Everything We’ve Learned From the Winds of Winter Preview Chapters

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Will Tyrion escape slavery as easily as he did in the show? Photo: HBO

Though some optimistic fans are hopeful that George R.R. Martin has secretly finished his last two Song of Ice and Fire books, at the moment, we’re still waiting for an official publication date for the sixth book in the series, The Winds of Winter. Still, we know a significant amount of what will go down in that forthcoming novel, as Martin has released a string of preview chapters over the years that together add up to about 15 percent of a typical ASOIAF book. To dive deep into them is to visit a world completely apart from the world of the Game of Thrones TV show, a world where Ser Barristan is still alive, Sansa is still in the Vale, and people like Arianne Martell and the would-be Aegon VI not only exist but are very important. With an assist from Reddit’s ASOIAF page, here is everything we’ve learned from the various TWOW preview chapters, with the caveat that material has been known to change between preview chapters and the final versions.

Theon I

How We Got It: George R.R. Martin released it onto his website over the Christmas holiday in 2011, later noting that part of the material had been cut from A Dance With Dragons.

What Happens: After escaping from Winterfell at the end of the fifth book in the ASOIAF series, A Dance With Dragons, Theon is held prisoner in Stannis Baratheon’s camp. He watches as Stannis easily averts the Karstarks’ planned betrayal, sends Justin Massey to hire sellswords in Braavos, and seems unperturbed by reports of Ramsay Bolton’s brutality. Stannis also sentences Theon to die, but is swayed by Asha’s argument that he must swing the sword himself.

What It Means: Unlike in the show, where a broken Stannis met a quick end outside the gates of Winterfell, the book version of Stannis seems utterly in his element here. (Remember, he has not burned his daughter to death in the books — yet.) He seems to have some sort of trick up his sleeve for the coming battle, with many fans suspecting he’ll lure the Bolton army onto the thin ice of a nearby lake. Also, what’s up with the raven calling “the tree, the tree” when Stannis ponders where to execute Theon? Is that Bran attempting a deus-ex-weirwood rescue attempt?

Arianne I

How We Got It: It’s another TWOW holdover, which Martin posted to his website in 2012.

What Happens: Arianne sets off to the Stormlands on a diplomatic mission to the young invader Aegon, a.k.a. Young Griff, who has asked for Dorne’s aid. Along the way, she wonders if Aegon is really a Targaryen, and what became of her brother Quentyn’s mission to wed Daenerys.

What It Means: Arianne spends a lot of time attempting to convince herself that she loves her brother and wants him to come home, but her thoughts betray her: “King Quentyn. Why did that sound so silly?” Elsewhere, she also meets a young girl who has dreams about dragons fighting — possible foreshadowing for a Dany-Aegon showdown.

Victarion I

How We Got It: Martin read it in two parts at two different fan conventions in 2012. You can see the first half here.

What Happens: Victarion Greyjoy and the remnants of the Iron Fleet approach Meereen in the hope of winning both Daenerys and her dragons to their side. To aid in the latter goal, Victarion gives three oarsmen the job of blowing the magical horn Dragonbinder, which is supposed to give its owner control of the dragons. He promises the men vast rewards if they survive the gig, but thinks to himself that they’ll probably die.

What It Means: Our lovably hateable sailor keeps on blundering toward certain doom. It’s only a question of how he meets his end: The easy money is on dragonfire, but Moqorro and the Dusky Woman are still hanging around in the wings, waiting for their moment to stab old Vic in the back.

Barristan I

How We Got It: It was included as a preview chapter in the paperback edition of A Dance With Dragons.

What Happens: Just like Stannis, Ser Barristan Selmy is still alive and kicking in the books, holding down Meereen in Dany’s absence while the city is besieged by the slavers of Yunkai. Here he prepares for an early-morning cavalry charge out the gates of Meereen. The goal is to take out the trebuchets flinging disease-ridden corpses into the city, and sow chaos in the Yunkish camps. Barrisan is vastly outnumbered and doesn’t quite trust his own troops, but he knows this is his best chance to end the siege before the city is overwhelmed by dysentery, and he ends the chapter with a rousing speech to his men.

What It Means: Knowing what we know about the battle, it seems likely that Barristan’s cavalry charge will go pretty well. But some readers can’t help finding hints that something bad will go down inside the city after Barristan and his men leave.

Tyrion I

How We Got It: Martin read it at a British sci-fi convention in 2012.

What Happens: Only a few minutes after the end of his final ADWD chapter — which saw him join up with the charmingly untrustworthy sellsword Brown Ben Plumm — Tyrion tries to convince Plumm to abandon the Yunkish, for whom they’re both ostensibly fighting, and go back to Daenerys’s side. Before anything more can happen, ships arrive in the harbor. It’s the Ironborn!

What It Means: The Yunkish are screwed, whether or not Brown Ben turns his cloak. But he’s definitely turning his cloak.

Barristan II

How We Got It: Martin read it and the preceding Barristan chapter at a Boston sci-fi convention in 2013.

What Happens: The cavalry charge goes even better than expected, with the Yunkish slave soldiers proving no match for Ser Barristan’s well-trained troops. As if that wasn’t enough, the chapter climaxes with the arrival of the Ironborn in the Yunkish rear. Everything’s coming up Barristan!

What It Means: Things are going suspiciously well for Barristan, which some readers taken as evidence that he’s about to meet an incredibly depressing end.

Tyrion II

How We Got It: It was included in an update to the World of Ice and Fire app in 2014.

What Happens: Tyrion is stuck on the other side of Barristan’s charge. It’s hell, with violence and destruction everywhere. Oh, and the dragons are now loose, too, and they’re raining devastation from the air. As the battle goes against the Yunkish, Brown Ben Plumm decides that now is the perfect time to turn his cloak. Told you!

What It Means: This is the last of five chapters that collectively give us a pretty complete picture of the Battle of Meereen. It’s looking pretty good for our heroes! Tyrion is about to escape slavery, Barristan’s charge has been a success, and the unexpected arrival of the Ironborn has led to a total Yunkish rout. But there’s still plenty we don’t know about the battle’s resolution. What are the Ironborn going to do next? Will Barristan survive the aftermath? And what about the real wildcard, the dragons?

Arya / “Mercy”

How We Got It: Martin posted it to his web site in March 2014, later revealing it was originally meant to be the first Arya chapter after the fabled “five-year gap” in the series. (This could explain some of the chapter’s disconcerting sexual elements.)

What Happens: As part of her Faceless Man training, Arya is working undercover as an actress at a theater troupe in Braavos. To honor some prestigious visitors from Westeros, the troupe is putting on a play that turns out to be a Lannister-friendly retelling of the plot of A Game of Thrones. (Arya is playing Sansa.) Before the play begins, Arya notices that one of the guardsmen is a soldier who killed her friend back in A Clash of Kings, so she lures him back to her room and stabs him to death.

What It Means: Arya has long struggled to reconcile her desire to become a Faceless Man with her need to hang onto her old identity, and here the latter finally wins. It probably means the end of her studies at the House of Black and White, but hey, maybe there will be no consequences. Who ever knew a death cult of shape-shifting assassins to hold a grudge?

Sansa / “Alayne”

How We Got It: Martin put it up on his website in April 2015.

What Happens: Still posing as Littlefinger’s bastard, Sansa attends a tournament in the Vale, where she first meets Harry the Heir, the future Lord of the Vale and the man she’s supposed to marry. He’s kind of a dick at first, but Sansa works her magic and he’s soon eating up her every word.

What It Means: The first step of Littlefinger’s grand scheme appears to be going exactly as planned. (Another one of his schemes, to hoard grain until the coming winter, also appears to be going swimmingly.) But Sansa’s skillful manipulation of Harry proves that she, too, has honed her political gifts. Will the student soon become the master?

Arianne II

How We Got It: Another ADWD holdover, which Martin posted to his website in May 2016.

What Happens: Arianne travels through the misty Rainwood until she comes upon a castle held by Aegon’s allies in the Golden Company, where she learns that the would-be Targaryen prince has captured Storm’s End. Intrigued, she makes the executive decision to head to the castle herself to see just what kind of man this Aegon is.

What It Means: Arianne is going off-script, and it’s easy to see her deciding that the best way to compete with her brother would be to marry Aegon and become queen of the Seven Kingdoms herself. Judging by some of the foreshadowing in this chapter — the word die echoes off a cave in the Rainwood — it’ll be a bad decision.

Aeron / “The Forsaken”

How We Got It: Martin read it at Balticon over Memorial Day weekend in 2016.

What Happens: Aeron Greyjoy languishes in a dungeon, held captive by his evil brother Euron. Euron forces Aeron to drink the magical elixir shade of the evening, which gives him a series of terrible visions: Euron sitting on the Iron Throne with gods impaled upon its spikes, Euron as a terrible tentacle creature, and Euron next to a “long, tall, terrible woman.” Euron also confesses to molesting Aeron, and killing three of their brothers. If that wasn’t bad enough, at the end of the chapter Aeron wakes up to find himself chained to the prow of Euron’s ship as it sails into battle, with priests of other religions tied to the rest of the flotilla.

What It Means: For starters, Aeron does not seem to be long for this world. Euron seems to be intent on some sort of massive blood offering in the upcoming battle, with both sides sacrificed to some dark power. As some fans have speculated, it looks like Euron wants to turn himself into some sort of dark demigod. Judging from the visions, he may just team up with the Others to do it.

The Winds of Winter: What GRRM’s Preview Chapters Tell Us