Welcome back to Compare the Throne, our weekly column delving deep into the differences between the HBO series Game of Thrones and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. Last week we examined Bronn and Jaime’s presence in Dorne and how Tyrion actually gets to Daenerys in Mereen. Fans of the show will no doubt be buzzing about this week’s episode for a long time to come, as the episode concludes with a twenty-minute segment unlike anything almost ever attempted on television. To this week’s Compare the Throne!
Episode 8 Hardhome
This week’s episode begins with Jorah and Tyrion being considered by Daenerys in her throne room. She forbids Jorah to speak, but she allows Tyrion to plead both for Jorah and himself. He explains his life-long awareness of her flight from Westeros and her sudden rise to power. Tyrion successfully makes his case, but has to stop short of allowing Jorah to be back in her service. He suggests letting Jorah live, but not having him as a part of her counsel. This is especially well done considering none of this happens anywhere in the books. This is all a conversation created specifically for the show. By the end of A Dance of Dragons Tyrion, Jorah and Penny have all just narrowly escaped their slave masters and are just becoming members of Brown Ben Plumm’s sellsword Second Sons.
We see Cersei being offered a ladle of water by a Septa, but only if she confesses. At every comment she is smacked by the septa with the ladle. This is largely the same by the books, only there, instead of water the septa wake her every hour on the hour refusing to let her sleep.
Back in Braavos, Arya recounts her new identity Lana to Jaqen H’ghar and her daily work and details selling oysters, clams and cockles by the docks. Jaqen is largely pleased with her telling and details, only hitting her once on the arm with his stick. Arya details how she has witnessed an insurance salesman (of sorts) running his business at the docks. The salesman allows sailors to pay for his insurance and that if they die on their next voyage, their family will receive a handsome payment. Only, the salesman hasn’t been paying every family that has lost men at sea. Jaqen instructs Arya to watch this man and then when the time comes, to poison him. This is all exactly the same as the books.
Qyburn then visits Cersei in the dungeons, informing Cersei of how she will be tried for fornication, incest and King Robert’s murder. He also gives her the news of her uncle Kevin Lannister has been summoned back to King’s Landing to serve as Hand of the King by Grand Maester Pycelle. King Tommen, in his grief has apparently not been eating nor seeing anyone. Qyburn vaguely hints that, “The work will continue” and departs after Cersei refuses to confess. This is all mostly the same as the novels safe for the fact that Tommen is younger and only barely aware that something has happened to Cersei. He’s concerned for her, but far from starving himself.
At Winterfell, Sansa again comes face to face with Theon. She has him explain the multitude of torture that Ramsay has inflected on him, and she angrily retorts that he deserved it and if she was able to, she would do the very same to him. When she throws in his face how he murdered Bran and Rickon, he lets slip how he actually didn’t murder them at all; that he faked it using two local farm boys. Sansa shows a glimmer of hope knowing her whole family has not been extinguished. Aside from Theon’s guilt, none of this happens in the books as we have mentioned in previous columns. There, Sansa is still tucked safely away in the Vale, just descending the Eyrie.
Tyrion and Daenerys continue their discussion and pondering of working together in private. Tyrion, ever the clever one, quickly details to Daenerys how their stories are oddly comparable, given they are both progeny of largely evil men. To boot, he quickly realizes that her ultimate aims for the Seven Kingdoms are largely the same as the greatest desires he himself ever dared dream, only Danerys is sternly convinced she can do it.
Once again spurned by Daenerys, Jorah returns to his recent slave master and pledges himself back to his service if only he’ll be allowed to compete in the formal championship re-opening of the fighting pits. He does this, apparently so he can prove his valor to the Queen. Needless to say, none of this happens in the books for the same reason mentioned earlier in regards to his audience with Daenerys.
Up at the Wall, Gilly is treating Sam’s wounds from the fight he barely won in last week’s episode trying to save her from an attack by cruel pair of Night’s Watch brothers. Jon Snow’s squire Olly arrives with some food for Sam, and discusses with him his reservations for what Jon is attempting to do bringing the remnants of the Wildlings south of the Wall. Olly is still grief-stricken at the loss of his family by the Thenns that happened last season. Sam implies that sometimes a man has to do something dangerous and unpopular because he knows it’s right. Olly looks thoughtful and departs. This conversation does not take place in the books. Olly is a character invented specifically for the show.
And now we come to the epic, final segment, Hardhome. Jon Snow, Dolorous Edd and Tormund Giantsbane arrive at Hardhome. They are initially by Rattleshirt who is confrontational regarding Tormund’s role being partnered with Jon and The Night’s Watch. After a brief exchange and his continued aggravation, Tormund beats Rattleshirt to death with his own cudgel. Tormund insists that the elders be brought together so they can all discuss what Jon is offering. In a tent where they meet, Jon explains that The Night’s Watch has found a way to kill The White Walkers, detailing Sam’s lucky victory killing one with a dragonglass blade. He offers a bag full to the Wildlings as a gift and a pledge of reconciliation. Many are initially skeptical and a Thenn promises to murder any who mean to take up his offer, but otherwise most of the elders agree to head to the wall. As the unlikely pairing are loading up the ships Jon borrowed from King Stannis a mysterious mist develops far off on the mountain side. The Thenn elder cries for the gates to be shut, and many thousands are trapped on the other side. Screams quickly turn to silence, and then nary more than a moment later almost all of have suddenly been turned into the zombified monsters the White Walkers notoriously make. They start punching and kicking their way through every wall. Chaos ensues while half the remaining Wildlings fight and half frantically run towards the water. Jon brazenly heads to the gate with Night’s Watch brothers he brought with him, valiantly attempting to save as many Wildlings as possible. He fights side by side with Tormund until they all spot four White Walkers perched on horseback on a nearby mountaintop, looking on like ominous wraiths. Jon realizes they need the dragonglass daggers and attempts to salvage them from the meeting tent with same cruel Thenn from earlier. As they enter, a White Walker enters from the opposite site. He quickly kills the Thenn leader and then turns to slay Jon. Jon can barely keep pace with the White Walker and is nearly killed three different times. He finds Longclaw as he runs out of the tent and realizes in a stroke of luck that the White Walkers are not able to shatter it like they could conventional steel swords (it is after all a Valyrian steel blade). One of the White Walkers, the now infamous Night’s King looks on in surprise. Dolorous Edd rushes to Jon’s aid and things go from bad to worse. The White Walkers on the adjacent mountaintop let out of a call and several thousand more zombified people literally fling themselves off the mountain, then rising a moment later to join the slaughter. Jon, Edd, Tormund and the sole remaining giant flee to the water. As they all either head out on the last remaining boats or swim offshore, the Night’s King approaches the docks. As the last few Wildlings are cut to bits by the zombie horde, Jon and Tormund look on with tears in their eyes. The Night’s King solemnly stares down Jon, and then slowly lifts both his arms. Through some dark magic every single fallen man, woman and child reanimates and rises as fresh recruits for his army. Jon and the last boat full of people look on as thousands upon thousands of the dead watch them sail away.
It just might be one of the most incredible segments ever on a TV show, never mind in the history of the Game of Thrones TV show. What’s amazing though, is that we don’t really know if any of this truly happens in the books. One of the very last things that happens in A Dance of Dragons is Jon received a letter by raven that indicates the mission to save the Wildlings at Hardhome is going very badly. In the books, Jon did not partake in the journey. He instead sent Cotter Pyke and 11 ships. The brief and dark letter, indicates that 5 of the 11 ships sunk en route to Hardhome. It also explains one ship was almost taken by force by an unruly batch of Wildlings and that some have refused to board because the Wildlings claim the Night’s Watch brothers are slavers. Worse yet, the Wildlings are eating their own dead and apparently there are “Dead things in the woods,” and “Dead things in the water.” Jon intends on sending a ranging to try to rescue whomever remains, but instead decides to send Tormund to lead the rescue party when he receives a threatening letter from Ramsay.