As we leave Westeros for ten months, major Game of Thrones characters have died in shocking ways, new characters have gained prominence, and alliances have unexpectedly shifted. Exiled Daenerys Targaryen, once her brother’s meek pawn, is now a goddess figure freeing slave cities, while Theon Greyjoy has gone from a proud, oversexed Stark ally to a broken-down prisoner. (The Unsullied would never let him and his mewling into their elite cadre of hard-ass eunuchs.) Meanwhile, cute little tomboy Arya Stark has grown into a bitter killer of men, while the Kingslayer, who pushed a kid out a window, might now actually be the most honorable man in the land, especially sans hand.
So many different characters have gone through extreme changes — and more are yet to come in season four, as the show moves on in its adaptation of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, which is no longer hewing to a strict book-by-book strategy. HBO previously announced that the third book, A Storm of Swords, would be broken up into seasons three and four, but the last ten episodes strayed beyond Swords, indicating that next season will also draw from books four (A Feast for Crows) and five (A Dance with Dragons), with timelines shuffled, characters amalgamated, and other tweaks and trims. Given what we know about roles being cast and the story elements that would seem to be necessary to include them, we've made our best guess about what's coming up next, aided by some experts — our Red Wedding round table mega-fan webmasters. (Some spoilers ahead for the non-book readers, though we have kept them vague and teaser-y so as not to ruin any enormous surprises on the scale of the Red Wedding.)
At and Beyond the Wall
Two armies are on the way from the North: the White Walkers, and Mance Rayder's wildlings — one slightly slower and more alive than the other. Jon Snow is back at Castle Black, and his intel from his undercover work as a wildling is about to pay off, even if some of the Night's Watch think him a traitor for breaking his oaths. As Mance Rayder's men approach, we meet more wildlings, including Styr, the Magnar of Thenn, who will lead the attack.
In the season-three finale, ravens were dispatched from Castle Black to beseech all lords and wannabe kings in Westeros to come help defend the wall from the dual attack. So far Stannis is the only King to respond to the call, and his armed response will hew close to the books, predicts Phil Bicking a.k.a. Winter from fan site WinterIsComing. Plus, Melisandre will find a new source of king's blood, as she learns to define the term more loosely. Castle Black also needs a new Lord Commander after the mutiny at Craster's Keep — and you can guess who's moved to the top of the list.
Meanwhile, Bran, Hodor, and the Reed kids, in their quest to find the three-eyed crow, pick up another companion on their quest — a mysterious figure called Coldhands. Could there be another kind of undead in this world, one that is not a monstrous wight or Other? Better hope for Bran's sake that there is. Also, Bran learns more about his greenseeing and warging abilities; what else can he become? Bran's journey also provides the opportunity for the Reeds to fill us in on some valuable Ned Stark history lessons.
In the North
Rickon Stark's journey isn't depicted in the books; once he and Osha part ways with Bran, we don't know for sure where they're going. But there is a chance the show could follow them, perhaps to the Last Hearth to seek protection with House Umber, Stark allies. This might not be the safest stronghold post–Red Wedding, considering that Roose Bolton is now Warden of the North, and thanks to his bastard son Ramsay's torturing of Theon, he knows that the Stark boys are alive — and the Bolton boys do like to hunt. Watch out, Rickon! Meanwhile, Theon’s sister Yara sets out to save him, and we should get to meet some other members of the Greyjoy family, including wily and amoral Uncle Euron, whose arrival might be a bit suspicious, what with an untimely death that should occur early in the season. (Alex Smith from the site Tower of the Hand predicts that the show might combine Euron with Victarion, another Greyjoy uncle). Meanwhile, Ramsay's plans for Theon/Reek evolve into a new kind of torture, and he's got his eye on Arya ...
In the Riverlands
Arya has tried and tried to reconnect with her family, but now she assumes all or most of them are dead. What does she have to live for if not revenge? As she's been reminding the Hound, she knows "a real killer," Jaqen H'ghar, and she's finally ready to take him up on his offer to train with the Faceless Men. Off to Braavos beyond the Narrow Sea, then, right? (At least, that's what Martha Harbison from Brotherhood Without Banners predicts, despite this not taking place until book four.) Little does Arya know that at some point in her journey, another member of her family will be nearby, although hard to recognize, called by a different name, and with a new set of priorities. And remember, not everyone at the Red Wedding was slaughtered – some have just been held prisoner.
In the Eyrie
Lysa Arryn — remember her still breastfeeding her son Robert at an inappropriate age? — might have something to say about the Red Wedding, considering her sister Catelyn was murdered and her brother Edmure is still held captive by the Freys. Littlefinger was sent off to woo and marry Lysa as part of a political arrangement for the Lannisters in season three, but he has always pined for Catelyn. Now that she's dead, how will he feel about the remaining Tullys and Starks, especially Sansa (who most resembled her mother)? Expect some intrigue on his part, including plots that involve both Sansa and Arya.
In King's Landing
Joffrey and Margaery are soon to be wed, Cersei and Jaime have finally been reunited, and Tyrion and Sansa are making strides toward ... something. Is love in the air for all the Lannisters? Probably not for long: This is Westeros, after all. As elated as Joffrey is about the Red Wedding, he might do well to consider it a warning; It's not a good sign for anyone planning his own nuptials (which Linda Antonsson from Westeros.org predicts will be mid-season). Then of course there are the guests invited to the Purple Wedding, which means it will be time to meet the rest of the Tyrells, starting with Margaerey and Loras’s father, the Lord of Highgarden, Mace Tyrell. (You may remember his mother Lady Olenna, the Queen of Thorns, referring to him as a "ponderous oaf” when discussing her family with Sansa.) He's arguably as powerful (if not more so) than the Lannisters, and could give Tywin a run for his money.
And what of Brienne? Before she ran off to help Catelyn, she was believed to have killed Renly. So what happens when she meets his lover Loras — also a great knight — or when Cersei perceives her to be a threat to her twincest love affair? The Kingslayer's reclaiming of his honor will also have an impact on his relationships with his entire family. Speaking of which, Jaime and Cersei's daughter Myrcella was sent to the Martells back in season two, and the Martells will be on the scene soon, still bearing a grudge because the Mountain (the Hound's brutal brother) raped and killed one of their own, Princess Elia, during the sack of King's Landing. (Granted, she was married to a Targaryen, but still.) So Elia's younger brother Oberyn Martell (otherwise known as the Red Viper) will come to King's Landing to claim some justice as well as a seat on the small council, where he should befriend Tyrion. And don't you know it, Tyrion will need help with yet another trial by combat, and this one will be epic. Alex Smith from Tower of the Hand predicts it will come in episode nine.
In the East
Dany is now the "mother" of Yunkai (after having burned down Astapor earlier in the season), but what happens to these Slayer's Bay cities once the Khaleesi frees the slaves and moves on? She starts learning the consequences of conquering in the next city on her list, Meereen (which might be combined with Yunkai, predicts Linda Antonsson from Westeros). There, Dany will realize that she can't just keep moving from city to city without providing leadership and rebuilding the infrastructure, too. Time to learn some politics! (And deal with potential traitors in her midst.) Meanwhile, those dragons are getting bigger … and hungrier.
So, to sum up: Season four will most likely show the War of Five Kings coming to a close as a greater threat slouches towards the Wall. Some fan favorites will learn to become leaders or killers — take your pick, sometimes it's the same thing. And remember, if you're invited to a wedding in Westeros, send congrats by raven.