Since I’ve read most of the books, none of the jaw-dropping scenes in Season 4 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, such as Joffrey’s murder and Oberyn’s skull crushing defeat, came as big surprises. But what has surprised me is when the show’s producers have strayed from the novels. So before this Sunday’s season finale, I thought I’d highlight the 5 biggest surprises from the perspective of someone who has read the books.
1. How far the series went into A Feast for Crows
I honestly thought the second half of Martin’s third book in the series, A Storm of Swords, provided more than enough material for this season of Game of Thrones without the producers having to stray into the next two books. (After all, with Martin’s writing pace, the producers will run out of material if they keep jumping ahead!) Instead, however, the producers decided to follow two storylines that begin in Martin’s fourth book, A Feast for Crows. The first was the barely-developed quest of Brienne and Pod to find Sansa Stark. Fortunately, this story hasn’t progressed very far (at least until this Sunday), so there should be plenty of drama left for next season.
The second, however, concerns the events in the Eyrie after Lysa Arryn’s death. Her murder is one of the concluding—and most shocking—scenes in A Storm of Swords, but the producers chose to feature this event early in this season. Then they went straight into the aftermath of that event in the scene with Littlefinger and the lords of the Eyrie concerning the cause of Lysa’s demise. This basically takes up Sansa’s entire storyline in A Feast for Crows. On top of that, the producers deviated from the book (more on that below), and I wonder how much of Sansa’s story the producers have left to even draw upon for Season 5—unless they are going to borrow from The Winds of Winter before Martin even releases the novel.
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2. How far the series went into A Dance with Dragons
As with the Sansa and Brienne storylines, Season Four dipped into Martin’s fifth novel, A Dance with Dragons, for the scenes with Daenerys and Reek. Daenerys’ story didn’t develop much this season, and its most shocking event—the dismissal of Ser Jorah—happened far later in the series than it did in the books. Otherwise, all of the scenes in Meereen come from Martin’s fifth book, and even these were watered down. Hopefully, HBO is keeping the good stuff for Season 5.
As for Reek, his story has been ongoing since Season 3, even though Reek doesn’t even appear until A Dance with Dragons (at least after Theon Greyjoy meets his apparent demise at the end of A Clash of Kings, Martin’s second novel and the subject of Season 2 of Game of Thrones). I understand that one reason for this was to keep Alfie Allen who plays Theon in the show the past two seasons, and I suppose that goal was achieved without any harm to Martin’s storyline in the novels.
3. That scene in Craster’s Keep
In addition to borrowing from Martin’s last two novels, the producers have also made up some scenes out of whole cloth. One example is the scene where Bran is captured by the brutal Night’s Watchmen at Craster’s Keep. This isn’t in the books, nor is Jon’s heroic raid on the keep. In the novels, the bad Crows who kill Lord Mormont at Craster’s Keep are dispatched by the White Walkers. In the show, however, these retches live on to torment Cratser’s wives and capture Bran and his companions. While the outcome of these events did not impact the core storyline of Martin’s novels, I have to believe this scene was added as filler to help compensate for the probability that the show will outpace Martin’s ability to finish his novels.
4. The Iron Bank of Braavos?
Don’t get me wrong, I liked the scene where Davos and Stannis visit the Iron Bank of Braavos, but it’s not in the books. It also disrupts the events that occurred at the end of Season 3 where Davos tells Stannis about the plea for help received from the Night’s Watch on the Wall. Why, in the midst of this urgent message, Davos and Stannis would embark on a banking expedition is beyond me, and it may create a pretty awkward moment in Sunday’s finale.
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5. Sansa’s big bold move
One of the best parts of the episode that aired two Sunday’s ago was Sansa’s confession to the lords of the Eryie that saved Littlefinger’s ass. This scene, however, totally deviated from the novels. In A Feast for Crows, Sansa maintains the illusion of being Littlefinger’s natural born daughter and she never reveals her true identity to the Eyrie lords. Of course, in the novel, Littlefinger and Sansa blame Lysa’s ’s murder on a minstrel who never even makes an appearance in the show. As a result, the Littlefinger in the show has to pretend Lysa committed suicide. Fortunately for him, Sansa’s bold speech saves his bacon, and the producers seem to be setting her up as a player in the "Game of Thrones." But I’m curious to know if this plot change will impact events as they unfold in later novels. My guess is they won’t, which is why the producers felt they could pull this off, but only time will tell.
Despite these surprises, I truly enjoyed Season 4 of Game of Thrones and think the non-book-reading audience will be in for a hell of a finale if the producers stay true to the conclusion of A Storm of Swords! I’m looking forward to it, and can hardly wait for Season 5—as well as The Winds of Winter, which is scheduled for release whenever who the hell knows (maybe 2015, though I'm very skeptical).
But let me know what you think. If you’ve read the books, what were your biggest surprises in Season 4 of Game of Thrones?