Game of Thrones has become a cultural phenomenon over the six years it has been on the air, notably drawing a record-breaking 8.9 million live viewers during its season six finale, "The Winds of Winter."
The HBO drama is based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books—the first of which was published in 1996—but recently surpassed the series in plot. This move into uncharted territory, along with creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss' confirmation that the show will end after two more shortened seasons, means Thrones will almost certainly conclude before Martin's series comes to a close. It also means viewers and book readers are now on equal footing in terms of knowledge of what's to come.
However, for fans who have yet to read the novels, now is the perfect time to start, as Random House and iBooks are rolling out an enhanced edition of A Game of Thrones for iPhones, iPads and Macs that includes several digital features designed to make the story easier to follow. Martin has also said that he thinks the long-awaited sixth installment in the series, The Winds of Winter, will come out this year.
The premiere of the show's upcoming seventh season will air July 16, but as we wait out the long winter together, check back for updates on everything going on with the series—from casting announcements to scheduling details to new theories.
As of Sept. 1, production on the seven-episode season was officially underway, according to Entertainment Weekly. Filming took place in Northern Ireland, Spain and Iceland and was helmed by veteran Thrones directors Alan Taylor (season 1's "Baelor"), Jeremy Podeswa (season 5's "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken") and Mark Mylod (season 6's "No One"), as well as newcomer Matt Shakman.
HBO has confirmed that Jim Broadbent joined the show in a “significant” role, marking the first major cast addition of the season. Additionally, Ed Sheeran will appear in a guest spot, continuing Thrones' tradition of slipping in cameos by famous musicians. Other actors have also volunteered their services, including Daniel Radcliffe and Rachel Bloom, who have both said they would join just to be killed off.
Thanks to a scenery related filming delay, the premiere date was pushed back from spring to summer. "Now that winter has arrived on Game of Thrones, executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss felt that the storylines of the next season would be better served by starting production a little later than usual, when the weather is changing," said HBO programming president Casey Bloys.
This is also attributed to an increased filming time for each episode in the season. "They are taking the length of time it takes to shoot 10 episodes to shoot just seven this year," said Iain Glen—who plays Ser Jorah Mormont. "I think the scale and size of the set pieces, the world that is being created it’s just getting more and more extraordinary and they feel they need that time to shoot seven hours as opposed to 10."
However, two teasers for the show’s highly-anticipated return have already arrived. The first — which debuted in November — features glimpses of Sansa and Arya Stark as well as their half-brother-turned-cousin Jon Snow in various northern locations of Westeros, while the second — released in March — hints at an ominous "Great War" to come.
By any means, the new season is sure to be worth the wait, as Maisie Williams—who plays Arya—has stated on Twitter that "nothing will prepare you for this."
And after a sixth season that earned Thrones the title of Outstanding Drama Series, Directing and Writing at the 2016 Emmys—putting its all-time total at 38 and making it the winningest scripted series in the award show’s history—as well as Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series at the 2017 SAG Awards and Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series at the 2017 DGA Awards, that's saying a lot.
Not to mention that long-lost favorite Gendry—who hasn't been seen since he rowed away from Dragonstone in the season three finale—may be returning, as the actor who plays the lovable blacksmith, Joe Dempsie, was allegedly spotted in the Belfast airport.
Already eager for more G.o.T.? The DVD and Blu-Ray editions of season six—which include four deleted scenes, an inside look at the making of "Battle of the Bastards," and additional extras and audio commentaries —were released Nov. 15. Additionally, there may be a prequel series on the way, as Martin has stated he has "thousands of pages of fake history of everything that led up to Game of Thrones."
TIME has also provided a guide to the seemingly never-ending stream of characters that come in and out of play on Thrones, along with the slew of titles, relationships and familial ties that are introduced with them.
Fortunately, the show has begun to streamline its storytelling, making it easier to keep tabs on those who—at this point in time—seem like they will have an impact on its final outcome. However, this also means it's more crucial than ever to have a grasp on the role of each remaining player—no matter whether they're a Stark, Targaryen, Lannister or something in between.
Words: "Winter is coming"
Region: The North
- Sansa (Sophie Turner): The eldest daughter of Ned and Catelyn has finally taken back her family home after many years of torment at the hands of the Lannisters and the Boltons. Once the show's most naive character, Sansa has transformed into a hardened and knowledgeable game player by the cruelties she has endured. After witnessing her father’s beheading, she was forced into two arranged marriages in which she was repeatedly raped and assaulted. She was last seen denying Littlefinger's proposal of marriage in order to support Jon Snow's claim to the North. However, Sansa has hinted at her doubts about Jon's leadership abilities and seems to believe she might be more qualified to rule. "She did so much for Jon and the North, so when she saves the day and doesn't get any recognition for it, it was like she had that first taste of power and then was immediately stripped of it, Turner told Vulture. "She was stripped of the respect that she really feels she deserves."
- Arya (Maisie Williams): The youngest Stark daughter went on the run following her father's execution. After traveling around Westeros with a recruiter for the Night's Watch, the Brotherhood Without Banners and the Hound, she sailed across the Narrow Sea to Braavos to train with the Faceless Men in the House of Black and White. She has been keeping a notable kill list since the beginning of season two, and was last seen utilizing her faceless skills to avenge the deaths of her mother and brother Robb by slitting the throat of Walder Frey. The brave little girl that liked to play with swords has officially completed her transition into a ruthless assassin.
- Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright): Following his paralysis from the waist down at the hands of the Lannisters in the first episode of the series, the second Stark son began to dream of a three-eyed raven. These visions eventually prompted him to journey from Winterfell to the giant weirwood tree beyond the Wall with the help of Meera and Jojen Reed, along with his trusty servant Hodor. There, he began training with the Three-Eyed Raven himself, an old man living in a tree, honing his time-traveling and warging abilities until he was marked by the Night’s King during a vision. After this incident, the white walkers and their horde of wights destroyed the Three-Eyed Raven and his cave, forcing Bran to take on his mentor's full responsibilities before he was actually ready.
Wright has stated that things aren't "looking great" for his character in season seven, but that he is still making an effort to do what's right. "What Bran is thinking of above anything else is this sense of responsibility and purpose and not just being a kid anymore and doing whatever he wants to do," he said. "Bran has certainly understood that this is out of his control now. He’s a piece on the chessboard that has to make a move, and he hasn’t got any moves."
- Benjen (Joseph Mawle): Long believed dead after disappearing during a Night's Watch ranging expedition beyond the Wall in season one, Ned's younger brother reappeared to rescue Bran and Meera in the sixth episode of season six. He later revealed that he was forever changed after being stabbed by a White Walker and is now unable to travel south of the Wall.
- Eddard "Ned" (Sean Bean): Former head of House Stark, husband of Catelyn, brother of Brandon, Benjen and Lyanna, and father of Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon who was beheaded on orders from Joffrey Baratheon in the ninth episode of season one.
- Catelyn (Michelle Fairley): Wife of Ned, sister of Edmure Tully and Lysa Arryn, and mother of Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon who had her throat slit during the Red Wedding in the ninth episode of season three.
- Lyanna (Aisling Franciosi): Mother of Jon Snow and sister of Brandon, Ned and Benjen who died giving birth to Jon. Viewers saw this occur during a flashback in the tenth episode of season six.
- Robb (Richard Madden): Former King in the North, husband of Talisa, son of Ned and Catelyn, and brother of Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon, who was stabbed in the heart by Roose Bolton during the Red Wedding in the ninth episode of season three.
- Rickon (Art Parkinson): Son of Ned and Catelyn, and brother of Robb, Sansa, Arya and Bran who was shot in the heart with an arrow by Ramsay Bolton in the ninth episode of season six.
Words: "Hear me roar"
Seat: Casterly Rock
Region: The Westerlands
- Cersei (Lena Headey): The only daughter of Tywin and Joanna Lannister was married off to Robert Baratheon following his rebellion against the Targaryens in order to solidify the alliance between the two houses. However, she has only ever truly loved her twin brother Jaime — with whom she has a sexual relationship — and their three children — Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen — who are all now dead. After orchestrating the wildfire explosion that destroyed the Sept of Baelor — and everyone inside — in the season six finale, Cersei became the first Queen to sit on the Iron Throne.
- Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau): Cersei's twin brother has at times tried to change for the better after pushing Bran Stark out of a window in the first episode of the series. Dubbed the Kingslayer for stabbing the Mad King in the back, Jaime was once known as the best swordsman in Westeros. However, since having his hand chopped off in season three, he has had to learn to rely more on his mind than his body to navigate the politics of the seven kingdoms. He was last seen returning from retaking the Riverlands with the Lannister army to find Cersei sitting on the Iron Throne.
- Tyrion (Peter Dinklage): Ostracized for his dwarfism from birth, the youngest Lannister sibling was long mistreated by his family before being wrongly accused of poisoning his nephew Joffrey. After killing his father for sentencing him to death and making the long journey to Meereen, Tyrion finally found a place where he is appreciated for his political savvy — at the side of the Dragon Queen. He was last seen beginning the journey back to Westeros as Daenerys's newly-appointed Hand of the Queen.
- Tywin (Charles Dance): Former head of House Lannister and Hand of the King, husband of Joanna and father of Cersei, Jaime and Tyrion who was shot with a crossbow by Tyrion in the tenth episode of season four.
Sigil: Three-headed dragon
Words: "Fire and blood"
Region: The Crownlands
- Daenerys (Emilia Clarke): Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons is a woman of many titles. The last surviving Targaryen (or so she thinks) has overcome disempowerment at the series' start to become a strong figure. Sold into marriage to Khal Drogo, Daenerys began to harness her strength shortly following his death with the birth of her dragons. But it was only after securing her hold over Slaver's Bay and ending her relationship with sellsword Daario Naharis in the season six finale that she was finally able to begin her journey across the Narrow Sea to retake Westeros alongside Tyrion Lannister, her newly appointed Hand of the Queen. However, it remains to be seen what kind of ruler Dany would be if she ascends the Iron Throne. She has recently begun to exhibit personality traits similar to those of her father, the Mad King, declaring that she will murder her enemies and ruin their cities in order to obtain the control she desires.
- Jon Snow (Kit Harington): Long believed to be the bastard of Ned Stark and a lowborn woman, the former Lord Commander is actually (unbeknownst to him) the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. After being resurrected by Red Priestess Melisandre following his murder at the hands of his Night's Watch brothers, Jon left his post at Castle Black in order to retake Winterfell from Ramsay Bolton with the help of Sansa Stark, the Wildlings and several of the northern houses. He was last seen being named King in the North as winter finally arrived. Jon will presumably continue to struggle with the choice between love and honor that has plagued him since season one. This internal battle has already cost him several members of his family and the only woman he has ever loved, Ygritte, and may factor in heavily to a potential future romance with Daenerys.
- Aerys II "The Mad King" (David Rintoul): Former Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, husband of Rhaella, and father of Rhaegar, Viserys and Daenerys who was stabbed in the back by his Kingsguard Jaime Lannister after ordering his pyromancer to burn the people of King's Landing during a flashback in the sixth episode of season six.
- Rhaegar: Son of Aerys II and Rhaella, brother of Viserys and Daenerys and father of Jon Snow who was killed by Robert Baratheon during Robert's Rebellion before the events of the show began.
- Viserys (Harry Lloyd): Son of Aerys II and Rhaella and brother of Rhaegar and Daenerys who was killed when Khal Drogo poured molten gold on his head after Daenerys deemed him unworthy in the sixth episode of season one.
Words: "Ours is the fury"
Ancestral seat: Storm's End
- Gendry (Joe Dempsie): The bastard son of Robert Baratheon became a close friend and ally of Arya Stark's before he was sold to Melisandre by the Brotherhood Without Banners. He was last seen escaping from Dragonstone in a rowboat in the season three finale, but is one of the few long-lost characters who could still make a reappearance.
- Robert (Mark Addy): Former Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, husband of Cersei, brother of Stannis and Renly and lawful father of Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen who was mortally wounded by a boar in the seventh episode of season one.
- Stannis (Stephen Dillane): Self-proclaimed Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, husband of Selyse, brother of Robert and Renly and father of Shireen, who was beheaded by Brienne of Tarth in the tenth episode of season five.
- Renly (Gethin Anthony): Self-proclaimed Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, husband of Margaery and brother of Robert and Stannis who was stabbed by a shadow demon that bore Stannis's face in the fifth episode of season two.
- Joffrey (Jack Gleeson): Former Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and son of Cersei and Jaime Lannister who was believed to be the son of Cersei and Robert and was poisoned during the Purple Wedding in the second episode of season four.
- Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free): Daughter of Cersei and Jaime Lannister who was believed to be the daughter of Cersei and Robert and was poisoned by Ellaria Sand in the tenth episode of season five.
- Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman): Former Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and son of Cersei and Jaime Lannister who was believed to be the son of Cersei and Robert and committed suicide by jumping out of a window in the tenth episode of season six.
- Shireen (Kerry Ingram): Daughter of Stannis and Selyse who was burned at the stake by Melisandre on orders from her father in the ninth episode of season five.
Sigil: Golden rose
Words: "Growing strong"
Region: The Reach
- Olenna (Diana Rigg): The matriarch of House Tyrell has been the mastermind behind several schemes in King's Landing, including the murder of Joffrey Baratheon during the Purple Wedding. She has now allied herself with the Sand Snakes and Daenerys Targaryen in order to avenge the deaths of her family members in the wildfire explosion at the Sept of Baelor.
- Margaery (Natalie Dormer): Fomer Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, wife of Tommen Baratheon, daughter of Mace and Alerie and sister of Loras. She was burned alive in a wildfire explosion orchestrated by Cersei Lannister in the tenth episode of season six. Dormer later revealed that she had long expected Margaery's fate, calling her onscreen death an "occupational hazard" of being cast in Thrones.
- Loras (Finn Jones): Son of Mace and Alerie and brother of Margaery who was burned alive in a wildfire explosion orchestrated by Cersei Lannister in the tenth episode of season six.
- Mace (Roger Ashton-Griffiths): Former Head of House Tyrell, son of Luthor and Olenna, and father of Loras and Margaery. He was burned alive in a wildfire explosion orchestrated by Cersei Lannister in the tenth episode of season six.
Words: "We do not sow"
Region: Iron Islands
- Theon (Alfie Allen): The youngest Greyjoy grew up a ward of Ned Stark, but betrayed the family who raised him when he wrested control of Winterfell from them in order to earn the respect of his father Balon. However, he was quickly betrayed in turn by his own men and handed over to Ramsay Bolton. After years of physical and mental torture, Theon was eventually able to escape Ramsay alongside Sansa Stark and returned to the Iron Islands to join forces with his sister Yara. He was last seen sailing across the Narrow Sea to retake Westeros with Daenerys Targaryen after Yara and the Mother of Dragons forged an alliance.
- Yara (Gemma Whelan): The only Greyjoy daughter was raised as a true Ironborn by her father Balon to compensate for the absence of his three sons. After losing the Kingsmoot to her Uncle Euron, Yara set sail for Meereen where she was able to quickly form an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen. She secured her claim to the Iron Islands by agreeing to help Dany take back Westeros.
- Euron (Pilou Asbaek): The new King of the Iron Islands was intent on convincing Daenerys to accept his offer of marriage in exchange for the use of the Iron Fleet during her proposed takeover of Westeros. However, his niece and nephew (Yara and Theon) got to the Mother of Dragons first.
- Balon (Patrick Malahide): Former King of the Iron Islands, husband of Alannys, brother of Euron and father of Rodrik, Maron, Yara and Theon who was thrown from a bridge by Euron in the second episode of season six.