9:30am PT by Josh Wigler
'Game of Thrones': The Stark Truth About Season 6
A hooded hero steps out of the light and into the darkness, using magical abilities to cut deeper and deeper into the heart of enemy territory. He aims to rescue his loved ones, and with newfound powers on his side, he might just succeed.
This hero does not live in Westeros, however, hailing from a long time ago, but a different faraway galaxy: Luke Skywalker, passing through Jabba's Palace, lightsaber at the ready, Jedi training under his belt… up to a point.
Still, the Skywalker comparison holds up in connection to Game of Thrones, at least where certain Starks are concerned. As with Luke's power set at the start of Return of the Jedi, the coming season of HBO's Emmy-winning fantasy series sees certain members of House Stark approaching the top of their games, even if it's game over for some.
The Star Wars similarities begin with Bran Stark, the youthful wizard-in-training played by Isaac Hempstead Wright. Throughout most of Thrones, Bran experienced visions fueled by a powerful creature called the Three-Eyed Raven. He and his fellow travelers — including Meera (Ellie Kendrick) and Hodor (Kristian Nairn) — finally reached the ancient mystic's underground cave beyond The Wall at the end of season four… and since then, not a peep.
While he didn't appear once in season five, Bran was keeping busy. Hempstead Wright tells The Hollywood Reporter that Bran's offseason was spent training at the knee of the Three-Eyed Raven, played in season six by veteran actor Max von Sydow.
"When we meet him in season six, Bran is by no means a master yet," Hempstead Wright says. "He has a lot of training and a lot still to learn, but he can do some really cool things. He's on his way up there."
Hence the connection with Luke Skywalker; Hempstead Wright compares Bran's arc to the Star Wars protagonist's own, saying Bran's offseason was not unlike Luke's Dagobah training sessions under the wise eye of Yoda. Bran's not quite at the "Jedi Master" level of his green-seeing abilities yet, but his capabilities are certainly enhanced from the last time viewers saw him — and those very same fans can expect Bran's gifts to to open up the narrative possibilities of season six.
Where Bran Stark's world has opened up thanks to an extra-eyed individual, his sister Arya (Maisie Williams) moves forward with no sight of her own. At the end of season five, the youngest Stark daughter lost her ability to see, a punishment for seeking personal vengeance against a figure from her past, which is strictly forbidden by the House of Black and White.
"Blinding her, at first, comes across as a punishment — which it is, of course," says Tom Wlaschiha, who plays Arya's Faceless Man mentor Jaqen H'ghar. "But at the same time, it's a challenge, because it's going to make her even tougher. She now has to find her way without one of her most important senses. It's going to make her even stronger."
Williams backs that claim, saying what Arya lacks in sight, she will make up for in another gift: "Arya, this season, learns the most valuable lesson she has ever learned. She's going to develop a skill that's going to come in handy, a very valuable skill that's going to benefit her for a very long time… and I think the people training her are going to almost create a bit of a monster. They're giving away their best kept secrets, and she will ultimately use those to her advantage."
In other words, as much as the Faceless Men training instills abandoning all sense of self, Arya, much like the North, remembers — and given the level of horrible havoc she wreaked on Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie) in season five — the development of "a very valuable skill" can't be good news for the people who scorned House Stark.
Meanwhile, the other Stark sister, Sansa (Sophie Turner), appears to be on the rise as well. When last viewers saw her, Sansa was leaping from the tallest tower of Winterfell alongside Theon "Reek" Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), finally free from Ramsay Bolton's (Iwan Rheon) grasp. Needless to say, Ramsay's father, Roose (Michael McElhatton), is not pleased.
"He f—ed up," McElhatton says, weighing in on Roose's feelings toward Ramsay. "He played his games, and this was a huge chance to solidify all of the North. They had a Stark, and they could have had a Stark baby. We would have won a big popularity contest in the North. Now, that's gone. So the primary objective, hitting the ground running, is to get her back."
Easier said than done, perhaps, based on how Turner describes Sansa's journey this year. In the past, she described season six as Sansa's best year yet, and speaking to THR, she doubles down on the claim.
"You wonder how long she can continue on before a downfall, or if she just keeps going up and up," she says, "but from what I've seen this season, it seems like Sansa's going to take charge and take control."
Of course, even as these three Stark siblings are poised for their greatest journeys yet, there's still tragedy and mystery surrounding other members of the family. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is dead, for one. Rickon (Art Parkinson) remains missing, for another, unseen since season three. But rumors persist that the youngest wolf could emerge from hiding before the year's end.
Without George R.R. Martin's next book in the series, The Winds of Winter, it's impossible to know exactly what's ahead for House Stark. But it's worth noting Martin's original title for the unpublished book: A Time for Wolves. It's a name that heavily invokes images of House Stark's direwolf sigil, and can't be mere coincidence. Perhaps it's time for the Starks, much like the Empire, to strike back.
Game of Thrones returns on April 24. Read more interviews and analysis here.