'Game of Thrones': What to Know Before the Season 6 Finale

Game of Thrones 609 - Dragon-H 2016
Courtesy of HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers through season six, episode nine of HBO's Game of Thrones.]

There's no time to celebrate the Direwolf sigil hanging on Winterfell. There's no time to mourn the fallen bodies still piled up on the field. It's time to move on from the "Battle of the Bastards," and start looking ahead at the bitter cold end.

Game of Thrones concludes its sixth season Sunday with "The Winds of Winter," set to put a bow on what's easily been the biggest year of the show to date, not to mention the most off-book. Even without the benefit of knowing future events from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, the novel series on which the show is based, there's plenty we do know about the upcoming finale.

Here's the rundown:

The Long Night Looms

And not just the legendary period in Westeros history when darkness consumed the land, forcing humanity and the Children of the Forest to bond together against the White Walkers. It's going to be a literally long night when the finale arrives, with the episode clocking in at 69 minutes — the longest installment of Game of Thrones yet. Prepare your snacks and adjust your sleep schedules accordingly.

"The Winds of Winter" Finally Arrives

But not in the way book readers were hoping, unfortunately. The season six finale borrows its title from the sixth novel in George R.R. Martin's series — a book that remains unpublished. As such, Thrones veered away from the books during season six, and in many cases even revealed plot points ahead of Martin's pace. (Here's looking at you, Hodor.) The words "Winds of Winter" carry significant weight for fans of both Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, serving as both a powerful sign of things to come, and a painful reminder of the book's continued delay.

The Leader of the "Battle" is Back

No, not Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon). He is, thankfully, officially dead and gone. And of course Jon Snow (Kit Harington) remains in the fray when season six wraps up. Instead, it's "Battle of the Bastards" helmer Miguel Sapochnik returning for the final episode, stepping behind the lens for the second time this season, and his fourth time with Thrones overall. Considering his previous installments in the series, "The Gift" (which saw Dany and Tyrion's first meeting) and "Hardhome" (its reputation speaks for itself), Sapochnik brings event-level expectations with him for the finale.

The Table Is Set

Despite massive events like "Battle of the Bastards" and time-travel twists as in "The Door," the sixth season of Thrones has been a slow build in many corners of Westeros. Take King's Landing, for instance, where the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) have feuded with one another in a mostly bloodless conflict; at least not as bloody as some expected. But that same story, among others, is poised to boil over in the season's climax. Unlike past finales, which often serve as reflections on the previous nine episodes and a look forward at the year ahead, actor Liam Cunningham tells THR to expect something different: "It's not a recap. It isn't, 'Here's what's to come in season seven.' There are very big events that are going to happen."

The Future Is Unknown

The wait between seasons can be brutal. Though it seems a faraway memory now, Jon Snow's death in the season five finale slammed into fans like a ton of ice bricks dropping from the top of the Wall. Will season six end on a similarly painful and even maddening cliffhanger? That's unknown for now. What is known, however, is the fact that Thrones is closer than ever to its conclusion. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have expressed their intent to end the series soon, with some debate about the exact amount of episodes remaining. 

"In the beginning, we hoped that if the show worked, we'd get seven seasons to tell the tale. Seven kingdoms, seven gods, seven books — seven felt like a lucky number," Benioff and Weiss told THR ahead of season six. "The actual messiness of storytelling might not be quite that numerologically elegant, but we're looking at somewhere between 70 and 75 hours before the credits roll for the last time."

After "The Winds of Winter" howls, then, only 10 to 15 hours of Thrones will remain before the men and women in Westeros stand their ground for the last time … and there's currently no word on when that run of episodes will begin. In other words, season six's finale might not end on as stark a note as Jon's death, but the wait for more Thrones might be even more bittersweet, not knowing when the show will come back, but also knowing that its return will be more short-lived than ever.

Game of Thrones wraps up its sixth season June 26.

Follow THR's Game of Thrones coverage for more news, recaps and interviews.