After an episode title as specific as "Watchers on the Wall" for their penultimate Westeros outing, David Bennioff and D.B. Weiss are just messing with us with this "The Children" Game of Thrones finale, right? "The Children" could refer to just about anyone: the Stark children, the Lannister siblings, the child supposedly burned by Dany's dragons, the Children of the Forest, and with Game of Thrones' finale's 66-minute run time, the episode could very well contain all of those child-related plot points. There's one child plot the series will almost definitely be avoiding altogether: The Gilly and Mance Rayder baby-swap.
Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers from George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire that might not to show up in the HBO series, but will still have an impact on the remaining storylines written in Books 3, 4, and 5. Proceed with the Sansa-like caution and Arya-like secrecy. I'm just trying to be Brienne-like upfront with you.
Last we left Gilly on Game of Thrones, she was hanging out with Janos Slynt in a meat locker, permanently trying to keep her baby from being killed. I mean, that kid (sweetly nicknamed Monster because free folk don't name their children until age two) has been through a lot. But in the books, the wildlings' attempt to get through the Wall and, oh you know, kill everyone in Westeros, is the least of the little guy's worries. Once Stannis and his army arrive to save the day, and things start looking up for Jon Snow and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, things start looking decidedly down for Gilly and her son.
After escaping Papa Craster's fun game of Sacrifice at the Tree Stump, traveling through the (for real, for real) North to the White-Walker-less side of the Wall, surviving the wildling attack, and serving as a wet nurse to the son of Head Wildling in Charge, Mance Rayder, the biggest threat to Monster is Melisandre...'cause that lady stays sacrificing kids. You see, Mance's little guy is considered the "wildling prince" by the wildlings and Night's Watch men alike; and even though Mance isn't technically a royal king, once Jon brings the baby into the castle walls, Melisandre smells an opportunity to go sacrificin' to her "king's blood"-fed flames.
Knowing the Red priestess' intentions, newly appointed Lord Commander Jon Snow forces Gilly to swap the two babies — wildling prince for Monster, Monster for wildling prince — and head south on a mission to Oldtown with Sam and Maester Aemon. He intends to protect the little wildling by taking him away from Melisandre, and hopes that she will see no point in sacrificing Gilly's child once she realizes who's who.
Most of this storyline takes place in the fourth and fifth books, but the setup — Mance's arrival at the Wall, Jon's parley with him across enemy lines, and Gilly's agreement to be the child's wet nurse — should technically take place within this season, based on A Storm of Swords. And while these two powerful babies might be where many readers' minds go when thinking of "the children" in the Martin's third book, it seems unlikely that this plot point will be able to fit in the last 66 minutes of this season, or shuffled into later seasons.
Not only have we not seen Mance Rayder since last season, but Jon's special visit to the wildlings seems on shaky narrative ground as it is. Of course, there have also been quite a few non-book-inspired mentions from Melisandre about Shereen, Stannis' daughter, coming along on their trip to the Wall for ambiguous reasons, at best. Methinks Melisandre might be a packing a little travel snack for the Lord of Light to replace the narrative need for Mance's son.
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