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What Game of Thrones changed from the books: Season 5, Episode 2

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

"The House of Black and White," the latest episode of Game of Thrones, had several surprises for readers of George R. R. Martin's books.

One long-awaited scene — Jon's election as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch — did, in fact, show up, though in a form that was changed significantly from the page. But other plot lines were invented from scratch, with little clue as to where they're leading — Brienne finds Sansa! Jaime is going to Dorne!

Here's an explanation of the biggest differences between the books and the show in episode two.

1) "Lady Sansa — My name is Brienne of Tarth."

Sansa and Brienne

"Wow, I sure am lucky to have randomly stumbled upon both missing Stark girls over the past three episodes." (HBO)

The biggest divergence from the books in this episode occurs near its beginning — when Brienne and Podrick luckily stumble upon Sansa Stark, whom they've been searching for since mid-season four, in an inn. Unluckily for them, Sansa concludes that she's better off hanging around with Littlefinger than being rescued by a woman who was invited to King Joffrey's wedding. After a fight, Brienne and Podrick barely manage to get out alive.

This sequence is entirely invented for the show. Book Brienne spends the whole of Martin's fourth volume searching for Sansa but never finds her. (Indeed, she never even comes close, as she's looking in the wrong kingdom entirely.) Brienne's quest contains some of Martin's best character work and thematic material, as she gets an up-close view at how badly the war has devastated the people of Westeros. But, understandably, many readers found it a bit frustrating that Martin depicted what they knew to be a wild goose chase at such great length, and so much of Brienne's material on the page is so internal that it could be difficult to adapt it for screen.

2) "You said there was no Jaqen H'ghar here." "There isn't."

Arya and Jaqen HBO

Show Arya does not eat a worm out of a talking skull to gain entrance to this building. (HBO)

Arya Stark, missing from the premiere, returns this episode, in hopes of beginning a new career in a new town. At first, she's turned away from the House of Black and White. But after the man answering its door later sees her intimidate some local punks, he changes his mind — and his face, to that of Arya's old friend Jaqen H'ghar. It's not entirely clear whether this face-changing man is Jaqen or whether he's just taken on his appearance, but the upshot is that Arya sees a familiar face, and fans get to see a popular actor (Tom Wlaschiha) return.

In the books, Arya goes to the House of Black and White, but there's no Jaqen to be found. The man who answers the door reveals his face to be "a skull with a few scraps of skin still clinging to the cheeks, and a white worm wriggling from one empty eye socket." Arya, unintimidated, plucks out the worm from his eye, before he reveals the whole thing is an illusion, and reverts to a more ordinary appearance. "No one has ever tried to eat my worm before," he tells her, before letting her inside.

3) "If there's no one else, we will begin the voting."

Jon Snow voting

The book Night's Watch isn't foolish enough to make a mere plurality vote decisive — it requires a two-thirds majority for victory. (HBO)

In the books, the Night's Watch's attempts to choose a new leader are deadlocked through several rounds of balloting, with many different contenders (but not Jon) in play at various points. Eventually it's Sam Tarly who brings things to a close by demonstrating a surprising amount of political cunning — he separately lies to two rival contenders to trick them into throwing their support behind Jon as a surprise compromise candidate.

The show is a bit behind on Jon's material (this stuff is from the end of book three), so it hits the gas to speed forward. In this episode, there was just one round of balloting and no political trickery. Sam's intervention is still crucial, but it's only through a speech placing Jon into contention. And old Maester Aemon casts the tiebreaking vote — making Jon, as pretty much everyone expected, officially the man in charge of the Night's Watch.

4) "I'm going to Dorne. And I'm bringing our daughter home."

Jaime and Cersei

Jaime's plan to go to Dorne does not seem very well thought out. (HBO)

Jaime Lannister's plotline in this episode is another major divergence from the books. After Cersei receives what seems to be a threatening message from Dorne — the kingdom Jaime and Cersei's daughter Myrcella was sent to back in season two — Jaime volunteers to sneak into the country to bring Myrcella back, and it looks like he's bringing Bronn, everyone's favorite sellsword, with him.

In the books, no threat arrives. Cersei does decide that she wants to retrieve her daughter, but she sends another member of the Kingsguard to do it, and it's not a secret mission. Jaime does leave the capital, but he instead heads off to tie up some loose ends from the war in the Riverlands. Bronn, meanwhile, hasn't been seen since he bid farewell to the imprisoned Tyrion in book three. But he's the focus of an amusing subplot in A Feast for Crows — Cersei keeps trying to arrange his assassination, and her efforts not only fail but end up making him even more powerful.

5) "Let me send her to Cersei, one finger at a time."

Ellaria HBO

"We don't hurt little girls in Dorne." —Oberyn Martell, season four. (HBO)

This episode gives viewers their first glimpse of Dorne, as Ellaria Sand, paramour of the late Oberyn Martell, presses the ruling Prince Doran to avenge his brother. She even gruesomely suggests cutting off Myrcella's fingers and sending them back to the Lannisters, one by one.

Much of this dialogue is drawn from the books — but there, it's Oberyn's daughters who are so desperate for vengeance. The Ellaria of the books, instead, gives an emotional speech urging the Dornish to break the cycle of revenge. "Oberyn wanted vengeance for Elia. Now the three of you want vengeance for him," she says. "Is that how it goes, round and round forever? Where does it end?" So it's clear the Ellaria of the show has a dramatically different personality. The absence and apparent cutting of certain other Dornish characters, like Doran's daughter Arianne, is also noteworthy.

6) "A citizen of Meereen was awaiting trial, and this man murdered him."

Meereen execution

Dany has great respect for the legal process. (HBO)

In this episode, Dany's forces capture a member of the Sons of the Harpy insurgency that opposes her rule. But, before he can be brought to trial, a member of her council — a former slave — murders him. To demonstrate her fairness, Dany decides to publicly execute the murderer. The freed slaves of Meereen are not happy, and the situation starts to get out of hand.

It's a dramatic moment that seems to directly parallel a dilemma Robb Stark faced in season three, when one of his lords killed two prisoners in his custody, for revenge, leading to Robb beheading the man. This one, though, isn't from the books. Book Dany, in fact, never manages to capture a proven member of the Sons of the Harpy (who, in the books, don't wear easily identifiable masks that can also be used to incriminate them). She's never faced with defiance from a slave in her counsel, either. This seems to be an attempt to add some bloody drama to one of Martin's plot lines that faced criticism for its lack of action. The visit from Drogon that closes the episode is also invented — perhaps as a reminder to viewers that one of Dany's dragons is still out there, on the loose.

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