Welcome to the follow-up for non-readers! If you haven’t read the books, but want to catch up will all the extra trivia the readers know, this article is exactly what you need. Since we’re going full steam past the books, the threat of spoilers should be minuscule anyway, but I still promise this article is meant to enhance your viewing experience without going ahead of the events.

TL;DR: Feel like a reader without having actually read the books!

Cold Open

You haven’t seen her do what I’ve seen her doDavos Seaworth, clearly unaware that seeing her giving birth to smoke monster from LOST isn’t even close to understanding what Melisandre is

The Night’s Watch might appear to be a bunch of ungrateful short-sighted bastards, but, as it usually is with questionable calls, it makes perfect sense once you read into it.

Of course they all know White Walkers are coming. Of course it’s a highly ill-advised move to kill the only man capable of negotiating with the wildling army that can easily cut off their resources. And of course there was no immediate reason to stage the assassination other than for petty revenge… in the show.

A Dance with Dragons tells a drastically different story. The battle of Hardhome has not happened yet. Cotter Pyke from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea had taken eleven ships and arrived there only to find Wildlings preparing for the inevitable battle with the White Walkers. He sends a raven to Castle Black, asking Jon to send a relief force to Hardhome. The Night’s Watch and the Wildlings, who are already south of the Wall, prepare to move out – but then, a second letter arrives. Written on a pink piece of paper, it heralds the death of Stannis and the capture of Mance Rayder.

That’s right, Mance Rayder. Just like Melisandre’s gem hides her old age, she devised an identical glamour for Mance and Rattleshirt, swapping their appearances (and roasting Rattleshirt disguised as Mance). Only Jon and her were in on the conspiracy, and they’ve sent the former King-beyond-the-Wall to Winterfell as a spy, as he has visited the castle before (he was actually present, as a minstrel, at the feast in Winterfell, when king Robert Baratheon came to ask Eddard Stark to become his Hand). Mance’s mischief at Winterfell can be deduced from Theon’s chapters. The last piece of the puzzle is the difference in Sansa’s storyline – at the end of ADWD, she’s still courting at the Eyrie, developing into a political player. The girl married to Ramsay in her place is Jeyne Poole, posed as Arya Stark. This means a lot to Jon, who feels an even tighter connection to Arya and cares a lot about Mance’s mission.

Faced with the Winterfell situation going as horribly wrong as it was possible, Jon makes a controversial, heat-of-the-moment decision: he marches on Winterfell. He abandons his duty as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and asks for volunteers to retake Winterfell. Many wildlings agree and follow him, but for the brothers of the Night’s Watch it’s a spark for the mutiny. They kill Jon not because they hate him, but because he’s about to abandon Hardhome and betray what the Night’s Watch stands for, based on personal bias and a letter that’s not even all that authentic (it’s most likely a fake written by Mance to taunt Jon – Stannis is still alive and, according to the Night Lamp theory, about to outmaneuver the Bolton army in a well-prepared strategical move).

Alliser Thorne isn’t even present at the stabbing. HBO has a sad tendency to polarize characters, and make them into “good guys” and “bad guys”, removing all the questionable motives of fan favorites such as Arya and Tyrion (both quite selfish and vicious at times, with Tyrion straight up murdering people who knew too much), and exaggerating the hated characters such as Thorne.

At least the situation, however illogical, is a lot less convoluted than what the book Castle Black is, with not just Tormund, Thorne and Melisandre, but also queen Selyse (still alive), Shireen (likewise, though probably about to still end up roasted) and a sizeable part of the Baratheon army. Thorne’s lack of involvement in the assassination is crucial here, as queen Selyse could order his execution for high treason if he was.

About Melisandre now. Yes, she’s old. About 400 years old, to be more precise. We learn that she’s older than she looks from her very own POV chapter in A Dance with Dragons. Seeing the inside of her mind is something quite unexpected, as usually the Wall has been always shown through the eyes of Davos, Samwell and Jon Snow. She turns out to be good-willed, but misguided – she sees things in the flames, but can’t interpret them correctly – the most ridiculous example being “I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, but R’hllor shows me only Snow”.

She used to need no sleep, no heat, and no food. This little scene is just showing us she’s losing her faith. Which makes her condition very similar to the story of Thoros of Myr…

The Validated Oathkeeper

Let’s hope Lady Walda’s carrying a boyRoose Bolton, at this point probably knowing very well he speaks his own demise

Ramsay addresses the maester as if he knew him from his childhood, but maesters are not supposed to move between castles. Once Luwin has died during the sack of Winterfell, the citadel in Oldtown would have appointed a new one, and the one who Ramsay knew from Dreadfort should have stayed there. This turn of events indicates that the Boltons have probably forcefully moved their maester from Dreadfort to Winterfell, ignoring the Citadel’s opinion on the matter. We’re yet to learn more about the Citadel in the show, possibly through the eyes of Sam. In the books Roose Bolton drags three maesters from lesser Northern houses to take care of ravens in Winterfell, so the effect is pretty much the same, you just don’t get the notion the Boltons are making a power play.

There is no solid background to make any statements about Sansa’s storyline. It’s very much possible that she has simply accelerated one book ahead of her intended journey, cutting short the courting at Eyrie. And for Brienne, even though her killing Stannis was a huge salt into readers’ wounds, that character was already ruined by the show beyond redemption, so at least they can’t deal any more damage there. All in all, Brienne’s journey with Podrick has been a pleasure to watch, and even in this week’s scene the freshly assembled quartet has proven highly entertaining, with Pod serving as Sansa’s prompter.

There’s some good background, however, to be dropped about the North in ADWD, but some of that plot is very likely to be used in Sansa’s new story, so I’ll hold that for now.

You want a good plot, but you need the bad pousey

Fuck everyone who isn’t usThe true words of House Lannister

Usually I break these articles by immediate locations, but in this particular case it’s difficult to determine the exact place of Trystane Martell’s untimely demise, so I’m bundling King’s Landing and Dorne together.

There isn’t much to be said about Margaery or even the Lannisters. Their development went different way, but it’s somewhat similar – and unfortunately, I don’t have much context to add to their scenes, other than reminding you about Maggie the Frog, the witch whose grim prophecy puts a shadow on Cersei’s entire life. There was one part of the prophecy that the show omitted – it’s that her own death is supposed to come from the hands of valonquar, which means “little brother” in Valyrian. This makes Cersei obviously suspicious and terrified of Tyrion – but for the record, Jaime is in fact the younger of the twins. And there’s multiple other “little brothers” in play, not just the ones she has (though revealing the most prominent candidate would be a spoiler, GET HYPE).

I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.Sand people make great characters

Now here goes the Dorne. I have to admit that it isn’t interesting in the books, either – it’s hands down one of the worst plotlines, second only to Brienne’s pointless search through the Crownlands – but any positive qualities it could have had have just been tossed into a dumpster.

At this point, it’s not “nitpicking”, but an open question: what is even the purpose of this plotline? What value does it bring to the big picture other than keeping Jaime occupied for a little while? I’m pretty sure the actresses playing Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are actually good in their craft, they’re just being held back by this irredeemably awful script.

To put together what just happened in the show, a great help would be Jaime’s letter to Doran Martell:

The Princess Myrcella died by poison on our return journey. I suspect Ellaria, not you, but my sister will demand war. I doubt Ellaria’s head will appease her, but it is a start, along with your neices. Your son cannot stay in King’s Landing, so I am sending him back on the same ship.

It’s a shame that we need a behind the scenes material to put any sense to the whereabouts of Sand Snakes. The fact that Trystane has been painting a stone eye for Myrcella’s funeral means that they were probably still in King’s Landing. How the hell did the Sand Snakes get there remains a… mystery, to avoid abusing the phrase “plot hole”. As far as logistics are concerned, next time we see them, they might appear just about anywhere, Littlefinger style.

The worst part is what we’re missing. Doran Martell in the books has a huge plan in the works, involving his other son Quentyn and the Targaryens. He essentially intends to rebel against the crown in due time, but not by himself – first, he wanted to wed his daughter Arianne to Viserys Targaryen, then he sent his son Quentyn to propose to Daenerys. Last time we see him in AFFC, he delivers an inspiring speech, and ends up with “Vengeance. Justice. Fire and blood.” Sure, the Dornish plot in AFFC was quite boring, and Doran’s plan is about to crash and burn anyway (literally, with Quentyn getting a little bit too close to the chained dragons). But whatever good it had has just been squandered.

The Brothraki

We’re not sailing to Westeros anytime soonTyrion, confirming the audience’s worst fears

Meereen and Daenerys seems to drift even more and more away from Westeros. Dany’s little practice as a ruler has ended up in a disaster and it’s up to Tyrion to get her city together. The episode was mostly establishing the plot points for the rest of the season, but in Dany’s case there’s one peculiar piece of trivia from the books that makes this whole sequence really interesting.

Remember Quaithe, the mysterious masked woman from Qarth? Dany still sees her in her dreams when she’s at Meereen. Quaithe is actually one of the very few people who seems to bear no ill intentions towards her, and she brings her some peculiar prophecies. Back in Qarth, she says “To go north, you must journey south, to reach the west you must go east. To go forward you must go back and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.” This means that Dany’s journey back to Vaes Dothrak might actually be exactly what she needs to fullfill this prophecy. There are many other events in the works that make the readers think Dany’s “impossible” prophecies are just about to fullfill.

Quaithe brings many other messages, mostly warnings about people coming to her or after her. The words are – obviously – cryptic, but seem to name Varys, Tyrion, Quentyn Martell, Jon Connington, Victarion Greyjoy and the red priest Moqorro. Since almost all of them are written out from the show and Varys has been rewritten to join Dany’s side (in the books, he supports her “miraculously saved” nephew Aegon, most likely a fake), this warning has lost its meaning and it’s possible Quaithe will not return.

Oh, and “Mhysa” is NOT Valyrian. It’s Ghiscari, even the show has stated it in the season 3 finale, when Missandei explains that word to Daenerys, a native speaker of Valyrian. I’m sure the showrunners would have some excuse for this plot hole, such as “But it’s mhysa in Low Valyrian, and muona in High Valyrian”, but the red priest is using muona in the same scene, and the show hasn’t made the difference between High and Low Valyrian, while clearly distinguishing Ghiscari from Valyrian.


Footnotes

I’m not covering Arya’s little Daredevil moment because there isn’t much to add there.

Overall this was a nice episode to start off the season, even though flawed in many ways. There is no excuse for what the show has done with Dorne. I wouldn’t mind if the Sand Snakes have disappeared from the cast for the rest of the season, until Dany makes their sand kingdom her landing site and tramples over evey wannabe Xena she finds.

Cinematography, music and acting was as always on point. Don’t get me wrong, as much as some of us book puritans might whine and complain left and right, we’re still as excited as you are. See you guys next week!