Game of Thrones has ended, and although The Winds of Winter's release date is still to be confirmed, there are a number of preview chapters from George R.R. Martin's next A Song of Ice and Fire book to clue us in on what to expect. It's been a long wait for The Winds of Winter, with the latest book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, released back in 2011.
Since then, Game of Thrones has not only started but also completed its eight-season run, while there's no clear sign of The Winds of Winter. Although the author had previously given hope of publishing in previous years, he's now not making predictions on when it'll be out, and instead just focusing on actually getting it finished, saying it'll be done when it's done.
The Winds of Winter will have some events that mirror what happened in Game of Thrones, and others that'll be completely different. Characters such as Stannis Baratheon and Barristan Selmy still have big roles to play, and others who were never introduced on TV, such as Young Griff and Arianne Martell, will be crucial too, and all form parts of the preview chapters from The Winds of Winter, alongside core A Song of Ice and Fire characters like Tyrion, Sansa, and Arya.
"He means to kill me. The thought was queerly comforting. Death did not frighten Theon Greyjoy. Death would mean an end to pain. 'Be done with me, then,’ he urged the king. ‘Take off my head off and stick it on a spear. I slew Lord Eddard’s sons, I ought to die. But do it quick. He is coming.’
A chapter that Martin cut from A Dance With Dragons, "Theon I" was the first preview chapter from The Winds of Winter released after the fifth A Song of Ice and Fire book, with Martin making it available to read on his website. It follows Theon after his capture by Stannis Baratheon, who intends to kill him in order to win the favor of the Northern Lords, who want revenge on Theon for the supposed murder of Bran and Rickon Stark. In this chapter, Theon witnesses Stannis make a deal with the Iron Bank, send Justin Massey to Braavos for sellswords, and discover and avert the Karstarks' betrayal.
Stannis is convinced by Asha (a.k.a. Yara in Game of Thrones) to behead Theon in front of the heart tree, rather than have him burned alive. At the end, the ravens start squawking "the tree, the tree" and "Theon, Theon, Theon", with the popular theory being that Bran is communicating through the ravens in order to save Theon's life. It might be a simple act of mercy, or it could be because he has foreseen Theon's role in things to come: that could mean stopping his uncle Euron, helping fight the Others, or at the very list playing a part in the impending Battle of Ice, which unlike on Game of Thrones, isn't likely to end with Stannis' death in The Winds of Winter.
"All that was done and gone now, though. Victarion would have his due at last. I have the horn, and soon I will have the woman. A woman lovelier than the wife he made me kill."
Victarion Greyjoy was cut from Game of Thrones, giving slightly less of a blueprint of what will happen to his character in the long-run, but his preview chapter from The Winds of Winter holds enough clues. Sent to win Daenerys' favor by his brother Euron, Victarion instead plans on winning both Dany and her dragons for himself, which probably isn't going to end well for him. Victarion and the Iron Fleet start to arrive in Meereen just as the second siege of Meereen begins.
Victarion appears to be sailing straight towards his doom, and will be taking some others with him: he's convinced three of his men to blow dragonbinder in The Winds of Winter, which is going to end with their deaths, but things don't look good for him either. The Red Priest Moqorro is only using Victarion to get to Daenerys; the dusky woman can't be trusted either; and there's the threat of dragonfire too. Victarion is a pawn to advance the stories of Dany and Euron, and the influence of R'hllor in the former's storyline, so it's just a matter of who or what is going to kill him, and how far he makes it before that happens.
Tyrion I & II
"The white cyvasse dragon ended up at Tyrion’s feet. He scooped it off the carpet and wiped it on his sleeve, but some of the Yunkish blood had collected in the fine grooves of the carving, so the pale wood seemed veined with red. 'All hail our beloved queen, Daenerys.' Be she alive or be she dead. He tossed the bloody dragon in the air, caught it, grinned."
George R.R. Martin has released two Tyrion preview chapters from The Winds of Winter (although one was just read at a convention), which help build the action that's going down in Meereen. In "Tyrion I", Tyrion is busy trying to convince Brown Ben Plumm, commander of sellswords the Second Sons, to turn against the slavers and work for Daenerys. At the end of the chapter, we're greeted by the arrival of the Ironborn and Victarion Greyjoy.
"Tyrion II" then documents some of the fighting, with Tyrion remembering his previous battles. There are clashes and carnage all around, and dragons laying waste from the sky. With the Yunkish being defeated by a combination of Barristan Selmy's charge and the arrival of the Iron Fleet, it's revealed at the end of the chapter that Plumm and the Second Sons have always been on Daenerys' side. It's action-packed, but also suggests that things are going very well for the heroes at this point. Quite when Dany will arrive back in Meereen is unclear, but we saw in Game of Thrones that the dragons were so effective in defeating the slavers, and we're getting something similar in The Winds of Winter, albeit with the addition of Victarion and a still-alive Barristan.
Arianne I & II
"The princess remembered how her father had pressed the onyx cyvasse piece into her palm, his voice hoarse and low as he confessed his plan. A long and perilous voyage, with an uncertain welcome at its end, he had said. He has gone to bring us back our heart’s desire. Vengeance. Justice. Fire and blood.”
Arianne Martell is one of the very best book characters not included in Game of Thrones, and that means there's even greater anticipation for her storyline in The Winds of Winter, which holds the key to the Dornish plot (Arianne's omission is partly why it failed on TV). In the first of her chapters, Arianne reads the letter sent by Jon Connington to her father, Prince Doran Martell, revealing the survival of Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell, and asks for Dorne's support.
While Arianne and Doran are both cautious about Young Griff, she nonetheless sets out for the Stormlands, where Aegon is making his arrival in Westeros. The plan developing at this point is to find out more about him, including whether he's genuine or not, but when Arianne discovers he's taken Storm's End she heads straight there. Arianne worries about her brother Quentyn, further sowing the seeds for Dorne siding with Aegon against Daenerys when she eventually makes it to Westeros, but also believes that she would be a better ruler than he. That lays the table for Arianne to (briefly) become Aegon's Queen when he (briefly) becomes King of the Seven Kingdoms, before Daenerys burns King's Landing as in Game of Thrones.
Barristan I & II
"The Red Lamb handed him his winged helm. Barristan Selmy slipped it down over his head, fastened it to his gorget, pulled up his shield, slipped his arm inside the straps. The air tasted strangely sweet. There was nothing like the prospect of death to make a man feel alive. 'May the Warrior protect us all,' he told his lads. 'Sound the attack.'"
Killed off prematurely in Game of Thrones, Barristan Selmy is still going strong in The Winds of Winter, and running things in Meereen in Daenerys' absence (a role taken over by Tyrion on the TV show). The Winds of Winter starts with Barristan having to deal with the Yunkish threat, which is made all the more difficult because they're catapulting bodies ridden with the pale mare disease into Meereen, meaning he cannot simply defend the city from inside its walls.
Instead, Selmy has to lead the charge against the Yunkish outside. His first chapter ends with him giving a speech to the troops to stir them into battle, and the second is then given over to the battle itself: the other side of the one Tyrion experiences in his own The Winds of Winter preview chapter. It's a reminder of Barristan's prowess as a warrior and commander, even now, and ends in the same way as "Tyrion II": with the arrival of the Ironborn to help defeat the Yunkish. It's yet another chapter where things are going a little too well, and the worry from this is that with Barristan outside the walls, control of Meereen has been fully turned over to the Shavepate, who is like the Meereenese Littlefinger: power-hungry, and definitely not trustworthy. Barristan has won for now, but it may not last much longer.
“Raff the Sweetling looked up sharply as the long thin blade came sliding from her sleeve. She slipped it through his throat beneath the chin, twisted, and ripped it back out sideways with a single smooth slash. A fine red rain followed, and in his eyes the light went out."
The Winds of Winter finds Arya still in Braavos, now going by the name of Mercy - or Mercedene - and working for a theater troupe at the Gate, run by a man named Izembaro, who only wants to play Kings. The play they're performing is The Bloody Hand, which details events from Westeros such as the death of Robert Baratheon. Arya begins the chapter by waking from a wolf dream, this one also involving a tree, which continues the struggle between her Faceless Man training and true Stark identity.
An envoy from Westeros arrives in Braavos, and Arya spots a familiar face: Rafford, the man who killed Lommy. Playing the role of Mercy, Arya is able to seduce Raff and makes him chase her to a private room, tiring him out. Back in her quarters, Arya makes her move, slicing his femoral artery and then stabbing him in the throat, killing him. There are echoes of Arya's murder of Meryn Trant from Game of Thrones here, and the play is similar too. This is the end of Arya's time as Mercy, and it's a major sign that she is going to eventually become Arya again and eventually return to Westeros, but not before she has to deal with the fallout from her actions at the House of Black and White.
"A lady’s armor is her courtesy. Alayne could feel the blood rushing to her face. No tears, she prayed. Please, please, I must not cry. 'As you wish, ser. And now if you will excuse me, Littlefinger’s bastard must find her lord father and let him know that you have come, so we can begin the tourney on the morrow.' And may your horse stumble, Harry the Heir, so you fall on your stupid head in your first tilt."
While Game of Thrones moved Sansa from the Vale to Winterfell relatively swiftly, it's a very different case in the books, where she's unlikely to ever suffer at the hands of Ramsay Bolton (who has already wed Jeyne Poole, pretending to be Arya, and she has since escaped). The Winds of Winter preview chapter "Alayne I", then, finds Sansa still in disguise as Alayne Stone, the bastard daughter of Petyr Baelish. The plan is to marry Alayne to Ser Harrold Hardyng, the heir to the Vale, and then use the Knights of the Vale to reclaim Winterfell.
In The Winds of Winter, Alayne convinces Lord Robert Arryn to hold a tourney in order to find members for a new personal guard, called the Brotherhood of Winged Knights, but it's all a front so that she can meet her betrothed. Unfortunately, Harrold is extremely rude to her upon their first meeting, before later apologizing, with Sansa showing off her cunning. Like in Game of Thrones, this is a major sign of Sansa's development as a player of the game, and a step towards her holding some control over the Vale and, eventually, Winterfell.
"The dreams were even worse the second time. He saw the longships of the Ironborn adrift and burning on a boiling blood-red sea. He saw his brother on the Iron Throne again, but Euron was no longer human. He seemed more squid than man, a monster fathered by a kraken of the deep, his face a mass of writhing tentacles."
The most recent preview chapter from The Winds of Winter, "The Forsaken", or "Aeron I", is told from the point-of-view of Aeron Damphair, but is really about Euron Greyjoy. It finds Aeron being held prisoner by his brother, who is forcing him to drink shade of the evening (the drink favored by the warlocks of Qarth). It's through this chapter we learn a lot about Euron, including that he molested Aeron, and wears a suit of armor made from Valyrian steel.
The chapter ends with Aeron tied to the prow of Euron's ship, and along with the dreams mentioned above, it becomes clear that the Crow's Eye is gearing up for a big sacrifice in The Winds of Winter. One of the popular fan theories about Euron is that he wants to bring about an apocalypse and turn himself into some sort of God, and this chapter from The Winds of Winter is the first big step on that dark, twisted journey, absolutely none of which made it into Euron's character in Game of Thrones.