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What Game of Thrones changed from the books: season 5, episode 4

Dany gazes on a change from George R. R. Martin's books.
Dany gazes on a change from George R. R. Martin's books.
HBO

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

This week's episode of Game of Thrones, "The Sons of the Harpy," killed off at least one character who doesn't die in George R. R. Martin's published books.

And that's not the only shocker. Several prominent characters — Sansa, Littlefinger, Brienne, Jaime, Bronn, and Loras Tyrell — have, at this point, completely left behind what's on the page. Others, including some important characters in Dorne we should have met by now, are nowhere to be found.

Even the plot lines of Daenerys, Jon, and Cersei — which are still basically following their book material from A Dance With Dragons overall — have some big surprises.

1) Barristan Selmy is dead — and Grey Worm might be, too

Barristan Selmy's moving last words: "Aaaahhhh!!!"

(HBO)

It sure looked like the battle that ends this episode resulted in the death of Dany's most important adviser, Barristan Selmy — and perhaps also Grey Worm, the captain of Dany's Unsullied army. And now Entertainment Weekly's James Hibberd has confirmed that Barristan, at least, has met his demise.

In A Dance With Dragons, the Sons of the Harpy insurgents are indeed very powerful and dangerous. But they never kill anyone in Dany's inner circle — or any established characters the reader cares about. Barristan, in fact, grows even more important near the end of that book, becoming a point-of-view character for the first time. Grey Worm is a much more minor character in the books, but he's also still around.

I'd speculate that the showrunners decided to kill Barristan off for a few reasons:

  • First, like Mance Rayder, Barristan is a beloved book character whom the show never really bothered to flesh out. After his dramatic appearance in the east at the beginning of season three, when he saved Dany from assassination, he receded into the background.
  • Second, the showrunners were more interested in exploring dynamics between Dany and other characters — like Jorah, Daario, and Missandei. There are interesting aspects to Barristan, like his knowledge about Dany's father the Mad King and her older brother Rhaegar. But the show has essentially been fitting him into the trope of the wizened, reasonable adviser. There's more emotion when Dany shares scenes with the men who feel passion for her, or the slaves she freed.
  • Third, the book's Meereen plotline was heavily criticized for lacking action. The loss of a key familiar character — even if he was somewhat undeveloped — will raise the emotional stakes for viewers and for Dany herself, and it will make her deliberations about how to respond far more tense.

2) "Ser Loras of House Tyrell. You have broken the laws of gods and men."

"What's going on? I don't get arrested in the books!"

(HBO)

Cersei's budding alliance with the High Sparrow pays off in this episode, as she moves against the Tyrells. She tricks Margaery's oafish father, Mace, into going to Braavos to deal with the Iron Bank — escorted by menacing Kingsguard Meryn Trant, who may be under orders to ensure his charge doesn't make it back. With Mace gone, Cersei then decides to take out her own fiancé — Margaery's brother Loras — by tipping off the newly empowered fundamentalists of the Faith to his homosexuality.

In the books, Cersei is never betrothed to Loras at all, because he's named to the Kingsguard (who are not permitted to marry). He's also never arrested by the Faith. In general, Loras's homosexuality isn't an overt plot point in the books — many readers actually miss Martin's subtle hints about it, in contrast to the show, where seemingly everyone in Westeros knows. In A Feast for Crows, Cersei instead gets Mace and Loras out of the city by sending each to take over an important castle still controlled by Stannis's forces. She does eventually use the Faith against the Tyrells, but in a different way (which we might get to later in the season).

3) "He told me he smuggled Jaime Lannister into Dorne."

The Sand Snakes don't like Lannisters.

(HBO)

After a brief glimpse at Dorne two weeks ago, we finally get our first prolonged set of scenes in the kingdom in this episode. Jaime Lannister and Bronn sneak into the country, are quickly discovered, and barely win a fight with a small group of Dornishmen. Meanwhile, Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes, the paramour and three daughters of the late Oberyn Martell, have been tipped off to his arrival, as they scheme about how to use Cersei's daughter Myrcella to provoke a war between Dorne and the Lannisters.

The Dornish plotline in A Feast for Crows focuses on a similar scheme, but the characters involved are quite different. The Sand Snakes want war, but after they're introduced in an early chapter, Prince Doran immediately imprisons them before they can do anything about it. The book version of Ellaria, as I mentioned in week two, wants peace. And neither Jaime nor Bronn goes anywhere near Dorne in the books.

Instead, it's the prince's daughter Arianne Martell — a character who has apparently been cut from the show — who drives the action. She decides to crown Myrcella as the rightful ruler of Westeros, since she is older than her little brother King Tommen, and by Dornish law male children aren't preferred to female children in inheritance rights. Her true and more selfish motivation is a desire to compete with her brother Quentyn (another seemingly cut character). The showrunners have opted to simplify all this by focusing mainly on Oberyn's grieving relatives and giving them a unanimous desire for revenge.

4) "Let me show you what you're fighting for."

Jon Snow took a vow to father no children. That includes monstrous shadowbabies.

(HBO)

In an electric scene this week, Melisandre attempts to seduce Jon Snow. She first suggests that Jon ride south with her and Stannis to take back Winterfell from the Boltons. When he refuses, she disrobes, makes Jon touch her, and says that their coupling could unleash some formidable magic (as her affair with Stannis did in season two). After Jon again declines, obliquely citing his love for Ygritte, Melisandre shocks him by repeating his dead lover's catchphrase ("You know nothing, Jon Snow") — something she should seemingly have no way of knowing, other than by magic.

In the books, such an overt seduction doesn't take place — Melisandre's attempts to win over Jon are more subtle. But much of the dialogue here (including the "You know nothing") is straight from the books, making this more of a reworking than a wholesale change.

The underlying theme in both the books and the show is that Melisandre thinks Jon is hamstrung by his vows. "There's power in you. You resist it, and that's your mistake. Embrace it!" she says. In her simplistic good vs. evil philosophy, her allies shouldn't hesitate to embrace dubious methods, like magical assassinations and oathbreaking, to gain power.

Jon doesn't buy it. Though he truly despises the Boltons — as we see in his reluctance to sign Sam's letter asking them to send recruits for the Night's Watch — he wants to stay true to his vows, and stay out of the wars of Westeros.

Some people, though, might view this way of thinking as being as black and white as Melisandre's. "You're as stubborn as your father, and as honorable," Stannis pointed out to Jon last week. But, he added, "Honor got your father killed."

This article was updated with a link to James Hibberd's confirmation that Barristan was killed.

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