"What is dead may never die." That memorable prayer from the House of Greyjoy was never more apt than in Game of Thrones' second season finale, as a mass of the undead march on the wintry Wall in the show's final moments. As we leave Westeros for the year, ask not what will happen in the third season of Game of Thrones. Ask instead: What won't?
Given the sprawling nature of its source material and potential cast of thousands, the HBO franchise has already become adept at adjusting plot and shuffling characters. Now having wound up season two with Theon seemingly dead, Tyrion battle-scarred, Robb married, and Sansa swapped for Margaery as the king's fiancée, the show moves on to adapting A Storm of Swords, the third and, at 1216 pages, longest volume in George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series (to date, anyway). HBO already announced that the book will be broken up into two seasons and on top of that, some tweaking and trimming will surely be required — especially since characters we should have met by now, such as the Reed children, were missed at Winterfell this season (the timeline is obviously more flexible on the show). But given the roles that we know are now being cast and the story elements that would seem to be obligatory, it's possible to make a pretty good guess about what's coming up. Here’s what we can probably expect, based mostly on the first half of the third book (and without total spoilers, though obviously some):
In the East
Daenerys wants to be queen, but does she know how to rule? On her way to getting a ship and an army, she's going to discover what it takes to be a leader when she encounters the slave cities of Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen. Consider freeing slaves her new mission and conquering Slaver's Bay as target practice. New character and love interest: a mercenary captain named Daario Naharis.
In the North
Bran and Rickon Stark need to escape, and the Reed kids are there to help. Jojen and Meera are the offspring of Ned Stark's friend Howland Reed (proprietor of a fine castle in the swamplands), and their familiarity with the story of how Ned and Howland rescued Ned's sister Lyanna could fill in some past story gaps. Bonus: Jojen will teach Bran how to control his "dreams," and by extension, his wolf, Summer.
In the Riverlands
Arya is also on the run, trying to reconnect with her family, and she gets this close. But the road is dangerous, and there's a Brotherhood Without Banners roaming about (with a red priest and a Lord who just won't die), as well as a Hound with his tail between his legs.
Brienne of Tarth, who thinks she can trade Jaime Lannister for Arya and Sansa, is not having an easy time of it, and at one point will be captured. The Kingslayer will gain new respect for her and maybe even some feelings along the way. (What would Cersei think?)
Catelyn Stark has a mess to clean up: Robb wasn't supposed to marry for love, he was supposed to marry for a bridge (a pact made in season one). Now the price must be paid. Can a substitute groom (her brother Edmure, Lord of Riverrun) and a big apology satisfy the Freys? The Red Wedding will be legendary, but let's just say if you're invited, send your congrats by raven. Also, word comes of Theon's fate — when a piece of his skin turns up.
In King's Landing
Sansa and Joffrey are no longer engaged, but she's still a prize to be plucked: Whoever marries her can claim Winterfell in her name. So who's the lucky guy? A few choices are presented, none of whom satisfy her fairy-tale dreams. Margaery's grandmother Lady Olenna, the Queen of Thorns, wants to help. Can Sansa escape?
Joffrey, in the meantime, is planning the biggest wedding of all time, which might bankrupt the already stricken city, and there will be other ugly surprises at his wedding feast, as yet another innocent person will be accused of murder.
Stannis deals with his defeat at the Battle of Blackwater, and we finally meet his wife and daughter — another happy royal family? Plus, he's got another task for Melisandre, a list of people he'd like to see terminated, all of them — surprise — aspirants to the throne.
At the Wall and Beyond the Wall
The White Walkers are still walking, the the ice zombies still shuffling*, and no one yet has a clue how to stop them. However, Sam Tarley, the most underappreciated Black Brother, might find a way, and he could be in line for a nicer nickname and a strange new friend, as well.
Jon Snow has to get in good with the wildlings, and persuade Mance Rayder and his lieutenant Tormund Giantsbane that he's a deserter. Ygritte can help, but it requires taking her as a "spearwife" — so all those pesky vows of celibacy have got to go. He'll learn lots, though — the wildlings have giants! and wargs! and maybe even a weapon that could destroy the Wall! — if only he can get the intel to Castle Black in time for the attack. Fortunately, there's one king who could come riding to the rescue!
So, to sum up: Season three will feature a lot of wedding and bedding, a whole lot of death, and even more of the magic and misery we've come to love. Watch out for the Moon Door!
*This sentence has been updated. It originally said, "The White Walkers are still walking, The Others are still Other-ing," but as a few diehards pointed out, that is redundant: The White Walkers and The Others are the same thing.