Throughout Game of Thrones season five, we’ve been comparing the television series and the novels on which the show is based – and discussing how those changes have affected the story being told. This season, the series diverged from its source material more than ever, but it still managed to include many of the important plot beats (and shocking moments) book readers had been anticipating all year.
With the events of last night episode, “Mother’s Mercy“, the television show is now basically caught up with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books (excluding a few minor developments). So in this week’s Book to Screen Spoiler Discussion, instead of only looking at a few narratives, we’ll be checking in with each storyline and see how its respective cliffhanger measures up to where we left off in the books.
Doing Their Duty
Last week’s episode turned Stannis Baratheon into audiences’ most hated character when he callously burned his only daughter at the stake. It was a shocking moment for all, but for book readers it implied Stannis’ crusade wasn’t as righteous as we had hoped. With Shireen dead, his wife Selyse takes her own life, leaving Stannis without his family (which he had presumably at one point cared for) and without any purpose beyond claiming the Iron Throne.
But there’s only more for Stannis to lose as almost half his army deserts in the night and Melissandre, now questioning her visions, also abandons her King. Completely alone and losing allies fast, the ever-determined Stannis marches on Winterfell with his remaining troops.
The plot threads in The North have moved at an accelerated rate compared with the rest of Westeros, and no where is that more clear than with the battle between Stannis’ army and the Boltons wrapping up in a matter of minutes. We don’t see any of the battle, mostly because HBO used that budget for week eight’s “Hardhome“, but also because there isn’t much of a battle. The Boltons slaughter Stannis’ army, effectively ending his quest for the throne, let alone reclaiming Winterfell.
As for where Stannis is in the novels, he’s basically been in a holding pattern for much of A Dance With Dragons (the fifth and most recently published novel). He still intends to march on Winterfell but he’s also still dealing with replenishing supplies and men and being caught in a wicked snowstorm. Though by now, Stannis would have also recaptured Deepwood Motte, one of the last holdouts of the Ironborn in The North. There he captures Asha Greyjoy (a.k.a. Yara) and wins the support of Northern houses Glover and Mormont.
Clearly, it appears none of this will happen on Game of Thrones as we’re led to believe that after putting up one hell of a fight, Stannis is killed – and by Brienne of Tarth no less! For her part, Brienne’s narrative has differed greatly from where she is in the novels. She’s no where near Winterfell and therefor it seems unlikely she’ll be the one to kill Stannis. Then again, with how the show chose not to depict the killing blow on screen, there’s a chance she didn’t kill him. But if that’s the case, what stopped Brienne from swinging her sword?
Undoubtedly, there will be those fans who will still cling to the hope that Lady Stoneheart makes an appearance in this moment, but I’m not sure how many times David Benioff and Dan Weiss need to say she’s been cut from the show before we believe it. After all, an episode titled “Mother’s Mercy” would have been ideal for her return, but an hour and three minutes later and still no Lady Stoneheart.
Perhaps it was Podrick, her ever faithful squire that stops Brienne’s blade? Or perhaps Sansa and Theon (née Reek) arrive at that very moment since it’s unclear exactly how all these events fit on a timeline. Or, as the show suggests, perhaps Brienne really does cut down Stannis, fulfilling her pledge to do so and enacting revenge for Renly.
Leap of Faith
If it’s the timely arrival of Sansa and Theon that stays her blade, then Brienne has some explaining to do. Like why she wasn’t watching the Broken Tower for Sansa’s candle like she has been this entire season? (You had one job, Brienne! And why couldn’t Pod stay and watch for the signal?) Of course, Sansa doesn’t know her mysterious ally didn’t get the message and she still tries to flee Winterfell, using the battle happening outside as a distraction and that corkscrew she nabbed episodes ago to pick the lock to her room. (And here we were hoping she’d drive it through Ramsey’s neck.)
However, standing in her way is Myranda and Reek. Sansa isn’t frightened, not anymore, and she puts on a brave face in front of Myranda’s nocked arrow. But if viewers were hoping to see Sansa take an active role in her own rescue, then get ready to be disappointed. Where in the novels, Theon comes to his senses and rescues Jeyne Poole by leading her out of the castle, here he makes a snap decision and tosses Myranda over the wall to the courtyard below where she makes a satisfying splat.
This escape isn’t nearly as premeditated as it is in novels, so perhaps it can be argued that Sansa’s entire narrative this season wasn’t simply a setup for Theon’s redemption, but it’ll be a tough argument to make. Much is going to rely on where Sansa and Theon end up next after surviving their jump from the walls of Winterfell by landing in 20 feet of fresh powder (which the show doesn’t bother mentioning).
Still, it was a nice moment to see Sansa and Theon clasp hands before leaping, something that wouldn’t have as much significance were it not for their past as siblings and now survivors. And could there be another sibling reunion on the horizon? We can only hope, though it isn’t clear which way the series will take them. In the novels, Theon is reunited with Asha/Yara when he’s captured by Stannis’ army. But now with Stannis’ forces destroyed, where and how could the Greyjoys meet?
As the adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire‘s many characters and narratives goes, Game of Thrones has been most faithful with Arya’s time at The House of Black and White. Sure, the return of Jaqen H’ghar was a bit of a shock, but keeping in mind how this organization works that was always a possibility. Yet, with the arrival of the most despicable man to wear a white cloak, Ser Meryn Trant, Arya loses sight of her true task, instead hoping to enact some personal revenge.
After needlessly giving us more reason to despise Trant last week, Game of Thrones ups the ante, taking his sexual desire for young girls and adding some horrific abuse. It’s something Arya uses to her advantage, having stolen a face from the Hall of Faces and pretending to be young, helpless girl Trant enjoys beating. Watching her reveal herself to Trant, stab him repeatedly in the eyes and face, then slit his throat is more than satisfying, but it also clearly demonstrates how bloodthirsty Arya has become.
Of course, Arya is caught for abandoning her assigned mission and stealing a face she hasn’t been properly trained to use. Game of Thrones leaves the audience with the impression that it is for this transgression that she is punished, but it’s more about her unwillingness to let Arya Stark go than anything else. She’s refusing to truly become no one, an idea that is again driven home by her feeble attempt to reveal the identity of who died from drinking the poison. (And this seems to imply that even though he’s had Jaqen’s face, this man is probably not the man she knew from before.)
It’s unclear how exactly Arya is blinded on the show, though some suggest it has to do with handling a face without permission. In the novels, she is blinded when she accepts a glass of milk intended for “Arya”, and she remains blind as long as she drinks the milk every night. Book readers know this blindness isn’t permanent, but it will be interesting to see how the show will “cure” her and if she’ll practice her warging while blind as she does in the novels.
Family Secrets & Schemes
There’s no denying the Dorne plot was the weak link of Game of Thrones season 5, but last week’s episode left us with the impression all was well and good. Jaime and company would return to King’s Landing and Doran would continue to keep the peace in Dorne. However, once Ellaria gave Myrcella one suspicious goodbye kiss it became clear that nothing was well or good.
As has been noted before, A Feast for Crows includes a kidnapping that results in Myrcella being disfigured and losing an ear. And after she remained unscathed following Game of Thrones‘ pathetic reenactment of said kidnapping, most assumed some tragedy would befall the young Lannister before the season wrapped. What was unexpected, however, was that it would occur immediately after a strangely endearing moment between her and her father-uncle.
Myrcella knowing the truth of her parentage isn’t something that’s ever addressed in the novels, but given how most of the children characters have been aged, it’s good to see she’s bright enough to have figured out the worst kept secret in Westeros. Which makes it all the more sad to see her die so quickly after sharing that knowledge with Jaime, especially after we see him accept his role as her father for the very first time. It’s a development worth exploring and it would have been better to have this come just a few episodes earlier.
But this is Game of Thrones, where absolutely no one is allowed a happy moment without paying for it dearly. Just what price Ellaria will pay for her happy moment of revenge remains to be seen, as does whether or not Doran was aware of it. Having only Ellaria and the Sand Snakes remain on the dock implies he wasn’t in on the assassination plot, and if that’s the case then there will surely be hell to pay for Ellaria’s betrayal.
This is an interesting turn of events as far as the novels are concerned. On Game of Thrones, Ellaria conceivably has taken the place of Doran’s daughter, Arrianne. And while Ellaria didn’t follow Arrianne’s plan to kidnap Myrcella and crown her queen, she was a thorn in Doran’s side nonetheless. Arrianne wises up and cooperates once Doran reveals to her the scheme he’s been hatching for years to bring down the Lannisters, but here Ellaria’s actions appear to be her own. So is the murder of Myrcella an eventual part of that plan? Or was it created for the television series? Obviously, this wouldn’t be the first time a character died on the show while remaining alive in the books.
Back Where They Began
Daenerys flying out of Daznak’s Pit atop Drogon was a dramatic high point for the series, and that leaves what follows to feel a little anticlimactic. Finding herself again stranded somewhere within the massive Dothraki Sea and confronted with the khalasar of Jhaqo – one of Drogo’s bloodriders who abandon Dany after his death – isn’t so different from where we found Daenerys on the start of this journey. It was her time spent with the Dothraki that set her on the path of being the Dragon Queen, it seems only fitting another run in with them could help her leave the mess in Meereen behind.
But this is a narrative that puts book readers and show viewers on the exact same page as this is precisely where author George R.R. Martin left off with Daenerys’ story. And unlike with other characters, Martin hasn’t released a preview chapter from The Winds of Winter to offer fans any clues to what happens next.
Similar to Daenerys’ finding herself face to face with Jhaqo’s khalasar, Tyrion being placed in charge of Meereen and Varys flat out appearing from nowhere to assist is very reminiscent of where we found these characters in season 2. The last time Tyrion felt happy – or as close as a character on Game of Thrones can come to it – was when he was acting Hand of the King, regularly thwarting his sister and fixing Joffrey’s messes. Not only did he enjoy it, Tyrion was good at it, and were it not for his father’s return he might still be doing it.
Meereen presents a second chance for Tyrion, and though this was a role Ser Barristan took on during Daenerys’ absence in the novels, for the series it makes more sense and is more satisfying to see Tyrion take charge. In what is an overly bleak finale, this development is one of the few bright spots. Plus, who isn’t looking forward to a Jorah-Daario road trip? Can’t imagine what they’ll have to talk about.
Walk of Shame
If the scene in Daznak’s Pit was the one book readers were most excited to see on Game of Thrones, then Cersei’s walk of shame could be a close second. Not for any salacious reason (at least I hope not), but because it becomes a defining moment for the character. She’s weak and broken, literally stripped of any protection, endures such physical and verbal abuse, and yet doesn’t crack until she’s safe behind the gates of The Red Keep. Say what you want of Cersei, the woman has an iron will.
And while there’s something to be said for not having Cersei’s inner monologue throughout her walk – as we do in the books – Lena Headey certainly displays Cersei’s pain and determination so plainly it isn’t really needed. This must be the year she earns that Emmy nomination, yes?
There’s also the reveal of Ser Robert Strong a.k.a Franken-Gregor or Mountain-stein. This, much like Tyrion’s meeting Dany, was pretty obviously telegraphed from the season’s premiere, but it’s always nice to see a plan come through. Personally, I’d have preferred he been clad in shiny white armor as he is in the novels, would have made for a more impressive reveal. And it’s also surprising there’s no mention made that he will be the one fighting for Cersei in her upcoming trial, though perhaps that’s made evident by Qyburn’s promise that Strong will kill all her enemies.
For The Watch
This was it. The moment book readers had been dreading unlike any other. And even though it was expected, and even with all the heavy handed hinting throughout the season (Olly has been shooting figurative daggers at Jon for ten weeks), nothing could lessen the shock of watching Jon get repeatedly stabbed by his sworn brothers.
But before this and even more surprising was Game of Thrones‘ decision to stick with the Sam and Gilly travel to Oldtown storyline. After all, much of what happens on that journey has already occurred: Maester Aemon has died, Sam and Gilly have had sex, and it’s really unlikely they’ll make a stop in Braavos and meet Arya. But Castle Black will need a new maester and Sam is now even more determined to keep Gilly safe, and there’s no where further south than Oldtown.
In the novels, Jon’s assassination comes seemingly out of nowhere, spurred on by his decision to ride against the Boltons to rescue his sister Arya (whom Jeyne Poole is impersonating). His friendliness towards the wildlings had been forcing a rift between Jon and many of his brothers, but it’s this decision that forces Bowen Marsh (a character reportedly cast but was never actually introduced) to lead the assassination.
Also, Ser Aliser Thorne is given a prominent role in Jon’s death, which makes sense given his antagonism towards Jon, but he’s not even at Castle Black when Jon is stabbed in the novels. In fact there are quite a few discrepancies between how Jon’s assassination is depicted on the show and how it happens in the books: the staging, being tricked versus being attacked by surprise, the number of times he’s stabbed, etc. And all these tiny differences appear to point towards one definitive conclusion: Jon Snow is dead.
Whether Jon actually dies at the end of the chapter or simply passes out has been a cliffhanger book readers have been grappling with since 2011. And any hope that the show may offer a glimpse into his fate was quickly dashed when the screen faded to black and the credits rolled, leaving viewers in exactly the same boat. Now viewers, like book readers before them, are scrambling for theories to explain how Jon Snow could have survived.
For their part, both Benioff and Wiess as well as Kit Harrington have stated that Jon is, in fact, dead. However, Martin has remained more ambiguous and hasn’t commented on whether or not Jon will return as a POV character in The Winds of Winter. Within that ambiguity is the only inkling of hope Jon has of survival, but even if he’s resurrected or warged into Ghost or took any other possible path of survival, characters who return from the dead in A Song of Ice and Fire are never the same. Lady Stoneheart may be cut from the show, but that doesn’t mean Jon couldn’t have a similar fate, and if so, then he will no longer be Jon Snow.
Whew! It’s been a rough season on Game of Thrones, especially for book readers, but now that the show and the books are basically at the same point, where does this story go next? And of the few characters and plot lines that didn’t appear in season 5, which do you expect to show up next season? Let us hear from you in the comments below!
Game of Thrones will return to HBO in April 2016.
The Winds of Winter currently has no release date (though we desperately hope it will soon!).