Welcome to the weekly followup for non-readers. As the name of the series implies, this post is meant for you if you haven’t read the A Song of Ice and Fire series and/or wish to learn an extra thing or two that the show couldn’t find time to adapt.
The spoiler scope is obviously “nothing past the last episode,” so feel free to read on. I will do my best to keep your experience spoiler-free.
TL;DR: Feel like a reader, stay a non-reader – Location-by-location followup – Valiant effort at humour, with mixed results
Mother’s Day Barbecue
Who is innocent? Maybe I should let the dragons decide.
Daenerys Targaryen, honoring Barristan’s death by going the exact way he advised against
Barristan Selmy is truly dead, and it changes a lot. As I’ve already said last week, he’s not only alive and well in the books, but also a very prominent character, with his own point-of-view chapter. Truth be told, though, adding him to the POV group was merely a band-aid in the patchwork of band-aids also known as Meereenese Knot – a monstruous cluster of entangled plotlines that postponed publishing of A Dance With Dragons by a good few years. We will revisit Barristan’s book subplot in the event elements of it get adapted into the show, but so far it’s abundantly clear that his absence itself changes Daenerys’ storyline and accelerates her character development. The safety gauge is off now, and Dany is on the loose.
One good thing about cutting the Meereenese Knot is that we got rid of countless characters obscuring the narrative, all mixed in the intrigue that are Sons of the Harpy. Who is the Harpy? What is their motivation, besides dethroning Daenerys? Even the book readers can’t tell you, and they have dug through heaps of pages, not once, not even twice, but several times. Having lost most of the characters in this location simplifies things, and even though some of the die-hard fans will miss the political intrigues of Meereen, anyone in the “JUST INVADE WESTEROS ALREADY” camp, myself included, considers any cuts here acceptable, if not beneficial for the show.
Considering the romance subplot with Missandei and Grey Worm, I’d usually play the “not-in-the-books” card and move on, but it’s worth noting that Missandei, a twelve year old girl at the time of ADWD, had three brothers amongst the Unsullied. First one died during the training, and one died at the hands of Sons of the Harpy. She’s currently left with her last living brother, Marselen. However shoehorned you find that romance, it might still have a purpose as the replacement for the familial bond.
The change to Daenerys’ storyline is most apparent in her engagement: the show makes it her idea and her decision, while in the books she’s somewhat politically forced into it by Hizdahr. It contributes to the image of Daenerys being a heroine of her story instead of a teenage girl in a perpetually uncomfortable situation. By the way, you may ask: why is it Hizdahr? Why was he the one talking so much to Daenerys about the fighting pits? Well, funny story, his family actually owns that particular establishment. Tradition is one thing, but all the profits from the undertaking go directly to Hizdahr’s pocket, and that’s why he was so eager to suggest reinstating that “ancient tradition”.
Keep reading, Samwell Tarly.
Stannis Baratheon, comforting book readers who feel more and more lost with each episode
This episode was mostly about anticipation and buildup, with less emphasis on action (no named characters died this episode). It was so good with dropping backstory that I don’t even have that much to add about Maester Aemon. One great piece of trivia, though, is that his quote “Kill the boy and let the man be born” is actually borrowed from his history with Aegon V Targaryen, his brother, whom he had convinced to take on the Iron Throne with these very same words a long time ago. He brings up Aegon’s story before Jon saying “Kill the boy within you, I told him the day I took ship for the Wall. It takes a man to rule. An Aegon, not an Egg. Kill the boy and let the man be born.” The history of Aegon and Ser Duncan the Tall can be found in the Dunk and Egg novellas. The show has made a jab at Aegon’s nickname in season 3, when Shireen was teaching Davos how to read (“It reads like an egg”).
Hardhome is a ghost town, once the only big settlement north of the Wall. It fell apart about three hundred years before Aegon’s Conquest (600 years before the start of the show story). Still, it’s by the sea, and there are not only fish, but also seals and sea lions nearby, so the food can support a larger group of people for a limited time. We’ll hopefully visit that location later on, and then I’ll dwell on the book differences (which are increasing at a steady rate, as we need to avoid scenes with giants, mammoths and Ghost as much as possible to keep the CGI budget tight).
In case you didn’t get the grammatically sound “Fewer” reference, Stannis made the same remark in season 2, when he corrected Davos’ “Four less fingernails to clean”. This is a show-only scene, and in a way a replacement for Stannis’s book persona, shooting dry one-liners at each step. Maybe the show-only audience wasn’t supposed to like him until now. One way or another, he’s very close in character to the original, and using the modern “grammar nazi” trope is a way to make the viewer understand him.
The dialogue between Sam and Gilly is in a way a parallel of the contrast between the readers and non-readers. Even the mention of Oldtown bears value, as it’s the setting of the prologue to A Feast for Crows and the showrunners might be joking about abandoning that location altogether. Also, I can’t believe we’ve missed the opportunity to hear from Stannis the line “Her own father got this child on her? We are well rid of her, then. I will not suffer such abominations here. This is not King’s Landing” about Gilly.
Samwell’s father, Randyll Tarly, is one of the top bannermen to the Tyrells, who have openly supported the Targeryens during Robert’s Rebellion. The Tyrells and the Martells were the only major families to fight against Robert, as the Starks, Tullys and Arryns supported him, and Lannisters remained neutral until the last minute. The Battle of Ashford was an indecisive victory of the loyalist forces, but a victory nonetheless, and the Tyrell forces had proceeded towards Storm’s End, laying siege to Stannis until the very end of the war. Meanwhile, Robert had moved north to meet up with the rest of the rebellion – the combined Stark, Tully and Arryn forces. In case you’ve wondered how on earth someone as adorably naive as Mace Tyrell controls of the most prominent military forces in Westeros, well, let’s just say his bannermen are outstanding enough to make up for his goofiness.
Home Sweet Home
You shouldn’t be here.
Theon Greyjoy to Sansa Stark, tingled by the book continuum
The changes to what is now the Winterfell subplot are so drastic that I’d have to cover two separate stories to do it justice. Let’s just sum up the most important points.
First, as mentioned before, Brienne and Sansa are elsewhere. In the show, Sansa takes over the role of Jeyne Poole, a girl who used to be Sansa’s handmaiden and her best friend, and is currently pretending to be Arya Stark and about to marry Ramsay Snow; meanwhile Brienne appears to be filling in for nobody else than Mance Rayder, very much alive and uncooked in the books, thanks to a magical masquerade that Melisandre has performed, covering Mance’s appearances with a glamour. Mance is sent to Winterfell with an undercover mission to rescue “Arya” (since Jon and Melisandre don’t know the truth) and it’s worth noting that he has already succesfully infiltrated that castle beforehand. What’s even more peculiar is that he did it during King Robert’s visit, and that would be Season 1, Episode 1.
Enough with the chain of trivia. By cutting out the Riverlands and the Eyrie, the showrunners have saved lots of time and tied the Bolton storyline more tightly. It’s worth noting that ADWD is the first moment when we actually get to meet the Boltons, and in the show we’ve already had them for good two seasons. By throwing Sansa and Brienne into that pot, we’re tightening the grip on the plot and surely accelerating it way forward. And by “forward”, I actually mean “way ahead of the books”. There are bits and pieces from the source material being adapted, but other than that, even Myranda’s character is a show-only addition.
There is also an obvious connection between the two scenes in the last episodes: Roose’s with Ramsay and Stannis’s with Shireen. Both are stern, pragmatical people, willing to go to great lengths to achieve their goals. Both have accepted their children despite the circumstances not being perfect for it, and both are admired and feared at the same time.
Long, sullen silences and an occasional punch in the face. The Mormont way.
Tyrion Lannister, appreciating a good bear punch even when he gets to take one
This scene, however I might critique it, was a brilliant piece of in-show trivia. The books never actually showcase Valyria, having Jorah and Tyrion take a different way, and these lands are just as mysterious to the reader as the stories Tyrion bring up portray it – a smoking sea of volcanoes, still as dreadful as the day the Valyrian Freehold collapsed into the sea. We hear the legends of people lost in there, we hear a character brag about sailing through there – but never see it through the eyes of a POV character. Even the show established that location in season 2, when Quaithe, the masked woman from Qarth, tatooed a man who was going to sail through Valyria with protective charms.
What was the Doom? Nobody has a certain answer, although from what we know we might as well assume it involved volcanoes. The question here would be not what happened, but rather why it happened – this could have been a natural disaster, but in a land of magic and dragons, other forces might be involved. The interesting thing about Valyria, however, is that Targaryens were a distant settlement at Dragonstone that miraculously survived away from the Doom. It wasn’t even until a hundred years after the cataclysm that Aegon the Conqueror set his foot in Westeros mainland in the place that would later be known as King’s Landing.
Considering Valyrian architecture, the show has it clearly based on Ancient Rome due to historical similarities (fallen empire, cultural expansion, ancient tongue), but the books imply a more gothic style that the show has already presented in Dragonstone – a castle built by Valyrian masons themselves.
As for the Stone Men, here’s where I praise the scene even more, as not only did it drop a huge piece of backstory, but it also incorporated one of key points of Tyrion’s adventure, when he’s ambushed by the Stone Men and thrown into the river Rhonye on his way to Volantis. The man who saves him, Jon Connington, AKA “Griff”, is seemingly written out from the show, but, just like Jorah here, Griff contracts greyscale. What we’re witnessing right now is Jorah absorbing character traits of quite a few book characters, and nothing feels out of place (the Greyscale even had a good bit of buildup in the previous episodes). I wouldn’t rule out him taking over Barristan’s chapters from ADWD in the future. All in all, the writing, even if imperfect, has been surprisingly well-thought and consistent.
This is one of the very few episodes in the history of the show that didn’t include King’s Landing at all. The others are “The Kingsroad”, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”, “The Rains of Castamere” and “The Watchers on the Wall”. Excluding the Wall-only episode, it’s the only episode ever to feature neither King’s Landing nor the Riverlands.
That concludes this week’s followup. The interest seems to slightly diminish, but as long as there are any people interested at all (and I find the time), I’ll be here for you every week. See you guys next time!
I’m open for the suggestions on the Sunday piece – yesterday it was about the missing persons, what would you want to see next week? Feel free to leave your comments here or at Reddit.