When the Emmy-winning fifth season of HBO's Game Of Thrones ended, absolutely nobody had any idea what to expect when the show returned in 2016 for Season 6: the show had officially caught up to George R.R. Martin's source material, which means that going forward, Thrones could either be spoiling Martin's future novels or blazing its own path — either way, there's a big question mark hanging in the air for the first time in the show's history. But now, as the Season 6 premiere approaches, we're all starting to finally get a sense of the shape of the season, and teases of what to expect… teases like the ones provided by Entertainment Weekly's gorgeous new portraits of the women of Game Of Thrones.
If these portraits — and their corresponding magazine covers — are any indication, then Season 6 will be the Year of the Women. (Or Dame Of Thrones, as EW affectionately dubbed it.) It's true that a disproportionate number of male characters seemed to die last season: Mance Rayder, Barristan Selmy, Mossador, Janos Slynt, Maester Aemon, Hizdahr Zo Loraq, Stannis Baratheon, Meryn Trant, and Jon Snow — and that's just to name a few. Yes, some female characters died as well (RIP, Shireen and Myrcella)… but heading into Season 6, there seems to be an unprecedented opportunity for the women to come to the fore and make badass power grabs.
So, what can we glean from these portraits? Firstly, it's important to remember that these are just publicity photos shot for a magazine and not actually spoiler-filled stills from the upcoming season. But, since we're all so thirsty for Thrones, of course we're gonna over-analyze the heck out of them anyway.
(Warning: some book spoilers ahead!)
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams)
Arya is one of the rare characters on the show that still has book storylines to adapt. Season 5 ended similarly to Arya's last chapter in A Feast For Crows, with the young assassin-in-training going blind. She still has all three of her A Dance With Dragons chapters left to cover, which means we could soon see Arya regain her sight and be given her first official assassination assignment. This image, of a clear-eyed Arya grasping her sword, seems to foreshadow that particular development.
Brienne Of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie)
Thrones has so many characters that, naturally, some of them will get less focus than others during any given episode. For Brienne, that "less focus" lasted pretty much the entirety of Season 5, which sidelined the character to stand in a forest waiting for a signal… only to miss that signal at literally the last second, preferring to decapitate Stannis Baratheon instead. Hopefully, the show will fulfill the promise made by this portrait and get Brienne back into ass-kicking action mode in Season 6.
Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey)
Of course, the hair that was shorn from Cersei's head for her humiliating Walk of Shame has grown back into a pixie cut; this has the (intended?) side effect of making her look a lot more related to her twin brother Jaime than ever before, which will just increase the creepy factor the next time these two incestuous lovers get together. Headey already teased that the Cersei/Jaime relationship would hit a new level of weird in Season 6.
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)
The last time we saw Dany, she was stranded in the wilderness and surrounded by hordes of Dothraki. It's interesting, then, that this portrait shows the Khaleesi so isolated (you can't even tell where she's standing, unlike the other images in the series) and so regal-looking. No wilderness, no Dothraki hordes; just a beautiful cloak that's fanning behind — sort of like she's flying, no? Is this a hint that she'll soon escape her captivity and finally ride one of her dragons in battle as we've been anticipating for so long?
Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer)
Season 5 ended with Margaery still rotting away in the prison of the High Sparrow, having been arrested for perjuring herself in the trial of her brother, Loras. But, as opposed to the bedraggled and imprisoned queen we saw last, this Margaery looks freshly washed, composed, and ready to manipulate her way back into a position of power. The portrait is deliberately framed to show the character in a wide open space on what looks like a shore with mountains in the far distance — a stark contrast to the confines of her jail cell.
Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner)
Now this one's interesting. Here we see Sansa wearing the exact same outfit — distinctive necklace, winged shoulder pads, and all — that she wore in her last appearance in Season 4, when the show promised us a new Sansa, one savvy in the ways of the world and ready to become an active participant in the game of thrones. Season 5 seemed to backtrack on that promise a bit, marrying her off to Ramsay Bolton and once more having her revert to someone waiting to be rescued. Could the resurrection of this memorable outfit hint that the writers are finally going to fulfill the promise they made in Season 4?
The Starks Vs. The Queens
Here we have a very clear division: the Starks (Arya, Sansa, and their sworn protector) versus the Queens (Tommen's bride, her mother-in-law, and the Breaker of Chains). Do these groupings hint that we'll be seeing these characters share the screen in Season 6? We know that Sansa and Brienne are near each other; but Arya is all the way across the Narrow Sea in Braavos. Will this be the season that the Stark sisters finally reunite for the first time since Season 1? Similarly, we know that Cersei and Margaery will share screen time since they're both located in King's Landing, but Daenerys is also across the Narrow Sea in the Dothraki Sea. Will this be the season that the Mother of Dragons finally makes her way to Westeros?
The caption here is also intriguing: "All hail the queens." But every character here is not a queen… yet. Is the fact that EW is referring to them all as "queens" something of a spoiler? Will Sansa be crowned the Queen in the North in defiance of the Bolton's reign of terror, echoing her brother Robb's brief reign as the King in the North? It seems unlikely that Arya could become a literal queen anytime soon — but could she disguise herself as one to commit some high-profile assassination? And what about Brienne? I suppose she did slay a king in the Season 5 finale. Does that make her an honorary queen?
Will Sansa become Queen in the North? Will Daenerys finally invade Westeros? Will Cersei and Margaery finish each other off in some epic battle royale for the queenship? We'll find out when Game Of Thrones Season 6 premieres on Sunday, April 24!