How are you feeling, fellow book readers?
It’s entirely possible that, like many of those who have read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series to-date, you are feeling left out in the cold a bit. You might find that your hands are cold. Your blood may be turning black. Your Belwas might not be so strong. Your honeypot could have run dry. Your heart, full of stone. If you’re caught in that ever-frustrating book reader loop that involves focusing on what the show didn’t give you rather than enjoying what it has given you, this season four finale of Game of Thrones might spell trouble.
But enough of this advanced recapping cryptology. Let’s get into these Game of Thrones spoilers.
But first, a message from Walter White Walker: Lord of Spoilers: This article is intended for the eyes of those who have read all the books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. It includes book knowledge, many hours of wiki reading, copious and fool hearted speculation and above all, wild guesses about the latest and future episodes of Game of Thrones. Read at your own risk. Valar morghulis.
In my recap for show watchers yesterday, I rambled on about how “The Children” was all about hope and potentially about some of our favorites finally triumphing over their situations. Arya escaped Westeros for a new adventure, Tyrion rectified his daddy issues (not without some collateral cold blooded murder, mind you) and Stannis finally got to do some kingly winning instead of post-Blackwater embarrassment brooding. For much of the finale, I was overwhelmingly impressed by the show’s ability to fit it all in. Delivering all of that information — much of which opens up a lot of storylines for season five — in just 75 minutes felt like a monumental accomplishment.
Given a second viewing and some time to reflect, the part of my brain that remembers all the detail and nuance in Martin’s books has come creeping back to life. And with it comes some disappointment and darkness. My hope for this week’s spoilers discussion is to combine these two ideas into the most dangerous of TV recapping weapons: perspective. We will do this by addressing all of our nagging book reader concerns in a handy list format.
1. Lady Stoneheart
Maybe she’s in a cave somewhere with Coldhands, destined to be off screen and held only in the hearts and minds of book readers. Yes, I was expecting some Lady Stoneheart to close this episode as well. Like many of you, I was sure it had to happen. Mostly because it happens in the books right at this point, but also because the Brienne and Pod story was in motion and heading toward ominous territory. I had even come up with a rationalization for how she fit into the titular theme of “The Children”: her entire existence/resurrection is based on vengeance for what Catelyn assumes are the deaths of her children. As far as she knew when she died, she just saw the last of her children killed. Lady Stoneheart is the literal and figurative personification of a mother’s vengeance coming back from the grave to kill anything Lannister. It’s a great little balm in the books for the bruised souls of readers.
Her absence from the show says one of two things. Either Lady Stoneheart doesn’t have any longterm relevance in the story Martin is telling. As in, she doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme (like Coldhands or Robb Stark’s wife in the books). Or it’s a storyline that is so important it needs more room to breath. Room that season five can offer now that season four has killed off just about everyone. As much as a cameo right at the end would have been fun and shocking, it also might have been confusing for show watchers. The reason Stoneheart works in the books is that we hear stories of her leading up to the realization that she’s zombie Catelyn. She sounds like a badass and the payoff is really great. The show has done zero build-up to the character, which would leave the payoff wanting. And the only thing worse than no Lady Stoneheart is a disappointing and confounding Lady Stoneheart.
The one thing that leads me to believe we still may see her next year: the show is clearly not shying away from the idea of resurrection. As I’m about to explain in my next point…
2. The screams of The Mountain
Here’s where things got really disappointing for my book reader brain. In the episode’s second sequence, we see Cersei and King’s Landing’s version of Doctors McOldy and McCreepy fretting over the lifeless, thoroughly poisoned body of Ser Gregor Clegane, also known as The Mountain or “That Guy Who Killed Everything That Was Beautiful in the World.” This scene is an amalgam of various scenes that happen across A Feast for Crows, delivering information about The Mountain’s condition and his potential future. It’s all very expeditious for show purposes, but here seems to be a glaring example of the show reading something far differently than the books.
What is most important about The Mountain’s post fight condition? Is it the fact that Qyburn wants to turn him into a Frankenstein’s monster and Cersei wants to keep him as her personal muscle? No. In the immediate aftermath of the engagement, what matters is showing how Prince Oberyn was playing the long game. As my fellow book reader roommate Theo has pointed out, finding out what happened to The Mountain later is what seals Oberyn has an all-time player in the Game of Thrones. His mission for revenge against Ser Gregor was so strong that he played the long game. And while Oberyn might have died horribly, Ser Gregor suffered long and hard for his crimes. It’s almost as if Oberyn never expected to leave King’s Landing alive.
This scene skips over all of that. It slides right by the fact that the reason why they need The Mountain in tact is so that he can later be executed to pacify the very angry and dangerous family in Dorne. It glances over the suffering of The Mountain, whose screams are so loud that the entire Red Keep can hear them (which is what leads Cersei to hand him over to Qyburn for medieval science playtime). And it solidifies the reputation of Oberyn, setting the stage for the introduction of his warrior daughters. There’s plenty of time to rectify this (mostly through dialogue set in Dorne next season), but at the moment it feels like a major misstep. Oberyn deserves better. Show watchers deserve to know of his true revenge. (Just typing that last sentence filled me simultaneously with pride and overwhelming arrogance. I’m not sorry.)
3. Cersei and Jaime
The Jaime Lannister character assassination continues. We’ve seen him try to get back some of his honor this season by sending Brienne out to find and protect the Stark girls. It would make sense then for the show to go to the source material for the scene in White Sword Tower, where it was actually Jaime who suggested coming clean to Tywin about the incestuous relationship. It’s also where it was Jaime who refused to sleep with Cersei in the King’s Guard chambers so as not to sully the honor of his post. Combine that with the show’s misread on the sexual encounter near Joffrey’s dead body and we’ve got ourselves a conspiracy theory around how the showrunners might, in fact, just hate Jaime Lannister. The other oddity here is that this is the moment where Jaime and Cersei’s relationship truly breaks. She comes to him and tries to patch things up a bit on the eve of Tyrion’s death, he rejects her, she insults his courage and manhood, he responds by setting his brother free and ultimately dooming his own father. Which leads to Jaime ultimately leaving King’s Landing to try and bring some semblance of order to the Riverlands. At this point, all of this seems to be in flux. And here I was hoping it would all play out nicely and Jaime would take Bronn with him in place of Ser Ilyn Payne. All I want is Jaime and Bronn marching through the Riverlands bantering. Why can’t I just have what I want?!
4. Brienne the Brutal
The fight between The Hound and Brienne is way off book, but was extremely satisfying. It almost feels like a little bit of fanfic squeaking its way into the show. Somewhere along the line any book reader might have thought, “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if two completely badass characters in which we have actual investment would meet and fight causing us to feel a rush of excitement and deep emotional conflict?!” This scene delivers all of that and more. The Mountain and The Viper was a great fight, but we only really cared about one of the characters, making his loss that much harder. With Brienne and The Hound, both characters are in a place where we’re rooting for them. Brienne is questing for the honor of Jaime Lannister and The Hound is Hard Truths Obi-wan to everyone’s favorite remaining Stark child. They’re both also quite large and in charge, meaning that any battle between them would end with nasty business. It was sweeping, then thumping, then dirty, and in the end it was one of the best single combat moments the show has delivered. Made all the more impressive by the fact that it came only two episodes after the show had taken single combat to new heights with The Mountain and The Viper. It’s one of those book changes that makes a lot of sense, delivers something unexpectedly brilliant and might have larger ramifications down the line. And by that, I’m referring to Lady Stoneheart. Although here me out, as I cannot let this go: Perhaps Brienne and Pod go out after Arya. Logically, where would a scared little Stark girl run to now that she has no family left in The North and is still very far from The Wall? To Riverrun, her original destination. We see her set sail for Braavos, but Brienne and Pod don’t know this. Season five might see them turn south toward the Riverlands where the Brotherhood Without Banners and their newly undead leader are waiting for them. Boom, Lady Stoneheart Theory in less than five steps. What do I win?
5. “Wherever whores go”
Leaving out the part where Jaime tells Tyrion the truth about his first wife Tysha — that she really was a normal person who loved him — seemed to take a lot of the pop out of Tyrion’s mini-murder rampage. It’s less clear as to why he doesn’t just leave. Sure, the show has established that Tywin has treated his youngest son like shit his entire life and has given Tyrion every reason to take out both Shae and Tywin. The “Tywin, my lion” line is a nice, albeit confusing little touch for Shae, whose character is far different on the show. In the books it’s more clear that Shae is an opportunist. She follows the gold and the power and when Tyrion finds her in The Tower of The Hand, it makes sense to the reader. The show’s version seems like a 180-degree turn for Shae, who for much of the show has seemed to be genuinely in love with Tyrion. We can understand why she turned on him at the trial. She was recently spurned by him and was probably acting to save herself. How and why she ended up in Tywin’s bed is less apparent. The good news is that either way you slice it, Tyrion killing her still makes sense. She was a rotten apple all along, the show just didn’t sell it that way.
As to Tywin’s death, it seemed like a rough time for the show to get long-winded. Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage are excellent, but there’s less resonance to their conversation about family and Shae as there was in the books with the comment about Tysha going “wherever whores go.” This is, as George R.R. Martin has called it, the show’s butterfly effect at work. By retooling the Shae character, we never get to the heart of why Tyrion kills his father. And as much as it was fun to see Tywin finally get it, the specific reasons why are muddled. As well, it robs us of Tyrion walking through Essos asking everyone he meets if they know where whores go. I was looking forward to that.
6. Tyrion’s travel companion
It appears as if the show will use Varys as Tyrion’s travel companion rather than introducing new characters like Penny and her pig. This makes sense, as the show can’t have Conleith Hill (who plays Varys) sit on the sidelines for an entire season in hiding then show up much later to kill Ser Kevan Lannister at random. As we saw with the expedition of the Theon/Reek storyline, it will have to be moved up. So Varys and Tyrion are our new road buddies. How this plays out going forward is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they will both team up with Jorah and attempt to get into the good graces of Daenerys. From a show perspective, having Varys around while traveling through Essos will make Tyrion’s journey logistically easier. A lot of his drama next season won’t be about trying to hitchhike from boat to boat to get to Slaver’s Bay, but more likely it will be a lot of conversation about the demons he’s created within himself by killing Shae and his father. Varys will be a good therapy participant, at least until they hook up with Jorah.
7. The Bloodraven
This is going to be just as boring on the show as it was in the books, isn’t it?
8. Jojen go boom
In A Dance with Dragons, Jojen Reed talks about wanting to leave Bran and return to Greywater Watch even though he sees for himself and sad ending. This is long after they meet the three-eyed raven and begin to learn of Bran’s path. In a welcomed effort of economy, the show killed off Jojen by having him give his life so that Bran could get where he needed to go. It’s a much better end for a character whose sole purpose was as a spirit guide.
9. The Children of The Forest
The most literal personification of the episode’s title seems to be in reference to The Children of The Forest. One could argue that this element could have used a little more lead-in, perhaps with some campfire storytelling from Jojen instead of that Craster’s Keep diversion earlier in the season. It harkens back to my argument about Lady Stoneheart. With a lack of breathing room, the introduction of TCOF and the Bloodraven is a jarring, very shock-and-awe character entry that not only introduces us to new characters but new types of magic within Westeros. How does this kind of magic fit in with the White Walkers? Why are these undead soldiers different from the ones we’ve seen previously? Why does their magic not work in the Carcosa from True Detective? It has all left me in a strange place — I like the fact that they’ve accelerated Bran’s storyline, as Bran’s storyline is a real slog. But they’ve accelerated to a point that presents show watchers with a lot of confusing imagery. It’s something they will have to work to clean up as that storyline moves forward in future seasons.
As you might imagine, there’s plenty more to be said about season four’s end and what it means for season five (we didn’t even get to Dany or Stannis the Mannis). Perhaps we’ll save that for the discussion in the comments below. Or another article. Or this week’s episode of A Storm of Spoilers, which will be ready for the world on Wednesday. Maybe I’ll just keep writing weekly articles breaking everything down every little detail and what it means for the next ten months while we await the start of season five. That is my kind of crazy, after all…