Game of Thrones season 5 ended with a bang, outraged some and left others thrilled. We enjoyed the twists and turns that took place this season, though there were some changes from the books that didn't thrill us.
Of course, season 5 is the last chance that any of us has the chance to complain that Game of Thrones has deviated from the books. That's because the show has now caught up with almost all the events of the five published books, and the next book, The Winds of Winter, is still nowhere in sight, with a 2016 release expected, at best. What this means is that the next season of the show, which will air around an year from now, is completely fresh material that will deviate even further from the book that is eventually published - this is evident when you consider the sample chapters of the upcoming book that have already been released, and you can see how many people who are now dead in the show seem to be alive and well, for now.
That doesn't mean that it's impossible to guess how things are headed, and there's already been some pretty heavy speculation about whether one particular character is really dead [warning: the link contains a huge potential spoiler for Season 6] as seen at the end of season 5 episode 10 - Mother's Mercy. That's actually one of the less far-fetched theories out there right now, but we wanted to look at how things have changed between the books and the show, and what that will mean for the next season. We're pulling out the good ideas and the crazy ones, but be warned, this means discussing spoilers from the books and the show as well, so if you're even slightly bothered by spoilers, then you're better off keeping away.
LAST CHANCE FOR PEOPLE CONCERNED ABOUT SPOILERS. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEM BELOW FROM THE BOOK AND FROM THE SHOW. IF YOU'RE BOTHERED BY SPOILERS, BOOKMARK THIS PAGE AND COME BACK ONCE YOU'VE CAUGHT UP TO THE SHOW.
The show is the show, and the books are the books; it's a piece of wisdom we've been repeating for a while now, but as long as the show was working with the material from the books, it was impossible not to compare the two.
HBO's Game of Thrones has always been making changes from the Song of Ice and Fire series of books by George R R Martin that serves as the source material, but the changes have been getting broader and less predictable with each new season. The latest season is the best example of this, with Jaime's entire storyline created from material that definitely wasn't in the books, and Sansa's journey changed dramatically, replacing another character's arc.
That's right - a preview chapter from The Winds of Winter tells us that Sansa is still safe and sound in the Eyrie, living a life of relative comfort and safety, and learning to play the Game of Thrones. That's a far cry from the brutalised Sansa that show watchers got to see, someone who begged for death in the last episode of the season, after having all hope tortured out of her.
The battle of Winterfell is yet to take place in the books, but there's reason to hope that things actually go a little better for Stannis Baratheon on this count. Shireen and Selyse Baratheon are both alive at Castle Black as well, and their fate is unclear right now.
Myrcella is still alive in Dorne, and the plot there is much better than the muddied and confused story we're getting on the show. The Sand Snakes all have distinct personalities and seem to actually have a part to play, which is something that certainly could've been handled better on TV.
Barristan Selmy is also alive and well in Mereen, and leading an army against Daenerys' enemies there - the show has shortened Tyrion Lannister's journey dramatically and cut out one of the most intriguing new characters as well - Aegon Targaryen, Daenerys' nephew and potentially a better claimant to the throne than her.
The show Night's Watch also mutinied against Jon Snow because of his bringing a ragged handful of Wildlings, and one giant, across the Wall. That's really all the reason we get for this. The book version has the tension between the Wildlings and the Watch slowly building over a longer period of time, with the stores of the Watch running low, when some things are revealed to the Watch which show that Jon really can't be trusted.
Not only does Jon settle many more Wildings south of the Wall, but he's also lied about the death of Mance Rayder, and plans to break his vows yet again, to ride to Winterfell and rescue his sister from the Boltons.
The show has changed a lot, but some key facts remain pretty much as they were in the books. Jon Snow is bleeding out, Arya is still learning to be a master assassin, Daenerys is stranded with Drogon in the middle of a Dothraki horde. Cersei is shamed and then carried off by a strange, giant knight, and Tyrion is getting into trouble in Essos.
Safe bets for Season 6
We've already spelled out a long theory on why we think Jon Snow will be back in action next season. Either Melisandre will raise him from the dead using her fire magic, or Jon's direwolf Ghost will save him somehow. That's actually one of the more credible theories that makes sense for narrative reasons we explained earlier.
Meanwhile, Hodor and Bran spent this year sitting underground with the Children of the Forest. When we last saw Bran, he met the Three Eyed Crow, whom many people believe is Bloodraven, one of the Great Bastards of Westeros. There's a slightly complicated bit of backstory there, which is worth checking out - we really enjoyed reading A World of Ice and Fire, a history book written in Westeros. What's important to know is that in the books, Bran has spent this time learning to send his mind into the Weirwood trees - those huge white trees with red leaves that the Northerners pray to - which allows him to see things from around the world, and at different points in time.
Next year, Bran is probably going to return, and his magic is almost certainly going to be a bigger part of the plot going forward.
Littlefinger also spent very little time on screen this year - he's the man pulling strings and setting plots in motion as usual, but aside from leaving Sansa with the Boltons, and giving Lady Olenna some ammunition to use against Cersei, he's not done much.
But when you think about it, he's actually one of the most powerful people in Westeros - in name at least. He is the Lord Paramount of the Trident, the Lord of Harrenhall, and the Regent of the Eyrie, the Lords of the Vale. And if he can recapture Sansa, then he will also be the de-facto power in the North.
While his position in the Riverlands was just empty titles, securing the Vale gives him one of the larger fighting forces left in Westeros - only Dorne which also kept out of the war, can compare. Another safe bet then is that Littlefinger will once again gamble with fate, and take an army from the Vale to conquer Winterfell next season, in line with his promise to Cersei.
As for Cersei - you might have noticed that the giant knight who carried her off at the end of her scene in the season finale looked a little strange. A little zombie-like maybe? That's because he is almost certainly the reanimated corpse of Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane. Though he did manage to kill Oberyn Martell, Ser Gregor was poisoned in the fight and in the books, he dies screaming in terrible pain. Qyburn, the former Maester who bound up Jaime's stump, was removed from the Citadel because of his experiments with dead bodies, as he tried to find the boundary between life and death.
It would appear that he's succeeded in his experiments, because no one has ever heard the giant Kingsguard, Ser Robert Strong, speak, or seen him eating or sleeping. It's safe to say that we'll know more about Robert Strong next year as well, and we've got a particularly crazy theory about him as well which we'll get to.
But the other person whose fate we think is fairly safe to predict for one more year would be Daenerys Targaryen. In the books, Daenerys isn't alone when she meets the Dothraki horsemen. She's spotted by a scout, but before he can either ride away or attack her, Drogon flies in and burns the man, killing him, and his horse. That's where the Dothraki eventually find them, together.
It's pretty certain that she's not going to be much worse off after an encounter with a dragon at her back - and the book dragon is depicted as bigger, and more dangerous than the show version, which got driven off from Mereen pretty easily. What we'd guess is that Daenerys is able to cow the Dothraki into surrender, and returns to Mereen with a giant army to command, allowing her to once and for all kill her enemies there.
As to whether she'll ever return to Westeros or not - that's a question that's probably still a little further off, and we wouldn't expect a clear answer in the next season either, though we're pretty certain that the show will definitely end with the dragons in King's Landing.
Meanwhile, Game of Thrones fansite Winter Is Coming has some casting rumours for season 6 that are really interesting too. Yohn Royce will return, which we believe adds to the Littlefinger-Winterfell theory we have.
There's some characters being cast that clearly tell us that we're going to see more Dothraki this year, and a new Red Priestess means that Daenerys will take a little time before she returns to Mereen. Makes sense if she's moving at the head of a giant army now, doesn't it?
There's also a casting call for a Northern Lord, who is a savage warrior. Sounds like house Umber, one of the most loyal followers of the Starks. In the show, that's where the youngest stark boy, Rickon, was headed. If that's correct, then we might see Sansa getting reunited with at least one of her family members soon - provided she survived the fall into the snow.
Other casting news suggests that we're going to see Sam Tarly's family - they live near enough to the Citadel and it will be a chance for the show to expand on his backstory too.
Some crazy theories
In the books, it's not very clear if Sandor "The Hound" Clegane is really dead. There's a character introduced only as the gravedigger, whose description closely matches Sandor's. This is something that most fans would probably agree with. On the other hand, there's a fairy crazy theory that when Robert Strong is unveiled as Gregor reanimated, Sandor will be the one to fight him.
We're not really fans of the "Cleganebowl" theory though, and what we really think will happen is that while Sandor finds peace on the monastery at Quiet Isle, Gregor is going to run amuck, Frankenstein style. Qyburn's control over the zombie is probably going to be a lot weaker than he thinks it is, and the zombie-Mountain is going to kill Qyburn.
It's also going to be seen as an abomination by the High Sparrow, and will start open war between the Lannisters and the Faith Militant.
The casting news also gives us one more bit of tinfoil. There's call for a paragon of knighthood, who apparently carries a famous sword. Could this be another flashback scene? Ser Arthur Dayne was considered the epitome of chivalry, and carried a famous sword called Dawn. He died fighting Eddard "Ned" Stark at the Tower of Joy, where Ned's sister Lyanna was kept. If our speculation about Jon Snow is correct, then the Tower of Joy is a very important part of the backstory, and will show us Jon's parentage for once and for all.
Finally, there's also a casting call for a pirate, who has terrorised the seas around the world. To us, this sounds like a mix of Theon's uncles, Victarion and Euron Greyjoy. In the books, the Greyjoys have a major arc that leads to Victarion heading to Mereen to take Daenerys for his wife, and the Iron Fleet actually arrives just in time for the Battle of Mereen, according to a preview chapter.
Why is this important? Because in the books, Euron has found a horn that when blown can command dragons - even though it killed the men who blew on it. It's far-fetched, sure, but Daenerys can't really control her dragons yet - and as Daario said in this season, a dragon queen with no dragons isn't much of a queen. Our theory is that Daenerys will blow the horn, but not get burned by it, much like she didn't get burned by the funeral pyre in the first season.
With the dragons finally fully under her control, Daenerys will have a fleet, an army, and dragons, along with Tyrion and Varys to guide her. At which time she will finally be ready to head back to Westeros for the climactic battle of White Walkers versus dragons.
Ok, maybe it won't pan out exactly like that - but you know what, until the new season comes out, we'll keep hoping.