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.