4. The Hound vs. Brienne
Ok, let’s have this said: Tyrion’s trial by combat between The Mountain and Oberyn Martel was freaking awesome. But The Hound versus Brienne of Tarth might have been even better. We got to see what happened when two of the greatest fighters in the realm ran headlong into each other in a battle to the death.
Plus, it got Arya and Brienne to meet, and Arya’s refusal of Brienne’s help is a huge moment for both characters that didn’t happen in the books. Also we already had one major character die of an infection (Khal Drogo), so seeing the Hound get to go out with a bang was pretty cool. Assuming he’s really dead…
3. Jaqen H’ghar Training Arya
Becoming a Faceless Assassin is already interesting, but when Jaqen personally trains Arya, the whole experience feels more vibrant. Which is a weird thing for a place called “the House of Black and White”…but I digress.
Jaqen is the man who told Arya she could offer up her list of names to the Many Faced God and kill them if she came to Braavos. Then once she gets there she learns she has to give up who she is and become No One. That’s a huge about face for Arya, and all the more impactful because Jaqen (or someone who looks like him) is the one encouraging her to do it.
And if Arya does leave the House of Black and White, it will make that parting so much more meaningful.
2. Tyrion’s Journey Streamlined
Tyrion’s journey to Meereen took forever in the books. In fact, he isn’t there yet. The show made it quicker, cut the side plots that slowed it down, and got Tyrion to Dany. Their conversations together were great and showed us what a great team they could be. Tyrion’s always at his most interesting when he’s in the thick of the action. A journey to Meereen isn’t in the thick of it; helping the dragon queen rule a city in open rebellion is, and here’s hoping he’ll be the one ruling Meereen and keeping the Sons of the Harpy at bay while Dany is off playing with the Dothraki.
The episode where Jon goes to Hardhome to try to make peace with the Wildlings is one of the best in the entire series, and the second half of the episode is completely off books. We finally get to see the horrifying power of the White Walkers in action. We don’t cut away. We watch them destroy Hardhome and then raise a new army from the fallen defenders. If this is a preview of things that the show can do when it goes off books, bring it on. Surprise us, amaze us, scare us.
The Creators Listen to the Fans
The most controversial part of last season was Sansa’s rape scene. The creators listened to fans and have said there will be less rape in Season 6 (although this leaked page included a pretty rapey scene). They want to know where they are going wrong, what they need to change. So even if they started down a wrong path while they were off books, the fans would let them know and they could course correct.
The creators also look at fan theories and incorporate them into the show. We could see Clegane Bowl on the show just because it would be an incredibly energizing moment, even if it never makes it into the books. Interesting ideas that deepen the story (or are really cool) can be incorporated into the show more than ever since the showrunners don’t have to rigidly adhere to the books.
What it all comes down to is this: the show creators are always trying to keep the show as streamlined and dynamic as the first three books were, and that’s a good thing. We don’t want to lose the forest for the trees. Or lose our heads like Ned Stark.
The Winds of Winter won’t be out before Season 6 airs. But not having another book that the creators feel they have to stick to as closely as possible can only help the TV show. The showrunners have more creative freedom now, they’ve proved they can do great things with the allowances they’ve been given in the past, and they can keep us looking at the big picture.
But if you really need a Winds fix, you can get links to read all the sample chapters here.
When Game of Thrones returns in mid April, we won’t have a new book to go with it, but we’ll have a good time all the same.