Game of Thrones S4: Adaptation Predictions


i repeat




the books.

Continuing from my previous post, in which I made guesses as to what would happen in S3, specifically as far as how the showrunners are going to adapt the books.  Since the two seasons split A Storm of Swords, making predictions for S3 automatically leads to predictions for S4.  So here I go.

Broad Predictions

The first thing that stands out about S4 is how much more compact it will be compared to S3.  S3 has nine plus major threads, but with the deaths of Robb and Catelyn, the joining up of Sam and Jon and, eventually, Stannis and Davos in one location, and the return of Jamie to King’s Landing along with Brienne, suddenly the story collapses a great deal.  (It will of course open up a tad after Sansa and Littlefinger escape the capital.)  Jon’s and Daenerys’ plots continue to be big, but now the King’s Landings story will take greater prominence and be in less of a holding pattern, with Joffrey’s wedding and all the fallout from that.  It will take some invention on the showrunners’ part to get Arya’s and Bran’s stories, in particular, to fill up the whole season, unless they start drawing forward from books 4 and 5.  The same goes for whatever they do with Stannis prior to his arrival at the Wall.

It is distinctly possible, given the greater amount of space, that they may decide to fill in some more of storylines that are either brought forward from S5 (perhaps the introduction of more of the Martells than just Oberyn a little early, and perhaps the start of the Iron Islands storyline with a focus on developing Asha as a major character) or completely invented on their part, filling in what was unseen in the novels.  That would include possibly giving some focus to poor Edmure locked up, to eventually give more weight to his later dealings with Jamie in S5-S6ish; possibly keeping Theon’s story going; possibly showing undead!Catelyn’s story so that she doesn’t just disappear until Brienne meets her later.  In fact, having said that, I’m willing to bet that undead!Catelyn’s story is likely to show up; that’ll keep us in touch with a major character who would otherwise disappear, keep the revelation of her resurrection at S3.E10 if not S4.E3, keeping it roughly chronological; and allow them to keep using Thoros, Anguy, and Gendry and let us enjoy the satisfaction of watching some Freys get revenged upon.  It would also blend well with keeping Edmure’s story going, with at least a couple appearances by him.  Maybe they’ll even make up an attempted rescue on Catelyn’s part.

Again, the key to making predictions is starting from the climax of E9.  It can’t be doubted that Tyrion’s escape and his murders of Shae and Tywin will be the climax of this season.  What’s more uncertain is whether the other three climactic events will occur in the same episode, or either before or after: namely, Littlefinger’s revelations at the murder of Lysa; Daenerys’ conquering of Meereen and deciding to stay there; and Jon’s election as Lord Commander.  I’m going to go with Littlefinger/Lysa occuring in E9, because that would make that episode a perfect capstone to the first four seasons, with major mysteries uncovered all in one wallop-packing hour.  I’ll put Daenerys conquering Meereen before that, and her deciding to stay in E10; and I’ll put Jon’s election in E10 as well, if for no other reason than it’s the happiest, most satisfying thing to happen after two brutal seasons, and will be a relieving touch of optimism to transition into the seasons beyond.

So, to delve into detail (though not as much as with S3, lacking the episode titles for guides):

Joffrey’s death and the shift of power, S4

The death of Joffrey will be THE defining moment for the show, in my opinion, not the Red Wedding.  The Red Wedding is terrible and powerful; but Joffrey’s death outstrips Eddard’s for shock value (especially since it’ll occur somewhere around S4.E4, and with no warning whatsoever), emotional value, and for just how much it upsets the balance of the show.  After three and a half seasons of beloved Starks losing and dying and being punished, and it looking like nothing good and satisfying can ever happen in the show’s universe, suddenly, the most reviled character will – rather unceremoniously, and yet gloriously – die.  AND – what is more – it won’t be a good guy who kills him.

These two deaths – Eddard’s and Joffrey’s – will have defined and redefined the show’s moral axis.  Eddard’s beheading showed us that, in this world, being good is no protection from death, and power is more important than love, morality, or even basic logic.  Joffrey’s death shows us that just because power is the chief force, that does not mean that bad, evil people are immune because they are more willing to toss their power around.  Good and evil are meaningless in this universe.  It’s a point the show has made, verbally, plenty of times, but as far as the viewers have been concerned, that will all have been mere philosophy until they see it proven in Joffrey’s lifeless eyes.  Eddard’s death meant that the good guys were not safe; the Red Wedding only reinforced that knowledge.  Joffrey’s will mean that truly no one is safe, and will force the viewers to realize that there are greater evils to worry about than one spoiled, cruel king.

The show will be able to ride the thrill of the aftermath, particularly given Tyrion’s trial, quite easily, but its ability to retain viewers after that will depend on how much they realize they care about the living characters and how much they hate or are afraid of the remaining (even more dangerous) villains and anti-villains: Roose and Ramsay, the Freys, Cersei, Littlefinger, the slavers, and the White Walkers.  (And Euron, if he’s been introduced yet.)

It will also depend on the dawning realizing on the audience’s part that – with the biggest villain gone – the remaining forces contending for power are more and more comprised of people who they all like but are still at deep odds: the living Starks, Tyrion, Daenerys, Stannis, Jon and the Night’s Watch, Asha and some of the Greyjoys, possibly the Martells if they’ve been introduced.  The show’s driving force in seasons 1-4 was a head-to-head clash: the goodguy Starks vs.the  badguy Lannisters, mainly identified bad because of Cersei and Joffrey, with Jamie and Tyrion forgiven their family allegiance.  Daenerys and Jon, during these four seasons, mostly did their thing in other, largely unrelated plots. From season 5 on, the driving force will be gravity: the suspenseful sense that these contending characters and their allies are all slowly drawing together in ways that will not leave everyone we like alive, and will force us to deal with the cognitive dissonance of supporting Stannis, Sansa/Arya/Bran, Daenerys and Tyrion all at once.   Luckily, this gravity is built into the plot of books 4-5, with especially Meereen, the Wall, and Winterfell implicitly drawing disparate forces together.

King’s Landing, S4

Thus, the central storyline of the season, no doubt, after being less important in S3, will be the one in King’s Landing, although it won’t be revealed until Joffrey’s death.  We’ll meet Oberyn and whatever other Martells they decide to introduce in the first episode or two, and get to watch Joffrey’s wedding being planned.  It will appear that his wedding is going to come off without a hitch, since it’s occurring so early in the season, since the audience assumes Joffrey is sadly invulnerable, and since it will appear that the main drama to happen at the wedding will be Sansa’s escape.  I can’t wait to see Twitter explode after the young king kicks it.

I place it at E4 mainly because there needs to be a couple episodes before it to introduce those Martells and Sansa’s plan, and there needs to be plenty of room afterwards for Tyrion to be accused (appx. S4.E5), him to be betrayed by Shae (S4.E6), his trial by combat (S4.E7) and then an episode of him looking doomed and brooding in the dungeon before he’s freed in S4.E9 and commits parricide.

I will not be surprised if Shae gets a significant amount of an episode somewhere in here for them to develop her and give her some new reason for betraying Tyrion; I just don’t believe, the way they’ve been portraying her in the show, that she’s the Machiavellian cipher she comes across as in the books.  They may cook up a perceived betrayal of her by Tyrion; or they may suggest that some legitimate need or desire for power on her part based on her past experiences.

We’ll probably see Cersei putting out a death warrant for Tyrion in S4.E10.

Sansa, S4

Sansa’s actual escape will probably come right at the beginning of S4.E5 – I just can’t see them ending Joffrey’s death episode with anything but his actual moment of death, and her flight is too dramatic to hold until the middle of the following episode.  So that means we find out Littlefinger killed Joffrey in S4.E5.  (Well, maybe they have her escape in a very brief final minute or two after Joffrey’s death in E4, with the button for the episode being Littlefinger’s murder admission.)

She’ll probably arrive in the Fingers around E7, and witness Littlefinger’s and Lysa’s wedding around E6 or E7.  That’ll leave enough time for them to go to the Eyrie, meet the singer or whatever new character they invent (since they pulled out Marillon’s tongue in S1) who will get blamed for Lysa’s death, and establish Lysa’s jealousy.  Then, in E9, there’ll be the lovely snow castle scene – maybe intercut with Tyrion’s escape – and the revelation of Jon Arryn’s death and the attempt on Bran’s life before Lysa’s murder.  E10 will set up next season with Littlefinger establishing that Sansa is on his side.

Jon/Stannis/Sam, S4

Jon’s story is again jam-packed, and difficult to parse out.  I guessed that the attack on the rear of Castle Black and Ygritte’s death would cap off S3, so S4 begins with preparations for the wildling siege.  They’ll arrive in, say, E2, and Jon will talk with Mance, and there will be a couple episodes of a long siege with however many mammoths and giants the show’s CG budget can afford.

Stannis’ arrival depends mostly on how much they can invent for him to do between him heading out at the end of S3ish and him arriving at the Wall, or how long they’re willing to leave him offscreen for a surprise arrival.  I’ll guess he saves the day around S4.E5, giving around half the season to the siege and half to the aftermath.

That’ll leave plenty of time for Stannis and the wildlings to deal with each other, and for Jon and Stannis and Melisandre and Davos to all interact (I guess they keep Davos with Stannis for a while, and send him off later to White Harbor).  The Lord Commander politicking can start around E8 or so, and then, as mentioned above, Sam can win the day in E10 for a touch of happiness after four brutal seasons.

Lastly, expect that Val and her baby will not be introduced until the siege is over.

Arya and the Hound, S4

This is one storyline where the writers have to stretch things out, because Arya and the Hound don’t do all that much between the Red Wedding and the end of book 3.  My guess is that they add in an attempt at revenge on Arya’s part, and a visit to the Vale to be turned away.  They might even encounter Beric’s crew again, or maybe just Hot Pie or something.  But by and large, after two busy seasons, this season may be Arya’s turn (like Jamie in S2) to be sidelined a lot.

Around S4.E6, I guess, will be whatever equivalent of the tavern fight they come up with.  Since the Tickler is already dead, and so is Amory Lorch, that means Polliver is the only one left (I think?) of Arya’s in-show list of people she wants to kill who could possibly be killed.  Perhaps they’ll go with that, or perhaps they’ll invent a new character, or perhaps they’ll have her kill a Frey or something.  One way or another, we’ll end up with Arya stuck with the wounded Hound for an episode or two, and then an episode or two or Arya lost and alone, and deciding to go to Braavos at season’s end.

Catelyn, S4

I like the idea of Catelyn getting resurrected at the end of S3 and her having a storyline in S4.  This would be all made up, of course, and would probably be a background presence, but it would probably involve the murder of one or two Freys that we met at the Red Wedding, some interaction, perhaps, with Edmure or the Blackfish, and maybe a near-encounter with Arya somewhere.  They might have to invent a conflict amongst the Brotherhood of whether to follow Catelyn or not, which could end with the death of Anguy, perhaps.  I give a storyline for her a maybe 50% likelihood of happening.

Daenerys, S4

I unfortunately have no idea how they’ll handle her story in S4.  It’s all based on whether they cut Yunkai or not, on how much they decide to bring forward (and stretch out) her book 5 story, and so forth.  If they put her in Meereen early, that means the rest of the season would have a lot to do with her settling in and us getting to know the politics in Slaver’s Bay and so forth; but my money is on her conquering Meereen near the end of the season, throwing out Jorah, and deciding to stay in E10 or so, perhaps with hints that her reign there will not be so easy.

Bran, S4

Like Arya, Bran’s story has a lot of stretching to do.  I don’t see them being able to do anything except bring his story forward, possibly with this season completely being absorbed with his travels beyond the Wall.  They may save Osha and Rickon’s departure for this late point, to give him some drama.  My best guess is that he arrives at the cave of the Children of the Forest at season’s end, and that he and his crew only appear in maybe half the episodes in total.

Episode-by-episode major events

S4.E1 – 

S4.E2 – Arrival of wildling force at the Wall, siege begins;

S4.E3 – Arya and the Hound turned back at the Vale;

S4.E4 – Joffrey’s wedding and death; Sansa’s escape;

S4.E5 – Stannis routs the wildlings at the Wall;

S4.E6 – Shae’s betrayal at Tyrion’s trial; Arya and the Hound fight in the tavern; Littlefinger marries Lysa;

S4.E7 – Tyrion’s trial by combat; Daenerys finds out about Jorah;

S4.E8 – Daenerys conquers Meereen;

S4.E9 – Littlefinger murders Lysa and reveals secrets; Tyrion’s escape, murders of Shae and Tywin;

S4.E10 – Jon elected Lord Commander; Bran enters the Children of the Forests’ cave; Arya departs for Braavos; Daenerys decides to stay in Meereen;


Concerning S5 and S6 – which meld A Feast for Crows and A Dance of Dragons – the best we can do is try to predict the respective Episode 9 climaxes, the rough split point between the seasons, and the general shape of which storylines get included, expanded, etc, where and how.

I don’t envy the showrunners their challenge in adapting these two books into those two seasons… mainly because I think the quality of these two books dips a great deal after the highs of A Storm of Swords.  They essentially have to convince their audience to stick around for the introduction of new major plots and lots more characters who are more central than previous new characters (Quentyn, Arianne, Victarion, Jon Connington), while existing plots slow down and breathe a little more.

To begin making some guesses and examining the challenges of the story adaptation in seasons 5 and on, let’s look at and rank all the plots for as they occur in books 4 and 5, shall we?

1) THEON – Reeking, and then redeeming himself – the best story in these novels: surprising, well-written, complex, dark and somehow gruesomely fun
2) ARYA – becoming even more badass – plenty awesome
3) CERSEI – scheming, failing, and getting punished – a delightful insight into a regal collapse, and a complete arc
4) IRON ISLANDS- Asha, Aeron, and Victarion vs Euron for the Iron Throne – an unexpectedly interesting new thread, touching on at least one character (Asha) who we know and care about
5) STANNIS/ASHA – capturing/getting captured – both of them continuing to be interesting, weaving into other storylines
6) SAMWELL – getting lost in Braavos with Aemon and Gilly, learning stuff – a little slow, but full of weight
7) TYRION – saved by Illyrio, meeting Connington and “Aegon,” and ending up enslaved with Penny and Jorah – half boring wandering and pointless fake-outs, half Tyion greatness
8) VICTARION – sailing for Meereen – a strangely ominous anti-hero’s journey, but kind of off-putting in his misogyny and cruelty, with no real surprises
9) BRAN – trudging through snow, turning into a tree – lots of mythology, lots of walking
10) DAVOS – getting his death faked by Wyman Manderly, heading off to find Bran and Osha – too brief to be easily adaptable, with one wholly unnecessary stop on the Sisters, but otherwise intruiging
11) DAENERYS/BARRISTAN – dealing with assassins, a siege, suitors, and untamed dragons – repetitive and obsessed with administrative trivia, but, after a lot of deliberation, momentous
12) JON/MELISANDRE – integrating wildlings, crossing lines, and getting stabbed – even more repetitive and obsessed with administrative trivia, but, after a lot of deliberation, momentous
13) ARIANNE- getting Areo killed, then learning about Doran’s plans – an interesting enough character in a new part of the world, but way too passive, predictable and stereotyped; her escape plan with Myrcella is very shaggy-dog
14) SANSA – watching Littlefinger scheme – too little of her, too much politics with random new folks, not a lot of anything happening
15) CONNINGTON – landing on Westeros – a too-late complication to the story, and not an engaging enough character; however, there’s a lot they could do with it in adaptation
16) JAIME – ignoring his sister until something maybe happens to him – walking around doing stuff we don’t care about, but he’s still Jaime, at least
17) BRIENNE – putting the shag on the dog – a whole lot of wandering for nothing worthwhile except Quiet Isle and the eventual conclusion with Catelyn
18) QUENTYN – making that shag extra shaggy – a whole lot of wandering for nothing worthwhile, and not even with a likable character

The biggest problem: of the four most-loved and awesomest characters, only Arya’s story is consistently engaging.  Even Tyrion’s narration can’t save his endless travels from being tedious, and Jon and Daenerys get bogged down in administrative trivia and circular brooding.

Certainly, since there’s no way The Winds of Winter won’t have come out by spring 2016 (when S7 starts being written) – NO WAY, RIGHT GEORGE? – so we’ll get the battles at Winterfell and Meereen in book form in time for them to be moved up into S6, and one or the other of them can be the Episode 9 of S6.  (Or both?!)  Between those two possible clashes and Jon’s stabbing, that’s a whole lot to potentially happen at the end of S6.

They can even move up Tyrion and Victarion meeting Daenerys into S6, but that won’t solve the problem that S5 consists almost entirely of characters heading towards Daenerys but not getting there.  It won’t be very satisfying to spend all of S5 simply finding outat season’s end, that Quentyn and Victarion are headed Meereen way.

Thus, as for the Episode 9 of S5… sheesh.  What is dramatic enough at that point in the story to occur then?  Euron’s crowning at the Kingsmoot isn’t big enough or central enough.  Cersei’s fall and imprisonment is too small and probably happens later.  Tyrion’s capture by slavers – same thing, not a big enough event, and should probably happen later.  Stannis’ capture of Deepwood Motte – again, too small and not central enough.  Ramsay’s wedding to “Arya” isn’t big enough.  The failure of Arianne’s escape isn’t big enough.  Maybe they could make a convincing case of Connington landing on Westeros being a major enough event, but that’s a stretch.   Maybe Daenerys’ wedding, or maybe her exit from Meereen on her dragon.

Maybe – MAYBE – they’ll delay Littlefinger’s murder of Lysa, and all that is revealed then, for a whole season, and make that S5.E9.  Maybe.  MAYBE.  It would be pretty smart, but tricky to do.

It’s a possibility that they could make Season 5 into the Moody Season.  After all the emotional storms of seasons 3 and 4, it might not be bad to let things breathe a little in season 5.  Delve into the major characters a little more, let us watch Tyrion and Sansa and Jon and Daenerys all a little bit stagnant and deeply uncertain of their positions, weary and ready for some sort of peace, while at the same time new and even more dangerous players are gathering around the margins, threatening the tenuous balance: Euron/Victarion, the Boltons, the wildlings trapped in Hardhome, Connington/Varys/Illyrio, Littlefinger, the Martells.  Season 5’s theme is “power gathering in a vacuum.”

The thing is… honestly, they should COMBINE books 4 and 5 into ONE season.  So much happened in book 3, that it deserved two seasons; so little in books 4 and 5, that they only deserve one.  (With the battles of Winterfell and Meereen delayed until book 6, it’s clear that book 4, 5 and the first part of 6 is really one book stretched way, way out.)  There’s no big murder, or battle, or revelation, or anything right in the middle of any of those characters’ storylines.  If they could find a way to cut annoying, meandering Quentyn from the plot, they could mash those two books into one very dramatic season.  Won’t happen, but it’s worth dreaming about.

(Sidenote: we do realize that, yes, Winter has three years for George to complete it; but Spring only has one year after that before the show overtakes the books?  Unless Winter gets split into two seasons, although that still only gives George one more year to finish the series off.  In other words, unless George completes the series by early 2017, the show will overtake the novels.)

Awkward Conclusion

That’s all I’ve got to say, really, and all the predictions and ponderings I’ve got.  So… thanks for reading.

One comment

  1. Heisenberg · · Reply

    Thanks for the article, I completely agree that season 5 will be the hardest season for the showrunners to adapt. I’d recommend only giving 1 season to AFfC and ADwD – given that not much happens in both books, or at least not nearly as much as in the previous 3 books – assuming that by 2015 TWoW has already been released (filming begins a couple of months after the end of each season). I’d also say that it’s probably easier for the showrunners to picture what happens in TWoW and ADoS, since they already know a bit of what happens in those books. I’d say:

    AFfC/ADwD: Season 5 or first half of season 6

    TWoW: Depending on the length of the book (I believe it’s even longer than ASoS) and the events that happen in it, Seasons 6 and 7 or second half of season 6, season 7 and maybe a bit of season 8

    Again, thanks for the article.

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