HBO’s Game of Thrones has now caught up with the George R.R. Martin novels upon which they’re based—and in some cases surpassed its plot. Now that the fifth season is over, what got left out—and what storylines did the show spoil for readers of the book? Read on.
In the North
On TV, Stannis awakes after last week’s immolation of his daughter to find that the snows have melted and that his army has a clear path to Winterfell. Go R’hllor? But Stannis’ sacrifice to the Lord of Light hasn’t stopped half his force from deserting, nor does it avert more familial tragedy: Soon his wife, Selyse, is found in the woods, where she’s hanged herself, distraught over allowing her daughter to be burned to death. Next Melisandre departs—presumably because she realizes that while R’hllor’s power is infallible, her interpretation of prophecy is not. Stannis isn’t Westeros’ savior—and he’ll have to attempt a siege of Winterfell on his own.
From there, Stannis enters a battle with Roose Bolton’s forces that he must know he will lose—but it’s not the Warden of the North who ultimately takes his life, but a more poetic choice: Brienne of Tarth, who avenges Stannis’ murder of his brother Renley, from back in Season 2.
For spoiler-averse book readers, this is huge. At the end of A Dance With Dragons, we don’t know Stannis’ fate—although in a letter to Jon Snow, Ramsay Bolton claims (possibly mendaciously) that Stannis dies in battle. Some evidence Bolton is lying? Well, he’s a liar, for starters, but there’s also the fact that Stannis is alive in one of the chapters from the Winds of Winter that Martin released early. But Game of Thrones may have just told us exactly where Martin’s slowly unspooling story is going.
Also in the North, Sunday night’s episode saw Sansa lighting a candle in the Broken Tower of Winterfell, hoping to signal for help—and then finding herself facing the scary end of Myranda’s bow and arrow. Breaking his subservience to Ramsay, Reek pushes Myranda to her death, and then escapes from Winterfell with Sansa when they hop over its wall toward the thick snow. This is more or less what Theon does in the books, except there he escapes with Jeyne Poole, a long-ago friend of Sansa’s who has been disguised as Arya and wed to Ramsay. In the novel, Sansa remains in the Vale, disguised as a bastard daughter of Littlefinger.
In one of the more satisfying revenge moments on Game of Thrones, Arya ambushed the monstrous Ser Meryn Trant—a moment similar to a Winds of Winter chapter in which she kills another servant of the Westeros crown. Back in the House of Black and White, Arya returns the face she used to trick Trant and is confronted by Jaqen H'ghar and the Waif. In order to pay for the life Arya took without permission, Jaqen H'ghar takes his own—and then the Waif transforms herself into Jaqen H'ghar. (The point being that the Faceless Men are, well, faceless.) Because Arya used one of the faces before she had truly given up her true identity, she then goes blind. This is only somewhat true to the books, where Arya is also blinded, but as an essential part of her training.
On the show, Jaime, Myrcella, and Ser Bronn depart Dorne, but not before Ellaria Sand gives Myrcella a farewell kiss that we quickly learn was laced with poison—the culmination of a plot to kill the Baratheon princess*. In the books, Jaime is doing something else entirely, while a different group (not the Sand Snakes) kidnaps Myrcella in the hopes of sparking a war between the crown and Dorne, maiming but not killing Myrcella in the process. The books also reveal Dorne’s Prince Doran to have a long-gestating plot against the Lannisters. We’ll have to wait and see what the version on TV has planned.
While in the books Tyrion and Jorah still haven’t made their way into Daenerys’ service, here they are part of the braintrust that remains in Meereen following the queen’s disappearance on the back of her dragon Drogon. Tyrion is asked to stay—and Varys, aka the Spider, soon shows up to help him rule, while Jorah and Daario Naharis set out in search of Daenerys. (Varys, meanwhile, shows up at the end of A Dance With Dragons in King’s Landing, where he assassinates Cersei’s uncle Kevan Lannister.)
Meanwhile, off somewhere north of Meereen—presumably the so-called Dothraki Sea, which is actually a vast steppe—Daenerys wanders while Drogon recovers from his wounds. Her story leaves off exactly where it does in the book—with the Khaleesi coming face to face with a vast (and presumably unfriendly) Khalasar.
Cersei’s walk of shame, in which she must journey naked from the Sept of Bailor to the Red Keep, is just as disturbing in the books as it was onscreen, and the plots of both track with each other. One big difference between the novels and the show: As far as we can tell, on TV, Margaery and her brother Ser Loras remain in the custody of the Faith of the Seven, while in the books they remain free.
At the Wall
Sunday night, Jon sent Sam away to Oldtown so that he could train to be a maester, not to mention protect Gilly and her baby. That’s essentially what happens in the books, except it happens earlier in the narrative, so that by the end of A Dance With Dragons Sam has arrived in Oldtown, and stumbled into another set of fascinating intrigues.
As for Sunday night’s concluding scene—Jon’s assassination by his fellow brothers of the Night’s Watch, who feel he has betrayed the order’s mission by allowing Wildlings though the wall—that’s how the novels leave off, too, with a slight difference. On the show, Jon has made a tough but correct decision—he would rather have the Wildings live on the south side of the Wall than die north of it and be subsumed into the White Walkers’ army. In the books, the final straw is a more questionable call: Threatened by the Boltons, Jon decides to lead a Night’s Watch force against them, in violation of the order’s promise not to interfere with doings in the Seven Kingdom. But in Season 5 and A Dance With Dragons, Jon’s story ends the same way. As the latter puts it: “When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold…”
Correction, June 15, 2015: This post originally misspelled the name of Ser Bronn.