Mother’s Mercy, the finale of Game of Thrones’ fifth season, tossed many shocking curveballs to readers of George R. R. Martin’s books.
Several major moments from A Dance With Dragons, the most recently published volume, were adapted pretty faithfully — such as an intensely disturbing scene involving Cersei Lannister, and Dany’s encounter with an army of Dothraki.
But there were other moments that could either be major departures from the text — or revelations of long-planned future events for the so-far-unpublished books. Here they are.
This week’s episode ended with a cruel trick. Jon Snow’s steward, Olly, told him there was a wildling that knew of his long-missing uncle, Benjen Stark. His guard down, Jon went out to talk to the man — only to be ambushed and stabbed to death by his own men.
In the books, the outcome is the same, but the Watch has a much better reason to get stabby. To understand why, we first have to refer back to a previous change the show made. Earlier in A Dance With Dragons, Jon finds out that Ramsay Bolton will be marrying his sister Arya. (In truth, Ramsay was to marry a Northern girl the Boltons are passing off as Arya to solidify their claim.) Jon wants to help his sister, but fears doing so will conflict with his Night’s Watch vows of non-interference. So Melisandre offers him a plan. She reveals that wildling king, Mance Rayder has survived his apparent burning through a magical trick, and suggests Jon send him south in secret to retrieve “Arya.” Jon agrees.That’s the context for the shocking and mysterious “Pink Letter” Jon receives at the end of A Dance With Dragons, seemingly signed by Ramsay Bolton. The taunting letter, which addresses Jon as “Bastard,” announces that the Boltons have defeated and killed Stannis. It also accuses Jon of sending Mance Rayder to “steal my bride from me,” and says Mance has been captured. The letter-writer demands that Jon return his bride and Theon (who escaped with Mance’s help, though this is the first Jon’s heard of this success), as well as Melisandre, Selyse, Shireen, and some wildling hostages. “Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it,” the letter concludes.
Fans have hotly debated whether the letter is accurate, and whether it was even written by Ramsay in the first place. But Jon takes it at face value, and these revelations seem to shatter him. He gathers the Night’s Watch and Wildlings together, reads the letter aloud — and then announces that while he’s sending the Night’s Watch to save another group of wildlings at Hardhome, he himself will ride south to Winterfell. When he asks if anyone wants to come with him, hundreds of wildlings roar in approval.
But as Jon heads off to make his preparations, he is ambushed and repeatedly stabbed by a group of his own Night’s Watch brothers — who view him as breaking his vows and say they’re acting “for the Watch.”
Overall, there’s a lot more moral ambiguity to what Jon does in the books. In the show, he just gets tricked.
But is he really gone?
In this week’s episode, Stannis Baratheon seemed to meet his end, when he lost his battle against the Boltons and was seemingly executed by Brienne of Tarth (though, technically, we didn’t see the killing blow).
But in the books, Stannis’s fate is left unclear at the end of the most recent volume. The “pink letter” Jon receives that’s mentioned above claims Stannis is dead, but it’s not clear to the reader whether its claims are true.
That’s just the start of the many changes surrounding the battle at Winterfell. In the books, many characters are in completely different places — with Sansa in the Vale, Brienne in the Riverlands, and Melisandre, Shireen, and Selyse back at the Wall.
Stannis and his army, however, are marching toward Winterfell in the books, when they become snowbound. The last we see of him, he’s preparing to fight the Boltons.
Theon, meanwhile, does in fact leap from the walls of Winterfell with Ramsay’s bride (who’s not Sansa) to escape the Boltons in A Dance With Dragons, like he does in this episode. At the end of the chapter, when he does, his fate is unclear — just as his and Sansa’s fates are this week.
Jaime shared a heartwarming scene with his daughter Myrcella on Sunday’s night — only to have her suddenly drop dead from poison, courtesy of Ellaria Sand.
This is a complete invention of the show … or so readers think.
Jaime Lannister never goes to Dorne in the books, and the plot line there focuses on new characters. Factions in Dorne are similarly furious at the Lannisters for Oberyn’s death, and there are various plots in play. Eventually Myrcella is badly wounded in one of them — when someone tries to kill her, one of her ears is chopped off.
But she’s still alive in the books, and at the close of A Dance With Dragons, she is on her way back to King’s Landing with two of the Sand Snakes. Could a similar fate be in store for Myrcella early in the next book, The Winds of Winter? There was that prophecy from the witch about Cersei’s children dying…
In the books, Dany does indeed ride off from Meereen on dragonback and encounter the Dothraki in a cliffhanger (though in the books, it’s much more empowering — Dany stands beside her dragon as they arrive). But the events that unfold in the city while she’s gone have been rewritten for the show.
Most of the characters featured in the Meereen segments of this episode — Tyrion, Jorah, Daario, and Varys — aren’t even in the city at all at this point. The first three are in the camp of a foreign army from the city of Yunkai, which is massed outside Meereen’s walls. Tyrion and Jorah haven’t escaped their slave masters yet, but finally manage to at the end of A Dance With Dragons. Daario, meanwhile, is a hostage in the hands of the foreign army. And Varys is all the way back in King’s Landing, doing cool things — he never went east in the first place.
Instead, Barristan Selmy — who’s alive and well on the page — becomes the point-of-view character when Dany leaves. Barristan begins to suspect that Hizdahr (Dany’s Meereenese husband, also alive in the books) was involved in a poisoning attempt on Dany during the fighting pit ceremony. So he overcomes his Kingsguard instincts that he shouldn’t interfere, launches a coup, and takes over the city himself. A Dance With Dragons ends as Barristan and Dany’s remaining forces prepare to fight the Yunkish army.
Arya’s material in this episode is a combination of two book scenes — with some wild changes added. The scene where Arya gets alone with Meryn Trant, but ends up killing him and crossing him off her list, is an adaptation of a preview chapter from The Winds of Winter. Meryn Trant isn’t involved, though — instead, it’s Raff the Sweetling, a character who’s not in the show.
Raff, a former henchman of Gregor Clegane who helped take Arya and her friends captive in A Clash With Kings, and killed her friend Lommy, is guarding an envoy from King’s Landing visiting Braavos. Arya does get Raff alone by trying to seduce him, in an icky scene. She then takes poetic revenge on him, tricking him into saying Lommy’s last words before killing him. (To make things more complicated, the “last words” aspect of this scene was actually already adapted in the season four premiere, when Arya encountered the henchman who killed Lommy on the show, Polliver, and killed him. Arya’s murder of Meryn is also much gorier than her murder of Raff.)
For her rogue murder in this episode, Arya faces consequences back at the House of Black and White. This material — the feigned death of “Jaqen” and Arya pulling off faces (as well as Arya stealing a face) — is invented for the show, but the ending, with Arya suddenly being struck blind, is from A Feast for Crows.
That punishment was for a different rogue murder Arya committed (she’s very busy). In the books, Arya encountered a deserter from the Night’s Watch in Braavos and decided to execute him, thinking that’s what her father would do.