Features and Columns · TV

I Wanted Game of Thrones to Spoil The Books, But It Didn’t

By  · Published on June 16th, 2015


Here’s something you can file under “not at all new”: The Game of Thrones season 5 finale was yet another shocker. For those who have not watched it, stop here and go away before you run very quickly into a series of spoilers from the episode.

Now that we can speak freely, I’m sure that many of the Unsullied (those who have not read the books) were quite shocked by the way things ended for a number of storylines. Daenerys has been engulfed in a wave of Dothraki after her dragon decided to take a nap. Sansa and Theon took a Thelma and Louise-esque dive off the 80-foot embankments of Winterfell. Arya, like justice, is completely blind. The Mountain has been resurrected as Cersei’s silent ticket back to the top. And finally, Jon Snow has been stabbed, presumed by the actor who plays him to be really, seriously, unequivocally dead.

Fade to black.

All of this was brutal and shocking for show watchers, but for readers of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, none of this is really new.

While pundits have been telling you all year that this is the most off-book season yet, in the end the show and its source material are still in lockstep, for the most part.

This is what has perhaps created the greatest animosity for book readers: we secretly wanted the show to go further. Since the release of Martin’s “A Dance with Dragons” in 2011, book readers have been coming up with theory after theory that resolves several major cliffhangers at the end of the book. This includes Jon Snow’s final chapter and the ambiguity in a Meereen under siege without its Queen.

When it comes to answers we had hoped the show would provide, Jon Snow’s fate is perhaps the most important. In both the books and the show, Jon Snow feels like one of those characters that is too important to die an untimely (and permanent) death. There are theories about his parentage that place him in a position of great importance. He is also believed by many to be The Prince That Was Promised, or the reincarnation of Azor Ahai, one of the prophecized “three heads of the dragon” that will stop The Long Night (and the White Walker army.)

We’ve believed for a long time that Jon Snow is important. And there was hope that the show would provide us with some answers. Surely the show wouldn’t head into a year-long break on the Jon Snow cliffhanger. If the expectation of book readers is correct, then surely he will be spotted on set in the next year, ruining whatever longterm punch the cliffhanger may have had.

The show gave us none of these answers.

It’s frustrating because I’ve always enjoyed knowing the future of Game of Thrones. It’s one of the perks of having read 5,063 pages of Martin’s stories and suffering through the gratuitous bloat that exists in the two most recent books, “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance with Dragons.” The prize was the knowledge of what happened and with it came the excitement of watching my non-book reader friends squirm through every act of brutality in the show’s first 5 seasons. It was also a lot of fun to relive moments from the books, to analyze the differences and learn a great deal about the nature of adaptation. For me, this has been the first such exercise of my adult life. I had never read the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings books prior to seeing the movies. Game of Thrones is the fantasy epic that has become my obsession.

So when other book readers express their frustrations over that ending, I completely understand. I’ve felt that frustration over the past few days, as well. It’s led me through the five stages of grief and I now sit in acceptance. The show didn’t give us any of the answers we wanted. The most interesting question is: why not?

On this topic, I have a theory. For the entirety of season 5, the two creative forces behind Game of Thrones – show creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss and author George R.R. Martin – have seemingly been at odds. Martin is no longer writing scripts for the show and he’s begun asking his fans to stop pestering him about changes in the adaptation, as the show is the show and the books are the books. On their end, Weiss and Benioff have laid blame for some of the most distressing changes in season 5 – most notably the burning of Princess Shireen – on Martin. “When George told us about this,” they explained in an “Inside the Episode” segment. As far as we have been led to believe, these two forces are no longer on the same page.

But what if they are? Sure, the show has made some changes for the sake of efficiency. They showed us The Night’s King before the books to establish the threat of the White Walker army. They made Sansa Ramsay’s bride to give Sansa something to do (in the books, she might as well be napping in The Vale). And they brought Tyrion and Dany together because that’s awesome. But beyond that, the major moments within the story remain relatively unchanged.

This could just be the rhythm of the adaptation. Seasons 1 through 4 were very faithful adaptations of books 1 through 3. Season 5 has been a stripping and smashing of all the best stuff from two very bloated, problematic books. But in the end, we’ve arrived at the same conclusions (and cliffhangers.)

It could also be a very strategic move on the part of the creative teams involved. The show has not-so-subtly bought Martin another year to finish his next book, “The Winds of Winter,” before they have to push forward with the story and answer these big questions. And from a marketing perspective, releasing that book very near to the beginning of season 6 would be create a perfect storm for both book sales and Game of Thrones buzz.

What I’ve wanted all along are the answers that exist in that next book. And in my desperation, I hoped that the show would hand them over before closing its 5th season. While that didn’t happen, I’m starting to see the larger plan at work. Don’t be surprised if “The Winds of Winter” is on book shelves (or flying off them) by the time the Season 6 trailer debuts in the spring of 2016.

Either way, we’re going to get those answers. We just have to survive until next season.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)