We've crossed the halfway point in this season of Game of Thrones, dramatically making our way over the wall and seeing schemes and plans fall into precarious place. Those of us who've read the books have been giddily anticipating this stretch of the season since, well, since the show started, knowing what game-changing twists await and eager to see not only how the show stages them, but how unsuspecting audiences will react. (I must admit to taking a strange bit of joy in watching people freak out when season one's big death caught the uninitiated off-guard.) In that regard, the season has so far delivered, giving us the expected big bits and teasing out smaller aspects of the book to tell a richer story. And I've no doubt that what's the come in the next few episodes will be handled with the show's usual smarts and cinematic grandeur. But as things have progressed this season, it's become clear that in other ways I have no idea where Game of Thrones is going.
One scene last night represented maybe the biggest change from page to screen that we've had so far. Or at least the oddest. In the books, Melisandre does not go into the woods to find Gendry, the Baratheon bastard. She doesn't talk with Thoros the red priest, and she certainly doesn't meet Arya. And yet all those things happened on the show, and I'm going a little nuts trying to figure out what the writers have planned. It's possible that it's just a slight diversion from the written story and that we'll get back to the expected narrative next week, but if my suspicions are confirmed there could be major consequences for one character who does not suffer those consequences in the books. Or hasn't yet, at least. Either way, it was a pretty significant departure from the known story, leading me to believe that as the world of the show gets more cluttered and complicated, we should expect more serious narrative changes like this. I doubt that characters will die when they're supposed to live, but some slightly less drastic changes are likely in the offing.
Our poor friend Theon is an another example. Not that the unfortunate lad isn't tortured horribly in the books, it just happens offstage, as it were. Theon is completely absent from the third and fourth books, with one mention of his torture popping up in book three (roughly where we are on the show). Everything we are seeing with Theon is invented for television, meaning I have absolutely no idea what they're going to do to keep him around without pushing his story faster than it can be pushed. Events from the fifth book can't happen on the show yet; all the other characters need time to catch up. So whatever happens between now and then is completely up in the air. People who've read the books have little advantage going forward. Which is strange, and maybe even a little annoying. Though in Theon's case it's not a change so much as an addition, which for whatever reason feel a bit easier to stomach than seeing Melisandre blown so off course.
There are other tweaks here and there — Joffrey suddenly became much more sadistic than he ever seemed in the books, Rickon and Osha have stuck around longer than expected — but for whatever reason this Melisandre thing feels more significant. Because it indicates that the show's writers aren't afraid to have major characters who never interact in the books meet each other and, essentially, change each other on screen. Enough of that and whole new story lines can grow. It might seem small at first, but before you know it Arya is moving across the sea to become a red priestess instead of — Well, I won't tell you what becomes of Arya in the books. I'm simply saying that as the show gets older and more confident, I'm thinking that the books will become less the precious and dutifully followed source material and more the inspiration. After all, the book series has two more installments to go and the show is moving a lot quicker than author George R.R. Martin is. It helps that they've broken up book three into two seasons, that'll slow 'em down a bit, but eventually we're going to have to accept Game of Thrones the TV show as its own autonomous entity.
I saw that coming change deep in Melisandre's eyes last night, before she rode off with poor Gendry to destination unknown. Well, I have a pretty good idea of to where and to what they are headed, but who knows! Maybe they're gonna go hang out with Daenerys or something. Anything could happen! The writers can do what they want — it's their show, after all. And while that's maybe a frustrating thing for followers of the book series who want the story told "accurately," it's probably a boon for the show and its fans. After all, wouldn't it be nice if sometime in the future no one could bother anyone else by pointedly saying, "Well, in the books it's this way..."? To have everyone in the dark, together? It would take a little while to get there, but eventually we might all, well, know nothing.