Game of Thrones Explained: A Rough Night for Book Readers

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“No One” delivers tense conversations, medical marvels, jokes, and the death of some fan theories.

In the eighth episode of its sixth season, Game of Thrones decided to push the envelope on trolling the readers of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series. For better or worse, they made some changes. They also paid off some storylines that have been dangling a bit, or reborn out of left field. All in service of efficiency and a push toward two mammoth season-finishing episodes.

In an episode that saw several characters dream about what they might do when this whole thing is over, reality was the great equalizer. And when reality came to knock them out of their trance, it meant getting the larger narrative moving toward some kind of hellish final run.

Below our spoiler warning, we’ll look at a few of the big themes of this episode – from wishful thinking to book theory slaying to medical marvels – it’s time for “No One” to be named. Of course, this means spoilers, speculation, and painful answers. You’ve been warned.

Why are all the book readers so upset?

If you follow a lot of Thrones people on Twitter this week, or if you’ve got friends who are deeply invested in GRRM’s books, this will be a tough week for them. Give them some space and allow them to mourn the death of some of the juiciest fan theories around. As my good friend Joanna explains at Vanity Fair, it’s likely that the CleganeBowl was killed by Tommen outlawing Trial by Combat and the Brotherhood embracing The Hound; and the return of Beric Dondarrion sticks a mighty sharp dagger in the show ever delivering on Lady Stoneheart.

The CleganeBowl isn’t completely dead – brothers Sandor and Zombie Gregor are both very much alive and very much in the killing game as of this episode – but it won’t be the way fans envisioned it. Which is fine, as fans aren’t really the ones making these decisions. It’s fun to live in a state of wishful thinking, but let’s assume the show has something for us that will be just as good, if not better, at least until it doesn’t.

Lady Stoneheart is also something that isn’t completely dead, it’s just less likely. In the books, Beric gives up his life to resurrect Catelyn Stark shortly after the Brotherhood finds her body washed up from the Red Wedding afterparty. As we learn from Jaime and Edmure’s chat this week, it’s been years since The Red Wedding. Unless she’s already resurrected and skulking around the Riverlands, Cat ain’t coming back in any humanoid form. She’d be Lady Boneheart, at best. For the record, this doesn’t preclude the show from doing it – I still hope they might find a way. Though if this season – and specifically this episode – has taught us anything, it’s that the simplest answer is always right where the show is concerned.

The other reason why book readers might be upset has a lot to do with the show making some changes to the characters involved in the Siege of Riverrun. One thing lifted directly from the books (and my heart) was Jaime threatening to launch Edmure’s newborn son over the embankments of Riverrun. That’s a pretty boss move, even for the Kingslayer. One thing that did change was Jaime’s motivation. The Thrones writers room seems to believe that Jaime needed more motivation than he had in the books, where he’s out getting Riverrun back in order to get his groove back following a major break with Cersei. In the show, he’s all about slaughtering Tullys so that he can get back to his beloved sister. The other big change was the end of The Blackfish’s story. In the books, it’s rumored that he gets away and swims downriver, leaving him once again at-large. The show doesn’t have the luxury of keeping characters on the sidelines forever. There are actor schedules and contracts to deal with. If he’s not important to the endgame (let’s be honest, he’s probably not), why not give him a warrior’s goodbye? It would have been nice to see him go out fighting like Ser Barristan, but let’s face it, these episodes are not infinite.

Book purists are also not so happy with Tyrion treading water for several episodes only to end up in the same spot as the books (The Siege of Meereen). But hey, it’s not so bad, in the show at least he’s inside the castle and Mama’s home, so perhaps this is about to get interesting.

It’s a strange moment for me, having had such an immediately negative reaction to last week’s episode, to feel very unmoved by all of this. Perhaps I spent my pearl-clutching book reader energy on last week’s changes to the Brotherhood (which panned out as a non-factor this week). It’s hard for a dedicated fan base, especially those that have been following GRRM’s books for so long, to watch the show make changes, big or small. What we must reconcile is the fact that the show and the books are two different stories. We may not get Lady Stoneheart in the show and The Blackfish may come back in the books. Neither path is the wrong one. The show isn’t worse because it isn’t going to deliver the fan-created CleganeBowl. Dan Weiss and David Benioff aren’t hacks because they changed Jaime’s motivation. When it’s all said and done, we can look back at the differences between the books and the show and lament what could have been. For now – at least 15 episodes from the end – we should give them some rope and see what they do with it.

What is Cersei’s Special Plan?

One theory that grew stronger this week was the notion that Cersei knows where the wildfire is buried. In one scene, Tommen outlawed Trial By Combat putting her in a very precarious position, which may lead her to take drastic measures to take down the High Sparrow. Now that she’s choosing violence, what’s to stop her from burning this whole thing down? It matches with a book storyline, in which Cersei has part of the Tower of the Hand burned following her father’s murder. That she might try to burn the Great Sept of Baelor or the whole of King’s Landing is decidedly a step up for Cersei, but she’s very desperate.

Arya is a Medical Marvel

Speaking of desperation, how about Arya’s big escape? Not only did she survive the initial stab wound – the kind that previously killed the likes of Talisa Stark and Jon Snow – she also survives as Jason Bourne vs. The Terminator-esque chase through the narrow streets of Braavos. (Side note: kudos to composer Ramin Djawadi for giving The Waif a theme that was close to Brad Fiedel’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day score). It’s one thing for Arya to defeat The Waif, as many expected her to, and another thing entirely for her to spend so much time bleeding and not at least pass out at the end. Were Lady Crane’s healing powers such that she could repair internal organs? Did Arya not rip all of her stitches during the chase? How much blood did she lose, exactly?

It’s easy to chalk it all up to TV magic, but it also speaks to some of the sloppiness of the Arya storyline over the last two episodes. The show really yada-yada’d through her injuries, which is weird for a show known for its unflinching brutality and commitment to the consequences of violence. It feels like a misstep in its quest to efficiently gallop to its big endgame. That’s worrisome, as Weiss and Benioff have passively made it known that they are ready for this all to be done. Whereas HBO would have two more full seasons, the show’s creators appear to be pushing for two shortened seasons. If that’s all the story they have left to tell, that’s fine. But if they are going to be sloppy in their landing of this massive cultural entity, that might spell trouble for the last 15+ hours of story. Having Arya on her way back to Westeros is great, but time will tell whether or not this sloppy execution will haunt the show until its dying day.

What Comes Next?

The preview for episode 9, “The Battle of the Bastards,” is primarily focused on the titular battle. It’s likely – especially as it’s been touted as “the biggest battle in TV history” – that the battle outside Winterfell will be the entire episode.

Here are some mild predictions based on this preview:

  • The show wants us to believe that Jon might die for real this time. If he does, at least Kit Harington wasn’t technically lying in the offseason.
  • Davos standing over the spot where Shireen was burned: there could be a reckoning coming for Melisandre.
  • This will be a Wun Wun podium episode.

Until next week, our watch continues!

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