Game of Thrones is taking a week off — but that doesn't mean we can't geek out about it. Now that we're getting towards the end of season four, we're starting to get a sense of what the show is going to do with its major characters in season five... and how HBO will adapt two massive books by George R.R. Martin.
Top image: Cover art from Brazilian edition of A Dance With Dragons, art by Marc Simonetti
A year ago, we speculated about how season four would approach the tail end of Martin's book A Storm of Swords. Now things get really interesting: the next two books in the series, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons, take place more or less simultaneously, and involve a host of subplots that involve tons of new and previously minor characters.
To figure out how this will play out on television, we consulted our heavily-thumbed copies of Feast and Dance. We also talked to our panel of experts: Elio Garcia, webmaster of Westeros.org and Adam Whitehead with The Wertzone.
And we decided to take this character by character, focusing on the major characters of the TV show and trying to figure out what arcs they could have next year. For example, this year Tyrion has a pretty clear arc about being accused of Joffrey's murder. What's his arc going to be next year?
Warning: Maximum book spoilers below. Seriously, we are going all-in with the book spoilers.
In the books: He flees from Westeros and ends up in Pentos, where Illyrio (the merchant who arranged Daenerys' marriage) gets him onto a ship sailing to meet up with Daenerys, in the company of Young Griff and Old Griff, who turn out not to be whom they appear. In Volantis, he gets captured by Jorah Mormont, who wants to use him to regain favor with Daenerys, and then meets a female dwarf named Penny. Then they're enslaved and forced to perform for the slavers, but ultimately escape and join the Second Sons, a mercenary company.
On television: Wow, that's a lot of events. The preceding paragraph is just jam-packed with incident, and I didn't even mention Tyrion almost drowning during an attack by stone men. "I suspect Tyrion's journey next year will be truncated with more ground covered in less time," says Whitehead.
Garcia wonders if we'll actually meet Old Griff and Young Griff on television, or if they'll get streamlined out somehow. Or possibly, they could be introduced in a later season, when they start affecting the action in Westeros.
Whitehead also questions whether we'll be meeting the Griffs, or whether they'll be left out altogether. That would be a huge deviation — but the show has already gone out of its way to mention that Daenerys has control over the Meereenese Navy (which she doesn't get in the books), so she has a way to get to Westeros quickly without help from the Ironborn or the Golden Company. That could mean that Daenerys reaches Westeros sooner, and there's no need for other players in the mix.
We also probably won't spend much time in Volantis, the city where Tyrion gets captured by Jorah, because that's a whole new location — although we did hear Robb's wife Talisa talk about Volantis quite a bit, so the show has planted some seeds, says Whitehead.
Garcia figures that most of Tyrion's arc in A Dance With Dragons can appear next year, in some form — he will probably reach Meereen towards the end of the season, in any case. Whitehead says a streamlined version could involve Tyrion in Pentos, a brief stop in Volantis to meet Jorah, and then on his way to Meereen.
Whitehead also wonders if the show will keep Penny, Tyrion's new dwarf friend. "The jousting scene at Joffrey's wedding, where they were careful to keep the last dwarf's face hidden, suggests they are at least considering it."
And one fitting end to Tyrion's season five arc could be him resigning himself to performing in a humiliating fashion with Penny, in the same way that the dwarves performed at Joffrey's wedding. That could still leave Tyrion joining the Second Sons for season six.
In the books: She travels to Braavos, the city where we recently saw Stannis and Davos asking for money. She joins the Faceless Men, the assassin group that her friend Jaqen H'ghar was a member of, and trains to be an assassin. At one point, she meets Samwell Tarly, who's traveling to the Citadel. She gets blinded at one point and becomes a beggar girl. Eventually, she gets her sight back and starts learning to kill without being seen.
On television: Last year, Garcia speculated that Arya might never go to Braavos, to save on the expense of adding another location to the show — instead, she might just rejoin Jaqen and serve as his apprentice in Westeros. But now that the show has unveiled a fancy-looking CG version of Braavos, and the Iron Bank of Braavos is becoming more important, Garcia thinks we might actually start next season with Arya in Braavos.
And Garcia suspects we'll see something similar to Arya's arc in Feast and Dance — she'll learn lessons throughout the season and have "unexpected interactions" with people from Westeros, becoming a practised assassin. And then toward the end of season five, the show will probably introduce the means by which she'll return to Westeros for season six.
Whitehead agrees: her arc in season five is learning "the art of assassindom and rising through the ranks," and finally taking out someone else on her hit list.
In the books: She is stuck at the Eyrie with Littlefinger, who is trying to solidify his grip on power in the Vale following the death of Sansa's Aunt Lysa. (Lysa has died quicker on television than in the books.) At some point, Littlefinger reveals he plans to marry Sansa to Harry the Heir, who is the presumptive heir to the Vale.
On television: Presumably Sansa does spend an entire season at the Eyrie, learning about schemes and so on from Littlefinger. "Sansa's story next season will largely focus on her evolution as Petyr Baelish's pupil," says Garcia. But there's a wrinkle. The TV show has already put way more emphasis on Littlefinger's sexual and romantic interest in Sansa, with that kiss. So it's possible that we'll see that develop way more on screen than on the page.
Also, Garcia questions whether we'll meet the character of "Harry the Heir," or whether the show will just focus on Sansa being betrothed to young Lord Robin instead.
Whitehead says there's just not much for Sansa to do in season five, unless the show starts drawing on material from Winds of Winter, or fleshes out a lot of stuff about various lords challenging Littlefinger. "It may be that we will just have a Sansa-lite season instead."
In the books: She finds out that Jorah, her most trusted advisor, was spying on her for King Robert, and sends him away. She tries to rule Meereen but finds opposition to her reign increasing, with a terrorist group called the Sons of the Harpy targeting her. She eventually has to marry someone out of expediency, and meanwhile she has to chain up two of her dragons after they cause havoc. Eventually, when a big celebration goes horribly wrong, she flies away on one of her dragons and meets a group of Dothraki.
On television: We've already seen a big piece of her Dance With Dragons storyline on television — she's already ruling Meereen, and she's already heard from a shepherd whose flock were killed by a dragon. Expect season four to end with Daenerys chaining up her dragons, and also possibly sending Jorah away. Whitehead says it feels like the show has been "setting Jorah up for a fall" this season, ending up with Varys' spies letting Daenerys know about Jorah's treachery.
I think in a lot of ways this season has really only just scraped into the A Dance with Dragons storyline. A very major factor running through that novel is the growing opposition to her not just in the rest of Essos, but in Meereen as well. The Sons of the Harpy storyline, her eventual decision to make a political marriage, and more still awaits.
Whitehead says Jorah's fall from grace will make Hizdahr a bigger player, especially after Hizdahr negotiates the second surrender of Yunkai. And this will set up a rivalry between Hizdahr and Daario Naharis, Daenerys' favorite mercenary. He adds: " Effectively, the goal this season is to allow the producers in Season 5 to get straight throught the Meereenese political storyline, the wedding, the military assault by Dany's enemies and to the Battle of Meereen at the end of the season."
Will we see the Battle of Meereen at the end of season five? See below for more, but Garcia says no and Whitehead says yes.
In the books: We don't even "meet" Theon's new persona, Reek, until A Dance With Dragons. So the show is already way ahead of the books where Theon is concerned. In the books, Reek "impersonates" Theon and helps Ramsay capture Moat Cailin from the Ironborn — an event that we'll probably see in the next few episodes. After that, they go to Winterfell, where Theon helps Ramsay prepare to marry a fake "Arya Stark," only to regain his honor and escape with "Arya." Theon winds up getting captured by Stannis.
On television: So it looks like next season will be a lot of Theon at Winterfell with Ramsay and his father Roose Bolton. There's still tons of his Dance With Dragons storyline to go — but the real question is how many of the supporting characters from those chapters we'll see on screen, says Garcia. In the books, the crew at Winterfell includes various Freys, the obese Lord Wyman Manderly, some Umbers, and the bitter Lady Dustin. But the show is likely to dispense with a lot of those characters.
If we don't meet Wyman Manderly and Lady Dustin and the rest, then the conflict in season five quickly zeroes in on a conflict between Stannis Baratheon and Roose Bolton, "without any other parties being involved," says Garcia. "How they can have that run over a whole season, I'm not sure."
"Whilst we're pretty far into Theon's A Dance With Dragons material, we're still playing catch-up with Stannis," warns Whitehead. So the show will have to find ways to slow down Theon's progress to Winterfell until Stannis is ready to confront Bolton.
In the books: Theon's sister doesn't try to rescue him, the way she just did on television. Instead, after her father Balon Greyjoy dies, she tries to succeed him as ruler of the Iron Islands, only to lose in a Kingsmoot. She then travels back towards the North, where she winds up getting captured by Stannis — so Stannis has both Greyjoy siblings.
On television: Garcia believes that Yara will head back to the Iron Islands, although we may or may not see the Kingsmoot in which Balon's successor is chosen. If the show wants to keep the Ironborn as major players, we'll have to see something of their political wranglings next year.
What happens to Yara next year is the biggest question mark, says Whitehead: at one point, he believed Yara would try to rescue Theon, and that would lead directly to her getting captured by Stannis, with no return to the Iron Islands. Now Whitehead is getting the feeling that instead, Yara will be back in the Iron Islands in time to witness her father's death.
With the producers deciding to introduce the southern region of Dorne as a setting next year, Whitehead questions whether they can juggle both Dorne and the Iron Islands. So unless we start to hear about Yara's uncles Euron and Victarion getting cast, we may be getting a massively streamlined Greyjoy storyline.
One possibility Whitehead sees: Yara may actually win the succession battle and become Balon's heir. And she may take over a big chunk of Victarion's storyline from the books, sailing to meet Daenerys in Meereen. Or she may decide to side with Stannis.
But more than any other character on the show, there's really no telling what they'll do with Yara — and by extension, the rest of the Ironborn, says Whitehead.
In the books: We've already seen a big chunk of her storyline from A Feast For Crows, in which she travels with Tyrion's former squire Podrick to search for the missing Stark girls. She travels a lot and gets into various fights, including some with characters who are already dead on television. And after a lot of misadventures, she and Podrick meet the mysterious Lady Stoneheart, who turns out to be someone we already know.
On television: Like I said, Brienne has already had a lot of her Feast storyline. And on television, she got a lucky break, meeting Hot Pie who gave her pretty good clues as to where to find Arya. A lot depends on how soon the show wants to introduce Lady Stoneheart — is she a surprise for the end of season four? The end of season five?
Garcia says Brienne seems like "a character whose story is going to have to be off-screen for a while. But I'm not sure how willing the producers are to do that."
Whitehead predicts season four will end with Brienne meeting Lady Stoneheart — possibly getting captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners and taken to Stoneheart as a big shock for episode ten. That would leave Brienne with nothing to do in season five, unless the show invents a new mission for her, that allows her to go on some of her adventures from the book, including meeting the mysterious "gravedigger" whose identity has been speculated about a lot.
It's possible season five could end with Brienne being reunited with Jaime Lannister, says Whitehead.
In the books: Cersei and Jaime continue to have a falling out. Jaime travels to deal with various problems, including Robb Stark's uncle Brynden "The Blackfish" Tully under siege in a castle. Meanwhile, Cersei tries to rule in the wake of her father Tywin's death, and gets embroiled in more rivalry with Margaery. Trying to deal with the Iron Throne's huge debts, Cersei gives away the store to the church and then her schemes against Margaery backfire spectacularly.
On television: Jaime's storyline will probably have to be cut down quite a bit. Garcia says it would be great to see the Blackfish again, but they may have to lose that subplot. But Whitehead says he's expecting to see some of it: "You don't cast actors like Tobias Menzies and Clive Russell to play Edmure and Brynden and then have them vanish after a few episodes."
Meanwhile, the show has done way more to set up Cersei's rivalry with Margaery than the books had at this point, so the stage is set for the two women to have a bitter fight for supremacy. "They've definitely laid the groundwork for Cersei's troubles running the realm," says Garcia.
Whitehead says Cersei's ruin will happen the same as in the books, only much faster. "Lena Headey seems to think Cersei's Walk of Shame will be in Season 5, so it may be that all of the King's Landing material from both A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons will be in Season 5, presumably ending with Varys' assassinations."
In the books: Samwell travels to Braavos with Maester Aemon, who dies on the journey. He then travels on to Oldtown and the Citadel, where he studies to be a Maester for the Night's Watch. And he encounters some mysterious conspiracies.
On television: Garcia expects Samwell to travel to Braavos with Aemon — but only to negotiate a loan with the Iron Bank, not on the way to Oldtown. That way, Samwell can still meet Arya, as in the books. But Garcia doubts we'll ever see Oldtown or the Citadel, and he expects Samwell to head right back to the Wall after he leaves Braavos.
In the books: Jon Snow becomes Lord Commander of the Night's Watch after Stannis helps defeat the Wildling army. But Jon finds running the Night's Watch a huge challenge, especially since he wants to bring the surviving Wildlings to safety and enlist their aid in fighting the Others. After Jon Snow rashly decides to go fight Ramsay for Winterfell, this turns out to be the last straw and his own men turn on him, stabbing him.
On television: This may be a case where we don't see events from A Storm of Swords until next year. Neither Garcia nor Whitehead expects the TV show to depict Jon Snow's election to Lord Commander this season — it's just too much to cover, on the heels of the big battle and Stannis showing up. So a couple episodes next year will deal with the election and its aftermath.
After that, though, both Garcia and Whitehead expect Jon's whole storyline from A Dance With Dragons to be covered next year: struggling with leadership, trying to bring the Wildlings over to the other side of the Wall, negotiating with Stannis, Tormund and Melisandre, and slowly losing his grip. Adds Whitehead:
The real question is who will betray him? Bowen Marsh seems to be gone from the TV show and the whole point of that storyline is that it's not someone obvious like Alliser Thorne. They could make it Thorne, but that feels lazy. Making it someone like Grenn or Pyp could really work, though.
In the books: Bran travels with a mysterious figure named Coldhands, who protects him. And he eventually meets the Three-Eyed Raven and has some mystical experiences.
On television: Garcia expects we'll see Bran meet the Three-Eyed Raven at the end of season four, in a few weeks. Both the teasers and the title of the final episode seem to support that. But then what? Garcia says there's no need for us ever to meet Coldhands, since Bran has already gotten to the last "greenseer" without Coldhands' help.
Garcia says Bran is another character who could just be missing from season five, only to reappear in season six flush with new powers — but the show seems reluctant to drop major characters like that.
Season five will likely entirely be about him learning the art of green-seeing, communing with the trees etc. I think it's likely, given the producers' desire to get the White Walker story moving more quickly than in the books, that they will drawn on elements from Books 6 and 7 and use Bran to get into that storyline more decisively.
In the books: He travels around trying to rally support for Stannis and nearly gets executed a few times. Eventually, he goes to search for the missing Rickon Stark.
On television: Garcia doubts that we'll see Davos traveling around to gather supporters for Stannis, since that's a subplot that could easily be dropped. He'll probably stay by Stannis' side for most of next season.
But Whitehead says one way to streamline Davos' storyline is to have him actually find Rickon (and Osha) towards the end of next season.
In the books: We meet Prince Doran Martell, who's been scheming to help get the Targaryens back on the throne. We also meet the Sand Snakes, the illegitimate daughters of Prince Oberyn Martell, who are totally badass. There's a plot to kidnap Cersei's daughter Myrcella, whom Tyrion sent to Dorne for safekeeping. Doran reveals that he planned to marry his daughter Arianne to Viserys Targaryen, and he sends his son Quentyn to Meereen to court Daenerys.
On television: They're filming Dorne in Andalusia, which Garcia says is absolutely the right place. But Garcia professes to be "apprehensive" about how this storyline will appear on television. "I can't even begin to fathom where they could simplify it."
"My guess is that they will streamline all of this down to anger at Oberyn's death and the plot with Myrcella and her injury," says Whitehead.
Garcia hopes we'll meet Quentyn — given that travel times between Westeros and Essos seem to be a lot shorter on television than in the books, we could meet Quentyn briefly in Dorne and then he could "jet off to Meereen to do his thing." Whitehead says Quentyn provides a crucial link between Oberyn's death and events in Meereen, and makes an eventual alliance between the Martells and Daenerys less likely. But there are other ways of reaching those story points, without including Quentyn.
This show has already gotten a big reputation for massive shocks or huge battles at the end of each season. (Ned's death, the Blackwater, the Red Wedding, etc.) A big open question is what will be the huge event that ends season five. Two possibilities are the Battle of Meereen and the fight between Roose Bolton and Stannis Baratheon, both of which happen at the start of The Winds of Winter, the as-yet-unreleased novel.
But Garcia now believes that season five will be another season that's low on set pieces, to save budget for season six — in much the same way that season three was fairly low-key. And in that case, the big shocker that ends season five could be something a bit smaller — like Jon Snow getting stabbed, apparently fatally, by his own men in the Night's Watch.
But Whitehead says he'll be surprised if the Battle of Meereen isn't the "episode nine moment" of season five.