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What Game of Thrones changed from the books: season 5, episode 5

Daenerys Targaryen contemplates how different this episode was from George R. R. Martin's books.
Daenerys Targaryen contemplates how different this episode was from George R. R. Martin's books.
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.

Spoilers for the newest episode of Game of Thrones are below.

This week's episode of Game of Thrones, "Kill the Boy," brings us to the halfway point of season five. By now, the strategy showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss are taking for adapting George R. R. Martin's most recent books has become clear.

For nearly every plot line, Benioff and Weiss are including ideas that exist in some kernel in A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons. But they're reshaping these ideas, sometimes with only minor alterations but sometimes nearly beyond recognition.

Whether it involves the simplification of convoluted twists, the condensation of characters, or the addition of more drama and action, Game of Thrones is now more likely than ever to start with something from the books — and then take it in a completely different direction. Here's how the show did so this week.

1) Jorah doesn't get greyscale in the books — somebody else does


The core of this week's action sequence involving Tyrion and Jorah is drawn from A Dance With Dragons. In it, Tyrion gets attacked by the "stone men" while on a riverboat journey through ancient ruins — but on the page, Jorah isn't there.

Book Tyrion takes this treacherous voyage before his kidnapping by Jorah. Instead, at this point he's still traveling with the characters Griff and Young Griff, who seem to have been cut from the show. It is Griff who saves Tyrion from the water, and is later revealed to have contracted greyscale in doing so. Though Jorah doesn't have an easy time of it in book five, he appears to be disease-free at the very least.

The setting is also different — in the books, the stone men don't live in the ruins of Old Valyria. Indeed, it’s said no one has ever visited that mysterious locale and returned. Instead, the stone men inhabit the ruined city of Chroyane in a part of the Rhoyne River known as the Sorrows.

Finally, book Tyrion doesn’t see Drogon flying overhead — not clearly, at least. In the fog, he briefly spots "a half-seen shape" above him with "pale leathery wings," but it disappears before he can get a better look.

2) In the books it's Mance Rayder, not Brienne, who tries to rescue Ramsay's bride


This week, Brienne tries to get a message to Sansa Stark, as part of an effort to save her from the clutches of the Boltons. But while there's an attempt to save Ramsay Bolton's bride in A Dance With Dragons, neither Sansa nor Brienne is involved in any way.

First of all, book Sansa doesn’t marry Ramsay at all. Instead, the unfortunate bride is a friend of Sansa’s from the first novel, Jeyne Poole, who’s abducted and forced to pose as "Arya Stark" to solidify the Boltons’ claim on the North. The action at Winterfell is told entirely through Theon Greyjoy’s eyes.

An attempt to rescue this faux "Arya" is launched, but it doesn’t involve Brienne, who’s been tipped off by Jaime Lannister that Ramsay’s bride isn’t really a Stark. Rather, Jon Snow gets word of the planned marriage at the Wall and believes it involves his actual sister.

When Jon tells himself he can’t interfere, Melisandre offers him a way that, according to her, he can stay true to his vows of neutrality and still save "Arya." She unveils that King Beyond the Wall Mance Rayder, who had seemingly burned to death, had actually survived through a magical illusion. And Jon agrees to send Mance south to save his sister … but the problem, of course, is that she isn't even there. So the show's rescue mission is different in almost every capacity.

3) The characters who are, and aren't, at the wall have been jumbled up


This week's wall plotline, featuring Jon turning to Aemon for advice and resolving to try and make peace with Tormund and the wildlings, is broadly similar to the books. It differs, though, in many details: events have been condensed, and some characters are in different places.

Near the beginning of A Dance With Dragons, Maester Aemon gives Jon the important advice to "kill the boy." But Jon doesn't seek him out because of his plans to make peace with the wildlings. That hasn’t come up yet, and by the time it does, Aemon is long gone — and so are Sam and Gilly. Jon sends them on a sea voyage to the city of Oldtown, so Sam can train as a maester at the Citadel. (This may still happen, considering the number of references to Oldtown we heard this week.)

Also, at this point in the books, wildling leader Tormund Giantsbane isn’t at the wall. After the battle at the end of A Storm of Swords, he was never taken prisoner and escaped with thousands of other wildlings. He’s missing for most of book five, but after Jon sends a different wildling ally to go find him and make a peace overture, Tormund finally shows up again near the end — with his army. The skepticism and anger from many men of the Night's Watch about the proposed peace with Tormund is from the books, but the character of Olly — Jon's steward, whose parents were murdered by wildlings in season four — is invented for the show.

There are more changes and omissions in Stannis and Melisandre’s departure this week. In the books, Stannis is set to ride into a Bolton trap — but Jon, despite his instinct that he shouldn’t get involved in the wars of the realm, counsels Stannis that he should attack the remaining Greyjoy forces instead to win support among the Northmen. Yet we hear nothing about the Greyjoys in this week's episode, and Jon doesn't revise Stannis's war plans. Book Melisandre, Selyse, and Shireen, meanwhile, decide to stay at the wall rather than go south with Stannis.

4) Dany's decision to marry a Meereenese noble occurs in a very different context


This week, Dany grapples with how to respond to the murder of her adviser Barristan Selmy by the Sons of the Harpy insurgents. Her ruthless lover, Daario, advises her to execute all of the former slave masters in Meereen. "Clean this city out," he says, "until the rats have nowhere left to hide."

At first, Dany seems to agree, having the heads of the noble families brought to her, and torching one of them with her chained dragons. But then she changes course — deciding instead to marry Hizdahr zo Loraq, a noble from the old families, to unify the city's warring factions. She'll also reopen the fighting pits, as the nobles desire — but for freed men only.

In the books, this betrothal happens for different reasons. Barristan doesn't die in the books, but beyond that, it's the nobles who suggest the idea of a marriage alliance. Dany is eventually forced to agree, in large part because she faces an external threat from various foreign powers.

At this point in the books, Dany’s Meereen is being blockaded by the city of Qarth, dealing with an influx of refugees from the collapsed city of Astapor, and, most important, preparing for an attack by an army raised by the city of Yunkai. So Dany resolves that she has to unify her city against external foes — and that she can only do that by making peace with the nobles, even if it means allying with former slavers.

5) Book Ramsay doesn't have a girlfriend


We spend lots of time with the awful Boltons this week, as they prepare for Ramsay's wedding and the impending attack from Stannis Baratheon. A dinner scene that keeps topping itself in horrendous awkwardness is a particular standout, as Ramsay forces Theon to apologize to Sansa for killing her brothers (which he didn't actually do), just before deciding that Theon will give her away at the wedding.

The biggest difference here is, of course, the presence of Sansa, who goes nowhere near Theon or the Boltons in the books. But this episode also spotlights Ramsay's lover Myranda, an invented character for the show who's been hanging around since season three, acting as Ramsay's evil partner in crime. In the books, Ramsay has no paramour and certainly no woman who's an equal partner to him. Instead, he has a crew of thugs called the "Bastard's Boys," who aid him in his diabolical pursuits.

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