Warning: This article contains SPOILERS
Season six of Game Of Thrones is set to premiere at the end of April, and while there's always excitement for a new season of HBO's hit show, this year feels a little bit different. That's because, as has been written about extensively, author George R.R. Martin failed to publish the next novel in the series before season six was filmed (and indeed there's still no word on when the book will be out). And because season five more or less caught up to most of the plot lines in the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, season six will mark the first time we've seen HBO plowing ahead without the books to guide them.
Most fans always knew this was going to be the case. Martin is a notoriously slow writer (which of course is his right, particularly given the amount of detail he packs into this series), and HBO isn't about to put the show on hiatus just to let the books roll out. There have been various, vague indications that the show runners have been let in on certain storylines that Martin intends to write. But it certainly sounds like the books and the show will diverge at least to some extent this season.
But how will they diverge? Well, we'll begin to find out at the end of April. In the meantime, however, it doesn't hurt to speculate! Here are five ways the new season may well branch off from the books and Martin's plans moving forward.
1. Stannis Baratheon May Be Dead
Stannis Baratheon was dealt a crushing defeat toward the end of season five of the show. The last time we saw him he was sitting wounded against a tree as he was confronted by Brienne of Tarth. Seeking to avenge her beloved Renly, Brienne appeared to finish Stannis off (and Stannis appeared to accept his fate). But as the sword swung and thudded, the scene cut away; she could well have simply swung it into the tree and decided to spare him.
By contrast, the books simply mentioned the defeat of Stannis's army, but not the confrontation with Brienne. In response to fans wondering about the rightful king's fate, Martin has confirmed that Stannis is still meant to be alive in the books. However, David Nutter (who directed the episode featuring the incident with Brienne) has said that Stannis is meant to have been killed in the show. However, this could always be misdirection and for now we just don't know. If Stannis is dead it's a pretty serious departure for the show.
Aegon Might Not Exist
Let's get one thing straight: GoT fans love Targaryen lore. The idea of an ancient, but extinct, line of kings who rode dragons and ruled the land with an iron grip is simply fascinating, particularly when there are still stray descendants sprinkled around the land. A gamers' blog even suggested that Targaryen subplots and prequel tales would make good additions to the popular Game Of Thrones-based Telltale Games series, despite the fact that such tales don't exist in literature or on TV yet. It's a popular concept.
And yet it appears that the show is ready to cut out one of the few Targaryen subplots we do have. In A Dance With Dragons it was revealed that a boy named Young Griff was actually a Targaryen in hiding - specifically Aegon, son of Rhaegar and nephew to Daenerys. Supported by Varys and directed by Tyrion to start conquering Westeros to win Daenerys's respect, Aegon is leading a suspenseful story that hasn't yet been fleshed out by Martin. But all indications are that no one has been cast in such a role for season six on TV.
Cersei Might Go Wild
Let's remember one thing before we get into this one: the Lannister credo is among the most ominous in Westeros, as well as one of the most popularly quoted. Any fan of the books or show can reference it, and indeed it's even been used as the backdrop for a GoT-based slot gaming experience. Game Of Thrones Slots is described via the phrase "although the Baratheons award the most, a Lannister pays his debts." In that case it's a play on money earned and owed in a casino gaming format - in the show, however, it refers to vengeance.
The question isn't whether or not Cersei has some "debts" to pay. Rather, it's how ballistic she's going to go. At the end of A Dance With Dragons, Cersei seemed somewhat crippled, back with her support system and undoubtedly fuming, but weakened. In the show, however, while the same is true, we could already see the fire burning in Lena Headey's eyes. And there's one more key detail: in the show, her daughter Myrcella has been murdered (and she doesn't even know it yet). If she finds out this season we could see a full-on tyrannical rampage, whereas in the books Myrcella's fate is a little murky at this point.
Theon May Find Redemption A Different Way
At the end of season five, we saw Theon Greyjoy overcome his psychological ruin to do the right thing and help Sansa escape Winterfell. It looked vaguely like a suicide (which under the circumstances would qualify as a kind of escape), though every indication is that we'll soon find out they survived the fall.
Where we last saw Theon in the books, there were hints of a more personal brand of redemption. He was essentially pulled out of his personal hell when he heard Bran's voice reaching out to him in the Winterfell Godswood. The only thing that seems certain is that at least on some level Theon will redeem his unforgivable actions. But it looks like it's going to happen very differently in the books and show.
And Then There's Jon Snow
I'll put it this way: we have no idea if Jon is alive (or how he's alive) in the show or the books. We know that Kit Harington will be present in season six, and it's begun to seem inevitable that he's either been brought back to life or that he somehow didn't die when we watched quarts of blood spill out of his body and onto the snow. In the books, it's perhaps even more difficult to predict his fate because we couldn't see the stabbing happening and there's no Kit Harrington on set rumor for books. But given how much the show and the books are straying from one another it feels pretty likely that the Snow saga will be handled in different ways.