Cue the “Winter is Coming” headlines: HBO’s hit high-fantasy drama Game of Thrones is back this Sunday, and speculation about the infamously unpredictable show has reached a fever pitch. Based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, the show’s massive cast, byzantine plot, and out-of-nowhere plot twists leave plenty of room for speculation. To help readers find their way through the rumor mill, we’ve compiled everything we know about Season 3, from chronology to guest stars to its soundtrack. Read on for a sneak peek at what lies ahead, and diehard fans be warned: there are a few minor spoilers.
It Will Follow the Books’ Chronology Closely (But Not Too Closely)
The show’s co-creators, co-executive producers, and co-showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have stuck to a one-book, one-season formula thus far, but since A Storm of Swords, the third book in A Song of Ice and Fire, is the longest and most action-packed yet, it’s split between Seasons 3 and 4 of Game of Thrones. That means Season 3 covers approximately the first half of A Storm of Swords, although Benioff and Weiss told Entertainment Weekly last year that each season is “really a continuation of our adaptation of the series as a whole,” meaning “moving some stuff forward helps a lot and moving some stuff back helps a lot.” Viewers who’ve read the books know that a few scenes at the end of last season, such as the finale’s excellent pairing-up of Jaime and Brienne, were taken from A Storm of Swords. As for Season 3, the most important change of timeline is the inclusion of what may be the series’ most shocking scene, which Benioff and Weiss have cited as one of the reasons they chose to adapt the books in the first place. We won’t give any spoilers, but suffice it to say that Game of Thrones won’t be losing its reputation for plot twists and bloodshed anytime soon.
Ditto the Plot. (Spoiler Warning!)
Beginning with Season 2, Benioff and Weiss began playing faster and looser with Martin’s account of Westeros than the largely by-the-book Season 1. There were invented subplots, like the awesome, tense relationship between a disguised Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister, as well as the entirely new character of Talisa, Robb Stark’s new bride. It looks like Season 3 will be no different: although Benioff, Weiss, and Martin have been relatively tight-lipped, Martin announced at a panel that “as bloodthirsty as I am in killing characters, David and Dan are killing some characters who are still alive in the books! Their body count is higher than mine.” As for more specific clues about what’s ahead, Entertainment Weekly offered a few in their cover story on the show last month: Jaime is still stuck with Brienne and will go through some major character changes (such as, um, getting “tricked into drinking horse urine”); Arya will move around more and encounter plenty of new faces, not to mention magic; and the love-to-hate-him Joffrey attempts to put the moves on his fiance, Margaery. Sansa will go through an “emotional roller coaster,” including (spoiler alert!) her own wedding. The Starks just can’t catch a break, can they?
The Huge Cast Is About to Get Even Bigger
Game of Thrones may be notorious for killing off cast members, but Season 3 begins to make up for some of Season 2′s most upsetting deaths (RIP, Renly Baratheon) with a whole slew of new characters. Keeping spoilers to a minimum, some of the most important new faces include Tobias Menzies, a veteran of dearly departed HBO drama Rome, as Catelyn Stark’s older brother; seasoned actress Diana Rigg as queen-to-be Margaery Tyrell’s grandmother, Olenna; and Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder, self-styled king of the wildlings and, as of the Season 2 finale, Jon Snow’s captor. Most mysteriously, Misfits alum Iwan Rheon has been cast as the descriptively named “Boy.” It’s not clear who his character is, but given the actor’s cult following from the British supernatural teen drama, it’s probably a more central role than the title lets on. In addition to these more central roles, there will be cameos from British soft rockers Will Champion (Coldplay) and Gary Lightbody (Snow Patrol). Disappointingly, rumors of a cameo from George R.R. Martin have been greatly exaggerated, although a guest appearance is in the works for an as-yet-unconfirmed Season 4.
George R. R. Martin Will Be Writing Another Episode
Continuing a trend from the first two seasons, Season 3 will feature an episode written by the author of A Song of Ice and Fire himself, George R.R. Martin. A former television writer whose credits include nearly a half-dozen episodes of The Twilight Zone, Martin has written some of Game of Thrones’s most action-packed episodes to date: Season 1’s “The Pointy End” showed Robb Stark starting a rebellion and began the series of events that would lead to the death of his father, Ned, while Season 2’s “Blackwater” featured a knockout, explosion-heavy battle scene, plus a very drunk, very terrifying Cersei Lannister. Interestingly, Martin admitted at an event this week that he hasn’t seen the episode yet, or any of Season 3 beyond the premiere, and that the episode contains some scenes written by Benioff and Weiss rather than Martin himself.
The Hold Steady Will Be This Season’s Musical Guest Stars
After building up its indie cred last season by having the National bring the foreboding “The Rains of Castamere” to life, Season 3′s musical guest spot will be a more lighthearted tune from Brooklyn rockers the Hold Steady. It’s called “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” and fans can reasonably assume the track will debut during the episode of the same title, which happens to be the one written by Martin himself. Like “The Rains of Castamere” — which premiered during the end credits of Season 2’s “Blackwater,” also written by Martin, and is featured prominently in teasers for Season 3 — “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is adapted from a song that appears regularly in the books, a dirty, rowdy drinking song about a romance between, you guessed it, a bear and a maiden fair. Hold Steady fans who aren’t into the show can hear the song when it’s released as a single on April 20th.
We’ll Have More Game of Thrones to Obsess Over Than Ever
Finally, fans will be excited to learn that each episode of Season 3 will clock in at a full five to seven minutes longer than Season 1 and 2′s average of 52 minutes. While the season will still play out over just ten episodes (as opposed to the 12 or 13 enjoyed by other critical darlings like Mad Men and Breaking Bad) from March 31st to June 2nd, the extra ground to cover in the 1200-page A Storm of Swords necessitated some extra airtime. While five to seven minutes may not sound like much, that’s at least one whole extra scene of sex, gore, and excellent dialogue per week, and adds up to almost an entire additional episode’s worth of content.
In preparation for the return of one of our favorite shows, we’ve declared it Game of Thrones week at Flavorwire. Click here to follow our coverage.