Season 5 is the season where Game of Thrones begins charting its own course. Already in its first two episodes the series has begun making huge departures from its source material, giving book readers panic attacks at every turn. (Seriously, how did so many endure watching this show without knowing, roughly, what came next?)
Yet, here in its third episode, "High Sparrow", we have what is easily season 5's most faithful episode thus far. That isn't to say this episode isn't without changes from the books (and some significant ones at that), but for the majority of "High Sparrow" events play out as expected. Arya begins her training at the House of Black and White; Margaery and Tommen are married; Cersei meets the High Sparrow; new Lord Commander, Jon Snow must deal with dissent in the Night's Watch; and Jorah kidnapps Tyrion from a brothel.
A More Mature King
Though, even these familiar stories come with small changes: Tommen's age, for instance. As with many adaptations of literary works, the ages of the child characters were increased to allow for the actors playing them to be slightly more mature - a definite requirement considering what's been asked of some of them.
So in last night's episode we saw a young adolescent marry Margaery Tyrell instead of a boy of nine, and in the following scene the new King and Queen of Westeros consummate that marriage. This changes the nature of their relationship and gives Margaery a stronger hold over Tommen, which will irritate Cersei to no end. Plus, an older Tommen can act more defiant of his mother, forcing Cersei to react more quickly and irrationally.
This isn't entirely different from what happens in the books, as Margaery and Cersei do war over Tommen in their grasping for power. Still, not only does Tommen being older give him a larger role to play in this quarrel, it's also given Margaery's role as Cersei's nemesis a boost.
With Tyrion off across the sea, Cersei's ire has now only one focus: Margaery. It was with reason that season 5 began with that flashback of a young Cersei receiving a prophecy in which she's told all her children will die and she'll be deposed by a queen younger and more beautiful than she - it will be what consumes her over these ten episodes. And making Margaery a stronger player in the game, giving her more power over Tommen, will force Cersei's hand - and ultimately, her downfall - faster than the slow tug of war from the novels.
As evidenced by being included in both preceding book to screen discussions, Sansa and Brienne's story lines are by far the most different from what transpires in the books. Well, actually, it isn't so much that their arcs are significantly different as they've been significantly advanced. Presumably, Sansa and Littlefinger traveling to Winterfell while being tracked by Brienne and Podrick is where events will lead them in the novels; it's just that George R.R. Martin hasn't yet published any books in which that happens.
In "High Sparrow", the Boltons are added to this mix of narratives veering away from the course set in the novels, altering events just enough to accommodate Sansa's new trajectory. As revealed by Littlefinger, Sansa is now intended to wed Ramsey Bolton to secure the Boltons' hold on The North - a frightening prospect, though neither Sansa nor Littlefinger seem to know why. (And is there anything more terrifying than Littlefinger being unaware of Ramsey's reputation?)
In the novels, Roose Bolton hatches a similar plan of securing Ramsey a wife that will stabilize their tenuous rule of The North. However, in the novels it's a childhood friend of Sansa who the Boltons pass off as Arya Stark. This achieves a similar purpose, uniting the Stark and Bolton households in the eyes of the northmen in order to gain their loyalty. Yet, the readers - through the eyes of Reek - know that Ramsey's wife is a fake.
On Game of Thrones, we know that Ramsey's bride-to-be is the real deal. But not only is the audience aware of this, those living and serving at Winterfell know this too. This changes the dynamic at work here, as does Littlefinger's insistence that Sansa no longer be a bystander but actively seek vengeance for her family. As opposed to the Boltons tricking The North with their fake Arya, the Boltons have brought a wolf in to the fold who has every reason to see them all dead.
The Game of Change
There's no questions that for someone who's read the novels, this particular narrative is proving the most interesting. With the show changing so many of the elements in play, it's hard to know just how this Sansa in Winterfell story line will play out, but there's a few things we can guess will happen. Sansa will marry Ramsey and her wedding night will be unimaginably cruel. After all, several of the actors involved have already implied this season includes one of Game of Thrones' most disturbing scenes yet, and that could hint at a scene between Sansa and Ramsey.
Now, as terrible as it is to think of Sansa being abused at the hands of Ramsey, there's also the potential for Sansa to turn the tables on the Boltons. Sansa is no longer the naive girl who last left Winterfell. She's endured unspeakable horrors, survived, and is now being schooled by arguably the best manipulator in all of Westeros. If there was ever a moment for Sansa to begin taking control of her own fate it'd be within the walls of Winterfell surrounded by a staff loyal to the last living Stark.
This isn't to say it'll easy for Sansa, not at all. But hoping for Sansa to reap a little vengeance for her family is far better than the alternative. Which again, is still a very real possibility. This is Ramsey we're talking about after all.
What do you think awaits Sansa in Winterfell? Will she finally gain some power of her own or is Sansa simply in for more horrors at the hand of Ramsey? Any other changes you see being made that will affect how Game of Thrones' many narratives play out? Keep the discussion going in the comments below!
Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights on HBO @9pm.