GAME OF THRONES Recap: The House of Condense and Combine

Let’s talk books. Because last week I was too excited about the series return to care about how things were “supposed” to be — books, schmooks! — but this week I have a severe case of that’s-not-in-the-book-itis. With one exception.

This week’s major theme seemed to be “condense and combine.” We start with Arya, who has reached Braavos, with its famed Titan guarding the city. She tries to gain admittance to the House of Black and White, but the “kindly man” of the books is not quite so kindly on HBO, giving her the boot and forcing her to live on the streets for an undetermined period of time. Sucks for Arya, but good news for us, because we get to see a glimpse of that legendary Arya badassery when she is accosted by a bunch of assholes on the street. Before she can give them the thrashing they so richly deserve, the man reappears and scares them away with a look, finally deigning to allow her into the House after literally removing his face and revealing the face of…Jaqen H’ghar. I’ll give them this one, since I don’t recall it ever being confirmed in the books that the “kindly man” wasn’t the same person Arya knew as Jaqen, although I’m sure that thus far the books have not confirmed if he was.

A storyline that is definitely not in the books in any fashion is Pod and Brienne casually running into Littlefinger and Sansa in an inn. I guess that’s certainly more exciting that what she does do in the books, which is skulking around Maidenpool and Duskendale with a bunch of hedge knights and other unsavory characters in blind pursuit of the Stark girls. It’s also more excting than where we left Sansa in the books, having come down from the Eyrie with Petyr and Sweetrobin after Lysa’s death and much maneuvering with the Lords of the Vale. (No spoilers, but in the books it definitely sounded like Petyr had plans for Sansa that involved staying put in the Vale.) Anywho, Sansa refuses Brienne’s protection, and a chase battle ensues to the point where Brienne has to make a decision between pursuing Sansa as she escapes or saving Pod. Thankfully, she makes the right choice — you’d choose Our Squire Pod over Sansa any day, wouldn’t you? Even the new Goth Sansa?

Back in King’s Landing, we run even futher afoul of bookdom, as Cersei receives a not-so-veiled threat from Dorne, where her daughter Myrcella is currently living and betrothed to Tristayne Martell. So, instead of going off to the Riverlands to save Edmure Tully and end the siege of Riverrun, as a good book Jaime should do, he’s going to go to Dorne to bring Myrcella back. And here’s where I’ll give it to HBO — if you’re going to go that far off the rails, you might as well go for broke, and have Bronn tag along instead of marrying Lollys Stokeworth like he’s supposed to. (At least he gives book readers a bone about what “should have been” with his veiled reference to bad people like Lollys’ sister getting what they deserve in the end.) Damn you, HBO, but it was the smartest thing you could have done — all the book fans like me who were ticked about the Jaime-in-Dorne storyline are now reconciled to it because Bronn is the best.

Oh, and also in King’s Landing, Cersei continues to make bad decisions in naming her counselors, alienating her uncle, and so forth. What else is new?

We finally get to Dorne itself, where we see Ellaria Sand again and meet ruler Prince Doran and his loyal guard Areo Hotah. Doran’s keeping a cool-headed approach to the whole my-brother-died thing, but Ellaria has appraetnlly never heard of something called “the long game” and is ready to rally the Sand Snakes (whom we did not meet) and march to war. It seems like this is where we are going to see the most egregious instances of the “condense and combine” syndrome. Where is Arianne Martell — is Ellaria going to take over for her storyline? And what about Arys Oakheart — is that going to be Jamie now? I mean, I get it, you can’t NOT have Doran and the Sand Snakes, so presumably the don’t want to add too many other new characters and confuse the hell out of the viewers (will the Sand Snakes take the place of Arianne’s friends in this scenario?). (A quick Google search to make sure I was spelling Arianne’s name right reveals I could probably find the answers to all these questions online, but I purposely try to avoid GoT spoilers by NOT reading those kinds of things. Sorry not sorry!)

In Meereen, Dany learns a truth that many a politician already knows — namely, that doing the right thing hardly ever makes you popular. Heeding sound advice from Selmy, she holds a captured Son of the Harpy for trial, and then is obligated to publically behead a freed slave who leads a lynch mob to kill the guy before he can be tried. Unsuprisingly, the Meereenese freedmen don’t understand the justice in this. HBO, I don’t approve — the former Masters already hate Dany, did you have to make the freedmen hate her too? Give the poor girl a break. Or at least give her some more naked Daario. Oh well, at least Drogon came to visit Dany for a millisecond.

Almost as a side note, we see Varys and Tyrion in Essos, in a carriage on the way to Volantis and eventually Meereen. Since they’re on the road to Volantis — and hell, since in the books Varys does NOT accompany Tyrion but simply disappears after setting him free — does that mean they’re not going to go on the river? ’Cause that’s kind of a major plot point…

Back at the Wall — which, frankly, is so grim I could do without it — thank the gods for Gilly! — we learn more than we ever wanted to know about greyscale, and Stannis is none too happy with Jon for giving Mance Rayder mercy. BUT, he’s not having any luck rallying the northern lords to his cause, so he’s willing to overlook it and also legitimize Jon Snow into Jon Stark and make him Lord of Winterfell. You know, whatevs. Again with the condensing — Jon doesn’t have any qualms about turning Stannis down, and rather than conniving in the shadows during a long and arduous process, Sam openly speaks for Jon and gets him elected Lord Commander on the first ballot. What, HBO, you don’t think several days of voting, re-voting, and politicking makes for gripping TV?

So that’s where we left things. What did you think of the episode? Since all bets are off, what would YOU like to see happen in Dorne? How do you feel about the changes from the book, in general? Speaking of which, here are some more random bits of book vs. show trivia and speculation for those who care about such things (skip if you don’t want spoilers!):

  • Are you sorry the Greyjoy storyline has pretty much been abandoned? I can’t say I am, although a Yara/Asha storyline would allow more opportunities for dudebutt. And I would like to see what HBO made of Euron’s crazy-ass dragon horn.
  • How will Doran’s machinations work without Arianne or Quentyn? What’s his “long game” without them?
  • As I hinted above, what about Tyrion’s river journey? Is this another case of “combine and condense” where we’ll meet the Griffs another way?
  • Pure book speculation, unrelated to the HBO show: in A Feast for Crows there was mention of an additional Sand Snake (besides the three we know), and some “game” she was off playing. Who do you think that fourth Sand Snake is? I have my suspicions, I think it’s someone we’ve already met in the books. Thoughts? Theories? Think I just misread something? Sound off below!
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