WARNINGS: This roundtable focuses on the first three episodes of Game of Thrones season 5 and how they compare to the books. There will be book spoilers in this article that may or may not spoil future episodes. Show only viewers have been warned to proceed with caution.
What is going on with Game of Thrones? Sansa and Ramsay? Kill-happy Brienne? Tommen having sex, and Tyrion refusing to do so?
In this roundtable, Geekiary admin Angel, writer/editor Tara, guest Bekah, and writer Ashley opine about those book changes that they just can’t understand…and try to explain the few things that we are okay with.
How do you feel about Sansa taking Jeyne Poole’s place with Ramsay Bolton?
Tara: I’m not one to cry over TV shows or movies, but the moment they transitioned from Roose talking to Ramsay about marriage to a shot of Sansa and Baelish traveling, the tears came on…and it was a while before they stopped, only to start again the moment Sansa was back on screen. I think the worst part is that two years ago, at the first Ice & Fire Con, I joked about how the show could very well put Sansa in Jeyne Poole’s place – but I never thought they would actually do it!
Sansa is my favorite female character in the books, and although they’ve made quite a few changes to her in the show I’ve been able to set them aside for the most part. But this is one change I’m not sure I can handle – especially if they actually go through with the wedding and the wedding night.
Then there’s the added issue of this “Myranda” girl – a name they took from the books and then placed on their own made-up character. We already saw her side-eying Sansa in this episode, and hey, wouldn’t it just be a great plot twist if she assaults Sansa over dear Ramsay Bolton? Because clearly one woman attacking another over a man is great storytelling and hasn’t been done, you know, a million times before.
In the end, yes, I understand that her situation in the show is already quite a bit different from that of Jeyne in the books – everyone who sees her will know that she’s Sansa Stark, rather than some other Northern girl posing as Arya. And this Sansa is no meek child; she’s already doing a damn good job of playing “the game”. (Not that I’m fond of this, but there’s no denying that it’s happening.) But I’m upset enough over this change that if they take it much farther, I’m not sure I”ll be able to watch the show anymore.
Bekah: I’m reading the books but I’m not very far into the first one, so I’m coming into this with the perspective of somebody who’s only seen the show. I’m a big fan of Sansa’s, probably because Tara told me a bit about her before I started watching the show and encouraged me to take an interest in her. Usually in a series of anything, there’s a hero and a villain. There is usually a very clear line between good and bad, and that’s how, until recently, I viewed almost every character in anything I was watching or reading. However, since I’ve been engaged in the Game of Thrones world, I noticed that there’s no real hero or villain. I asked a friend, “Whose side is Baelish on?” only to have him answer, “Littlefinger is on Littlefinger’s side.” That’s when I truly understood that these characters aren’t all ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Sansa strikes me as one of the characters who is a ‘truly good’ character, and Ramsay Bolton is a ‘truly evil’ character. I was watching the episode with Tara when Baelish announced Sansa’s engagement to Ramsay and saw the tears for myself. I didn’t understand why she would be upset (because I didn’t know about Jeyne) until she explained it to me later.
In the show, we have Sansa meeting Lord Bolton and Ramsay the Psychopath and walking through Winterfell. There’s a moment, before she goes down into the crypts to visit her departed family, where Theon, as Reek, is crouching down outside and sees her coming. He seems to recognize her immediately and turns his head to the side so that she doesn’t see him. There are a couple of other moments in the episode where Theon is shown looking at Sansa but she doesn’t seem to notice him. I wouldn’t be surprised (and actually, I’m kind of hoping for this at this point) if Theon has something to do with the new Sansa-Bolton plot in the show.
In an interview, Sophie Turner talked about Sansa being a real player in the Game now. The viewers might believe that Sansa is naively playing into Baelish’s schemes but I think that she has become a bit shrewder. Baelish is an opportunist, and Sansa is his biggest opportunity at the moment. I believe that he’d like to think that Sansa is eating from the palm of his hand, but that Sansa actually knows better (if that Maleficent-style robe from the end of season four is any indicator). She came into Kings Landing as a dewy-eyed innocent but Sansa is no longer the sweet Stark girl of the North. Part of me hopes that she’s going to deliver swift justice to Ramsay in the form of a knife in his heart.
I do agree with Tara, though. If they follow through with Jeyne’s plot with Sansa as the replacement, I’m not sure I’ll be able to continue to watch the show.
Ashley: I’m not happy about it. Again and again the show runners have proven that they don’t understand Sansa’s character arc, in particular how it’s supposed to be mirrored by Arya’s experiences. They are two strong girls who would never survive in the other’s position, yet are able to adapt admirably to the horrors they are faced with in their own story lines. While modern watchers are more likely to root for Arya and her refusal to be a passive damsel, Sansa’s strength has always held a lot more subtlety in how she’s been able to avoid becoming nothing but an empty victim.
Sansa’s gifts lie in her ability to endear herself to others, and what Littlefinger has been teaching her is how to use that endearment to its full potential. In the books, Sansa is at this point pretending to be a bastard, meaning that she’s no longer able to hide behind the power and respect her name grants her. Everything she is able to accomplish is all her own, not because of her family. This is how we see her growth and strength. If we look at the Jayne Pool storyline, we see that Sansa’s power as a Stark is worth nothing, even in Winterfell. The Northern lords did nothing to protect Jayne, and she was locked away. Basically all the skills Sansa has learned would be useless, and she would be in an even worse position than she was in King’s Landing.
Now this is assuming the storyline follows Jeyne’s. It might not – we may instead see Sansa learned to tiptoe around Ramsay, but we’ve seen that with Joffrey. She may use her graces to endear herself to the lords, but what’s the point? She has their sympathy and support thanks to her name. We may see her plot against the Boltons, but I can’t see her risking Littlefinger’s plans when she’s still so new to the game. So again…what’s the point?
The thing is, Sansa would do well in this situation if it weren’t for Ramsay’s character. She wouldn’t grow as a character, but at least she’d remain stagnant. I’m sure this is exactly what Littlefinger is thinking, not realizing this huge piece of information he’s missing. How he’s missing this is a question in itself, as Ramsay’s actions are fairly infamous by this time in the story.
Assuming the wedding night happens, as it sounds like the cast is hinting at that, I’m left asking the show runners, why? This is actually my whole issue with the Sansa change. Why are you doing this? What purpose does this have in growing Sansa’s character? Proving that she’s a survivor? Showing the horrors of this world? You’ve done that, so what’s the point? You’ve put the character in an impossible position, you’ve taken away all her weapons, you’ve removed all chance for growth. If Sansa is essentially raped, what purpose does it have in the story? Because right now, it feels like more gratuitous sexual violence towards women, solely to show how bad a bad guy is, and to hell with how it affects Sansa’s character arc. I have zero faith that they have something planned that will make me eat my words, but they’re welcome to try.
Another character that they’re doing a disservice to is Theon Greyjoy. Many people know that I can’t stand Theon, but I’ll give credit where credit is due, and Theon keeping Jeyne’s identity a secret in order to make sure her rescue attempt isn’t abandoned is a huge mark towards his recovery.
And one last thing – Sansa is accused of regicide. That is not going to fly with the Lannisters. First, this would make the Northern lords more likely to keep faith with the Boltons – perhaps not all of them, but if this were the books, the political situation would be a lot more tricky. This is the show, so they’ll likely just brush that off as “show watchers won’t think that hard”. Second, why does he want to start a war with the Lannisters? Winter could last years, they’re not going to march then, the Lannisters will have all that time to shore up their resources and alliances, relying on the south, and they’d cut off food trade. Obviously, no one thought this through.
Angel: I knew that they wouldn’t be able to follow the plot exactly since they didn’t properly introduce Jeyne Poole early on, but I didn’t see this coming. I thought maybe they’d cast someone as just a fake Arya, which would have presented a problem for the viewers as we don’t have any connection with her. Or I thought maybe they’d skip this side plot entirely and push characters around where they needed to in order to get them where they have to be when the story ends (whenever and wherever that may be). When they revealed that they were putting Sansa in Jeyne’s place I was shocked.
From a logical standpoint it makes sense. We need this character to be someone we at least somewhat care about, so altering Sansa’s story fits this need. But I do not like it at all, logic be damned. We’ve already had enough sexual assault on the show already. If any harm, sexual or otherwise, happens to Sansa in Winterfell I will revolt against the show.
Protect Sansa Stark.
Ashley: Show Brienne is completely unrecognizable from her book counterpart, so I honestly can’t say how it could affect her character. Her storyline is also much changed, and I have a hard time figuring out the why of it. It honestly feels like the show runners don’t know why they’re doing it, either, as it feels like they haven’t really taken advantage of it…which the exception of giving us a cool fight scene with the Hound, which they threw in simply because it would be cool, as book readers know that Brienne wouldn’t have stood a chance against him.
Angel: Now that Brienne knows that both Stark girls are alive and well, I feel like a lot of her characterization from the later books has been lost. Her chapters had this sense of stubborn determination in the face of absolute hopelessness that I found very appealing. But I suppose wandering around thinking about two absent characters wouldn’t adapt well to the screen, so something had to be done. Choosing to change things in this specific way, though, leads to all sorts of problems. Since she knows Arya is alive, why didn’t she tell that to Sansa? Also, since she knows where they are taking Sansa, how exactly will she fit into the Winterfell plot? Will she have a hand in her rescue? It’s gone so far off the rails I really don’t know how they are going to pull it all back together.
Tara: In response to Angel, I believe that a lot of these things will come to a head at/around/near Winterfell, as Stannis is apparently on his way there as well, and of course show!Brienne is about as focused on killing Stannis as she is on getting Sansa and/or Arya to accept her help. And honestly, to a point I’m okay with where Brienne is right now (in terms of place)…at least so far as the show goes. They’re moving an awful lot of people around on a very large board, and changes like this are bound to happen.
My issues with Brienne’s current status lie in the changes made to her character. I can almost forgive the loss of that “stubborn determination in the face of hopelessness” that Angel mentioned, and even the fact that she beat the Hound in a fight…but I don’t understand why she needs to be constantly fighting/attacking/killing people, i.e. the Northmen she killed when she was with Jaime, and her more recent murderous confrontation with the Vale knights who were only trying to do their job protecting Sansa (and, yes, Baelish, but again…that’s their JOB). Not only does this go against the Brienne I know, the Brienne who is both an amazing fighter and a truly good person, but it also makes no sense…because how does Brienne think that Sansa is ever going to trust her when she’s running around killing the men chosen to protect Sansa?
Tara: It seemed a bit rushed – I was actually surprised that they were married so soon and showed it at all, but not so surprised as I was when they actually had – and essentially showed – the wedding night, as well. To be honest I kind of want to forget that happened at all, because even with Tommen aged up quite a bit from the books, it was awkward at best.
Bekah: The wedding itself was very quick in the show, with only a few moments between the newlyweds and then focused frames on Cersei’s face. I think the only purpose of the wedding night might have been to serve as a platform for Margaery to plant seeds in Tommen’s mind about his mother and her presence in King’s Landing.
Ashley: I remember it being fairly rushed in the books as well, so that part didn’t bother me. I was a little worried when we saw the bedroom, but they kept it tasteful, something I was grateful for. My concern is that the state of Margaery’s virginity is a plot point in the books, so I’m curious as to how they’ll write around that, but it’s not something I feel is impossible to do, so I’m not terribly concerned.
Angel: I wasn’t so shocked about the wedding, but watching the wedding night take place was rather shocking. Tommen was a kid just a couple of seasons ago, and I know time has passed, it’s hard to really see him as mature enough to have sex with Margaery. This may be because we first saw her with Renly, who was obviously a grown man, then Joffrey, who seemed like a child in comparison, but seeing this same woman with progressively younger kings makes Tommen’s youth stand out even more. Don’t get me wrong, I love Margaery, but the way they framed it makes Margaery’s actions with Tommen seem kind of cringe-worthy. Tommen is a kid.
Tara: So last season Shae betrayed Tyrion in court and then he caught her in bed with dear old dad and murdered them both. Pretty close to what happened in the books, except that I was never under the impression that book!Shae actually loved Tyrion – the idea that this was the case was all his own. The show, however, did its best to convince us that Shae truly loved Tyrion, thus giving her “betrayal” some extra oomph and providing what I suppose they thought would be good reason for him to murder her.
In A Dance with Dragons Tyrion for all intents and purposes forces himself on a whore – she is clearly disgusted by and doesn’t want him (for good reason considering he’s wasted, rude, and pukes all over the place). But Game of Thrones showed him sweetly convincing one of the whores to be with him…only to not be able to follow through, presumably because he’s still in love with Shae.
The problem with this is that Martin excels at writing gray characters, while the show picks and chooses which ones need to be all bad, all good, or – in very few cases – remain in that gray area. With such great source material, it is maddening when they simplify things unnecessarily…and with Tyrion in particular, it’s just too much, in my opinion.
Bekah: Tyrion has actually grown on me, but I haven’t read the books, so that may change when I do so.
Ashley: What drew me to the Song of Ice and Fire books were the characters – more specifically, the abundance of strong gray characters. Tyrion’s whitewashing is a huge disservice to his character, an underestimation of the viewers’ intelligence, and a lack of faith in Peter Dinklage’s acting ability and charisma. I fully believe they could have kept Tyrion’s darker side intact and he’d still remain the fan favorite, much like he is in the books. In fact, that’s why he’s a fan favorite, because he’s just so darn interesting and relatable. This is supposed to be Tyrion’s rock bottom and he’s supposed to hit that bottom hard.
What does all this change in terms of the story and how the show will play out? Nothing really, so I can see show watchers asking, “Why we care so much?” The thing is, it’s just a missed opportunity for television to give us a truly great character. They don’t believe show watchers are intelligent enough to be able to appreciate a character, yet also be critical of that character’s actions. And I feel a loss for it.
Angel: Unlike the other people here, I don’t really mind this change in Tyrion too much. Show!Shae already radically changed their relationship, so having a different reaction on screen than he did in the books seems perfectly natural. Shae on the show has been a highlight for me. They’ve become an OTP level pairing, whereas the relationship in the novels just made me pity Tyrion for falling in love with a woman who didn’t seem to care much for him. Because of these OTP feelings, I’m ‘glad’ to see Tyrion feeling it in such a manner. I’ve got to put ‘glad’ in quotes because I love Tyrion and don’t want to see him in pain, but this pain makes sense to me…so I get satisfaction from seeing it play out in a realistic way. But I’m a huge sap, so what do I know?
Tara: Ha, Angel! Nothing wrong with being a bit of a sap…or a “huge sap”, if you will. Unless of course you’re an ASOIAF/GoT fan…
What do you think about the aforementioned changes? Is there anything else that Game of Thrones is doing that you find cringe- or praise-worthy? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Author: Tara Lynne
Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.
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