Quick Answer: Since Game of Thrones first began, fans have wondered what would happen if the show ever raced ahead of the books. Now that it has, people are speculating which plots are going to differ from the books. Additionally, many fans of George R.R. Martin's series are left feeling conflicted. They want to watch the show, but they don't want anything from the forthcoming book The Winds of Winter to be spoiled. But the question remains: what exactly is the show spoiling? And if the show does divert from the books, is that necessarily a bad thing? As we have seen, the showrunners have made many changes to their source material in the past, often with positive results. 

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Since the show began in 2011, fans of Game of Thrones (2011 - ) have wondered if the events unfolding on TV would ever surpass or differ from the books. If they do, what will that mean for the future of the franchise?

Now halfway through Season 6, the show is quite a bit further ahead of the books, and many fans of George R.R. Martin's series are left feeling conflicted. They want to watch the show, but they don't want anything from the forthcoming book The Winds of Winter to be spoiled. But the question remains: what exactly is the show spoiling? And if the show does divert from the books, is that necessarily a bad thing?


Ellaria Sand Kills Prince Doran

A few weeks ago, George R.R. Martin released an excerpt of The Winds of Winter, specifically a section that referenced the Dorne plot. A lot of people speculated that this was a shot at the show, as the show's writers have greatly altered the Dorne storyline. For one, Myrcella isn't dead in the books. In the show, however, Ellaria Sand poisons Myrcella, and with the help of the Sand Snakes she kills Prince Doran and Trystane.

That said, it is unlikely that Martin's release of the excerpt had petty or malicious intentions. For one, Martin has been involved in the show quite extensively; up until last season he had written episodes himself. He even went so far as to sit down with showrunners David Benioff and D.B Weiss and discussed what it would mean if the show ever surpassed the books. So to our knowledge, they had planned ahead.

Also, as far as the Dorne plot goes, it is not the first storyline to differ from the books. Indeed, there have been countless examples of this in the past.

Sansa's character arc has been changed significantly for television. In the books, Sansa is still in the Vale, and it is her childhood friend, Jeyne, who is married to Ramsay and escapes with Theon. There are also countless characters whose mere existence has been compromised. In the books, Stannis is still alive, as well as Ser Barristan, Jojen Reed, and many others. Catelyn Stark was resurrected, returning as Lady Stoneheart, and Jaime is off with Brienne, far away from Cersei and King's Landing. These are only some examples of differences between the show and the books, and some certainly work better than others. But the truth is, as fantastically written as the books are, some of the plots simply wouldn't translate well on screen. Sansa's plotline is a perfect example of this. Had Jeyne Poole married Ramsay and escaped with Theon on the show, we wouldn't have been as emotionally invested in her character, who rarely made an appearance in the first four seasons. Conversely, we've known Sansa Stark since Season 1. This was a positive alteration on the part of the showrunners. 


Theon Attempts to Hide Sansa in Season 6

As the show has deviated from the books on many ocassions, fans now share a common question: which stories, deaths and power plays will be in The Winds of Winter? Based on what we've seen so far in Season 6, there are some plot points we can rule out. For one, the chances of Brienne finding Sansa are significantly decreased. In A Dance With Dragons, both of their plotlines are different than in the show: Brienne has been captured by a villain named Lady Stoneheart (aka Catelyn Stark resurrected), who accuses her of betraying Catelyn's daughters. Stoneheart gives Brienne the choice to hang or kill her friend, Jaime Lannister. Brienne chooses hanging, but as the rope tigthens around her neck, she chokes out a word. Later, in a chapter from Jaime's perspective, we see that Brienne is free, but we don't know yet whether she escaped or made a deal. Jaime and Brienne are off to a destination unknown, although many presume she is taking him to Lady Stoneheart.

As for Sansa, she is still in the Vale, a motherly figure to her late Aunt's son. Due to these logistics, the chances of Sansa and Brienne meeting, at least in the coming book, look small. It is also unlikely that Martin will have Jaime return to King's Landing to fight the High Sparrow, as he does in Season 6. Off with Brienne, Jaime appears to be walking directly into danger, and if not, last time we met with him he had no interest in returning to Cersei. While in the show he is still hopelessly devoted to his sister/lover, in the books he seems to have had his fill of her drama and demands. He didn't even respond to Cersei's plea to come and help her. This also means that Martin's depiction of Cersei could be in even more danger than she is in the show.

There are also some characters, such as Tyrion, who will have entirely different plotlines than they have on TV. In the show, Tyrion is in Meereen, stepping in while Daenerys is away, ruling with Varys by his side. In the books, he never makes it (or at least not yet) inside Meereen. He is captured along with Ser Jorah and a dwarf woman who performed at Joffrey's wedding, Penny. They are sold into slavery, and Tyrion pretends they are an entertainment act in order to stay together. He later sneaks into the camp of the Second Sons, pledging his sword to become closer to Daenerys. In the show he's already in Daenerys' good graces, whereas in the books he has yet to even meet her. So, in The Winds of Winter, we can expect Tyrion's journey to the Mother of Dragons to take a little longer. If all goes well, Tyrion will use his talent for talking to convince the company to fight for Daenerys rather than against her, winning her trust and getting himself safely into Meereen. Meanwhile, Varys is back in King's Landing, backing not Daenerys but Prince Aegon, son of Rhaegar Targaryen! That's right, in the books we have two young Targaryens in play, although Daenerys does not know that Aegon is alive. This could easily come forward in the next book, causing quite some drama. If they don't stand together, the war to come will be the biggest yet. Daenerys has her dragons, though, so I think it's safe to say she has the upperhand. 

The book's treatment of Jon Snow will surely be interesting and keep fans on their toes. It's certain that, whether we're discussing the books or the show, Jon Snow is simply too important to remain dead. His resurrection is vital in order for the plot to progress. It's also important to consider the characters who, though they aren't on the show, remain important vehicles for change and action in Martin's books. Victarion Greyjoy, a character absent in the show, was sailing for Daenerys last time we saw him, and it seems that's what Theon and Yara could be doing now. Given this information, it's possible that the show could be swapping character arcs, as they have done with Sansa. And then of course, there's Ramsay. Will he kill his father? Will he capture Rickon Stark? Will Jon go to war with Ramsay? 

There are so many questions and countless possible answers. The truth is that while many fans get upset that the show is different than the books, the franchise is in good hands, and the showrunners often make changes for the better. This is not the first season to go a little off course, nor will it be the last. But whatever comes, be it similar or very different to the show, we can all agree that in The Winds of Winter and Season 6 alike, no one is safe.

 

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