As Game of Thrones season 5 has been nearing towards its conclusion, it's becoming clearer just how closely it now stands relative to the events of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Presently, only the first five novels of the planned seven book series have been published, which means in the case of certain characters - Cersei, Daenerys, Jon Snow - the television show and the books leave their narratives on the exact same cliffhangers. As for the fate of these characters, all outside of Martin and the HBO series' producers, David Benioff and Dan Weiss are in the dark.
However, season 5 also began delving into events from Martin's unpublished novels, revealing a few surprises from the next book, The Winds of Winter. This has turned Game of Thrones into a most curious adaptation; one that not only adapts events book readers are familiar with, but also upcoming developments that have yet to be revealed in the source material.
Over the course of season 5 we've examined how Game of Thrones has worked as an adaptation, discussing the various changes the show has made from the books and how those changes affect the story moving forward. In this article, we'll use a similar approach as we speculate on what Game of Thrones may have in store for season 6.
[WARNING - From this point on there will be MAJOR SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 5 as well as the Song of Ice and Fire novels.]
Going into season 5, the fans were aware that Bran - the last Stark to oversee Winterfell - wouldn't appear. Benioff viewed it as Bran's journey being put on hold while the other characters' narratives caught up, adding that Bran's training wouldn't be "particularly cinematic." When Bran reappears it will be as a fully trained warg and seer, which Benioff suggests will make for a more dramatic reveal.
Now that almost all of Game of Thrones' many plot threads have been brought up to speed with the novels, it only makes sense for Bran to return in season 6. In what way will Bran make his dramatic return? One of the last moments readers are with Bran in A Dance With Dragons involves him connecting his consciousness with the Heart Tree at Winterfell. While connected with the weirwood he see visions of the past, including his father and the old Kings of Winter. But it is also implied that he can contact someone in the present through a weirwood tree - while Theon is in Winterfell's godswood, he thinks he hears Bran's voice.
If contacting people though the vast network of weirwoods is indeed a possibility, then there's a good chance it is through one of these trees and their carved faces that Bran may make his dramatic return. Whether it's to witness some major event or to offer aide to someone in peril (possibly Theon or Sansa) remains to be seen, but it's a strong theory that this ability to see and communicate through the weirwood faces could be key to Bran's future.
The last time both television viewers and book readers saw Rickon, he was parting ways with Bran under the care of the wildling woman, Osha, heading toward... no one knows where. However, in A Dance With Dragons, while Ser Davos Seaworth is visiting White Harbor's Lord Wyman Manderly with the intention to win his allegiance to Stannis, Manderly informs Davos that a young boy of Rickon's age was seen on the island of Skagos, accompanied by a woman and a direwolf. And before the Lord of White Harbor will swear fealty to Stannis, Manderly asks Davos to return with Rickon, the de facto Lord of Winterfell and true Warden of The North.
Yet, as we saw in Game of Thrones' season 5 finale, Stannis' quest for the Iron Throne came to an abrupt end. Davos is now at Castle Black with the Lady Melissandre, and neither White Harbor nor Lord Manderly have even been mentioned. So how could Davos learn of Rickon's supposed whereabouts? And why would he still have reason to go searching for him? Perhaps Melissandre will have a vision of Rickon and implore Davos to seek him out? Then again, considering Melissandre's role in Shireen's death, it seems unlikely Davos would want to cooperate with the red witch, more likely to spare the young boy from sharing Shireen's fate.
As to why Melissandre might be interested in Rickon... he's also one of the known few who are related to Jon Snow by blood. Melissandre took a keen interest in Jon, and now that he's dead, she may have need of a relative's blood if she were to attempt to resurrect him (as some theories suggest she will).
Brienne's Continuing Search
Of all the changes to certain characters' narratives in season 5, Brienne's story had some of the most drastic deviations. Instead of searching throughout the Riverlands and The Vale for Catelyn Stark's daughters, she happened upon Sansa by season 5's second episode, following her all the way to Winterfell. Yet the series finale saw the pair miss out on joining forces by just a few moments.
During Brienne's seemingly endless search in A Feast for Crows, she and Podrick never come across Sansa but instead meet quite the colorful cast of characters: Lord Randyll Tarly, father of Night's Watchman, Sam; Septon Meribald, a traveling preacher; the Brave Companions, cutthroats who formerly worked for The Mountain; as well as the Brotherhood Without Banners, the company of men led by the oft-resurrected Beric Dondarrion.
So as you can see, Game of Thrones season 5 skipped over quite a bit of Brienne's journey. When it comes to what she and Podrick will do in season 6, there's a strong likelihood Game of Thrones will revisit some of that journey from Feast. Of the characters mentioned above, both Tarly and Meribald seem likely to appear as recently released casting breakdowns for season 6 include characters that match their descriptions.
But to what end will Brienne's search take her? Hopefully to a reunion with Sansa before too long, otherwise season 6 will see her story tread over the same territory (in some cases literally) that we already saw for much of season 5.
Jaime in the Riverlands
Besides Brienne and Sansa's storylines, Jaime's was also significantly altered from the events of A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons. Instead of traveling to Dorne to retrieve Myrcella, Jaime is sent to end the Freys' siege of Riverrun and return order to the Riverlands. Could Game of Thrones season 6 send Jaime to Riverrun? Possibly, but seeing as how Jaime just spent an entire season away from King's Landing, it seems unlikely he'd be sent off on yet another adventure - especially with the Lannisters in such a vulnerable position.
However, the book's version of Jaime is also visited by none other than Brienne of Tarth while in the Riverlands. She comes to him claiming to have found one of the Stark girls and demanding Jaime accompany her before The Hound kills the girl. The scene comes across as highly suspicious in the book, since it doesn't match the real status of said characters - and is potentially a scheme to do with Lady Stoneheart (a resurrected Catelyn Stark).
Yet, in season 6 there is a chance that Brienne will have found Sansa, and though we're meant to believe The Hound is dead, the fact that no one witness him actually dying leaves the door for his potential return wide open. Perhaps that wild and seemingly false tale Brienne brings to Jaime could turn out to be true - at the very least on the show.
A rather glaring omission from Game of Thrones season 5 was any mention of Balon Greyjoy, including whether or not he's still alive and kicking. In the novels, Balon is killed either by Melissandre's blood magic or one of his brothers - depending on whose story you choose to believe since the act happens off-page. With Balon dead, a kingsmoot is held to elect the new Lord of the Iron Islands, and the field of successors is comprised of Balon's brothers and his daughter, Yara.
As indicated by that previously mentioned casting breakdown, we know at least one of Balon's brothers is set to appear in Game of Thrones season 6 (probably Euron), which would imply that the show is going forward with at least part of this storyline from the books.
But with Game of Thrones having already pushed certain characters so far forward, it isn't clear how the Ironborn fit within the rest of the show's plot lines. For example: some time after the kingsmoot, Yara is captured by Stannis' army, but obviously that can no longer happen on the show. So Game of Thrones must, once again, take liberties with their adaptation when the Ironborn are reintroduced.
Sam's Family & Oldtown
Something else that appears to be all but confirmed for Game of Thrones season 6 is the introduction of Samwell Tarly's family. Not only is there a character included on that season 6 casting breakdown that is very likely Sam's father, Randyll Tarly, but there's also a casting breakdown for his wife, Melessa Florent and two children.
Presumably, this means that on their journey south to Oldtown - where Sam will train at the Citadel to become a Maester - he and Gilly will stop by his childhood home, Horn Hill. Lord Tarly may not be at home (having been named Master of Laws by new Hand of the King, Kevan Lannister), but Sam's mother and siblings will be there to welcome them. And it's also quite likely that Sam will insist Gilly stay at Horn Hill, which is an option he's considering during their journey in A Feast for Crows.
After a stop at Horn Hill, Sam will continue on to Oldtown, Game of Thrones' new location for next season. But readers are actually introduced to Oldtown before Sam arrives: in the prologue chapter of Feast we follow a young novice of the Citadel named Pate to familiarize ourselves with the ins and outs. Game of Thrones hasn't depicted a prologue chapter onscreen since season 2, but if Oldtown is introduced next season, this prologue seems like a must.
Doran's Future Plans
Lastly, while there's no question the Dornish plot this season was underwhelming, largely due to the absence of what actually made the excursion worthwhile in the novels. In A Feast for Crows, after the thwarting of Arrianne's (Doran's daughter) failed kidnapping and crowning of Myrcella, Doran finally lets her in on something he's been planning for years: to place a Targaryen on the Iron Throne with the full support of Dorne.
Initially, his plan had been to wed Arrianne to Viserys to seal the alliance, but plans had to be changed (once Visery wound up getting a fatal crown at the hands of Khal Drogo). Now Doran intends to wed his other son, Quentyn to Daenerys. Obviously, neither Arrianne or Quentyn appear to have made the cut on Game of Thrones so it's difficult to speculate just how much (if any) of Doran's plans for the future will remain the same.
One possible way the television series could involve Doran's wish for a Targaryen ruler is to combine his ambitions with those of Varys. This season Varys was instrumental in bringing Tyrion to Daenerys, but in the novels Varys is working for another Targaryen. Yes, another Targaryen, which is a needlessly complicated plot line that is very likely cut from the show.
Having Doran working with Varys to bring Daenerys to power in Westeros would give the excursion to Dorne this season a purpose and reveal how the region ties in with the larger and ongoing battle for the Iron Throne.
When speculating what could happen in Game of Thrones season 6 the possibilities are almost endless. Not only have characters been cut and timelines of events, but show has chosen to completely ignore the source material on more than occasion. With season 6 expected to begin heavily featuring material from The Winds of Winter and possibly the final book, A Dream of Spring, there's no telling what comes next, let alone if the television show will choose to adapt it.
Still, the developments listed above are those we believe are most likely to occur. What else do you predict we'll see in Game of Thrones season 6? What other plot beats from the novels must be included next season? Give us your theories in the comments below!
Game of Thrones season 6 will air on HBO in spring 2016.