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 GRRM’s 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: All you want to know from the books, without having to read them
I wanted [the Hound] to suffer. I hated him.
Arya Stark, unable to lie even to herself
Even though the last few sections of this article are going to be filled with the usual reader rage, I have to admit: The Room of Faces was brilliantly done and it came out even more impressive than what the books have described. One issue I would have is that both main rooms in House of Black and White are identically dimly lit, which might fit the atmosphere of the place, but in the bigger picture it’s a bit dull and unoriginal. When it comes to dungeons of King’s Landing and Meereen, they were both lit in a very distinct way and had some sort of color scheme to them; House of Black and White is a lot black and a very little of white.
What’s problematic for my followup is that the show seems to agglutinate “indoor” and “outdoor” scenes from Arya’s storyline separately. These two elements are intertwined in the book narrative, so it’s difficult to establish any timeline or chain of events to relate to. What’s worth noting, however, is that book Arya interacts with more characters, and the Faceless Men are more than just Jaqen H’gar and the maintenance crew. Still, we might develop on that in the future, so let’s just leave that as a teaser.
Oh, and mad props to both Waif’s and Arya’s actress. Waif’s soulless monologue and Arya’s expression fading as she realized she was being played were spot on.
What if Daenerys conquers the world? Then what?
Tyrion Lannister, realizing that at this point any conventional ending to this story will be out of place
There isn’t much to be said about this scene itself, especially considering 90% of it is TV-only material. Then again, the writers need appreciation for this script, and “The dwarf lives until we find a cock merchant” passage was just exquisite. This is a prime example of show-original scene done right.
That leaves us the last element of Tyrion’s book journey through Essos written out: Penny. Penny is a female dwarf whom Tyrion encounters on his journey with Jorah Mormont. He befriends her on board the Selaesori Qhoran (they don’t sail through Old Valyria) and finds out that her brother, Oppo, died because of him when people ran wild on a dwarf hunt after Cersei put a bounty on Tyrion’s head. Penny and Oppo were entertainers, jousting atop of a pig and a dog. Their performance in A Storm of Swords was the basis of the TV “War of the Five Kings” during the Joffrey’s wedding. As it turns out, the mock joust was meant to incite argument between Joffrey and Tyrion, arranged by Littlefinger to plant more evidence to frame the Imp.
Penny is captured together with Jorah and Tyrion and taken with them to the fighting pits. We’ll cover her story as the parallel events progress in the next episodes.
Three Queens Showdown
Tommen Baratheon, realizing that he’s 10 in the books and can’t speak up without ruining the continuity
In this episode: Littlefinger makes more sense, Lancel is true to his character but still makes no sense, plot holes grow in mass and begin to suck the light in.
First things first, a friendly reminder that Lancel Lannister would never be allowed to join the Sparrows when he’s the sole heir to Kevan Lannister. Book Kevan would have him literally dragged out from the freak show through force. Same goes for Loras Tyrell, who had joined Renly’s Kingsguard, who vow celibacy after all – book Loras has two older brothers and is not the sole heir to Highgarden. The small inconsistencies pile on until the big picture becomes a caricature of what once was.
Second matter, as raised two weeks ago, is that book Westeros has literally zero cases of persecution of homosexuals. Loras Tyrell is defined by many traits, but his chivalry and knighthood come first, and being gay second or even later. It’s also never openly stated – yes, numerous characters jab at Renly’s preferences, but it is never relevant to the plot past the point of Margaery’s maidenhood. Book Loras is a hopeless romantic, devoted to his loved Renly even after losing him. TV Loras is a decadent, a gay caricature, and overall a shadow of his book self. The only moment when he resembled his original was when he stood up, filled with rage.
However, the show comes to a common plot point with the books as Margaery is thrown into the dungeon. It was a convenient way to do so while saving screen time, considering the books have Cersei plan an immensely complex intrigue involving Margaery’s supposed maidenhood – she never consummated any of her three marriages, as Tommen is only ten years old in the books (which also explains the other plot hole: his inability to express any character in the few latest scenes), and while she’s supposed to be a virgin, she definitely isn’t one. The plot invovlves allegations and actual sexual relationships between numerous characters, including Cersei, Kingsguard, sellswords, sellsword Kinsguard, Margaery, her handmaidens and other ladies in varius combinations (and Cersei sleeps with everyone from that list but Margaery – and yes, that involves Cersei with the ladies).
Butchery of Loras’s character aside (along with Tyrells’ unexplainable inability to do anything, and imprisoning the queen basing on one squire’s testimony), the plot starts to come together to an understandable development. Even Littlefinger’s involvement makes sense now – ask yourself a question: what could have made Olyvar testify against Loras?
Three Xenas Letdown
Oh, for fuck’s sake…
Bronn of Blackwater and the viewers alike
Well, that was a disaster. And it’s not just the awkward Monty Python mess of an action that’s my main concern here. All I need to do is repeat the Sand Snakes bio from the followup for episode 4. You can skip the next paragraph if you’ve already read it.
The problem here is that Obara’s book persona was – from the lack of a better term – copypasted onto her sisters. In the books, Nymeria Sand, daughter of a Volanti noblewoman, is referred to as “Lady Nym” and even though she’s eager to plot an assassination of the Lannisters, she definitely isn’t a fighter. Her (in TV) whip used to be one of the accessories of book Obara. Same goes for Tyene – the third Sand Snake, daughter to a septa, was a seemingly sweet, innocent girl, but with a vast knowledge of poisons. Unfortunately what was three separate, distinct, entertaining characters, turned into generic, similar, poorly acted caricatures. I might be a little bit harsh with this assessment, but considering the show will give the Sand Snakes more screen time than they had in the books, we can hope for things to change. Note: We can still hope. It’s all we can do, after all.
We’re still stuck with the very same problem with the characters, but good news is that at least we have a common plot point with the books: the Sand Snakes are under lock and key. This actually happens at the end of the very first Dorne chapter, and the main force behind the intrigue against Doran (his daughter Arianne) was written out from the show, so we are still open for any possible progress, and Arianne’s development can be ceded to Ellaria or any of the Sand Snakes. Also worth noting: From the preceding paragraph, Tyene is skilled in poisons. She was the one wielding double daggers. So in case you didn’t figure it out instantly from the camerawork, Bronn has been evidently poisoned, no doubt about it.
What’s definitely worth expanding on, despite all of that, is the titular phrase “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”. These are the words of house Martell, proudly worn ever since Aegon’s Conquest, when the Targaryen army with their three dragons failed to subdue Dorne. It was only through marriage that the Dorne has joined the realm, preserving their culture and sovereign’s title “Prince”.
“I shall,” Rhaenys replied, “but we will come again, Princess, and the next time we shall come with fire and blood.”
“Your words,” said Princess Meria. “Ours are Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken. You may burn us, my lady… but you will not bend us, break us, or make us bow. This is Dorne. You are not wanted here. Return at your peril.”
We’re not done with quotes yet – the full version of “Dornishman’s Wife” is worthwhile as well.
The Dornishman’s wife was as fair as the sun,
and her kisses were warmer than spring.
But the Dornishman’s blade was made of black steel,
and its kiss was a terrible thing.
The Dornishman’s wife would sing as she bathed,
in a voice that was sweet as a peach,
But the Dornishman’s blade had a song of its own,
and a bite sharp and cold as a leech.
As he lay on the ground with the darkness around,
and the taste of his blood on his tongue,
His brothers knelt by him and prayed him a prayer,
and he smiled and he laughed and he sung,
“Brothers, oh brothers, my days here are done,
the Dornishman’s taken my life,
But what does it matter, for all men must die,
and I’ve tasted the Dornishman’s wife!”
No. You watch.
Ramsay Bolton, breaking the fourth wall
I have waited so long to use that headline, and here we are.
To understand this scene, we have to briefly summarize the changes made so far. First, book Sansa is still at the Eyrie, growing as a character, but ultimately doing nothing. By her promotional chapter from The Winds of Winter, she hasn’t done anything but courting and babysitting her mentally challenged cousin, and Littlefinger’s master plan is limited to marrying her to Harry the Heir, a distant relative of Robert (TV: Robin) Arryn who also happens to be the unlikely yet current heir to the Arryn family. The implied plot developement is that Sansa marries Harry and Littlefinger gets Robin killed, but Sansa hasn’t even met her intended by the end of A Fest for Crows. She does meet with Harry in her excerpt from TWOW, but her plot doesn’t seem to be moving at any faster pace.
Moving Sansa to Winterfell allowed the showrunners to cut two plotlines – Sansa’s eventless courting at the Eyrie and Brienne’s hectic journey through Riverlands – and substitute tertiary characters at Winterfell with the main cast. This brings us to the second point, which is the book Winterfell. Ramsay’s marriage is not something out of the blue – ADWD has him marry Jeyne Poole, Sansa’s friend and handmaiden, who was captured way back in King’s Landing and is currently posing as “Arya Stark”. Jeyne’s subplot involves the northern lords testing her identity, and she passes as a person born and raised in Winterfell, knowledgeable to things only a Stark girl could (seemingly) know. All in all, Ramsay and Sansa got hooked in a bizzare yet totally believable plot merger, and the only wrench in the cogs of this skillful adaptation device is Petyr Baelish being uncommonly dumb for him (then again, TV Littlefinger has already been much less cunning and careful than his book counterpart). The writers have explained that show Ramsay isn’t a known psychopath, but of all the people in Westeros at least Littlefinger could get his hands on that information.
Last but not least, the scene, however graphic and disturbing it was to some people, could have been much, much worse if the books made Sansa go through Jeyne’s plot as it was. Let’s just say that Jeyne’s torment involved bestiality and forcing Theon to orally prepare her for Ramsay. What made the scene even more disturbing was that the ADWD chapters were the first occurence of Theon in the books since the siege of Winterfell (end of season 2) and for some readers (myself included) it took more than one of his chapters to even realize this broken man is indeed Theon Greyjoy. The order for Reek to “prepare” the fake Arya brings the reader the shocking revelation, as he breaks down:
For a moment he did not understand. “I … do you mean … m’lord, I have no … I …”
“With your mouth,” Lord Ramsay said. “And be quick about it. If she’s not wet by the time I’m done disrobing, I will cut off that tongue of yours and nail it to the wall.”
This sole line is all that ever implies towards his castration. No scenes of torture, no dismemberment, no dick-in-a-box packages to his father. In a way, seeing only the outcome was way more disturbing than following all these events as they happened.
The end effect is that Sansa ended up somewhere between her own boring story of courting and book Ramsay’s torture porn: as the victim of a marital rape, but at least, unlike Daenerys, she had a saying in the decision. (Also worth noting is that in the books Dany’s wedding night was quite consensual from her, so the show has its very own “sex scenes policy”). What you make of it is your personal choice: you can label it as going for shock value, you can condemn the show for putting female leads in situations they weren’t in in the books, you can make some hefty comparison between violence against men and against women in the show implying one is worse than the other, but whatever your opinion is, it’s yours to make. I’m neither qualified nor willing to continue this discussion, just whoever uses the phrase “rape culture”, I’m gonna show you the door.
In case you still want my personal opinion: This is not a weak girl collapsing under the life’s hardships. Sansa is not Joffrey’s naive fiancee anymore. This is a strong female character deciding to withstand sexual assault in order to gain political power. If you don’t understand, rewatch the bath scene. It’s her home, her choice, her game. And whatever horror she has to get through, she’s determined to play.
Joke goes as follows: metaphorically speaking, Sansa symbolizes the book, Ramsay the showrunners, and Theon the book readers. Joke end. Sensible chuckle.
That concludes this week’s followup. As usual, I’m very open to all feedback wherever you put it. Thanks for the kind words and for sticking with me on this series. See you guys next week!