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You may have heard that “Game of Thrones” is returning to HBO on Sunday. To prepare for Season 7, we’re reviewing and reassessing the first six seasons of the show, with the benefit of hindsight. Each recap contains spoilers for all six seasons.
Previously: Seasons 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
The sixth season of “Game of Thrones” began with most of the principals at or near their lowest points. Daenerys Targaryen was a prisoner of a particularly unsavory band of Dothraki. Cersei was recovering from her Walk of Shame, only to learn that her daughter, Myrcella, her most beloved child, had been murdered. Jon Snow was dead.
The rest of the season tracks their respective resurgences, as dozens of notable but ultimately tangential characters are killed off to clear the way for the story’s final clashes.
Initially all eyes were on Castle Black. That’s where Jon lay dead for two episodes before coming back around, as most people suspected he would. After Jon kills the men who killed him, he gets a resurrection gift in the form of a reunion with his sister, Sansa, who successfully escaped Ramsay Bolton with help from Brienne. Ramsay had his own rebound, however, taking control of the North by killing his father, along with, in ghastly fashion, his stepmother and infant half brother. He even obtained Rickon Stark to replace Sansa.
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When Jon, Sansa and Ramsay finally meet in the nicely titled Battle of the Bastards, the clash begins with the death of Rickon and goes poorly for Jon’s army from there, but swings in the Starks’ favor after the Knights of the Vale arrive, courtesy of Littlefinger. The aid, brokered by Sansa, brings victory and a return to Winterfell, where Jon is elected King of the North. But there are also signs of discord, as Littlefinger wants Sansa to rule the North and help him claim the Iron Throne for himself.
Jon also has a surprise waiting for him: A vision of Bran’s reveals that Jon is not the son of Ned Stark, but of Ned’s sister Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen, Dany’s long-dead older brother, which could confer extraordinary powers, as well as a strong claim on the throne.
Bran spends much of the season learning at the roots of the three-eyed raven. Some lessons are surprising, like the revelation that it was the Children of the Forest who long ago created the White Walkers. Others are tougher: When Bran lingers too long in a vision, he leads the Night King and his minions to him and is forced to flee, getting Hodor, the Raven, the direwolf Summer and some forest children killed in the process. With help from the undead Uncle Benjen, Bran and Meera Reed end up near the Wall.
Arya, the other remaining Stark, finally moves on from her overlong apprenticeship at the House of Black and White and is now armed with lethal abilities and face-swapping skills. Her first victim is Walder Frey, co-author of the Red Wedding, but there will no doubt be others.
In the East, Dany has been subjugated again, having been essentially imprisoned with other Khal widows. She doesn’t stick around long — soon she torches her oppressors and returns to Meereen, where she cuts Daario loose, makes Tyrion her hand of the queen and forms key alliances. These include Theon and Yara Greyjoy, who, after fleeing their murderous uncle Euron, pledge their ships to Dany. Also on board are the Houses Martell and Tyrell, eager to take revenge on Cersei for her various crimes. The entire coalition is last seen sailing toward Westeros with the three dragons soaring above.
Cersei spends Season 6 seemingly trying to outmaneuver the High Septon — and seemingly failing — until she puts her final revenge plot into action in the finale. It unfolds in spectacular fashion, as she uses the stores of wildfire in King’s Landing to blow up the Great Sept of Baelor and most of her enemies along with it. She ends the season seated on the Iron Throne as Jaime, back from his trip to the Riverlands, looks on with concern. It remains to be seen how Cersei’s reign will affect the twins’ relationship, and how she will change now that all of her children are dead. (Tommen committed suicide after her explosive coup.)
Cersei’s devotion to her children was her one admirable quality. How terrible might she be now that all of them are gone?
Season 6 in Six Scenes
Jon Wakes Up
Few people thought Jon was permanently dead, but his resurrection was significant nonetheless. It identified him as a sort of Chosen One, perhaps with special powers linked to his parentage, and marked a turning point in the story’s trajectory. It was a literal victory over death.
Hodor Holds the Door
Starks Come Home
After the Battle of the Bastards, the Starks return to Winterfell and are back in charge in the North. The team of Jon and Sansa, the noble warrior and the increasingly cagey player with hard-won political know-how, could be formidable — if resentments or Littlefinger don’t drive them apart.
Cersei Takes Over
Dany Leaves the Pyramid
For six seasons the Dragon Queen bellowed about conquering Westeros but remained bogged down in Essos. Those days appear to be over.
Arya Gets Even
Arya is officially in payback mode, but at what cost to her soul?
Gone, but Not Forgotten
Hodor — His final moments transformed this sweet, lumbering punch line into a poignant symbol of sacrifice.
The High Septon — Sparrowsplaining to the end.
Margaery Tyrell — The sharp schemer was almost as good as Cersei as playing the angles of power. Almost.
Loras Tyrell — He didn’t deserve what he got, but fragile types don’t last in the full-contact world of King’s Landing politics.
Tommen Baratheon — Ditto.
Ramsay Bolton — He trained his hounds to eat people and then ended up in the dog dish, himself. No one more deserved it more.
Roose Bolton — He created a monster — conceiving Ramsay in a rape and manipulating his craving for legitimacy and power — and then died by its hand.
Walder Frey — A vile traitor, his death was almost as delicious as the Son Pie he had for his final meal.
Grand Maester Pycelle — The lecherous snake, swarmed by knife-wielding “little birds,” succumbed to death by 1,000 cuts. Or maybe more like 98 cuts, which is still plenty of cuts.
Lancel Lannister — A slight character who was a vehicle for big things, like King Robert’s death, the Sparrows’ arrival and Cersei’s wildfire ignition.
Rickon Stark — Honestly, I probably should have put Rickon in the next category.
Gone and Sort of Forgotten
Alliser Thorne — A brave but unpleasant warrior, he picked the wrong Lord Commander to kill.
Olly — His short, unhappy life included having his parents eaten by Thenns, stabbing his former mentor and getting hanged for treason.
Osha — Long one of Bran’s protectors, she got a rather abrupt, stabby send-off after trying to kill Ramsay.
Doran Martell — Decent-seeming prince of Dorne was deemed too weak by Ellaria Sand, and died asking, in heartbreaking fashion, about the fate of his son.
Mace Tyrell — Slow-witted trust-fund Tyrell always seemed as if he’d wandered off the set of a “Wizard of Oz” reboot.
Wun Wun — This Giant and a hero of the Battle of the Bastards was never less than spectacular to behold.
Three-Eyed Raven — Bran’s mentor and predecessor was killed by the Night’s King, which was probably what was always supposed to happen.
Balon Greyjoy — Another of the show’s bad dads, he was also one of Melisandre’s leech kings. And that’s about it.
Unlike with the previous season recaps, it’s too early to know how the below points will come into play.
• Dany didn’t commit to strategically marrying someone, but she did leave the option open by throwing over Daario. The most obvious candidate also happens to be her nephew, Jon Snow. Northern nobles are attractive political mates because the wilder North has more loyalty to its own leaders than to those in King’s Landing. (See also Littlefinger’s persistent Sansa obsession.) So Jon represents an ideal alliance for someone trying to conquer Westeros. The question is, How and when will they learn how they are connected?
• “Build me a thousand ships, and I will give you this world,” Euron Greyjoy tells his Ironborn followers. The uncle to Yara and Theon, he, too, has designs on conquering Westeros. But it remains to be seen how he fits within the overall clash.
• “All I want is to become a maester so I can help Jon when the time comes,” — Sam, to Gilly
Looking Ahead, Ineptly
• “I can’t speak for the flames, but he’s gone,” Davos, on Jon Snow.
• “This is the Temple of Dosh the Khaleen. You have no voice here.” — Khal Moro, to Daenerys Targaryen.
• “I will spring your eyes from their sockets and let my dogs do the rest, come and see.” — Ramsay Bolton, in a letter to Jon.
• “You have nothing to fear, your grace. The trial will begin shortly.” — the High Septon, to Margaery.