Much and more has been made of Game of Thrones' sixth season finally surpassing George R.R. Martin's books, and though the claim can sometimes be overstated — Sam and Jaime's stories this year took heavily from A Feast for Crows — it's true that, for the first time, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were painting on a nearly blank canvas. They're not the only ones: Somewhere in Santa Fe, Martin himself is putting what fans hope are the finishing touches on The Winds of Winter, a book that's expected to cover much of the same narrative territory. Though the books and show are telling their own separate versions of the story, they're still working from the same general, GRRM–created road map. What can we learn about Winds from what we saw on HBO? Here's a guide:
We'll start with the worst-kept secret of the Game of Thrones universe: Jon Snow wasn't staying dead in the show, and he's certainly not staying dead in the books either. Wth Melisandre at the Wall, a Lord of Light–assisted rebirth will likely be Martin's method of choice for bringing our hero back as well, though given the Dance With Dragons prologue, we may get a chapter of two of Jon's consciousness hanging out in his direwolf's body first. The loophole in Jon's vows will probably get him out of the Night's Watch here, too.
As far as the Night's Watch conspirators go, they were doomed even before show — Jon hung Olly and Ser Alliser. Will they go out fighting Wildlings, or will Jon himself lead the charge? Either way, the decision to make Dolorous Edd the new Lord Commander seems like a textbook Martin joke.
Game of Thrones so far has given us two battles of Winterfell, but The Winds of Winter will probably only give us one. A Dance With Dragons left off with Stannis's forces camped miles outside Winterfell, and one TWOW preview chapter indicates he has a trick up his sleeve. Remember too that, unlike on the show, the Northern lords' loyalty to their flaying-enthusiast overlords is much more tenuous in the books. Add it all up and I'd be willing to bet that Stannis, not Jon, will be the one who takes Winterfell back from the Boltons. Since Benioff and Weiss have said that the decision to burn Shireen came from Martin himself, look for Stannis to sacrifice his daughter at a pivotal moment, either in battle against the Boltons or (more likely) against the Others.
North of the Wall, Bran Stark will probably figure out the truth of Jon Snow's parentage and why Hodor says Hodor. And, while most readers assumed he was going to stay in that cave forever until he became a literal tree, the events of episode five suggest that's likely not the case. If that means the Three-Eyed Raven has to perish, well, his death will be even sadder for book readers. R.I.P. Brynden Rivers — the White Walkers did what the Blackfyres never could.
If season six is any indication, book-Cersei is also not going to fade away gently after her walk of atonement. The show has (thankfully) put the kibosh on Cleganebowl, which means that the books' version of zombie-Gregor, Ser Robert Strong, will probably face some poor sap from the Sparrows in Cersei's trial. Will this be enough revenge, or does Cersei have even bigger plans up her fabulous sleeves? If Jaime's final look in the finale is any indication, the star-crossed twins will be coming into conflict sooner rather than later.
Speaking of trials, the blogger Made in Myr has argued that Margaery's trial will actually be a central event of Winds, and though we never actually got to see it in the show, the events of the season finale won't make anyone optimistic about her prospects. (The finale also seems evidence that Loras is maybe not faking his terrible injuries in the books.)
Will the Faith align with Tommen's regime in the books? It's possible, but there's more evidence to suggest this story line will be taken up by Aegon in Winds of Winter. (Likewise, Cersei will probably not make it anywhere near the Throne.) How's Tommen going to die? My money's still on one of the Sand Snakes.
WHEREVER SANSA IS
Sansa's story line has gone very far afield from where it is in the books, but at the very least, season six suggests that she's finally about to come to some sort of falling out with Littlefinger. It's a safe bet too that she'll head towards Winterfell at some point — possibly leading the Knights of the Vale?
As Jaqen H'ghar put it in season six, "A girl has been granted a second chance. There will not be a third." That's bad news for book-Arya, whom we last saw in a TWOW preview chapter breaking Faceless Man rules again. Her time with the magical assassins is likely at an end, but since the Waif is a relatively minor character in the novels, the breakup will probably be a lot less silly.
The show didn't quite give us the exact version of the Second Red Wedding fans are expecting from Winds, but in Arya's pie-baking, throat-slitting revenge against the Freys, it did hint that the loathsome, backstabbing family is about to get some sort of major comeuppance.
The most important takeaway from the show's handling of Dorne these past two seasons is that they really shouldn't have written out Arianne, but what's done is done. It seems unlikely that TWOW will repeat the Sand Snake murder-fest from the season premiere, but penciling in Myrcella and Trystane in your next death pool could prove to be a prudent move. And while Dorne is rallying around Daenerys in the show, in the new Winds of Winter preview chapter they seem to be leaning towards another dragon entirely.
Just like in the show, Daenerys begins The Winds of Winter surrounded by a giant horde of Dothraki. One crucial difference? Here she's got Drogon with her from the jump. A return to Vaes Dothrak might be in the cards, but if so, it'll be on Dany's terms, not a khal's.
Ser Barristan's death in season five added weight to theories that he'll die in the upcoming Battle of Meereen, and we already know from the preview chapters that the Ironborn — led by Victarion in the books — and Dany's two remaining dragons show up in time to affect the course of battle. The show also hinted that Volantis was involved in financing the Sons of the Harpy, which could be a clue that the Volantene fleet will make an appearance, too. But no matter's who's involved, the general outcome of the battle in TWOW will probably be the same as the abridged version we got in episode nine: with the slavers burnt, and Daenerys's side on top. (Though given the general tone of the Slaver's Bay story line, the aftermath will likely be more ambivalent than the triumphant version the show served up.) The books have a deeper bench of characters in Meereen than the show does, so look for someone like the Shavepate, not Tyrion, to be in control of the city going forward.
As for Tyrion, he's likely to join up with Daenerys at some point before she leaves Essos. Dany's final chapter in A Dance With Dragons made it clear that she wasn't going to return to Meereen, so many fans think the reunion will happen in Volantis. Luckily, both the books and the show have a gigantic Ironborn fleet in Meereen just waiting to take someone back west. If Victarion doesn't survive his brush with the dragon horn — and all indications are he won't — could Tyrion hitch a ride with the Iron Fleet? Once everyone meets up in Volantis, it's possible TWOW will end on the same note season six did: Daenerys and her new allies finally setting sail towards the Seven Kingdoms.
THE IRON ISLANDS
We'll close with the Ironborn story line, where the show is either lagging behind the books (with Euron) or making new plots out of whole cloth (with Theon and his sister). Honestly, the only thing to glean here is that Asha/Yara is going to end up fighting Euron at some point. Otherwise, just reread the new Winds of Winter chapter about Euron and prepare to get freaked out all over again.