Hello, friends and bannermen. On Sunday's Game of Thrones, the White Walkers and their minions scared the crap out of us and Jon Snow. How did it match up with the books? How did it differ?
This weekly chat series is for fans of George R.R. Martin 's A Song of Ice and Fire books, upon which HBO's fantasy drama is based. It's meant to be a safe haven to discuss spoilers and changes from the novels and how they have played out or will play out in the TV series. Hanh Nguyen and Sadie are longtime fantasy fans of varying levels of geekiness who will sound off on all things Westerosi (and beyond!).
[Warning: If you're a Game of Thrones fan who has stumbled upon this chat and haven't read the books yet, begone! Instead, check out our recap for "Hardhome" for a spoiler-free discussion.]
Hanh: Hardhome. Holy. Seven. Hells! Best deviation ever? My brief recap from Sunday barely touched on everything, but it is important to note that Jon Snow in the books never went to Hardhome himself. He sent another Night's Watchman in his place, and then later sent Tormund. And they certainly never met wights like that (although it's presumed there are some out in the forest and sea).
Sadie: It's always fun whenever Game of Thrones goes off books, because we really never know what's going to happen next. Book 5 ends with Jon's presumed death and I was on the edge of my seat the entire battle wondering if maybe the show was really going to switch it up and have him perish on the battlefield instead of at the hands of his Brothers.
Hanh: Or be grievously injured and then have his Brothers finish him off once he got back. That could still happen. Seeing how much they packed into this episode, I have high hopes for the final two. I was surprised at how much I was cringing and screaming at the TV. I thought I was more jaded than that! The scene gave us all the best horror movie-type scares, even having Jon Snow trip!
Sadie: The fact that they were able to make the death of the Wildling woman, who we only met halfway through this episode, so incredibly devastating is a reminder of why I fell in love with this show in the first place. When they want to, they can do such beautiful, subtle things with character development and emotional impact. And in the middle of an ice zombie invasion, no less!
Hanh: Right? I wanted to be mad they killed off Karsi, this amazing woman, but it was just all too perfect and devastating that this warrior and mother was killed by child wights. She was no mere Ensign Redshirt but someone who made us realize what the real stakes were on this show. Oh, and side note: Less beautiful yet equally awesome was Tormund bashing Rattleshirt to death. Since Rattleshirt never appeared to swap places with Mance Rayder in Episode 1, I wasn't sure we'd see him at all this season. So it was — hey, surprise it's Rattleshirt! Ouch, so long, Rattleshirt!
Sadie: OK, let's talk about the stakes for a second. Because while this battle was so much fun to watch, it does raise a lot of questions about the direction the show is moving in. In GRMM's books, the Others are very always a known threat, but much more of an abstract one that lurks in the background. Here, they are characters in their own right with a real story line. Part of me worries that this show is soon going to become a simple battle between Good vs. Evil, Humans vs. Monsters. Whereas one of the best parts of Game of Thrones has been the way they complicate morality and how both heroes and villains reside in the gray area. Hanh: Well, I think we've only begun to see what the White Walkers are about, so we've only seen the marauding, the killing. Since GRRM hasn't gone into them that much, except for hints of the Night's King — and is that who we saw? I assume it is, but it's not like there's an introduction scene — and his lover ages ago, that's not much help. But on the show, we have also seen them possibly create new White Walkers using Craster's baby. Maybe we'll learn they're going extinct? Or that they lived in Westeros first?
Also... with Bran off doing his vision quest, it's easy to forget the other, friendlier side of this supernatural world. I think we've seen from the giant and Hodor (Hodor!) and the direwolves that the more magical/mystical beings could be our allies. Having said all that, the White Walkers do seem pretty despicable to me.
Sadie: I guess that's the thing: I don't want this whole show to become about a big supernatural battle in which either good or evil wins. I want it to continue being an interesting look at human nature. Basically, I'm worried Game of Thrones is going to pull a Lost.
Hanh: Ah, well, I don't think it will just be good or evil winning, but I guess I see where you're going. Although I do feel that the books and by extension the show has always had an underpinning of supernatural that has been back-burnered. I mean, the long winters have always puzzled me, and I figure they have to explain that somehow. I do have faith in GRRM since he already knows his ending though. Whereas Lost they wrote themselves into a corner.
Sadie: That is a crucial difference between the two. My fear is partially based on the fact that the show is forced to cut a lot of corners to condense stories and that what might be a more subtle, tonally-consistent war with the Others could become closer to what we've gotten with the Sand Snakes.
Hanh: *shudders* Please no! I don't necessarily think that our favorite core characters will get short shrift. But GRRM did say that he wrote Books 4 & 5 to give Daenerys time to grow in Meereen, hence the wandering story lines for everyone else an introduction of new, pointless characters. I think unfortunately that Dorne — which should have been an amazing and vibrant part of the series from the start — therefore got sidelined when condensed.
Sadie: It's still very possible the show won't go that way, but [executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] have squandered away all my blind optimism this season.
Hanh: Do you feel that David and Dan have won you back a bit with "Hardhome"?
Sadie: I loved the episode and thought it was a lot of fun, but my trust in them hasn't changed. The throwaway Sansa scene especially was only a reminder that all the big deviations at Winterfell this season have far from paid off. Though, "Hardhome" did bring up a lot of fun story lines that might pay off in major ways. Like the fact that Valyrian steel can be used against White Walkers! So basically, it seems all signs are pointing to Dany's dragons being the only means to defeat the Others.
Hanh: Yes... A Song of Ice and Fire! I wonder if they actually will make more Valyrian steel weapons? They always seemed to be in short supply, and then a new sword or dagger will pop up. Also, who got Joffrey's sword (forged from Ned's)? Was it buried with him? Can Drogon be taught to forge swords? So many questions
Sadie: I believe there are estimated to be 200 Valyrian blades in the world still, and no one knows how to make them anymore. However, who needs a sword when you can just have a dragon breathe fire on them?!
Hanh: I think this brings us back around to old knowledge that has been lost. Between Tyrion, Sam and maybe Bran, perhaps one of them will be able to learn How to Train Your Dragon since Dany was so abysmal at it. But Bran could warg into one! I still think more swords would be helpful so they could fight on multiple fronts.
Sadie: Sam will definitely play a huge part in figuring everything out down the line. Though I wonder what role Jon will play. The Night's King definitely took a lot of interest in him and I am overwhelmed with questions and theories about where that's going. They're both Lord Commanders of the Watch. They're possibly both Starks. There are a lot of rumored parallels between them, I can't help but wonder if those will continue to build. Could the Night's King be the one who saves Jon from the stabbing? If so, would that mean Jon would become evil and have to face his (possible) aunt on the battlefield?
Hanh: Ha! I love the crazy bloodlines on this show. Both the Night's King and Melisandre have expressed much interest in the bastard it's true. A Song of Ice and Fire could also refer to a political marriage between Jon Snow and Dany (assuming Hizdahr is gotten rid of somehow — yes, please!). The Targaryens do marry their own blood after all. I love the new info that this last episode gave us. And yes, Sam's learning had better play a part. Baby Sam needs it! Also, although not huge as far as plot movement, the other off-book bonus we got was Daenerys finally sitting down for a chat with Tyrion (and consenting to take him as her adviser). The one thing Tyrion said that caused me a little fear is when he said besides Varys, he trusted Jaime. I thought, "Uh-oh! Is this foreshadowing?" Will Jaime be his eventual downfall?
Sadie: It was a real joy watching the two of them size each other up. Though, I still can't believe how little Dany has learned from her current situation. Obviously, dragons and an army aren't enough to rule a kingdom! I mean, who is she, Jon Snow? Because I swear to god she still knows nothing about being a queen sometimes.
Hanh: Yes, really. I was thinking about this the other day that everyone else — including the non-existent Young Griff, Viserys, Robb, hell even Tyrion — have had some sort of training to rule. Lessons in history and such. Daenerys was raised to be a wife, so I wonder she hasn't tried to learn more from Barristan when she had the chance. Tyrion needs to get her in shape!
Sadie: He won't have a lot of time if the finale ends the way I'm expecting it to.
Hanh: Ha! Bring the Halfman with you on your dragon ride, Dany!
What did you think of "Hardhome"? Is Jon Snow doomed? Will Dany get Tyrion as her adviser only to leave him behind in the Meereenese dust? Discuss!
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.
VIDEO: Check out more of Sadie's thoughts on the Night's King below: