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Major spoilers ahead for the series finale of Game of Thrones, called "The Iron Throne," and all five books of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book saga.
Game of Thrones came to an end with a series finale that destroyed the Iron Throne, killed off Daenerys Targaryen, separated the surviving Starks, named Bran the king of the Six Kingdoms, and assembled a small council of the various and assorted survivors. It was a surprisingly neat and -- aside from Dany's death -- bloodless affair, and it left a lot of fans dissatisfied for a variety of reasons.
The good news is that the story of the Seven Kingdoms isn't altogether finished just because the final credits rolled on the TV show. George R.R. Martin's book run that inspired the series is still going, with two more books intended to finish up the grand saga.
George R.R. Martin did tell showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss "the major points of the ending," according to Rolling Stone, so the big events of the final season may also happen in the final book. The book characters will just likely arrive at those points in very different ways.
In fact, George R.R. Martin suggested there "may be some important discrepancies." Read on for a rundown of things the remaining A Song of Ice and Fire books will probably do differently from the show!
Daenerys' Descent Into Madness
Daenerys Targaryen's descent into madness is undoubtedly going to go down as one of the most -- if not the most -- divisive twists in the history of the show. While some viewers believe Game of Thrones was foreshadowing Dany going full Mad Queen as far back as the first season, others argue that it came out of nowhere. What most seem to be able to agree on is that the descent was rushed in Season 8.
Well, George R.R. Martin can be accused of many things, but none can say that he rushes things when it comes to A Song of Ice and Fire. The novels are broken up into point-of-view chapters, and Martin is wonderfully and almost infuriatingly detailed in how he tells his stories. As of the end of A Dance with Dragons, which is the fifth and final currently available book, Dany has her fondness for burning things. She's still far from a woman who would roast a city after it surrendered.
That's not to say that the seeds aren't there, though, and her repeated mantra of "If I look back, I am lost" might have been helpful in the show to at least somewhat justify why Dany just kept plowing ahead. George R.R. Martin has thousands of pages left rather than six episodes to tell Dany's descent.
Sansa Becoming Queen In The North
Sansa being crowned Queen in the North was another of the major beats in the finale, so I'm guessing that will happen in the books as well. Based on Sansa's story in the books so far, though, it's safe to say that Sansa will get to that ending via a different path than she did in the show.
Book Sansa spent more time in The Vale than show Sansa, and George R.R. Martin delves into the politics of that region. Sansa still hasn't made it all the way out of The Vale as of the end of A Dance with Dragons. Meanwhile, Ramsay Bolton is married to a girl known as one of the Stark sisters, whom he does routinely rape and abuse with "Reek" by his side.
In the books, though, the Stark sister who married Ramsay isn't a Stark at all, but Sansa's childhood friend Jeyne Poole, who accompanied the Starks south when Ned became Hand. Jeyne was eventually forced to pass herself off as "Arya Stark" and marry Ramsay to solidify Lannister control over the Seven Kingdoms. If Sansa does become Queen in the North in the books, she won't have gone a route that involves being brutalized as Ramsay's wife.
The Battle Of Winterfell
The Battle of Winterfell was the first climax of the final season as it took care of the White Walker threat. It was an epic -- if somewhat poorly-lit -- clash of the living vs. the dead that saw Arya defeat the Night King. All that time she spent learning how to be stealthy came in handy! Everybody did their part to take him down, but Arya stabbed the Night King and saved humanity.
Why is it likely to go down differently in the books? Well, largely because there is no Night King in the books. The White Walkers -- or "Others," as they're known on the page -- are deadly and terrifying, but mysterious and without any apparent leader. It's not inconceivable that George R.R. Martin could introduce a Night King. With only two books left, though, there might not be room in A Song of Ice and Fire for it to happen.
There is a character known as the Night's King. According to legend, the Night's King was the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night's Watch , and he fell in love with a woman whose description matches than of an Other. He declared them King and Queen of the Nightfort and ruled for 13 ugly, unholy years until Brandon the Breaker teamed up with the then-King-Beyond-the-Wall to defeat him. The Night's King may have even been a Stark himself, if Old Nan is to be believed!
Catelyn Stark Becomes Lady Stoneheart
One of the biggest departures from the books came when the show's Catelyn Stark was not resurrected following her murder at the Red Wedding. In the books, after she was killed, she was stripped naked and thrown into the river. Her corpse was eventually discovered by Nymeria, and then by the Brotherhood Without Banners. Thoros of Myr refused to resurrect her, so Beric gave Catelyn's corpse the kiss of life, giving up his flame to raise her.
As Thoros feared, she'd been dead too long, and all that was left of Catelyn Stark was her memory of the Red Wedding and her hate for the men who committed the awful crimes there. Unable to properly speak due to how deeply her throat was slit, the newly-named Lady Stoneheart's cause became enacting vengeance on every Lannister, Frey, and Bolton she could.
As of the end of A Dance with Dragons, Lady Stoneheart captured Brienne and Podrick. Believing that Brienne had betrayed her for the Lannister cause, she forced Brienne to agree to kill Jaime or watch Podrick hanged. Brienne seems to be luring the unsuspecting Jaime into a trap when they were last seen in the books. Lady Stoneheart and the Brotherhood aren't done seeking vengeance, and a lot more blood will probably flow before it's done.
The Return Of House Baratheon
The show outpaced the books with regard to Stannis Baratheon, so George R.R. Martin hasn't revealed his fate or that of Shireen just yet on the page. That said, the book and show do match insofar as Robert dies after being wounded by a boar, Renly dies after treachery from Stannis, and all of Robert's bastards from Kind's Landing are slaughtered... except for Gendry.
The show eventually had Daenerys legitimize Gendry as Lord of Storm's End. In the books, Gendry isn't the bastard with the best shot of landing a lordship. Robert scattered bastards throughout the Seven Kingdoms before becoming king, and one of his daughters became a riverlands prostitute who tried to seduce Gendry, because what's A Song of Ice and Fire without a dash of incest every once in a while? Meanwhile, Robert does have an acknowledged bastard by the name of Edric Storm, whose mother came from a noble house.
As an acknowledged bastard, Edric got a last name -- unlike Gendry, despite what the show tried to sell -- and was raised in a castle with an education from a maester. If one of Robert's bastards becomes Lord of Storm's End, Edric is by far the most likely candidate. Game of Thrones more or less combined Gendry with Edric. In the books, Gendry is still in the riverlands with the Brotherhood, and more than a little moody after losing Arya and joining Lady Stoneheart's cause.
An Actual Explanation For Rhaegar And Lyanna Running Away
One of the longest-running and most popular theories about Jon Snow was that Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark were actually his parents. Season 6 confirmed that he was Lyanna’s child, and Season 7 revealed that Lyanna and Rhaegar were married, making him a legitimate Targaryen. Unfortunately, the show never gave any background for Rhaegar and Lyanna running off other than that they met at the Great Tourney at Harrenhal.
As it stands from Game of Thrones, Rhaegar and Lyanna apparently fell in love and decided their romance was worth the Seven Kingdoms ripping themselves apart and Rhaegar cutting ties with his existing wife and children. In the books, it’s more complicated. Rhaegar became obsessed with a prophecy stating that “the dragon must have three heads,” believing that his son Aegon (by Elia Martell) was “the prince that was promised.”
Elia was unable to have more children after a difficult labor with Aegon, but Rhaegar believed he needed a third to fulfill the prophecy. While the books haven’t gotten to the reveal that Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon, the odds are that Rhaegar ran off with Lyanna both out of love and a desire for a third kid. (Real classy there, Rhaegar.) For her part, Lyanna was a teenager who didn't want to marry the promiscuous Robert Baratheon. Howland Reed could have a part to play as well.
More Magic, Visions, And Prophecies
There are many mystical elements in A Song of Ice and Fire, and we can bet George R.R. Martin won’t just abandon them. Of note, there’s the “prince that was promised” prophecy that Azor Ahai and his "song of ice and fire" would save the world with the magic sword Lightbringer. Maggy the Frog's prophecy included how Cersei dies, leading many readers to assume Tyrion or Jaime would kill her. Maggy also predicted the death of Cersei's companion Melara, who Cersei probably drowned.
Bran Stark has his many visions, Dany’s visions in the House of the Undying accurately predicted events such as the Red Wedding, Mirri Maz Duur’s prophecy explicitly mentions Dany’s womb, Quaithe is relevant, Melisandre’s shares her (sometimes poorly interpreted) visions, and more.
Three of the book Starks also have warging powers that allow them to inhabit the bodies of animals. Sansa presumably never developed the ability since Lady died so early, and Robb and Rickon aren’t point-of-view characters to fill readers in on whether they were wargs as well. Jon, Bran, and Arya can all inhabit their direwolves, though. And the wolves can be used as much as George R.R. Martin wants, what with no need to deal with CGI!
Another Living Targaryen?
The only Targaryens alive during Game of Thrones were Viserys, Daenerys, Jon, and Maester Aemon. In the books, there may just be another one: Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar and Elia Martell. The official story in the Seven Kingdoms is that the infant Aegon was murdered, along with his sister Rhaenys and his mother in the sack of King’s Landing.
Nobody could confirm the infant’s identity as Aegon, though, and A Dance with Dragons introduced a young man traveling under the name “Young Griff.” Tyrion discovers that Young Griff believes himself to be Aegon Targaryen, switched with another baby and smuggled out of King’s Landing before it was sacked. Young Griff/Aegon intends to seize the Iron Throne for himself, either by marrying Dany or attacking Westeros before her.
There’s no confirmation that Young Griff truly is Aegon, but he himself seems to believe it, and Tyrion thinks he could physically pass for a Targaryen. A claimant named Aegon in the books is why many readers were surprised when Game of Thrones gave Jon’s real name as Aegon. Either Rhaegar lacks creativity in naming sons, or Game of Thrones named him Aegon to kinda sorta incorporate the Young Griff story into the show. Aegon -- or “Aegon” -- could be a contender in the books.
The North Remembers, And They Want The Starks Back
The Red Wedding was an awful blow to the Starks with devastating consequences in both the books and the show, but the consequences are much more far-reaching in the books. Largely due to the fact that the custom of guest right is extremely sacred in A Song of Ice and Fire, the Red Wedding and the Freys are pretty much universally condemned.
Guest right is an especially big deal in the North, and the book Northerners are extremely loyal to the Starks. The Lannisters/Freys/Boltons have many Northern hostages to prevent open rebellion, but according to one elaborate and intriguing fan theory, there’s a Great Northern Conspiracy working to get a Stark back in charge of the North. As far as the Northerners know, Jon Snow is the only surviving son of Ned Stark, and Ned's legitimate daughters are either married or MIA.
To make a very long story short, Robb decided to legitimize Jon and name him heir after Bran and Rickon died and Sansa married Tyrion. If there are survivors who can vouch for Robb's wishes (or produce Robb's will), Jon Snow could become Jon Stark, rightful heir to Winterfell.
Dorne actually matters. There are major Dornish characters that were left out of the show altogether, with attempts to conspire against the Lannisters and work with Daenerys. The North isn’t the only region that remembers, and the brutal murder of Elia and at least Rhaenys is far from forgotten in Dorne.
Many relationships will be different. In the books, Missandei is a child, so Missandei/Grey Worm is unlikely. Gendry is in entirely different circumstances, so any hookup with Arya and friendship with Jon would have to be different. Sansa and Theon didn't bond over their shared Ramsay torture, Sam is conflicted about breaking his vows with Gilly, Jon/Dany likely won't be rushed, and Jaime is pretty sick of Cersei. Tyrion hates both of his siblings, and Jaime/Brienne is quite different as well. And those are only some of them!
Jaime’s story. Jaime’s story as a whole is very different, and not just on the Brienne and Cersei fronts. (The books do explain why so many readers were furious about the scene when Jaime seems to rape Cersei in the show, though.) Book Jaime is somebody I can see killing Cersei more than going to King’s Landing to tragically die with her, but we’ll have to wait and see how it goes.
CleganeBowl. The Hound isn’t technically confirmed alive in the books at the moment. The man who may be The Hound is in rough shape, and he may never be able to fight the way he’d need to in order to take down The Mountain.
Insta-travel. The pacing of the last two seasons of Game of Thrones was criticized for many reasons, not the least of which was how quickly characters were able to travel to and from the North, King’s Landing, and even Essos. George R.R. Martin devotes a lot of time to travel in his books, and would probably establish a time jump even if he did move characters great distance in only a small number of pages.
The five books published so far are comprised of thousands of pages of material, so these are only some of the things that will be different in the novels from the show. If you're already missing Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire may help soothe the sting of the ending. If you hated how the show ended, A Song of Ice and Fire could give you alternate endings aplenty. The books are certainly worth reading.
Of course, fans have been waiting since way back in 2011 for the sixth book, called The Winds of Winter, and there's no saying when A Dream of Spring will hit bookshelves to reveal George R.R. Martin's ending. But the stories of Daenerys, Jon Snow, the Lannisters, the Starks, the Tyrells, and more aren't done yet on the page, and things could go differently in some great ways.
HBO isn't totally done with Game of Thrones, though. The premium cable network will air a documentary called Game of Thrones: The Last Watch on Sunday, May 26 at 9 p.m. ET. At least one spinoff pilot is moving forward, and there's every chance for more in the future.