Game of Thrones returns for its fifth season this weekend after a ten-month gap. Can’t remember who was fighting, who was getting married, and who had just assassinated their father after decades of psychological abuse? Read this guide, from someone who’s read the books but is trying not to be a jerk about it. Warning: Mild spoilers are coming!
Where we left him: After being framed for the murder of his nephew Joffrey, Tyrion is finally a free man! Unfortunately, that freedom came with a price: On his way out the door, he discovered that his hated father and his former lover were having an affair. So, naturally, he killed them both, then hopped on the next boat to Essos with his jailbreaker Varys in tow.
What to look for: To paraphrase Bloodline, Tyrion isn’t a bad person, but he’s just done a very bad thing. He’s always had the moral high ground, and his family’s wealth, to rely on. Now that he’s been stripped of those, his adventures overseas may prove who Tyrion really is at his core.
CERSEI BARATHEON AND JAIME LANNISTER
Where we left them: After a controversial rape scene, the Lannister twins spent the season locked in rhetorical combat over whether or not Tyrion truly killed Joffrey. (Jaime thought he was innocent; Cersei didn’t really care, but wanted him found guilty anyway.) They reconciled in the finale, when Cersei finally clued in Papa Tywin about the true nature of her relationship with Jaime, and the siblings decided to make history as Westeros’s first openly incestuous (non-Targaryen) nobles.
What to look for: Now that Tywin is dead, the urgency is out of the twins’ decision to come out of the incest closet. And if they were nearly torn apart by a murder Tyrion didn’t commit, how do you think they’ll deal with one he definitely did?
Where we left her: After three seasons of being pulled this way and that across the wilds of Westeros — first with the Night’s Watch, then with Gendry and Hot Pie, then with the Brotherhood Without Banners, then, finally, with the Hound — Arya decided to leave a wounded Sandor for dead and spurn Brienne of Tarth’s offer to be her umpteenth mentor-slash-travel-guide. Instead, she fished out the silver coin Jaqen H’ghar gave her in the season-two finale and used it as a one-way ticket to Braavos.
What to look for: Arya looks like she’s on her way to becoming a stone-hearted child assassin, and rumors say she’ll be encountering a familiar face in Braavos. (Emphasis on face.) Is this the first step to Arya becoming a full-on badass, or do we need to start worrying about the state of her soul? How about both?
SANSA STARK AND LITTLEFINGER
Where we left them: In his standout episode last year, Littlefinger introduced us to the rule of Chekhov’s Moon Door: If a minor character is pushed out a mile-high castle in season one, a major character must be pushed out that same castle in season four. For her masterful cover-up of Lysa Arryn’s murder, Sansa earned some newfound respect from Littlefinger, as well as a brand-new look for her upcoming tour of the Vale.
What to look for: Having come to the end of her book chapters (sort of), Sansa becomes the first Thrones character to fly without a net. It’s clear she’s going to be making moves — the only question is, will they be with Littlefinger or against him?
Where we left him: With help from Hodor, Meera, and Jojen (RIP), Bran finally reached the magical weirwood tree that haunted his dreams. There he discovered the Three-Eyed Raven, who turned out not to be a telepathic corvid after all, but instead was just a very old man who promised Bran he would teach him how to “fly.”
What to look for: Nothing! He’s sitting out this season, but will return for season six, presumably more powerful than ever before.
Where we left her: Meereen, Meereen, Meereen, Meereen! (We’re begging Dany, please don’t stay in this land.) Throughout season four, Daenerys struggled to balance her anti-slavery ideals with the cultural traditions of Slavers Bay, and after Drogon developed a taste for children, Dany auditioned for a starring role in Dreamworks’ How to Chain Your Dragons.
What to look for: It’s hard to be the ruler of an unfamiliar country, and as history has proven, overwhelming military force is no match for a determined insurgency. In other words, expect even more Iraq War metaphors from Dany’s story line this year. But if previews are any indication, the Mother of Dragons just might have some new visitors this season — will they be the surge she needs?
Where we left him: His Romeo-and-Juliet love affair with Ygritte came to a predictably tragic end at the battle of Castle Black, but on the plus side, the Night’s Watch won, and it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of two little people don’t amount to a bowl of brown in this crazy world. With nothing left to live for, Jon agreed to undertake a doomed mission to assassinate Mance Rayder, but he was spared the task of killing yet another one of his father figures by the impeccable arrival of Stannis Baratheon’s army.
What to look for: As everyone knows, the Night’s Watch takes no part in the wars of the realm, but after saving the day, is Stannis really going to let his back go unscratched? If that wasn’t enough to test Jon’s diplomatic skills, he’s also got an army of defeated Wildlings lingering north of the Wall, and he’s got to find them a place to stay before they become thousands of blue-eyed mouths to feed.
STANNIS BARATHEON, DAVOS, AND MELISANDRE
Where we left them: After doing enough brooding to turn Dragonstone to Elsinore, Stannis finally roused himself to action thanks to a loan from the Iron Bank of Braavos and a few inspiring pep talks from his buddy Davos. His last-minute arrival turned the tide of the battle outside the Wall, but even that rousing victory wasn’t enough to make him smile.
What to look for: Stannis may have saved the realm, but he’s still got a long way to go before earning the throne: He’s stuck at the Wall, with thousands of miles and an entire Bolton army between him and King’s Landing. Now that the Watch is in his debt, look for him to try to use Jon to his advantage. And if that lingering gaze in last season’s finale is any indication, Melisandre has her own plans in mind for our newly single Snow.
THE BOLTON BOYS: ROOSE, RAMSAY, AND THEON
Where we left them: What’s the point of turning a prisoner of war into a mentally scarred shell of his former self if he can’t help with the war effort? Ramsay used Theon to purge the North of its few remaining Ironborn, and for his good work, Roose gave Ramsay the best present a bastard could ask for: legitimacy. That’s even better than a hug!
What to look for: When we last saw them, the Boltons were headed toward the remains of Winterfell, but they’re going to need more than a castle to seal their hold over the North. Could Ramsay Bolton, Westeros’s least-eligible bachelor, be getting a bride?
MARGAERY AND LORAS TYRELL
Where we left them: Thanks to her grandmother’s machinations, Margaery was spared the prospect of a wedding night with King Joffrey and now finds herself affianced to King Tommen, a young lad whose interests lie more in kittens than crossbows. That’s trading up! Loras, meanwhile, spent the season trapped in an unhappy engagement with Cersei Lannister, and was forced to relive Renly’s death thanks to a humiliating all-dwarf reenactment of the War of the Five Kings.
What to look for: Margaery’s been able to wile her way into Tommen’s good graces so far, but we’re betting Cersei doesn’t let go of her youngest son without a fight. With no Tywin around, Loras is likely free of his looming nuptials with Cersei, but the promise of a religious revival this season means Westeros could end up even worse than Indiana on the gay-rights front.
Where we left her: Witnessing this, which made her do this.
What to look for: She’s headed back to Dorne, home to the rest of the Martell family. Will she preach peace and reconciliation with the Lannisters, or revenge? Either way, the Martells have a valuable asset: Cersei’s daughter Myrcella, currently fostering at Sunspear.
Where we left him: He smashed Oberyn Martell’s mouth like a trial-by-combat all-star, but a poisoned spear left him comatose, with a fever so bad he might as well be walking on the sun.
What to look for: Anton Lesser’s Qyburn has been hanging around the edge of the ensemble for a while, and he’s got the necromancy skills to turn Gregor into a new fearsome fighting machine. Once she sees his face, Cersei will be a believer.