[WARNING! This post contains SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 4, episode 4.]
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss took a creative gamble with their television adaptation of George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire, and the cultural phenomenon which followed is here to stay. Last week's episode of HBO's Game of Thrones reached a series high point in ratings, with 7 million viewers tuning in to the episode titled 'Oathkeeper.'
The episode continued to track the changes in Westeros in the wake of the "Purple Wedding," but it's fair to say that no one in the audience was prepared for the final scene. Fans of the show and longtime readers of the books were all surprised to see the episode visit territory where even Martin's books had yet to tread: the court of the Night's King, where a White Walker delivers Craster's last son into the fold of the Others.
Written by Bryan Cogman and directed by Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead alum Michelle MacLaren, 'Oathkeeper' signaled the beginning of some long-promised changes from the source material. While the show has taken certain liberties from the very beginning, this is the first time we've been shown something the books never mention (at least, so far).
MacLaren recently spoke to THR about the episode's big reveal and hinted at what's in store in season 4's fifth episode, titled 'First of His Name,' which MacLaren also directed. The director read the 'Oathkeeper' script and was just as surprised as the fans to discover the big scene, saying:
"I was so blown away to find out what they are doing with the babies. I thought 'Wow.' I was very excited to do that."
MacLaren added that "I had thought they ate the babies – isn't that horrible?" Truth is, almost everyone else likely thought the same.
The director went into detail about what showrunners Weiss and Benioff wanted to reveal. The last scene of the episode was a big surprise, but still left some aspects of that realm quite purposely vague. According to MacLaren:
"We saw very little of the White Walkers other than the one on the horse. There's a lineup of blurry figures and we pull back over the baby. Presumably those are White Walkers, but we left that somewhat of a mystery on purpose."
As for what's in store, she offered few real details, but did praise the Game of Thrones showrunners for their vision, saying:
"Dan and David are such great writers. It's exciting to see where they are going to go moving beyond the books, which is starting to happen more and more."
There is still a significant chunk left of A Storm of Swords, Book Three of A Song of Ice and Fire, to cover in season 4, and longtime readers know about some of the major battles still to come. MacLaren also said that she filmed in "the deepest mud" for the next episode, and while the "deepest mud" comment immediately bring the troubles north of the Wall immediately to mind, the lands of Essos and Westeros are perhaps the muddiest fictional locations on television.
The White Walker scene is just one indication that even more changes from the source material are on the horizon. Some recent episode summaries point toward the appearance of storylines from Books Four and Five later this season, which begs the question of just what season 4's climax will look like. There are several places in Book Three that could serve as strong cliffhangers - will the showrunners end on any of them or choose to hold them over to season 5?
Fans of the book might be wise to expect something entirely new and unexpected to end this season on, so let the speculation begin.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays @9pm on HBO.