Spoiler warning: obviously with this being a thorough Season 6 recap, everything up until the end of last season is discussed in-depth.
Deep breaths: Season 7 of Game of Thrones starts in just a few days, which is intimidating, if, like most people, your full-time employment/social life is standing in the way of you binge-watching Season 6’s approximately 10 hours of political intrigue, dragons and Frey pie.
If, like us, the finer details of what’s been happening are on the fuzzy side, our in-depth recap of what happened to all of the major characters last season will bring you up to date in time for this Sunday’s July 16 season premiere. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in.
We catch up with Arya back in Braavos, where she’s blind. This was her punishment for taking a life that wasn’t hers to kill — Meryn Trant, one of the names on her list. Following Arya may feel a little frustrating at first, since it’s not immediately apparent how her time on Braavos now ties in with the larger plot, but the whole of Season 6 functions as an incredibly slow training montage. We get to watch Arya as she gets more and more deadly, thanks to the Waif, who appears to have little in the way of hobbies and keeps swinging by where Arya is working as a beggar to challenge her to sparring matches, which she inevitably loses. After she parrots “a girl has no name” over and over when Jaqen H’ghar comes by, he takes her back to the House of Black and White where her training continues and where Arya regains her sight after Jaqen gives her a cup of water from the well in the house. She’s then given one final chance to impress him by assassinating an actor, Lady Crane. But ultimately Arya can’t bring herself to do it and after poisoning the actor’s drink, at the last minute she slaps the drink out of Lady Crane’s hands.
Obviously Arya’s stalker/tormentor/Regina George-equivalent, the Waif, has been following her and she now goes back to Jaqen to tell on her. Jaqen greenlights the Waif killing Arya and it becomes a whole thing. Arya bribes a trader and gets a place on a ship back to Westeros: she knows the gig’s up. But then the Waif appears and stabs Arya in the stomach. Arya manages to escape and Lady Crane gives her refuge and helps heal her wounds. But when Arya wakes up, Lady Crane is dead. She finally manages to lure the Waif to the hideout where she’s hidden the Needle and puts out the only light in the hideout. This is great because Arya has learnt how to fight blind, while the Waif hasn’t — she kills the Waif and removes her face and takes it to the Hall of Faces. Jaqen states she has finally become no one, but she disagrees, stating she is Arya Stark of Winterfell. She hightails it back to Westeros, where the first thing she does is travel to the Twins and poses as a serving girl (using one of the faces from the Hall of Faces, presumably). She kills Lothar Frey and Black Walder Rivers and bakes them into a pie, which she serves to Lord Walder Frey. Boom! She then kills him, but first reveals who’s in the pie and who she is, because Red Wedding revenge is a dish best served with a perfectly baked crust.
The least interesting Stark finally convinces us he’s worth watching this season round, in which the three-eyed raven trains him. In the second episode, he has a vision of a time long ago, when we get to see young Ned Stark sparring with Bran’s uncle Benjen. Lyanna Stark rides in on horseback (that’s Ned’s sister, the one who was allegedly abducted by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen in a kidnapping that ushered in the rebellion against the Mad King and eventually put Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne). Also, there’s young Hodor, whose real name is Wylis and who in the vision has an extensive vocabulary with many words that aren’t “hodor.” But wait! Before anything vaguely juicy happens, the Raven interrupts. He’s worried Bran might get too addicted to the past to want to stay in reality: well, same. The Starks looked happy then.
A further vision reveals that Ned Stark’s gang isn’t as honorable as has been previously reported: Ned Stark rides to the Tower of Joy to rescue his sister with five of his men and when the two guards refuse to let him know anything about Lyanna, they duel and it appears as if one of the guards, Ser Arthur Dayne will win, until one of Ned’s men, Howland Reed suddenly stabs one of the guards through the back of the neck (something that’s contrary to Ned’s story of honorable victory, according to Bran). When Ned rushes into the tower, Bran calls out to him and he stops puzzled for a second, as if he can hear Bran.
In another vision, we discover that the Children of the Forest created the first White Walker (presumably the Night King) and Leaf explains it was to stop men from destroying their trees and people. While the Raven naps, Bran goes on an unsupervised mental trip via greensight and sees an army of Wights and White Walkers. The Night King sees him and touches him and now has an exact location for him. This is intense, as according to Business Insider, fan theories claim that touching Bran allowed the Night King to breach the cave’s protective magic and this implies that Bran having been marked by the King (remember that icy handprint on his arm?) could be one way the Wights and White Walkers could breach the Wall.
The Night King hurries to destroy Bran, and Meera tries to shake Bran awake from his vision and simultaneously defend him. Lots of the Children, Leaf and Summer the direwolf die while defending Bran but he eventually gets away, thanks to none other than Hodor, whose tragic condition finally makes sense in a reveal that is going to mess you up forever. When Bran wargs into Hodor (ie. Controls him by taking over his brain, something which only usually applies to animals) and makes Hodor pull him down a tunnel, they discover the exit route is a backdoor. Meera and Bran get to the door and Hodor shuts it just in time to keep the wights in, which is when Meera tells him he has to hold the door. Bran, still in his vision, meets eyes with Wylis who can suddenly see him and Wylis has a seizure as Bran makes him hold the door. During his seizure, Wyllis says over and over “Hold the door” until it eventually morphs into “Hodor” and we realize that Bran’s command was the very thing that caused Wylis to transform into the Hodor we know. Hodor is killed by wights, but that’s on Bran, too.
They’re chased by wights but a hooded person canters up on horseback and scoops them up and saves them — it turns out it’s the uncle we thought was dead, Benjen Stark, who explains he was stabbed by a White Walker but that the Children of the Forest prevented him from becoming a wight by plunging a shard of dragonglass into his heart. He escorts Bran and Meera to a weirwood beyond the wall but explains he can’t go any further because of magic cast on the wall that keeps out the dead. Bran then has a really intense vision: Ned enters Lyanna’s chamber and finds her lying in blood. She’s given birth to a son, presumably the offspring of Rhaegar Targaryen and asks Ned to protect the baby from Robert Baratheon. Given that directly after we see the baby, it cuts to Jon Snow, the editing heavily implies that the baby is Jon.
Much of Jon Snow’s storyline is condensed into this very-on-the-money SNL sketch. He’s dead, he’s definitely staying dead…until Melisandre brings him back to life, with a little encouragement from Ser Davos. He goes down and executes the traitors, including Ser Alliser Thorne and Olly. After doing so, he gives up his black cloak and states “My watch has ended.” Huh? But isn’t the Night’s Watch that most terrifying of things, a frustrating job with hostile colleagues that you can’t quit? But the creed says “Night gathers and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death…” so by dying and coming back to life, Jon’s found a loophole. More on Jon in a second, but since his storyline then interweaves with Sansa’s, let’s explore what she’s been up to.
She’s fleeing Winterfell with Theon Greyjoy in the Wolfswood, with Bolton’s forces hot on their heels. Thank goodness Brienne of Tarth and Podrick appear in the nick of time and dish out some street justice. Brienne offers her services one more time with feeling and this time, Sansa’s smart enough to accept. Theon heads to the Iron Islands, while the rest of the gang head to Castle Black. After a joyful reunion, Sansa asks Jon to help her reclaim her childhood home from the Boltons but Jon declines: he’s just so tired of fighting. Sansa has no pity for the exhaustion of a man who has literally travelled back from the afterlife and says she’ll take back Winterfell with or without his help. But then a letter from Ramsay arrives, explaining that as the lord of Winterfell (he stabbed his dad in the second episode after his father’s second son was born — in the past his father hinted that he might disinherit him in favor of his son with Walda if Ramsay displeased him), he expects Jon to turn over the Wildings while Sansa mentions he has Rickon Stark as a prisoner. Jon suddenly decides it might not be a bad idea to try and take back Winterfell.
Sansa secretly meets with Littlefinger in Mole’s Town while accompanied by Brienne and he tells her he’s rallied the knights of the Vale to join her but she refuses his offer of help and he suggests she consider reaching out to her great uncle, the Blackfish (Ser Brynden Tully), for support since he’s successfully retaken Riverrun. Then Sansa and Jon go round all the minor Houses that used to support the Starks to try and get them to put up a few men for their cause. They recruit House Mormont (headed by child-leader Lady Lyanna) which earns them 62 men but mostly, these Houses are royally pissed off because, as Robett Glover puts it, the last time they supported the Starks, they lost their home and Rob Stark was nowhere to be found when the Ironborn attacked. Still, they manage to get a few hundred extra men from a few Northern houses. After arguing with Jon about them waiting to recruit more houses and Jon refusing to put off the battle any longer, Sansa writes a letter but it’s not clear who to. Then there’s the most epic battle in the history of Game of Thrones which makes little to no sense to condense into sentences, so either feast your eyes on this or know this: against all the odds, the Starks win, thanks to a last-minute appearance from the Knights of the Vale — presumably this is thanks to Sansa’s mysterious letter, which we could assume was to Littlefinger. But there is one major loss: Rickon Stark, who gets shot with an arrow by Ramsay.
Jon defeats Ramsay in single hand combat but out of respect to Sansa, doesn’t kill him. Sansa then proceeds to confront him in the kennels and leave him to be ripped apart by his own dogs.
The Northern lords and Vale lords swing by Winterfell to discuss what’s going to happen post this victory. Lyanna Mormont gives the northerners a piece of her mind: she argues that while no one but a Stark should rule over the North, Jon has Ned Stark’s blood in him and as such, he should be the King in the North. Everyone promptly falls in line, celebrating him as King of the North, but Sansa exchanges glances with Littlefinger, looking troubled.
Cersei and Jaime
After throwing a petty party in Season 5 and making the High Sparrow the new High Septon in the hopes that he’d go after Margaery’s brother Loras Tyrell for being gay, things weren’t great for Tommen’s mother. She had to do her “shame, shame, shame” atonement walk naked through a city full of people shouting an inventive — and accurate — variation on “motherfucker” at her. So thank goodness for Season 6: but before things got better, they’d have to get worse. When Cersei is told Jaime had returned from Dorne, she rushed to meet him at the port but when she sees he’s unaccompanied she realizes something’s wrong: their daughter Myrcella had died, poisoned by kissing Ellaria Sand goodbye on the lips (she had coated her mouth with a fatal poison). When Cersei attempted to leave the Red Keep for her daughter’s funeral, guards block her path and she’s told that by order of the King (ie. her son, Tommen) she’s not allowed to leave the castle for her own protection. She and Jaime visit Qyburn and learn that he has managed to bribe some of Varys’ little birds into working for him.
When Cersei learns Margaery may be facing her own nude 5K, she heads straight to Uncle Kevan and Margaery’s grandmother Lady Olenna and together they come up with a plan: the Tyrell army will liberate Margaery and Loras and pass them on to the Crown’s Justice (headed by Kevan Lannister) for a civil trial, while Kevan, who commands the City Watch, will keep royal and Lannister troops at a distance, thus inkeeping with Tommen’s orders not to antagonize the Faith. It’s not a bad plan, but the Sparrow’s one step ahead of them. He announces Margaery won’t be doing a Walk of Atonement, but will be released thanks to a new bond between the state and church. Foiled!
Tommen’s pissed off, so he removes Jaime from the Kingsguard and commands him to head to Riverrun (which has been captured by Catelyn Stark’s uncle the Blackfish and the Tully army) and help the Freys reclaim it. This part is long and pretty tedious with the Freys threatening to hang the Blackfish’s nephew, Edmure Tully, but after Jaime threatens to hurl Edmure’s infant son at the walls with a catapult, Edmure enters the gates against the Blackfish’s wishes (since the Blackfish’s men have allegiance to him over his uncle) and commands the castle surrender. Then Jaime heads back to King’s Landing, where everything has changed…
After the High Sparrow commands Cersei to come to the Sept of Baelor to talk to him, she refuses to come and the Mountain rips one of the Faith Militant’s heads off, causing them to retreat. Later she enters the Great Hall and finds the king is making an announcement: she realizes she wasn’t informed because she’s no longer in her newly religious son’s good graces. He announces that Loras Tyrell and Cersei’s trial will be held in the Sept of Baelor and announces that trial by combat will be forbidden in the Seven Kingdoms and that Loras and Cersei would stand trial before seven septons instead. This is huge: since Cersei’s spent the whole of the season assuming the Mountain would get her off the hook via her trial by combat; one interpretation is that her son is effectively sentencing her to death. After the announcement, Qyburn tells Cersei that his little birds have been investigating the rumor she asked him about and that the rumor is true.
On the day of the trial, instead of going to the Sept, Cersei remains in the Red Keep and sends Ser Gregor Clegane to prevent Tommen from leaving his quarters. Meanwhile, some pretty significant characters are in the Sept: the High Sparrow, Lancel Lannister, Margaery and her brother Loras. As soon as Margaery notices neither Cersei nor Tommen is there, she starts getting worried. The Sparrow sends Lancel to fetch Cersei and on chasing one of Qyburn’s little birds, Lancel discovers Cersei’s secret: she’s discovered that there’s hoards of wildfire (the Westeros equivalent of napalm) underneath the Sept, placed there by the Mad King, Aerys II. A candle placed in a puddle of neon green wildfire burns down and sets it alight and the whole Sept explodes. Cersei watches from a window, delighted. Tommen is stricken with grief (he’s been imprisoned in his room by the Mountain for the ceremony) and throws himself out of a window. Cersei crowns herself Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and the vibes are understandably frosty. Jaime, who arrives just at this moment, watches, disbelieving and then hardened. Here’s guessing things are going to get stormier between the pair next season round.
Tyrion’s still in Meereen and unlikely to be getting home to Westeros anytime soon — on going for a walk with Varys, they spot that their fleet of ships have been set on fire — like everyone else’s, because the Sons of the Harpy (presumably — this is never confirmed) have destroyed every ship in the harbor. Tyrion learns that outside of Meereen, the whole of Slaver’s Bay has been returned to the slavers. Later, he hears Daenerys’ dragons have been off their food since their mother left. He suggests that they free the dragons, proposing that the dragons won’t harm anyone they know to be a friend and that he will be their friend. This is terrifying, but somehow he manages to earn the beasts’ trust and unshackle them without being burnt to a crisp and they fly off. Tyrion learns that various Masters are funding the Sons of the Harpy and decides diplomacy is the answer: he asks Varys to set up a meeting with the relevant masters. Tyrion makes them an offer, namely that Meereen would remain a free city, but all the other cities should phase slavery out within a seven year period. Also, they should stop funding the Sons of the Harpy. Neither Grey Worm nor Missandei are thrilled about this, since they don’t believe diplomacy is possible with the masters, but for a while, things in Meereen seem quieter.
But one little chat and then a period of peace would be too easy for Game of Thrones, right? So of course the slavers come and attack Meereen on the very day Dany returns.
It’s a relatively low-key season for Daenerys Targaryen, who was captured by a khalasar of Dothraki. She is brought before their leader Khal Moro and after revealing she’s the widow of Khal Drogo, Moro sends her to her most boring fate yet: to spend the rest of her days in the Temple of Dosh Khaleen, a hangout spot for other sadsack widowed khaleesi. The widows tell her that since she violated protocol by not immediately reporting there following the death of Drogo, that her fate will be decided by the khals. When she heads outside to answer a call of nature, she reconnects with Jorah Mormont and Daario Naharis, who are on a mission to rescue her, but she tells them she has a better plan.
At the Khalar vezhven where the khals decide what her fate will be, Daenerys tells them that none of them are fit to lead the Dothraki and expresses her contempt for them. They make the usual sort of threats men on this show make against women and Daenerys looks peculiarly pleased, before stating that they’re going to die. Then she flips over some braziers and sets the temple on fire, but it’s chill, because she can survive fire and they can’t. They discover the temple’s only door is barred and they perish, she wins. Those outside the building bow down in shock and awe when she emerges, nude, from the temple.
But on returning to Meereen on Drogon’s back, she finds the slavers are attacking the city and while she’s tempted to respond with her usual force to this threat, Tyrion dissuades her and proposes some measure of diplomacy. She meets with the slavers and while they think she’s there to negotiate the terms of her surrender, after she gets her dragons to burn their ships, they think again. But it’s too late: Grey Worm kills two of the three slavers, but lets Yezzan live so he can spread the word of Daenerys’ power. Daario and the khasalar kill the Sons of the Harpy. She strikes an alliance with Yara and Theon Greyjoy in which she agrees to help them defeat their uncle Euron Greyjoy in exchange for them supporting her claim as queen of the Seven Kingdoms with one hundred ships and the Ironborn finally quitting their worst habit: no more “roving, raiding or raping.” Tyrion persuades her to dump Daario and after doing so, she confesses in a very Cool Girl way that she wasn’t sad to lose him, she’s sad to feel so little about it *hair flick *.
Other Major Characters, In a Nutshell
Theon heads back to the Iron Islands where his dad has just been killed by his uncle (it’s all very The Lion King) — he supports his sister Yara’s claim to the Salt Throne. Evil uncle Euron admits to murdering Balon, but claims he did it because he was sick of the Iron Island’s losing streak and unbelievably, Euron gets elected as the next King, because there’s a certain swagger to ‘fessing up to a murder in this world. Since Theon and Yara assume Euron will try and kill them now that he’s been elected ruler, they throw caution to the wind and steal the best ships in the Iron Fleet — there’s rumors Euron’s going to be next season’s Ramsay Bolton equivalent and you can see why. He’s now slavering for revenge. We found out the Hound was alive and chilling at an anti-violence retreat headed by the Elder Brother, a former soldier turned monk, which is great until all his friends get murdered by some horsemen from a rebellious offshoot of the Brotherhood Without Banners while he’s out chopping firewood — the Hound gets to hang two of the three men but is convinced by the main faction of the Brotherhood (who also wanted to execute the men responsible for their crimes and who hang the third) to consider joining them. In the season’s creepiest murder, doddering sycophant Pycelle backed the wrong horse (pro-Tommen, anti-Cersei) and gets stabbed to death by a group of children, the little birds Qyburn has recruited in Varys’ absence. Ser Jorah spends the whole season ignoring the spreading of his deadly greyscale until Daenarys tells him to get over himself and find a cure, because she’ll need him at her side when she takes the Seven Kingdoms.
Sam plans to go to the Citadel to become a maester so he can help Jon, but since there’s a strict no-ladies policy, he tries to drop Gilly and the baby off at his family’s home in Horn Hill, but when Gilly outs herself as a Wildling and his dad’s reaction is suitably scathing, he changes to plan B, nicking his dad’s sword Heartsbane (made of White-Walker-killing Valyrian steel) and taking Gilly and the baby with him to Oldtown. Ellaria Sand and her daughter Tyene assassinate Doran and send Obara and Nymeria to kill Doran’s son, Trystane and Jaime Lannister receives word shortly after that the Sand Snakes have taken over Dorne and will probably declare war on House Lannister presently. As the only surviving member of House Tyrell, Lady Olenna declares war on Cersei and heads to Dorne to meet with Ellaria Sand, who offers her an alliance based on vengeance and justice and Varys appears to offer “Fire and blood” — since Varys is working for Daenerys, this implies that Olenna is allying herself with House Targaryen on behalf of her own house, something also suggested when we later see the fleet of the Reach within the rest of Daenarys’ retinue.
Ramsay Bolton, Roose Bolton, Walda Bolton and her baby, Rickon Stark, Osha, Khal Moro, Doran Martell, Trystane Martell, King Tommen Baratheon, Margaery Tyrell, Loras Tyrell, Mace Tyrell, Lancel Lannister, Three Eyed Raven, Maester Pycelle, Alliser Thorne, Olly, Walder Frey, Shaggydog, Summer, High Sparrow, the Blackfish (AKA Brynden Tully), Hodor, Leaf, Balon Greyjoy, Lady Crane, The Waif, Lothar Frey and Black Walder Rivers, Lem Lemoncloak, Brother Ray, Kevan Lannister, Wun Wun.
Now leading Tyrion, Varys, the Unsullied, the Dothraki (approximately 100,000 men plus their horses according to Business Insider, the Greyjoys (Yara, Theon plus their 100 ships), the Dornish navy (revealed to us in a wide shot, presumably the fruit of Varys’ trip to Dorne), the Tyrells and the Masters’ Ships (which, again first noticed by Business Insider, are now sporting the Targaryen sigil on their sails and dragon mastheads).
Jon Snow (& Sansa Stark)
The Wildlings, baby ruler Lyanna Mormont, Lord Manderly, Lord Wyman, Robett Glover and all the assorted lords of the North and the Vale. In theory, Littlefinger has also declared for House Stark, but in practice, his private conversations with Sansa in which he’s tried to undermine her trust in her brother suggests he’s rooting for one Stark over the other.
NB: While most of this piece is a recap, the below section features a teaser from the cast which includes minor spoilers for Season 7.
It appears that Cersei has lost faith in striking alliances with anyone beyond Jaime (who seems to be increasingly disillusioned with her). After blowing up a sizeable chunk of King’s Landing’s population, she’s lost any good will she’d ever generated and this could be her most isolated, paranoid season yet. Still, Qyburn and the Mountain are still there, so that’s something. And according to what actor Pilou Asbaek (who plays Euron Greyjoy) told Entertainment Weekly, Greyjoy’s going to at least try to win an alliance with Cersei — whether he succeeds is another matter.
- Lead image: HBO