Season Two of Game of Thrones, HBO's rat's-eye-view of the struggle for control of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros (and beyond), is nearing conclusion. We already know the penultimate episode, "Blackwater," will focus on the battle for King's Landing, and the remaining weeks will hopefully offer resolution to matters regarding Daenerys's missing dragons, Arya and her death genie Jaqen, and Robb and Jon's respective (and wildly divergent) romance issues.
And also the whole, you know, war.
What's become even more apparent this season than last is how far afield David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are willing to travel from George R.R. Martin's source material, especially in (but not limited to) the examples listed above. Time constraints are one reason, and I heard somewhere that Martin was trying to create some minor distance from the books as a treat to readers (he's obviously underestimated the anal retention of ASoIaF nerds). But anyway I did one of these for season one and figured now would be a good time to look at some of the occasionally significant ways the show's producers are altering the landscape of the books.
But be warned, I'm about to spoil the shit out of the rest of the season and possibly several books going forward. If that was too subtle for you -- SPOILERS AHEAD. DO NOT READ IF YOU'RE GOING TO GET ALL PISSY IN THE COMMENTS BECAUSE YOU FOUND OUT WHO DIES NEXT SEASON.
9. Tywin and Arya: BFFs
Arya Stark and the Lord of Casterly Rock never cross paths in A Clash of Kings or A Storm of Swords, the second and third books (after that it becomes...academic). She's taken to Harrenhal, yes, but works in the kitchens while Tywin holds the castle (I believe she sees him from a distance once or twice). It isn't until the Northmen retake it (thanks to Arya, but more on that in a little bit) that she becomes cupbearer, only it's to Roose Bolton. We've met Bolton (he's Robb's bannerman who's fond of flaying), but it now looks like the events following his takeover will take place without Arya, whose escape is probably imminent, given Tywin's growing suspicions about her background.
I've seen it speculated that he knows her true identity, but I can't imagine that's true. Tywin Lannister wouldn't let one of the heirs to Winterfell bop around Harrenhal unguarded. Still, as I've mentioned, for all its deviation from the book, this storyline and the interaction between Charles Dance and Maisie Williams is one of the most enjoyable facets of season two.
8. His Royal Bastardness Benioff and Weiss have ramped up Joffrey's brutality, in addition to swinging its focus around. In A Clash of Kings, the young King spends a lot of time abusing Sansa, to be sure, but most of his other cruelties are directed towards animals (he practices crossbowing a lot of rabbits, as I recall). That's not enough for HBO, I guess, who felt the need to inject (heh) Ros into a scene in which Joffrey really puts the "S" in S&M. Uncle Tyrion has expressed his opinion that Joffrey is a lost cause, even treating him to a gratifying slap following the near riot two weeks ago. Though not as gratifying as the trifecta from last season:
One more recent development is Cersei's apparent resignation in this matter as well. Never happened in the books. The Queen Regent remained a staunch advocate for her oldest son until, well, until it was no longer required.
7. Where Be Dragons?
Simply put, Daenerys never lets her dragons get pinched in the books. Indeed, we're reminded again and again of how coveted they are, and the closest she gets is when she agrees to trade Drogon for six thousand Unsullied -- which doesn't go quite the way the Astapori were hoping -- and when Drogon temporarily wings it in A Dance with Dragons. The motivation to change that here seems plain enough: Daenerys's motivation to enter the House of the Undying was never that convincing in the book (all her chapters were kind of dull, really), and now she has to, with all the attendant burninating that results.
6. So Much for the Reeds The HBO series is no stranger to merging storylines and characters (or eliminating them entirely), and nowhere does this seem as significant as with Jojen and Meera Reed. Crannogmen from the Neck, the siblings come to Winterfell to swear loyalty to Bran at the beginning of the war, and to warn him of Jojen's prophetic dream. They're instrumental in helping him and Rickon escape once Theon seizes Winterfell (on a side note, I guess they're skipping the part about Bran et al. hiding in the crypt). In the book, it's Jojen who dreams of the sea coming to Winterfell, and the two accompany Bran north of the Wall after they split up (Osha going with Rickon).
While that's understandable, it's Jojen and Meera's father I don't want to miss out on. Howland Reed was, along with Ned, the only survivor of the battle at the Tower of Joy, where they fought members of the Kingsguard to free Ned's abducted sister (and King Robert's love) Lyanna. He's now the only living person who knows what happened there, and probably the truth about Jon Snow's parentage.
5. That's Not Jeyne Westerling
Whether Benioff and Weiss made the decision early on to change the character of the girl Robb falls in love with, or whether it was in response to positive press for the series' strong female characters, I don't know. What I do know is that Jeyne Westerling of the Crag was a young, timid girl who comforted Robb when he learned of Bran and Rickon's "deaths," not a battlefield medic from the free city of Volantis. Obviously the "comforting" is still going to happen, as news of Bran and Rickon's death will be coming next episode, and the two are conveniently going to the Crag.
4. Sex Und Zex Und SEX I went into greater detail about this here. Suffice it to say it looks like my earlier theory (they're front-loading the nookie because of all the coming battles) is holding up. I imagine the last couple episodes have garnered a number of new Muslim and Jewish fans. Because they've been mostly pork-free.
Oh, boo yourself.
3. Talk to the Halfhand I don't know how this one's going to play out, but in the book, Qhorin and the rest of the brothers who were with Jon didn't abandon him after he captured Ygritte. The Halfhand left it to Jon to decide whether to kill her or not, only finding out after the fact that Jon let her go. It was on his command, as they were about to be attacked by the wildlings, that Jon went over to Mance Rayder to observe. Oh, and Jon had to kill Qhorin (with Ghost's help) to seal the deal.
I suspect this is still going to happen in some form, given Qhorin's earlier talk about how it's the duty of the men of the Night's Watch to die protecting the lands of men. That still doesn't explain his disappearance. Maybe the wildlings got them before they got Jon. Don't think so, though.
2. Ticking Away/The Moments That Make Up a Dull Day
Martin opined recently he'd love to have 12 hours a season, but ten is what HBO's given them, so you make cuts. Arya spends half of Clash getting to Harrenhal, and on the road is where most of the torture we saw there happens. Tyrion's forging of the chain that helps trap Stannis's fleet (and the Three Whores) looks to have been dropped entirely, and the murder of Renly by Stannis and Melisandre's shadow-son is merged with the killing of Ser Cortnay Penrose at Storm's End. Que sera sera, but it all leads into my final prediction.
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1. Whither Arya?
It occurred to me last Sunday that Arya doesn't get a lot to do in A Storm of Swords, the third book in the series. She escapes Harrenhal, is captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners, then captured by the Hound, Sandor Clegane. He plans to ransom her to Catelyn at Robb's wedding, which doesn't quite pan out, to put it mildly (she does kill the Tickler, but he's already dead in the TV show). My point is: Why not just have her get Jaqen's coin ("weasel soup" is coming this week or next) and get her ass to
Mars Braavos? That way she can start the much more interesting work of becoming a Faceless Man.
I'm standing by this, especially since I just found out the last episode of the season is called "Valar Morghulis." And because Arya has become a favorite character, HBO is going to make her as big a focus as possible.