Welcome to the weekly followup for non-readers! As the title 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 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 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”
The Lion and the Dragon
Perhaps this is where you belong?
Tyrion Lannister, because it’s not like we want to see dragons in Westeros or anything
By far the most impressive character interaction since the start of the season. This was bound to be good, and yet managed to surpass the expectations. Tyrion and Daenerys are a perfect political and intellectual match for each other, finally bringing a challenge for both of them. Earlier in this season I’ve mentioned that Barristan Selmy is still alive in the books – meanwhile, Tyrion is far away from Meereen by the end of ADWD, and the show seemingly accelerated his storyline. Tyrion takes over the role of the reserved advisor and voice of reason ahead of the schedule, as Daenerys’s story is still far from over, and the whole situation of Meereen is going to drastically change from the book outline.
Tyrion says “The Starks are gone as well, our two terrible fathers saw to that”. Tywin Lannister had Robb and Catelyn killed, that’s obvious, but in case you didn’t catch that particular piece of information, Aerys “Mad King” Targaryen has personally ordered the execution of Rickard and Brandon Stark, Ned’s father and older brother. It was the key moment that ignited Robert’s Rebellion.
However impressive the announcement of “breaking the wheel” was, Tyrion’s skepticism about potential support for Targaryens is wildly inaccurate. Tyrells were Targaryen loyalists during Robert’s Rebellion along with the Martells and they currently hold the most powerful army in Westeros, fed, rested, and never hurt in battle – same goes for the Martells, completely unscathed by the War of the Five Kings. If it wasn’t for the mess with High Sparrow, the Tyrells would have been able to seize control of King’s Landing and all the Crownlands, with only the remnants of Lannisters to oppose them. With Riverlands decimated by war and the North still going at it, that makes the Arryns, controlled by Littlefinger, the only variable in the equation. All in all, the conquest of Westeros, however uncertain, is not an impossible undertaking, and whoever manages to consolidate few major factions – be that Stannis, Daenerys, or pretty much anyone with a good cause – can unite the Seven Kingdoms.
I still haven’t decided how much can I tell you about the characters who seem to have been absorbed by Jorah, but that question should have a more clear answer by the end of the season. Barristan, Quentyn, Griff – I will tell you about all their book adventures once it’s time for it.
Just Like In Catholic School
Belief is so often the death of reason
Ex-maester Qyburn, appeasing all the proud internet atheists
To put it briefly, the last week’s confrontation and this week’s scene is the closest to the book High Septon and his rendition of the Faith of the Seven that we’ve gotten so far. Not in the books: persecuting gays, ridiculous outfits and body mutilation of Faith Militants. In the books: locking people in the dungeon, “enhanced interrogation” (psychological torture), pressuring to get the dirty truth out, piety to the point of stupidity (Lancel Lannister is not a Sparrow in the books, but he’s still nuts, refusing to consummate his marriage, and eventually reaching out to High Septon anyway).
All in all, this segment – like most of this episode, really – was setting up the stage for the finale. In case you didn’t catch Qyburn’s hint, “The work continues” refers to the his human experiments that began by the end of season 4. There was a brief throwback to it in the beginning of this season.
Cat of the Canals
Why would the captain make the wager in the first place?
Arya Stark, questioning the point of the whole insurance system
A piece of continutity: Lhara, Arya’s first customer, is the same woman that was in the bathhouse with Saladhor Saan, the pirate assisting Stannis, when Davos came to meet him to get his support in journey beyond the Wall, after getting the loan from the Iron Bank. Another noteworthy detail is the usage of the phrase “the gift”: it’s quite possible that originally the plan was to include that scene in the sixth episode to match the titular “Gift” theme. Also, the cat passing by in the background might be a nod to the readers, as it’s possibly a reference to Arya’s nickname “Cat of the Canals” that she takes on while roaming the streets of Braavos, learning the language and customs of the people living in the city.
When it comes to Arya’s storyline, I’ve already mentioned that the order of events is all over the place, as the books have her sent on such reconnaissance missions a good few times before she is allowed into the Room of Faces. Even the task itself is taken from A Dance with Dragons, which means that the unused content from the fourth book – and the beginning of the fifth – can be eithered postponed and utilized later on, or outright skipped.
There isn’t much more to be said about the man selling the insurance, as the chapter is written from Arya’s perspective, and she doesn’t understand the procedure at first. What she sees in the scene, what she talks about with Jaqen, is all the information the book provides to the reader.
The Ghost of Winterfell
Leave a feast for the crows
Ramsay Bolton, namedropping the one book he’s not in
Come to think of it, TV Boltons are quite different from the book Boltons. The changes occur on multiple levels to varying degree, from tweaks to the general characterization, through altering specific actions, down to changing their whole outfit. Book Roose wears outrageous pink cloak, is nicknamed “Lord Leech”, and is overall so comically evil that Arya is too scared to tell him her identity in Harrenhal, back when he was Robb’s bannerman. Putting Tywin Lannister in his place was one of the most praised changes the show has made.
So here’s the thing: book Ramsay is evil to the bone, but in a mindless, cruel, and primitive way. He’s not a skilled fighter, not a brave warrior, and definitely not a strategist. Having him fight and scare away the ruthless raiders from the Iron Islands while half-naked was already alarmingly inconsistent with his book persona and created an awkward situation in which Yara Greyjoy (who was never supposed to be in that particular location, by the way) stood and watched idly as he opened the cages. Now we have the second red flag: suddenly Ramsay is smart enough to plan a special operation. If I were to guess a reason for such a drastical change in characterization, this is probably supposed to make him more menacing, and build up a bigger challenge for whoever tries to take him down.
It just strikes me as odd that in the books it’s the Stannis who carefully devises a brilliant strategy to fight incoming forces, while in the show he’s blindly marching forward, about to be outsmarted by a mindless psychopath. It might signal that the outcome of this conflict might be entirely different in the books and in the show.
As for Theon’s revelation, it’s absolutely huge, as Bran and Rickon, even though they’re younger than Sansa, inherit before her, as by the Westerosi laws brothers always inherit before sisters. Bran seems to be out from the game, but Rickon is probably hosted by the Umbers, the loyal Stark bannermen residing in Last Hearth, since that’s where Bran has ordered Osha to take him. I highly doubt we’ll see any of them this season, but overall the situation in the North is far from being resolved.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?
Eddison “Dolorous Edd” Tolett, always on point with his comment
It’s fascinating how one of the best action sequences in the entire show is not actually a book scene, but a show-original one based loosely on an event that is merely related in witness statements and letters. My guess would be that the showrunners decided that the season desperately needs a huge battle, and that the “show, don’t tell” rule needs to be enforced, because what works for the books, doesn’t necessarily work for TV.
First off, it’s worth noting that Hardhome is not a nice place to begin with. It was a decent settlement, the only true town beyond the Wall, until hundreds of years ago an undefined catastrophe swallowed it. The legends say that the houses of Hardhome burned so bright that the Night’s Watch could see it from the Wall. Since then, the site has been abandoned and deemed cursed – that makes the fact that the remnants of wildlings gathered there that more desperate.
The appearance of Rattleshirt a.k.a. “Lord of Bones” and his sudden demise are a nail to the coffin for… Mance Rayder, actually. In the books, Melisandre switches Rattleshirt with Mance, burning the former and hiding the latter, glamoured to hide his true visage. Everyone is convinced it was Mance who died, but Melisandre and Jon know the truth. Mance is later sent to Winterfell in an undercover mission, and it seems that whatever his role ultimately is, it will be Brienne performing it.
All the wildling leaders in the hut – save for the giant Wun Wun, who’s already at the Wall – are show-only characters, since Jon never visits Hardhome in the books. Instead, he sends Cotter Pyke, commander of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, with the mission to investigate the site. Cotter Pyke sends back a distressing message that is laconic, but no less terrifying: “Very bad here. Wildlings eating their own dead. Dead things in the woods”. Jon sends an expedition to Hardhome led by Tormund, but stays himself at the Wall – and by the old gods and the new, how splendid of an idea it was to bring him there. The wildling leaders, barely fleshed out in a few minutes, were brilliantly written, the action was dynamic and created a sense of horror, and the CGI budget seemed to have no limits.
Some people keep calling this sequence “zombie movie”, but the truth is, this is much, much closer to Warcraft 3 and Lord of the Rings. Of course the ASOIAF series is much older than Warcraft 3, but the similarities there could help us define magically raised frozen undead forces as a separate genre/trope from dirty zombie biters. With LotR, the reference is clear as day: while confronting the Undead, Aragorn proves his royal title by presenting Anduril, a sword reforged from Elendil’s Narsil. To the Undead’s surprise, the sword is capable of stopping their ethereal blades. This is the case here – Jon’s sword, made of Valyrian steel, can parry the White Walker weapon, whatever it’s made of.
Speaking of Valyrian Steel, it’s a mysterious alloy that can no longer be made, only reforged, and even that requires one of the last few remaining smiths in the world who can work in that material. The show has featured the Stark sword Ice, which was then reforged into Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper by the orders of Tywin Lannister. Each family that owns a Valyrian steel sword passes it through generations, but some blades have been lost, including the Lannister sword Brightroar, lost in the ruins of Valyria. Samwell Tarly mentions his family sword Heartsbane, and there are few more Valyrian blades still in possession, including Littefinger’s dagger (now you might realize how insanely precious it truly was).
Quick disclaimer: The leaders, the blue-eyed ice demons, are the White Walkers, also known as the Others in the books. The raised dead (skellingtons, zombies) are called Wights. Wights can be killed with conventional means and fire is highly effective against them (as proven in season 1). White Walkers are immune to steel and can extinguish fire, but are vulnerable to dragonglass and Valyrian steel, also called “dragonsteel” (which seems to support the theory that the secret to forging them is the dragonfire). Funnily enough, most of our knowledge about Night’s King and the White Walkers comes from Old Nan’s stories, which were considered fairy tales when she told them, and now are taken as a historical source. Remember that bit about the “ice spiders big as hounds”? Those were also in her stories, and can still appear (although it is very, VERY unlikely given the tendency to tone down the supernatural elements in the show).
That concludes this week’s followup. Feel free to include your feedback both here and at Reddit – I highly value all comments, as they’re the only source of improvement for this series.
Also, check out that essay on etymology of names in Game of Thrones that I’ve promised to you two weeks ago.
See you guys next week!