Game of Thrones is back, with a premiere full of shocks, bloody acts and creepy reveals – but no definite answer about the fate of Jon Snow.

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Season six is the first time the TV series has moved ahead of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, so even dedicated readers have no idea what will happen. Reviewers say the first episode, The Red Woman, resolved some of the cliffhangers from the last series, but also has a few shocks in store, including one very creepy reveal involving a leading lady.

“The tension was incredible,” says Ed Power in the Daily Telegraph.

Season six opened with the camera swooping low over Castle Black and pausing on noble Jon Snow after his bloody run-in with the traitorous Night’s Watch.

“Alas, the Bastard of Winterfell (Kit Harington) was, for the time being at least, staying very dead indeed,” says Power. This was confirmed by “a haunting close-up of his waxy visage and the pool of scarlet arranged like a skewed halo”.

Short of spelling out: “He’s dead!” in huge flaming letters, the writers couldn’t have driven the point home harder, adds the critic, who asks whether this was “a sadistic riposte to fans” who have waited a year to see if their heart-throb will return or “a sleight-of-hand intended to make his eventual reappearance all the more dramatically satisfying”.

Christopher Hooton in The Independent writes: “The last season of Game of Thrones didn’t so much end on a cliff-hanger as a splat on the beach below. Jon Snow is unequivocally dead,” or so we’ve been repeatedly told over the past few months.

However, he adds, the sheer amount of screen time given to his body “suggested more than just a ‘funeral then we all move on with our lives’ narrative”.

With the “obligatory Jon Snow death check” out of the way, this episode was mostly about setting up the playing field for the rest of the season, continues the critic.

Indeed, it was “a sombre, sturdy opening”, says Matt Fowler on IGN. While “not a high watermark for the show”, the series’ opener resolved some cliff-hangers and included “a big creepy reveal regarding Melisandre right at the end”.

It also set up the pieces on the chessboard and managed to touch upon just about every character in the ensemble, says the journalist, a much easier task these days, “now that the herd is so thin”. 

Yes, it was a “table-setting episode”, says Daniel Fienberg at the Hollywood Reporter, as premieres are supposed to be. The episode did what it needed, putting this mammoth locomotive back on the track.

Being Game of Thrones, however, there were a few shockers, including some gory violence and nudity that is “more shocking in its narrative ramifications than its gratuity or titillation”. And while the answer to Snow’s wellbeing comes quickly, says Fienberg, “it needn’t necessarily be permanent, because what things are?” 

Game of Thrones season six: Who has the biggest axe to grind?

21 April

Game of Thrones begins a new series on Monday and it’s set to be a violent affair. Trailers show tension mounting in every scene – with dragons, fire, threats and battles aplenty. With so many characters wronged in the first five seasons, who will be seeking revenge in series six?

Margaery Tyrell

Cersei wasn’t the only one to fall from grace in season five – Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) briefly became queen after marrying the young King Tommen Lannister but then found herself imprisoned by the Faith Militant for lying about her brother’s sexuality. Although still in her cell at the end of season five, Dormer has said viewers can expect to see a very different side to her in the new series. “It’s very liberating to play someone who’s losing their sh*t,” she told the Radio Times.

Daenerys Targaryen

Emilia Clarke’s Dany, the Mother of Dragons, has been on one of the longest missions to right what she sees as the wrongs of her past. Her family and its power over Westeros were destroyed, forcing her into exile at a young age. While it looked as if she might be able to rally enough men and women to help her take back the throne, she was left in a tricky spot at the end of last season. The latest trailers suggest she has been captured by a Dothraki horde – but can she persuade them to join her fight?

Sansa Stark

Last seen jumping from the walls of Winterfell in a brave escape from her psychotic husband, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) looks likely to be hell bent on vengeance. After suffering at the hands of the late King Joffrey, she escaped the Lannisters only to be pushed into a marriage to Ramsey Bolton that began with a brutal rape on her wedding night. Turner has said this is “Sansa Stark’s season”, summing up her character in series six as: “Boss. Ass. Bitch.”

Cersei Lannister

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) suffered a giant fall from grace in season five, going from manipulative queen to a prisoner paraded naked through the streets of King’s Landing by the Sparrows. She is also about to learn that her only daughter was murdered in Dorne. In one trailer, Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon) tells her to order her “man” to step aside or there’ll be violence. “I choose violence,” she replies, apparently setting the tone for the season as a whole.

Arya Stark

The youngest Stark sister, played by Maisie Williams, has been reciting her Kill List since the first season, intent on avenging the deaths of her family and friends. However, when she finally crossed one of her marks off the list last season, she found herself in deep trouble: blinded for her lack of discipline by the Faceless Men, the order of assassins she joined. Will she remain with the order or continue her vendetta against the Lannisters and other targets?

Game of Thrones: How to watch season six online next week

20 April

Game of Thrones is back! Well, almost. The first episode, entitled The Red Woman, airs on 24 April on HBO at 9pm Eastern time in the US.

If you want to watch episode live – or if you’ll simply be too excited to sleep – there is good news: Sky Atlantic has announced it will show the episode in the UK as it airs in the US. That’s 2am on 25 April, so you might find yourself needing a nap at your desk later on.

If that sounds a bit too rich for your blood, don’t worry. Sky will air The Red Woman again at 9pm for those with jobs and lives.

Watching online

Each season of Game of Thrones has broken records for the number of pirated downloads, but this leaves you open to risks such as downloading malware or even finding yourself in legal hot water. Luckily, there are plenty of legitimate ways to keep up with series six online.

US viewers can subscribe to HBO Go or HBO Now to watch on computers, tablets, phones and Smart TVs. Meanwhile, Sky has exclusive rights to broadcast Game of Thrones in the UK so if you’re a subscriber, you can watch live or catch up using the Sky Go or Sky Q app, depending on your subscription.

If you don’t have Sky, you can still watch Game of Thrones if you sign up to Now TV. For a monthly fee of £6.99 (plus a £14.99 box, if you want to watch it on television), you get access to 13 channels, including Sky Atlantic, not included in a standard Freeview package and can watch your favourite episodes over and over. Now TV apps can be installed on mobile phones, tablets, and games consoles, giving you plenty of ways to watch.

New: try our free iPhone app, The WeekDay, for all the news that matters and nothing more. Click here for twice-daily digests distilled from the best of the British and international media

Game of Thrones: Will Sansa join forces with Davos?

14 April

Game of Thrones fans have long speculated about when and how some of the show’s characters might come face-to-face. Well, now there’s reason to believe that two inhabitants of Westeros are going to have their first ever meeting – thanks to an eagle-eyed fan on Reddit.

A user going by the name Fallofmen10 noticed something very interesting in the background of the two season six trailers released so far. In the first, Sansa Stark appears in a stone chamber with a chandelier in the background, while the second teaser shows Davos Seaworth standing it what looks like the same room, with the same chandelier.

Could an alliance with Stannis Baratheon’s right-hand man be part of Sansa’s plan to take back Winterfell? It might not seem like a likely prospect – Davos himself admitted he wasn’t much of a fighter in the first teaser, but it would make sense for him to pick up where his beloved master left off and try to drive the Bolton army out of the North.

Or maybe the props team simply spent all their budget on longbows and prosthetic severed heads and thought no one would notice if they stuck the same chandelier up in two separate scenes.

Game of Thrones season six: What did the ‘shocking’ LA premiere reveal?

12 April

With much fanfare and anticipation, Game of Thrones season six premiered in Los Angeles last night. So what did the first look reveal about the upcoming series?

The opening episode was shown to a select audience in Hollywood’s famous Chinese Theatre ahead of its television premiere later this month. Being the first season to significantly depart from the narrative in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, few had any idea of the story to follow.

The audience, however, was given a stern warning, says Jane Mulkerrins in the Daily Telegraph: “Anyone revealing spoilers or plot points would face excommunication, or, worse, be married off to Ramsay Bolton.”

That said, Mulkerrins reveals that the series features a “mournful, melancholy curtain up” following on directly from the final scene of season five, showing a lifeless Jon Snow on the “same snowy spot where the last tragic, bloody episode ended”.

The opening episode is titled The Red Woman, after the mystical Melisandre, who “in no way dominates the action”, adds the critic. Instead, it is heavy on violence and brutality, featuring epic scenes of armies on the march, along with defiant declarations to avenge the dead. It is lighter than many episodes on sex and nudity.

But by the hour’s end, notes Mulkerrins, “a luridly surprising twist, sets the scene for some powerful sorcery to come”.

The “ultra-mysterious” first episode prompted exclamations of “wow” and its variations, “incredible” and “spectacular”, says James Hibberd at Entertainment Weekly. Unlike some years, when Thrones started with a slower paced first episode, The Red Woman “hits the ground at full sprint”.

Hibberd says this is partly due to the strength of last year’s finale, which included Dany’s capture by the Dothraki, Cersei’s Walk of Shame, Arya being blinded, Snow’s death and Sansa and Theon fleeing Winterfell. This “intense” new hour picks up right where those cliff-hangers left off, he says. 

The premiere spends a lot of time at Castle Black, continues the critic, who also warns that there are some “genuinely shocking” scenes even hard-core fans won’t see coming.

Yes, numerous moments “elicited gasps of shock, unexpected (and uncomfortable) laughter, and long moments of stunned silence”, says Josh Wigler in the Hollywood Reporter, and Snow remains part of the conversation, even as a corpse.

Afterwards, a teaser previewed the weeks ahead, continues the journalist: “Based on what was shown, it looks like season six will be a chilling one indeed.”

Something else we know about the upcoming season is that Sansa Stark is headed for a big and powerful role, says Joanna Robinson in Vanity Fair. That’s according to the actress who plays her, anyway.

“After everything Sansa’s gone through, it’s going to be a big one,” Sophie Turner told the magazine/

Describing her season six character in three words, Turner chose: “Boss. Ass. Bitch,” prompting Robinson to ask: “Should Cersei be frightened that Sansa is coming for her title?”

Game of Thrones season six will arrive on Sky Atlantic at 2am on 25 April in the UK.

However, the lucky few invited to the LA screening weren’t the only ones treated to some brand new footage. HBO has ramped up the anticipation by a releasing a late-in-the-game trailer for the season six opener, which is now less than two weeks away. It might not compare to seeing a full episode, but the two-minute teaser will have to do. 

Video of Game of Thrones Season 6: Trailer #2 (HBO)

Backed by a martial drum beat, the trailer promises, blood, battle and plenty of dragons. Cersei, as one might expect, is out for blood following her Walk of Shame at the hands of the High Sparrow. “Show them what Lannisters are,” she orders her son, Tommen. “What we do to our enemies.”

Nor is she the only one hell-bent on vengeance. Sansa is on the warpath and has her husband/rapist, Ramsay Bolton, in her sights.

Absent from the action is Jon Snow, who is still officially dead, despite fan rumours to the contrary. But one moment will be of interest to the “alive” faction.

“Make no mistake – the dead are coming,” Davos warns.

He’s talking about the White Walkers, but given the fervent speculation over Snow’s status, it’s hard not to read something more into it.

Game of Thrones series six: First episode title revealed

08 April

Game of Thrones fans now have an episode title and a synopsis for the opening show in series six of the bloody fantasy drama.

The series, which returns to UK screens on 25 April, begins with The Red Woman, which fans have quickly sussed as a probable reference to the priestess Melisandre, who many suspect will use her magic to bring Jon Snow back from the dead somehow.

Based on the exclusive clip screened at SXSW, which showed Melisandre telling Davos that she saw “him” in the flames, the theory makes sense. However, the synopsis remains insistent that fan favourite Snow has definitely ceased to be.

“Jon Snow is dead. Daenerys meets a strong man. Cersei sees her daughter again,” it says.

Kit Harington, who plays Snow, is not on the cast list for the episode – but that won’t end fan speculation. For one thing, the actor has already confirmed he was on set during filming in Northern Ireland, although he says he will only appear as a corpse. We’ll see…

Adding to the excitement, HBO have a released a tantalising synopsis hinting at what’s in store for rest of the new series.

Following the shocking events of the series five finale, “survivors from all parts of Westeros and Essos regroup to press forward, inexorably, towards their uncertain individual fates”, says the press release. “Familiar faces will forge new alliances,” while “new characters will emerge to challenge the balance of power in the east, west, north and south”.

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