With Game of Thrones over, fans are eagerly awaiting the next book in the series, The Winds of Winter. The show surpassed its source material, A Song of Ice and Fire starting in Season 5, and in many ways it has taken a very different route.
Author George R.R. Martin addressed the question of the incongruities in the show and the books on Monday, in a new interview with Entertainment Weekly. The 70-year-old author confirmed that some things will naturally look different in his books, but some things will be precisely the same, whether fans like it or not.
"I want to write the book I’ve always intended to write all along. And when it comes out they can like it or they can not like it," Martin said.
"I have very fixed ideas in my head as I’m writing The Winds of Winter and beyond that in terms of where things are going. It’s like two alternate realities existing side by side. I have to double down and do my version of it which is what I’ve been doing," he added.
Ever since the show surpassed the storyline of the books around mid-Season 5, fans have speculated about which new elements came directly from Martin and which were inventions of the showrunners. By then, the series had already diverged from some of the books' biggest plot lines, so there was no doubt that they would be different, but there were angry debates about how.
One helpful resource in these questions is the "Inside the Episode" segments on Game of Thrones. There, writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss sometimes mentioned their conversations with Martin, recalling the moment when he directly gave them plot points. Still, even this raises questions, with fans wondering how much Martin gave them and when, as his plans for the books might have evolved since then.
Martin himself stopped writing scripts for the show in Season 4 so that he could focus on the books. He has been less and less involved in the series since then, and even publicly said that he would rather the series carried on for a few more seasons.
In a recent blog post, Martin promised fans that The Winds of Winter would "in his hands" by the summer of 2020, so soon we will know for sure how the books and the show diverge. Here are some of the strongest theories about what will be the same and what will be different between them.
Stannis Burns Shireen
One of the first major events to surpass the books' storyline came in Season 5, Episode 9 when King Stannis Baratheon burned his daughter Shireen as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light.
As it stands in the books, Stannis is still alive, camped not far from Winterfell with plans to take on the Boltons. He considers Shireen his beloved heir, yet in the show he makes the impossible decision to burn her alive.
Fans argue that this will not happen in the books for many reasons -- not least of all because in the books, Melisandre is at the Wall, not in Stannis' war camp. Shireen is there with her, as is her mother.
However, in the "Inside the Episode" segment, Benioff and Weiss said that this event came directly from Martin, and even they were "shocked" to hear it. This makes it seem like Shireen will suffer a similar fate in the books, provided Martin has not changed his mind too much since then. On the other hand, Martin made no promises to keep the stories the same at the time.
“People are going to die who don’t die in the books. So even the book readers will be unhappy. So everybody better be on their toes. David and D.B. are even bloodier than I am," he said, according to Vanity Fair.
Many fans believe that Shireen will still be sacrificed, but by Melisandre and Selyse, not her father. They also argue that Shireen's life may pay for Jon Snow's resurrection, citing some vague foreshadowing in A Dance With Dragons.
Another plot point that Benioff and Weiss claimed to have gotten from Martin was the final fate of Hodor. In Season 6, Bran tried to skin-change with Hodor while looking at him in a vision of the past as well, causing the mixed signals to reach him across time. This is the seizure-like incident that led Hodor to his name, repeating the command "hold the door" until it became "Hodor."
This is a hot topic among fans, who expect Bran's greenseer abilities to pay off much more in the books than they did in the show.
Still, the basic elements of this event seem to be in place, and perhaps even stronger in the books. Martin spends a lot of time with Bran worrying over his secret skin-changing with Hodor, and in other chapters, he points out that possessing another human is a vile sin among other skin-changers. One way or another, we can expect Bran and Hodor to pay the price.
Stark Family Endings
The Game of Thrones finale scattered all of the Stark children to the wind, and fans have mixed feelings about their montage endings. However, it seems like at least some of them will go down on the page the same as they did on the screen.
The biggest one is Bran becoming the King of Westeros. Most fans seem to be in agreement that this plot point is simply too big to not have come from Martin. Still, some dissatisfied viewers think that Bran's throne and his victory will look much different in the books, likely complete with a Wierwood throne, and perhaps not even in King's Landing at all.
Likewise, it seems safe to assume that Sansa's independent dominion over the North will take place in the books too, though it will probably be better fleshed out there. Arya's independent adventure across the Sunset Sea is less certain, though Martin did write a similar adventure for Elissa Farman in his fictional Westeros history book Fire & Blood back in November.
Finally, fans are very torn over Jon Snow's exile. Many have bent over backwards to explain why it won't play out that way in the books, or it will but it will be better developed. More on that below under "Jon Snow's Second Life."
It's also worth noting that the books have other Stark characters left on the board. Fans have complained for years about the show's omission of Lady Stoneheart, the undead version of Catelyn Stark still wreaking havoc in the Riverlands. Rickon, too, will likely have a different fate on the page.
In the show's penultimate episode, Daenerys seemingly snapped out of nowhere, burning King's Landing to the ground with innocent civilians within it. As unsatisfying as this turn was in the show, most fans believe we will see a version of it in the books as well, though it will not seem so unexpected.
This is the best place to mention a huge subplot missing from the show: Daenerys' supposed nephew. Starting in A Dance With Dragons, another contender for the Iron Throne pops up -- Young Griff, a.k.a. Aegon Targaryen, or as the fandom sometimes calls him, fAegon (fake Aegon.)
In the books, this young Aegon claims to be Rhaegar Targaryen's son, who was spirited out of the Red Keep by Varys during Robert's Rebellion. However, many fans believe he is a distant Targaryen cousin from House Blackfyre instead. Either way, Aegon has landed in the Stormlands and begun conquering castles, and may have the support of Dorne and other powerful lords behind him.
Some fans expect Aegon to be in King's Landing when Daenerys arrives to take her throne and suspect that she will torch the city to root him out. Alternatively, there is the issue of a Greyscale epidemic, carried over the see by Aegon's adviser Jon Connington. If the city is plagued by this incurable plague, Daenerys' fire may be a mercy to the rest of the country.
Jaime Lannister's botched redemption arc is another sore spot for fans, and it does not seem to have come straight from Martin. In the books, Jaime is currently AWOL in the Riverlands, running off with Brienne rather than returning to King's Landing to free Cersei from the Sparrows. It is unclear what they are up to out there, but one way or another, fans do not expect to see Jaime crushed to death arm-in-arm with Cersei in the final book.
Jon Snow's Second Life
Taking it back to Season 6, fans expect a very different version of Jon Snow's resurrection after he is killed by the brothers of the Night's Watch. While most believe he will come back, they expect it to involve more complicated and costly blood magic, likely blending Melisandre's spells with Jon's innate skin-changer abilities, which are more prominent in the books.
Essentially, they expect Jon's consciousness to reside in his wolf, Ghost's body for a time while Melisandre works her blood magic to restore him to life. Even then, they do not expect him to simply wake back up as himself, as the books make it very clear that that is not how it works.
In the books, Beric Dondarrion grows skeletal thin and frightening as he is repeatedly revived by Thoros of Myr. He notes that he is not himself, either -- mentally and spiritually incomplete. Essentially, he is a wight just like those beyond the wall, reanimated by fire magic rather than ice magic.
Jon will likely be the same, and his second life will highlight his perfect merging of the fire and ice elements that gave the series its name. This undead Jon will be far different from the one that we saw in Seasons 6, 7 and 8 of the series, and may bridge the gaps of the humans the Others, the living and the dead.
All of this will play into Jon's big ending, as mentioned above. If Jon is really a wight of some kind, then that may be the real reason he ends of banished beyond The Wall when the series ends. He won't be riding off for a fun adventure with Tormund and Ghost, he will be retreating to the Lands of Always Winter, where the dead belong. Jon cannot stay in the realms of men, and in time, he himself may even become the new Night King.
Rickon, Unicorns and Skagos
Back in Season 6, Rickon's death became a kind of joke among Game of Thrones fans, who felt that he should have been able to evade Ramsay Bolton's arrows. In the books, there seems to be much more in store for Rickon Stark.
The youngest sibling is on the island of Skagos with Osha the wildling, a land where half-giant cannibals and "unicorns" are said to live. At least a few northern lords know he is there, but not the Boltons as far as we know. The Manderlys plan to free him with the help of Ser Davos Seaworth, but so far there is no indication that we will find him as Ramsay's prisoner and plaything.
This is an open-ended question, as we have no way of knowing how Rickon may factor into the endgame of the books. If fans get their way though, on the page he will run in zig-zags.
The Battle of the Bastards
Bearing all that in mind, it is hard to imagine that the Battle of the Bastards will play out quite the same in the books overall. If the Boltons take down Stannis, we may expect to see wight Jon ride south to reclaim his home, but the character lineup will be considerably different.
In the books, Stannis currently holds Theon Greyjoy and his sister as prisoners. He also has Ramsay's wife, whom he believes to be Arya Stark, but is actually Sansa's childhood friend, Jeyne Poole.
Meanwhile, Sansa is still hiding out in in the Vale, pretending to be Alayne and learning the art of politics from Littlefinger. She could ride in with the Knights of the Vale to save Jon, as in the show, but that would still look a lot different than it did on the screen.
If there is one major piece missing from Game of Thrones, it is a faithful adaptation of Euron Greyjoy. Theon's villainous uncle is an imposing but ultimately inconsequential figure in the show, but in the books he is poised to be the true antagonist.
The book version of Euron is a powerful magic user, with lips stained blue from drinking the Wine of the Warlocks. He wields a magical dragon horn called Dragonbinder, which is said to bow any dragon who hears it to its masters' will, but it kills the man who sounds it.
In the books, Euron has already used the Iron Fleet to conquer a considerable portion of southern Westeros, choking off supplies to King's Landing. He has also sent his brother, Victarion to Mereen to ask for Daenerys' hand in marriage. Euron hopes to steal Dany's dragons and use them to take over the world. That is a far cry from the glib pirate we saw on screen, and Martin will likely put him to good use.
The Long Night
Most fans accept it as a safe assumption that, in the books, the Long Night will be... Well longer. The show wrapped up the all-important threat of the White Walkers and the Others in just three episodes, with a single battle. The mysteries of these ice demons go much deeper in the books, and it seems unlikely that that war will be won so quickly in the books.
Some have speculated that the series abbreviated the White Walker threat to leave more room to explore it in the upcoming prequel series. Others figure that the showrunners were simply more interested in the political battles that encompassed the earlier seasons.
In the books, there is a powerful magical horn called the Horn of Winter or the Horn of Joramun, which is said to be able to bring down The Wall with a single blast. Some fans expect this horn to come into play when the Others attack The Wall, while others believe that Sam Tarley already has it in his possession. This horn will undoubtedly be important, as it seems to be the cover art for The Winds of Winter. At the same time, the books could give us ice dragons of wight dragons much like the show did.
There are endless possibilities, but one way or another when the true Long Night comes in the books, fans expect it to be drastically different from the show.
Lastly, it's worth noting that the pacing in general will look a lot different in the books than it did in the show. One of the biggest changes the show made from its source material was in form, not content. While fantasy novels tend to get longer and denser with each volume, Game of Thrones showrunners Benioff and Weiss made the perplexing decision to shorten the last two seasons, despite being offered more time by HBO.
The books will not take this route, as Martin has said that each of his final two books will be a monstrous 1,500 manuscript pages. Even this may not be enough to cram in everything Martin is building towards, but it is a far cry from the shortened seasons that attempted to wrap up Game of Thrones' sprawling narrative.
In a recent blog post, Martin claimed that The Winds of Winter would be "in his hands" by the summer of 2020, but no official release date is in place yet. Check back for updates.