A Dance with Dragons A Feast for Crows Books Brienne of Tarth General News Season 5

On story structure and spoilers in Season 5

Hi everyone, I’d like to discuss spoilers and coverage of the show’s production, and its relation to George R.R. Martin’s novels at this point in the show. First, I want to be as clear as I can here, it is never our intention to annoy you by telling anything you don’t want to know about the story. If that happens, please let us know in comments, on Twitter, via e-mail, or however, and we’ll try to do better.

However, Season 5 of Game Of Thrones is going to make straightforward spoiler/not-spoiler or sullied/unsullied coverage impossible. The first four seasons were easy. We knew that the Battle Of Blackwater would end Season 2, we knew that the trial and escape of Tyrion would end Season 4. These were the endings or turning points of the books. The show was a reasonably direct adaptation of the source material, and the source material told a mostly straightforward story of the same characters moving through the same chronology in the world of Westeros.

That’s not true anymore. Season 5 is going to be totally different, and it’s going to be totally different in three important ways…

First, the fourth and fifth books are structured differently from the previous three. A Feast For Crows takes mostly place in the Southlands of the Seven Kingdoms, while A Dance With Dragons covers the same chronology in the North and in Essos. This means that certain important characters only appear in one book or the other, which is not something that I think HBO or show fans would tolerate. A season without Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion? Not likely happen, and, based on shooting, clearly not actually happening.

This raises huge questions. Are books 4 and 5 being condensed into a single season overall? Are we only condensing some characters and story lines? Are apparently major story lines that haven’t been announced as being cast going to be cut or delayed? What scenes are going to serve as the climax of the season in the ninth/tenth episodes? We can guess—we can make reasonably informed guesses—but we can’t say with anywhere near the kind of certainty that we could for the previous four season.

I’m not complaining here. As a critic who focuses on story structure, this is really exciting. I had dreams of being a fly on the wall of the writers’ room as they planned out this season (and potentially next) and turning that into an article or even a book. As a fan of both the books and the show, I thought that adapting these difficult—and relatively weaker—books to the screen would have the potential to smooth over a lot of their flaws. Yes, we don’t know how this season is going to look, but that’s part of the fun.

Second, the show is becoming significantly different from the novels. Prior to the fourth season, every notable change was an expansion or a contraction. On the expansion side, non-point-of-view characters like Varys and Littlefinger were given more scenes, while major characters who didn’t have much to do in the books, like Robb and his wife  (herself very different from the books) as well as Dany, in A Clash Of Kings, had those roles expanded. Meanwhile, several side plots and smaller characters were eliminated or consolidated, like much of Bran’s story in Season 2 and the sadly-missed Strong Belwas.

All that changed early in Season 4, when the Boltons sent Locke—himself a half-new, half-changed character from the novels—north to find Bran Stark. While that could have been explained as needing to give both Bran and the Boltons more to do in the season, the climax of Brienne’s story in Season 4 was the cherry on top of the idea: the show has separated from the novels, in some cases irreconcilably. Plotlines are being changed or added, and in some cases, we can guess at how things we’ve read might be being adapted with reasonable accuracy, but in other cases, we’re as clueless as anyone else.

Finally, the show is running up against the extent of what’s been published in the novels already. One storyline, Bran’s, already went through many of his events in A Dance With Dragons, while a few other characters at least started their arcs from the later books.

So we won’t know if scenes that aren’t and won’t be in the books are being added, or are adaptations of what the producers have been told will happen in later books; we also don’t know which scenes from books 4 and 5 are going to be in which season the way we did before.

You can see the effects of this with the reporting we, and multiple other sites, did with Kristian Nairn’s Hodor news last week. Since Bran’s storyline is so far along in the novels, it was entirely possible that he, alongside Hodor, could be set aside for Season 5. This speculation isn’t a spoiler, because it’s something that hasn’t happened in the books and might not occur on the show. But I understand how it could look like a spoiler, because that’s exactly the kind of thing that might have been a spoiler for the earlier seasons when we all knew what was going on. (Aside: I’m happy that all our reporting was couched with “if” statements and question marks, because I’m still seeing conventional entertainment sites reporting Bran’s absence as unambiguous fact, incorrectly.)

As exciting as I might find this state of not-knowing for criticism and for speculation, I understand that it’s difficult for reading news, and hope that everyone understands it’s going to remain that way during the course of the adaptations of Feast and Dance, for better or for worse.

Also, the rise in the popularity of Game Of Thrones means a rise in reporting on the show from general cultural outlets, and their journalistic forms can clash with the show’s page/screen division. By this I mean that they, doing their jobs normally, almost all reported the name of the actor/character  involved in the controversial nude scene, often in their headlines. That information was widespread to the point where it appeared, to us, to be common knowledge. However, us posting under that assumption still caused a bit of consternation amongst readers here, and we will be doing our best to avoid that in the future while still reporting the news.

Finally, we’re looking into the best technical solutions to the issue of spoilers in our articles, which should make separation of speculation, news, and spoilers easier for you.


  • While I appreciate protecting the sensibilities of people who haven’t read the books or who don’t want to know about Season 5 spoilers, I think we’d all be served better with some posts that are clearly labeled (in 30″ font if necessary) “Post for book readers and people wanting spoilers on Season 5. Don’t click if you don’t want to be spoiled”. Then, instead of trying to delicately work around not ruining things, that we can have a real actual grown up discussion about things we know and things we don’t know. The vast majority of people who read this site are hardcore fans who have read the books. They all want to talk to about things they know are in the books which may or may not be depicted on the show. Let’s take off the training wheels and have these discussions as opposed to forcing people to decide which of their comments they need to spoiler code and how they can sort of state something without giving something else away.

    I clicked on this post expecting it to be an analysis of what elements of the story and book adaptation we could speculate on in Season 5 and it’s really just more of a guideline of how the show’s going to adapt Books 4 and 5 together (something which has been clear for quite a while).

    Let’s hear storyline by storyline what is most likely to appear and what will be cut. We’re grownups.

    • King Tommen,

      Now that we have more people writing for the site and can actually get ahead of the discussion, I think you’ll see more of that. Heck, that was pretty much Ani’s first move–reporting the Hodor/Bran news, then speculating about what that might mean if true the next day.

      But yes, making even clearer specific distinction will probably be helpful, thanks.

  • Seems important to point out A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons are one big book that George had to repackage as two books, all the events in both are contemporaneous.

  • Yes, storylines have changes…sorta. Yes, they have Bran almost run in Jon again North of the wall. Brienne fighting the hound. Sansa telling the authority in the Eyrie who she is. But the plot has never changed. The writers may change scenes but the plot that the books provide is the same in the show. The show combines scenes and adds more visually stimulating scenes. For example. The hound gets wounded and we think he dies in the books. He gets wounded from a group of men not Brienne. But on TV it is much better to see two characters we know fight instead of one character we know fighting a bunch of characters we don’t know. Most readers upset about Stoneheart and Coldhands being removed from the show. Why? pointless to the overall plot. They can easily do book 4 and 5 in one season. Sansa’s chapters are damn near done, Brienne’s are damn near done. Already heard rumors about the different in Jamie’s storyline but it still plays into the story. Also, we know of the ommission from a few characters, that takes away about 1/4 of book 4. If they omit the main characters with the Iron Islands then basically half of book 4 is being ommitted also parts at the end of book 5.

  • I love both the books and the show as separate but complementary narratives…that said, I was also recently speculating about how the show will pretty much just have to throw out the “spoiler” concerns – there is almost no way that the show will NOT spoil future books relatively soon and further separate itself from the rest of the story-lines in the process. I find the almost complete lack of news/rumor regarding the Iron Born plot-line fairly disturbing and profoundly disappointing, both for its apparent absence from the upcoming season and for what it may indicate about the relative importance of that story-line/those characters in future books. In other words, certain inclusions or excisions of things in the show are making me wonder if they have anything to do with the end game in the books. I guess the important thing is to enjoy both for what they are, savor the way differences allow different perspectives on the story we love, and minimize our disappointment when we realize that the show cannot possibly give us everything we love from the books…nor should they, if it is a detraction or distraction from the main story they are trying to tell, and tell well.

  • harlow8150,

    Even if they can do 4 & 5 in one season would they want to? They’re already making TV faster than Martin can make novels. They’d rather not find out too soon what happens when they catch him.

  • So.. I’m reading all the books up until the epilogue of Book 3. Since the stories are all convoluted would it be easier to just get it over with and read them all and then prepare myself for the surprises that await on the books he hasn’t released? I wanted to remain unspoiled (for the most part, I’m a peeker here or there) and let the show take me on the ride first before the books.

    I’ve reached a point of no return haven’t I. Whats say you WIC fam? What does this oldbrownwook do now?

    • OldBrownWook,

      I’m not sure what the downside of just waiting for the show is here for you. As I said in the piece, discussions of things like “will Bran be in Season 5?” aren’t spoilers so much as indications of our continued confusion as well.

  • “Prior to the fourth season, every notable change was an expansion or a contraction.”

    I’m not exactly sure how you’re defining “expansion”, but I don’t agree that it applies to Dany’s S2 storyline. I mean, it was very, very different from the book, not just expanded some.