On April 24, HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones returned to make viewers worldwide cringe, cheer, sob and blush their Sunday nights away. But season 6 comes with a bit of a twist, which might sound a bit redundant for a show with more drama than a Peter Gunz child support hearing. This season, everyone is taking the plunge with no parachute as the show has finally caught up with the books. While we do encourage reading, we frown upon spoilers weeks before the episode airs, or commentary about how the book portrayed a moment differently, even though I’m guilty of that one myself. Everyone is finally on the same page and we all get to be shocked together. The downside— if there is one— is no safety net, which means keeping up to speed on the comings and goings in Westeros will be imperative.
Here’s a guide of the major factions in Westeros so you’ll be able to decode what the heck is going on. You can thank us later.
If Starks were animals they’d be on the endangered species list, as it seems we lose at least one a season. But the children have been fairing a bit better than the adults in the Stark clan. Sansa thought she had found a friend in Peter “LittleFinger” Baylish when he saved her from her crazy aunt’s moon door. But even after she saves his hide by lying for him, he convinces her to marry the only person more sadistic than her original betrothed Joffrey Baratheon. That would be Ramsay Bolton. She was reacquainted with the man who turned on her family and took her home, Theon Greyjoy, and was raped on her wedding night while Theon was made watch. She was left to the cruel whims of her new husband— until Theon had a moment of clarity and helped her escape by jumping off one of the battlements of Winterfell.
Arya spent season 5 in Braavos under the tutelage of Jaqen H’ghar and some weird Children of the Corn looking girl learning to be one of the faceless men. She still has a few people on her kill list and they aren’t just going to kill themselves. Ultimately, Arya fell victim to the Stark sense of follow through. To become one of the faceless men, she become nameless, and she can only killed when ordered to. Arya breaks both She uses what she has learned to kill an enemy to her delight, but she angered the faceless men. She doesn’t lose her life though, but she does lose her sight.
After a bunch of near misses, Bran finally made it to the home of the three-eyed raven and is currently learning how to control his power.
Rickon hasn’t been heard from since he and Shaggy dog went off with the Wilding Osha.
The Night’s Watch
Jon Snow’s tenure as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch ended quicker than a stint as Lebron James‘ coach in Cleveland. He already made enemies coming up the ranks, but had managed to win some support with his military prowess during the Wildling attack. Realizing that no one would survive if the White Walkers made it to the wall, Jon went north of the wall to broker a peace deal. The summit was interrupted by a White Walker attack that wiped out a large number of potential allies. Jon came back to Castle Black with a few thousand ex-enemies, marking the point when the crows officially had their fill of Snow. And in the season 5 finale which left many heartbroken, Jon Snow received a death worthy of Julius Caesar. Et tu Olly.
Jon’s good friend at the wall, Sam, left with his girlfriend Gilly and her son, after the death of Maester Aemon and being attacked by some of his brothers. As one of Jon’s last acts, he sends his friend, his girlfriend and little Sam to the Citadel.
With the former king and Renley both dead, the only remaining Baratheon with a real claim on the throne by blood— not that the Lannisters care— is Stannis. But despite being lauded as a great military commander, his record since Game of Thrones started has been 0 – 2, with a major loss to Tyrion at King’s Landing. He also seems to have lost a bit of his mind. After Jon Snow refused his offer to regain his name he decides to march on Winterfell with winter in full swing. Exhaustion, hunger and cold take a heavy toll on the troops and despite being advised to go back to the Wall, he offers his daughter as a sacrifice to the lord of light for victory at the behest of Melisandre. The next morning, half his troops have left but he still marches on Winterfell where he is met by the forces of Ramsay Bolton and quickly dispatched. He fights his way out, only to run into Brienne of Tarth who was more than willing to send him quickly to the same place she sent her beloved Renley.
Gendry, Arya’s old traveling companion and the iron smith son of the former King Robert, is still in King’s Landing after having been freed by Davos Seaworth upon learning of Stannis and Melisandre’s plan to sacrifice him to the lord of light.
It’s said that a Lannister always pays his debt. The family lost the boy king Joffrey, Jaime lost a hand, and Tywin was killed by Tyrion. But it would seem the universe still feels there is red in their ledger.
Tommen, the younger brother of Joffrey and only remaining child of Cersei in King’s Landing has been named king and marries Margaery Tyrell. While this sounds like a cushy job, the power struggle between his mother and wife leave him smack in the middle. Ruling King’s Landing has been a constant job of playing referee.
After losing Joffrey and then having Tyrion— who she blamed for her eldest son’s death— slip through her fingers, Cersei trusts no one. And she charges her brother-slash-lover Jaime to go to Dorne and bring their daughter home so she can protect her. Cersei is closing ranks and has become a virtual momager for the new king Tommen— a role his wife Margaery isn’t sitting too well with. So Cersei, in an attempt to rest Tommen from the clutches and thighs of his wife sets a plan in motion and strikes a deal with the Faith Militant and the High Sparrow to punish heresies being committed against the Seven. The plan got Loras Tyrell arrested for homosexuality, and Margaery as a conspirator in his activities. But the plan came back to bite her, as Cersei was arrested for her own acts. She eventually confessed and forced into the most brutal walk of shame ever witnessed back to the castle. Her walk led her right into the arms of a very reanimated The Mountain.
Jaime lands in Dorne with Bronn and after killing a few Dornish soldiers, tries to save his daughter Myrcella. Unfortunately, Oberyn’s daughters, affectionately named the Sand Snakes, have hatched a plan to kill her as revenge for the death of their father. After some desert diplomacy Jaime is allowed to take Myrcella home under the condition that her betrothed Trystane, son of the ruler of Dorne, could accompany her as well as take the seat vacated by his uncle on the King’s Council. On the return trip Myrcella lets Jaime know she is aware that he is her father and she loves him anyway right before dying from poison given to her by Oberyn’s paramour.
Tyrion might as well be the Game of Thrones tour guide, as we see most of Westeros through his interactions, often as a captive. His recent captivity have him exploring Meereen with Jorah Mormont who plans on using him as a way to prove his love for Daenerys Targaryen. But Tyrion, always using the muscle that counts ends up in the employ of the new queen and Jorah is again ousted.
Tyrion and Varys spend the rest of the season earning the trust of Daenerys so that she might let them help her retake the Iron Throne, when at a gladiator battle the Sons of the Harpy attack. The queen is rescued by the largest and most troublesome of her fire-breathing offspring, Drogon. The group plans to save her, leaving Tyrion to now run Meereen in the queen’s absence.
Coming into season 5, the Tyrells looked like they had pulled off the coup of the century. Lady Alerie Tyrell, the matriarch and only person who had gone toe to toe with Tywin Lannister, had orchestrated the murder of her daughter’s first husband Joffrey, her marriage to Tommen the new king, and coached her daughter on how to manipulate the masses so they adored her. Margaery’s marriage with Tommen had been going well as the new king adored his beautiful and kind wife. The people of King’s Landing adored their gentle and benevolent queen who was in stark contrast to Cersei Lannister. But her influence over Tommen enraged Cersei. Now with her children captives of the Faith, mother Tyrell might not have her most powerful pieces on the board, but she is not one to let things be.
In the kingdom of Dorne, the Martells are dealing with the loss of Oberyn in very different ways. Prince Doran Martell accepts that his brother wanted revenge for his sister’s death and lost the fight. Therefore despite the rising clamor for war by the people of Dorne, he chooses peace. He lost his sister in the first war, Dorne had survived the last war and he wasn’t going to lead his people into another war rashly. His son Trystane was also betrothed to Myrcella, and while she would made a perfect vessel for their anger, the Martells don’t kill women and children, a point Oberyn echoed many times while at King’s Landing.
Some of the loudest cries for revenge came from Oberyn’s lover Ellaria Sand and his daughters, the Sand Snakes. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes want revenge and if Prince Doran won’t use an army to do it, they see Myrcella as an easy target. So they plan to kidnap her from the castle, a plan that was foiled by Jaime Lannister and Bronn attempting the same thing. After a bit of negotiating, Prince Doran agrees to let Myrcella leave, but Ellaria wasn’t going to let it go that easily. She gives Myrcella a poisoned kiss, sealing the little girl’s fate before she even left the shore. She died shortly after, but now Trystane is still heading into the hands of Cersei, who won’t be too happy about the death of her daughter.
While Daenerys’ heart is still set on reclaiming the Iron Throne, her mind is currently on dealing with the situation in Meereen. The Sons of the Harpy violently oppose her rule and have already cost her a number of men, severely injured Greyworm, leader of the unsullied, and the life of King’s Guard-turned-advisor Ser Barristan. The group has terrorized the populace, and made it difficult for her to focus her attention anywhere else. But the Mother of Dragons still has her children to contend with, and Drogon might be in his teenage rebellion phase, having randomly attacked farms and even people. Daenerys agreed to marry a member of one of Meereen’s noble families to hopefully satiate the Sons of the Harpy, but during a gladiator event she was attacked. Drogon came back in time to rescue his mother and whisked her away to parts unknown. While her group of advisors and loyal subjects search for her, she runs into a khalessar of Dothraki who don’t seem too pleased to be reunited with their former queen.
Roose Bolton was once sworn to house Stark but sided with the Lannisters and was instrumental at the infamous Red Wedding. Now he is warden of the North, holds Winterfell, and has found a new co-conspirator in Peter Baelish. The two are now working together, and have sealed the deal with Peter offering Sansa to marry Roose’s son, Ramsay Bolton. Roose knows that having a Stark heir will help solidify his hold on the North. Ramsay Bolton was formerly a Snow until his father asked for him to be officially recognized. But things turn sour when Roose’s new bride is pregnant and word is it will be a boy.
Things aren’t going well for the nomads from north of the wall. After the defeat and killing of Mance Ryder, the Wildlings have little to look forward to. But what they don’t have in power, they make up for in stubbornness. Tormund Giantsbane has become the spokesman for the remaining forces still at the Wall and joins Jon Snow in an attempt to convince those north of the wall to fight with the rest of the living against the army of the dead. The White Walkers attacked, and the only survivors were the ones who made it to the ships. Now south of the wall the only crow they trust has been killed by the rest of the Night’s Watch. Far into enemy territory, what will they do?
The Faith Militant
Devout followers of the seven gods, the faith militant, led by the man known as the High Sparrow, are a new element into the already volatile situation that is King’s Landing. Originally, they were seen as an annoyance but Cersei armed them and gave them the power to become the religious police of King’s Landing. Originally, she saw them as a way to separate the Tyrell’s from her son, but not understanding their conviction to their faith, became her own undoing as she was judged by them as well.
The Brothers Without Borders
Little has been seen and even less known of the group known as the Brothers Without Borders since their run in with Arya and Gendry. We know they serve the lord of light. We know they are familiar with Melisandre, and we know their leader Beric Dondarrion has been resurrected by the lord of light a few times by the prayers of Thoros of Myr. Where might that come in handy?