This is certainly a departure from my regular articles here - in fact, of the over one hundred I've written, the amount I reached last week, I think that every one of them concerned superheroes in some way. Now, it's time to change it up a bit. As a reader of A Song of Ice and Fire, undoubtedly one of my favorite book series, it should be little surprise that for a long time I've also worshiped Game of Thrones. It's a TV masterpiece not only of shocks, but of endless and interesting character arcs where every character has both flaws and virtues, where morality is grey rather than black and white, and every story is enthralling.
Come Season 5, however, we book readers have faced a dilemma: certain parts of the show are just about caught up to the books. So, how are we to deal with that? David Benioff and Daniel Weiss know the rough ending to A Song of Ice and Fire, and have confirmed some spoilers are inevitable. While that puts many a book reader off, and I also want to see things happen in the books freshly, I don't really think that's too much of a deterrent. Here's why.
Spoilers for Season 5, if you're not up to date, don't continue.
Okay, I've had this article planned for a while, but after Sons of the Harpy, Episode 4 of Season 5, I felt the need to write this. The death of Ser Barristan Selmy was shocking, but Benioff and Weiss will certainly have to do some major convincing of this viewer to ensure such a big departure from the books was necessary. I'm not annoyed at Barristan's death because it's a book change, but because, at this point, I see no reason for it. When Martin kills - and he does it often - characters are at the end of their arc. They've been more or less explored. It's satisfying, and it means their deaths have punch.
My qualm with Barristan's death - though I withhold judgement - is that at this point I see little reason for it. He's an excellent, multi-faceted character with an arc to come which Ian McElhinney could have worked wonders with. So Benioff and Weiss will have to do some seriously good explaining. But enough of that - to the question at hand, I should think.
First off - has the show caught up to the books?
Anyone who's a fan of Game of Thrones or A Song of Ice and Fire should well and truly know by now that neither follow a single plot line, and so you can't just say that "the show's caught up." Three different characters can help establish this. Consider Sansa's story - yes, this one is now doing things past where Sansa and Littlefinger are in the books (though the stuff that's going on contradicts canon in the books, and thus isn't a 'spoiler.')
Bran's story is very much up to date with the books, and we'll see him once accordingly. Cersei and Tyrion's story, though, still have a long way to go before they catch up to the books, and Jon's story is similar, though gradually departing from the book's anyway. These characters are not 'caught up,' and plenty of events which happen in the books are yet to happen in the show - as an aside, Cersei's arc seems the most likely to be most faithful this season. From the looks of it, she'll be 'caught up' by the end of this season.
Then consider the Greyjoy storyline, huge players in the books - as far as the show is concerned, their story is stuck well and truly back in the earliest stages of book four, A Feast for Crows, and doesn't show many signs of developing it. This has annoyed some fans, but I'll get to the reason later as to why this shouldn't bother you - the Greyjoys' absence in the show does not negate their story in the books, which at the moment stretches all across the world. In short, no, the show hasn't 'caught up.' Certain characters have reached the end of their established plotlines in the books thus far, others are plodding along roughly where they 'should be,' and others are well and truly behind.
Do Benioff and Weiss know every last detail?
So, now to the big question: can the show spoil the books? Consider the above question first. Benioff and Weiss, as I'm sure you know, have sat down with George R.R. Martin, and he's told them how the series 'ends.' Now, that's an arbitrary term. How much do they know? From what we've heard, I would probably guess that George told them the end of each major character's arc, who dies, who doesn't, and so on, and a rough ending to the series.
What I doubt is that every character's full plot was shared with them, let alone every last minor or side character's fate. Did George tell them what happens to Ramsey Snow, if he doesn't play in in a big way? I'd doubt it. What about the likes of Barristan Selmy, who, while a point of view character (yes, very much alive) in the books, might not be considered 'major.' Or what about Lancel Lannister, the High Sparrow, Olenna Tyrell - the list goes on. There are just too many characters in this story for Benioff and Weiss to have been given every detail on what happens to each of them. It's not so incredulous to think they don't fully know where George is taking the character of Ser Barristan in future.
And then consider each character's story. There's a point "A" where they begin the story and a point "B" where they end up (for a lot of people, that's dead). Take Sansa. Let's say that at the end of the story she ends up ruling the North and comes to Daenerys' aid when (if) she lands in Westeros. There're a lot of steps between that and where she is currently in the books, which will no doubt vary from what the show has done (it just doesn't add up with Arya/Jeyne Poole in Winterfell and whatnot). I doubt Benioff an Weiss know every aspect of the road between both points, and so it might vary accordingly.
Does every event in the show that hasn't happened in the books 'spoil' an event in the books?
The answer to this is a firm "no." You've seen the departures the show has taken from the books. With the above point in mind as well - most characters may actually have foggy endings as far as the pair know - consider then that Benioff and Weiss have taken major liberties and deviations from the books in the past, a lot of which was indeed this season. Let's use Ser Barristan as an example (horrible as it sounds, he became very helpful dying this week).
Many use the logic that "if they're not in the show, they don't have a big role in the books," or perhaps, "if they die in the show, they're going to die in the books." Well, Ser Barristan defies that. Whether he dies or not, all characters will eventually, whether in the story or later, of course - in the future is irrelevant. In the books, at the moment:
He's defending Mereeen against a massive invasion which the Greyjoys - also absent - are about to get involved in, as a point of view character with two chapters in Winds of Winter already confirmed. His role now in the books is fairly large, and his death in the show doesn't change that.
I'm sure you're probably aware after episode 1 that Mance Rayder (mini spoiler alert) is not dead in the books. It was a ruse. Alas, they've confirmed that's not the case in the show. People instantly leapt on saying "well then Mance's mission to Winterfell (not elaborating on what that is for spoilers) is pointless and we know it doesn't mean anything." How? We have living (and dead) proof in the form of Ser Barristan that a death in the show does not mean a lack of a big role in the books.
The show seems to be taking a liking to amalgamating characters and their roles, and that's not necessarily a bad thing for a TV show where a lot of its viewers can only remember the names of nine of its characters. The same may be done with Mance's story to come, using a different figure - Tormund, perhaps? - in his place. We still see that story come to life, but that's one character less, and, cynical as it sounds, one actor less to pay.
Consider another example: the trip into the realm of the Others (edit: the true name of the White Walkers) in Season 4, where we met one who was credited as the "Night's King." Now, for a long time it's been theorized that the Night's King would have a large role with their storyline, but in the books it was never explicitly confirmed what happened to the babies left out by Craster, only hinted at, and we saw what happened in the show. Many people, including the media, suddenly leaped on to the suggestion that "the show spoiled the books!" but that simply isn't the case. When Benioff and Weiss are taking departures as huge as having Sansa Stark marry Ramsay Bolton, how could we possibly consider it confirmation that this will happen in the books? Which leads to...
Are they or George R.R. Martin going to tell us what it is that they 'spoil' after it's aired? No.
Now, consider for a moment that the above is true. Did Benioff and Weiss come out and say "yeah, that's a spoiler from the books?" No. What we see has the potential to be true, but so does every fan theory you read online. At this point, the show isn't 'canon' to a Song of Ice and Fire, it's taken big departures, and even those things entrenched in the as of yet unreleased source material have varied greatly enough to be certain it's not a spoiler for the books.
Consider, perhaps, Sansa's storyline. Now, several fans I was talking to were upset over being spoiled by that nasty minority of book readers - understandably - were relishing (not so understandably) in the prospect that the show had spoiled Sansa's story. Sorry to break it to them, but that's really not the case. Sansa's story, the way it's happening in the show, cannot physically happen in the books. As a point of fact, while the show is up to Sansa's story, it's not up to the end of the Bolton's. It's gone a completely different way. So we know that that can't be a possible spoiler. The notion, as was established above, that anything in the show not in the books is a spoiler is ridiculous.
And we're not going to find out which things are spoilers in amongst those which can't be. Take Ser Barristan's early death. Now, clearly, he doesn't die that way in the books, so already it's not a spoiler that he dies in that manner, but some have suggested "clearly he's not a big part." That could be true, and old Bold could die in his early chapters of The Winds of Winter. Unless, of course, he doesn't - and Benioff and Weiss aren't going to tell us accordingly, and neither is George, so we're left with, again, nothing more than essentially a fan theory that's expertly acted and written.
Are the show and the books effectively two separate mediums now with their own stories?
Perhaps it's too harsh to say one of my favorite shows is simply a glorified, high budget, exceptionally written fan theory, but, essentially, as far as its relationship to what the true canon of A Song of Ice and Fire goes, that's exactly what it is. An adaption cannot spoil its source material. It's contradictory by nature, physically impossible for it to do. The moment it passes that source material, it's not spoiling it, it's merely going on outside of the canon of that source material, and, by definition, is no longer an adaption, but its own story.
Hang on, hang on - I'm a book fan. Where are my Greyjoys? My two Griffs? The rest of the Martells? Lady Stoneheart?
As a quick aside it's worth putting this in. I'm, honestly, disappointed that it seems we won't be seeing many of these characters in the show. I love the Greyjoy arc in the books, the Young Griff premise so far, I thought Quentyn Martell was a good character and Arianne a fantastic one, and, yes, thus far their removal from the show makes no sense, and as any fan of the books is, it would seem, I'm hoping Lady Stoneheart will show up.
But at this point we may just have to live with our disappointment. Take heart. As soon as The Winds of Winter is released, we're with them again, regardless of whatever omissions the show makes.
But, back on point. Rather than saying that the show is just a fan theory, perhaps it's not trying to stick to the canon of A Song of Ice and Fire anymore. Perhaps it's become something else entirely, a new story with the same characters from the books but with potentially very different stories. Now, if you're a fan who loves watching comics or books spring to life on the big screen - like me - that's a bit disappointing, but the reality is, for a lot of Game of Thrones, it won't be an adaption anymore, it's its own new story. And we should enjoy it for what it is, and be grateful that the events in the books yet to happen are being left to the master himself, George R.R. Martin, and the show is not only a nice way of staying in Westeros while the wait for The Winds of Winter lags on, but high quality viewing and a thrill to watch every week in its own right.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!