Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire: Will the Books Have a Different Ending Than the TV Show?

What does George RR Martin have in store for the literary fate of Westeros with the conclusion to A Song Of Ice And Fire? Spoilers!

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This article contains major spoilers for all seasons of Game Of Thrones.

We finally have an end to Game Of Thrones, but not everyone is happy with the way things turned out. Showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss have come under a lot of fire from unhappy fans, but we know that George RR Martin shared the overall plan for the book series with them long ago. Will there be any significant differences in how things play out in the book series A Song Of Ice And Fire?

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George RR Martin himself has actually answered this question on his blog, and the answer is “Yes. And no. And yes. And no.” As Martin points out, books and television are different media, and they have different requirements. He also lists a number of characters who never even appeared in the TV show but whose fate we will learn in the books: Jeyne Poole, Lady Stoneheart, Penny and her pig, Skahaz Shavepate, Arianne Martell, Darkstar, Victarion Greyjoy, Ser Garlan the Gallant, Aegon VI, “and many more.”

But it’s the fate of the major characters that fans are really interested in at this point. And while we know that at least some of them are heading towards the same fate in the books, we are also fairly sure at least some of them will be going somewhere slightly different – here’s who and why…

Daenerys Targaryen

Major differences

We have one main reason for suggesting that the story in the books will work out differently in most of these cases: prophecies. A Song Of Ice And Fire is absolutely chock-full of prophecies, many of which never made it into the TV series.

There has, so far, been one notable example of a prophecy that was not fulfilled (relating to Dany’s son Rhaego), and George RR Martin has suggested that prophecies cannot be trusted, so no guesses based on prophecy are entirely certain. Several characters in-universe have commented on how unreliable they are, and even Melisandre suggests that although what she sees in the fire is never exactly wrong, she may mis-interpret it.

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However, we have to assume, in the grand tradition of fantasy literature, that most of them are going to be fulfilled at some point of the story – it simply does not make a satisfying story to provide numerous prophecies that are given lots of attention, and then fail to follow through on any of them. The interpretation may turn out to be quite different from what the prophecy initially seemed to suggest, but the fires will turn out to be correct in their own special way in the end.

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The fate of Cersei Lannister and her children

The prophecy given to Cersei by Maggy the Frog is longer and more detailed in the books than in the show. She will be Queen; she will have three children and the King will have sixteen; their crowns and shrouds will be gold (i.e. all three will be monarchs, and all three will die before her); after their deaths a younger and more beautiful Queen will take Cersei’s place, and eventually, “the valonquar” (younger brother or younger sibling) will strangle her to death.

Most of this prophecy is more or less covered in the TV show. Myrcella never becomes a Queen in the series, whereas the books have her at the centre of a Martell plot to put her on the throne, and since Jaime doesn’t go to Dorne in the books and Arianne Martell is a significant character, her death will probably play out differently. But Cersei’s sons both became kings, all three of her children died before her, and she was supplanted by a younger and more beautiful Queen (first Margaery, then Daenerys).

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Cersei’s death, however, will play out quite differently if this prophecy is accurate.

The identity of the “valonquar” has been hotly debated among book fans for years, but whoever it is (prime candidates include Jaime, Tyrion, Arya or Sandor Clegane), it seems safe to say she won’t be killed by falling rocks, wrapped in Jaime’s arms. Unless he mercy kills her in the middle of the destruction of the Red Keep. But we suspect not.

Cersei and Jaime Lannister

Jaime abandoning Brienne for Cersei, and his death

In A Storm Of Swords, when Jaime is being escorted away from Harrenhal leaving Brienne behind, he falls asleep against a weirwood tree (that’s the ones with the creepy faces that are central to Bran’s visions) and has a weird and very long and complicated dream. He dreams about himself and Brienne being in a dark place full of water underneath the Lannister stronghold of Casterly Rock. He sees his father, Joffrey, a bunch of other blonde Lannisters and, most importantly, Cersei. They all leave him – which suggests, since Joffrey and Tywin both die long before Jaime and Cersei, that Cersei will die before Jaime does.

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In the dream, Jaime and Brienne both have burning swords, and Cersei tells Jaime that when the flames go out, he will die. They are then approached by the ghosts of the late King Aerys’ Kingsguard and Rhaegar Targaryen (clothed in snow, suggesting this might in reality be Jon Snow and his men), who go to attack them and the flames on Jaime’s sword go out – and he wakes up. It is this dream that prompts Jaime to insist on going back to Harrenhal to rescue Brienne from a bear.

It doesn’t take much of a dream interpreter to work out that last bit. If Martin sticks to this prophecy – and weirdwood tree dreams are usually the more reliable prophecies in the world of Westeros – Jaime will die fighting back to back with Brienne (who will, hopefully, survive). In the dream he wants to follow Cersei, and metaphorically he may consider death to be “following her” assuming she is already dead, but he won’t leave Brienne for her, and he won’t die with her.

Ghost and Nymeria

At the beginning of the series, the Starks adopted six direwolves. Two are dead in both books and show (Lady and Grey Wind). Two died in the show but are still alive in the books, so whether they have anything important to do remains to be seen (Summer and Shaggydog). But two were never killed off in the show, no matter how little we saw them because all the VFX budget had been blown on the dragons – Ghost and Nymeria.

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In the books, Bran is not the only warg in the Stark family, as both Jon and Arya have shared dreams with their direwolves. We think it’s safe to assume that Ghost (who may or may not hold on to Jon’s soul until Melisandre can resurrect him) and Nymeria (running wild in Westeros as head of a wolf pack, and presumably a useful ally against the army of the dead) will have bigger roles to play in how things go down in the book version of this story.

Arya Stark

Arya’s assassination skills

As many, many memes have pointed out, Arya spent years learning a neat set of assassins’ skills, including the ability to swap faces, only to use them once (on the Freys) and then never again.

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The Freys have already been nearly wiped out in the books, mostly under the orders of Lady Stoneheart, with the detail about serving some of them in pies provided by a (very) minor character called Wyman Manderly. Arya, meanwhile, is still in training and has not changed faces at all yet. We assume that her arc concerning almost abandoning her identity, but then reclaiming it (having stashed away Needle instead of getting rid of it) will play out in a similar way, and it’s unclear whether she will go so far as to gain the ability to swap faces. But however her time at the House of Black and White ends, we suspect that the skills of an assassin that she has learned will have a bigger role to play in the conclusion of the books.

Arya killing the Night King

There is one other source we can draw on for working out what may have been Benioff and Weiss’s invention – their own statements. In “Inside the Episode” following Season 8, Episode 3, Benioff talked about the choice to have Arya kill the Night King, which suggests that this was their choice, not something laid out for them by George RR Martin. Protecting Arya so that she could kill the Night King also turns out to have been Ser Beric Dondarrion’s destiny – but Book Beric long ago gave up his extra lives to resurrect Lady Stoneheart, so we know that will play out differently as well.

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Considering the Night King will likely be killed, as in the show, in battle, this is not especially surprising. Arya is an assassin, not a soldier, and is more likely to kill Cersei or some of non-TV characters. As for who will kill the Night King – well, Jon Snow still seems the most likely candidate, but perhaps Martin will spring another surprise on us at the last minute.

The Night King

The Night King being killed before Cersei and Daenerys

We suspect, if the book’s prophecies are to be fulfilled, that the books will deal with the human storyline first, and then turn to the defeat of the Night King. Jaime’s vision suggests that he and Brienne will end up fighting zombies in Casterly Rock, many thousands of miles south of Winterfell. But there are other prophecies that suggest that some things that play out in the same way may have a different meaning, and therefore result in a different order of events, in the book version…

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Jon Snow Dying

Things that will probably work out roughly the same

Jon Snow’s resurrection

All the pieces are in place – Melisandre is at the Wall, and Ghost is nearby for Jon to warg in to and preserve his soul (so he doesn’t end up cold and detached like Lady Stoneheart). There’s no reason to think this will be significantly different in the books.

The burning of Shireen Baratheon

Most of the really horrible stuff that happens on Game of Thrones has its roots in the books. Theon’s mutilation happens off page, but it happens; Ramsey’s abuse is inflicted on a different wife, but it is no less horrible for happening to Jeyne Poole instead of Sansa Stark. The Red Wedding, Ned’s execution, Oberyn Martell having his head popped – none of these are inventions of David Benioff or DB Weiss.

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The burning at the stake of a young child who is also one of the most likeable characters in the series is the moment Stannis crosses the line and becomes irredeemable – and it’s almost certainly Martin’s idea. It may play out differently – perhaps Stannis himself will be at the forefront, if Melisandre has switched allegiance to Jon Snow, and perhaps this will turn even loyal Davos Seaworth against him – but we suspect it will happen.

Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen

Jon and Dany’s love affair

The series is called A Song Of Ice And Fire after all – that would suggest a saga that is ultimately about Jon Snow (Ice) and Daenerys Targaryen (Fire). It is prophesied (at the House of the Undying) that Daenerys will “ride” three “mounts,” “one to bed and one to dread and one to love.”

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If we want to be a bit gutter-minded in how we interpret that, this could refer to three lovers – Khal Drogo (to bed), Daario Naharis (to dread, for reasons as yet unknown relating to book plot developments) and Jon Snow (to love). Their romantic entanglement provides a sense of epic tragedy as the series draws to its close, because something else that will also probably work out much the same is…

Daenerys’ descent into madness and murder by Jon

Melisandre frequently conflates a prophecy about The Prince That Was Promised with the resurrection of a mythological/historical character called Azor Ahai. Azor Ahai defeated the forces of darkness before, but only by forging a special flaming magic sword called Lightbringer. His method? Plunge the hot metal into his wife Nisssa Nissa’s heart so that her soul becomes part of the sword. Melisandre used to think Stannis Baratheon was Azor Ahai reborn (other parts of the prophecy referred to a bleeding comet and being born among smoke and salt, which could refer to any number of people, including Dany, Jon Snow and Stannis) but she seems to be leaning towards Jon Snow more recently.

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If Jon Snow is indeed Azor Ahai reborn, then a sequence of events that essentially replays his story might play out. It’s possible that Daenerys goes mad, and Jon decides he must kill her, but in doing so, he creates a new Lightbringer merged with her soul. This is why we think the order of events may be different – Jon, the new Azor Ahai, can then move on to defeat the Night King using the new Lightbringer.

Of course, it’s possible that this prophecy will not play out the way we expect it to, or may not even happen at all. It’s possible that someone really unexpected will turn out to be Azor Ahai – Jaime Lannister is one of the hot tips to murder his lover/sister Cersei, was born by the sea and dreams of fighting with a flaming sword, so it could even be him. Or this may be a prophecy that is never fulfilled at all, and another way of defeating the Night King is found.

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We still think Jon and Dany’s story will turn out roughly the same, though. Daenerys receives many, many prophecies relating to herself throughout the series, including one that she will know “three treasons – once for blood and once for gold and once for love.” We’ve seen blood (Mirri Maz Duur) and gold (Ser Jorah) which just leaves Jon to betray her for love, possibly his love of his people, or (if things play out in a similar way to the show) of his sisters.

Or perhaps the events of the story will be the same, but the meaning again different – perhaps Dany, sensing herself starting to turn to the dark side, will volunteer to play the role of Nissa Nissa, to save Westeros from both the Night King and herself.

Tyrion Lannister in a Burning King's Landing

Things that could go either way

The wholescale destruction of King’s Landing

We are fairly confident that Dany will descend into madness, but whether she will actually succeed in reducing King’s Landing to rubble is another issue. Jaime killed Aerys just before he was able to do the same, and it’s rather frustrating to see all that effort go to waste when it turns out that fate was only put off by a few years. It may be that in the book version, Daenerys is about to destroy King’s Landing when she is stopped – but this was changed for the television show because actually seeing the destruction makes better television.

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Another of the Undying’s poetic prophecies to Dany is that she will “light: three fires – one for life (the birth of the dragons from Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre), one for death, and one to love. It’s possible that the fire for death will be the destruction of King’s Landing – or perhaps Cersei won’t destroy the Sept of Baelor, but Daenerys will, thus sparing most of the population but still making a pretty big mess and coming across as a major over-reaction. That might leave the fire “to love” as her soul being absorbed into Jon’s sword and becoming Lightbringer, the flaming sword born of their love, perhaps even willingly.

Bran Stark

Who becomes King or Queen of the North and/or the Six/Seven Kingdoms

You’d assume that this fairly major point would be the same, and it may well be so. Bran is the first point of view character in the first book, following the prologue (whose point of view character immediately dies) and, like Jon, is a typical fantasy hero, a noble boy who overcomes physical disability with magical powers.

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There is a really obscure possible alternative to Bran that may have seemed insufficiently dramatic for the TV series. In the books, Margaery and Loras Tyrell have an older brother called Willas, who is the heir to Highgarden and who is studious and physically disabled, with a bad leg. (Bronn will not end up Lord of Highgarden in the books – he has his castle and noble bride already).

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Just as the Starks and Lannisters are loosely inspired by the historical British Houses of York and Lancaster, the Tyrells’ closest historical analogue is the Tudors – the House that eventually emerged triumphant from the Wars of the Roses when Lancastrian Henry Tudor defeated Richard of York in battle and married Elizabeth of York to ally the two sides and put an end to the wars.

Willas was adapted out of the TV series, and it may be that the showrunners felt it would be more satisfying to put a character we have been following from the beginning on the throne – but making that character Bran, also physically disabled and unable to walk, is a nod to the originally intended Willas.

The spanner in the works here is Sansa Stark. A few years ago, publisher Harper Collins made public some of Martin’s early plans for the series, which were in some ways very different to the story he ended up writing (Arya Stark and Jon Snow as star-crossed lovers was a major change).

Sansa was one of the characters who seemed to have changed the most from her initial outline, as she was initially intended to betray her Stark family for her husband Joffrey and their children. Her story is also substantially different to that of the her TV counterpart, as the television version merged her with the minor character Jeyne Poole, who in the books is claimed to be Arya and forcibly married to Ramsey Bolton.

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Whereas the characters of Arya, Jon, Bran, Tyrion and Daenerys (Martin’s original five who would make it all the way to the end) have largely retained their basic nature even as the plot has changed, Sansa is a wild card – different in the TV series, different in the original plan, and the character that has probably changed the most over the course of the books published so far as well.

What that means is that it’s impossible to guess what Martin’s plans for her are now. Will she ultimately be the “younger and more beautiful” Queen who takes Cersei’s place? Will she fight for an independent North, as in the TV show? Will she go a different direction entirely, leaving Bran as King? Will she even find happiness in a Lannister marriage after all, re-marrying Tyrion to unite Houses Stark and Lannister, leaving the two of them to reign? Will she be married to Willas Tyrell, to fulfil the same role as a fictionalised Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor?

Honestly, we have no idea!