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The ‘Game of Thrones’ Book Symposium: A Spoiler-Filled Discussion of the Season Finale and Predictions for Season 6

Our hyper-literate experts debate Jon Snow’s fate and attempt to predict when ‘The Winds of Winter’ will finally be released and what next season of HBO’s drama will hold.

Spoiler alert: If you have not watched the first five seasons of Game of Thrones and read the five main books of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, do not read this. Do not even let your eyes wander idly over your computer screen while this page is up. Quickly, as in right now, click on something else.

Mother of Dragons: Oh Maester my Maester! Are you carrying any vials in the pockets of your robes that can heal a broken heart? Many are still struggling to cope with the grief that washed over them as all that blood crept toward Kit Harington’s beautiful hair in Sunday’s Season 5 finale. It certainly hasn’t helped that everyone associated with the show is waving the “HE’S REALLY DEAD, GET OVER IT!” banner. Kit told EW, “I’m not coming back.” D.B. Weiss says, “Dead is dead.” Well, you know what I say? The haters better hush up before I pull out their tongues, Ilyn Payne–style. Jon’s not dead, and I won’t let this transparent gamesmanship trick me into thinking otherwise. You spent a good chunk of Tuesday’s Ask the Maester column discussing this, and there have been approximately 874,931 “IS JON DEAD?” articles on the Internet in the last few days, but we need to take one more deep dive. Welcome to our hell, show watchers: This has been the primary topic of discussion in book land since Jon’s A Dance With Dragons arc ended in the same place, and it’s time to take the theorizing mainstream.

First, let me say that I understand that one of the central lessons of the Thrones experience is that anyone can die at any time, because life is unfair. But I also can read (and watch): Pretty much every additional piece of information that we’ve gotten on the show and in the books support Jon’s continued existence. For starters, we’re talking about the dude who survived three arrows from Ygritte! I’m going to keep telling myself that a handful of close-range shiv shots isn’t that much worse.

Even if Jon does succumb to his wounds, there’s plenty of precedent for how he might come back. He could warg into his wolf, like Varamyr Sixskins did in the Dance prologue. Or, infinitely more likely, he could pull a Beric Dondarrion and use one of the Lord of Light’s “Get Out of Death Free” cards. Thoros of Myr is a red priest, and he managed to resurrect the Lightning Lord as many times as Arya stabbed Meryn Trant on Sunday. Well, Melisandre is a red priestess. Why have her return to Castle Black if not for this? Why have her talk to Thoros about how he worked R’hllor’s magic?

Speaking of things that the show and books wouldn’t have invested so much time in if they were going to prove moot: R + L = J, anyone? I concede that in a sprawling tale like this, not every plot thread will come together in the end to form a neat bow; however, I refuse to accept that the secret of Jon’s parentage falls into that category. As Andy Greenwald reminded us a few days ago, Benioff and Weiss landed this gig by answering correctly when Martin asked them to identify Jon’s mother; that’s a pretty clear signifier that this reveal is going to matter in a major way. If Jon is really Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen’s son, he has as strong of a claim to the Iron Throne as anyone else in the story. He’d be uniquely positioned to unite the realm under two of its most powerful banners. He’d be the titular ice and fire incarnate. And crucially, because of his Targaryen blood, he’d also potentially be predisposed to dragon riding. The dragon has three heads, which means that Dany needs two fellow riders to help her take Westeros. Who better than her nephews Jon and Aegon? (WHERE ARE YOU, YOUNG GRIFF?)

And while we’re on the subject of prophecies: Melisandre has been operating under the delusion that Stannis is Azor Ahai, the prince that was promised. But that prediction could also apply to Jon, or Dany, or both. As Melisandre says, “When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone.” I’m going to put more stock in those words than in Kit’s haircut.

So that’s the key for me: Jon can’t be dead, because he’s too crucial to the series’ endgame. GRRM has done a hilariously poor job of being coy when asked about Jon’s fate; the easy money is on Jon being alive, in some form, when The Winds of Winter hits the shelves. So then the question becomes whether Sers Benioff and Weiss are bold enough to really and truly kill Jon on the show if that’s not what happens in the book. And I just can’t see it. They’ve made bold life-and-death changes before, axing Mance (maybe) and Ser Barristan, and opting against introducing everyone’s favorite reanimated mom, Lady Stoneheart. But those characters don’t have the potential to unite the realm. They haven’t looked into the Night’s King’s eyes. They aren’t magically bonded to a direwolf. They don’t have a Valyrian steel sword. They aren’t the true heroes of this story.

What say you, good ser? Is Jon Azor Ahai? And what about the other characters whose fates are now in doubt? What do you make of the decision to cut away from Stannis and Myrcella before their deaths were actually confirmed?

The Maester: I’m ambivalent about ASoIaF’s various messianic prophecies and tripped-out visions. For me, the interesting thing about Azor Ahai is how the legend motivates the characters in the books, not whether the prophecy is true and waiting to be fulfilled. I feel like the crazed-fan thing of ticking off a shopping list of auguries (thrusts magic sword into the heart of a loved one: check!) in order to come up with this character or that character equaling Azor Ahai or the perfumed seneschal or the prince that was promised is a bit of mug’s game. Do I play said mug’s game? Yes, and often. Still, I think doing so plays right into GRRM’s treacherous hands, and I think the show version of Stannis would probably agree with me.

The way that Martin uses the red comet in A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings is illustrative of the way he deploys prophecies as narrative devices: Not to reveal some hidden cosmic truth, but to reveal what characters believe, or, more importantly, want, the truth to be. Different characters gazed upon that same red scar slashing across the sky, and each came up with their own respective and often self-serving interpretations of the event. Aeron Damphair called the comet a sign from the Drowned God. (Now that dude is predictable!) The Greatjon tells Robb that it’s an omen of victory from the Old Gods. (Categorically wrong! More like Mediocrejon, am I right?) Edmure Tully (that poor bastard) thought the color and shape of the comet resembled the trout sigil of his family’s house. And Arys “I would do anything for love up to and including that” Oakheart thought the comet heralded Joffrey’s ascension to the Iron Throne and his triumph over his enemies.

So, is Jon Azor Ahai? I mean, maybe! I think that would be cool. Although, I’m not even sure A.A. exists in the show canon. The name has never been mentioned. If so, that’s yet another example of the show and the books being two different species of the same story. George recently revealed on his blog that he considers the book version of the Night’s King to be “a legendary figure, akin to Lann the Clever and Brandon the Builder, and no more likely to have survived to the present day than they have.” This is a massive diversion from the show canon, in which the Night’s King is as fresh as a daisy after a nap of several thousand years!

Cutting away from Stannis at the moment of truth was an interesting choice. Certainly, it appeared that Lady Brienne took a nice hard swing across the middle of the plate with Oathkeeper. Before the taping of the final Watch the Thrones podcast, our illustrious colleague Andy Greenwald theorized that perhaps the reason we don’t see Stannis’s head fall off is that the showrunners simply didn’t like the effects shot for that scene and left it out. They probably wish they could’ve done the same with the Sand Snakes fight.

Anyway, I’m more sure that Stannis is dead than I am that Jon is “alive,” and I’m 99 percent sure that Jon is “alive.” Same with Myrcella being deceased. In Jon’s case, we should find out if he’ll be a continuing presence well before Season 6 starts. Set photos showing Jaime in Dorne started leaking last October. In fact, the casting call for Season 6 has already leaked. Speculating is at the core of the ASoIaF fan experience. So I can’t think of a better, potentially more irresponsible way to soften the blow of nine months with no Game of Thrones than to theorize about which book characters will make Season 6. So shall we?

The first piece of casting information seems to be the easiest to suss out:

Pirate,  man in his 40’s to late 50’s. He’s “an infamous pirate who has terrorized seas all around the world. Cunning, ruthless, with a touch of madness.” He’s a dangerous-looking man. A very good part this season.

This cannot be anyone except Euron Greyjoy, right? Do you think we get the actual Crow’s Eye or just a composite who does Euron things?

George RR MartinAP Photo/Charles Sykes

Mother of Dragons: What is dead may never die, Maester, and what is written here may finally bring the Crow’s Eye into your life! Though perhaps a Euron-Victarion hybrid is more likely than straight Euron? Balon’s bros both have important roles to play, but there’s a lot of overlap, and stitching them into one fierce Greyjoy might be the quickest way for the show to establish a potent presence while maintaining an efficient plot. At this point, there’s no time to focus on the conflict they have with each other; this needs to be about the conflict they might have with the characters we already know. Plus, we’ve been away from Balon and Asha/Yara for so long that it’s a little tough to imagine a whole slew of new Iron Islanders suddenly appearing on our screens.

So I assume we’ll head to Pyke for Balon’s funeral, dispense with the whole kingsmoot business, and be treated to one chat between Uncle Eurarian and his niece Yara that establishes this “infamous” pirate’s intentions. And surely, those intentions will be hitting the seas in search of Dany, with a marriage proposal on his lips, a dragon horn in his hand, and ambition in his heart. It’s been too long since someone has tried to take Dany’s dragons, and thanks to the show’s decision to cut the Quentyn Martell plot, it’s also high time for some Westerosi lord to attempt to win Dany’s heart. Or kill her. Or both!

Speaking of Westerosi lords, I’d love to hear what you think about this next bit of casting-call goodness:

Father. Aged 50’s to 60’s, he’s one of the greatest soldiers in Westeros- a humorless martinet, severe and intimidating. He demands martial discipline in the field and in his home. It’s described as “a very good part” for next year and that he’s “centrally involved” in a protagonist’s storyline.

Mother, in her 50’s. She’s a sweet, plump, and adoring mother, and has a soft spot for one of her children who benefits from her decency.

Sister, in her early 20s. She’s a kind, friendly and unpretentious woman.

Brother, in his early to mid-20’s . Athletic, a good hunter, an excellent swordsman, manly, not particularly bright but the favourite child of the father.

Jason of Grantlandia, tell me, are we about to meet Sam’s Big Bad Dad?

The Maester: With Big Sam heading south with Gilly and Li’l Sam, a Tarly family reunion fits the above details like a triple-XL Maester’s chain. Something tells me Randyll “Ultimate Hardass” Tarly, the man who sent Sam to the Wall for being a nerd, won’t be impressed that his firstborn son is the first person in 8,000 years or so to kill a White Walker. Maybe we’ll see some version of the story line from Dance of Dragons in which Randyll leads the Reach’s army into King’s Landing as part of the deal the Tyrells strike with the Faith to free Margaery. And, of course, Randyll carries Heartsbane, one of the realm’s few Valyrian steel swords. Those are becoming increasingly important, what with, oh, the end of the world looming beyond the Wall. I do wonder if the lack of casting info that can be linked to Citadel characters means that the show is going to pivot away from Oldtown. I hope not. At this point, the mysterious and androgynous Citadel acolyte Alleras, who helps Sam escape Oldtown’s DMV-like bureaucracy and is very likely the Sand Snake Sarella because, hey, look at the names, would easily be the most compelling Dorne-related character on the show. And Marwyn the Mage is one of those very rare characters in the series who’s actually having fun as the world ends.

What about this guy, Mal?

Priest, in his 40’s or 50’s. A gruff ex-soldier who found religion. Now a no-nonsense rural priest who ministers to the poor of the countryside. He’s salt-of-the-earth man who has weathered many battles.

A gruff former soldier bringing the light of the Seven to the rural pure? Septon Meribald, perhaps? WILL WE SEE THE HOUND AGAIN? (Related: The Hound is alive, right?)

Mother of Dragons: Oh my gods! Part of me prays that it’s Septon Meribald, because then the show will also have to cast his dog, Dog! Though actually, I’m not sure that it’d be wise for a show that’s taken so much heat for its treatment of female characters to add Meribald to its ranks, since his origin story involves using his standing to convince young women to sleep with him. I’m also not totally sure what role he’d serve at this point; he’s supposed to guide Brienne and Pod, but presumably those two will be linked up with Theon and Sansa, and maybe even Stannis if he’s still alive, so how many members does this entourage need?

Might this be the Elder Brother? He fought in the Battle of the Trident before spending 10 years in silence on the Quiet Isle, so he fits the bill as well. Or maybe this character will be an amalgamation of Meribald and E.B., since their paths cross in the book? Whoever it is needs to introduce the Gravedigger into the story, because that’s got to be the Hound, who’s definitely alive. It’s been way, way, way too long since Sandor Clegane and his chickens have graced our screens. Maybe the Meri Brother will come across Brienne & Co. and offer them safe haven on the Quiet Isle, at which point they’ll cross paths with the Gravedigger, whom Brienne, Sansa, and Pod will surely recognize despite the scarf covering his face. And then maybe the Faith will call the reformed Hound as its champion after Cersei calls Franken Mountain! And then the Clegane boys, or at least these new, mutilated versions of them, will do battle at last. Yeah, let’s go with that!

Now, I’d like you to be my champion and offer up a prediction for this casting call:

Leading Actress, in her early 40’s, she’s an elegant actress with a traveling theatre company. Fun, charismatic, rum-drinking actress in the troupe.

The Maester: This is a tough one. “Mercy,” Martin’s Arya Winds of Winter preview chapter is, in part, set in a Braavosi theater where a mummer troupe is performing a play titled The Bloody Hand. One of the characters in that chapter is an actress named Daena. Could this casting be part of Arya’s Faceless Men arc? If so, this would seem to suggest that Arya’s blindness won’t last the entire season. Sidebar: The philosophy of the Faceless Men demands that their assassin adherents must subsume their freewill to the needs of the Many-Faced God in order to take lives. Eerily, “Mercy,” opens with Arya waking up and not knowing “who she was, or where.” I don’t know if I’m quite ready for Arya Bourne.

Tinfoil hat alert: Occupationally, Daena seems like a match. BUT! What if this elegant woman is actually some character amalgam of Septa Lemore? The 40-ish-year-old age range and the admittedly broad personality sketch appears to work for our enigmatic Lady L. George drops numerous hints throughout Tyrion’s Dance of Dragons chapters that the Septa isn’t quite what she appears to be, which [Plastic-Man stretch] can be interpreted as a form of acting. Super-ultra tinfoil hat alert: IF THIS CASTING CALL DOES REFER TO SEPTA LEMORE, THIS MEANS WE GET THE ROLLING, ROLLING (FAKE?) AEGON-ON-THE-RIVER STORY LINE BUT RETCONNED AS A TRAVELING TROUPE OF MUMMERS. OK, I’ll calm down.

What do you make of these, Mhysa?

Priestess. Mid-20’s to early 30’s. Any ethnicity- she’s beautiful, intense, and magnetic.

Fierce Warrior, a tall man in 30’s or 40’s with a powerful physique. They’re looking for someone with “mixed ethnicity” for the role.

Quaithe? And some random Dothraki warrior now that Drogon has stranded Dany in the Dothraki sea?

Mother of Dragons: Oh, man. Intriguing! My first thought was that this couldn’t be Quaithe, because why would she need to be “beautiful” if her face is hidden behind a red mask? BUT! Then I remembered that when Dany has a vision of Quaithe in Dance, the shadowbinder is wearing a mask of starlight instead of red lacquer. I dig this theory, Ser Jason, if only because it’ll be dope as hell to hear the words, “Remember who you are, Daenerys. The dragons know. Do you?”

The Fierce Warrior has to be Khal Jhaqo or Pono, right? Jhaqo is the one who discovers Dany in the book, and it’s logical that the show will make the Khal who just found Dany on the show a major player early in Season 6, so this seems most likely. In the books, Jhaqo was one of Drogo’s bloodriders, and he’s the second to declare himself Khal after Drogo’s death. It could also be Pono, though: In Season 2 of the show, Jorah theorizes that Jhaqo or Pono — who also declared himself Khal after Drogo left for the Night Lands — murdered Rakharo and sent his head back in a bag. So, these are not chill dudes. But they’d know Dany, which seems like a smart course for the story to take.

The other possibility based on the “mixed ethnicity” description is that these characters could be part of the Meereen or Dorne plots. I hope we’ve left Dorne behind, and the absence of Arianne and Quentyn would make it tough to broach the Martell-Targaryen secret marriage pact now, but I guess there’s a chance that the warrior could fit into this somehow. Quentyn did join up with the sellswords, after all. If anyone other than Strong Belwas is added to the Meereen plot at this point, though, I’m eating a poisoned locust and calling it a life.

To conclude, Maester Concepcion, what do you make of this trio of casting calls? Are we about to travel through the Weirwood Time-Turner network with Bran and see some Stark flashbacks?

A large boy, with an actor who is 10-12 but playing 7 or 8. He’s described as “a clever boy” who seems too large for his age. He’s big and tall but not fat. “Characterful squat features” are a plus for this part. It’s specified that this is a one-time appearance.

12 year old boy, with brown hair and blue eyes. He needs to use a Northern accent. He has scenes where he has to spar with a wooden sword. The length of the role isn’t specified.

7 year old boy with dark brown hair, a narrow face and green eyes. He also has a Northern accent. He also spars with the wooden sword, so it’s safe to assume it’s the same scene. This role is similarly open-ended, the description only stating that the character is being ‘introduced.’

The Maester: Oh, man. Lots of good suspects here. The most obvious book scene analogues for the above are the Stark family/Northern history flashback hallucinations that Bran has while hooked up to the Treeternet under the influence of the weirwood paste. One of his visions involves two children sparring in the Winterfell godswood with wooden swords. In the book, though, it’s a boy and a girl — thought to be Brandon and Lyanna Stark —  instead of two boys. Is the show looking to cast young Eddard and Brandon? Or young Robb and Jon? Mild tinfoil hat alert: Fans have long theorized that the Knight of the Laughing Tree — the mysterious warrior who entered the lists at the fateful tournament at Harrenhal during the year of the false spring — could, MIGHT, possibly have been Lyanna Stark, a noted tomboy of her day. Is it possible that the casting of one of the sword-fighting boys is actually Lyanna? And either the showrunners knowingly murked the gender of the noun in the casting call to throw people off the scent OR it’s a callback to Lyanna pretending to be a boy, perhaps to lay the groundwork for the tourney at Harrenhal? I swear, I have not been drinking.

As for the Large Boy … a young Ser Duncan the Tall, a.k.a. possibly HODOR’S DAD??? That’s admittedly a hot-yoga stretch, but I WANT IT TO BE TRUE!

Any final predictions, Mal? Here’s mine: The Winds of Winter, March 2016.

Mother of Dragons: I’d dig that version of March Madness, buddy. My prediction comes from a place of deep conviction (and insanity): Like the NFL, Thrones will no longer have an offseason. We’re going to treat every leaked set photo, fan tweet, and GRRM message board comment as headline news, because we’re no longer equipped to exist without a daily dose of Westeros. We’ll probably publish 27 blog posts when some lurker spots Harington reading lines with Carice van Houten in a few months. So keep your Maester’s chain polished and your ravens ready to fly, because I suspect that I’ll see you back here quite soon. Until then, Valar Morghulis.