Thanks to the various casting news updates, set photos, teasers, and trailers released by HBO over the last several months, it’s become abundantly clear that the coming season of Game of Thrones is going to be diverging from its source material in the Song of Ice and Fire novels to a greater degree than ever before.
With the premiere of Season Five just a few weeks away, let’s pour out some Dornish red, roll up our heavily-embroidered sleeves and take stock of some of the biggest changes in store for fans of the series: which characters we won’t be seeing, which plotlines have been significantly altered or expedited, and which unexpected pairings and new partnerships we’ll be following as the show pushes forward into unfamiliar territory….
Warning: Spoilers for all of the novels and seasons 1-4 of the HBO series.
I’m Not Dead! I’m Getting Better! I Don’t Want To Go On The Cart! (You’re Not Fooling Anyone, You Know.)
First up, let’s take a quick survey of which dead/semi-dead/mostly dead characters will be putting in an appearance in Season Five. While I’d be extremely surprised to see Sandor Clegane reappearing at any point this season, as far as I know, no one on the show has confirmed that we’ll never see or hear from The Hound again, so…there’s still hope that he hobbled away from the bottom of that cliff somehow, maybe? It’s a much better bet that we’ll soon be encountering The Mountain again (or at least the Gregorstein version of the elder Clegane) when Cersei’s new champion, Ser Robert Strong, is introduced upon her forced atonement and return to the Red Keep. (Actor Hafthor Bjornsson was also spotted in Belfast while the show was filming there, so the odds are good that the show isn’t done with Gregor quite yet.)
Catelyn Stark, on the other hand, is gone for good: there don’t seem to be any plans to feature Lady Stoneheart on the series…which is good news for Brienne and Pod, at least? (Although I’m sure they won’t stay out of trouble for long.) In the absence of UnCat’s violent quest for retribution, though, maybe the show will provide some balance by having Sansa step into a more active role? It’s possible that the brief scene in the trailer in which Littlefinger tells Sansa to “Avenge them.” might point toward a darker, payback-driven plotline for the elder Stark daughter. Sansa’s storyline will clearly be moving beyond the events covered by the books, so it might be interesting to see her put her own spin on the thirst for vengeance that drives Catelyn/Lady S. (not to mention Arya) in the novels—one that’s more calculating, less blind rage, but still deadly.
Taking the Express Lane Toward A Lannister-Targaryen Alliance
Tyrion and Daenerys don’t appear in A Feast For Crows…and when they finally reappear in A Dance with Dragons, it’s pretty slow going, to put it mildly. Dany’s angstily playing politics in Meereen while engaged in a squicky, ill-advised affair with the smarmy Daario Naharis. She’s got 99 problems, most of which involve killer dragons, slavery, continuous revolt, and (eventually) hostile Dothraki. Meanwhile, Tyrion goes on a dark, depressing, and seemingly endless eastward journey that doesn’t quite pan out the way he’d hoped. It’s like George R.R. Martin read all the sad, dank, boring camping sequences in the last Harry Potter book, and walked away thinking, “My next novel needs more of THAT. I’m going to sidetrack the shit out of these guys for a few zillion chapters.”
Happily, these plodding plots seem to have been sped up quite a bit on the show, with set photos showing Tyrion and Daenerys together in Meereen (possibly watching Ser Jorah fighting for his life, gladiator-style, in the pits…) In the trailer, it also looks as if Dany and her entourage end up in the fighting pit with Jorah, surrounded by hostile soldiers, which is an interesting twist on the way events play out in the books….
Varys Takes A Holiday
At the end of Season Four, we saw Varys jumping ship (along with a crateful of freshly-escaped Imp), fleeing King’s Landing just as the bells began tolling for Tywin Lannister. According to the trailer, it looks as if they may have hightailed it to Pentos, arriving at Varys’ former partner-in-crime Illyrio Mopatis’s digs (where Tyrion resurfaced alone in the books after fleeing Westeros). A later shot from the trailer shows Varys and Tyrion in an alley in what appears to be a different city—possibly Meereen? Regardless of where he ends up, spending more time with Varys can only be a good thing, as far as I’m concerned, thanks to Conleth Hill’s consistently amazing performance (and facial expressions.)
In the books, of course, Varys completely disappears from King’s Landing following Tyrion’s escape, only reappearing out of nowhere toward the end of ADwD to murder poor Kevan Lannister, explaining that Kevan’s level-headed attempts to rein in Cersei’s crazy stand in the way of his ultimate goals: to play the Lannisters and Tyrells against each other so that Aegon Targaryen can swoop in and claim the throne (more on that plotline in a moment). Speaking of Kevan, Ian Gelder is slated to resume his role in Season Five, with rumors suggesting that he will show up later in the season, possibly around the time that Cersei is forced to suffer through her infamous Walk of Shame.
Griff-less: Jon Connington and Aegon Targaryen Have Been Kicked To The Curb
These also-rans probably won’t appear, at least not this season—they haven’t been cast, and won’t factor in the Tyrion/Daenerys plots at all—but can the show really just get rid of these guys completely? With the continued reports that HBO would like to extend Game of Thrones to ten seasons, perhaps the revelation of a male Targaryen heir could serve as a way to extend the struggle for the throne past the initial struggles between Lannister, Tyrell, and Stark. According to the books, Aegon was thought by many to be the fabled “the prince that was promised”—his conception was even marked by the appearance of a fancy comet and everything!—and according to the rules of succession, he would displace his aunt Daenerys in line for the Iron Throne.
On the other hand, most people believe that Aegon was murdered as an infant on the order of Tywin Lannister, which is why Connington would have preferred to bolster young Aegon’s claim through marriage to Daenerys. In ADwD, however, Aegon and the Golden Company grow tired of waiting on Dany and mount a fierce (albeit dragonless) invasion of Westeros, which is where we see them last. Snipping Aegon and Connington out of the story entirely simplifies matters (and saves the smallfolk of Westeros from yet another contender for the throne rampaging through their lands), but it also cuts out a major Dornish angle, given that Aegon’s mother was Elia Martell, sister to Oberyn and Doran. Her death (and that of her children) is the source of the intense, long-festering hatred toward the Baratheons and Lannisters among the Dornish nobles, which I’m sure we’ll hear plenty about given this season’s prominent focus on Dorne and the Martells…
Jaime Lannister and Bronn Go Road-Trippin’ in Dorne, or, Welcome to Season Five: We Hope You Like Sand!
So, instead of lifting the siege at Riverrun, Jaime and his sparring partner/new bestie Bronn are apparently heading down to Dorne for sun and fun with the Sand Snakes. I’m fine with that (although I’ll miss The Blackfish. That guy is awesome. Maybe we’ll catch up with him in Season Six or one of the extra three seasons HBO wants to tack on…or maybe not.) In any case, the writers certainly seem to be foregrounding the Dornish plotline—I’m guessing Jaime’s there to bring back his daughter-niece Myrcella, and having a few familiar faces around should help ease non-book-savvy readers into the world of Ellaria Sand (who we met last season), Doran Martell, Areo Hotah, and the Sand Snakes.
I’ve also heard/read a few theories suggesting that the writers might be seeding elements of Arys Oakheart’s storyline into Jaime’s, mixing him up with the seductive Sands Snakes in place of Arianne (the trailer does show him having a moment with Tyene, but she’s so not his type: she’s not blonde, they don’t share a birthday…or even a gene pool. C’mon.) The show also seems to have dispensed with Quentyn Martell and Gerold “I am of the night” Dayne (a.k.a. “Darkstar,” “Stabby McFaceslasher”) but Doran’s youngest son Trystane will factor into this season, and it’s looking like the show will be spending some time on the relationship between Trystane and Myrcella, so that could be interesting… The Dornish rules of succession would place Myrcella on the Iron Throne ahead of her brother Tommen—a fact which played a major role in the events of A Feast For Crows—but it’s unclear whether that plotline will play into the show’s revised approach to Dorne.
I’m admittedly disappointed that the show chose to drop Arianne, a memorable POV character in the books who could have been a strong addition to the cast, and I know I’m not the only one. I’m also curious about the fact that only three of the Sand Snakes have been cast (Tyene, Obera, and Nymeria), although Oberyn mentioned having eight daughters in a conversation with Cersei shortly before having his head smushed in like an overripe gourd (still not over it). I’m not sure if that means the other five Sands are too busy causing trouble elsewhere or if the show just couldn’t handle that much collective awesomeness, but let’s hope that Ellaria and the three sisters are more than capable of holding their own against Jaime, Uncle Doran, and anyone else who might try to rain on their parade.
Sad News for Fans Of A Good Old-Fashioned Kingsmoot
Maybe due to all the focus on the sun-drenched sands of Dorne, we’re going to be spending a lot less time in the Iron Islands than we do in the novels—it seems that all Greyjoy-driven plots (not involving Theon/Reek) will have to wait for a later season, if they’re going to factor in at all.
In the books, of course, beloved father-of-the-year Balon dies and the matter of who will succeed him is hashed out at a kingsmoot. Both Asha (Yara, on the show) and her uncle Victarion lay claim to the Seastone Chair, but Balon’s brother Euron wins the day, to the delight of basically no one. Euron sends his estranged brother Victarion to deliver a proposal of marriage to Daenerys, while Victarion plans to take Dany for himself and bind her dragons to his own cause.
Personally, the less time my brain spends marinating in the damp grizzled grizzly dampness of House Greyjoy, the happier I tend to be, but I realize that there are plenty of Kraken fans out there who’ll miss the grim-faced power plays of A Feast for Crows as well as Victarion’s high-seas adventuring in A Dance with Dragons. If it helps lessen the sting, there’s a fascinating fan theory floating around which suggests that Euron and Daario are actually the same person—it sounds completely crazy at first, but as this amazingly helpful video explains, the two are described in very similar ways (both physically and in terms of personality) and plenty of curious connections can be drawn between their backgrounds and exploits. In the end, the theory probably doesn’t work, but as long as the show is making changes and setting its own course, it’s certainly a fun idea to mull over.
Meanwhile, Scary Tree-Yoda Teaches Bran Stark To Fly Somewhere Up North…
Bran, Hodor, and Meera Reed will be sidelined in Season 5, after losing Jojen in a wight attack, finally reaching the mystical weirwood tree and meeting a Child of the Forest, who leads them to the three-eyed crow/Bloodraven/Brynden Rivers. Since the finale of Season Four brought Bran’s story up to date with A Dance with Dragons, the plan is for much of his training to occur off-screen, so maybe we can hope for an amazing Karate Kid-style training montage to kick off Season Six?
Showrunner David Benioff compared the move to the way the Star Wars movies handles Luke’s transformation between Empire and Return of the Jedi. It makes a certain amount of sense, although it might be a shock to catch up with Isaac Hempstead Wright after so much time has passed. He was only 11 when the show started filming, and will be turning 17 by the time sixth season is released (assuming the show keeps to its yearly release schedule), so expect Bran to be quite a bit more grown-up (and also magic) the next time we see him! There’s also no guarantee at this time that Hempstead Wright will return to the role, since actors are normally released from their contracts when sitting out for a season, but happily all signs seem to point to his return in 2016.
So, while we’re watching Jon Snow trying to keep Melisandre at bay (and away from poor Shireen, hopefully), Stannis preparing to take the North (in spite of those pesky, psychotic Boltons), Cersei and Margaery trading body blows under the watchful eye of the High Sparrow, and everybody else tromping all over the Eyrie, Dorne, and Essos—just remember that somewhere north of the Wall, Bran is finally coming into his own. And when he shows up riding a luckdragon, or a giant eagle, or a Nimbus 2000 or something in Season Six, it’s going to be totally worth the wait.
Looking ahead: Ten Seasons and a Theme Park?
Showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff still seem to be sticking to their plan of ending the show after seven seasons, but HBO execs would prefer to pull a reverse-Deadwood and extend the show to ten seasons. For his part, George R.R. Martin says he’d be on board with a longer run (and also a movie, for what it’s worth, and you can’t really blame him for wanting to ride this magical gravy train all the way to Biscuit Junction), but if that’s where we’re headed (Biscuit Junction?), what does it mean for the major characters and plotlines, moving forward?
Would that mean bringing back some of these excised plotlines and characters? Will Aegon Targaryen finally get some time to shine? Will we ever get to see Jaime wrangle with the wily Blackfish? Will Gregorstein and Qyburn finally debut their snappy rendition of “Puttin’ On The Ritz”? And if so, do we want to see all these things, or would you prefer a more streamlined version of events, with a definite end in sight? Please sound off in the comments, and let me know if I’ve missed any other major departures from the novels coming up this season—with so much going on, it’s getting hard to keep track!
Bridget McGovern is the managing editor of Tor.com and SHE IS OF THE NIGHT.