This is, quite clearly, not a feature for anyone who wants to avoid spoilers about what has happened in Game Of Thrones so far and/or doesn't want to know anything about Season Six. We repeat: there are many spoilers ahead. If you keep reading, you will read spoilers. Is this clear?
Still here? Lovely. By way of structure, we’ll go through this in something like the order the most recent trailer presents everything. Then we'll get into the new characters.
Beyond the books
Season Six, for the first time, takes us almost entirely beyond the novels by George R.R. Martin. The show has always played fast and loose with the adaptation, but has clung more-or-less to the shape of Martin's narrative. Now we're in uncharted territory as the series has caught up. Martin's most recent volume in the Song Of Ice And Fire, A Dance With Dragons, was published in 2011. Book Six, The Winds Of Winter, remains unfinished five years later. The plan is that the novels will conclude, sometime in the distant future, with seventh instalment A Dream Of Spring. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, following a week-long meeting with the author, know how it all ends. But books and show won't necessarily play out in the same way. This is the point where the paths properly diverge.
"We have some wild upcoming scenes based on inside information George gave us," Benioff and Weiss told Empire, "and we have some other wild scenes that won't be in the books. George is the sole master of the books, from which the series sprang, so his creative influence is everywhere. But he's in Santa Fe writing the books and we're in Belfast making the show..."
Let's start with the obvious. Jon Snow, last we saw of him, was being stabbed to death by six of his "brothers' in the Night's Watch. Whether he remains dead is one of the big questions. Game Of Thrones is not a show that's been shy about killing off major characters, obviously. But Jon Snow? Really? HBO has been gleefully trolling the wildly speculating fans: the first poster for the new season was of Jon's face, covered in blood (see above). Kit Harington was repeatedly seen, over a period of some time, on and around the Game Of Thrones sets last year, with his Jon Snow hair and beard intact. He said he was just needed to play the corpse. But c'mon.
How he could be brought back has been the subject of much debate. Ian McShane fuelled some fires when he said his own character would be responsible for the return of someone you thought was dead, but he was almost certainly talking about someone else (see below). Others have plausibly suggested that Carice van Houten's Red Priestess / Sorceress Melisandre has all the necessary resurrectionist skills, and is conveniently currently situated at the Wall. But the actress was quick to bat that theory away when Empire spoke to her. "I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint a lot of people," she told us. "Why so much pressure on my character? I mean, I understand that he’s the good we want in this crazy world. And me and my mother and my sister want him to come back very desperately. But Melisandre has never brought anyone back to life. Why does it have to be me?"
Following her humiliating Walk Of Shame, Cersei (Lena Headey) is facing trial by religious fanatic the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and his followers. Cersei does, however, have a secret weapon, in the form of the mysterious new masked Kingsguard Robert Strong. This is actually a terminator version of Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane, built by Qyburn (Anton Lesser).
Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), meanwhile, is seen in the trailer facing off against the High Sparrow, shrugging off the idea that spilling blood in the Sept Of Baelor would be any sort of problem. We also get a look at him riding through a Lannister army camp. This possibly represents the so-far unused thread from the novels when he heads out on a diplomatic mission through the Riverlands. Brienne Of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) also appears to be in the Riverlands for some of this season, judging by the House Tully banner hanging behind her in one of the trailer scenes.
And Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) remains in Meereen in the aftermath of Season Five's violence and the departure of Daenerys. That violence continues, by the looks of things, with shots in the trailer of the Sons Of The Harpy out murdering in the streets. And added to the troublesome mix is a new Red Priestess (Melanie Liburd).
Tyrion is "the same old survivor but I don't think he finds the world as joyful as he did before," Dinklage tells Empire. "He has a lot of mistrust now, though he is trying to find that joy again. I think that's really ineresting to play. And working with my friend Conleth Hill, who plays Varys, is so much fun. We were back together at the end of Season Five but I got to do a lot of good stuff with him [in Season Six].
The High Sparrow
"I started out basing my character on Pope Francis," Pryce told us. "He's a man of the people he walks barefoot and administers to the poor. But he's really a religious zealot: homophobic, extremely right-wing, a man who dishes out punishments in a quite violent and aggressive way. You're going to see some more of that."
Last we saw of Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), he was meeting the Three-Eyed Raven in a cave at the end of Season Four. Having been entirely absent for Season Five, we now catch back up with him and the thousand-year-old sage (now Max Von Sydow; previously Struan Rodger) who'll be taking him on all sorts of journies, whether physical or emotional or in the form of Inception-style flashback sequences. That dream-walking presumably explains in what circumstances we'll be encountering the young Ned Stark, as played by Sebastian Croft. And why the paralysed Bran is standing up in the still above.
"The Three-Eyed Raven (AKA Mr Tree, the last "greenseer") has become one with the roots of the weirwood tree," Hempstead-Wright explains to Empire. "Those trees hold a special power of being connected with the past, present and future. Bran and the Raven go on these shared visions, and some very exciting things happen that haven't been in the books."
After her steady climb to power as the Mother Of Dragons, Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryon (Emilia Clarke) is now in a spot of bother. Having escaped an assassination attempt, we left her back in the hands of the Dothraki, and specifically the followers of her arch-rival Khal Jhaqo. The trailer shows her being held with the Dosh Khaleen: other widows of dead Khals, among whom she was supposed to take her place after the death of Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) in Season One. Her disobedience looks contentious. Her dragons, meanwhile, are bigger and more uncontrollable than ever. And possibly on a rescue mission. Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) is also on a quest to win back her trust, but he's turning to stone, which is a problem.
We left Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) blind and begging on the streets, having been ejected from the House Of Black And White for displeasing the Many Faced God. The second trailer reveals that she's given a second chance by Faceless Man Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha)... but she will not be given a third. And she hasn't got her sight back yet. We see her in an intense fight with, by the looks of it, The Waif (Faye Marsay), which ends with a bloody hand being dragged along a wall. Is that strike two?
"There are some points this year that get really, really dark and sad for Arya," Williams tells us. "It was the first time reading the scripts where I was like, 'Oh, she's struggling.' But it's an incredible season. Despite having been blinded, Arya gets very physical and does a lot of stunts. I had a separate set of contact lenses with peep-holes in, so nobody got hurt, but there were a few close calls where I nearly smacked some people in the head."
Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) have, happily for them, escaped the perpetual horror of House Bolton. Now we see her bedecked in furs, wearing an embroidered direwolf on her chest, and angrily intoning "All I think about it what was taken from me." Frankly, she has every right to be pissed. In the books, her mother, Catelyn Stark comes back from the post-Red Wedding dead as Lady Stoneheart, and starts cutting a murderous swathe through anyone she perceives as having wronged the Starks. Some are speculating that Sansa will take on that role (not as a zombie) in the TV version.
Loras (Finn Jones) is in jail for homosexuality, and Margaery (Natalie Dormer) is also facing trial-by-Sparrow. Dormer has said that much of her time this year is spent tyring to come up with ingenious ways to get out of jail. Jaime will be helping with that from the outside. And we can only hope that we'll get to see plenty of machinations from Lady Oleanna (Diana Rigg) too.
There's a massive battle in the trailer, and Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) looks to be right in the middle of it. One one side, the Boltons (the battlefield is replete with their trademark flayed men). And fighting against them with Ser Davos, an army that's at least partially filled out by Wildlings, led by Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju). You might possibly surmise that somebody with the charisma of, say, Jon Snow, has got the Wildlings fighting south of the Wall and Seaworth on side now that he's no longer required as the hand of (the late) Stannis Baratheon. Oh, but wait, Jon Snow is dead...
Battles and other ambitious power plays aside, Roose and Ramsay Bolton (Michael McElhatton and Iwan Rheon) have suffered a major setback in the loss of Sansa and Theon. "We've lost a woman who can bear a new heir and make an alliance between the Starks and the Boltons to Winterfell," McElhatton explained to Empire. Rheon says Ramsay couldn't care less about Sansa, "but he's gutted he's lost his little servent. He'll miss Theon. Or what's left of him."
The White Walkers
Winter is coming...
Ian McShane, in his own words, plays "an ex-warrior who’s become a peacenik, so I have a group of peaceful… sort of a cult who… I bring back a much-loved character who everybody thinks is dead." That chimes with the casting call for a "priest, in his 40s or 50s. A gruff ex-soldier who found religion. Now a no-nonsense rural priest who ministers to the poor of the countryside... a salt-of-the-earth man who has weathered many battles." All of which sounds like he's some sort of combination of the the fourth book's Septon Meribald and Elder Brother, as encountered for a time by Brienne and Pod. Some people have latched on to McShane's resurrection thing as a reference to Jon Snow, but we're almost certainly talking about Sandor Clegane, AKA The Hound, who we never actually saw die anyway. Hound actor Rory McCann has definitely been on set.
Richard E. Grant, Essie Davis and Kevin Eldon play members of a Braavosi travelling theater troupe. Their play, "The Bloody Hand", about the events that have taken place in King's Landing since the beginning of the series, is likely not to go down well with Cersei.
We already know Samwell (John Bradley-West) and we've heard a certain amount about his family, but Season Six finally introduces us to House Tarly. Freddie Stroma is Sam's brother Dickon, a character mentioned but not yet seen in the novels. James Faulkner plays Sam's gruff father Randyll Tarly; Samantha Spiro is his wife Melessa; and Rebecca Benson is Sam's sister Talla.
Max von Sydow, as we've said, is the Three-Eyed-Raven (previously glimpsed at the end of Season Four played by Struan Rodger).
Melanie Liburd plays a previously unseen Red priestess from Asshai, in the servie of R'hllor.
Joe Naufahu, Andrei Claude and Chuku Modu are, respectively, Khal Jhaqo, Khal Rhalko, and a Dothraki warrior named Ahko.
Mark Tankersley is General Bolton.
David Bradley, last seen at the end of Season Three, is finally back as Walder Frey.
Pilou Asbæk plays the pirate captain Euron Greyjoy, Theon's uncle. Gemma Wheelan's Yara Greyjoy is also back in what looks to be a much expanded role.
Ricky Champ plays Flynn, an outlaw who is a part of a band using religion to justify extorting the people of the countryside.
Souad Faress plays a High Priestess.
Season 6: Episode guide