In its season 5 premiere, Game of Thrones made it abundantly clear that this series is no longer a straight adaptation of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels. Instead, Game of Thrones is crafting its own narrative, plotting its own threads, but all with the expectation that the books and the show will come to the same end.
For those fans who've read the novels, however, this is coming as quite the shock. After four seasons of watching in relative security, always knowing which characters were safe and those who weren't, book readers are often now just as in the dark as show watchers about what comes next.
In last week's discussion we touched on a few of the biggest departures Game of Thrones has begun making from its source material. Changes like Varys joining Tyrion on his travels east and the true death of Mance Rayder.
Moreover, beyond deviating from how events play out in the novels, the television series has also begun progressing certain characters' story lines beyond where readers left off with them in the published novels. During the season 5 premiere this became most obvious with both Sansa and Brienne's narratives, as it appears these characters are now in uncharted territory.
The advancement of these plots continues in "The House of Black and White". But not only do Sansa and Brienne's stories continue to push forward, they have begun intertwining. With both parties traveling in the Riverlands it isn't surprising that their paths have now crossed. Though, how quickly it is that we see Brienne and Sansa face to face will undoubtedly be a shock to book readers.
Presumably, Sansa traveling with Littlefinger to some undisclosed location is what will occur in the next novel, The Winds of Winter. A recently released preview chapter implies more about happens in the The Vale before they leave, but with the pair already on the road it's becoming clear that much (if not all) of those characters and events have been cut. So no Harry the Heir, no Gates of the Moon, no tourney to determine who will be Robin's Winged Knights, and so forth.
So here we have a case of Sansa's story being advanced, something Game of Thrones' producers flat out admitted would begin happening more frequently. As for Brienne and her faithful squire, Podrick, they too have had their narrative pushed forward, and have had large amounts of their story skipped over. Most obvious is the deletion of Lady Stoneheart, a figure crucial to the cliffhanger the two were left with in A Feast for Crows. They also haven't come upon the remaining Brave Companions (the company of men who chopped off Jaime's hand), but there's still time for a future confrontation.
What these advancements and deletions will mean for Sansa and Brienne's narratives remains to be seen, but it's clear their paths are now very much linked. Sansa's refusal of Brienne's service, while not surprising, does put the pair at odds, but Brienne isn't a woman easily defeated. Plus, there's every indication that the path ahead of Sansa won't be an easy one, and Brienne would be a solid ally for the only (known) remaining Stark to have.
Where Brienne and Sansa are moving on, Jaime is moving in an entirely new direction. This episode sees Jaime sent on a mission to Dorne to rescue his and Cersei's daughter, Myrcella. This is a drastic departure from where Jaime goes in the books, but it is not an unwelcomed one. In fact, many book readers would agree that utilizing familiar faces to explore new locations like Dorne is less jarring than the swath of new characters Martin introduced in A Feast for Crows.
And while this also an opportunity to get more of Jerome Flynn's Bronn - a character who in the novels just fades into the background after marrying Lollys Stokeworth - it's also placing him in great danger. Martin has assured us that characters who are still alive in the novels will die on television show, as evidenced by Mance Rayder's death last week. And since Bronn doesn't have nearly as important of a role to play as Jaime, there's a strong liklihood the sellsword might meet an untimely end this season.
As for Jaime, his new trajectory brings with it even more questions. In the novels, Jaime is sent by Cersei to lift the seige at Riverrun, one of the few remaining holdouts still loyal to the Starks. And while there's no reason this adventure simply can't come after, sending a Lannister to Dorne comes with risks. Myrcella is a young girl, and as Prince Doran warns Ellaria, "We do not hurt little girls in Dorne." But the first son of Tywin Lannister is a different matter and it may well be that Jaime is entering a trap.
Lastly, with Jaime coming to rescue Myrcella we have to also wonder if he'll reveal to her the truth of their relation. This isn't something that is ever discussed in the novels because one, it's an icky subject, but also because the Lannister children are much younger than they're depicted on Game of Thrones. If Jaime and Myrcella get stuck in a situation where Jaime needs to be completely honest, we may just witness the weirdest father/daughter reunion ever.
Moving away from Westeros we travel to Braavos, one of the many new locations Game of Thrones is exploring this season. There, Arya seeks out The House of Black and White where the legendary assassins - the Faceless Men - are trained. And for the most part this narrative is unfolding much as it does in the novels, yet it is here the show makes a shocking reveal, one that will leave book readers' minds racing.
Jaqen H'ghar is the kindly man. Either that or he's simply using the face now that the man Arya met before is no longer in need of it. The Faceless Men are a mysterious order and even in the books it hasn't been entirely explained how or why they use the faces they do. But with this reveal, Game of Thrones appears to be confirming theories that fans have been developing for years.
In the books, the kindly man is given no further explanation other than being the man who begins Arya's training. There's never any indication he's met Arya before or is even aware of where she came from. Yet here we have the him taking on the face of a man that Arya doesn't simply know, but trusts. And there aren't many whom Arya can still trust.
There could, of course, be a mundane reason for this and that's simply the show wanting to utilize yet another familiar face in a new location (just like Jaime and Bronn in Dorne). But if this is meant to imply that the kindly man and Jaqen H'ghar are indeed the same man, then fans are left wondering if Jaqen wasn't the first time he and Arya met.
A popular fan theory has Arya's former dancing teacher, Syrio Forel also being a Faceless Man, and that after escaping death in King's Landing, he took on Jaqen's face to continue protecting and training Arya. There isn't anything that explicitly proves this in the novels, but with Jaqen's surprise return - or again, at least the return of his face if not the man - there seems to be an opportunity for Syrio to be revealed as either a fellow Faceless Man or a face previously used by them.
"The House of Black and White" saw other changes being made from the source material - like Ellaria Sand having a prominent role to play in Dorne and Daenerys executing the slave in Meereen - but these changes above are by far the most drastic. How do you think they will affect the story going forward? What other changes did you catch? Continue the discussion in the comments below!
Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights on HBO @9pm.