What Changes Are Ahead For 'Game Of Thrones'?

Now that HBO’s Game Of Thrones Season 5 is about to premiere, it’s no secret that things are going to start changing drastically for the small-screen adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy saga. In its first four seasons (which covered the first three books of the Song Of Ice And Fire series), the show was one of the most remarkably faithful book-to-screen adaptations in recent memory. Fans who had read Martin’s novels before watching the series were able to rest relatively easy, knowing when the biggest bombshells, plot twists, and shocking deaths were about to happen — and they often relished the schadenfreude of watching non-readers react in horror to all the traumatic betrayals, beheadings, and backstabbings that they themselves had already suffered through. But now the book-readers and non-book-readers alike are in the same boat, as Game Of Thrones Season 5 is set to surprise everyone with some big changes.

Books 4 and 5, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons, upon which Season 5 is based, are widely considered the weakest so far in the Fire And Ice series. They suffer from a preponderance of new settings, characters, and storylines in an already overcrowded saga… as well as a nagging sense that Martin himself is no longer sure of how to satisfactorily tie together all his disparate plot strands. That’s not to mention the fact that the sixth book, The Winds Of Winter, is still a work in progress with no publication date in sight, and it’s no wonder that David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, Thrones’ showrunners, are starting to veer from Martin’s script.

We already know about several changes in store for us in Season 5. (Turn away now if you want to go into the new episodes completely unsullied!) Bran Stark is sitting out this entire season, as the show has already caught up with his chapters through ADWD. Jaime Lannister will be heading to Dorne instead of the Riverlands. Sansa will return home to Winterfell and hopefully wreak some awesome vengeance on the Boltons. And Lady Stoneheart stubbornly continues to not appear. Undoubtedly, there are some plots from both Feast and Dragons that deserve to be cut or — at the very least — streamlined with impunity. But there are just as many that deserve to survive intact. Here’s a brief list of storylines Benioff & Weiss should change… and some they should definitely keep.

KEEP: (Some Of) The Greyjoys

I’m going to start off with a controversial opinion here. Most readers were thrilled when they heard that one of Feast 's major subplots — concerning the Greyjoy family's infighting for control of the Iron Islands — was cut from Season 5. It introduces literally dozens of new characters to the books: major players like the Greyjoy brothers Victarion, Euron, and Aeron as well as hordes of supporting ironmen whose names we're supposed to remember like Rodrik the Reader, Qarl the Maid, Nute the Barber, and Ralf the Limper (not to be confused with Ralf Kenning). The storyline drags on forever as the Greyjoys and other prominent ironborn fight for the Seastone Chair at a Kingsmoot after Balon Greyjoy's death.

Now, I'm certainly not advocating for the preservation of the interminable Kingsmoot. But the Greyjoys do deserve some sort of closure, and cutting them out of the show entirely doesn't really seem fair. The last time we saw Theon's sister Yara (Asha in the books), she was trying to rescue her brother from Ramsay Bolton's clutches. Her assault on the Dreadfort was an unmitigated disaster, and the character deserves a shot at some sort of redemption.

Then there's the fact that Balon Greyjoy isn't dead yet. Back in Season 3, Melisandre seduced Robert's bastard Gendry and used his king's blood (and some icky leeches) to place a death curse on the three pretenders to the Iron Throne: Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy. Of the three, two of them have already died brutal deaths. But Balon is still alive and kicking, despite being the first of the kings to die on the page in A Storm Of Swords, being swept off a bridge in his castle during a sudden storm. This is a dangling plot thread that needs to be tied up on the show, at least to prove that Melisandre isn't losing her touch.

CHANGE: Tyrion’s Neverending Journey

Book readers were thrilled when ADWD put fan-favorite Tyrion Lannister on a collision course with Daenerys Targaryen... and then horribly disappointed when the book ended before the two characters had even met. It would be one thing if Tyrion's journey through Essos was, you know, interesting or at least full of richly-drawn new characters or compelling development for Tyrion. But on the page, it reads as little more than a stall tactic as the Imp travels by road, then by river, then gets kidnapped, then his kidnapper gets kidnapped, then sold into slavery, then his new master dies, then the book is over and he's barely closer to his goal than when it began.

Part of what's exciting about A Song Of Ice And Fire is how it starts with a relatively intimate story in the first book (basically the Starks vs. the Lannisters with a side helping of Targaryens) and then unexpectedly explodes that formula in a million different directions. But with that explosion comes a tacit promise to bring everything back together again before the end... a promise Martin has yet to fulfill. But with Benioff & Weiss having all-but-confirmed that Game Of Thrones will end after Season 7, it's time for the show to start merging its disparate storylines. And getting Tyrion to Meereen this season, rather than next, would certainly be a signal that the show is starting to enter its endgame.

(If these set photos are to be believed, viewers who want to see Tyrion and Dany interact may very well get their wish sooner than they think.)

KEEP: Dany’s Troubled Rule

Dany's storylines was one of the best parts of Martin's first book, with the young Targaryen going from timid bride to confident Khaleesi to fierce Mother of Dragons. But ever since then, the author has struggled to deliver on the promise of AGOT's fiery cliffhanger. As Martin realized he needed to give the dragons time to grow up, as well as delay Daenerys's invasion of Westeros until his saga's concluding chapter, he started killing time with countless detours and delays, eventually turning many readers against the character in frustration. Marching through the Red Waste, bickering with spice merchants in Qarth, invading three cities that weren't King's Landing...

Both in the books and on the show, Dany has had a fairly easy time of it, emerging from every conflict victorious and easily conquering Slaver's Bay with her army of Unsullied. She finally had her first real setback at the end of Season 4, as she was forced to chain her dragons in a dungeon after one of them killed and ate an innocent young girl. From there, the rest of Dany's rule of Meereen is a downhill spiral. She slowly loses control of the foreign city, finds herself besieged by enemies on all sides, and is forced to compromise herself to keep the peace. The prospect of watching a Daenerys who must actually struggle to achieve something is an exciting prospect. I hope Benioff & Weiss play up this aspect of her story and deliver some delicious drama that has been sorely missing from Dany's life lately.

CHANGE: The Many Suitors of Daenerys Targaryen

Speaking of Dany, ADWD also sends a large number of suitors journeying towards the Breaker of Chains, hoping to gain power by wedding the queen. The fact that so many characters are headed in the same direction helps give the book a sense of convergence; it's a pity, then, that this sensation is manufactured with a bevy of characters introduced solely for that purpose. Of the characters who find themselves on the path to Meereen, only Tyrion had been introduced prior to the events of Feast and Dragons. Then there's Victarion Greyjoy, sent to woo the Mother of Dragons by his brother Euron (but secretly plotting to steal the Targaryen queen for himself). There's Quentyn Martell, the son of the Prince of Dorne, sent to fulfill a secret marriage pact made between his father and the Targaryens. And there's Aegon Targaryen, the presumed-dead son of Elia Martell and Rhaegar Targaryen who hopes to wed his aunt and reclaim the Iron Throne for his family. (This is all not even to mention Dany's dalliance with the roguish Daario Naharis or her political marriage to Hizdahr zo Loraq.)

Not only does this introduce even more characters into the narrative, but it severely tests readers' suspension of disbelief, as it requires them to believe in alliances and fake-baby-deaths that were kept secret for five novels. These plot twists are written as revelations... but read more like retcons (or, "Reframing past events to serve a current plot need"). This feels like even more of a waste of time when half of the quests are aborted prematurely: Aegon decides to abandon his plan to wed Dany and instead invade Westeros on his own; and Quentyn meets an untimely end when he tries to tame Dany's dragons... only to end up extra-crispy.

Good news, then, that neither Quentyn nor Aegon were cast for Season 5. With only three seasons left, we don't need any more distractions from plot lines that don't aid in the story reaching its endgame. Of course, just because characters don't appear when you expect them to doesn't mean they've been cut entirely. Book readers were outraged when Jojen and Meera Reed were seemingly "cut out" after not being cast in Season 2... only for the characters to show up later than expected in Season 3. But for now, I'm content to focus on getting Dany to Westeros — not seeing her wooed by half a dozen characters we've never met before.

KEEP: Cersei’s Descent Into Paranoia — and Her Uncle’s Badassery

As the character with the most point-of-view chapters in AFFC, Cersei has one of the biggest emotional journeys of the latter two books, and it should be supremely cathartic for viewers to see play out on the screen. After four seasons of getting away with being awful, the Queen Regent finally starts to stumble as she finds herself isolated and her power slipping through her fingers. Going into Season 5, the Lannister family has never been weaker: Tywin is dead, Tyrion is accused of regicide and fled to Essos, Jaime will be off in Dorne with Myrcella, leaving Cersei alone in King's Landing with her impressionable son Tommen, and only her uncle Kevan to guide her.

For their first four seasons, Benioff & Weiss have resisted using flashbacks and dream sequences to explain the show's complicated history to viewers. That will change in Season 5, as the premiere opens with the show's first-ever flashback. Using this previously avoided trope to show us a pivotal moment in Cersei's childhood proves that the showrunners are heavily invested her character and providing her with development beyond "ice queen." We'll finally learn why the lady Lannister is so paranoid, so protective of her children, and so hateful of her little brother. And watching her get her comeuppance should be delicious for those viewers still jonesing for vengeance after Season 3's Red Wedding.

In the books, Cersei's uncle Kevan emerges as a surprisingly strong player after having spent so long in his brother's formidable shadow. He takes none of his niece's guff and he provides some much-needed order to a chaotic kingdom. On the show, Kevan has thus far had a very minor presence; hopefully Benioff & Weiss trust the viewers to remember who he is and utilize the character to his full badass potential.

CHANGE: Melisandre's Loyalty To Stannis

There is a lot of politicking and contemplating and strategizing at the Wall in ADWD, and Benioff & Weiss will have to change things up a bit if they want Jon Snow's plot line to remain engaging onscreen. We already know that some much-needed action is being injected in the North, with an expanded battle at Hardhome not really explored in the books, but I'm most intrigued by the possibilities that Melisandre's presence will bring. By virtue of simply not being a man dressed in black, she's the most unique presence at the Wall, and the showrunners should take full advantage of that potential.

The reason Melisandre is so loyal to Stannis Baratheon is because she believes he is Azor Ahai reborn, a legendary warrior who wields a sword named Lightbringer and is prophesied to be the only one who can defeat the White Walkers. A popular fan theory maintains that Azor Ahai is actually Jon Snow, not Stannis, and it would fascinating to see the show actually explore this possibility. On the page, the sorceress is so unwavering in her devotion as to be a bit one-note. What would Melisandre do if she began to doubt herself? How would Stannis react to the threat of losing his most powerful ally? The tense and complicated Jon-Melisandre-Stannis dynamic is rife with opportunity that Benioff & Weiss would be foolish to pass up.

KEEP: Those Delicious Pies

Although a relatively minor character, Wyman Manderly provides one of the best moments in ADWD with the help of a few delicious pastries. The immensely fat lord of White Harbor, whose son was murdered along with Robb and Catelyn at the Red Wedding, gets his revenge on the Freys and the Boltons by murdering three young Freys, baking them into meat pies, and serving them at Ramsay's wedding feast. It's a truly Shakespearean moment of vengeance that deserves to make the translation just for its sheer awesomeness. And, if Lady Stoneheart is truly cut from the show, then it may be one of the only opportunities viewers get to see the Freys get what's coming to them.

Oh, and Arya? You're perfect, never change.

Images: Helen Sloan (5), Macall B. Polay (2)/HBO; gameofthronesdaily/tumblr