s beloved Lord of Light. We’ve seen the God of Flame and Shadow’s power before, when Thoros of Myr resurrected Beric Dondarrion after his deadly duel with The Hound. And though Melisandre is in the middle of a crisis of faith after Stannis’s death, she is conveniently positioned near Castle Black at the moment.
But there’s more to expect from the know-nothing this season than seeing him don Stark armor and swing Longclaw into battle (as seemingly confirmed by leaked set photos). Thanks to Bran’s newly trained greensight, which allows him to see events of the past and future, we will almost certainly discover Snow’s true heritage by witnessing the events of the Tower of Joy. That’s where Ned Stark’s dying sister Lyanna holed up near the end of Robert’s Rebellion after she was “abducted” by the Targaryen prince Rhaegar. According to the popular R+L=J theory, Snow is the child that pregnant Lyanna bore in that Tower, whom Ned whisked away from vengeful Robert’s clutches and called his own.
New trailer footage shows a brief glimpse of this flashback, in which Ned (and Sean Bean flesh!) faces off against Targaryen kingsmen. This is huge—Snow’s Targaryen ties could explain how he comes back to life. But Snow isn’t the only character being revived this season…
The Mountain Is Definitely Back—and the Hound Might Be Too?
When we last left Cersei, she’d been humiliated by being forced to walk through the streets of King’s Landing nude with the breakout star of last season, the “shame!” nun, dogging her every step. While the Walk of Shame allowed her out of her cell, the Faith of the Seven’s Sparrows aren’t done with her just yet. Cersei must still stand trial for incest and her part in King Robert’s death—if she elects trial by combat, she’ll certainly choose the hulking knight in gold who scooped her up in his big zombie arms last season as her champion. That zombie, as you probably guessed, is Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, resurrected thanks to Qyburn’s weird science.
But what about the other Clegane, Sandor, aka “the Hound?” We last saw him mortally wounded as Arya abandoned him after his battle with Brienne. But thanks to the magic of new cast member Ian McShane and his gleeful disregard for spoilers, it’s looking entirely possible that The Hound is not actually dead.
There’s a theory called the “Gravedigger theory,” positing that after Arya left him to die, the Hound was found and restored to health by a brother of the Faith of the Seven. It sounds bonkers until it doesn’t, basically. And it jives pretty well with McShane’s description of his character, who is “responsible for bringing somebody back that you think you’re never going to see again.” The video below explains the theory pretty well.
Now, say both Cleganes are back in play this season—that brings us into Cleganebowl territory. This is another pet theory that imagines zombie Mountain at Cersei’s trial pitted against the Faith Militant’s chosen champion: the Hound. This one may be just a bit too absurd to ever play out onscreen, but who knows? It would certainly be epic to watch.
Tyrion Accidentally Reveals His Targaryen Blood
Tywin Lannister’s spiteful last words to Tyrion were “you are no son of mine”—certainly not the cruelest thing Tywin ever said, but maybe one with more meaning than we first thought. One popular fan theory asserts that Tyrion is actually a Targaryen, the illegitimate son of the Mad King Aerys and Joanna Lannister (Aerys is rumored to have raped Tywin’s wife on their wedding night). There’s more scattered evidence for Tyrion being a Targaryen, which you can read about here.
In footage from the Season 6 trailer, Tyrion ventures down into the crypts of Meereen and faces Viserion, Daenerys’s gold dragon. If Tyrion indeed carries Targaryen blood—making him, Daenerys, and Jon the three heads of the dragon, as prophesied to Dany at the House of the Undying—he might be impervious to Viserion’s fire-breath. A trick like the one Dany pulled when she emerged from Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre unscathed would be an impressive way for the show to reveal Tyrion’s secret lineage. Even better, it could mean we might see Tyrion ride a dragon one day.
Daenerys Gets Her Shit Together and Finally Turns Toward Westeros
After a, shall we say, erratic season of royally mucking up Meereen’s state of affairs, Daenerys finds herself at the mercy of a new khalasar. She may look disheveled and submissive in the trailers and photos we’ve seen so far, but remember: she’s got Drogon. Dothraki respect dragons (as most sane humans should) and showing off her son’s firepower will likely be enough to rally the khalasar behind Dany.
Now the question is what Daenerys will do with her new army. Will she turn back toward Meereen to secure vengeance for Ser Barristan Selmy, ridding the city of its guerrilla insurgents, the Sons of the Harpy? Or will she finally, finally set sail for Westeros? Given the loose ends in Meereen, it feels unlikely that Dany will set sail anytime soon. It would certainly make for a stunning last shot of the season, though.
Sansa Brings Ramsay and the Boltons to Their Knees
Perhaps the most heartening thing about the Season 6 trailer was seeing Sansa Stark back in her homeland’s regal furs and her own natural red hair, with what appears to be a growing army behind her. Ser Davos, seen rebelling against the Night’s Watchmen who would burn Jon Snow’s corpse in one teaser, is also seen marching under the Stark banner in another, making him firmly pro-Sansa.
Shots of Davos in a hall bearing House Mormont banners also hint that he’s actively recruiting for the Starks in their bid to wrest control of the North away from the Boltons—whose grip on power is already slipping with Sansa and Theon on the run. No Stark/Bolton union, no deal as far as Northerners are concerned.
“It’s all I think about, what was taken from me,” Sansa says, just as the trailer cuts to Walder Frey—he of Red Wedding infamy—and his men mid-feast. Sansa spent all last season being built up as a major power player, only to find herself relegated to the role of victim again (and again, and again). With renewed purpose, an army, and Davos’s guidance, this is the season the Queen of the North shines.
Bran is Back From His Jedi Training to Save Westeros
After a season of off-camera training with the Children of the Forest, honing his warg and greensight skills, Bran is finally back in the game. He’ll bring unprecedented glimpses at events both near and far—and, judging by the vision of Bran standing next to the Night’s King, he may even play a part in figuring out how to win the impending war against the White Walkers. The possibilities here are endless. Hell, he might even know where Gendry ended up.
Even better, Bran’s return could signal a big ol’ Stark family reunion. Arya is still in Braavos, but Sansa, Jon, and Rickon (currently crashing at House Umber with Osha) are now all in close proximity. Once Sansa rallies the North, including House Umber (for a battle that set photos indicate Jon will take part in), that puts three out of five remaining Stark kids in the same place. Surely that’s the direction Bran would head in?
The White Walkers Are Coming. No, Really, They’re Basically Here.
So far, the show has stretched out the White Walkers’ impending arrival at the Wall for five seasons. But after last year’s Battle of Hardhome, we now know how dangerously close they are. Hardhome is only about three times further from the wall than Craster’s Keep—which means Westeros is in immediate, apocalyptic peril.
No one in Westeros has figured out how to beat these things, apart from using dragonglass or weapons of Valyrian steel (of which only a handful are known). Luckily, we have Bran, whose aforementioned greensight will surely help. And, don’t forget, Sam and Gilly are on their way south to the Citadel, where Sam hopes to become a maester. Who knows what ancient secrets he may discover there.
The Straight-up Crackpot Predictions: Meet Lady Stoneheart and Coldhands
There are a world of totally impossible Game of Thrones theories that make “Tyrion the Targaryen” look positively logical. But here are two that, in light of recent events, now seem bizarrely plausible. Lady Stoneheart, the resurrected zombie of Catelyn Stark, whose sole purpose is to exact revenge from the perpetrators of the Red Wedding, may turn out to be more than a discarded storyline from the books.
In the books, Catelyn was resurrected by Thoros of Myr, played onscreen by Paul Kaye. Kaye’s agent accidentally revealed his return to the show last week. The return of the Freys and trailer footage that shows Jaime, Brienne, and Pod in Riverrun, Catelyn’s family home, are also fueling speculation that Operation Stoneheart is a go after all. (That said, the timing would be strange. Catelyn’s death was two seasons ago—why bring her back now?)
In other crackpot news, Coldhands—a mysterious cloaked figure who smells of death, has hands caked in congealed blood, yet seems to be a force for good—may finally be making his debut this season. In the books, Coldhands rides an elk and helps Bran, Hodor, and Meera and Jojen Reed as they travel north of the Wall. Coincidentally, in recent trailer footage, Meera is shown apparently being saved by a dark hooded figure who swings a flaming weapon and rides a large animal (it’s impossible to tell what kind).
No one knows who Coldhands really is. (For a long time, fans thought it was Benjen Stark, Ned’s brother who disappeared North of the Wall, but George R.R. Martin has definitely ruled that out.) And for all we know, the figure in that picture above is a wildling or a Bolton. But we sure are intrigued.
As always, the night is dark and full of secrets.