“You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
Ygritte’s favorite sentence applies not only to her Night’s Watch rival and lover but to a great many Game of Thrones viewers who don’t remember a lick about the secret hallway conversation between Varys the spider and Illyrio Mopatis back in season one, let alone what happened last season. Popular as it is, HBO’s fantasy series is, in a word, complicated; the Seven forgive you for not recalling every single details of this ever-expanding epic.
With the fifth season premiere on the horizon, however, there’s no more important time than now to brush up on your Sunspear-related trivia. Here’s what’s happened previously on Game of Thrones, and why you can expect it to matter in the upcoming season.
House Stark’s words are not an empty threat, nor do they refer only to the weather. They reference an army of supernatural creatures that live beyond the great Wall of Westeros, strengthening their numbers by reanimating corpses and remodeling infants in their own image. The White Walkers, as they’re called, have been a constant presence since the very first scene of Thrones, even if they have not quite yet made their move; though they are slow, their arrival is inevitable, and perhaps even imminent, as we enter season five.
The Watchers on the Wall
The only thing that stands between the White Walkers and total dominion over Westeros is the massive Wall in the North, patrolled by the honorable men of the Night’s Watch. But “men” is overstating it for some of these children, and “honorable” hardly applies to the majority — and it’s a thin majority as is, with little more than one or two hundred soldiers in all. Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly are two of the only honorable men left in the ancient order, following a brutal attack on the Wall led by Mance Rayder and his “Free Folk.” The Watch survived the battle at the Wall thanks to the arrival of Stannis Baratheon, one of a handful of individuals with designs to sit upon the Iron Throne of Westeros. Still, though they live to fight another day, the Watch’s woes are far from over; even in captivity, the wildlings know the true danger hailing from the Land of Always Winter — and when it arrives, the wretched Watch and their Wall won’t know what’s hitting them.
The North Remembers
The Wall serves as a microcosm for the current state of the North. Once watched over by Lord Eddard Stark, the North now belongs to Roose Bolton, the ice-cold lord of the Dreadfort, known for torturing and flaying his enemies. He earned his seat at the table by betraying and slaughtering Robb Stark and his army during what quickly became known as “the Red Wedding,” and now he moves toward Winterfell, the great castle that once housed the Starks. As rotten as Roose is, his bastard son is even worse: Ramsay Snow, now recognized as Ramsay Bolton, is a complete and utter sociopath with a penchant for physically and mentally mutilating anyone he doesn’t like. Just ask Theon Greyjoy, the supposed heir of the Iron Islands, now known as Reek, Ramsay’s penisless plaything. But will the Boltons reign over the North forever? Unlikely; after all, “forever” is a fleeting concept in Westeros, and while they’re in prominence now, the Boltons are surrounded by Stark loyalists … loyalists with a long memory, and short on forgiveness.
The Stark Reality
With House Bolton occupying Winterfell, is there such a thing as home for House Stark? Frankly, they have other problems at the moment: Arya Stark no longer lives in Westeros, for one, having fled the Seven Kingdoms on a boat sailing for the Free Cities of Braavos at the end of last season. Sansa Stark is a fugitive, for another, due to her supposed role in the death of King Joffrey; she’s living in The Vale under the fake identity “Alayne Stone,” allegedly the bastard daughter of Littlefinger — awkward, since Littlefinger very obviously has a thing for her. No one has seen or heard from young lad Rickon since he left for who-knows-where with wildling pal Osha near the end of season three, and apparently, his older brother Bran is about to join him in the Realm of Obscurity; although he finally met up with the mystical three-eyed raven at the end of last season, Bran and his fellow travelers will not appear on Game of Thrones this year. In other words, for anyone expecting a full family reunion for the Starks in season five, it’s time to reset your expectations.
The Lion’s Dent
The swift fall of House Stark and subsequent rise of House Lannister remains one of Game of Thrones‘ most surprising subversions of the fantasy genre — but oh, how the mighty can fall. Winter finally cooled the Lannisters’ hot streak in season four, beginning with cruel boy king Joffrey Baratheon’s murder at his own wedding, and Uncle Tyrion’s subsequent incarceration for the crime — even if it was a crime he did not commit. Tyrion attempted to save his own skin by requesting trial by combat, but his hopes — as well as his champion, Oberyn Martell of Dorne — were literally crushed at the hands of Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. Eventually, Tyrion escaped his fate, thanks to a collaboration between elder brother Jaime and sneaky spider Varys. But before fleeing Westeros, Tyrion embarked on a murder spree, killing his traitorous former flame Shae as well as his own despicable father. With many of the key Lannisters either dead or on the run, cruel and cunning Cersei has a whole mess of pieces to pick up when season five begins. As for Tyrion’s next steps? It won’t take long for us to discover his next destination.
Down in Dorne
South of King’s Landing lurks a land we’ve heard much about, but have yet to see with our own eyes: Dorne, the southernmost region of the Seven Kingdoms, featuring very different customs and rules than the rest of Westeros. It’s a land with a long, bloody history with King’s Landing, and the Lannisters especially, considering the Lions’ rumored role in the death of Princess Elia Martell, and their confirmed, all-too-public role in Prince Oberyn’s demise. With two Martells crushed under the weight of the Lannisters, the Dornish are understandably upset with the crown; we’ll see their fury firsthand, as the Red Viper’s death will echo throughout Dorne all season long.
The Mother of Dragons
Danger lurks beyond the Wall, petty politics threaten to tear the Seven Kingdoms apart — and all the while, Daenerys Stormborn waits in a land far away from Westeros. The last Targaryen, and arguably the person with the greatest claim to the Iron Throne, now rules over a city called Meereen, having conquered it from the ruling class and liberating their slaves in season four. But conquering a city, and ruling over a city are two different things. Already, Dany has faced down difficult choices during her first true tour of royal duty. For one, she’s exiled a close advisor, Ser Jorah Mormont, after learning that he was once spying on her on behalf of the Lannisters, even if his current loyalty is to Dany. For another, one of her three dragons burned and killed a small child, and is now on the loose, his location unknown to anyone; as a result, Dany has imprisoned her remaining two dragons, wrapping them in what she despises more than anything else: Chains. If Daenerys can’t rule over Meereen, what chance does she possibly have for ruling Westeros? It’s a question that will fill her heart and fuel her every move as we enter the legendary show’s fifth season.