With four seasons and counting in Game of Thrones’ past, the show’s history can feel as complicated as the history of Westeros itself. In season 5 many of the story’s disparate threads will finally converge, but that doesn’t mean you’ll remember every minor character and plot point from four seasons earlier.
Don’t worry — we’re not going to spoil the upcoming season for you. But we will tell you what to keep in mind while you’re watching. You still won’t know what’s coming, but when characters start hacking off one another’s heads, you’ll at least be able to tell your friends who’s killing who, and why.
VARYS AND ILLYRIO ARE CHUMS
Varys (Conleth Hill): The spider, the Master of Whisperers, the weird bald eunuch who helped Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) bust Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) out of jail at the end of season 4. Illyrio Mopatis (Roger Allam): The hairy dude who encouraged that dick Viserys (Harry Lloyd) to sell Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) in season 1. They’re separated by an ocean and a whole lot of other characters, so what could they possibly have in common?
Remember! When Arya (Maisie Williams) was learning swordplay in King’s Landing back in season 1, the little girl who would eventually become a cold-blooded killer overheard a clandestine conversation between Varys and Illyrio as they strolled through the tunnels beneath the Red Keep. Their precise connection to one another may yet be revealed, but for now it’s enough to recall that they’re chummy.
THE BOLTONS OWN WINTERFELL
When Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) and his son, Ramsay (Iwan Rheon), first appeared on Game of Thrones, no one who didn’t already know could have predicted how important they’d become. Roose turned on Robb Stark (Richard Madden), stabbing him through the heart at the Red Wedding, and Ramsay kidnapped Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), using torture to turn him into a catspaw and helping his father take over the North.
As payment for their betrayals, the Lannisters legitimized the bastard Ramsay — no longer Ramsay Snow, now legally a Bolton despite his birth — and gave them Winterfell to be the seat of their house. The keep is burned and ruined, a shell of the Starks’ longtime home, but the Boltons are about to take possession of it nonetheless. Hopefully there’s still someone around who can do something about it.
THE RED VIPER HAD A LOVER (WHO WASN’T OLYVAR)
When Dornish Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) — a.k.a. the Red Viper — arrived in King’s Landing in season 4, he booked it immediately for Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) brothel, where he made his open-minded tastes very clear. But sandy-haired Olyvar (Will Tudor) wasn’t Oberyn’s only lover during season 4, as he also brought with him his “paramour, Ellaria Sand” (Indira Varma).
Sand is the woman who shrieked most horrifically when Gregor Clegane (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), a.k.a., The Mountain, thumb-fucked Oberyn’s face in during Tyrion’s trial by combat. But that isn’t the end of her story. Despite being a bastard — “Sand” as a surname is Dorne’s equivalent of “Snow” in the North — she holds a special place in Dorne, and her story will come to the forefront during season 5.
LANCEL HELPED CERSEI KILL KING ROBERT BARATHEON
King Robert (Mark Addy), you may remember, was the fat, drunk asshole who sat on the Iron Throne in season 1. You’re less likely to recall Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon), an effeminate cousin whom Cersei (Lena Headey) seduced and Tyrion blackmailed for information. Lancel eventually stood up to Cersei, but he disappeared after the climactic Battle of the Blackwater in season 2.
There’s one key thing to remember about his story, though: At Cersei’s behest, Lancel — then King Robert’s squire — plied the doomed king with extra-strong wine during the fateful hunt that cost him his life. A boar may have killed King Robert, but it was Cersei’s wine — administered by Lancel — that made him drunk enough to get in its way. No way that can come back to bite anyone in the ass, right?
ARYA HAD HELP ESCAPING FROM HARRENHAL
Arya’s been through some ups and downs, but one of the scariest stretches for her was being taken prisoner at Harrenhal by The Mountain and his henchmen in season 2. After The Mountain departed she spent time at Harrenhal as Tywin Lannister’s (Charles Dance) personal cupbearer, gracing us with some of the best conversations of season 2, but when Arya eventually escaped she didn’t do it alone.
Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) seemed like a sketchy dude, and that didn’t change when he started killing people on Arya’s behalf. Then he transformed his entire face in front of our eyes, and it became clear that he’s literally magic. Using the special coin he gave her, Arya has booked passage to the distant city of Braavos, where she’s sure to have some interesting encounters.
QYBURN HAS THE MOUNTAIN’S CORPSE
Disgraced ex-maester Qyburn (Anton Lesser) — who was disbarred by his peers for his sinister and unnatural experiments — popped up first at Harrenhal and later accompanied Jaime and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) to King’s Landing, where he resides now. And although he can no longer call himself a maester, Qyburn’s “bold” theories and disregard for the laws of men and nature made him stand out in Cersei’s eyes.
At the end of season 4, the Lannister queen gave Qyburn two gifts. One was the well-equipped laboratory formerly run by Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover), the doddering, perverted old weirdo whom Tyrion and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) once shaved and threw in a dungeon. And the second was something to experiment on in that laboratory: the corpse of The Mountain That Rides, the monstrous douche who slew the Red Viper during Tyrion’s combat but then fell victim to the wounds Oberyn had inflicted with his poisoned blade.
THE SAGA OF JANOS SLYNT
Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) is one of those rare minor character on Game of Thrones who’s been around since season 1, despite never having a major role. His saga is worth revisiting as we enter season 5.
Slynt was the captain of the city guard in King’s Landing when Ned Stark (Sean Bean) arrived with his daughters. Ned asked for Slynt’s and Littlefinger’s cooperation during his would-be coup of the Lannisters following his discovery that Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and his siblings were children of incest. But Slynt betrayed Ned, earning a lordship for his house in the process and leading eventually to the Stark patriarch’s beheading.
Tyrion later exiled Slynt to the Night’s Watch for helping Cersei murder most of the late King Robert’s bastard children, including more than a few infant babes. Slynt disappeared for an entire season, but by season 4 had finally made it to the Wall, where he resumed being a complete twat and attached himself like a leech to fellow twat Ser Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale). During the pivotal Battle of Castle Black, Slynt hid in a storeroom with Gilly (Hannah Murray) and her baby, proving himself to be a true asshole. Hopefully someone addresses that in season 5.
LITTLEFINGER LOVED CATELYN
Lord Peter Baelish — a.k.a., Littlefinger — is one of the most enigmatic characters on Game of Thrones. His motivations are always shrouded in mystery, even when he’s apparently explaining them: “A man with no motive is a man no one suspects,” he tells Sansa (Sophie Turner) during season 4. “Always keep your foes confused. If they don’t know who you are or what you want, they can’t know what you plan to do next.”
Luckily our perspective as viewers is a little wider than that of Littlefinger’s enemies, and we can remember that the former Master of Coin was once head-over-heels in love with Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), back when she was still Catelyn Tully. They grew up together, along with Catelyn’s sister Lysa (Kate Dickie), who Baelish later married and then promptly murdered. Sansa seems to be the only person Littlefinger hasn’t screwed over yet, and if you’re wondering why, you might not have to look further than his old feelings for her mother being transferred onto her. That can explain some of his actions in the series so far, though his end goal remains unclear.
DANY LOST CONTROL OF HER DRAGONS
Daenerys’ three dragons — Viserion, Rhaegal and Drogon — seemed to be a gift from the gods when they hatched at the end of season 1. They legitimized Dany as a Targaryen and gave her a means by which she could begin to accrue the power she’ll need to eventually claim the Iron Throne. But they didn’t come with an instruction manual, and as the dragons grew they became more and more ferocious — and Dany’s ability to control them waned.
When the Dragon Queen arrived in Meereen during season 4 her “children” flew freely alongside her, but that had to end when Dany learned that Drogon, the biggest of the three, had lost his taste for goat and roasted a goatherder’s little girl instead. Though it broke her heart to do it, she chained Viserion and Rhaegal in a pitch-black dungeon. Drogon’s still on the loose, but far out of Dany’s control, raising the question: What’s a Dragon Queen without any dragons?
THE REASON THIS ALL BEGAN
With everything that’s happened since Game of Thrones’ first episode, it’s easy to forget the backstory to the series’ current events. But you have to remember King Robert was a usurper, and as of season 1 he’d sat the Iron Throne for less than two decades.
He won that throne when the Baratheons (Robert’s family), Starks (Ned’s family), Tullys (Catelyn’s family), Arryns (the family of Jon Arryn, whose mysterious death provided plot fodder in season 1), and Lannisters (you know them) rose up against the Targaryens and their Mad King Aerys, Dany’s father. They did so because he was an insane dick who murdered tons of people — including Ned’s father and brother — but also because Rhaegar, Aerys’s gallant son and Dany’s older brother, had absconded with Ned’s sister, Lyanna, whom Robert was supposed to marry.
One thing led to another — as they do — and Robert killed Rhaegar with his great warhammer while the Lannister forces sacked King’s Landing. The Baratheons claimed the throne after three centuries of Targaryen rule, the Lannisters inserted themselves by making Cersei his unwilling queen, Lyanna died as the battlefields cooled, and the Starks retreated back to the North, where they would have remained in a happier story.
Given that this is Game of Thrones we’re talking about, though, chances are there’s more to this story than the series has let on so far. Wonder if we’ll learn more in season 5?
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Games Editor, in charge of all things gaming but mostly concerned with maxing his Destiny characters. He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and two dogs. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.