By Eric Dodds
June 5, 2015

Warning: Spoilers from the first five seasons of Game of Thrones to follow.

Over the course of its first four seasons, Game of Thrones has earned a reputation for penultimate episodes characterized by shocking twists, epic battles and buckets of blood. In the first season, honest Ned Stark lost his head. In the second, Stannis Baratheon unsuccessfully laid siege to King’s Landing. The third season’s second-to-last episode gave us the Red Wedding, and last season’s ninth-hour told the story of the battle at Castle Black between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings. Those four episodes are often counted amongst the show’s best—so it’s little wonder that expectations for Sunday’s season-five penultimate offering, “The Dance of Dragons,” are reaching lofty heights.

Compounding those expectations are the developments of last week’s “Hardhome.” After a couple of lackluster offerings from this season’s fifth and sixth hours, “Hardhome” proved a genuine turning point for Season 5. In addition to the battle at the episode’s eponymous location north of the Wall, the conversations between Daenerys and Tyrion proved well worth the long wait. It seems unlikely that “The Dance of Dragons” will spend all of its time in Meereen with so many plot-lines requiring a bit of closure, but the title does suggest that audiences won’t need to wait until the season finale to find out how the new Lannister-Targaryen partnership is working out.

Exactly what we’ll see, however, is anyone’s guess. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have developed a pattern of alternating between the shocking (Ned Stark’s beheading in Season 1, the “Red Wedding” in Season 3) and the grandiose (the “Battle of the Blackwater” in Season 2, the “Battle of Castle Black” in Season 4), so it’s a decent bet that many amateur Game of Thrones prognosticators will be betting on the former for “The Dance of the Dragons.”

The emphasis on those penultimate episodes has proved an effective strategy for Benioff and Weiss. Though the show fills its seasons with blood and surprises, saving the biggest moments for the second-to-last hour enables the duo to move all their many, many chess pieces into the necessary positions. Then in the finale, they can begin to deal with the fallout of whatever bloodletting took place in the previous hour while wrapping up other storylines that hadn’t been given as much attention.

Without getting too much into the specifics, here’s a non-spoiler preview of what we could see on Sunday night:

  • As mentioned above, the episode’s title is “The Dance of the Dragons,” so there’s little doubt we’ll be back in Meereen. Sooner or later, there’s going to be a payoff for the much-teased tournament in Meereen’s greatest fighting pit. Jorah Mormont certainly plans on being there, though whether he can overcome the other competitors, his own developing greyscale and the fact that he’ll have disobeyed Daenerys twice is far less assured.
  • Arya is supposed to learn all she can about a shady Braavosi insurance agent and then kill him. What could possibly go wrong?
  • Jaime and Bronn are still—as far as we know—in Dorne. Surely something productive will have to come out of that storyline, even if it involves someone losing their head in an untimely fashion.
  • Speaking of imperiled Lannisters, Cersei remains imprisoned by the High Sparrow. Both she and Margaery have trials upcoming that seem like they may be no more fair than the one Tyrion received last season.
  • Lady Melisandre wants to kill Shireen so Stannis can defeat Roose Bolton and take Winterfell. If only she could use Ramsay instead.
  • Will Varys ever realize that Tyrion is no longer in that Volantis brothel?

“The Dance of the Dragons” airs Sunday night at 9 p.m. E.T. on HBO.

Read next: Here’s Game of Thrones as an Episode of Seinfeld

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