The 'Game of Thrones' TV Book Club: White Walkers? Craster's Keep? Hodor??? Talk the big changes on this week's episode!

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Image Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

Welcome back to the Game of Thrones TV Book Club, a discussion space for Thrones viewers who have also read the five books (so far) of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. And this week, Darren Franich and Hillary Busis have quite a bit of material to cover, since “Oathkeeper” featured a whole assortment of TV inventions that ran the gamut from “extrapolation” to “outright invention.” Join us on our journey into the ever-widening gulf between the Book-Westeros and TV-Westeros! (You know there’ll be spoilers for the books and the show, right?)

HILLARY: Darren. DARREN. I don’t even know where to begin.

In the whole of last night’s episode, I counted two (2) scenes with clear book analogs: the continuation of Sansa’s creepy conversation with Littlefinger, and Jaime sending Brienne on a quest to find the Stark girl (with Podrick Payne and a sweet Valyrian steel sword in tow). Nearly everything else fell into one of two categories: Scenes that could have happened in the world of ASOIAF, like the conquering of Mereen (which is described in Storm of Swords but not shown) or Margaery’s quasi-seduction of Tommen (which would be weirder if Show Tommen were 8 years old, like Book Tommen, but is still something I could see GRRM writing), and scenes that directly contradict or alter GRRM’s narrative. And by that, I’m mostly talking about everything we saw North of the Wall: The gross debauchery at Craster’s Keep, Bran’s capture, Jon Snow’s mission to stop the mutineers, Jack Frost bringing that baby to Elsa’s ice palace and giving it unnatural blue eyes. On one hand: Hooray, Bran finally got something interesting to do! On the other: Change is bad and I hate it inherently. How should I feel?!

DARREN: You should feel at least ten feelings at once! I certainly did. When Bronn continued his only-on-television tutelage of Jaime, knocking out the Kingslayer with his own gold hand, I thought, “Say, this is really smart but unobtrusive way to keep Bronn in the mix.” When they gave Dude From Turn a full-on Villain introduction, soliloquizing about Gin Alley while sipping wine out of Jeor Mormont’s skull, I thought, “Wow, this character is AWESOME. Good on you, Benioff and Weiss! I kinda suspect you just brought us back to Craster’s Keep because you didn’t want to waste a really huge set, but I’m interested.”

But when that one White Walker went to the set of Conan the Destroyer and bestowed the baby on Superman’s Fortress of Solitude altar, and then the White Walkers who kind of look like a royal branch of White Walkers appeared, and then they turned the baby into another White Walker, my brain exploded. Is this what the Unsullied viewers felt like after the Red Wedding, Hillary? And are there any changes that struck you as particularly bad (a la Jaime/Cersei) or particularly interesting?

HILLARY: Like I said, I’m most on board with the new Bran stuff. The mystical kid’s journey north to meet the Three-Eyed Crow is one of the series’ snoozier threads — and it hardly gets better once he finally reaches his destination. (All that business about “children of the forest” and greenseeing and how we’re all connected by the trees, man is a little too Enya for my taste.) Plus, at this point, Thrones has basically run out of Bran stuff unless it wants to start plundering A Dance with Dragons — and while Theon’s story has been greatly accelerated, I can understand wanting to hit the brakes while there’s still time.

That said, I’m not really feeling your boy Karl (a.k.a. Dude from Turn). After last week’s twincest, having to watch yet another rape scene — a group rape scene, no less! — made me feel as though Thrones was indulging in depravity for its own sake. (Which the show definitely does all the time; still, I could have gone a little longer without more sexual violence.) Only one thing could lift my mood: the long-awaited introduction of a vital fan favorite character.

I’m speaking, of course, about brave Ser Pounce, who clearly deserves his own spinoff. Were you as charmed by Tommen’s kitty as I was — and generally speaking, how did you like the episode’s Tyrell stuff? Personally, I found Olenna confessing to Joffrey’s murder a bit on the nose, but I suppose I could be swayed.

DARREN: Diana Rigg is having a grand time as Grandma Tyrell, but last night was the first time they edged Olenna into self-parody — she even made a meta-textual comment about her endless walks through the Betrayal Garden. At this point, I’m much more interested in Margaery. She always struck me as a minor part of the books — never a viewpoint character, always behind that Kennedy-perfect Tyrell facade. By comparison, I’ve always liked how Natalie Dormer lets us see the work that goes into that facade: When she emotionally seduces one husband-king after another, we can always see the calculation. Honestly, I’m sort of hoping that Olenna takes a back seat in favor of more Margaery-Cersei tension, since they’re such weirdly perfect nemeses.

But I want to go back up North for a second, Hillary — far up North, beyond the burgeoning faux-friendship between Jon and Locke (not in the book), beyond the shameful abuse of poor Hodor (not in the book), so far North that we might be right on the border of the Land of Always Winter. What did you make of that White Walker epilogue? As our own Thrones guru James Hibberd pointed out in his recap, is this a big step towards moving Game of Thrones into the realm of out-and-out Tolkien fantasy?

HILLARY: Oh, Darren, I journeyed south specifically because I feel so conflicted about the episode’s trip to Bob Costas’s Sochi citadel. (We’re still making Sochi jokes, right?)

I feel as though I have to preface this paragraph by noting that I have seen every single episode of Once Upon a Time. And, as such, I know from crappy, low-budget CGI. The effects on Thrones are miles — acres — leagues ahead of those on ABC’s silly fairy tale funhouse, and Dany’s dragons especially manage to achieve a level of realism unprecedented for televised fantasy. Yet every time I see a White Walker’s gnarly ice beard or skeletal frame, I can’t help thinking that it looks like it should be gracing the cover of one of K.A. Applegate’s EverWorld books (this one, specifically). No matter how ominous the soundtrack gets or how creepy their dead horses look, there is a certain level of goofiness intrinsic to any White Walker who isn’t solely the product of a reader’s imagination. And because of that, scenes in which they figure heavily have a tendency to take me out of the show. Veiled threats are infinitely spookier than ones carrying undead babies in broad daylight; think of how creepy it was when Book Craster’s wives urged Sam to leave the Keep with Gilly, because “they” were coming to get her child. (Who? “The boy’s brothers.” Chills.)

And putting aside the visual issue, I agree with something else James wrote in his recap: Thrones is interesting primarily because it’s about shades of grey. Do we really want to focus on the ultra-wicked White Walkers, thereby rushing the show’s inevitable conclusive battle of Good vs. Evil, Light vs. Dark, Dragons vs. Snow Demons, Fire vs. Ice?

DARREN: Considering how popular Game of Thrones is now, it’s interesting how rarely people talk about the show’s endgame. That’s a radical shift from most sci-fi/fantasy shows of the last decade, where half the conversation inevitably circled back to Where It’s All Going. I suspect it’s because the “end” of Game of Thrones is wrapped up in all kinds of uncertainty: when the final two books will come out, if the show will follow the books’ trajectory. But there’s also the simple fact that, wherever you are in the story — four seasons in or five books in — it’s hard to conceive of any one Ending. How do you tie together the North and Meereen and Zombie Catelyn and whatever the hell is happening at the Citadel into a bow? On one hand, what you’re saying is giving me the wrong kind of flashbacks to Lost and Battlestar Galactica — brilliant shows which, at their midpoint, were telling lots of different complicated stories, and which ultimately dead-ended into Good Vs. Evil.

On the other hand: Holy wow, we just learned a lot more about the White Walkers/the Others/whatever you wanna call them! They have a leader, who looks much more regal than the Others we’ve seen marching through the snowy wastes. They kidnap children and apparently turn them into other Walkers. (Shades of Labyrinth!) In Book Time, we’re coming up to a long sequence of stories that focus heavy on statecraft and internal politics: Maybe the showrunners are going to purposefully mix that together with some goofy-but-still-kinda-scary dark fantasy? And is it weird that I’d rather hang out in the Ice Palace of Death than in the Dragon Lady Pyramid?

HILLARY: I can see your point, especially knowing that Dany’s now settling into Meereen for a good, long while — at least, assuming Benioff and Weiss follow her book trajectory. Seriously, I’m curious: Does anybody like Dany’s Meereen sojourn? The prospect of facing it without even the comic relief of Strong Belwas makes me want to down a box of poisoned locusts.

DARREN: We can all agree: If the TV show kills Hodor, there will be hell to pay.

HILLARY: P.S. I can’t believe that Thrones offed Irri before her sapphic dalliance with Dany in Storm of Swords. Think this means a gratuitous tryst between the Mother of Dragons and Missandei is in our future?

DARREN: P.P.S. SA-PPHIC! SA-PPHIC! SA-PPHIC! WOOOOOO! I mean, like, because it’ll be good for the story.

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