Time moves at an uncertain pace in Westeros, where seasons can take years to pass. But by our reckoning, it's been at least ten months since we last left its shores. That's a long time to try to remember everything that's happened, especially since some events from season one, episode one are just now coming to bear. Below, we rehash a few story lines that may prove relevant in the season to come.
Bran Stark used to shiver in delight at scary tales his Old Nan would tell him about the Long Night — the night about 8,000 years ago during the Age of Heroes, the night that lasted a generation, "when the sun hides for years and children are born and live and die, all in darkness. When the White Walkers moved through the woods, riding their packs of dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders." It's no fairy tale — Sam saw them, and even managed to kill one of them, with the dragonglass, or obsidian blade, he found at the Fist of the First Men. More dragonglass, you might recall, can be found at Dragonstone, Stannis's home. (Let's hope Stannis packed some for his trip to the Wall.)
A lot of the people in Westeros seem to be ignorant of the Long Night, even though there are enough reminders of it. The Wall itself, for instance, was built to keep the White Wakers at bay. Craster used to donate all his male babies to the White Walkers — by his own count, some 99 sons. And Melisandre's belief system is based on the oft-repeated prophecy about the dead rising in the North and the prince who was promised: "In the ancient books it was written that a warrior would draw a burning sword from the fire, and that sword shall be Lightbringer." When she calls Stannis "the Lord's Chosen," she's referring to a resurrected form of the warrior Azor Ahai, the hero who originally fought the White Walkers and is supposed to come again to defeat them once more.
Meanwhile, the men of the Night's Watch don't have nearly the capacity to guard their posts — against looming dangers like the White Walkers — as they once did. (In their heyday, they numbered some 10,000 men; now they're probably about 50, give or take a few who've gone missing, such as Benjen Stark.) And many of their castles are in ruin, not just Jon Snow's home at Castle Black.
Bran Stark is sitting out this season (sitting in a tree, more like), and little Rickon is on the move somewhere, hopefully with Osha. But to most of the world, they're dead. Very few people know that there are surviving Starks (and Tullys) out there, but among them are Theon, his torturer Ramsay Snow (now Bolton), his father Roose Bolton, and Walder Frey, who is keeping Catelyn Stark's brother, Edmure Tully, in his dungeon. (Their uncle, Brynden Tully, the Blackfish, escaped the Red Wedding.)
Arya is also presumed dead by most, and has given up looking for her lost family members, since the few she did seek out kept dying before she arrived. If she only knew how close she came to a reunion with her sister Sansa at the Vale! Sansa, the only Stark recognized to be alive by the rest of the world, is considered heir to Winterfell. And she probably has a bone to pick with the man who took over her father's former title as Warden of the North, Roose Bolton — otherwise known as the man who gave Robb Stark the Lannisters' regards.
Kevan and Lancel Lannister
Tywin's younger brother Kevan was last glimpsed as part of Tywin's war councils (he advised surrendering the throne to Stannis before the Battle of Blackwater). Kevan had three sons — Martyn, Willem, and Lancel. The youngest two were killed by Robb Stark's men while held prisoner. The eldest, Lancel, kept his cousin Cersei's bed warm while her brother Jaime was away. And when King Robert was alive, Lancel helped kill the king by supplying the strongwine during his boar hunt, at Cersei's behest. Tyrion surmised this and more, and blackmailed Lancel into telling him everything about Cersei's plans for the siege. Last we saw Lancel, he was running away from Cersei at Blackwater after trying to tell her that Joffrey belonged in the battle to help morale. With Tywin dead, Jaime in the Kingsguard, where he cannot inherit property, and Tyrion on the run, Casterly Rock and its wealth would belong to the very pragmatic Kevan, and then, his last remaining son.
We first met Citadel dropout Qyburn at Harrenhal, when Robb Stark's wife Talisa found him dying on the battlefield and healed him. When Roose Bolton took over Harrenhal, Qyburn became the new maester (a member of an order of scholars and healers), although technically, he was stripped of his chain and no longer a maester. He blames the Citadel conclave for clamping down on his "curiosity" and "boldness," which was a nicer way of saying he performed vivisections on dying men. "The only way to treat disease is to understand disease, the only way to understand it is to study the afflicted," he told Jaime Lannister while stitching up his new stump. Maester Pycelle calls Qyburn "a disgrace" and a "deplorable man," but this only seems to have endeared him to Cersei, who prefers the healing hands of Qyburn over that of Pycelle. When the Mountain was on the edge of death (or already dead) from Oberyn's poisoned spear, she gave his body to Qyburn, who seems to have saved him, somehow, by replacing his internal organs. Or something like that.
A Rhaegar Refresher
Since it's bound to come up time and time again, a quick crash course. Tywin Lannister, then Hand of the King, tried to arrange a marriage between Cersei and Rhaegar Targaryen. But Rhaegar's father, the Mad King, wouldn't marry his son, the prince, to his servant's daughter. Rhaegar married Elia Martell — Oberyn's sister — instead.
Despite this, Rhaegar still had a thing for Lyanna Stark, Ned's sister, as did Ned's best bud, Robert Baratheon, who was betrothed to her. Depending on who tells the story, either Rhaegar left his wife for Lyanna, or he abducted her. Either way, this love triangle — if that's what we can call it — sparked a war, better known as Robert's Rebellion. "Robert started a war to win her back," Bran tells Osha during their tour of the crypt. "He killed Rhaegar [at the Trident], but she died anyway." Killing Rhaegar wasn't enough for Robert — he wanted all Targaryens dead. And to prove his loyalty to the new king, Tywin took care of that, by ordering the Mountain to rape and murder Elia Martell and her Targaryen children. (This is why Oberyn came to King's Landing seeking justice.) Of course, Tywin denied his part "categorically," but the Mountain confessed to his involvement. (Side note: There will be those who will want justice for Oberyn’s death as well.)
Robert went on to marry Cersei, but he never stopped loving Lyanna. He whispered her name in Cersei's ear on their wedding night, probably earning her hatred forever. "Your sister was a corpse, and I was a living girl, and he loved her more than me," Cersei complained to Ned. "I only know she was the one thing I ever wanted,” Robert told Cersei. “Someone took her away from me, and Seven Kingdoms couldn't fill the hole she left behind.” Robert left a feather at Lyanna's crypt when he visited Winterfell, where anyone who might go to visit her would find it still.
Daenerys Targaryen — Rhaegar's little sister — had two knights from Westeros in her Queensguard, until Ser Barristan Selmy brought it to her attention that Jorah Mormont had spied on her for King Robert. (He was the one who sent Varys the missive alerting the Small Council that she was pregnant with Khal Drogo's child, which prompted an assassination attempt.)
Jorah intercepted poisoned wine meant for Dany — and has been loyal to her ever since — but she can't forgive him. "You sold my secrets to the man who killed my father and stole my brother's throne!" She banished Jorah, exiling him from Meereen, and threatened him with execution should he return. ("Go. Now.") Problem is, Daenerys’ once-robust team grows ever smaller. And meanwhile, two of her dragons, Viserion and Rhaegal, are locked in the catacombs while Drogon flies free. Can she still be the Mother of Dragons if her children don't behave?