The ending of HBO's Game of Thrones will go down in history as one of the most reviled TV finales of all time, but some fans are still holding out hope for the "real" ending. The show ended before author George R.R. Martin finished the books, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Martin claims he is still working on the last two volumes now. The fandom has amassed a wealth of information on how and why the books will end differently than the TV show.
Martin published A Game of Thrones in 1996, followed quickly by sequels in 1998, 2000 and 2005. While he was working on book five, A Dance with Dragons, HBO ordered a TV adaptation that premiered in 2011 — the same year that book five was published. Since then, Martin has not finished book six, The Winds of Winter and has become infamous for his incomplete epic. Martin has been open about the fact that he suffered from writer's block as the pressure from fans mounted and his story became a global phenomenon. Because Martin considers himself a "discovery writer" or a "gardener" rather than an "architect," he could not give the TV team a complete outline of the series ending to follow for the show.
Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss themselves said that they only got a "bullet-point outline" of events for the end of their series, though that still doesn't explain why they shortened their two final seasons and declined to accept more season orders from HBO. By contrast, Martin's novels have tended to get longer with each successive installment, and all signs indicate that this will be the case for the last two books as well.
One review of Game of Thrones Season 8 by critic and YouTuber Lindsay Ellis identifies this as the underlying issue to all of the ending's problems. She argues that Benioff and Weiss were just "checking boxes" on events they had been told must happen near the end. Conversely, Martin's "gardener" approach is to let the story grow organically rather than planning every brick.
It is this that gives fans hope for the final two books. They believe that Martin will let the story grow organically to its natural conclusion. In addition, it is worth noting that fantasy books tend to get longer as a series goes on, not shorter. Martin's work is likely to hold to that genre convention where the adaptation did not.
In case you missed it, we already published a breakdown of events from the show that we can reasonably assume will follow in the books to come. Now, let's take a look at the things we expect to be different.
In case you're wondering how far behind the books are, the last scene we saw in print was Jon Snow being killed by his Night's Watch brothers. Of course, he will almost certainly be resurrected like he was in the show, but the show often simplified and downplayed the magical elements of the story.
The most recent book, A Dance with Dragons, gave an in-depth blueprint of how Jon will probably be brought back. It established firmly that Jon is a skin-changer like Bran, and can possess the body of his wolf, Ghost. It also showed us what happens when a skin-changer dies — their soul inhabits the body of their animal companion for a "second life," where they become less human and more animal until they finally merge into the wolf's spirit entirely.
Fans expect that Jon will be living this second life as Davos asks Melisandre to resurrect him in the books. However, rather than bringing him back from the dead, she will bring him back from his wolf.
This is good news for Jon, because those resurrected by fire magic are much worse off in the books. Beric Dondarrion is a skeletal, ghoulish figure, and he does not live to the end as he did in the show. Some fans expect Jon to exhibit these undead traits anyway, and even question which side he will be fighting on when the White Walkers arrive.prevnext
The Grand Northern Conspiracy
In the show, it does not take long at all for the resurrected Jon to take Winterfell back from Ramsay Bolton and become King in the North, but the books are far different. Northern politics in the last book are at least as convoluted as the politics of King's Landing in the early seasons, and fans refer to this web of intrigue as the "Grand Northern Conspiracy."
There is too much information in this theory to lay out here, but suffice it to say that many northern lords have subtle agendas in the book, and while they may land in the same place, they will take a much different road to get there. This could also affect the ending for Stannis Baratheon, who is still alive and fighting in the books. Stannis has promised to make the White Walkers his main priority, but he still has to contest with the Boltons for supremacy.
Stannis also has custody of Theon in the books. However, Sansa is still in the Vale, and Theon is instead accompanied by her friend Jeyne Pool, who is pretending to be Arya.
All in all, it is clear that the characters in the north and their allegiances will play a much bigger role in deciding the fate of Westeros here than they did on-screen. If Jon winds up as King in the North, it will be a much more fleshed-out kingdom than we have seen so far.prevnext
To the south, things will look even more different in the books. It is unlikely that Cersei will spend the final two books standing on a balcony drinking wine. Instead, the queen's reign will probably end very soon.
A Dance with Dragons got as far as Cersei's infamous "walk of atonement" scene, and the introduction of her new zombie bodyguard, formerly Ser Gregor Clegane. However, unlike the show, she gives up power in this part of the book and lets her uncle Kevan Lannister rule as Tommen's regent. At the very end of the book, Kevan is killed by Varys, whom we learn is still lurking in the castle.
Varys' stated plan is to sow chaos in King's Landing, to make it easier for his preferred ruler to take control. Cersei is better for chaos, he reasons, so we may see her briefly retake the castle after her uncle's death.
However, Varys' candidate will most likely take the Iron Throne in the next book, The Winds of Winter. Varys backs a character that is not in the show at all — Aegon VI Targaryen. This teenage boy has just arrived from Essos with the support of the Golden Company and Illyrio Mopatis. He claims to be the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, giving him a strong claim to the throne.
Fans debate whether this was true to no end on forums, but in the end it will probably not matter. Preview chapters from The Winds of Winter show that Aegon — or fAegon, as fans sometimes call him, for "fake Aegon" — has already conquered Storm's End and many other strategically important southern castles. It seems pretty certain that he will take King's Landing before long. How he governs it, and what he does with Cersei, is another question altogether.prevnext
Of course, this throws a wrench into everything about Daenerys' storyline near the end of the show. When she arrives in Westeros in the books, it will be to find her supposed nephew on the throne, probably with a lot of support from other great lords already. Daenerys will still have her dragons and her military strength, but it will be even more questionable for her to use it against her own family.
Daenerys' plot in the last two books will likely involve a lot of politics and posturing as she tries to determine whether Aegon is who he says he is, and decides whether or not to be his ally or his enemy. There is talk in the books of the two getting married and joining their strength, but Daenerys may have come too far already to compromise and share her power like that.
Some fans expect Daenerys to go north and aid in the fight against the White Walkers in order to gain sympathy and support from Westeros, so she will not appear to be a foreign invader.prevnext
It has been pointed out by many critics that Tyrion took some strange turns in the latter seasons of the show. Actor Peter Dinklage himself seemed frustrated by the fact that Tyrion led people into the crypts of Winterfell during the battle there, knowing it was full of dead bodies.
This incongruity may be because in the books, Tyrion is not intended to stay a hero. After all, when he is sentenced to death for the alleged murder of Joffrey, he kills his ex-lover and then his own father. The murder of Shae is portrayed as much more heinous in the books, while the act of killing a family member — kin-slaying — is the worst sin imaginable.
The last we saw of Tyrion in the books, he had somehow leveraged his way from a slave in a grotesquerie to a high-ranking member of the Second Sons sellsword company. His stated plan is to return to Westeros and conquer his ancestral lands by force, taking Casterly Rock for himself. This is not exactly a noble or heroic pursuit, though it is not evil either.
In the books, Tyrion will probably spend more time grappling with his morality than he did on the show. If he finds himself in Daenerys' service, it will be after much more thought, and if he nominates Bran for King of Westeros in the grand finale, it will look a lot different than the monologue that left so many people disappointed on the show.prevnext
Speaking of Bran, his coronation is not as surprising to book readers as it was to show-only fans. The books spend much more time developing Bran's character and his powers, and they will have a much bigger payoff on the page.
In the books, all six Stark children are skin-changers, able to commune with their wolves and even inhabit their bodies at times. Bran learns that he is also a greenseer — able to inhabit many animals, and even the Wierwood trees themselves. In A Dance with Dragons, Bran is told that "only one man in a thousand is born a skinchanger... and only one skinchanger in a thousand can be a greenseer."
These powers have already been fleshed out better in the books than on the show, and they will likely continue in that direction. Fans will probably get a more definitive answer about whether Bran is really still "Bran," or if he has become the host body of some ancient hive-mind. Meanwhile, Bran will probably show off his new abilities on the long journey back to the Wall, assuming he is chased out of the cave as he was on the show.
When Bran becomes the greenseer king of Westeros in the books, fans will probably have a much more clear idea of what that means for him, and for the world.prevnext
Many characters from the books never made it onto the show, but George R. R. Martin has said that the one that makes him the saddest is Lady Stoneheart. After Catelyn Stark was killed at the Red Wedding in the books, she was resurrected by Beric Dondarrion, who in turn died. Now called Lady Stoneheart, Catelyn Stark roams Westeros, leading the Brotherhood Without Banners and seeking revenge for her murder.
Lady Stoneheart will change a lot of things for the books compared to the show. Already, she has completely upended the lives of Brienne and Jaime Lannister. In the books, Jaime never returned from the siege of Riverrun. Instead, he and Brienne were captured by the Brotherhood, who tried to hang Brienne for oath-breaking.
Fans expect Lady Stoneheart to fill in some of the roles Arya played in later seasons of the show, and expand on them. She will likely be the one to wipe out House Frey, for example. However, if she learns that both of her daughters and her two younger sons are still alive, it could put an end to her revenge quest and finally let her get her rest.
On the other hand, if Lady Stoneheart lives long enough to see Jon Snow named King in the North, she will undoubtedly be furious. Catelyn Stark hated Jon in life, and she would have to learn the truth of his parentage to forgive Ned at last.prevnext
Rickon and His 'Unicorns'
“Rickon Stark on Skagos” by ave-avery pic.twitter.com/p8UYBrdMIk— louise 🇦🇹 (@cthulhou) May 9, 2016
In the show, the youngest Stark Sibling, Rickon got very little screen time before he was unceremoniously killed by Ramsay in the Battle of the Bastards. He was hidden somewhere for several seasons before he was brought back and killed.
In the books, we know a bit more about his current situation. The widling Osha spirited Rickon and his direwolf, Shaggydog, to the island of Skagos. This is supposedly a bleak, remote place where the locals practice cannibalism and are closer to wildlings than other northerners. However, Skagos does supposedly owe fealty to Winterfell.
Fans are eager to get more story out of Skagos in the upcoming volumes because it is supposedly populated by unicorns. From the description, it sounds like these beasts are some kind of cross between giant goats and rhinoceros. With any luck, Rickon and the Skagosi warriors he has been living with will ride these unicorns into battle when the time comes, and fans will howl at the injustice of this sight being left out of the show.prevnext
The book rarely uses the term "White Walkers," instead referring to them simply as "The Others." We know even less about these mysterious creatures in the books than we did on the show, but the two versions are very different from each other.
In the books, there is no Night King leading the others. Most fans agree that it is unlikely that The Others will be defeated by simply killing their king. Instead, many fans suspect we will learn more about The Others in the coming books, likely finding out about their culture, history and the unique language they speak to each other.
George R. R. Martin has noted that the Others are based on the Sidhe from Irish and Scottish folklore. These are nature spirits that were believed to live in hills and mounds underground. This leads some to the conclusion that the Others in Martin's work are another magical race like the Giants or the Children of the Forest, displaced by mankind.
We can do little besides speculate on The Others until Martin finishes his series, but it seems safe to say that their actions and motives will be much more nuanced in this version. However, Martin has said that The Winds of Winter will show readers "what lies really north," and added: "you're definitely going to see more of the Others." Many expect the truth of the Others to reflect on the themes of natural balance and pacifism so pervasive in Martin's work.prevnext
Thank you George & Parris Martin and Prizeo! pic.twitter.com/f3e7DwVu4i— Team Wild Spirit (@wswolfsanctuary) November 4, 2014
There were glimpses of it in the show, but in the books it is very clear that Arya's direwolf, Nymeria, has amassed a giant wolfpack in Westeros, over 100 strong at least. Arya still has a skinchanger connection with the wolf, and often enters her mind in her dreams.
Fans were often disappointed by the sparing use of the direwolves on the show, but they were supposedly even more costly than dragons or giants to animate. In the books, the wolves will take a much more prominent role, according to Martin.
"You know, I don't like to give things away. But you don't hang a giant wolf pack on the wall unless you intend to use it," Martin said at a charity event in 2014, according to Mashable.
This is a reference to the literary concept called "Chekhov's Gun," which stipulates that if a gun is hung on the wall in the first act of a story, it must be fired in the third. It's a rule about planting and payoff, and Martin is a master when it comes to that.
There are countless ways that the direwolves could play into the endgame of the series without the cost limitations of the show. The skinchanging makes for a good complication as well, and we can expect Jon and Arya to do plenty of this when the time comes. However, let's not forget that the wolves could break our hearts too, especially when the fighting and death begins.prevnext
Euron 'Crow's Eye' Greyjoy
Many fans of the book were especially let down by the depiction of Euron Greyjoy on the screen. Where the show gave us a swaggering, foul-mouthed pirate with little ambition beyond sleeping with Cersei, the books tell of a sinister sorcerer with blue lips and one eye. Euron is one of the most powerful magic users currently in the story, and his goal is not to rule one continent but to become a living god.
In the books, we learn that Euron had a similar dream to the one Bran had during his coma in A Game of Thrones. Fans believe he was being lured to the cave north of the Wall by the Three-Eyed Crow, another powerful sorcerer named Bloodraven.
This suggests that Euron has the same capacity to become a greenseer that Bran has. Unfortunately, he pursued that ability through dark magic all over the world. In the books he takes other magic users prisoner and tortures them as part of his ritual sacrifices. His ship is crewed by slaves with their tongues ripped out so they can never spill his secrets.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the Euron of the books has a few magical artifacts he obtained from Valyria, the ruined dragon-rider civilization that is supposedly impossible to visit without dying. Euron obtained a massive war horn there called Dragonbinder, which is imbued with fire magic. If blown, it can force a dragon to obey its owner. However, the person who blows it will be killed.
Some fans think that Euron will be the books' closest analogue to the show's Night King — a pure evil figure that can't be reasoned with and must be killed. Others think he will be more like Cersei, filling in some of the roles she played in the politics of the show.
Either way, Euron's part in the books is already greatly expanded from that of the show. As it stands, he is waging war against Daenerys in Meereen and simultaneously trying to take over southern Westeros. He is succeeding on both fronts, and he is sure to become a formidable opponent in the next few books.prevnext
One of the biggest complaints about the ending was the conclusion for Daenerys Targaryen. After years of being sympathetic and just, she went "mad" in just a few short scenes, committed atrocities against civilians, and was summarily executed by her previous allies.
Sadly, it seems safe to say that the literal facts of these events will probably be very similar. However, the path to get there will be much more in-depth, making the ending feel more earned when we get to it.For starters, Daenerys will not be caught between Cersei and Jon Snow, but probably between Aegon, Euron, Jon Snow and the Others all at once. This will make for a much more dynamic story ad Daenerys tries to decide which wars to fight, where to compromise and how far she is willing to go.
We can also expect Daenerys to obsess about the prophecies she has gotten, which is something the show downplayed a lot. In the books, Daenerys has several magical advisers, and is now juggling many visions and prophecies that she believes must come true.
Assuming Daenerys does attack King's Landing with her dragon(s), the scene will probably be more drawn out and thoughtful. Fans expect someone besides Cersei to be in the castle — possible Euron or Aegon. Aegon would fuel Daenerys' fury here, as many fans believe he is actually from a branch of the Targaryen family called the Blackfyres. These cousins waged war on House Targaryen for generations, so it would make sense for Daenerys to feel justified in taking revenge.
Ultimately, if we assume Jon Snow is the one to murder Daenerys, that too could be made to seem more sensible. To start, their relationship will be developed for longer, and the Jon of the books is much different from the one on the show. This will be even more true if he is partially undead after his resurrection.
Finally, one small detail would make this tragic scene better for fans — the sword. In the show, Jon stabbed Daenerys in the back with a dagger, which is not at all his style. If he were to face her and stab her with a sword — probably either his Valyrian steel Longclaw or the apparently magical sword Dawn — that would mirror the legend of Azor Ahai, bringing some sense of symmetry to this arc.prevnext
Last but not least, there is King Bran the Broken. If any character was underdeveloped and on the show, it has to be him, but the books make up for it. In writing, it makes a lot of sense that Bran would end up ruling Westeros, and fans have done a lot of work in dissecting the foreshadowing there. However, there is still a lot we do not understand about Bran's powers as a greenseer, and that is essential to knowing what comes next, and why Bran must wind up as the monarch.
In the show, the Iron Throne is destroyed, but Bran still rules from King's Landing. This will likely not be the case in the books, where there is a much more suitable seat waiting for him: the Isle of Faces. This mysterious island sits in the middle of the God's Eye lake, beside Harenhal. It is believed to be home to a race of mysterious Green Men, and Martin has confirmed that they will play a part in the story.
"The green men and the Isle of Faces will come to fore in later books. (Boy, it's tough to sneak anything by you guys,)" he said at a conference in 1999.
A popular fan theory suggests that the Wierwood trees are all interconnected, with a vast root network covering the entire continent of Westeros. Fans suggest that the central node of this mycelium-like organism is on the Isle of Faces, and that is where Bran's magic will be its strongest.
As we saw on the show, greenseers like Bran's teacher typically sit on a "Wierwood throne," entwined with the roots of the magical tree. If Bran were to rule from the Isle of Faces, he could make his "throne" there, under a giant Wierwood tree. This would be an apt ending for the story, shifting the balance back towards nature and ending the cycle of competitive politics as we know it.0comments
Whatever happens in the upcoming books, they are sure to shake the foundation of a now global fandom. Martin has stated on his blog that The Winds of Winter will be "in his hands" by the summer of 2020, but no release date has been formally announced yet. After that, there is one more volume, A Dream of Spring, which he expects will be at least as long.
Check back on PopCulture.com for updates on A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones and the upcoming spinoff series, House of the Dragon.prev