Spoilers for the newest episode of Game of Thrones are below.
Many scenes from "High Sparrow," the third episode of the fifth season of Game of Thrones, will be familiar to readers of George R. R. Martin's books.
Arya Stark, now serving at the House of Black and White, is ordered to dispose of all her possessions so she can become "no one" — but she can't part with her sword, and instead hides it. Jon Snow, facing his first major test as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, executes one of his subordinates for disobedience. Tyrion Lannister decides to visit a brothel — and ends up being kidnapped by Dany's ex-adviser, Jorah Mormont.
But overall, the changes are beginning to pile up. It's now clear that some key characters in the books are nowhere to be found — while others are very different, with big implications for the plot.
In one storyline in particular, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss begin what appears to be the biggest divergence they've ever attempted — scooping several major characters off their separate book paths to dramatically place them all together.
1) "You're not marrying Roose Bolton. No, you'll be marrying his son and heir — Ramsay."
Here's the big one: Littlefinger arranges for Sansa Stark to return home to Winterfell — via a marriage alliance with the sadistic Ramsay Bolton. The Boltons know this might anger the Lannisters, but they want to solidify their hold on the North, since many of its inhabitants are still loyal to the deposed Starks. What Littlefinger hopes to achieve is not so clear, though he suggests that the marriage will put Sansa in a position where she can stop being a "bystander" and instead finally avenge her family. But he mentions that he hasn't heard very much about Ramsay — a worrying sign that he has no idea how much danger he's put Sansa in.
This is a huge shocker for book readers, because in the published material so far, Sansa and Littlefinger go nowhere near the North. Instead, they remain hiding out in the kingdom of the Vale, consolidating power there for a later move. Littlefinger's plot is, instead, for Sansa to marry "Harry the Heir," a distant cousin who would inherit the Vale if the young and sickly "Sweetrobin" Arryn dies young. But there's been no mention of Harry in the show so far.
There’s lots of memorable material at Winterfell in the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, but it’s told entirely through the eyes of Reek (perhaps better known as Theon Greyjoy). The Boltons do arrange a Stark marriage for Ramsay, and Littlefinger facilitates it by supplying the bride — but everyone involved understands the girl is an impostor, an old friend of Sansa's captured and forced to pretend to be Arya Stark. This plot line is particularly dark and disturbing in the books — and adding Sansa to it could dramatically change the arc of one of the story's central characters.
2) "I know where they're going."
Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne spend the most recent books unsuccessfully searching for Sansa in the Riverlands, until they encounter the mysterious Lady Stoneheart. But this plot line appears to have been dropped from the show. Instead, the questing pair follow Sansa north, determined to help her even if she's already turned them away.
Overall, the show appears to be consolidating three completely separate plotlines — Sansa's, Theon's, and Brienne's — into one. This is probably in part for efficiency, so story time won't have to be spent on three disparate plot lines, and so three separate supporting casts won't have to be paid. It's also probably to add more drama — Sansa and Brienne in particular don't have too much plot-driven material in books four and five, so this gives them both something exciting to do.
And there could be more consolidation to come — Brienne's speech about Stannis in this episode may be a hint that she'll be encountering him, too, even though no such meeting occurs on the page.
3) "This is all I want to do. All day, every day, for the rest of my life."
King Tommen Baratheon marries Margaery Tyrell in this episode — and the new couple enjoys quite an active wedding night, the aftermath of which we witness. In the books, though, Tommen is only 8. That doesn't stop his family from marrying him off to Margaery, but there is, thankfully, no consummation. Book Tommen remains an innocent boy who loves his kittens and doesn't like eating beets.
Show Tommen's age is kept ambiguous, but actor Dean-Charles Chapman is 17. Chapman joined the show in season four, replacing the original actor playing Tommen, Callum Wharry, who looked much younger.
4) "But wouldn't you be happier in Casterly Rock?"
In addition to making Tommen older, the show has made Margaery a much more formidable political player and central character. Here, she has her new husband kindly "suggest" to his mother, Cersei, that she leave town. Cersei correctly perceives this as an attempt to marginalize her.
By contrast, as book four of the series, A Feast for Crows, opens, Cersei is unquestionably in charge of the capital. With Tommen much younger and more compliant, and Margaery less of a rival, Cersei is in no danger of being sent away. A Feast for Crows instead showcases what Cersei does when she can rule without any restraints on her authority. She still fears Margaery will steal her son away from her — and that she is the younger queen fated to replace her from the old witch's prophecy — but this fear comes off as much more paranoid on the page.
5) "An assault on my person is an assault on our very religion."
As in A Feast for Crows, religious zealots known as the "sparrows" have come to King's Landing. In this episode, they catch the High Septon of Westeros — the high priest of the Faith of the Seven — in a rather blasphemous brothel visit, and they punish him. When the priest goes to Cersei asking for help, she instead locks him up — apparently in hopes of making an alliance with the fundamentalists' leader, the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), to help shore up her precarious political position.
In the books, the High Sparrow's rise to power is inadvertently, not deliberately, caused by Cersei. The old High Septon isn't caught in a brothel, or anything like that. Instead, Cersei grows paranoid simply because he was appointed by Tyrion back when he was Hand. So she has a henchman murder him, smothering him with a pillow in a scheme that's hidden even from the reader until near the end of book four. The High Sparrow ends up being chosen as his replacement, and Cersei has to deal with him afterward.
6) Tyrion's plot line is missing two key characters from the books
Finally, the episode closes with Tyrion arriving in the city of Volantis, seeing a red priest preaching to slaves that Dany is the savior, and visiting a brothel — where he's then unexpectedly kidnapped by Dany’s former adviser, Jorah Mormont. Essentially, this is what happens in the books, though locations and events have been condensed somewhat.
But Tyrion's plot line has advanced far enough that it looks like it's now safe to say that two major characters from its book version appear to be absent. In A Dance With Dragons, Tyrion travels east not with Varys, but with a mysterious small group led by Griff, a sellsword. Griff's supposed son, "Young Griff," has a hidden identity that's one of the biggest twists of the fifth book (click here if you want spoilers).
Yet on the show, Griff and Young Griff are nowhere to be found. There's been no information on these characters being cast and no sign that they'll be included at all. It remains possible that they could turn up in a very different manner, but for now, it looks like both have been left on the cutting room floor.