Fans of the hit HBO fantasy series “Game of Thrones” have come to expect major, heartbreaking events from the show. Fans of the original books by George R.R. Martin knew that once the show reached the events in the third book, “A Storm of Swords,” there would be one great big wiping-out of major and beloved characters. But even they were stunned by what happened in the recently concluded season, which covered roughly the first half of the 1,100-page novel.
This book serves as the big momentum changer in the series, and the TV adaptation is proving up to the task. “A Storm of Swords” is a fan favorite, and the show creators have said this would be the defining season of the show. It’s an action-packed portion of the plot that prominently features fans’ favorite characters (no more Jon Snow waiting around at Castle Black or padding out Daenerys’ stay in Qarth). Let’s see just how the season matches up with the source (WARNING: Some of the clips that follow contain mature content):
DAENERYS: TV’s favorite dragons are growing up fast, as is Daenerys’ stock as a legitimate threat. The show stayed away from padding out her story, focusing on her conquering two slaver cities. She gains an army, a translator whom she freed from slavery, a new adviser and knight from her native Westeros and a possible new romantic interest. Her transformation from shy, quiet girl to strong, intelligent leader is on full display in season 3.
The show excelled in showcasing Daenerys’ new mission apart from claiming her father’s throne: abolishing slavery. The show highlighted her keen mind for strategy and showed off her rising power as well as an adaptation of such a complicated story could hope. While her character was an almost exact translation from the book, the supporting cast in her story changed, though largely to no ill effect. Her long-trusted ally, Jorah Mormont, didn’t get the scene of attempted romance that set up their less comfortable relationship throughout the book. Her new dashing associate, Daario Naharis, was toned down from the vibrantly colored clothes and mustaches of his book counterpart, but his personality remained the same. A few characters were combined, and the brazen Strong Belwas was left out, but their characters didn’t contribute much to the overall plot. Everything has been set up just as it should for the second half of the book, when she faces much stronger resistance and dangers in the city of Meereen.
JON SNOW/THE WALL: Back in Westeros, trouble is brewing everywhere, but perhaps the biggest danger lies in the far north. Jon Snow has gone off on an undercover mission among the Wildlings, who are planning a great march against The Wall, the boundary between the wild and the Seven Kingdoms. He starts a relationship and falls in love with Ygritte, and their interactions are the most refreshing moments of a very dreary season, even by this show’s standards. The show does a tremendous job showing Jon’s struggles with balancing his honor and his heart, culminating beautifully in the final meeting between him and Ygritte after Jon leaves to return to the Night’s Watch. It’s a scene that wasn’t part of the book, but it fits in with the flow of the episode and adds a lot to both characters.
Speaking of the Watch, things are a bit chaotic at the moment at Castle Black. The Lord Commander is dead, most of the Watch is dead or scattered, and it seems the only one who knows what they’re up against is the portly and cowardly Samwell Tarly. Sam’s transformation this season, as in the book, was astounding, taking charge of getting his Wildling crush, Gilly, and her newborn back to safety. The manner in which Sam famously kills a terrifying White Walker was changed in the show (in the book, he did it while traveling with the Watch, while he’s protecting Gilly in the show), but the moment is still there in all its amazement. With Jon and Sam back at the base, season 4 is set up for the big battle with the Wildling host.
BRAN: As Jon and Sam return to The Wall, Bran Stark and his group pass it into the Wild. His path changed significantly from the book: Siblings Meera and Jojen Reed, introduced in book 2 but absent last season, find his party to help Bran understand his dreams. Most of the season involves them and Wildling companion Osha arguing over what they should do. Bran’s scenes seem like a lot of padding, but it would have been worse had it stuck closer to the source, which was just Bran, the Reeds and Hodor wandering around. The show is also clunky in how Bran gains the power to jump into his wolf’s mind. His arc ends at the same place it does at the end of the book, with his group headed beyond The Wall. What awaits them in season 4 is anyone’s guess.
THEON: This section is actually never explicitly shown in the books, but it added a great deal to the show. The horrors Theon experiences as a captive at the Dreadfort is only told after the fact in the fifth book. Showing it happening in time with the other events was maybe the biggest point of interest for fans of the books this season, and it was done magnificently, albeit rather gruesomely.
JAIME: Jaime Lannister’s transformation from despicable to sympathetic is one of the greatest turns in the series, and the show captures it brilliantly, from his having his famed sword hand chopped off to his confession of what happened immediately before he infamously slew King Aerys Targaryen to his going back to Harrenhal to rescue Brienne. Nicholaj Coster-Waldau deserves praise for his portrayals of the many faces of the Kingslayer, from the arrogant warrior of season 1 to the worn-down diplomat of season 3.
The show did change some things around in his story arc, namely the men who maimed him. In the books, it was a sellsword group known as the Brave Companions, who had switched allegiances from the Lannisters to the Boltons, who serve the Starks. The series simplified this by making Jaime’s nemeses followers of the Boltons, a step that helps make the name of Bolton stand out all the more for a very, very important event to come.
DAVOS/STANNIS: On Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon, the man with the best legitimate claim to the Iron Throne, is still nursing his defeat from the epic Battle of the Blackwater from season 2. His loyal friend, Davos, spends much of his time in a cell for attempting to murder the red priestess Melisandre. A lot of this segment of the books was changed in the show. The biggest is Melisandre leaving Dragonstone in search of those with Baratheon blood so she can work her magic. In the book, she already has Edric Storm, whom Stannis took back from his victory at Storm’s End. The show didn’t want to introduce another character, though, so it wisely took Gendry from Arya Stark’s camp and placed him in Melisandre’s hands. This doesn’t really affect the books’ plot, and it set up several interesting interactions that weren’t there before: Melisandre and Arya, Melisandre and the outlaws Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, and Davos and Gendry. The arc ends with Davos informing Stannis of the Night Watch’s predicament, and season 4 will likely include show-specific scenes of Stannis gathering his forces to assist The Wall.
ARYA: Young Maisie Williams continues to show off her incredible acting chops. This season isn’t as prominent for Arya as season 2, but it did include a lot of interesting characters, including the Brotherhood Without Banners and the ever-fascinating Sandor Clegane. The strange working relationship shown between The Hound and Arya at the end of the season was translated brilliantly, largely a tribute to the actors. Their adventures will continue next season.
TYRION/KING’S LANDING: This season in Westeros’ capital was all about the politics. Strategic marriages, secret alliances and the clever minds of all the cast were on full display. Most of what happened were done more in the spirit of the source than taken directly off the pages, but the interactions that were added all served toward the same end. The actor who stole the show this season, though, was Charles Dance as the imposing Tywin Lannister. His ultimate authority and the patchy relationships with Tyrion and Queen Cersei were some of the most fascinating subplots of the whole series.
THE RED WEDDING:
Fans of the books have been waiting a long time to say these three words in the open. It’s maybe the most shocking event in the entire series, and it marks the tragic end of major and beloved characters, and it caught lots of viewers by complete surprise. This was an emotionally charged scene that had been set up since the first book/season, and the consequences of King Robb Stark’s decision to seek love over duty came back to bite him in the worst way.
For this moment in the series, the show had to be up to the task in comparison with the book. And it not only nailed it, it exceeded it. The addition of Talisa as Robb’s pregnant wife makes the scene even more shocking, even for fans of the books. In Martin’s story, Queen Jeyne Westerling is left — sans pregnancy — with Catelyn Stark’s family and away from the Twins just in case something happened to Robb. Adding Robb’s queen — and recently conceived heir — into the massacre, and starting off the bloodshed by stabbing her in the womb, makes it all the more unbelievable. In the book, Catelyn kills Lord Frey’s fool grandson in a desperate attempt to salvage her own son’s life. In the show, it’s the more recognizable wife of Lord Frey, helping the audience understand better in a chaotic scene and leading to this doozy of a line from Walder Frey: “I’ll find another.”
Michelle Fairley, Richard Madden, Oona Chaplin and the rest act the part perfectly. The decision to roll the credits afterward with no sound was inspired. It’s a rare instance where a dramatically powerful scene in a book is made even better on screen. And it makes the argument for which is better — the book or the adaptation — all the more difficult. Suffice to say, season 4 can’t come quick enough.
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