Tuesday 24 April 2018

The Ultimate Game of Thrones Refresher - read up on seasons one to six

With season seven nearly upon us, Ed Power gives us the ultimate Thrones recap. From flying dragons and secret deals to bloody deaths - we've seen it all

Iron Crown: Cersei is the self-proclaimed Queen of the Seven Kingdoms
Iron Crown: Cersei is the self-proclaimed Queen of the Seven Kingdoms
Ed Power

Ed Power

Season seven of Game of Thrones is fast approaching, like an invading armada flanked by huge CGI dragons. Will Daenerys Targaryen sweep all before her when she and her fire-breathing brood finally - finally! - set foot / claw on Westeros? Has Cersei Lannister truly gone full Mad Queen? Will Jon Snow ever cheer up?

But even hardcore GoT fans may struggle to recall the state of play on the vast chessboard that is the Seven Kingdoms. Ahead of the premiere, we're bringing you a season-by-season breakdown to rule them all.

Season one: enter the dragon lady - Lord of Winterfell Ned Stark is presented with a career opportunity when "Hand of the King" Jon Arryn dies in mysterious circumstances. Ned's old friend, King Robert Baratheon, offers him the job, arriving with his loathsome extended family: Queen Cersei of the powerful House Lannister, her twin Jaime and their sibling Tyrion. Most unpleasant of all is Robert's heir Joffrey, who could not be more different from that of the garrulous, profane Robert (it's almost as if they are not related…).

Still, if things are bad for Ned, they are worse for his son Bran. Climbing a tower, he happens upon Cersei canoodling with Jaime - yes, her twin! "The things I do for love," sighs Jaime, shoving Bran out the window.

Somehow the boy survives - albeit crippled for life. Ned, meanwhile, sets off for King's Landing with his daughters Sansa and feisty little Arya. Ned's "bastard" son Jon Snow also leaves to join the semi-monastic Night's Watch. Jon knows nothing of his mother and Ned vows to at last share the truth when next they meet (yes, one of them dies).

Robert soon dies, his wife having apparently drugged his wine, just as Ned has discovered that Joffrey isn't Robert's biological son. Confronted, Cersei admits Jaime is the father of all her children. But naive Ned is arrested for treachery and executed - in view of daughters Sansa (now betrothed to loathsome Joffrey) and Arya, who flees.

Across the Narrow Sea, Princess Daenerys Targaryen is married off to barbarian warlord Khal Drogo. She surprises herself by taking to the life of a Khal's wife, until he sustains fatal wounds in battle. Into his funeral bonfire she steps with the three dragon eggs she received as a wedding gift. She emerges unharmed, while the eggs have hatched into baby dragons.

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Season two: the imp steps up - With Joffrey king, Westeros is gripped by rebellion. Ned's eldest son Robb has declared war, taking prisoner Jaime Lannister. Likewise intent on unseating Joffrey is Robert Baratheon's brother Stannis, who is convinced he is marked for greatness by the "Lord of Light" - a pagan deity demanding human sacrifice. Anyone daring speak against him is likely to end up subjected to impromptu barbecuing by his supernatural counsellor Melisandre.

Robb sends childhood chum Theon Greyjoy to his maritime home, but rather than rallying to the Stark banner, he seizes Winterfell. Bran is forced to flee north with Hodor.Elsewhere, Jaime is escorted to King's Landing by Brienne of Tarth in the hope of securing the release of Sansa and Arya, while Jon is kidnapped north of the Wall by the Wildling Ygritte - cue tragic love affair.

In King's Landing, Stannis's invasion fleet is in view. With Joffrey in charge, everyone expects the worst, but Tyrion repels Stannis's forces with explosive wildfire. It's enough to keep the enemies at bay until his evil father Tywin Lannister gallops to the rescue.

Season three: "The Lannisters send their regards" - Having saved King's Landing from Stannis, Tyrion is demoted by his disapproving father. Renly's widow, Margaery Tyrell, has displaced Sansa as Joffrey's betrothed, while Sansa, by Tywin's orders, is married off to the reluctant Tyrion.

Things are going even less well for Theon, who has fallen into the clutches of a mysterious torturer. However, the true losers this season are Robb and his mother Catelyn. Robb backs out of an arranged marriage to Roslin, daughter of his ally Lord Walder Frey. She will instead be hitched to Edmure Tully - and the Starks are invited!

Thus the table is set for the notorious Red Wedding. The Freys and Boltons, striking a secret deal on Tywin Lannister, turn on the Starks, killing Catelyn, Robb and Robb's pregnant intended. "The Lannisters send their regards," snarls Roose Bolton as he stabs her in the womb.

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Season four: Joffrey eats humble pie - Oberyn Martell, prince of Dorne, arrives in King's Landing for the marriage of Joffrey and Margaery. But Joffrey is soon poisoned and topples to his death. Also exiting King's Landing is Sansa, smuggled to freedom by slippery Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish and Margaery's wily grandmother Lady Olenna Tyrell. We will later discover they conspired to kill Joffrey, so sparing Margaery.

Tyrion is accused of assassinating Joffrey, and his fate is to be decided with trial by combat. However, his champion Oberyn is cut down by the "Mountain" Gregor Clegane. Later, Jaime releases Tyrion who finds his lover Shae has been canoodling with his father. He shoots Tywin on the latrine and flees Westeros.

Season five: the Night's King shows his hand - With Joffrey dead, Margaery marries his younger brother Tommen. A disgusted Cersei strikes an alliance with the leader of the Sparrows, an evangelical cult, but her clever plan is foiled once whisperings of her relationship with Jaime reach the High Sparrow, and she is forced to undertake a naked Walk of Shame.

As part of Littlefinger's scheme to restore a Stark to Winterfell, Sansa is married off to Ramsay Bolton. She is brutally abused by Ramsay on her wedding night, while Theon (his broken plaything) is forced to watch. Her sister Arya is accepted into the mysterious House of Black and White, but is struck blind as punishment for murdering Ser Meryn Trant.

Heavy snow threatens Stannis' war against Ramsay, and he is urged by Melisandre to sacrifice daughter Shireen to the Lord of Light. He reluctantly complies but is deserted by his troops and slain by Brienne.

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Jon Snow is elected leader of the Night's Watch, to the disapproval of the senior members of the order and in the season's shocking denouement, he is killed by the Watch as revenge for his traitorous alliance with the Free Folk.

Meanwhile, Daenerys's hold on the city of Meereen slips when the Sons of the Harpy stage an ambush. She is rescued by her dragon Drogon and swept away to destination unknown. Her new adviser Tyrion will rule in her stead.

Season six: the bastards battle - Jon Snow is dead! But only until Melisandre brings him back. Thus begins the war of the Bastards, with Jon intent on wresting Winterfell back from Ramsay Bolton. As a final conflict between the two approaches, Sansa travels to the Wall where she is reunited with her half-brother.

Cersei isn't quite off the hook. She must now stand trial for her crimes, and all but one of her children is dead.

Daenerys is having a testing time, too, as prisoner of the Dothraki. She scorches her opponents alive and, walking unharmed through the flames becomes leader of the Dothraki. She returns with Drogon to Meereen, where Tyrion has brought an uneasy peace. Meanwhile Theon and Yara Greyjoy have stolen the Iron Islands from beneath the exceedingly wicked nose of usurper Euron Greyjoy. Fleeing to Essos, they strike an alliance with Daenerys.

In the North, the Battle of the Bastards begins as Ramsay clashes with Jon (but not before Ramsay shoots dead the youngest Stark sibling, Rickon). Just as the tide appears to have turned in favour of Ramsay, in rushes Petyr Baelish and the Knights of the Vale who carry the day. Hurrah! Or, as Ramsay might put it, "aargh!" as he is fed to his own dogs by a very vengeful Sansa.

In Essos, Arya regains her sight and is eventually shown the door by Jaqen - who intimates her training may be complete. We next see her, in shape-shifting form, cutting the throat of Red Wedding planner Walder Frey.

In a mystical cave, Bran studies with the "Three-Eyed Raven" and experiences time-traveling visions. We learn Jon Snow is the child of Ned's tragic sister Lyanna, but the identity of his father is not revealed. Unfortunately, Bran's training is interrupted by the Night King who kills the Three-Eyed Raven, and Hodor sacrifices himself so that Bran may escape.

Cersei eludes a similar fate by blowing up the Great Sept with some of that leftover wildfire, thus eliminating every rival power player - including Margaery, the High Sparrow and her uncle Kevan (appalled, Tommen jumps from a window). With the Iron Crown upon her head, does the Game of Thrones at last have a winner?

Game of Thrones season 7 begins on July 17, on Sky Atlantic and Now TV

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