Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire spoilers ahead.
The big buzz about Game of Thrones season six is that it's finally outpaced the books — or, as some like to phrase it, that the show has gone "off-book.” While that's true to some extent, it's also very much not true. Anyone who has read the five published books of A Song of Ice and Fire (and any of the sample chapters from the sixth installment) knows that this is a complicated work. George R.R. Martin's story isn't told chronologically. And within each book, chapters are told from different points of view. So what's actually happened is that the show has caught up to certain characters, but not with others, and depending on which character we're discussing, we could be off-book, or not. So yes, we've run out of road for some folks — those whose stories ended in cliffhangers — but for others, we have many miles to go.
Some of the cliffhangers in the books were for major characters — a dragon-riding Daenerys is surrounded by a Dothraki horde, a shame-walked Cersei awaits her trial, a face-planted Jon Snow bleeds out. As Game of Thrones moves past those moments, it’s partially heading into territory the showrunners mapped out with Martin, when he clued them in on what would happen in books to come, during a week-long confab in Santa Fe. "I think the whole thing about 'off-book' is that it ignores that George is still very, very involved with the show," Hannah Murray, who plays Gilly, told Vulture. "It's not like they only have the books to go on. It's not like we're all in completely uncharted waters, or that we've gone rogue. We are still very heavily influenced by George's ideas."
Whatever happens with, say, Jon Snow, you could argue is "off-book," since it’s unclear whether the showrunners devised it, or if it exists in unpublished manuscript form. As for the Starks, the Lannisters, the Greyjoys, and many other characters, we've gotten enough chapters for their stories to still qualify as "on-book," notwithstanding the vagaries of adaptation. The show might take detours, amalgamate characters, and even rush through some stories or excise them entirely, but the goal is to end up in the same place. Here are some of those stories from the books that we're likely to see in season six.
The Greyjoys. You might have pieced together from their scenes that the Greyjoy fleet has been ravaging the North (which was why Ramsay needed Reek to be Theon again at Moat Cailin, to get the Ironborn to surrender to him). But we haven't seen the Greyjoys in action for a while, and that's about to change, as the show dives deep into the Greyjoys' plotline from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. We may not meet Theon's entire extended family, but we're getting at least one of his key uncles, Euron Greyjoy — who we met in Sunday night’s episode — the pirate voted most likely to hijack the show in season six. Look for a major conflict between Balon Greyjoy's brother and his offspring. (One word — kingsmoot.)
The Starks. Bran and Arya had both gone to school, so to speak, learning how to become Jedi knights of a sort from their various mystical mentors. Both were in early stages in the books, and the show will certainly see them become more advanced — Bran with his greenseeing, and Arya learning to do everything without seeing. "Only one man in a thousand is born a [warg]," Bran is told. "And only one [warg] in a thousand can be a greenseer." Instead of warging into animals (or Hodors), Bran will learn that slipping into plants — namely, the weirwood trees — will give him even more information. This will be the key to unlocking the past for one of the show's most anticipated flashbacks, the Tower of Joy, in which we learn what really happened to Lyanna Stark.
Meanwhile, Arya is in "Blind Beth" mode right now, and after learning to use the stick to fight the Waif, she could move on to other classes — poisons and potions, languages, and a more advanced version of the Game of Faces, a.k.a. the lying game. Her other senses will all become more necessary, as will regaining the balance Syrio Forel once taught her. After this, Arya might become even better at eavesdropping, spying, and pretending to be someone else — all skills she’ll need if she's going to become a stealth assassin.
The Northern Lords. This might play out of order on the show, but it looks like Davos will be helping to rally the Northern Lords against the Boltons. (In the books, he does this on Stannis's behalf, and on the show, it could be for Sansa.) Whatever happens with the lords and ladies of the North, they will have a choice — open rebellion, or subtle forms of resistance, to serve them their just desserts.
Siege of Riverrun. Jaime Lannister's story might be going backwards, in the sense that he had a Riverlands storyline in the books, which was skipped over so he could go to Dorne instead, and it appears as if we're coming back around to this portion, which will include a battle known as the Siege of Riverrun. To get to this point, Jaime will have to complete a few tasks in King's Landing before he can set off with an army. Meanwhile, Jaime's BFF Brienne had a more productive path on the show than in the books, now that she's gotten revenge for Renly and completed part of her mission to protect the Stark sisters. Despite this detour, she could be heading back to the Riverlands — and back to her book plot, for a rendezvous with Jaime. (We should also find out the fates of various Tullys — for starters, Edmure Tully, the groom of the Red Wedding, and Brynden "the Blackfish" Tully, who escaped the slaughter due to his well-timed bathroom break.)
The Citadel. Sam has as much to learn as Bran and Arya do on their quests. Sam and Gilly left Castle Black to go to the Citadel, a secret seat of power in Westeros if ever there was one. It's where all the maesters learn their craft, and if we can see what they know — and what they don't want us to know — it might help clear up a couple of mysteries, especially about the role of magic in this world. Somewhere along the way, Sam should be stopping at the Tarly homestead in Horn Hill and have a family reunion. Randyll Tarly, the father who forced Sam to take the Black, is a formidable military leader, and should have a part to play in the wars to come.
The Siege of Meereen. Dany may have taken one dragon with her, but two are still stuck in Meereen. And then there are her humans, who are stuck managing Meereen in her absence, as the Sons of the Harpy insurgence continues. In the books, Meereen is also attacked by a number of forces on the outside, when the armies of Yunkai surround the city. Looks like it'll be left to Tyrion to save the day, and while he has the experience of the Battle of Blackwater to guide him, he doesn't have caches of wildfire to defend the city. What he does have? Dragons.