This article contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 6.
When Game of Thrones season 6 started airing, book readers were faced with a dilemma. Season 5 had already revealed one or two things relating to later volumes in “A Song Of Ice And Fire,” but season 6 was definitively moving forward and would spoil at least some major elements of future books. Should book readers wait, perhaps years, until both the final volumes have been released in order to enjoy the series in the format through which they originally discovered it? Or should they enjoy the series, knowing that the books will be slightly different anyway, and that the chances of avoiding spoilers when the show is as huge and all-conquering as it has become are almost nil unless you want to move to a cave on Mars with no wi-fi?
If you’re reading this article, we’re assuming you chose to go ahead and watch the series. But where exactly does season 6 leave us book readers? Has it laid out all the significant future developments from the books to the point where nothing can surprise us any more? Or has the series become such a different beast that the two are barely relevant to each other any more? Just how much of The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring has Game Of Thrones season 6 spoiled?
Things That will Definitely Happen in the Books
Much to the chagrin of some book readers who would have preferred not to know for sure, the origin of Hodor’s name and vocabulary will be revealed in much the same way in the books. Benioff and Weiss have confirmed that George R.R. Martin told them the story and they folded it into the series more or less as is. Take heart though, book readers – this is one reveal that may actually have worked better in televisual form, with dramatic and visually arresting inter-cutting between young Wylis and adult Hodor, than on the page.
We’re also going to put (R+)L=J here. Granted, we don’t know for sure that the books will give Jon Snow the same backstory, and the show is still holding out on confirming his father’s identity, but come on. Any book reader who spends any amount of time on the internet has known the whole story for years anyway – all that remains to be seen is just how Lyanna felt about Jon’s father and whether she was a willing lover or a victim of rape.
Oh yes, and Jon Snow will be resurrected. Whether the exact mechanism will be the same in the books is unclear – the books make much more of the fact that Jon is a Warg and Ghost tends to be more heavily involved in the plot in general when there are no budgetary considerations to be taken into account. And, like R+L=J, this is not a development Benioff and Weiss have confirmed they got from George R.R. Martin. But really, do we think anything else is at all likely?
Things That will Probably Happen in the Books
Jon Snow will leave the Night’s Watch and defeat Ramsay Bolton in battle. He wanted to do that at the end of A Dance With Dragons anyway. The triumphant return of a character with Stark blood to Winterfell and his hailing as ‘King in the North,’ just like his brother/cousin Robb, is surely where the books are heading too.
Cersei has wiped out the Tyrells, inadvertently driven her own son to suicide, and ended up having Qyburn crown her Queen in her own right, First of Her Name. Things may not go down in quite the same way in the books. Loras is gravely injured but not quite dead in another location, and Tommen is a much younger child, so it seems likely there will be some differences in how it all happens. It does seem likely, though, that in her increasing paranoia, Cersei will bring about Margaery’s death, Tommen will die (that much is fairly certain from Maggy the Frog’s prophecy, as is Myrcella’s yet-to-take-place death, as ‘gold will be their crowns, and gold their shrouds’), and Cersei, increasingly unstable, will have herself crowned Queen.
Danaerys will take over hordes of Dothraki and finally set sail to conquer Westeros. In the books, her fire-proof qualities were a bit more of a one-off, so she might have to use a slightly different method, but this is where she has been heading since the climax to the first book. Tyrion Lannister will be one of Dany’s closest advisors. They’re in such tantalisingly close geographical proximity at the moment that this is surely a matter of time. It’s less certain whether she will ever forgive Ser Jorah, but he is in bad shape in the books – perhaps she will forgive him on his deathbed.
Whether or not Theon and Yara/Asha Greyjoy will also join Danaerys like their TV counterparts have is less clear, but it seems reasonable enough. It depends partly on what’s going to happen with Euron’s horn (see below).
With Hodor’s fate sealed, Bran becoming the Three-Eyed Raven and fleeing south with Meera and Coldhands/Uncle Benjen (almost certainly the same person – this is another theory that has been popular for years, and there was simply no point trying to hide the actor’s identity on the TV show) also seems fairly likely to happen more or less as it does here.
Arya Stark will re-claim her identity and return to Westeros to set about checking some more names off her list. In the books, we’ve already had some Frey pie courtesy of Wyman Manderly (whose role in the TV series is much smaller), but Walder remains at large, so here’s hoping that Arya will come for him, just as she does here – because that was very satisfying indeed!
Things That will be Different in the Books
Sansa’s story has diverged pretty strongly from the books in the last couple of seasons. While Alayne Stone hangs around the Vale, putting up with Robin Arryn, Sansa Stark-Lannister-Bolton-Stark has married Ramsay, escaped from Ramsay, and killed Ramsay. It is likely that Book Sansa and TV Sansa will eventually converge again, probably in some manner involving Littlefinger – the one major thing they both have in common is a close relationship with Littlefinger and an increasing awareness of what it is that he wants (in the case of TV Sansa, largely because he was kind enough to tell her, which is unusually careless of him).
But we suspect that the chances of Book Sansa ending up at Winterfell any time soon are fairly slim. (And, incidentally, TV Sansa is unlikely to be pregnant, because Book Sansa is still a virgin and has never married Ramsay, so unless we’re going to be treated to an horrific medieval abortion scene, TV Sansa is unlikely to produce a new potential Stark heir who doesn’t exist in the books).
While most stories have moved ahead of the books now, Sam Tarly has only just caught up with his book counterpart, and Jaime Lannister is still spinning, moving very slightly closer to the books but, as of the season finale, still in a very different place. Where Book Jaime turned his back on Cersei a while ago, TV Jaime seems to be coming to that emotional place just now, watching her become Aerys Targaryen all over again. Meanwhile, Book Jaime had a dream, way back in book three, of himself and Brienne fighting together at Casterly Rock, and the rest of his family (minus Tyrion) dead. It seems likely that the TV versions are heading, eventually, to the same place. However, the book versions first have to go through an agonizing choice that may or may not avert that particular prophecy by having one of them kill the other; Lady Stoneheart has ordered Brienne to execute Jaime.
It’s just possible, considering the looks she was giving him (misinterpreted as a come-on by Bronn and with her true identity only revealed later) that Arya will fulfil this role in the TV series, calling on Brienne’s oaths of loyalty to her mother and her sister – though this seems unlikely, as Arya would surely just do the job herself, not order someone else to do it. Whatever goes down between Jaime and Brienne, it seems likely that in both versions, the keeping and/or breaking of oaths will be heavily involved.
Talking of Lady Stoneheart, the Brotherhood Without Banners in the TV show is still led by Ser Beric Dondarrion, confirming that she has been written out entirely. Poor Gendry, fighting with the Brotherhood in the books, is still completely missing in action in the TV series, but perhaps he will turn up next year. Meanwhile, the Hound is alive – we suspect his story will follow a similar pattern in the books, but how it will be altered by the presence of Lady Stoneheart remains to be seen.
One plot thread we’re reluctant to commit to one way or the other is that of Rickon Stark. It seems likely that he will, somehow, end up dead or at the very least, exiled – how many potential Stark heirs there are and who will, therefore, eventually end up ruling Winterfell is a significant issue and unlikely to be too drastically different. But exactly what happens to Rickon may yet be quite different.
George RR Martin has mentioned that he enjoyed Natalia Tena’s performance as Osha and might incorporate some of that into the character when she reappears, which implies that she might be around for more than two brief scenes. More to the point, Book Davos is on his way to pick up Rickon and Osha from cannibal island, and there are no budgetary constraints requiring poor Shaggydog to be unceremoniously beheaded as soon as possible. We suspect Rickon’s story in the books will look quite different to the way it played out here. He might actually get some lines in, for a start.
Unadapted Sections of the Books
For the most part, book readers have been as surprised as TV viewers by the developments of season 6. However, with the books and the show moving at different paces and presenting some events in a slightly different order, there are still a few things book readers can claim superior knowledge of. Perhaps the biggest dangling thread is the horn that can supposedly command dragons that Euron Greyjoy claims to be in possession of, Dragonbinder.
The TV series has introduced Euron – but whether he is merely a mechanism to get Theon and Yara/Asha to Danaerys, or whether he and his horn (oo-er missus), which so far has not made an appearance, will play a more significant role in events next year remains to be seen. It may be that this is another plot thread that plays out quite differently in the two formats – though a horn that can control dragons seems a fairly major thing to leave out, if it works in the books but does not appear in the TV series. Perhaps Book Euron’s horn won’t work as well as he hopes it will?
Book Threads That May come to Nothing
The TV series has been culling plot threads from the books that aren’t needed for the climax that the series is slowly building to since Lady Stoneheart was controversially left out at the end of season 4. It seems increasingly likely that Aegon Targaryen, whether a fake or genuinely Dany’s long-lost brother, is one such thread. The alliance between Dorne and Varys, and through Varys, Dany and her Targaryen cause, that in the books is the result of years of plotting by Prince Doran, has been brought about much more abruptly in the TV show where the Dornish characters have been whittled down to Ellaria and the Sand Snakes, and all of them have been joined at the last minute by Olenna, the only surviving Tyrell. If Aegon and his various friends and allies were going to be important in the long run, we suspect they would have been introduced by now.
It seems that Mance Rayder, his son (currently with Gilly in the books), and Young Sam (currently at the Wall) won’t have much more to do in the grand scheme of things either since Gilly and Young Sam are hanging around the Citadel, Mance Rayder’s son has been written out, and Melisandre’s illusory powers were revealed through her own true form rather than by disguising Mance.
We know that the TV series and the books are heading toward the same basic climax, though the routes they take to get there may be quite different. We can start to see the broad strokes of that common climax coming together in the final episode of season 6, as gamepiece after gamepiece is wiped out.
Going into season 7 of the TV show, we’re left with a much more traditional fantasy set-up; a horde of invading ice zombies to the north, a heroic bastard hailed king, a Mad Queen on the throne, and a long-lost scion flying in from across the sea with her dragons. It seems more than likely that the books are taking us towards the same place. And yet in the middle of it all, Littlefinger and Varys remain enigmas. Much as we come to understand more and more of their motives, their precise plans remain a mystery, meaning we can never quite be sure where anything is really going, whichever format we’re following.