Coming in to season 5 of Game of Thrones the producers were regularly warning viewers who have read the books that this season the show was going to begin deviating more often - and in more significant ways - from its source material. This news was met with mixed reactions and rightly so. After all, up until this point Game of Thrones had been a mostly faithful retelling of George R.R. Martin's novels, why change that now?
However, what perhaps wasn't made as clear ahead of season 5 was that the changes being made weren't simply for the sake of it or to spin their wheels until book six releases or even to toy with book reader's expectations. Instead, what we're seeing on Game of Thrones are different paths that will (presumably) bring us to the same end.
Dinner With The Boltons
Where the show is asking book readers to have the most faith is in The North, where Sansa now awaits her marriage to Ramsey Bolton and Brienne holds up at an inn outside Winterfell's gates. These narratives have left where book readers last saw these character in the dust and have moved on to uncharted territory. Yet still they appear to be on the same path as set forth in the novels, with Brienne determined to fulfill her oath and Sansa poised to begin playing the game.
But because these characters have jumped so far ahead of everyone else, "Kill the Boy" keeps them idling in these positions. There are hints of what's to come - like Sansa and Theon's awkward reunion and the Brienne-signal - but this episode surprisingly spends more of its time developing the Boltons.
In what's clearly a sick and twisted spin on the endearing, sweet family moment between Stannis and Shireen in last week's episode, "Kill the Boy" sees Roose telling Ramsey the story of how he met his mother. And in true Bolton style, the story is vile and disgusting, which makes it even more appealing to Ramsey than simply affirming his bond with his father.
Yet even the scenes proceeding this - Ramsey's belittling of Myranda for being jealous and Roose chastising Ramsey's behavior at dinner - are windows into the Bolton family life that the books never presented. It isn't making them any more likable or sympathetic, but it is allowing them more texture and nuance than if they were stock villains.
Judging by the shocking events of last week's episode, it seemed as if Daenerys would find herself backed into a corner, forced to ally herself with those she doesn't trust. That's how things shake out in Meereen in the novels, though Ser Barristan doesn't die for Daenerys to find herself there. The show, however, appears to be giving Daenerys more control over how things progress in Meereen, but it will likely all lead to the same end.
In the novels, Daenerys takes in children of the noble Meereenese families as hostages, but it's ineffective because she wouldn't actually harm them. On Game of Thrones she brings the leaders of these families to the dungeons and threatens them with her dragons, savagely killing one of them. A far more effective show of power, but not one that will earn her any love from the Meereenese people. And while this still leaves her struggling to control the city, it also highlights a vicious and vengeful side to Daenerys - one Barristan warned her of.
This leads to her needing to find a way of uniting the factions within in Meereen, something she decides to achieve through marriage. In the novels the marriage is part of a deal to secure 90 days of peace within the city, after which Daenerys will wed Hizdahr and reopen the fighting pits. Just how quickly the Sons of the Harpy's stop their attacks lead some of Daenerys' advisors to deduce that Hizdahr must be connected, but desperate for peace Daenerys sees no other option.
Now the marriage is Daenerys' idea and she more readily agrees that the fighting pits must be reopened if she's to win favor with all of Meereen. These changes will still lead to the dramatic scene in Daznak's pits (as the trailer has already implied) but whether Hizdahr will be implicated in an assassination plot or if he'll assume rule once Daenerys is absent aren't guaranteed. Plus, with Barristan gone it isn't clear who else will remain in Meereen. Presumably Tyrion and Jorah could fill that role going forward, but what's to stop them from chasing after Daenerys and Drogon?
A Blend of Adventures
No where is this 'different paths to similar ends' more evident than with Tyrion's adventure across the Narrow Sea. First we had Varys as a stand-in for Illyrio Mopatis and now Jorah is taking the place of Jon Connington. Instead of traveling with a rag tag group on a riverboat, Tyrion's been stuck in a wheelhouse and now on a dingy, yet he's still sour without any wine and attacked by stonemen. Even with its departures, Tyrion's adventure is still hitting many of the same beats, but it's also an interesting blend of all the specific events that occurred in the books.
Moreover, trimming the excess from Tyrion's narrative has given a sense of clarity to his character's arc. While Tyrion tours Essos in the novels his eyes are opened to the possibility of some strange things; he hears tales of the Doom; and at one point meets a Red Priest who claims to see dragons in the flames. But none of that can compare to the impact watching Drogon fly across the sky has on Tyrion as he and Jorah sail right through the ruins of Valyria itself; forcing him to question everything he thought he knew about the world.
Then there's the more obvious change: having Jorah become infected by greyscale in lieu of Jon Connington, effectively deleting that character from the story and likely further confirming Daenerys as the sole Targaryen in Essos.
Exactly where this leaves Jorah is less clear, but this season has sure made it a priority that audiences understand greyscale is bad news. It's painful, potentially deadly, and extremely infectious. In the novels, Connington brings it with him back to Westeros, but again, the trailer already confirmed Jorah will arrive in Meereen for an appearance in the fighting pits. So just when and where will an outbreak happen? Could we see greyscale take the place of the bloody flux?
What are any other major changes you've noticed Game of Thrones making from the books? How will those affect the story moving forward? Keep the discussion going in the comments below!
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" @9pm on HBO.