“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die” – Cersei Lannister.
The drama of watching Game of Thrones is almost as exhilarating as the rush of trying your hand on the casino floor. Guessing who will come out on top in the battle for the Iron Throne is just like choosing a single number on a roulette wheel – anyone could win.
The biggest show on television is back this spring, as the sixth season of Game of Thrones hits our screens. HBO's blockbuster drama based on the fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin has gained unprecedented success since it first aired in 2011, thanks to its storylines of debauchery, murder, and the endless twists and turns as the characters battle it out to claim the Iron Throne. The show is about as predictable as knowing what cards you'll be dealt at the casino!
In classic GoT style, the last season ended with an ungodly amount of cliffhangers, leaving fans ever-so-patiently waiting to see what's in store for the main players in the race to rule King's Landing.
Here are a few questions that just have to be answered:
IS JON SNOW DEAD?
It's the question every Game of Thrones fan wants the answer to – is Jon Snow dead or alive?
Poor Jon hasn’t had an easy life. The bastard child of Eddard Stark, Jon grew up alongside his father's legitimate children and their mother, Catelyn, who was never the most welcoming to him – unsurprising given the nature of his birth. Leaving his home of Winterfell, he took up a position with the Night's Watch, joining his fellow guards in doing all they can to defend the Wall from potential attack.
The Wall brought him nothing but anguish. Venturing out north with his fellow Crows, Jon became entangled with Ygritte, a young wildling woman, who he fell in love with. Follow that up with the wrath of Mance Rayder and the Free Folk at the Battle of Castle Black (where Ygritte is subsequently killed), the offer to join Stannis Baratheon's resurgent army and taking on thousands of White Walkers at Hardhome, and by the end of season five, Jon Snow had certainly had an eventful ride. But things would only get worse for the hard-done-by character.
Jon took over as Commander of the Night's Watch, but his allegiance to the wildlings and desire to take the fight to the oncoming White Walkers, despite the risk of the entire Watch being killed, made him very unpopular with his brothers of the night. And when the revolt against him reached boiling point, his fellow Crows took drastic action to oust him from power.
He was stabbed to death by his Black Brothers, each driving the knife into his midriff and uttering the words, "for the Watch".
Surely not, though – Jon Snow, killed off?! The man many had backed to take the fight to the White Walkers, and win. The man to revive his father's name by marching to King's Landing and taking on House Lannister, dead and buried? George R.R. Martin may be renowned for ruthless killings, but writing out Jon Snow is a different kettle of fish!
The likelihood of surviving such a brutal attack at any point is unlikely, but the odds of surviving a serial stabbing in the arctic conditions of the Wall. In casino terms, you're more likely to roll 100 7's in a row whilst playing craps – a very, very slim chance.
But then again, it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones without a twist in the tale. So could Jon Snow actually make a comeback in season six? It's not as far-fetched as you'd think thanks to one woman – Melisandre.
Known for her witchcraft, the Red Woman played a prominent role in Stannis Baratheon's decision making, from the Battle of the Blackwater to the decision to sacrifice his own daughter to the spirit gods by burning her at the stake (hardly Father of the Year behaviour is it, Stannis?). Melisandre sent a spirit to kill off Renly, the brother of Stannis; forced him to disregard his trusty right-hand man Davos Seaworth, and can apparently talk to the 'higher powers' – she's a pretty big deal.
In Season Five, we saw Melisandre trying to seduce Jon Snow into joining Stannis' charge for the Iron Throne, and after the fateful events of the Rightful King's attack on Winterfell she returned to Castle Black. She clearly had some affection for Snow, but does she really have the power to bring him back from the dead?
It's difficult to see what would lie ahead for the Wall if Jon Snow is written out, especially after he's already encountered the fearsome White Walkers. And with frenzied forum posts claiming that he is in fact a Targaryen and could join forces with Khaleesi, Daenerys, it would take a brave gambler to stake on Jon Snow being dead and buried. We reckon Melisandre kicking around at Castle Black shortens the odds on his survival considerably…
MOTHER OF DRAGONS TO QUEEN OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS?
"I will do what queens do – I will rule."
With her fierce Targaryen blood and the spirit of Khal Drogo running through her body, only a fool would rule out Daenerys from claiming the Iron Throne come the end of season six.
As the daughter of "the Mad King", King Aerys II, who was defeated by Robert Baratheon during the Sack of King's Landing, House Targaryen has had the experience of ruling the Seven Kingdoms, but recent seasons have seen Daenerys having to rebuild her family's legacy in her quest for power. Seen ruling from the Great Pyramid of Meereen, the city becomes increasingly fragile, with the Sons of the Harpy running riot through the streets, murdering civilians and Khaleesi's guards – most notably Barristan Selmy.
But with Tyrion Lannister and Lord Varys – the latter known for having eyes and ears everywhere - now by her side as advisors, not to mention her three dragons, could Daenerys leave the troublesome Meereen behind and head for pastures new at King's Landing?
Those who aren't fully read up on how Game of Thrones works would suggest that surely by having three dragons, Khaleesi is in the best position to topple King Tommen and House Lannister. They'd be completely wrong.
After locking the dragons away in the catacombs due to their boisterous behaviour, they are hardly crawling back into mother Daenerys' arms. Plus, the uprising in Meereen cost her dearly, losing many men to the Sons of Harpy rebels. The civilians are quickly losing confidence in her ability to rule, putting her march for Westeros into jeopardy.
The last episode saw Daenerys staring death in the face as she stood surrounded by the Sons of the Harpy in the Pit, only to be saved by Drogon – the most mischievous of her dragons. She is taken far from Meereen on the dragon's back into the wild green hills and mountains, but as she searches for food, she is found by a khalasar of Dothraki bloodriders.
With her tragic lover Khal once the leader of the Dothraki army, will Daenerys be helped on her quest for the Iron Throne by this band of horseback riders? With Jorah Mormont back on the scene too (albeit with the incurable Greyscale riddling his skin), alongside the Commander of the Second Sons Daario Naharis and Grey Worm, she certainly has the tactical experience of battle on her side. Pair that with Tyrion's knowledge of the Lannisters and she could become the royal flush of the casino - an unstoppable force.
All they have to do is find her – simple, right?
DEATH OF THE STARKS
It seems to be an ever-occurring theme in Game of Thrones: a Stark being killed off or subject to extremely adverse circumstances.
Looking back, we've seen some big names brutally murdered – especially those related to the King of the North. In five seasons, as many characters (including Jon Snow, as your guess is as good as ours if he's still alive or not) with or related to the Stark surname have breathed their last breath. First we saw poor Ned getting beheaded at the command of power-mad King Joffrey, but it was the Red Wedding of Season Three that really struck a hammer blow to the Stark revival. After siding with the Lannisters, House Bolton and House Frey made sure the family was made to suffer, first killing Robb's wife Talisa and then the King of the North himself. And to top it all off, Catelyn was the next to go in the same episode. Three Starks in one scene, all gone – an absolute bloodbath.
So what are the odds of the remaining Starks actually surviving? And what are the chances of them regaining their family's rightful place at Winterfell?
Well, on average one Stark dies per season, so with four remaining – Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon – you'd expect someone to meet their maker. But that's only based on what's happened in the past – it would be hard to claim each character has a one-in-four chance of being killed, especially when you take into consideration their roles in the story.
Playing such a small part of the tale thus far, you wouldn't think Rickon is heading for the chop. And when you take into consideration the fact he was taken to the Last Hearth, owned by House Umber (a firm ally of the Starks), by Osha instead of heading north of the Wall with Bran, Rickon is certainly a long shot.
Along with his younger brother, Bran is widely believed to be dead (Theon was said to have killed them, when in fact it was a nearby farmer's children which were murdered). But given that he didn’t appear throughout the entirety of season five, what does the future have in store for him? Bran's ability to enter people’s minds and his fixation with the Three-Eyed Raven could get him into trouble, but if he's heading north of the Wall, and given his season on the bench, he's probably here for the long haul.
Could the favourite to be bumped off be Arya, the mean-streaked Stark child? Arguably undertaking a more adverse storyline than her siblings – involving stealing, manipulating and murdering – we last saw Arya in the House of Black and White at Braavos. She wants to avenge her father's death and kill all the names on her list, but after being trained by Jaqen H'ghar and the Waif ("You said I could be your apprentice. You said you'd teach me how to be a Faceless Man") she may have bitten off more than she can chew. Arya is punished by Jaqen, taking her vision so she is left blind. Will this hamper her quest for redemption?
After escaping the clutches of Joffrey, Littlefinger and Ramsay Bolton, it's almost like Sansa Stark is the invisible woman. Last seen escaping her former home of Winterfell with Theon (or Reek, as Ramsay affectionately nicknamed him), you can guarantee that House Bolton and Petyr Baelish will have a price on her head for anyone who can find her. As she runs off into the northern winter too, she'll need a seriously good plan to survive.
For us, it's like picking between red and black on the casino's roulette wheel for who'll get the chop – it's got to be either Sansa or Arya. But don't be too surprised to see a Stark revival in season six.
WILL THE LANNISTERS HAVE THE LAST LAUGH?
It's safe to say season five didn't look too favourably upon the Lannisters – none too soon for some viewers.
It was Cersei who took the brunt of the troubles. After being (rightfully) accused of an adulterous relationship with her cousin Lancel and her brother Jaime, the High Sparrow had her thrown into a cell and forced her to stand trial. And after being found guilty and admitting to her crimes, she was forced to take the walk from the Great Sept of Baelor to the Red Keep with no clothes on, whilst the civilians of King's Landing watched on, goading her and spitting at her.
The likelihood of Cersei seeking revenge on the High Sparrow is, well, high. Renowned for her cold-blooded approach to those who cross her and House Lannister, you'd get good odds on someone being killed on her command – the most likely victim being the man who put her through all that pain and torture. If you're looking for someone to wager on, try the most deaths under one character's command, as Cersei will be a crazed woman on a mission in Season Six.
But what about her brother, the King's Slayer, Jaime Lannister? Has he just brought war to his own doorstep? After trying to smuggle his "niece" Myrcella from the clutches of the Martells, retaliation should have been expected, as Ellaria Sand poisoned the young Lannister to death. With Tywin, Joffrey and Tyrion out of the equation, and King Tommen still a mere child, do the Lannisters stand any chance of keeping a grip on the Iron Throne?
With challengers coming from all across the realm, and a battle with House Martell set to ensue, the Lannisters may have a debt they cannot repay.
Will we ever see House Stark in a position of power again? What will happen between the Martells and Lannisters? And what is going on with Jon Snow?! The anticipation for the new season of Game of Thrones is reaching boiling point, so hopefully we’ve whet your appetite for what you can expect. The only betting certainty? Valar Morghulis…