[This is a summary of Game of Thrones season 6 so far. There will be SPOILERS.]
After five years of being on the air, Game of Thrones has finally done it – it’s surpassed the five published books of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and has started dipping into the planned contents of his final two volumes, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. Simultaneously, the show has also, at long last, started to gear up for the home stretch of its long, convoluted, and riveting narrative, which means it’s finally begun to cross all its t’s and dot all its i’s as it transitions to the final two mini-seasons.
The combination of these two facts has provided a storyline so far in season 6 that has moved at a faster clip and a far greater intensity than the rest of its entire run. The sheer amount of revelations, whether character- or plot-based, stands as testament to this, and given that many of them will find a counterpart, in one shape or another, in the source material, it makes this the most exciting time in Game of Thrones’s history (especially for book readers, who will be getting their very first exposure to some of these shocking twists and turns after following Martin’s saga for, literally, the past 20 years).
Given the breakneck speed, it can be hard to keep track of all that has been divulged thus far – especially if you’re a Song of Ice and Fire follower, and your head is already awash with the multiple versions of the same basic story. This is why we’ve compiled the 11 Biggest Reveals So Far in Game of Thrones’s Season 6 – keep it handy as we head into the back half of the season and find ourselves confronting even bigger, more shocking reveals.
11. The coup in Dorne
While some storylines from the books’ huge assortment have been adapted with skill to the small screen – hell, the HBO series even managed to improve a couple along the way – Dorne has been such an unmitigated disaster, it stands as a category all of its own. As showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss attempted to untangle the characters and throughlines from the overly-dense fourth and five novels that they wanted to prune, while still servicing the overarching plot, they left much on the cutting-room floor, including the entire payoff to Prince Doran Martell’s (Alexander Siddig) character arc – namely, that his cautious patience was just a veneer that hid some rather ambitious, world-changing plans (and which had Prince Oberyn Martell [Pedro Pascal] as his active partner-in-crime).
Given all this, the jury’s still out on how much the across-the-board execution of the southern kingdom’s leaders was a course correction to get the narrative back on track – or, indeed, whether Martin will provide a similar development in the novels, which feature Ellaria Sand [Indira Varma] and the Sand Snakes as more-or-less background players. Still, it’s a shocking development, and one that will undoubtedly have profound ramifications for the Dornish storyline all the way until the end of the series… even if we have yet to return to the region since the season premiere.
10. Daenerys and Jorah’s rapprochement
The exile of Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) was a major emotional development for both him and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), and both have had to bear the burden of the parting and the sudden loss it’s produced in both of their lives. That the disgraced Westerosi knight went on to drink and mope his way across Essos, where he would summarily be captured and rendered into slavery, comes as no surprise to book readers; where the new material starts to rear its surprising head is when Jorah saves Queen Daenerys’s life in Meereen, is exiled for a second time, and then stubbornly insists on attempting to save her life all over again when she’s taken prisoner by the Dothraki.
Where the storyline takes its greatest turn, however, is when the two are brought face-to-face once again, this time after Dany has successfully managed to level the horselords’ entire leadership in one fell swoop (more on this in a moment). It is here that her acceptance – and forgiveness – of Mormont is spurred by the revelation of his greyscale, an affliction that will undoubtedly lead to his death (and probably do so by season’s end). It’s been a bumpy, topsy-turvy road for the two, and it’s extremely touching to see it seemingly end this tenderly and simply.
9. The Vale getting in on the action
A small but persistent – not to mention important – background detail across the first five seasons of the show is the unwillingness of one of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros’s various regions to get involved in the internecine conflict that would eventually be called the War of the Five Kings. Although not as heavily emphasized in the show as in the novels, it is eventually revealed that Lady Lysa Arryn’s (Kate Dickie) steadfast refusal to commit her house’s troops to one side or the other comes solely from the direction of Lord Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen), the secret love of her life – who, it just so happens, was responsible for the war in the first place (by lying about Tyrion Lannister’s [Peter Dinklage] owning of the dagger that was used in the attempt on Bran Stark’s [Isaac Hempstead Wright] life all the way back in the first season).
This makes Littlefinger’s sudden decision to manipulate the Vale of Arryn’s current steward, little Robin (Lino Facioli), into throwing his full military support behind Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) all the more surprising – not to mention suspicious. Is there yet another angle that is being played here, one that will ultimately result in Baelish’s sitting upon the Iron Throne within the next two-and-a-half seasons? Is this a desperate attempt to reconcile with Sansa and not lose his allegiance with one of the most important remaining players in the game of thrones?
8. Ramsay Bolton, the Warden of the North
The Boltons have managed to do what so few background characters in Game of Thrones can ever hope of doing – waiting patiently in the wings, risking all on a singular gamble, and then reaping the rewards of being thrust into major-player territory. For Lord Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), this meant killing his liege lord (and king!), taking his home of Winterfell as his own, and ruling the largest kingdom on the continent as the Warden of the North.
Of course, in the process, he fell prey to the very same trap that comes for all the characters, whether major or minor, evil or just: he was consumed by the very monster that he created in the process of his political maneuvering. In this case, it is both literal and figurative, as he first fathered the bastard Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) and then was murdered by him once Winterfell had been secured, a fledgling insurgency had been thwarted, and a trueborn heir had been procured. Ramsay, it turns out, was paying rather close attention to his father, learning that betrayal is a necessity in this world and that he himself should be the one to plant his sword in his overlord’s gut.
The best part of this revelation, beyond the savage poetic justice of Lord Roose’s death? That Ramsay is now, not unlike King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), way in over his head – and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is coming for him.
7. Khaleesi Daenerys, ascendant
One of the great pleasure of Game of Thrones’s sixth season is seeing how many of the various story threads have come full circle. This is the most true – and the most satisfactory – in Daenerys Targaryen’s case, as she finds herself becoming entangled with the Dothraki once more. Originally, back in the very first episode, it was intended for the horselords to eventually form the bulk of the Targaryen forces as they invaded Westeros and reclaimed the Iron Throne for Westeros’s original monarchs; along the way, Dany slowly but irrevocably drifted away from the “savage” nomads, turning instead to the Unsullied slave army and, of course, her three baby dragons. Now, she not only has had her path come crashing into theirs, she has become their supreme leader – one of the very first times in Dothraki history that such an event has occurred.
In few other storylines do we see such a clear-cut progression of character development: initially, Dany was essentially a glorified slave, Khal Drogo’s (Jason Momoa) wife and intended bearer of his children; now, she’s the khaleesi of all khals. Before, she had but a meager khalasar to follow her into eventual battle across the narrow sea; now, she has all the Dothraki.
6. Melisandre’s true identity
On the one hand, Lady Melisandre (Carice van Houten) remains a near-complete mystery: we do not know where she was born, how she attained all her powers (such as the ability to birth shadow babies that can go out into the world and assassinate individuals at will), or how she came to be in the service of King Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane).
On the other hand, we now do know, thanks to the sixth season premiere, that she is not entirely what she seems to be: she’s actually some several hundred years old, using magicks and various illusions to disguise her true age and to seduce those individuals whose lifeforce she needs to birth her shadows. This is a nice complement to the other fundamental way in which she is not what she seems – her fixation on Stannis as the prophesized leader who is destined to rise up against the return of the White Walkers and save the land from another Long Night was, of course, wrong.
And yet, it is only after audiences learn of her external impotence while the character herself learns of her internal weakness that Melisandre is able to finally perform the miracles that she has longed to do. This development is sure to have much more relevance as the series races to its conclusion.
5. Jon Snow’s resurrection
This was obviously the most-anticipated twist for both book readers (who discovered Jon’s fate all the way back in July 2011) and television viewers (who have only had to fret over poor Jon’s fate for less than a year, as tortuous as that wait ended up being), though, in the final analysis – well, thus far, at least – it’s proven to be one of the less notable or otherwise momentous revelations.
Which isn’t to take away from the scene itself, with its still quietness and its played-for-maximum-effect drawing out, or from the entire sequence of events, which killed him in the fifth season finale, had him remain a corpse on the cold slab for all of the sixth season premiere, and finally brought him back to life in the closing moments of episode 2. It was a mini-arc masterfully executed by the writers, directors, and performers alike.
But what truly makes Jon’s resurrection from the dead – which has already happened to a fair number of characters on the screen and on the page already – such a powerful moment is the consequences such a development portends for everyone involved: Melisandre seems to have a deeper, truer faith, one that now pegs Jon as the prophesized savior; Jon himself is chilled by the nothingness that he perceived death to be; and the Night’s Watch and wildling followers may now be completely persuaded to follow their former lord commander unquestionably.
4. Second life, second direction
Jon Snow is such a powerful component of the series’s mythology due not to the nature of his character or the heroism of his leadership, but because of a singular, vital element that he largely lacks – namely, choice. The bastard of House Stark faced a life of little possibilities; he could never become crowned king like his half-brother, Robb (Richard Madden), nor could he inherit or, even, administrate Winterfell, like Bran did for a short while. Even his decision to join the Night’s Watch, like his Uncle Benjen (Joseph Mawle), was almost immediately stripped of its agency once he realized that most of his future brothers would be thieves and rapists and criminals and that he could hardly turn back once he set himself on this course.
For the first time in literally the entire series, he now finds himself in a position where he can be whoever he wants, go wherever he chooses, or do whatever he feels is necessary. He also, ironically enough, is in a position where he wishes to do the least amount of fighting – or, at least, inflicting the least amount of pain or death on others around him – creating a heaping dose of situational irony and perfectly setting him up for what truly seems to be his destiny: uniting the north, first against the tyranny that is the insurgent House Bolton and then, ultimately, against the existential threat that is the White Walkers.
3. Bran, the ultimate greenseer
It has been known for quite some time – since the very first season, in fact – that young Bran Stark was on a course for that little power we call greenseeing, an ability which allows him to see visions of the future and, even, warg into the bodies of those around him, including Summer (his direwolf) and Hodor (Kristian Nairn), his simpleminded stableboy and loyal-to-the-end friend. What wasn’t known until just this year is the extent to which he can wield these powers – and what influence they can have on the world around him, both past and present (a mind-bending fact we’ll return to in just a moment).
In the books, Bran is able to hop into any weirwood tree and see through its eyes (that’s why the children of the forest, and the First Men after them, have been carving those faces into the trees for the past tens of thousands of years) at any point along its lifespan, even years or decades in the past; in the show, he can hop anywhere and at any point in time, as long as he’s holding on to the weirwood that is currently home to the mysterious individual only known as the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow). This ability has allowed him to become far more important to the overarching plot – and to revealing various mysteries of its backstory, such as how his father, Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), was really able to defeat Ser Arthur Dayne (Robert Aramayo), the greatest swordsman there ever was, back during Robert’s Rebellion – than we ever could have imagined… and this looks to impact the future to a far greater degree than what was originally thought possible.
(Want to learn more about greenseeing? We spell it all out for you here.)
2. The origin of the White Walkers
Much more than teasing what really happened at the Tower of Joy 17 years ago – including how his aunt, Lyanna Stark, was killed, leading Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) to marry Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) in her place and thereby planting the seeds of the War of the Five Kings – Bran gets to uncover a far more important piece of the narrative puzzle: how the mysterious White Walkers came to be.
The reading audience’s knowledge of the supernaturally-powered ice zombies has consisted of precious little, and the viewing audience’s understanding has been even more constrained; essentially, all that was known was that the Walkers have been plaguing mankind on and off for the past eight thousand years, and that they are nearly unstoppable with their ability to raise the dead as wights. Now, we all know that it was none other than the children of the forest who created the White Walkers to become the perfect weapon in their ancient and unceasing war against the First Men; much as with everything else in Game of Thrones, unintended consequences rule the day, bringing suffering to the victims as well as to their attackers.
1. The origin of Hodor
As exciting – and thematically appropriate – as the birth of the White Walkers is, it doesn’t even begin to compare to what is easily one of the most heart-wrenching revelations in all five-and-a-half seasons of Game of Thrones and all five thousand pages of A Song of Ice and Fire: the “birth” of Hodor, Bran’s faithful traveling companion for all this time.
When stuck between the reality of the past and the dangers of the present, Bran reaches out to warg into Hodor – but finds himself afflicting both the present and past Hodors, uniting them to disastrous effect. The boy known as Wylis, who was a perfectly-functioning human being, is sent into some kind of seizure and emerges as a mentally handicapped individual, capable of only saying a shortened version of the one phrase that Bran sent him as an instruction to save all their lives from the White Walkers (“Hold the door!”): Hodor.
The sadness of the development is only matched by the audaciousness of both George Martin and the showrunners to take what was initially mostly a historical drama and then transform it first into fantasy and, now, into science-fiction. Such genre-bending – and heartstring-pulling – turns are what make the show Game of Thrones, after all, and they’re what will make these final two-and-a-half years the most dramatically satisfying.
Did we miss a mind-melting revelation from this season? Have your own thoughts as to the importance of these developments for the end game? The comments await.