Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Game of Thrones season 6
The long-promised winter is finally here, as Game of Thrones season 7 is set to premiere on HBO this Sunday. Following months of heavy promotion (including stills, trailers, and cryptic interviews with cast members), showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss are ready to show their hand, revealing just which fan theories were right and which were wrong, and likely fueling a few more before the season is over.
Before then, however, we need to remember where the story left off. In this recap of the events of season 6, we'll go through each of the far-flung plots, covering each section of the map and retracing the characters' steps until they each arrive in the place they need to be for season 7. Think of it like setting up the pieces to continue a game of chess where the only war that matters is the one between the living and the dead, but all the pieces are too busy fighting over who will sit on the Iron Throne.
That's Game of Thrones, and where it goes in season 7 begins with what happened in season 6 -- and with what is coming along with winter:
Beyond The Wall
Far north of The Wall, Bran Stark continues his training with the Three-Eyed Raven. Together they've been reliving visions of the past, including the creation of the first White Walker by the Children of the Forest, and the moment when Bran's father, Ned, found his sister near death in the Tower of Joy.
However, Bran is not yet ready to visit these visions on his own -- a rule he breaks the first chance he gets, experiencing a vision of the White Walker army during which the Night King grasps his arm, marking him. That mark alerts the Night King to Bran's true location, removing the protective magic from the Three-Eyed Raven's cave in the process.
The Three-Eyed Raven transfers his many years of accumulated knowledge into Bran, sending both into a trance. As the wights pour into the cave, Summer is killed, leaving it to Meera Reed and Hodor to protect Bran while they escape. In the confusion of their escape, Bran inadvertently creates a connection between Hodor as a young stable boy at Winterfell and the Hodor of the present, who is desperately trying to hold the door against a horde of wights. The connection across time and space makes the young Hodor begin seizing, warping the phrase "hold the door" into Hodor and forever damaging his mind. Hodor dies holding the door, allowing Meera and Bran to flee.
Having narrowly escaped the cave, Meera must keep moving or she and Bran will be overtaken by wights. Just when she can't possibly pull the sled another inch and all hope seems lost, Bran's long lost uncle, Benjen Stark comes to their rescue. As it turns out, he was killed all those years ago on that ranging north of The Wall and brought back as a wight by the White Walkers, but the Children of the Forest used Dragonglass to restore his mind. Benjen then instructs Bran and Meera to travel south and pass through The Wall, reminding Bran that he must continue training and become the new Three-Eyed Raven.
While journeying south, Bran experiences another vision of his father at the Tower of Joy. This time, the vision lasts longer and Bran witnesses the truth of what happened there: Lyanna died giving birth and her dying words to Ned, "promise me", were in regards to keeping the child of her and Rhaegar Targaryen safe. That baby would later come come home with Ned as his bastard son, Jon Snow.
Jon Snow's murdered body is discovered by Ser Davos Seaworth, who - after freeing Ghost and assembling the still loyal brothers and wildlings to defend it - asks Melisandre to bring Jon back to life. She performs the ceremony and it works -- Jon Snow breathes again. The mutineers who murdered him are sentenced to hang; an execution which Jon sees to personally. Afterwards, he hands over leadership of the Night's Watch to Dolorous Edd, visibly disturbed by what he's just had to do and still haunted by the memory of his own murder.
Having escaped Ramsey Bolton by leaping from the walls of Winterfell, Sansa Stark journeys north to The Wall where she is reunited with her recently resurrected half-brother. She is accompanied by Brienne of Tarth who, after rescuing Sansa from the pursuing Bolton soldiers, swears to her an oath of fealty, which Sansa accepts (with a little help from Brienne's squire, Podrick Payne). After helping Sansa escape and seeing her under Brienne's protection, Theon Greyjoy decides it's time to return home to the Iron Islands.
Back in Winterfell, Ramsey murders his father, Roose, along with his father's wife, Walda Frey, and their son - thereby cementing himself as the new Warden of the North. Houses Karstark and Umber swear loyalty to him, with Smalljon Umber going so far as to present Ramsey with Rickon Stark, Osha, and the severed head of Rickon's direwolf, Shaggydog. Ramsey later kills Osha.
Jon and Sansa agree to rally the northern houses and take Winterfell back from Ramsey, reaching out to Houses Mormont (who agree) and Glover (who decline) as well as the wildlings (who also agree). However, when they meet the Bolton forces on the battlefield, they're severally outnumbered. Adding insult to injury, Ramsey kills Rickon right in front of Jon after teasingly offering to release him as a gesture of goodwill. The battle begins and very quickly goes the Boltons' way.
Just when the battle is at its bleakest, the Knights of the Vale (the army belonging to Sansa's cousin and Catelyn Stark's nephew, Robin Arryn) arrive, immediately turning the battle in the Starks' favor. They came at Sansa's behest, who in desperation reached out to Littlefinger for aide, even though she hadn't forgiven him for allowing her to be married to Ramsey. With his forces overwhelmed, Ramsey flees the battle with Jon in pursuit. Shortly after breaching the castle, Jon overtakes Ramsey, beating him within an inch of his life. The day is theirs as Stark banners once again fly over Winterfell.
Sansa enacts her revenge, feeding Ramsey to his own starving dogs. Ser Davos accuses Melisandre of killing Shireen and, as punishment, Jon banishes the red priestess. Jon is then proclaimed King in the North by the young Lyanna Mormont, and after a chorus of cheers from the assembled northern lords, Jon is essentially crowned.