I first started reading the Game of Thrones novels in ninth grade. I read the opening twenty pages of A Game of Thrones, but didn’t go any further; I can’t recall why, perhaps some sort of mandatory reading got in the way. I do remember telling myself I’d go back to it, especially after the prologue, the prologue that gave us creatures of ice called the Others, creatures that I found to be the stuff of nightmares. I returned to the books six months later, when I was in tenth grade and my interest in the Others only grew, especially since Martin kept them off screen, but hyped them up through tales told by other characters like Old Nan.
There’s a lot to love in A Song of Ice and Fire, but for me the Others, or the White Walkers in the show, are my favorite narrative. I find them terrifying, beautiful, and fascinating all at once. I’m a sucker for “mysterious threats looming” plots and the atmosphere A Song of Ice and Fire puts into that narrative has been fantastic. The fifth book used it in spades and it made what could’ve been a slow book into a creepy, creepy tale.
So just imagine my shock when tonight’s episode dropped a bomb about the White Walkers that the books had yet to do. The final scene in the Land of Always Winter was a shock to me not just because we met a higher class of White Walkers who turn babies into… something, but because it wasn’t in the books I was doubly shocked and jerked up in my chair when I began to realize what was happening. It’s not a huge stretch that the White Walkers are transforming the babies- the books never told us this outright, but you can piece it together. However, we’ve never seen the Land of Always Winter outside of a brief dream of Bran’s in the first novel and we’ve certainly never seen the palace and lands of the White Walkers. It’s clear they have a distinct culture and hierarchy as opposed to being mindless monsters on the prowl. We even get a higher up White Walker (and there looks like there was more of his ilk in the background) that’s dressed in some sort of suit instead of the usual tattered garbs we see the White Walkers wear. The entire last scene was jam-packed with great visuals, from the far away shots of the White Walker riding his horse to the ending moment when the baby’s eyes turned blue (notice that the baby never cried when a White Walker held him- interesting). The sound design also added a lot, with the crunching of the dead horse’s feet against the ice as it brought the White Walker to its lair. I’m going to be watching that scene again and again in the future, no doubt.
The show also gave book readers a nice turn in regards to Daenarys. I’ve found Daenarys to be portrayed too heroically in the show so far, as if she’s some sort of pure heroine while in the books there’s the sense she has Stockholm Syndrome from Kahl Drogo and might be a little too entitled about her right to the throne. The fact that she crucified the masters in tonight’s episode does a bit to diminish her purity, especially after Ser Barristan told her she might want to show mercy in the face of injustice in order to prove what type of leader she’s willing to be. Her ignoring of his advice might seem badass in the moment, but the pan over the crucified masters is a brutal one and there’s a real sense that Daenarys has perhaps gone too far and might well live to regret this course of action. I’ve never been fully sold on Emilia Clarke’s performance I’m sad to say, but I like the new course the show is plotting for Daenarys.
The rest of the episode proceeds well enough, but the scenes with Jaime suffer because of last week’s ill thought out rape scene between Jaime and Cersei, a scene that the producers clearly did not realize came off much differently than they intended. Now, scenes with Jaime are tainted and doubly so when he’s with Cersei. His redemption arc is continued when he sends Brienne to find Sansa, but there’s always a foul taste in the mouth because of his sexual violence in the last episode. It’s saddening because Jaime’s arc could’ve been so very wonderful, just like in the books. I hate to knock the episode for it since the mistake happened in the previous one, but I have no choice because I was uncomfortable anytime Cersei and Jaime were together and the rape was ignored.
I’m not yet sure what to make of the scenes at Craster’s Keep which were almost over the top in the sadism on display, but also in keeping with how monstrous people can become thanks to the environment of Westeros. The scene features more sexual violence which isn’t welcome after last week’s debacle, but it’s at least appropriately gruesome here. Still, I could’ve done without that touch. The head mutineer was drinking from Mormont’s skull so it’s not like we needed further proof these guys were incredibly fucked up.
Bran’s excursion to Craster’s Keep is not from the books so I’m very curious to see where the show goes with this, but I will hold off judgment for now. I have my fingers crossed for the White Walkers storming the Keep and scaring the shit out of the mutineers in there, though.
So for fans of the books, what did you make of tonight’s deviations and revelations?
Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.