Well, that was intense. HBO’s Game of Thrones finished its most watched and arguably best season yet with another gory stakes-raising finale shake-up on June 15. But for the first time in the show’s history, the future looks as murky as Melisandre’s visions. Producers have expertly mined the first three of George R.R. Martin’s five published novels in his A Song of Ice and Fire saga, with a few story lines already drawing from material in the fourth and fifth books (A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons). You’d think that would leave plenty of material for season 5, but it’s not that simple — many of the show’s most popular characters don’t appear in Martin’s fourth book. (Feast also has a major subplot set in the Iron Islands that seems likely to be left out.) And much of what does occur with leading characters such as Tyrion, Daenerys, and Jon Snow could be described as transitional action (read: snoozy by Thrones‘ epic standards). Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss say they plan to double-fist from both Feast and Dragons for season 5, which could get them near the end of Martin’s published material. (Everyone’s hoping the author’s next book in the saga, the eagerly awaited The Winds of Winter, will be released before the Thrones team starts work on season 6.) ”For season 5, the fear started to dissipate when we outlined it and realized how much story we had to tell,” the showrunners assure EW via email. ”Now that we’re nearly finished with the first drafts of each episode, we see no reason why the coming season shouldn’t be the strongest yet.”
Going into the next two books, fan favorite/father killer Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is now a fugitive, while several of the younger characters have assumed intriguing new positions that set the stage for a power shift to the next generation. With the HBO version increasingly taking its own unique path, there’s also no certainty that what happens next on the show will follow the books. (Jon Snow’s mission to Craster’s Keep, Jojen Reed’s death, and that unforgettable Brienne-vs.-Hound fight were among many TV-only moves this season that left fans of the source material sputtering in their Dornish wine.) So for those who have already read the novels — and for fans of the show who really, truly don’t mind potential spoilers — here are some educated guesses about what might happen at the start of next season.
Arya trains in the House of Black and White
The stabby Stark daughter (Maisie Williams) seeks a formal education in — what else? — assassination by training at the home of the Faceless Men, who use stealth and disguises to kill their victims.
We’ll pay a visit to Dorne
We all loved polyamorous vengeance-seeking Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal), right up until his horrific skull-smashing death. In season 5, expect some of the action to shift to his homeland of Dorne (the scenes will likely be shot in Spain), where we could meet the Sand Snakes — Oberyn’s equally vengeful daughters. ”Who wouldn’t want to hang out in Dorne?” the showrunners tease. ”They have admirable values and priorities.”
Tyrion hits the road
With sister Cersei (Lena Headey) putting a massive bounty on his head, a guilt-ridden Tyrion tries to stay inconspicuous as he explores Essos and grows ever more curious about a certain dragon queen.
Cersei, Dany, and Jon face leadership challenges
All three encounter opposition as they run their respective corners of the world. Cersei rules Westeros with a paranoid iron fist, which of course breeds resentment. Despite the best efforts of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), her ex-slave city teeters on the brink of rebellion. And Jon (Kit Harington) struggles to ready the Night’s Watch for the White Walker threat.
Winterfell is back?
There’s a reason the Stark ancestral home has remained in the show’s credits as a smoldering ruin. Winterfell could return to the show’s foreground, except with Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) as its sinister new master.