With the conclusion of season 4 of Game of Thrones the deviation from the books has never been more pronounced. Episode reviewers Angel and Tara invited guest bloggers Laura from Utter Failures and James of Held for Ranson for a discussion breaking down each major deviation from the books to talk about why they did or didn’t work, and what all of that could possibly mean for future seasons of the show.
The following discussion WILL contain book spoilers.
Plot change: The deviations from the overall plot regarding Bran, Meera, Jojen, Hodor, and Summer.
Angel: At first I didn’t really mind these changes. It seemed like they were simply accelerating their story a few books early, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My favorite things about the books is pretty much everything that takes place outside of Westeros – so basically everything north of the Wall or in Essos. The idea that we’d get to see more of the magic that lies beyond the Wall sooner was very appealing to me. The first thing that made me not as excited about this change was when it looked like they were going to cross paths with Jon in ‘Oathkeeper’. The Starks being scattered across the world, not knowing each others’ fates, is one of the biggest dramatic elements of the books for me – so if they’d have changed that it would have lessened some of the drama. Thankfully Bran and Jon didn’t meet, and I was able to continue enjoying the changes.
But with the finale episode ‘The Children’ I’ve completely changed my opinion on the matter. I feel like killing off Jojen at this juncture was completely unnecessary and harmful to the dynamic of the group. Sure, in the books he’s not looking so great and death is probably in his future very soon, but it’s a completely different situation than what happened in this episode. Jojen is a source of companionship and emotional stability for both Meera and Bran. He’s also someone that Bran can learn from in regards to all of the magic that is happening around him. While meeting the Three-eyed Raven might fill in that gap, it’s a completely different relationship than the one Bran had with Jojen. Having Jojen die suddenly instead of slowly also doesn’t give these characters a chance to come to terms with it before they’re thrust into an entirely new set of circumstances.
I’ve been told that in the long run Jojen ‘isn’t important.’ My outrage over his death may seem blown out of proportion considering how much tragedy happens in this narrative. But I feel that the books kill enough characters suddenly already. Why add to it?
Laura: I was surprised to see him go so soon, but in the grander scheme I suppose it makes sense to streamline things up North of the wall a bit. They didn’t have Coldhands help Bran, which honestly would have been pretty interesting in my opinion. And since they left him out, I can see how they’d also let Jojen go sooner than expected. And if he had to go, he went out in a pretty intense way, befitting a greenseer. I mean, fireball from a Child of the Forest? Pretty badass. I was more disappointed in how Bloodraven looked. I was anticipating a branch coming out of his eye, at least. It was just an old man sitting on some roots. Okay, that’s an oversimplification, but he could have been so cool! I felt they let us down there, but nevertheless I’m really excited to see Bran learn to “fly”!
Tara: When they announced that the final episode of this season was called “The Children”, I was fairly certain that we would be seeing the Children of the Forest. It turns out that was the case, and while I understand the need for the show to stretch Bran’s plot out a bit in order to keep their arrival at the caves for the finale, I still don’t care for what they did and how they did it. It did make more sense when compared to Arya actually arriving at the Bloody Gate (and therefore being so close to Sansa), but most especially the scenes with Bran & Co. at Craster’s are close to unforgivable – especially in terms of what they did with Meera at that time.
The thing about Jojen’s death that bothers me is that it’s either a spoiler for something to come in the books, or it’s the show killing off another character for no good reason. I’m not even certain which would be worse.
James: Of all the character arcs in the books, Bran’s has been the most dissatisfying for me. The seemingly unending journey North blurred together so much that I didn’t even remember the skeleton attack – at first viewing, I thought the show had added it to make Bran’s story more exciting and had to look that chapter up again to make sure. So in a sense I liked some of the changes the show made to Bran’s story arc, because they made it less dull. The whole Craster’s Keep section was quite far-fetched, but it did introduce Bran truly warging into Hodor, and it was preferable to chapter after chapter of walking.
On the other hand, I agree with Tara about Jojen’s death seeming contrived or at least incongruous at this point (plus I really liked Thomas Sangster’s portrayal of Jojen and was looking forward to seeing more of him). It was a major failure of the final episode that they tried to make Jojen appear weak with no reason for his weakness. The books make it clear they are all starving and freezing and exhausted, but the show doesn’t take time for that, so Jojen’s initial fall in the snow and subsequent acceptance of death struck me as jarring and odd. And I’m sorry, but “he knew what would happen and did it anyway” is a pretty overused plot device by now.
Plot change: The circumstances regarding Arya and the Hound parting ways.
Laura: I’ll be brief. Adding Brienne to the mix was great. Their fight was more exciting to me than the Oberyn/Gregor fight. (Don’t kill me for saying it, and pardon the pun.) Pod acted unusually useless, but I’ll let that go. The Hound/Arya goodbye scene was done well, I think. The less Arya said, the better. And while a lot of show watchers I’ve heard have said that she “couldn’t bear” to kill him, I think we all know what really happened there. No soup for you!
Tara: Unlike Laura, I can’t let go of how useless Pod was in that scene! Okay, I’m half kidding. But I do love Pod, and his INaction here was uncharacteristic not just based on the book version of his character, but in terms of the way the show wrote him up until then as well. I also wonder if this was a foreshadowing of something to come in the books, or if the show writers are just throwing ideas at a wall and seeing which ones stick. The fight was well done, sure, but I guess I just can’t rectify it with the book characters that I love. And I also feel that a lot of what happened with Arya this season was, for lack of a better word, schizophrenic – as if they weren’t sure where they wanted her to end up until they were writing the last episode…despite, you know, having a book to guide their way.
Angel: Brienne and Arya are two characters I’ve always wanted to cross paths. In my article breaking down the women in the series The Women of Game of Thrones: A Study on Gender Roles I compared the two quite a bit. I was hoping that if they met it would be later on, though, as I feel that Brienne’s inability to find the Stark girls was building up to something in the books. She’s determined to find them, but has pretty much written off Arya as dead. In the show, she now knows that Arya is very much alive, which makes me wonder if I was wrong about it building up to something in the books. I thought there would be a moment when she gives up, thus a major turning point for her character, or finds them, which I assumed would be a major turning point for the story. Now she’s found Arya on the show, but lost her again.
In the grand scheme of things I suppose it won’t have an enormous impact, but it’s a moment that I was expecting to be much bigger than what we actually saw play out on screen.
Also, the Hound is dead. I’ve seen theories that he’s going to live, but the creators have confirmed in numerous interviews that he’s dead. If you guys want to start a riot over this, I’m totally there.
Angel: It’s decided then. A riot is in the works.
Laura: Riot, check. Which, if this is honestly the truth SUPER sucks because I was about to start on a “Team Hound” jersey for Clegane Bowl.
James: Hahaha, I love the riot plans. I’m not the Hound fan that Tara is, but I’m amused by this concept and will gladly record riot footage for the YouTube Channel of Ice and Fire.
I LOVED the Hound/Brienne fight. Brienne’s battle prowess has been given short shrift in the show – until now we hadn’t really seen her fight for more than a few seconds at a time. In this scene she is finally vindicated and revealed as a serious badass in a fight. That made me happy.
The interaction between Brienne and Arya, however, did not. I wondered if it was supposed to be a substitute for the final conversation between Brienne and Lady Stoneheart in the books, when Brienne is judged without being given a chance to explain herself. Whether or not that was a deliberate substitution, it was damn heartbreaking. Plus there was the sense that, well, we’ve got to get Arya onto the boat to Braavos somehow…so how do we get the Hound out of the way? And then oh, how convenient, here’s Brienne to kill him but not to bring Arya to safety! Contrived.
Plot change: The lack of Coldhands and Lady Stoneheart.
Angel: I understand the reasoning for leaving Lady Stoneheart out, but I hope she’s not left out entirely like Coldhands was. Surprisingly I’m okay with Coldhands not showing up, as it has sort of made Bran & Co. much more competent doing things on their own. I’ve dubbed them as “Team ‘We Don’t Need Adults’” or “Team ‘We’re Kids But We’re Going to Save Everyone Else Anyway.’” Coldhands was interesting, but without him these kids have becomes twice as badass. I feel like Lady Stoneheart is essential, though, and while I understand not introducing her now, I do hope she gets introduced eventually.
Laura: To me, Coldhands represents one more part of the North that is so mysterious. What is exactly going on up there? In the books it added another level of that unknown. Coldhands doesn’t really carry the story or even really do anything particularly interesting. But he is another reminder that the North is looking for Bran. He emphasizes the necessity of Bran’s fate.The absence of Coldhands makes me think that there wasn’t much truth to those tinfoil theories after all. I’m honestly a little disappointed because really, who didn’t want Coldhands to be (insert missing person’s name here)?
As for Stoneheart, I was so hoping to see her but just assumed that she’d show up in season five. If that’s not the case and they leave her out entirely, they’re passing up what would be THE BEST shocking moment of the whole storyline so far, in my opinion. Huge mistake. If they change her character and make it Talisa, I’ll probably riot. So we’re rioting twice, then?
Tara: The comments by the show producers that Stoneheart isn’t that important have left me more than a bit concerned about her existing in the show. A lot of things I’ve heard have seemed to be based on the cost of keeping Michelle Fairley involved in the show, but I’m not sure if that concerns me more in terms of the fact that Stoneheart may not show up at all, or because it may mean that if we do see her, it won’t be Catelyn, but Talisa. And yes, if that’s the case, there may be some double rioting going on.
As for Coldhands, I’m hoping that him being left out of the show doesn’t mean that he’s not important, but merely that they had no way of showing him without also showing who he really is – or perhaps, rather, was.
James: It’s effing HBO, since when are they concerned about how much anything costs? Having Michelle Fairley return as Lady Stoneheart would have been worth it, so I’m feeling like they are coming down on the side of that character just not being that important, which I feel has the potential to drastically change some aspects of certain characters down the line, including both Brienne and Jaime. Not that the show is afraid to make drastic character changes, but I’m not sure how they’ll manage that one. Maybe the Arya/Stoneheart substitution I mentioned above, and/or having Talisa be Stoneheart instead (which hadn’t occurred to me, but strikes me as exactly the kind of plot change Benioff and Weiss would jump at).
I honestly don’t care about Coldhands one way or the other (see my above comments on the book!Bran storyline). Indifferent to his presence in the books, indifferent to his absence in the show.
Tara: Weeellll Alex Graves did refer to Lady Stoneheart as nothing more than ‘a zombie who kills people’, along the lines of it not being worth bringing Michelle Fairley back for a role like that…regardless, though, not having her at all – no matter the reason – would certainly change things for a great many characters (both in terms of what has already happened, and also I think in terms of what fans have theorized and downright hoped would happen ::cough::Lady Stoneheart killing Littlefinger::cough::).
Plot change: The changed dynamic between Cersei and Jaime.
Tara: I have a love/hate relationship with their relationship – but I definitely feel that the show did a lot of damage to it, as well as to Jaime’s character, with the way they were portrayed together this season. Listen, I get that Jaime is supposed to be a “gray area” character, but I don’t think that’s where they’re going with him – not considering the interview some years ago in which David Benioff called Jaime a ‘monster’ who ‘loves killing’. Don’t even get me started on how they woobify Tyrion while vilifying Jaime…
Laura: What are they even doing?? Jaime’s character development is not going where I thought it was going to go. I honestly think they can work just fine with where Cersei is right now, even though they have made her a little more relatable than the books, but like Tara I’m really lost as to what is happening with Jaime. And even more so given the lack of discussion of major past events with Tyrion. I guess we’ll see where they take him next season. If the show doesn’t eventually let Jaime develop into what – who – he is in the books, at this point I’ll be really disappointed since it was that version of Jaime I found so interesting to begin with.
Angel: I feel like Tara summed up a lot of how I feel about the rape scene in her article “We Need To Talk About Jaime Lannister: Why Rape Isn’t a Suitable Plot Device”, so if you haven’t read that, you should. Apparently it wasn’t intended to come off as rape, and then a few episodes later they are shown having very consensual sex – but the point still stands that this scene was completely different from what was in the books and has made it difficult to enjoy Jaime as much as I did when reading them. Even him saving Tyrion was tainted by this. I’m not over it and I don’t think I’ll be able to get over it. Jaime is tainted for me now.
James: I was so angry at their dynamic during the final episode. Actually, I’ve been angry with their dynamic this whole season. As I understand it, Jaime in King’s Landing in the books is gradually growing away from Cersei, to the point where in Feast For Crows he pretty much realizes he’s done with her completely – no more sex, no more love, no more anything. The show is turning that progression on its head despite having every opportunity to work with it, and it’s driving me up a wall. (Or maybe The Wall.) When Cersei was crawling on Jaime in this last episode I was mentally shouting “refuse her! refuse her!”, and then “damn it!” when Jaime acquiesced and started kissing her back. And he shoved the Kingsguard book across the table to take her! Such horrible symbolism, that her sex is more important to him than his duty. That scene would have been a perfect opportunity to show Jaime’s growth, and all it showed was that he was still exactly where he started in the very first episode of the show, throwing/pushing aside his decency to get laid. It’s going to make it a lot harder to justify his tearing up her letter at Riverrun when that comes around (assuming it does come around). I wouldn’t be surprised if show!Jaime’s character arc is completely changed/ruined now.
Tara: Okay, so are we all rioting yet again? Kidding, kidding. (No but really.)
Plot Change: The introduction of the Night’s King.
Angel: I’m not sure what happened there. I really, really don’t know. I can’t even tell if I liked that change or hated it. It was certainly a surprise for everyone, including book readers! The thing that does bother me is that his title was spoiled by several news outlets, which means this was essentially a big spoiler for book readers instead of just an odd divergence from the plot. Had news outlets not labeled him the “Night’s King”, we’d have probably just been left wondering what the heck happened there. Now we the book readers, who are often so cautious about not spoiling the non-book fans, have been spoiled big time.
My feelings on the matter can be summed up by the picture on the right pretty much.
Tara: Oh, are we talking about White Walker Darth Maul (or would it be Other Darth Maul?) now? Yeah? Good. Seriously though, while Jojen’s death could certainly be considered a book spoiler, as we all know that he hasn’t been feeling well for quite some time and also isn’t as physically strong as his companions, period, the idea of revealing the Night’s King (and apparently mistakenly, at that!) is nigh on unforgivable!
Okay, I’m honestly partly kidding. I thought that the White Walker looked weird, and the whole thing with him turning the baby was creepy no matter how I look at it, but like Angel said – I wish they hadn’t posted his name on HBO Go. I wish I was still just chuckling over this somewhat weird (almost silly) change that the show made.
Laura: Yeah, it was kind of a weird addition. I like that there are some really interesting things going on North of the Wall – it’s one of the most interesting parts of the story to me. But adding this in means that something else won’t make it, and they’ve have already trimmed so much. It makes me lose hope for Lady Stoneheart or Cleganebowl because they can’t tackle too much in such a short time.
Tara: Ha, I’ve been saying that since season two…for everything they add, we have to plan that they will take away several things that we as book readers wanted to see. I guess at this point the real concern (at least for me) is how to come to terms with that. I honestly enjoy being a bit snarky about the show at times, but I can’t hate it, because I suppose it could be a lot worse, right?
(Oh gosh, that isn’t a hint, please don’t take that as a hint, show creators…)
That’s the conclusion of our Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones Comparison Roundtable. What are your thoughts on the changes?
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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