(CNN)Winter has come, and spring — and more specifically April 25 — is just around the corner.
Which, for “Game of Thrones” fans, means only one thing — a new season of HBO’s hit dragons-and-daggers fantasy series is coming.
HBO has released its first stills from the new season, with production and behind-the-scenes photos showing some of the series’ best-loved (and loathed) characters, including a white-eyed Arya Stark, blinded as punishment in the closing scenes of season 5.
The eagerly-awaited sixth season of the multiple Emmy-winning show navigates uncharted waters — for the first time its interweaving plots will move ahead of its source material — the wildly successful series of novels by author George R.R. Martin.
His sixth book, “The Winds of Winter,” has been repeatedly delayed, putting fans through torture worthy of one of his more sadistic characters.
Neck and neck
The catching-up of show to books will put fans of both on an even footing for the first time, with book readers unable to count on their prior knowledge to anticipate some of the series’ more shocking upcoming twists.
Book readers had previously been able to mentally prepare for shocks like the Red Wedding, or the outcome of the epic duel between Oberyn Martell and the Mountain.
While the stills confirm the return of many fan favorites, including Arya, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister, there is at least one notable absence — Jon Snow, last seen apparently bleeding out in the snow, betrayed by his own men.
The fanbase has since speculated wildly upon his fate, but his appearance in a short teaser trailer released December seems to suggest rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
The images show a glimpse of what might lie ahead for the show.
The return of Yara Greyjoy and her father Balon, for example, give book fans hope that a story arc previously spelled out in Martin’s last two books, “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance with Dragons,” involving their seafaring family, may feature more prominently in season 6.
Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/