Each and every season of Game of Thrones is ripe with upheavals that inevitably change the playing field for those lords and ladies seeking to control the Iron Throne - especially in season 4. Now, as the fan-favorite characters of HBO's Westeros continue their journey into season 5, it's necessary to look back at where we last left off with the many players vying for power over land, sea and beyond.
[WARNING - This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for 'Game of Thrones' through season 4]
Beyond The Wall
After again coming agonizingly close to reuniting with Jon Snow at Craster's Keep, Bran continues his journey beyond The Wall in search of the Three-Eyed Raven - the quest that has consumed his life since fleeing Winterfell in season 2. Along the way, Jojen Reed encourages Bran to practice his warging, but cautions him to do so sparingly, warning that too much time spent outside his self will cut his ties with humanity.
While traveling Bran has also been experiencing visions, another side effect of his growing supernatural powers. It's these visions that lead himself, Jojen, his sister Meera, Hodor and Bran's direwolf, Summer to a massive weirwood - the Heart Tree. As they approach the tree, however, dead mean rise from the ice and attack. Meera does her best to fight back but is soon overtaken by one of the rotting skeletons, and Bran wargs into Hodor's body to help. Unfortunately, Hodor's strength isn't enough and Jojen is fatally and repeatedly stabbed.
At that very moment a young child appears from within the weirwood tree and throws fireballs at the dead men, destroying them. Identifying herself as one of The Children of the Forest - magical beings thought long gone from Westeros - she offers Bran and his companions shelter, but tells them Jojen cannot be saved and must remain behind. As Bran, Meera, Hodor, and Summer flee into the Heart Tree, the young child incinerates Jojen's body.
Once inside the tree, Bran is brought face to face with an old man entwined with the roots of the weirdwood - the Three Eyed-Raven. He reveals to Bran that he's been watching him and his friends for a long time, and that Bran's destiny has led him here. When Bran asks if he'll help him to walk again, the Three Eyed-Raven responds cryptically with no, but that he will learn to fly.
Bran and co. won't be returning for season 5. Instead, his training with the Three-Eyed Raven will occur off screen, allowing for a more dramatic return as a fully-fledged warg and seer the following season.
Jon and Sam have both returned to Castle Black after their adventures beyond The Wall, where Jon infiltrated the wildlings and Sam escaped from Craster's Keep with Gilly. Now, they and what remains of the Night's Watch prepare for Mance Rayder to fulfill his promise and "light the biggest fire the North has ever seen!"
But Mance and his army are only one part of the oncoming invasion. The wildlings who climbed The Wall with Jon - including Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane - remain south of The Wall, poised to attack Castle Black. But first, after joining forces with another wildling clan - the cannibalistic Thenns - they attack Mole's Town, where for safekeeping Sam had sent Gilly and her baby. All in the town are slaughtered, but it's Ygritte who finds Gilly and upon seeing the young babe, spares her.
Gilly manages to escape and makes her way back to Castle Black, but the wildlings aren't far behind, and moments after she arrives there are two blasts of the horn - wildlings attacking. But these are Mance's forces, descending on The Wall from the north. As the Night's Watch scramble to prepare for battle, Sam hides Gilly and her baby. He promises to return and before he leaves, kisses her.
As the battle ensues, Alliser Thorne leads men in defending Castle Black, while atop The Wall, Jon is left in charge once the command is abandoned by cowardly Janos Slynt (former commander of the Gold Cloaks in King's Landing). The fighting in the courtyard is fierce, and even Sam manages to kill one particularly vicious Thenn. However, Ygritte is on a tear, dropping one crow after another, and it's she who puts an arrow though Pyp's neck.
Pyp isn't the only casualty, either. Alliser is wounded and must leave the battle. Grenn - who on Jon's command took men into the tunnel below The Wall to hold the gate - is killed. Yet, by far the most tragic is the death of Ygritte. Shot through with an arrow, Ygritte dies in Jon's arms, lamenting that they never should have left that cave. Her final words are, fittingly, "You know nothing, Jon Snow."
As dawn breaks it's clear the Night's Watch have held off the wildling invasion - for now. Tormund Giantsbane is captured, Sam reunites with Gilly, and Jon - now the de facto leader - must decide what happens next. Knowing Mance still commands a sizable army, Jon goes to treat with him. But his real plan is to kill Mance, knowing that without him the wildling army would fall apart.
At the very moment that Jon and Mance are meeting, however, hundreds of riders descend on the wildling camp - the army of Stannis Baratheon. The "rightful" King of Seven Kingdoms - accompanied by his Hand, Davos Seaworth - has come north following visions of a great evil Melisandre saw in the flames. Promising aide to the Night's Watch, Mance and his wildling army are captured.
With a King now residing at Castle Black, matters have become more complicated for Jon and the Night's Watch. And as they burn their dead, Jon catches the gaze of Melisandre, watching him eerily through the flames. Not all of the battle's casualties are burned en masse in the courtyard, however. For Ygritte's funeral, Jon carries her body beyond the wall, burning her remains below the weirwood tree where he took his vows.
Winterfell is in ruins and Roose Bolton is now the Warden of the North. His bastard son, Ramsey has taken custody of Theon Greyjoy, and through torture, humiliation, and mutilation, transformed Theon into a shell of the man he once was. Theon's sister, Yara Greyjoy, had attempted a rescue, only to find her brother a broken man insisting she call him by his new name - Reek.
Though Yara's rescue was unsuccessful, there are still many Ironborn occupying The North. Roose has ordered Ramsey to reclaim Moat Cailin from the Ironborn, and to do so, he has Reek masquerade as his former self in order to secure a surrender. When Reek-dressed-as-Theon arrives, however, the Ironborn commander refuses to cede Moat Cailin to the Boltons, even if the son of his liege lord is with them.
The tired and hungry Ironborn soldiers think differently, killing their commander and accepting the Boltons' offer of safe passage in return for their surrender. They are then rewarded for their acceptance of terms by being brutally flayed and slaughtered, as it was never Ramsey's intention to let the Ironborn leave alive.
With Moat Cailin now firmly under Bolton control, Ramsey returns to his father. As a reward for his service in securing The North, Roose bestows legitimacy on his bastard son; no longer a Snow, Ramsey is now a proper Bolton. The Warden of the North, his heir, and of course, Reek, then depart to take up residence in House Bolton's new seat of power - Winterfell.