Spoilers for the third episode of Season 5 of Game of Thrones follow, obviously.
We’ve reached a fascinating point in the Game of Thrones television series: Not only is the show departing dramatically from the plot of George R. R. Martin’s books, but they’re starting to catch up to them, and even move beyond them. Throughout this season I’ll be dissecting the changes between the show and the books, and I’ll do my best not to spoil any important plot points. But remember: We’re entering thorny and uncharted territory here, where we won’t always know what a spoiler really is—or what the “real” story is.
This week, there’s a wedding, talk of more weddings, and plenty of deaths as power shifts in both King’s Landing and the North.Helen Sloan/HBO
Cersei and Margaery
The bells ring out over King’s Landing, as the day that Cersei dreaded finally arrives: the wedding of Tommen and Margaery. There’s a sick look on her face as she rides in her litter to the Sept, listening to the people cheer. Is she thinking about the prophecy of the beautiful young queen who will cast her down? By contrast, Margaery’s face is all triumph as she turns to the crowd after the ceremony. It only took three tries and two dead husbands, but she did it: She’s finally Queen. She wastes no time in consummating the marriage, and sweet, pliable young Tommen couldn’t be wrapped around her finger any tighter. “I think we’re going to be very happy, you and I,” she tells him as they lie in post-coital bliss. After marrying a gay man and sociopath, she’s finally got something to work with here.
But then, of course, the real work begins. “It’s so wonderful to have [Cersei] watching over you, a lioness guarding her cub,” she says, gently emasculating her child-husband. When he insists that he’s a man now, she chides him that so long as Cersei is in King’s Landing, “you’ll always be her baby boy.” Cut to Cersei and Tommen walking arm in arm down the ramparts of the castle, as Cersei takes her own turn throwing shade at her son’s new wife. “Do you think she’s intelligent?” she asks. “I can’t quite tell.” Tommen starts to ask whether Cersei wouldn’t be happier back in Casterly Rock, and Cersei isn’t having it—but she knows exactly who planted the idea.
Cersei goes to visit her new daughter-in-law, only to be greeted with more insults disguised as courtesies: “What’s the proper way to address you now, Queen Mother or Dowager Queen?” Margaery asks when her mother-in-law pays a visit, noting that thanks to Tommen’s sexual enthusiasm, “the Queen Mother will be a Queen Grandmother soon.” Margaery’s knives are palpably sharper now that she’s been crowned. She isn’t afraid anymore, perhaps isn’t even cautious.
The religious subplot continues as the High Septon—who is basically the Pope of the Faith of the Seven—gets interrupted in the middle of roleplay session at Littlefinger’s brothel involving prostitutes dressed as the Seven. It’s the Sparrows again, who drive him into the street naked shouting about blasphemy and beat him with sticks. By the time he makes his way back to the Small Council, he’s demanding that Cersei throw the Sparrows in the Black Cells and execute their leader.
Instead, Cersei goes to visit the High Sparrow herself, a humble man serving soup to the poor and walking barefoot. Instead of executing him, she tells him that she’s imprisoned the High Septon instead. Smiling a dangerous little smile, she says that the Faith and the Crown are the two pillars of society, and naturally they “must do everything necessary to protect one another.” Sounds like there might be a price for her sudden piety. I wonder what it could be?
In the books: Cersei gets super drunk at the wedding. Also, Margaery and Tommen don’t consummate the marriage because Tommen is about nine years old, though Margaery does endear herself to him in other ways, like giving him three kittens named Lady Whiskers, Boots, and (yup) Ser Pounce. Although little Tommen is never in a position to try and send Cersei anywhere, we learn via Ser Kevan that Tywin was planning to send her back to Casterly Rock before his untimely death.
There’s no indication that the High Septon engages in any type of sexual misconduct, and Cersei never imprisons him, though she does find her own way to remove him from power. Not only had he been appointed by Tyrion, but he heard Lancel’s confession about sleeping with Cersei, and it is implied that she orders him killed.Macall B. Polay/HBO
Now an acolyte at the House of Black and White, Arya is tired of constantly sweeping floors, and wants to get to the cool shit. “You said you’d teach me how to be a Faceless Man!” she complains. Jaqen asks if he really needs to explain the whole “valar dohaeris” thing to her yet again. “All men must serve. Faceless Men most of all.”
He serves a supplicant a cup of water, and then the man quietly bows at the feet of a statute. There are icons of many gods within the House, both old and new: the Drowned God, the Lord of Light, a Heart Tree, and what I think are the Weeping Lady of Lys, the Lion of Night, and the Black Goat. But according to Jaqen, all gods are just facets of the Many-Faced God, the singular deity that claims dominion over all men. “A girl knows his name,” says Jaqen. “All men know his name.” Whatever god the characters of this show have claimed to serve, it is the one their actions have served the most. Arya watches as a man who drank a cup of water sprawls out dead on the floor, his eyes open and empty.
Later, a young girl comes in, and asks Arya who she is. When she says “no one,” the girl hits her with a stick. It escalates until Jaqen walks in, and says that Arya’s not ready to play “the game of faces.” When Arya insists that she is, Jaqen asks whose sword, whose clothes, whose silver she’s carrying. “How is it that ‘no one’ came to be surrounded by Arya Stark’s things?” And so Arya wraps them all up in heavy stones and throws them into the water—all but Needle, the last relic of her former life. In the end, she hides it in a pile of rocks. She still isn’t no one—not yet.
In the books: It is not Jaqen, but a priest known as “the kindly man” who trains Arya. The girl Arya meets is known in the books as “the waif,” a woman who looks like a child but is actually 36 years old. Rather than attacking each other, Arya and the waif teach each other their languages—the Common Tongue and Braavosi.
Winterfell is a different place these days, festooned with the Bolton banners of the flayed man. Ramsay Bolton (er, Snow) has come back from tax-collecting with more flayed bodies, and his dad sighs, because what are you gonna do with kids these days? “We can’t hold the North with terror alone,” he lectures. They had a pact with Tywin, but he’s dead, and Lannister power is both on the decline and thousands of miles away. If the North turns on them—say, because they are constantly murdering people in terrible ways—they’ll be on their own. The best way to strengthen their hold on the North isn’t murder, but marriage. And Lord Bolton has found the perfect girl.
Smash cut to Sansa! Yes, Littlefinger is taking her back to her childhood home, which is currently occupied by the man who stabbed her brother to death, and a dangerous sociopath who castrated her foster brother and hunts women for sport. The plan is to marry her to Ramsay, allowing the Boltons to secure the North—and giving Littlefinger a Northern ally in whatever long game he’s currently playing. When Sansa arrives, all of House Bolton is waiting to greet her in Winterfell, in a sick subversion of the scene from the first episode of the show, when her family greeted the Baratheons. Even Ramsay is on his best behavior. Seriously though: It’s hard to believe Littlefinger would actually turn Sansa over to the one guy in the Seven Kingdoms who’s more sadistic than Joffrey and then just peace out.
Littlefinger gives Sansa a whole speech about how she’s been a passive bystander to the tragedies of her family, that it’s time to stop running and start taking control. Which is all well and good, but I’m not sure how being traded like a piece of chattel to the people who murdered your loved ones qualifies as taking control of your life? He does mention something about Sansa “avenging” her family, so maybe there’s a more insidious plan at work. Since this entire plotline is almost entirely new, who can say? Maybe Sansa poisons them all at her own wedding feast, and then her direwolf comes back from the dead and jumps through a window and lands by her side, and everyone cheers and high fives and crowns her Queen of the North as she dropkicks Ramsay’s head into a ditch. We’re off book here, people. Anything is possible.
In the books: Again, Sansa never leaves the Eyrie, at least so far. Instead, Lord Bolton marries Ramsay to a girl that they claim is Arya Stark—but is really Jeyne Poole, Sansa’s one-time best friend from Winterfell. The false Arya scheme is contrived by Littlefinger to help the Boltons, but with the full knowledge of the Lannisters, who seem pleased to help their Northern allies.Helen Sloan/HBO
But Sansa and Littlefinger haven’t arrived in the North alone; Brienne and Pod watch them pass by Moat Cailin from a distant cliff, though Brienne isn’t worried about tracking them. “I know where they’re going.” After they make camp for the night, they end up trading origin stories: Pod was originally a squire to a knight during the War of Five Kings who got drunk and stole a ham, and split it with Pod. The knight was hung for theft, but Lord Tywin heard Pod’s family name—he’s related to Ser Ilyn Payne, the mute executioner—and sent him to squire for Tyrion instead. Pod tells Brienne he’s proud to squire for her too, that she’s the best fighter he’s ever seen. Softening a bit, Brienne agrees to finally start teaching him how to use a sword.
When he asks how she became part of Renly’s Kingsguard despite not being a knight, she tells the story of a ball her noble father once threw her as a girl in hopes of finding her a match. Instead, it became one of those stories of feminine humiliation that haunts girls for their entire lives, when the boys turn it into an elaborate prank on her. But when she tried to run away in shame, Renly took her in his arms and danced with her instead—and none of the other boys could say a word against the dashing young brother of the King. She says that he saved her from being a joke, but that she couldn’t save him—though she still plans to avenge him. She remembers the face she saw on the living shadow that killed him; she knows his name. “Stannis is a man, not a shadow,” says Brienne. “And a man can be killed.”
In the books: Brienne never finds Sansa, at least she hasn’t in the books so far, and has no reason to go North. Instead, she wanders around in the Riverlands, seemingly forever. Although Renly did show Brienne kindness at a dance in their youth, there was no unusually cruel game going on at the time. She does deal with her share of false suitors at other points, however, including an incident at a camp where the knights made a wager about who could take her virginity.
The road to Volantis grows tedious for Tyrion. “I can’t remember the last face I saw that wasn’t yours,” he tells Varys. Despite the price on Tyrion’s head—and the fact that he is very visually distinct—Varys tires of his complaints and agrees to let him wander on the streets of Volantis, where he encounters a red priestess speaking of a new savior anointed by the Lord of Light: “From the fire, she was reborn to remake the world.” Their next stop is a brothel, where they discover that the influence of the Dragon Queen extends not only to priests but also prostitutes, who are making a killing by cosplaying as Daenerys in brothels.
Tyrion introduces himself to a prostitute who seems jealous of the attention the cut-rate Khaleesi is getting, and charms her by insisting that queens aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. When the woman agrees to sleep with him, however, he finds that he simply … can’t. “Believe me, no one is more shocked than I am,” he laments. He leaves to take a piss into the sea, and quickly learns that his plan to be famous, drunk, and reckless in a huge city with a price on his head was not actually a very good one when Jorah Mormont sneaks up behind him and takes him captive. “I’m taking you to the Queen,” says the dishonored knight. I think we’re supposed to wonder whether he’s taking Tyrion to Cersei or Daenerys, but c’mon—have you met Jorah? He’s taking him to Daenerys.
In the books: Although Tyrion sets out for Volantis—with a whole other cast of characters I believe the show is cutting—he gets kidnapped by Jorah before they reach the city, in a town called Selhorys. Tyrion originally goes to the brothel there drunkenly looking for his lost love Tysha, although he has no problem having sex with the prostitutes.Helen Sloan/HBO
After much consideration, Jon gives his answer to Stannis: Even though he spent his entire life dreaming about being Jon Stark, he can’t claim his father’s name and help Stannis retake Winterfell because of honor and vows and also honor. Basically, he can’t become a Stark because he is already Starking too hard. Stannis, who has started gazing at Jon like the son he never had, leaves with grudging respect, after warning Jon to deal with the Wildlings and ship his enemies at Castle Black off to distant, frozen places.
When he’s back with his men, Jon announces that someone needs to dig a latrine, and Allister Thorne braces himself for vengeance. Instead, someone else gets poop duty and the fair-minded Jon names him First Ranger instead. The loathsome Janos Slynt doesn’t fare quite so well; Jon decides to send him to Greyguard, one of the abandoned castles not currently garrisoned by the dwindling Night’s Watch.
Slynt—who once commanded the City Watch of King’s Landing and played a major role in putting Ned Stark’s head on a pike—does not react well to this, and tells Jon where he can stick his orders. What would Eddard Stark do? I think we know.
The new Lord Commander tells his men to take Janus outside. They bring out a chopping block, and at first Janus seems convinced that this is some sort of Scared Straight exercise, talking smack about his powerful friends and how he’s not afraid. But as Jon unsheathes his sword and things get realer, fear finally finds him. He says he was wrong, that he’s been afraid his whole life, and begs for mercy. Jon hesitates a moment—and then cuts off his head anyway. On a distant rampart, Stoic Stepdad Stannis nods approvingly.
In the books: Allister Thorne isn’t named First Ranger; instead, Jon sends him ranging beyond the Wall to get him out of his hair. Also, Jon originally orders that Slynt be hung, but then changes his mind and decides to dispense justice the Ned Stark way.