For years, hard-core fans awaiting new episodes of HBO's smash hit show "Game of Thrones" have more or less known what's coming.
That's because the show's first five seasons have mostly followed the storylines of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series of fantasy novels. But with season six, coming April 24 in the United States, the TV series ventures into unexplored territory.
Martin is still writing the next volume in his sprawling series — although he has briefed the show's producers on where to take the many plot threads — leaving audiences to wonder what lies in store for the saga and its characters.
Because everyone is in the dark and the Internet hates a vacuum, speculation has run rampant since season five ended last June. When last seen, many of "Thrones'" key characters were in dire circumstances — like, possibly dead — which has only fueled wild rumors about their fate. (Let me be the 1,837th person to tell you that Jon Snow might be alive. Possibly. Or not. Nobody really knows.)
Whatever is coming to the bloody, bawdy world of Westeros, it seems bound to be dramatic. Trailers for season six hint at all kinds of new bloodshed and intrigue.
"This season, there is not a weak episode," showrunner David Benioff told Entertainment Weekly. "We're always reluctant to say it's 'the best season yet' because so much of that is in the eyes of the beholder. And Dan [Weiss, his co-creator] and I are so close to it that it's impossible to be unbiased. But that's my sense — watching them all together now, this is the best one we've done."
To refresh your memories and help get you ready for Sunday, here's a look at six urgent questions we're eager to answer.
Is Jon Snow really dead?
Let's get the big one out of the way first. The last image we saw on "Game of Thrones" was of the severely wounded Night's Watch commander bleeding in the snow after being betrayed by his own men. He looked dead, or about to be dead. Nobody was rushing to his aid. And let's face it: Medieval medical care is not the greatest.
So why is everyone saying that Jon Snow, brave bastard son of the late Eddard Stark, is still alive?
Well, actor Kit Harington has been spotted numerous times (in costume, even) during season six filming on "Thrones'" Belfast set. Sharp-eyed fans believe they've spied Snow for a split second during a battle scene in a season six trailer.
On the other hand, several of the show's actors — including Harington himself — have said in interviews that Snow is dead. HBO's own official synopsis of the season six premiere says he's dead.
But … for how long? Grieving fans, possibly in denial, have a plausible theory: His corpse is resurrected by Melisandre, sex priestess of the dark arts, who has shown a predatory interest in noble blood and in Snow himself.
If that's true, it's not clear whether Snow will be reborn as someone resembling his former self or … something else.
Our guess: Snow returns, in some form. He's a crucial character. And actors don't spend months on set just to film death sequences or flashbacks.
Can Bran Stark walk?
What's this? HBO's promotional photos for season 6 show the crippled young heir to Winterfell (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) looking all grown up and standing erect with his new mentor, the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow). A trailer also shows him standing while facing — yikes — the fearsome king of the White Walkers.
Does this mean Bran, who was a mysterious no-show for all of season five, has regained use of his legs and no longer needs Hodor to cart him around?
Probably not. You may recall that at the end of season four, when Bran tracks the Three-Eyed Raven to a cave north of the wall, the Raven tells him, "You will never walk again, but you will fly."
We're not sure exactly what this means, but here's one theory: The Raven is showing Bran how to have out-of-body experiences. That wouldn't be a stretch for the oldest surviving Stark son, who has shown magical powers, including vision dreams and the ability to control animals by possessing their minds.
Now we just need Bran to sic a direwolf on the Boltons.
Will Arya overcome being blind?
Oh, Arya. You are one headstrong gal. When you defied the Many-Faced God at the end of season five and killed Meryn Trant without permission, you were blinded as punishment. How will you continue your training to become a Faceless Man, and/or seek revenge on the many people who have harmed your family, if you can't see?
Luckily for you, Martin's last book may offer some good news. In "A Dance with Dragons," you regain your eyesight, although you appear reluctant to surrender your proud Stark name to become an anonymous, shape-shifting assassin.
You're pushing your luck with the Faceless Men, though. "A girl has been given a second chance," your mentor, Jaqen H'ghar, tells you ominously. "There will not be a third."
We bet the youngest Stark daughter — seen leaping off a wall in a season six trailer (how do you leap off a wall if you can't see?) — crosses another name or two off her death list this season.
What's left for Sansa and Theon?
Poor Sansa. Poor Theon. Maybe it's fitting that the two most miserable characters on "Game of Thrones" found each other.
When we last saw this persecuted pair, they were escaping the barbarous Ramsay Bolton by leaping off a Winterfell battlement into the snow. But are they recaptured? Or do they flee off on a new — say, to Theon's ancestral home in the Iron Islands, where his warrior sister, Yara, waits ready to open a can on his tormentors?
And what about Brienne, Sansa's sworn protector?
Several blink-and-you-miss-them glimpses in a new trailer offer some clues: A frightened Theon is shown in a snowy wood, surrounded by Bolton soldiers. But the same trailer reveals Brienne in what looks like the same snowy wood, attacking Bolton soldiers.
Hmm. Read into that what you will. But things have to be looking up for Sansa and Theon, right? They can't get much worse.
Are the once-mighty Lannisters finished?
You might think Cersei Lannister would be chastened after her arrest and naked walk of shame through the streets of King's Landing last season. You would be mistaken.
Cersei has long had a haughty sense of entitlement, but she's especially spiteful when she has been wronged. And lately, she's been wronged a lot. Her son Joffrey and father Tywin are dead. Her daughter, Myrcella, now appears to be dead as well. And the militant Sparrows have knocked her powerful family off its once-lofty perch.
A season six trailer shows her out of her cell and in a face-off with her cousin Lancel, now a moralistic Sparrow. "Order your man to step aside or there will be violence," Lancel warns.
Responds a defiant Cersei, "I choose violence."
Meanwhile, brother/lover Jaime has returned from his failed mission to Dorne and seems bent on reclaiming King's Landing from the High Sparrow and his acolytes. We see him on horseback, leading an army to the gates of the Sept in what looks like a battle for control of the city.
So will the incestuous pair succeed? Hard to say, but we wouldn't bet against them. Even with their dwindling fortunes, the Lannisters are fearless … and ruthless.
Can Daenerys regain her power?
For the queen of Meereen and the Mother of Dragons, last season was a sudden fall. One minute she was cheering gladiators from her royal box; the next, she was fleeing for her life from the Sons of the Harpy and wandering the hills alone in search of food.
Stripped of her regal trappings, separated from her biggest dragon and captured by a Dothraki clan, Daenerys is as vulnerable as we've ever seen her. In a new trailer, she is stripped naked and paraded before a Dothraki leader.
But she still has allies in loyal ol' dying Jorah, who tracks her into the hills and finds the ring she dropped. And advisers like Varys and Tyrion are holding Meereen together in her absence.
Tyrion may be the key to her salvation. A new trailer appears to show him trying to free her two captive dragons from their dungeon. If he succeeds, and the scaly beasties still prove loyal to their mum, Daenerys will be back on top in no time.
Swords and spears are handy in war, but nothing trumps dragons.