What Game of Thrones Season 7 Tells Us About George R.R. Martin’s Next Book

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Photo: HBO

Game of Thrones has spent its last two seasons in uncharted territory. While showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had certainly taken adaptational liberties before, seasons six and seven took the story beyond where George R.R. Martin had left off in A Song of Ice and Fire. As such, for huge fans of the book series, watching season seven became a very meta detective mission. Which of the show’s plotlines will end up in The Winds of Winter, Martin’s next book in the ASOIAF series? Which won’t? Which details will be used in an altered form? Now that the season is over, we can look back and tease out the most significant changes between book and TV show. Here are the three biggest story lines to keep in mind while you wait for Martin to finish The Winds of Winter.

What Ever Happened to Euron?

One question has hung over both ASOIAF and GOT from the very beginning: How will the Wall come down? The show’s answer — the Night King zombifying a dragon and using its fire to melt the Wall — worked very well, but Martin’s books have put forward a different method: the Horn of Winter, a.k.a. the Horn of Joramun, a legendary instrument that can supposedly topple the Wall. The wildling king Mance Rayder had a horn he claimed was the real deal, and so Melisandre burned it in A Dance With Dragons, but Tormund admitted to Jon Snow later on in the book that it was a fake. Jon lampshaded this revelation heavily for the reader, wondering to himself, “Where is the true horn?” In a grand irony, Jon himself may have had the actual Horn of Winter in his hands at one point. In the cache at the Fist of the First Men, Jon found along with the dragonglass an oh-so-humble-looking horn, one that Martin made sure that Sam has held onto ever since, even as he sold off everything else to pay for passage to Oldtown. When last we saw Sam in the books, at the end of A Feast for Crows, he finally arrived … just as Oldtown faced down an invasion by Euron Greyjoy.

While the show certainly captured Euron’s sadism, his penchant for scenery-chewing, and his scathing contempt for his family and his fellow ironborn, it stripped away the layer of psychedelic sorcery that gives him reason for being in the books. (Euron was introduced in A Feast for Crows after being built up in A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, and he’s slated to return in Winds of Winter.) Multiple characters have had visions of Euron’s invasion in an apocalyptic context, Euron himself declaring that the end of the world has come and he means to exploit it to achieve godhood. Daenerys Targaryen specifically dreamed of him having a dick as “cold as ice,” and there are strong hints dropped that Euron, like Bran Stark, had his third eye opened by a bird in his dreams, and therefore knows that the White Walkers are on their way. Basically, he’s a perfect candidate to snatch up the Horn of Winter during his attack on Oldtown and use it to take down the Wall.

Euron already has another eldritch horn in his possession, a skin-crawling hunk o’ nightmare fuel called Dragonbinder. In A Feast for Crows, Euron sent the horn east with his fool and tool of a brother Victarion to capture Daenerys and her fiery children. After spending A Dance With Dragons sailing eastward, Vic arrived at Meereen in his released chapter from The Winds of Winter to find no Dany … but two loose dragons. Martin made sure to mention in Dany’s concurrent chapter on the Dothraki Sea that the Valyrians originally bound dragons by means of “sorcerous horns,” just to assure us that Euron’s goal is not only plausible, but that it’s happened before. One horn for Fire, and one horn for Ice.

In sum: What may be the most significant adaptational decision made by Game of Thrones in season seven was giving Euron’s dragon-stealing and Wall-toppling roles to the Night King. And I get it, much as I love the cosmic-horror way in which Martin has written Euron. The show never really had the time, tone, or budget to capture what makes that character tick, so they shifted his most significant contributions to its main antagonist. In the books, “Night’s King” wasn’t the Others’ leader; he was a human seduced by their power, and Euron seems to be playing a parallel role in ASOIAF. But the show needed a singular visual focus for the White Walkers, and such a character needs important things to do. That’s why GOT has the Night King.

Of course, that raises another question: Why have Euron on the show at all?

Cersei and the Golden Company

In the season-seven finale, Cersei confirmed that she hired a sellsword squad known as the Golden Company. In the books, the Golden Company backs a claimant to the Iron Throne who doesn’t appear in the show: Aegon VI Targaryen, the (ostensible) son of Prince Rhaegar and Elia Martell. Team Aegon’s campaign for the Iron Throne is off to a terrific start in the books: The Golden Company has taken castle after castle in the Stormlands to the south of the capital, raising the Targaryen banner at the Baratheon stronghold of Storm’s End. Meanwhile, Cersei’s regime in King’s Landing faces potentially fatal challenges. The High Sparrow is putting her on trial, the Lannister-Tyrell alliance is collapsing into mutual enmity, and Varys has killed her uncle Kevan and Grand Maester Pycelle, who were attempting to stabilize Lannister rule, in the hopes that this will allow Cersei to continue burning everything down and paving the way for his “perfect prince.”

Indeed, Martin has laid down some strong setup that Aegon, not Cersei, will be sitting on the Iron Throne when Dany arrives in Westeros, and that he will therefore be her opponent. Dany saw a “mummer’s dragon” (as in, a feigned performative Targaryen) in the House of the Undying prophecy, which laid out in symbolic imagery the various challenges and important figures Dany will face over the course of her story. That image of Aegon specifically showed up in the “slayer of lies” section of the prophecy, a series of opponents (Cersei notably not among them) whose pretensions Dany must slay as part of her apotheosis. Moreover, in a released chapter from The Winds of Winter, a prophetic, young Dornish woman warns of a devastating divide among the Targaryens: “Everywhere the dragons danced, the people died.”

So the show appears to have swapped out Aegon for Cersei as Team Dany’s enemy, right down to the Golden Company. (Also, it’s borrowing Aegon’s name for Jon.) In that light, Team Aegon is being used on the show in the same way as Euron: The showrunners knew they didn’t have room for those characters’ book arcs, so they stripped their story lines for parts, using what was left to prop up Cersei well past the point she’ll probably be dead in the books. Why? Because Lena Headey absolutely owns that role and they want to keep her going in it as long as possible, something that simply isn’t a consideration for the written word.

The Future of House Tyrell

Martin rarely critiques the show, but in season five, he made an exception for the Tyrells. “In the Tyrell family, Loras is not the eldest son in the books. There are two older brothers, Willas and Garlan,” he said. “I didn’t just put them in for hoots and giggles, they have roles to play in the last two books, and they don’t exist in the show.”

What might those roles be? It all goes back to Euron’s invasion. As it begins, Rodrik “The Reader” Harlaw, wisest of all the ironborn, warns of the consequences: “Soon enough all the power of the Reach will be marshaled against us, Barber, and then you may learn that some roses have steel thorns.”

As Margaery later confirms, Willas and Garlan are the roses in question, rallying their forces at Highgarden to drive out the ironborn. If the apocalyptic promise of Euron’s scenes to date bear fruit in The Winds of Winter, that role will be a very significant one. But the show isn’t bringing the apocalypse to the south via Euron, and instead used Sam’s Oldtown plot to get Jorah Mormont back in the game and contribute to the revelation of Jon’s true parentage. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and the natural consequence of propping Cersei up throughout season seven was cutting down Dany’s allies (see also: Dorne and Yara Greyjoy). As such, the show could afford to sacrifice Highgarden, swapping in fan-favorite Olenna Tyrell to give the scene some dramatic heft.

Beyond the Euron question, Willas and Garlan have been set up as two of the more decent-hearted and full-of-promise characters in the books. (There’s a good reason why they’re known as Willas the Wise and Garlan the Gallant.) If Martin ultimately has them stand against the world’s end, he might also have them in mind as vital figures for rebuilding Westeros in the aftermath, which means the show will perhaps be the poorer without them. What better place to dream of spring, after all, than a castle full of flowers?

What GOT Season 7 Means for George R.R. Martin’s Next Book