What HBO’s Game of Thrones Tells Us About the Next Book

For years, we’ve wondered what’s going to happen to the benighted denizens of Westeros in George R.R. Martin’s book series A Song of Ice and Fire . But after season six of Game of Thrones , we’re left with a different question: Just how much did the Tv prove spoiling the books it’s based on?

We won’t know for sure until Martin gets around to publishing The Winds of Winter , the sixth and penultimate volume in the series. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stimulate some educated guessings. In some instances, it’s clear individual producers are running from a playbook that George R.R. Martin devoted them a few years ago at a fabled session in Santa Fe; in others, they’re probably winging it. To figure out just how much of Martin’s endgame we now know, I talked to a few Westeros experts, and did my own deep dive into everything we are all familiar with the state of the Iron Throne, both on the page and on the screen.

Warning: What follows is full of spoilers for Game of Thrones ‘ most recent season, and also for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire volumes, including the sample chapters he’s posted online. There’s also a healthy dosage of speculation and a pinch of rumor-mongering, so take this as you will.

As Martin himself pointed out in a blog post last spring, it’s increasingly impossible for Game of Thrones to spoil his as-yet-unpublished volumes.” Some of the’ spoilers’ you may encounter in season six may not be spoilers at all … because the display and the books have diverged, and will continue to do so ,” Martin wrote.

In other terms,” the reveal and the books are heading for the same basic endpointsat least for the major characters and for the endgame as a wholebut they will take very different paths to get there ,” says Linda Antonsson, webmistress of the semi-official fansite Westeros.org. Already, the prove has made some pretty bold changes from the events of Martin’s fourth and fifth volumes. So here are all of the storylines we are capable of think of where the prove might have spoiled the books.


Is Rickon a Redshirt ?

Let’s start with an easy one. Rickon is the youngest son of Ned Stark, and on television he never gets the chance to show much personality before Ramsay ” Psycho Killer” Bolton uses him for target practice. Would Martin really treat a member of the beloved Stark family( who might be the heir to Winterfell, depending on the status of a few other characters) that way?

In the books, Rickon’s situation is more complicated, largely by dint of being alive: He’s fled to the isle of Skagos, which is inhabited by savage cannibals who may or may not ride around on unicorns.( Here’s a lot more of what we know about Skagos .) Ser Davos Seaworth has gone to Skagos to fetch the young Stark.( On TV, you’ll remember, Davos is hanging around Winterfell with Jon Snow .)

This storyline may have been streamlined for television, but might end up in the same place, suggests Adam Whitehead, who blogs about Martin’s volumes at The Wertzone . So Davos could still end up by Jon Snow’s side, and Rickon will end up being a part of the battle.

One possibility, Antonsson tells, is that Rickon’s bond with his direwolf Shaggydog impresses the Skagosi so much that they join Jon Snow’s army. So don’t count Rickon out just yet. He could still show up with his own army of cannibals … and unicorns.


Does Lady Stoneheart even matter ?

As ASOIAF readers know, there are a few major storylines from the books that the Tv show chose to skip over altogether. Case in point: In A Blizzard of Swords , Catelyn Stark comes back from the dead as a vengeful zombie, resulting the Brotherhood Without Banners. But on television, Cat is dead for good, and the Brotherhood is still led by its original zombie mastermind, Lord Beric Dondarrion( pictured above–in the book, Dondarrion traded their own lives for Stark’s ).

Since the showrunners deemed Stoneheart a nonessential part of the tale, Whitehead says, it’s certainly looking like she’ll” turn out not be quite as important as we all believed .” After all, the books left off with Zombie Cat capturing Ser Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth, and preparing to execute themwhich stimulates Whitehead wonders if her main job was simply to bring those two together again. His supposition: something could happen to Lady Stoneheart, and Brienne might be forced to take over leadership of the Brotherhood. Meanwhile, Jaime’s encounter with Lady Stoneheart might help set reached in a frame of mind to stop his sister Cersei’s insanity once and for allsomething the Tv show is clearly hinting he’ll have to do.

But if you can get to the same endgame without Stoneheart, then why would Martin bother? It would be a huge letdown if the books had brought the matri-Stark back from the dead, only to have it wind up being a red herring, says Leigh Butler, who writes about Martin’s volumes for Tor.com.” If you’d killed her off for good at the Red Wedding like we all guessed, then finebut you don’t resurrect a character in such a dramatic style only to have her drop off the face of the planet ,” she says.

The Griffs That( Perhaps) Maintain on Giving

The biggest surprise in Martin’s last book, 2011′ s A Dance WIth Dragons , came in the form of travelers “Big Griff” and “Little Griff ” the latter of whom turned out to be Aegon Targaryen, a long-lost heir to the Iron Throne who’s already invading Westeros with the help of some mercenaries, the Golden Company. But the television show is apparently going to be Griff-less. And if you presume the books and the Tv display was eventually re-converge, then it’s tempting to presume Aegon doesn’t matter that much in the books, either.

It does seem likely that Aegon and “Big Griff”( aka Lord Jon Connington) will reach” tragic aims” long before the conclusion of the book saga, tells Antonsson.( In the books it’s Jon Connington , not Jorah Mormont, who contracts greyscale rescuing Tyrionso he can’t be long for the world .) However, they may still have an indirect impact on the ending of the series, including which other characters survive. And since the land of Dorne has chosen to support Aegon’s claim to the throne( more on Dorne in a minute ), the Griffs could prove pivotal to Dorne’s storyline. Then there’s the Tyrell family, which is likely to prove more troublesome in the booksthe Griffs will keep the Tyrells confused, and allow Cersei to confiscate power in King’s Landing.

” These are things that the Tv present will gloss over, devoted its much more relaxed stance to realism and logistics ,” says Whitehead.


What’s going Dorne ?

So, yeah. Dorne. It’s this weird land in Westeros that’s sort of Mediterranean-ish, where everyone is sexy and hot-blooded and languorously half-drunk thanks to their famously delicious wine. The Dornish storyline takes up major real estate in the books, but was streamlined on television to the phase where it stimulated no sense at all. The whole shebang ended up with a cohort of women known as the Sand Snakes assassinating their prince, Doran Martell, and then making a pact with Daenerys.

If there’s one part of the books the Tv indicate hasn’t spoiled, it’s Dorne. There, Doran is still alive, the Sand Snakes have sworn on their father’s bones to work with him, and the Dornish have already tried to make an alliance with Daenerys.( Their emissary got killed by dragonfire .) Now the Dornish are working with the Griffsbut Whitehead tells we’ll likely insure them back on Daenerys’ team eventually.

The crux of the Dorne storyline will involve the decisions of a character who isn’t even in the books: Doran’s daughter Arianne Martell. In a sample chapter from The Winds of Winter that Martin posted online, she’s on her way to hook up with the Griffs.


Is Daenerys ultimately coming home ?

The most important role of the Griffs in the books may be creating a beachhead where Daenerys Targaryen can land her forces in Westeros. On television, Daenerys has finallyfinally! get( almost) all of her adherents onto boats, and has set sail for her homeland.

In the books, though, there’s a problem: Daenerys doesn’t have enough ships to take all her adherents homeespecially if she converts a horde of Dothraki warriors to her cause as she did on television. She may get some ships from Victarion Greyjoy, Theon’s uncle, who seems to be fulfilling the same role in the books as Theon and his sister Yara are on HBO. But you shouldn’t expect the alliance with Victarion to be as friendly as the one we’ve seen on television with Yara , notes Antonsson.

Daenerys could also capture the five hundred-plus ships coming from Volantis to attack her on behalf of the slavers, Whitehead tells, but he still doubts that Daenerys will sail to Westeros immediately from Meereen, because she likely still won’t have enough ships for such a long intersecting. Instead, she’ll likely travel north across the Dothraki Sea, then head west and cross over from the Free Cities. Whitehead believes it’s been” heavily foreshadowed” that Daenerys will liberate the slaves of Volantis, so one route or the other she’s probably going to pass through that city.


Ser Barristan Selmy: harpooned by Harpies ?

Speaking of Daenerys, her friend and confidant, Ser Barristan Selmy, is one of the coolest characters who’s alive in the books but dead on televisionkilled ignominiously in a street ambush. And Martin devoted Selmy a big role, as a point-of-view character, in A Dance With Dragons . Is Barristan really going out like that?

Probably not exactly like that, says Antonssonin the books, security threats to Meereen is more external than internal. The Sons of the Harpy are a problem, but so are the massive armies of slavers outside Daenerys’ gates. Now that Barristan has become a viewpoint character, his narrative will need to be wrapped up in some dramatic way, and yes, that could mean his death. Antonsson worries that he might be one of the people who is destined to betray Daenerys, in agreement with the prophecy she heard back in Qarth. Selmy might decide that Daenerys is becoming too much like her parent, the Mad King.


What about Euron’s magic cornet ?

Euron Greyjoy, who took over as leader of the Iron Islands in both the books and the TV series, has a much more complicated plot in the books. In particular, the book version seems to have a lot of sorcerous powerswhich Whitehead expects him to use to destroy a massive fleet sent by House Redwyne to assault the Iron Islanders.

Euron also has a magic horn that can control dragons, which he sent with his brother Victarion on his mission to Daenerys. You can see how the ability to control dragons would come in handy if you have three of them flying around feeing people so is Daenerys going to need this horn? Or will it be used against her? Whitehead says that no matter what, Euron is shaping up to be a much bigger threat in the books than on television, because of his powerful magic.


Is “Coldhands” actually Benjen Stark ?

This is one of the longstanding mysteries in the books, which the TV show just blew past. Benjen Stark is Ned Stark’s brother, who joined the Night’s Watch and then went missing beyond the Wall. Coldhands is a mysterious figure who’s been helping Bran Stark. Are they the same guy? On TV, apparently soalthough we only gratified Coldhands for a few minutes toward the end of season six.

But in the books, it’s not so clear. Martin has been adamant that Benjen is not Coldhands, even telling so in a note on one of his manuscripts( which an eagle-eyed reader found in the library .) Also, the book version of Coldhands is ancient and has been working for” many, many years ,” while Benjen has been missing for between 18 months and two years, tells Whitehead.


What about Jon Snow’s resurrection and parentage ?

Book fans have been in suspense for years to find out if Jon Snow would come back after being stabbed at the end of A Dancing With Dragons , and also whether their guessings about his parentage are correct. Thanks to the Tv show, we can now be pretty sure that the answers are yes andyes. Jon get resurrected by Melisandre, and we learned via Bran Stark’s Tower of Joy vision that Snow’s real parents were Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Starkwhich stimulates him Daenerys’ nephew.

Both Whitehead and Antonsson expect Jon’s resurrection to be more complicated in the books. Stannis’ daughter Shireen might get sacrificed to bring Jon back( rather than to help Stannis’ army, as the Tv demonstrate depicted in Season 5 ). That would make Jon feel a lot more ambivalent about returning from the dead.

And if Jon’s spirit has jumped into his direwolf, Ghost, as Antonsson suspects, then Bran Stark or some other force north of the Wall might need to help him come back.

But meanwhile, it’s basically official: Jon is not Ned Stark’s bastard son, but instead his nephew.


Is Stannis doomed ?

Stannis seemed like a major character in the saga, at the least until Brienne cut him down on television. But in the books, he’s still aliveand both Whitehead and Antonsson believe he might be more successful in his combats against the evil Ramsay Bolton. The Tv display may have broken up the so-called ” Battle of the Ice” into two separate combats: one at the end of Season 5, and one at the end of season six.

In that case, Whitehead tells, Stannis may defeat Ramsay, but die in the process. So Jon Snow may no longer have to worry about Ramsay by the time he comes back from the dead.

As for Stannis’ daughter Shireen, according to Martin and the show’s producers she will definitely get burnt alive in the books, just as she was on television. Whether it’s to resurrect Jon Snow( as Whitehead believes) or to help Stannis out of a far more desperate situation than the one he faces on television, Shireen’s death is apparently inevitable.


What’s Sansa up to ?

One of the biggest changes from the books to TV is Sansa Stark’s storyline. In the books, she’s still hanging out at the Eyrie with Littlefinger, and pretending to be Littlefinger’s bastard daughter. But on television, she marriage Ramsay Bolton and was in the middle of the action at Winterfell.

So is there any point to Sansa’s long stay at the Eyrie? Antonsson says that the TV reveal seems to be leading towards Sansa and Littlefinger teaming up to do something — because at the end of season six, Sansa is perceptibly upset that Jon Snow was named the new leader of the North, instead of her. And there were clues that her fury will make her reunite with Littlefinger. Either way, Sansa’s endgame seems to involve helping Littlefinger to do something likely the same something that her Eyrie storyline in the books might be building towards.


Will Arya leave the Faceless Men so easily ?

Remember my wild hypothesi about Arya Stark? In component, it came from the fact that Arya got away from her assassin trainers, the Faceless Men, style more easily than I’d expect. So what are the opportunities she’ll be allowed to make such a clean break in the books?

Almost none, tell our panel of experts. She will almost certainly be going back to Westeros, but it will probably be on a mission from the Faceless Menmaybe to kill someone important, like Jon Snow or Daenerys, indicates Whitehead. And then Arya will have to decide whether to follow her orders.

One thing to watch out for: a possible reunion between Arya and her assassin friend Jaqen Hg’har. In the books, he’s hanging out at the Citadel, where Samwell Tarly merely became a student.


Will Cersei use the nuclear alternative ?

Another big shock at the end of season six was Cersei nuking the religion extremist Sparrows use wildfire. This has been foreshadowed in the books: in A Feast For Crows , Cersei watches the Tower of the Hand burn and is overjoyed, Whitehead points out. But it probably won’t be as clean or easy as on television, and she might end up destroying a lot of King’s Landingthe same conflagration that Jaime killed the Mad King to prevent.

Martin already put a similar incident into his giant volume of the history of Westeros, The World of Ice and Fire : back in the working day, Maegor the Cruel burned the Sept of Remembrance. So he may not want to have the exact same thing happen in the books, Antonsson says but on the other hand, Cersei might be inspired by this historical atrocity.

As for Cersei’s son, King Tommen, Antonsson tells, he likely won’t kill himself the route he did on television, because the book version is much younger and more sheltered. But we know from a witch’s prophecy that Tommen will die before Cersei, and then she’ll almost certainly take the Iron Throne.


And finally … Hodor

In season six, we learned how Hodor got his name, and why that’s the only thing he can ever say: Bran was time-warping and warging, and warged everything right the hell on up. It’s been confirmed that Martin plans to do something similar in the books, although the circumstances will be different.

One thing that emerges, after you start listing all the book-only storylines that have to be factored in, is how much more complicated Martin’s storyline is on paper. Based on what we know about The Winds of Winter , it seems that chaos is a major topic, especially as wintertime constructs travel and communication more difficult. All of Westeros has fallen apart and civil war has been replaced by confusion and death.

When you think about it like that, Martin’s fiendish complexity seems to be aimed at dramatizing the existential horror of life in postwar Westeros. And perhaps the jumble, for Martin, is increasingly the phase of the story.

Tor.com’s Butler says that the central doctrine of these volumes” seems to be based on the Yeatsian conviction that the center cannot hold .” No matter how screwed up things are, they can always get more screwed up. With that in mind, in the books you increasingly have to expect an ending that’s nasty, brutish and horrifyingly insane.

” I’m really instead unclear on how he intends to wrap up the series at all ,” Butler tells,” unless it’s going to be literally a’ stones fall, everyone dies’ kind of scenario. Frankly, I wouldn’t set it past him .”

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