Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire.
As showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss prep their next magical mystery tour of Westeros (and Essos), we need not fret that they've "run out" of the books, or that we have no idea where they're headed. (Although that's an exciting prospect.) Sure, some of the characters seem to have caught up to their plots in the books thus far, but plenty of others have miles to go. If season six is anything like season five — borrowing from A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons, and unpublished bits from The Winds of Winter — we may be catching up with some characters who took a breather, as well as meet some long overdue new Game players. While we don't have Melisandre's gift for divination, these are our best guesses at what's to come.
In the West …
Sam Tarly is now Westeros's best hope. With the deaths of Stannis and Jon Snow, the would-be maester is the only one concentrating on how to beat the White Walkers. If Sam and Gilly book a ship's passage to Oldtown, they could have a stop-over in Braavos. If they go entirely by land, they might have occasion to pass by Sam's childhood home in Horn Hill, and have a little family reunion. His father, Randall Tarly, might not be too pleased about seeing Sam; then again, Randall does have one of the few known Valyrian steel blades in Westeros, so perhaps Sam can snag a souvenir before going on his way. (Or perhaps dear old dad will be out, fighting a battle for another family?)
Will the Citadel — home to the Order of the Maesters — be able to fill in the gaps for what Sam has learned so far? It's not a place to share its mysteries lightly — and the maesters may have their own agenda in Westeros society. Perhaps we'll also meet the against-the-grain maester Marwyn, as well as one of the more interesting Sand Snakes, Sarella, to make up for her sisters in Dorne?
Some fans might wish to give Dorne a poisoned kiss good-bye, but killing Myrcella (versus just maiming her, as in the books) means the revenge cycle is far from over. Once the other Lannisters hear about this, it will likely mean war. Prince Doran is no fool — if he doesn't have a scheme up his sleeve, what's his endgame? Surely he wouldn't have sent off his son and heir to King's Landing without a backup plan. (In the books, he's secretly a Targaryen loyalist — we'll see if those sympathies are a factor here.) However, the crown might be preoccupied with the upcoming trials for Loras, Margaery, and Cersei. (Side note: How do you think Jaime's going to respond to the news of Cersei's confession that she committed incest with more than one family member?) All of the Lannister alliances could fall apart, at a time when the realm is at its weakest and most ripe for invasion.
Another family sure to be giving the Lannisters trouble in season six are the Greyjoys. We've yet to hear the fate of Balon Greyjoy, and whether he's still alive and kicking after Melisandre's leech-y fun, but some of his brothers (Theon's uncles) should be ready to come out and play. He's got three, but we'll probably just get one of them, Euron, whose plotline might be combined with his brother Victarion’s.
Sansa, Theon, and the Boltons.
If Sansa and Theon head to Pyke after escaping Winterfell, we might even get a reconciliation between Yara and her "dead" brother. Or perhaps they'll team up to find Rickon and/or Bran. Assuming that Rickon and Osha went where they said they were going, we should find them safe and sound at the home of Greatjon Umber, a Northern stronghold. That's unless Greatjon attended the Red Wedding as he did in the books, so he might be a prisoner of the Freys (or dead). The North remembers the injustices against the Starks, and as the Lannisters' hold falls apart, we might still get some of the Northern resistance to the Bolton boys and their allies. And don't forget little Lord Arryn (who's been hanging out at House Royce) has the Knights of the Vale at his command, the army Littlefinger promised to send against the victor of the battle between Stannis and the Boltons. Then again, never trust Littlefinger.
Meanwhile, Bran, as we already know, is learning to "fly." His tree lessons should help provide any flashbacks Game of Thrones might require in season six — anything involving Ned Stark, for instance? His friends? His siblings? Bran's going to be a force of nature by the time we see him and Hodor again, and he might be one of the keys in defeating the White Walkers. That, and/or dragons.
In the East …
Over in Braavos, Arya's blind, but she could learn to see. And hear. And taste. What at first seemed like punishment for going freelance could actually be part of the Faceless Men's assassin training, in which a girl must learn to sharpen her other senses. Although Game of Thrones has deemphasized the Stark kids' latent abilities to warg (save for Bran), we might get the first inklings here that Arya can "see" through the eyes of animals. Will she dream of her long lost direwolf Nymeria? Will a cat help her navigate the House of Black and White? And once she passes her next test, will she join a troupe of actors, as one of her new guises? Depending on how Sam's trip to Oldtown goes, he could still have a stop in Braavos on the way from the Wall — and meet up with another Stark sibling. The question remains, will they recognize one another?
That's Dany's problem as well. Depending on if the Dothraki horde recognizes her as a former Khaleesi, she could be in for a long ride. Widows of Khals are supposed to retire to Vaes Dothrak to become seers. And perhaps that is a fate they would consider for her, instead of how they usually treat women. Or perhaps, since the Dothraki follow strength, she could show them what she's become, and recruit them to Team Dragon Queen. If she's lucky, her former bloodriders Aggo or Kovarro will be among them. If she's unlucky, it will be one of the kos turned Khals who gave her Rakharo's head on a horse, either Khal Pono or Khal Jhago. (Jhago, who has not been seen on the show yet, and his BFF Mago — the one who had his tongue ripped out by Drogo — were not her biggest fans.) In the books, it's Jhago who finds her, but the show could go in another direction, with new Dothraki (as Jorah and Daario try to track her).
Meanwhile, Varys is now in Meereen to help out Tyrion. Why would we care about what happens to this city while Dany's no longer in charge? Perhaps Game of Thrones will give us a great battle scene if and when the armies of Yunkai, a city ruled by slaved merchants, surround the city, with the (second) siege of Meereen — only now instead of Ser Barristan (R.I.P.), Tyrion will lead Dany's charge. (In the books, Tyrion was still trying to meet her, and got caught on the wrong side of the battle.)
One complication — Varys has always professed to hate magic, as well as the priests and priestesses of R'hllor, the Lord of Light, but the fire-and-blood religion thinks Dany is the savior. Can Tyrion and Varys, our most rational, cynical, modern characters, believe in that? Should they? That will be Game of Thrones' next magic trick — either fulfilling, or seeming to fulfill, one of its many prophecies, or to have them all come crashing down, a tumble of misplaced expectations as the end of the world approaches. Let's just hope the Wall stays up.