*This post is dark and full of spoilers.*
Winter came and went with the series finale of Game of Thrones. I tuned in, along with over 19 million others, and felt a pretty full range of emotions. Among them pride that what started as a cult classic high fantasy series I first read in 2006 had basically taken over the world. And also a strange mix of sadness (oh, how I will miss the memes) and uncertainty. It’s all over. Unless George R.R. Martin comes through and finishes what he started.
If you watched the about the episode specials, you heard the directors (David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) speak at length about the creative liberty they were able to take with the story. In a surprising move, GRRM gave them an ending, and possibly the outcome of some major plot points, and the show moved beyond the books at the end of season five. Which begs the question, if we ever get the final two books of the series (and I stubbornly hold out hope that we will), how wildly different will they be?
The show vindicated an innumerable number of Thronies when it confirmed what was probably the most popular fan theory: R + L = J, or Jon Snow is the legitimate child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. We also learned the identity of the mysterious Coldhands. Who else but Benjen Stark, brother of the Night’s Watch lost beyond the Wall and presumed dead. Arya really did become a Faceless Man. The depth of Littlefinger’s deceit was exposed. Daenerys lived up to the Targaryen legacy of fire and blood. The list of fan hunches proven correct by the show goes on and on.
But so does the list of questions that only GRRM can answer now. (This is not a comprehensive list, but I had to keep this under 237589475 words.)
Lady Stoneheart - The resurrection of Catelyn Stark never occurs in the show. Arya never wargs into Nymeria to find her body in the Trident, the Brotherhood Without Banners never come across her, Beric Dondarrion never gives her the kiss of life, and she never sets out on an epic, savage quest for vengeance on every Frey and Lannister she can find. Honestly, it was a huge disappointment. I vividly remember my anticipation of her big reveal that was sure to happen in episode 10 of season three. When it didn’t come, I felt robbed.
Catelyn Stark was not a likable character. You had empathy for her and all she suffered, but her treatment of Jon was inexcusable, and her point of view chapters were kind of boring, to be frank. Her death and resurrection made her infinitely more interesting. I looked forward to the strange, sort of backwards redemption arch, where she goes from “honorable” Lady of Winterfell (but not as morally superior as she imagines she is) to a terrifying, undead shade of her formal self.
The Children of the Forest - Okay, so this one has the potential to be explained at least in part in one or more of the spin offs that HBO is currently working on. (Three are confirmed to be moving ahead in the production process, you can read more about that here.) We may yet watch the history of the Children unfold on screen, of which we already know a little. They are an ancient, nonhuman, magical race who fought wars against the First Men. They also created the Night King, who mutinied, and then the Children helped destroy him and the White Walkers in the Battle for the Dawn. Afterwards, greatly reduced in numbers, they helped Bran the Builder (founder of House Stark) to build the Wall.
It has always seemed to me that a lot of the magic of the Children is lost in the show. The history is still pretty mysterious, their purpose and full arsenal of abilities are not clear. And in season six, the Children seem to be rendered extinct when Bran brings the Night King down on their hideout. Bran escapes, but the handful of remaining Children are presumed dead. Is that it then? Surely we didn't witness the extermination of a centuries old civilization, the OGs of Westeros. Are there other Children strongholds in the north?
The Martells and the Third Head of the Dragon - In the show, the Martells seem to meet their end at the hands of Euron Greyjoy and Cersei Lannister. Added to a long list of characters who seemed central to the story at one point or another and then were brutally cut out, to all but be completely forgotten by the end of season eight. However, in A Dance With Dragons, the fifth and latest book in the series, Quentyn Martell, son of Prince Doran Martell, takes off on a careening quest across the Narrow Sea to meet up with Daenerys, woo her, marry her and tie House Targaryen to Dorne. He fails spectacularly at this and gets roasted by Viserion for his efforts. When I finished ADWD I felt so confused. His story line seemed to be a complete waste of time.
But then GRRM began releasing excerpts from The Winds of Winter, the sixth and next book in the series, and one of the point of view chapters is Arianne Martell. Prince Doran receives a letter from Jon Connington, telling him that Aegon Targaryen (son of Rhaegar and Elia Martell) survived the attempted assassination in Robert’s Rebellion. Arianne takes off with an entourage of Dornish nobility to discover the truth. Is there ANOTHER living heir to the Iron Throne? None of this discounts that Quentyn and his chapters were "as useless as nipples on a breastplate", but at least from the books we know that the Martells are still players in the game.
This is all in line with another prophecy left out of the show. In A Clash of Kings, Daenerys visits the House of Undying in Qarth and has a bunch of super weird visions. None more cryptic than the one in which her dead big brother Rhaegar tells her, "The dragon has three heads." Fans have by and large taken this to mean that the dragons will have three riders, and that there are three Targaryen heirs. Daenerys, Jon Snow (secret son of Rhaegar), and possibly Aegon? Or is Aegon an imposter and there is another secret Targ that is yet to be exposed?
The Valonqar - One of the most compelling details emitted from the show, in my humble opinion, was in Cersei's season five flashback to her encounter with the seer in which she was told that she would be queen and all of her children would die. In the books, the seer also tells her, "When your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you." Valonqar is the High Valyrian word for "little brother". This goes a long way in explaining Cersei's treatment of Tyrion for their entire lives. She steadfastly believed that he would eventually kill her. Jaime is also technically younger than her by a few minutes, so I and many others have suspected that in a very GRRM-esque twist, he is the valonqar of the prophecy and not Tyrion. Hearing that crucial bit left out was the turning point for me, when I began to understand that the show had taken on a life of its own.
After the success of season one of Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin rocketed to a level of stardom only a few authors have achieved. The more popular the show became, the more pressure there was for the continuation of the book series. Fans rejoiced when A Dance With Dragons was published after a lengthy wait in 2011. EIGHT years ago. Now that almost a decade has gone by with no Winds of Winter, fans have seemingly gone through the stages of grief and are nearing acceptance that he will not finish.
Not I. I truly believe that GRRM is a genius. He created something that captured the imagination of the entire world, a story that will be read, watched, and discussed for generations to come. It is unfathomable to me that he has lost the motivation or the ability to finish it his way. And I know that when he does, it will be totally original, with many twists, turns, and unexpected variances from the tale that Benioff and Weiss told. A more artful and complete explanation of the magic at work in Westeros, and the motivations of the crazily complex characters we fell in love with. The show is not canon, it never was. And this story is not yet at its end.
If you made it this far, you likely have some strong thoughts, feelings, and lingering questions too. Leave a comment and let's talk about it. Also, check out this list by Readers' Services and this list by Booksquad member Katie of Game of Thrones readalikes to give you your fantasy fix.
-Leah Newton is a Readers' Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.