Each week, HitFix Harpy will be hosting the “Game of Thrones” book club. A safe space where readers of “A Song of Ice and Fire” can come to dissect the changes to the series and debate what will happen next. All without fear they'll accidentally spoil something for non-readers.
WARNING: SPOILERS ALL THE WAY THROUGH “A DANCE WITH DRAGONS” BEYOND THIS POINT. ABANDON ALL HOPE OF IGNORANCE, YE WHO ENTER HERE.
Everything is happening SO MUCH. When “Game of Thrones” pulled on the knotty bits of thread in George R.R. Martin”s plot, the narrative quickly unraveled into something barely recognizable. It”s not bad, just drastically different and each new episode brings fans further and further away from Westeros Prime.
#1 – Aemon meets the Old gods and the New and Samwell is adrift.
In the books: Sam, Gilly, and Aemon are long gone. Castle Black is but a memory as the trio (plus Daeron who isn”t on the show) book passage from Braavos to Oldtown aboard the Cinnamon Wind. Aemon shakes loose his mortal coil on that journey and Sam and Gilly consummate their relationship below decks in their shared grief and NOT immediately after Gilly was almost sexually assaulted. Gilly names the baby – who is Mance”s son swapped by Jon Snow to save him from Melisandre – Aemon and not Samwell.
On the show: The show keeps pushing back Samwell”s journey to becoming a Maester to the point I”m beginning to wonder if HBO will dispense with that arc all together. Instead of changing scenery, Sam and Gilly remain at an increasingly hostile Castle Black. With the death of Aemon and Jon Snow”s absence, the worst of the Crows are free to debauch their baser natures. Sam makes a valiant attempt to save Gilly”s honor and is rewarded with a concussion and the final loss of his virginity. “Game of Thrones” propensity for sexual assault continues to disappoint. There was no reason to subject Gilly to that when Jon Snow could”ve sent her and Sam away episodes ago.
#2. Melisandre is obsessed with the blood of Kings.
In the books: Melisandre is still on her quest to sacrifice the “blood of kings” to assure victory for Stannis. Despite being as common as the rest of the Night”s Watch, Mance Rayder”s title as “King Beyond the Wall” puts him and his in the line of fire. Melisandre wants to burn Mance”s infant son alive to appease the Red God. Having none of her Asshai nonsense, Jon Snow swaps Mance”s baby with Gilly”s – with Gilly”s knowledge if not consent – and sends him away across the narrow sea for protection.
On the show: Mance has no son, so HBO had to make due with Stannis” daughter Shireen. If you were wondering why “Game of Thrones” recently went out of its way to solidify the loving relationship between Stannis and his daughter, here”s the reason. Will the man who risked everything to save his child from the Greyscale be moved to kill her to further his claim to the throne? Signs point to no. Melisandre may have just made her fatal final move in the Game.
#3. Jon and the Wildlings go on a field trip.
In the books: Jon Snow remains at Castle Black and sends Mance Rayder”s sister-in-law Val to treat with Tormund Giantsbane at Hardome on behalf of the Night”s Watch. The goal remains the same: to save the Wildlings from the encroaching army of the undead and bolster the number of fighters for the upcoming war.
On the show: Having Jon personally go to Hardhome makes sense from a condensed narrative perspective. HBO doesn”t have the luxury of drawing out exactly how much danger Snow has put himself in by trying to mediate between two ancient enemies. Leaving Castle Black in the hands of a man who hates him will foment dissent among the Night”s Watch, which Jon will have no way of knowing about upon his return. Assuming he does return.
#4. Theon is a jerk and Sansa prepares.
In the books: Sansa is “safely” in the Eyrie still. Theon's mortal terror of Ramsay extends to him trying to help Jeyne Poole assimilate to her new life as “Arya Stark” by coaching her to be pleasing and agreeable. He never once betrays her trust to Ramsay. But then again, he has nothing to betray as Jeyne doesn”t try to escape and actively resists at first when Mance and Spearwives come to save her.
On the show: Theon”s total fear of Ramsay leads him to betray Sansa and tattle about her friends and plan to escape. This decision is two-fold in that now Sansa has no reason to save Theon when the inevitable attack happens and it leaves the job of rescuing Sansa squarely to herself (and Brienne most likely). Lady Stark didn”t palm that corkscrew weapon for giggles. Despite her terror, she”s willing to stand up to Ramsay when he”s misunderstanding how succession and politics work. She is down but not cowed. Will Sansa start murdering her way to freedom or will Brienne take on the role of the “Hooded Man” and sow suspicion among the Bolton bannermen? Third option is Stannis attacks Winterfell and Sansa escapes in the confusion, fusing her character with yet another arc – that of Alys Karstark.
#5. Dorne, in general.
In the books: We”re so far off the beaten path here, I”m not even sure what the equivalent in the books is. Myrcella is not old enough to be a sullen teenager in love, regulated instead to glorified MacGuffin in Arianne”s plans to put a female ruler on the Iron Throne. The Sand Snakes are indeed imprisoned but in a plush tower as is befit their rank as the bastard daughters of the Prince of Dorne. Bronn is back in King”s Landing, married to Lollys Stokeworth and Jamie is in the Riverlands trying to rout the last of Robb Stark”s supporters.
On the show: Jaime is reminded that he has no idea who his niece/daughter is and that any attempt to forcibly remove her from Dorne will end poorly. A girl who grew up in the Water Gardens has no concept of war or death threats. Whether Prince Doran will keep Jaime and Bronn as captives forever – or until the head of the Mountain arrives – is a mystery. As to the Sand Snakes, they are one of the biggest disappointments of the season. HBO could”ve had a variety of personalities and body types for Obara, Nymeria, and Tyene – broad and gruff, smokey and mysterious, sweet and fair respectively – to show Oberyn”s love of many types of women. Instead we get this weird, vaguely villainous hegemony.
#6. Tyrion and Daenerys finally meet.
In the books: Tyrion and Jorah are still kicking around with Penny either as slaves to Yezzan zo Qaggaz or working with the Second Sons, depending on where in the story they are. If the latter, Tyrion has technically met Dany, as she saved him and Penny from being eaten by lions as “entertainment” in the fighting pits.
On the show: Freed from his chains by a Good Samaritan (was that Belwas?), one might think Tyrion would flee the fighting pits and go look for Varys but instead he walks right into the dragon”s mouth. How Dany will react to this gift is a cliffhanger for the ages. Also, fare thee well, Seige of Meereen. It appears we will never know your meandering embrace. With Ser Barristan dead and Tyrion and Jorah already meeting Dany – a plot point “Dance of Dragons” circled but never committed to – it appears the slavers of Yunkai will either be pushed back to next season or never happen at all. If the former, my money is on Tyrion replacing an MIA Queen Daenerys.
Odds & Ends
• Where is Varys? Would he return to King”s Landing and spin a web of lies to reclaim his place? Or make his way to Tyrion and Dany?
• The order was switched on Tyrion and Jorah”s purchase by slavers. Originally Tyrion (and Penny) are bought as circus entertainment and it”s only when Tyrion vouches that Jorah is a vital part of their act that the knight is bought as well.
• Ghost deus ex machina”ing in to the rescue leaves a major question hanging – did the Dire Wolf simply appear or was Jon warged into Ghost to save his friend?
• With Stannis already on the march, will Ahsa/Yara even meet up with them? It appears not since the Queensmoot has yet to happen and at this rate will be part of next season.
• Tommen”s impotent rage at being unable to help Margaery in her time of need. In the books, the king is so young he is barely aware of what is happening, much less being capable of making declarations of undying love.