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Game of Thrones season 6: everything you need to know to watch the premiere

Some characters are dead! Others are on the run! Others seek revenge! It's another season of TV's biggest show.

Game of Thrones
Good things come to those who wait, Dany.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Game of Thrones returns for its sixth season (out of what's expected to be eight total) at 9 pm Eastern Sunday April 24 on HBO.

The show has been such a huge success that it's covering up a bunch of other problems with HBO's drama development. Season five was its highest-rated season yet. It won the show its first Best Drama Series Emmy and broke the record for most Emmys won by a single TV series in a year.

In short, it's on top of the world, and everybody else is far below, sort of gawking at it.

But maybe you need to get caught up in time for the premiere. Maybe, in fact, you completely forgot everything about where events in the series stand. After all, the season five finale aired way back in June of 2015. It would be only natural for some confusion to set in. (If you just haven't seen the series, period, well, we have you covered there, too. But maybe don't read the rest of this article. It will just spoil you.)

So if you need a refresher, or if you're going to start watching the show with the sixth season premiere (why not?), here are the seven things you need to know about season six of Game of Thrones.

1) Jon Snow is dead (but probably not for long)

Game of Thrones
Jon Snow's body lies a-mouldering in the grave.

The last shot of "Mother's Mercy," the season five finale, was a long push in on Jon's face, look of astonishment frozen on it, as blood pooled around him. Night's Watch traitors had stabbed him, repeatedly, and he was well and truly dead.

This is seemingly significant. Jon seemed like one of the series' most pure-hearted heroes, the guy who just might stand up for what's right in the coming battle with the White Walkers (who are basically ice zombies that are coming to lay waste to the land of the Seven Kingdoms, where most of the story is set). Instead, here he is, dead, on a series where dead usually means dead.

And many of the show's creative personnel have spent the time between seasons trying to convince not-wholly-persuaded fans that, yes, Jon is dead, and we should be sad. But, for the most part, they stop just short of saying he's never coming back. See, Jon is dead; the question is whether he'll be resurrected.

Plus, Game of Thrones has left itself some resurrection-shaped loopholes here and there, and it would seem almost everybody in the viewership expects the show to avail itself of at least one of those loopholes, if not several of them. For more on how Game of Thrones might bring Jon back to life, you should read Vox's Andrew Prokop.

But if you don't particularly care one way or the other, all you need to know to start the season is that Jon Snow is dead, and things look bleak for his allies up at the Wall.

2) Stannis is dead (almost certainly), thanks to Brienne

Game of Thrones
Brienne takes care of some unfinished business.

The fifth season of Game of Thrones was an odd one, filled with some of the show's best moments, stacked right alongside some of its worst ones.

But by far the weirdest thing about it was the way the series, having caught up to the books that inspired it, was forced to suddenly start vamping for time. Around its midseason, it brought the brave warrior Brienne to the once-hallowed halls of Winterfell, where Sansa Stark awaited rescue.

Meanwhile, Stannis Baratheon, who held a claim to the throne of the Seven Kingdoms, vowed to march on Winterfell and liberate it from the Boltons, who were holding both it and the captive Sansa (who'd been wed to the monstrous Ramsay Bolton in one of the season's most horrible plot developments). Brienne had previously sworn revenge against Stannis, who killed the man she once pledged fealty to long ago.

Rife with drama, right? Well, because the books were frozen in place around plot developments that were vaguely similar but involved different characters, the back half of season five involved a lot of waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Until the season finale! When Brienne killed Stannis. Some people think she didn't do so, but it seems pretty clear he's no longer with us. And as for Sansa…

3) Sansa just escaped, with Theon… er… Reek at her side

Game of Thrones
Theon and Sansa are on the run from Ramsay.

After enduring rape, assault, and psychological torment at the hands of Ramsay Bolton, Sansa seized her opportunity to escape Winterfell at the side of Theon Greyjoy. She grew up alongside Theon, but he was the one who betrayed the Starks and overthrew Winterfell in the first place, because Seven Kingdoms politics are stupid complicated.

Anyway, Theon was long ago tortured and reduced to calling himself a mumbling servant known as "Reek," because Ramsay is seriously the most odious character on a show full of odious characters. (Even the villainous young King Joffrey was occasionally kind of funny; not so for Ramsay.) So when Theon finally broke from his brainwashing to escape alongside Sansa, it was a vaguely triumphant moment.

The two escaped Winterfell by leaping from a very tall wall. I guess this was technically a cliffhanger, but the good kind, where you don't wonder if they'll survive (because, c'mon, they will) but, rather, how their new circumstances will change them.

4) Arya Stark, meanwhile, is going through assassin training and just went blind

Game of Thrones
Arya has been struck blind.

Game of Thrones has never been a small series, but season five was maybe its most sprawling yet, offering up whole plot lines that seemingly had absolutely nothing to do with the story's main thrust back in the Seven Kingdoms. (Even Dany's adventures with her dragons ostensibly tie into her hope to one day return to the Seven Kingdoms and rule.)

Such a story is Arya Stark's training to become an assassin in the city of Braavos with the Faceless Men. Pretty much the only thing holding this together is that Maisie Williams, the actress who plays Arya, is astonishingly talented.

For the most part, Arya's storyline in season five consisted of her being told she needed to forget her old life by her mentor Jaqen H'ghar, refusing to forget her old life, then being punished for it. Rinse. Repeat.

In the finale, though, Arya killed Ser Meryn Trant, who killed her teacher Syrio Forel (or so we assume) way back in season one, and, in so doing, she revealed her true identity. This going against the whole "forget your old life" thing (and also going against the Faceless Men's creed of only killing those whose time it is to die, which, sure), Arya is punished heavily this time and struck blind.

This is one of the few storylines in which book readers are still ahead of TV show viewers. If you haven't read the books, avoid those who may be desperate to spoil you.

5) Daenerys is off in the middle of nowhere, thanks to one of those damn dragons

Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones
Daenerys, alone.

Daenerys found herself in mortal peril at the end of season five's ninth episode, the forces who longed to overthrow her rule of the city of Meereen having cornered her in an arena, where they planned to kill her.

What they didn't count on was the fact that Daenerys is mother of three dragons (sort of literally, too). Though two of those dragons are locked up, the third was free, and it swept in to save its mother at the last moment. She flew off on its back into the wilderness.

Except the dragon, not being a tremendous strategist, just flew Dany off to an unknown part of the massive continent she's been sequestered on since the series' beginning, far away from the main action in the Seven Kingdoms. She was promptly surrounded by a bunch of Dothraki, the nomadic people she married into way back in season one. (Her husband died, and her Dothraki connection withered after that.)

Incidentally, if you're wondering where Tyrion Lannister, the show's most popular character, is, he's off in Meereen, where he had been (quite entertainingly) advising Dany. Now, he's sent others off in search of her while he tries to hold the city together through whatever means necessary.

At least he's hanging out with Varys again. Tyrion and Varys scenes are always great.

6) Jaime and Cersei both have ample reason for revenge

Game of Thrones
Jaime and Cersei are ready to kill everybody in the world.

One of the key differences between the books and the TV series is that the TV show long ago realized the bitter, scheming Lannisters deserved to be at its center, in the grand tradition of primetime soaps built around the truly despicable. So as the series has heaped punishment on the characters, it's not hard to be a little excited for whatever punishment they dish back to their tormentors.

Take, for instance, Jaime Lannister, who traveled all the way to the Southern kingdom of Dorne to rescue his daughter, Myrcella. This was by far the most pointless storyline of the entire series so far, stuck in a rut from the word go and ultimately defeated by the fact that, hey, Myrcella died almost immediately after Jaime rescued her. So, yeah, he'll want revenge for that, but I'm just hoping whatever he does this season is interesting.

His twin sister (and lover) Cersei, meanwhile, has a much juicier storyline. Having conspired to install religious zealots in positions of power to consolidate her authority and isolate the influence of Queen Margaery (Cersei's son is technically the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, but he listens to either his mom or his wife Margaery on everything), she soon found herself overthrown by said zealots, who effectively took over the kingdom.

After she was found guilty and forced to walk, naked, through a sea of Seven Kingdoms residents jeering her and throwing shit (literally) in her face, Cersei was more or less freed to do as she pleased. And this being Cersei, "as she pleased" will undoubtedly involve having her revenge.

Here is where I mention that her mad scientist Qyburn just resurrected the corpse of the gigantic knight known as The Mountain. Cersei and Frankenstein's monster against the world? Yes, please.

7) Remember Bran? He's back!

Game of Thrones
Look everyone! It's Bran! And he's brought Max Von Sydow with him!

Game of Thrones has so much going on that it put an entire storyline on hold for the whole of its fifth season.

Yes, we haven't seen young, paralyzed Bran since the end of season four, when he finally made his way up to an ancient tree in the far north, where the world's magic is more potent. There, he met a man who promised him that while he wouldn't walk again, he would fly, and fans have been waiting to find out what's next ever since.

Okay, "waiting" might be a strong word, given that Bran's storyline (on screen and on the page) has been sort of stalled for a while now. But at least he hangs out with the charming Hodor, he who says only his own name for all of his dialogue.

And now that he's finally made his way to a place where he can be trained in the mystical arts, he'll presumably get a whole lot more interesting in rapid fashion. The series has been ramping up its fantastical elements slowly and steadily since the end of season one, and Bran might be the magic user this show's incipient Dungeons & Dragons party has been waiting for.

Plus, it's another story where book readers won't have the slightest clue what's about to happen. In the end, this might be the best thing to happen to Game of Thrones. Not particularly held back by its source material any more, it can hopefully go back to soaring.

Game of Thrones season six premieres Sunday, April 24, at 9 pm Eastern on HBO.

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