Welcome to the weekly followup for non-readers! As the title says, 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 the time to adapt in the latest episode.
The spoiler scope is obviously “extra stuff from the books, but nothing past the last episode”, so feel free to read on, I will do my best to keep your experience spoiler-free. At this point, watching the show
slowly rapidly begins to spoil the books, actually.
TL;DR: Feel like a reader, stay a non-reader – Scene-by-scene followup with quirky headlines – “This was totally better/worse/different in the books”
Reader rage Revised rage-less edition
When Things Get Dire, Set Your Daughter On Fire
“Half of my army is made of unbelievers. I will have no burnings. Pray harder.”Stannis Baratheon, A Dance with Dragons
From a reader perspective, the show has changed Stannis’s character beyond recognition. Keep in mind that in the books Shireen is indeed about to burn, as D&D have already spoiled, but Stannis is nowhere nearby it, and leaves the three ladies (Selyse, Shireen and Melisandre) at the Wall. He’s already been established in the show as a rather negative character (omnious theme, removing his positive traits such as the dry wit one-liners and his regrets for killing Renly, having him burn people for heresy), we’ve just come to realize the full extent of it. The interpretation the writers hold seems different from what most of the readers think – showrunners see him as consumed by “ambition”, while the book Stannis is far from it, rather driven by selfless duty. Of course, it’s not like reading the books will make you like Stannis – the whole “Stannis the Mannis” fandom seems a little bit like a hipster trend to go against the popular stuff – but at least there are ahem… fewer reasons to make you hate him.
That being said, we might just be seeing his impeding descent into despair occuring ahead of time. Just because at this moment in the books plot-wise he’s still somewhat likeable, doesn’t mean this isn’t the endgame for him. We’ve already seen huge changes to Sansa’s plotline that might be simply accelerating her story to a point she was due to achieve anyway – and same goes for Stannis. To do a better assessment of this change, we need to wait for the next episode, as Stannis might be reaching a point common with or ahead of the books.
For a less nitpicky and more fitting for this series analysis, let’s talk about the titular Dance of the Dragons (the fifth book in the ASoIaF series is called: “A Dance with Dragons). The Targaryen civil war was a bloodbath that had lasted for three years and resulted in death of both of the pretenders to the throne: the older sister Rhaenyra, favoured by the late king Viserys I as his heir, and her younger brother Aegon II. In the end, Rhaenyra’s son became the king under the name Aegon III (her brother was listed as Aegon II), but when half a century later the matter of succession hinged between Baelor I’s sister and his uncle, the fear of a second Rhaenyra made people choose the male heir, making this a new rule in the dynasty.
The Dance of the Dragons is also one of the main reasons for dragons going extinct – not only due to casualties in the battles, but also because the new king, Aegon III, had traumatic experiences with dragons, of which the most horrifying one was when his uncle Aegon II forced him to watch as he fed Rhaenyra to his dragon. Aegon III is also known as “Aegon the Dragonsbane” as during his reign the last dragon has died, and all attempts at hatching the remaining eggs have resulted in a failure – until well over a hundred years later Daenerys Targaryen walked out of the pyre.
Doran the Man
What are you doing in Dorne?Ellaria Sand, with the eternal question to Jaime
Doran is immobilized by his gout, but he knows war all too well – his uncle and sister died during Robert’s Rebellion, as the Martell forces fought for the Targaryens, and Elia fell victim to the sack of King’s Landing, orchestrated by Tywin Lannister. “You are mother to four of my nieces” – this is actually a great bit of consistency with the books, as even though Ellaria and Oberyn go way back, she’s only the mother to the youngest of the Sand Snakes, none of which have been featured in the show. Obara, Nym and Tyene are daughters of respectively: a whore, a lady from Volantis and a septa. We only have two seasons left, but it’s not impossible that we see some character development from the Sand Snakes in the future that might maybe even come close to their book diversity.
What stands out for me in this episode was the fact that Ellaria clearly seems to be kissing Doran’s ring. This particular custom seems out of place in a fictional universe, as its origin in our world is rooted in Christianity: bishops of the Catholic Church used to wear rings with encased relics (remains or memorabilia of a Catholic saint), and both stationary and “portable’ relics are supposed to be honored with a kiss. Even though the usage of relics has declined, the custom of greeting a bishop by kissing their ring has survived among the devout Catholics. Even though the hand-kissing itself is not an exclusively Christian custom, aiming for the ring definitely is.
As the Dornish plot wraps up to a common point with the books, we can finally sum up and discuss some of the main points (not all of them, though). Dorne is almost entirely a self-contained story, with Ellaria Sand being the only link between the events in King’s Landing and the new location. Jaime is busy pacifying the Riverlands, and Bronn is happily subjugating the Stokeworth family. the decision to have them involved might turn out to be one of the best changes in the adaptation, despite the mishandling of the Sand Snakes. The events that occur mainly in the Water Gardens (the location in the show) and Sunspear (the capital of Dorne) are shown from the point of view (POV) of Areo Hotah, Arianne Martell and ser Arys Oakheart.
Arianne Martell is the daughter of prince Doran Martell and the mastermind behind the rebellion. Even though the Sand Snakes are immediately imprisoned by Doran in the very first Dornish chapter before they could make any attempt at, well, anything, the conspiracy grows behind Doran’s back, as his own daughter plans to crown Myrcella as the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. She’s romantically involved with ser Arys Oakheart, a Kingsguard and Myrcella’s personal bodyguard. Her plan gets nipped in the bud by Doran, and in the resulting confrontation ser Arys Oakheart dies at the hand of Areo Hotah. The whole story is covered in five chapters, four of which are found in A Feast for Crows, with the final chapter coming to a simialr conclusion – Trystane and Myrcella taking off to King’s Landing with the Sand Snakes.
Another interesting character written out from the show is Quentyn Martell, Trystane’s brother. He’s yet another new POV character, featured mostly in A Dance with Dragons. On his way to Meereen, he enlists under a false name to a sellsword company called the Windblown, and gets involved in the politics between the people trying to seize power over Astapor and Yunkai, cities that Daenerys has previously liberated. As of now, if he was in the show, he would be entering Meereen, with the queen absent. If the show was going for 8 seasons instead of 7, he could still make an appearance in the next season, although it wouldn’t serve much purpose, as his entire contribution to the grand scheme of things can be easily ceded onto another character. There’s actually a story recalled in this episode that might have been a homage to Quentyn’s journey, but saying what story was that exactly would be spoiling it, as some other character could still walk his shoes.
Oysters, Clams, and Cockles
Too oldMeryn Trant, now with his bear suit on
Tycho Nestoris, the representative from the Iron Bank, is an example of a well-utilized character (not without thanks to the brilliant actor portraying him, also found in BBC’s “Sherlock” as Mycroft Holmes) that was expanded from his book original. He briefly appears at the Wall, approaching Stannis Baratheon after his rescue and offering him financial support. That encounter was moved in time to fill in Stannis’s plotline in season 4 (in ASOS, he kinda appears at the Wall out of nowhere after a long time of absence) and preemptively introduce the free city of Braavos.
The Reach, in case you’ve missed that detail, is the largest supply of food in Westeros, especially now that Riverlands have been ravaged by war. Mace has the political savvy of a puffer fish, but his appointment for the position of Master of Coin makes more sense than just Cersei’s plan to remove him from King’s Landing while she plots against the Tyrells assumes – Mace represents the richest and most powerful family in Westeros, and if he personally vouches for the realm’s finances, all sorts of arrangements can happen.
“Ser” Meryn Trant is the Kingsguard who killed Syrio Forel, beat Sansa by Joffrey’s command, and testified against Tyrion. He’s been a part of Arya’s prayer from the beginning… but, just in case you didn’t have any reason to hate him yet, he’s now also a paedophile. The show has a tendency to redraw and exaggerate characters, but it makes sense in this context – Mace Tyrell does not travel to Braavos in the books, and Arya encounters a deserter from the Night’s Watch and some of the Lannister men instead. Overall the developments of Arya’s storyline are all over the place, jumping between AFFC and ADWD, so I can’t give you guys the whole picture just yet, as I’m not entirely certain what they will use and what they won’t.
How To Train Your Drogon
Protect your queen!Daario Naharis, still not believing how such a renowned troop could be perpetually reduced to mere redshirts
Daznak’s Pit is one of the very best scenes in A Dance with Dragons. If you think “Hizdahr zo Loraq” is a silly name, take that book, open any Daenerys chapter, and gaze in wonder. That part is not easy hard to get through, and the moment Daenerys flies away on Drogon isn’t just her getting to safety or discovering new power – it’s the freedom from all that Meereenese bullshit, a new perspective, a ray of hope. Book Daznak’s Pit doesn’t even have a Sons of the Harpy attack – Drogon is just attracted by the screams and blood of the fighters, and liberates Daenerys not from any peril (though, to be fair, in the background Strong Belwas falls sick after tasting locusts meant for her), but from the whole… Meereen. She’s no longer a politician – she’s a dragon rider, a trueborn Targaryen, she’s something more.
If you’ve been following this series for some time already, you might remember that Barristan is still alive in the books and Tyrion hasn’t met Dany yet – this is the point where Tyrion simply takes over Barristan’s role. Barristan has a few chapters left (so does pre-Meereen Tyrion, actually), so we’re yet to see what gets adapted and what will be ultimately discarded.
Hand-holding with Missandei reminded me that Daenerys is actually involved sexually with women in the books – not exactly Missandei, but her Dothraki handmaidens. So does Cersei, in fact.
Back to the title. How is the old story of the Dance of the Dragons relevant to the events depicted in the book? Well, it’s about two Targaryens fighting for the crown, and A Dance With Dragons introduces… wait for it… a second Targaryen pretender. I’m not kidding. Supposedly, Aegon Targaryen, son of Daenerys’s eldest brother Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell, miraculously survived the sack of King’s Landing. He’s introduced as Tyrion’s travelling companion on his journey from Pentos to Volantis under the name “Young Griff”, and it’s him, not Daenerys, who is backed by Illyrio Mopatis and Varys. The fact that we haven’t met him yet and that Varys has openly declared for Dany means that we can be 99% sure he’s written out of the show, and what it implies is that his role in the story ultimately does not matter. It wouldn’t make much sense to introduce a key player that late into the story, so the prediction here would be that Aegon is doomed to fail. There are even allegations that he’s not the true Aegon, but a fake brought up by Varys and Illyrio as their own endgame weapon. I have waited for quite some time before revealing that in the followups, but without all the buildup that ADWD had for him, there is no sense if he shows up out of nowhere (it already made little sense as it was).
That concludes this week’s followup. Personally I think that was the weakest out of all 9th episodes of the series, but the season still stands quite strong on its own, especially considering last week’s epic battle and next week’s announced episode that’s supposed to “break the Internet”.
As usual, all feedback is more than welcome, even/especially as mundane as pointing oput the typos (here’s the not-an-English-native-speaker card). See you guys next week! 🙂