Monday, April 28, 2014


It's been more than a decade since I read A Storm of Swords, so it's not an uncommon thing when the TV adaptation, Game of Thrones, sends me rifling through my memories, struggling to recall if something on the show has been altered from the book or not. Last night, it wasn't much of a struggle: we are in uncharted territory here, full of modifications, departures, and additions. And now, for pretty much the first time in the history of the series, book readers are in the same boat as everyone else, wondering what's going to happen next week.

It's awesome.

The tone was set gently, but right from the beginning, as a series of scenes not taken from the book focused on Grey Worm, chief of Daenerys' Unsullied. We saw him learning to read and speak another language, and then saw him take the lead in an infiltration inside Meereen. From there, conquering the city seemed to be as simple as having a mob swarm this one guy -- but we'll chalk that up to budget considerations.

Despite other council from Barristan, Dany was set on justice, and nailed up slavers in retribution for their ghoulish road milepost markers from this season's premiere. This is a decision that seems poised for ramifications, as (very minor spoilers here), Dany is not going to be hitting the road after this conquest as quickly as she did after her others.

From there, we moved to King's Landing and Jamie's sword training. More recent book readers reminded me after the first Bronn/Jamie scene weeks ago that this was a change from the book, where Jamie's training was with a man unable to speak. That made him a more logical keeper of Jamie's secret, but this makes for far better dialogue for a TV show. And the writers made the most of it, using Bronn to push Jamie to go see Tyrion.

What followed was another great scene for Tyrion in prison. It was fantastic throughout, but could have been terrible and still saved by two great moments -- the wry declaration of "The Kingslayer Brothers" and the exchange about whether either man would truly kill family.

Book readers got their last chance to feel smug and aloof this episode as things turned to Littlefinger and Lady Olenna, and the full revelation of Joffrey's assassination was revealed. The show handled both scenes very well, first further helping Sansa seem a bit wiser for her ordeals than the book (she didn't take at face value Littlefinger's first weak attempt at explanation), and then giving us a devious glimpse inside the mind of Olenna that the book never provided.

There was a great outcry across the internet after last week's episode, in which the show changed the context of Jamie and Cersei's consensual book sex to a TV rape. I remarked how this definitely changed things for the characters. The follow-up was present this week, though rather indirect. It seems the incident, combined with his inability to help Tyrion directly, pushed Jamie to want to do something to reaffirm he's a "good guy." His solution was to put Brienne out on the road -- armed with his own sword -- to look for the Stark daughters.

And from there, we were pretty much exclusively into "new for the TV show" territory. There was a delicious seduction scene where Margaery came to Tommen's room at night. There was of course an ick factor in the age gap (though it hardly registered as ick by Game of Thrones standards), but it was far outweighed by the entertainment in watching Margaery really mold the young king to her whims.

Up at the Wall, Jon rallied people for a raid on Craster's camp to take out the Night's Watch traitors. And his band included... Locke? Lord Ramsay came nowhere near this plotline in the book, but now we have his henchman (incidentally the same character who "behanded" Jamie in the show) infiltrating the Night's Watch to come after the Stark brothers.

But the surprise of that was nothing compared to this week's scenes with Bran, which have no basis in the book whatsoever. Bran's journey north of the Wall did not bring him into contact with Jon in the book. Indeed, George R.R. Martin seemed to delight in writing several "near misses" for the Stark children, moments when they almost reunite but don't. And yet now, with Bran and his gang captured by the traitors, I'm hard pressed to imagine how they'll escape without Jon affecting a rescue. Except clearly it can't go that way. Color me intrigued!

And then the epilogue, our biggest dose of White Walker action yet. Put simply, in book land, we still don't really know what the "Others" (as they're called) are all about yet. Lots of fans have lots of theories, but I'm not sure many of them involved carrying babies up to some kind of zombie king to Borgify them into creepy little White Walker babies. I have no idea what that's all about, but it's certainly a potent reminder that there's more to the overall plot than just the struggle for the Iron Throne. And it might just be our first taste of information that the show runners have, but George R.R. Martin has yet to fully reveal in his writing.

I give this episode and all its tantalizing modifications an A-. I'm eagerly looking forward to next week.

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