This week on Compare the Throne, we take a deep look at episode 3 of season 5 of Game of Thrones. Like last week where we examined episodes 1 and 2, we’re going to attempt to unpack and compare the differences between the HBO show and the A Song of Ice and Fire books. Not to say either is better than the other, just to star out what’s different. As with last week, this is a spoiler-filled examination, so if you don’t want to have vital points of this week’s episode revealed, read no further. So, here we go….
Episode 3: The High Sparrow
The episode opens with Arya decently entrenched in service at The House of Black and White. She watches a man apparently ingest a cup of poison inside the sullen temple. It’s revealed to us that she’s been here for 3 days sweeping. Here, it is Jaqen H’ghar who apparently leads the temple. In the books, the first person Arya meets inside the temple is the character known only as The Kindly Man. Jaqen is not present. There is also a large scene with The Kindly Man where he has something of a fake skeleton/monster mask and Arya proves herself unafraid of it, or the worm sticking off its face, apparently not fooled by the illusion. All of that test and Arya’s ultimate acceptance into the temple is skipped here, instead replaced by a small conversation with Jagen where Arya pleads with him to train her to be a faceless man (essentially an assassin).
Tommen and Margaery are married and a quick cut shows them post-marital consummation discussing what it means to be man and wife. In the books—at least as far as we know—it’s assumed that at this point the two have not slept together, mostly in part because Tommen is about 12. It’s not yet been revealed in the show, but it’s assumed he’s being portrayed as about 15 or 16 (hence why this is possible). Margaery begins her own brand of scheming here, starting to plant the seeds to either drive Cersei from the capital or at least drive a wedge between Cersei and Tommen. The seed apparently bears fruit quickly as we’re next shown Tommen questioning his mother whether she’d be happier back in Casterly Rock. Cersei in kind confronts Margaery along side a gaggle of her handmaidens, but makes no overt threats, only a vague promise to be there for “Anything you need.”
Meanwhile, we finally get a view of Winterfell (for the first time since the close of season 2), the massive castle being rebuilt and repaired. Reek (“Theon”) attends Ramsay and Roose Bolton while the two discuss the collection of taxes from the new lords supposedly owing them fealty. Ramsay gleefully explains how when being denied taxes from the Cerwyns, he flayed the Lord Cerwyn, his wife and his brother, and how in the aftermath the new Lord Cerwyn paid what was owed. It’s not made clear which exact Cerwyn it was in the show, but in the books Clay Cerwyn was killed by Ramsay (at the time not idenitied) at the gates of Winterfell in the close of A Clash of Kings. Roose explains to Ramsay how they don’t have the numbers to hold the North through brutality, that a better way to hold the North’s loyalty is through marriage. He states that Ramsay is overdue to be married and he has already has a suitable bride picked out for him.
Cut to Sansa and Littlefinger journeying westward across the countryside. They come to the stronghold of Moat Cailin. Sansa quickly puts together what’s happening and Littlefinger reveals his full plan to wed Sansa to Ramsay. Sansa, initially (obviously) protests, claiming she’d rather die than wed the son of someone who killed her brother Rob. Littlefinger claims that he won’t force Sansa to do anything, but reasons with her that she should stop running, that she should effectively take a stand and take revenge for those that have fallen. Sansa ponders for a moment and apparently decides revenge is worth going forward with Littlefinger’s plan. This is a gigantic difference. As we discussed in last week’s post, at this point Sansa and Littlefinger are still in the Eyrie, they have not made their way West and are not building an alliance with the Bolton’s. What’s more, the hidden bride of Ramsay is not Sansa, but Arya. Well, to be clear, it’s actually Sansa’s old childhood friend Jeyne Poole. Readers of the books will remember that Jeyne was with Sansa in King’s Landing when Ned was captured and the entire Stark household guard slaughtered. Jeyne was whisked away by Littlefinger, and until Reek notices who she really is at the point of the introduction to Ramsay, we don’t know what happened to her at all. Some fans of the show speculated that the young girl seen in the shadows washing King’s Landings’ floors was to be Jeyne, but as of yet, no other formal indication of the character has been made. In the books, the Bolton’s and the Lannister’s are all willfully pretending Jeyne is Arya since no one has actually seen Arya since the betrayal at King’s Landing (and so they can use her name to take formal hold of the North). It looks like Jeyne’s character has been fully omitted in favor of Sansa.
Brienne and Podrick see where Littlefinger is heading and plan to continue on to follow them to Winterfell. Brienne and Podrick discuss how she became to be associated with Renley Baratheon and why she was so fond of him. Back at Castle Black, Jon Snow now fully taking his place as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch receives Stannis Baratheon and Davos in his new chambers. He formally refuses Stannis’ offer to remove his bastardry and officially become a Stark. Jon asks Stannis how long he intends to stay on the wall. Stannis reveals that he intends to march on Winterfell in a fortnight and that the fate of the wildlings is up to Jon. Davos stays behind to further plead the case of how Jon should accept Stannis’ offer, if for no other reason than to protect the North from the Bolton’s. This is largely the same as the book, save for the fact that as a reader we don’t see this conversation take place and that Davos has already been sent off on his own mission (more on that in a later column).
Arya is a confronted by a tomboy-ish girl who continually asks her, “Who are you?” To each question, the girl smacks her quickly with a stick. Jaqen H’ghar enters and questions the girl what she is doing. She claims they are playing “The game of faces.” Jaqen calmly replies, “A girl is not ready,” to which the tomboy replies, “Clearly not.” This tomboy is most likely who readers of the books know as the character simply referred to as The Waif. While Arya insists that she is ready for whatever they need her to do—including being “no one”–Jagen instructs her that she can’t possibly be “no one” if she is surrounded by Arya Stark’s possessions. Arya then heads to the docks and one-by-one discards all her possessions. When it comes time to throw away Needle her sword given to her by Jon Snow, she can’t do it. Tearfully she builds a hole in the adjacent stonewall, hiding the sword there. This is all largely the same in the book, except The Waif does not torment her with The Game of Faces and the notion is brought on entirely by The Kindly Man and not Jaqen. In fact, The Waif does not at this point even speak the same tongue as Arya. Apparently as reward, Arya is permitted to help The Waif remove the clothes from a recently deceased man and wash his body.
Sansa and Littlefinger arrive at Winterfell and are greeted by Roose and Ramsay. Sansa is taken to a room and an elderly woman tells her, “Welcome home Lady Stark, The North Remembers.” It’s unclear whether this is supposed to be Old Nan or just some other servant. Old Nan, who has looked over the family for several generations, disappeared following the sack of Winterfell in season 2 of the show. No notice has been made about her whereabouts since. In the books, the few squatters Roose Bolton finds at Winterfell he puts to work and then ultimately executes every last one.
In the mess hall at Castle Black Jon Snow addresses his troops for the first time. Maester Aemon is apparently not able to attend, as he is not feeling well. Jon gives orders for a new latrine to be dug. He also makes Ser Alliser First Ranger. He appoints Janos Slynt command of Greyguard, and instructs him to take seat there and rebuild it as best as possible. Janos openly defies Jon in front of all the sworn brothers, telling Jon, “You can stick your order up your bastard ass.” Jon commands the brothers to take Janos outside. Alliser does nothing to protect him. Jon takes his sword Longclaw and as Janos is forced down on a chopping block tells him, “If you have any last words my lord, now’s the time.” Jon hesitates for a moment as Janos begs and cries for mercy, but ultimately beheads him. From a distance, Stannis looks on and gives a mild nod of approval. This is all pretty much exactly the same as the books.
Back in King’s Landing the unnamed High Septon is found in one of Littlefinger’s brothels procuring a couple of prostitutes dressed as members of the Seven. Lancel Lannister and a few of the other sparrows accost him, take him from the brothel and force him to march through the streets naked as they chant “sinner” at him. The High Septon addresses Cersei and the small council asking them to have the Sparrows’ leader the so-named The High Sparrow killed. Cersei calmly asks where she can find The High Sparrow. She approaches The High Sparrow as he is feeding starving devotees with only Meryn Trant as guard. She explains what The High Septon requested, and states how instead of granting his request he now rots in the Red Keep’s dungeons. She explains how the piety of the faith and the respect of the crown are the things that keep the realm together, and how nothing should corrupt either. This is mostly new material to the story compared to the books, where this “High Sparrow” becomes the High Septon almost overnight following the murder of the previous High Septon. The previous High Septon was ordered murdered by Cersei. Osney Kettleblack suffocated him with a pillow in the books. The High Sparrow takes the position of High Septon in the books, essentially by force.
At Winterfell, Roose questions Littlefinger about the authenticity of his intentions to marry Sansa to Ramsay. He worries both over whether he’s being played false by Littlefinger or if Littlefinger is Cersei’s puppet. Littlefinger reminds Roose how he controls the Vale and that the last time the Vale and The North united, it brought down the greatest dynasty in the history of the world. The vague hint being that he was willing to unite with Roose to take over the Seven Kingdoms completely.
Back in the Eastern lands, Tyrion and Varys arrive at Volantis. The story forks greatly here from the books. In the books, Tyrion is traveling by wagon with Ilyrio Mopatis until they meet up with a large team of people that takes Tyrion on by boat. Rather than going into full detail about all of them and what their significance is, let’s just say for now there are seven of them: Griff, Young Griff, Haldon Halfmeister, Septa Lemore, Rolly Duckfield, Yandry and Ysilla. Tyrion meets these seven and they take Yandry and Ysilla’s boat The Shy Maid down river Rhoyne. A tremendous amount of things happen along their journey towards Volantis, and all of it has been apparently skipped in the TV show. Here, Varys and Tyrion arrive at Volantis where Tyrion insists that he be allowed to take a break from the wheelhouse, eager to see any other human than Varys. They stop at a brothel for a drink and Tyrion loses heart quickly after approaching a prostitute. While urinating off a balcony, he fails to realize that he has been recognized for who he actually is. Jorah Mormont, banished by Daenerys in the previous season was drowning his sorrows in this very brothel. He ties up Tyrion, gags him and tells him angrily how he’s taking him to the queen. That much in the ending is exactly the same as the books, but as mentioned, a massive portion of the story of Tyrion meeting the seven named characters and heading southward on The Shy Maid has been omitted. For those that have not read the books, these seven characters are of immense importance and introduce numerous plotlines. Since we don’t know at this time if the TV show runners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff plan to introduce these characters and storylines later, we’ll stop short of explaining everything that pertains to them. It may be that like Jojen and Meera, they plan to introduce the characters in a different way later. We’ll wait and see before we unpack this further.
Another great episode all in all. It’s a bit shocking to see Sansa being pledged to marry Ramsay. After all Sansa has been through, and how incontrovertibly awful Ramsay is, it seems an almost too cruel fate for her. We’re starting to see how fearful Cersei is, even if only in subtle glances towards her enemies, which is a nice change compared to the malevolent force she’s displayed in every other episode thus far.
One final thought. For those that have read the books, wasn’t almost the entire story in the books at this point about the inner politics of the Iron Islands? Thus far, we haven’t had even one scene about them, not even a look at Yara (Asha) or Balon Greyjoy. Until next week!