How Far Did Game of Thrones Season 4 Stray From the Books?

This post contains spoilers for several books in the Song of Ice and Fire series and the Game of Thrones fourth season finale. Seriously, turn back now if you haven’t read the books.

So much of season four of Game of Thrones has strayed off-book, with timelines altered, motivations changed, and characters who’ve never killed anyone before getting in on the action. And while the showrunners deserve credit for keeping things fresh even for voracious readers of A Song of Ice and Fire, they couldn’t pack in everything from the books, too. There’s just not enough room for every plot twist, secondary character, or resurrection — only one unjust accusation/imprisonment per season, right? Here’s just a few of the great tidbits from George R.R. Martin’s series that we missed this season, and, needless to say, major book spoilers ahead. (Chime in below in the comments about what you missed the most.)

Lady Stoneheart
Book fans totally anticipated this character would be the last shot of the season finale — and were very upset when she wasn’t. Three days after the Red Wedding, when her corpse was still (relatively) fresh, Catelyn Stark’s discarded body was pulled out of the river by Nymeria, Arya’s long-lost direwolf. Could Arya have accidentally slipped into Nymeria, as Bran once did Summer, in her sleep? All signs point to yes, although the littlest Stark daughter doesn’t understand the significance of her “dream.” Coming upon her body, resurrection king Thoros of Myr uses the last of Beric Dondarrion’s nine lives on Cat. Even though she’s alive once more, she’s changed — her body suffered from being in the water and from decomposition, and her wounds won’t heal, so her slit throat makes it hard for her to talk. And she’s definitely not happy — all she wants to do is punish anyone associated even remotely with the Red Wedding and the houses involved (Freys, Boltons, Lannisters, watch out). She’s an avenging angel and a fan favorite. But perhaps we’ll see her yet in season five.

Another walking corpse, the dead-yet-alive Coldhands missed the invite for season four. Coldhands, who prefers riding elks to horses, acts as a guide (and then some) for Sam and Gilly, and then Team Bran. Instead, Sam knows his way to the Nightfort and the Black Gate because he read about it in a very old book, and Sam is then able to show Bran and Company. From there, visions are their guide to the three-eyed crow. When Sam and Gilly first meet Coldhands, it’s after his ravens swarm a weirwood tree to help save them from a White Walker. Coldhands calls  to Sam, “Brother!” He looks like a member of the Night’s Watch, and talks like a Ranger. He tells them about the Black Gate, which only a man of the Night’s Watch can open. Because of this encounter, they learn that the Wall has spells woven into it, so that certain kinds of creatures cannot pass beyond it — which might be reassuring to anyone worried about mass illegal immigration by White Walkers.

As a bonus, Coldhands kills the mutineers at Craster’s Keep and provides protection (something that Jon Snow and his men do on the show this season, in an invented scene). Still, Meera voices her objections. “I don’t like him. And I don’t trust him. Those hands of his are bad enough. He hides his face, and will not speak a name. Who is he? What is he? He does not eat, he never drinks, he does not seem to feel the cold.” And, they realized, he also doesn’t breathe — he’s dead. But Sam and Gilly didn’t think he was a wight, because his eyes aren’t blue and he can speak. But instead of being a monster like the White Walkers or the wights, Coldhands appears to be a friend, and he says he was sent by “the last greenseer” to help Bran. When Bran calls him a monster, he says he is “your monster.” (Awww …) Fan theories abound as to Coldhands’ true identity — some believe he is the long lost Benjen Stark, which could have been confirmed if the show had ever cast the part.

Brienne’s imprisonment and release
When Jaime and Brienne return to King’s Landing, Brienne has to account for Lord Renly’s death to a Tyrell — in the show, it’s to Margaery, who doesn’t question it at all and responds with warmth. This is in sharp contrast to Loras’s not-so-understanding reaction in the books, which is probably not aided by the fact that she had previously bested him in a fight. When he sees Brienne in King’s Landing, he yells, “You!” and then approaches her. “Why? You will tell me why. He treated you kindly, gave you a rainbow cloak. Why would you kill him?” He draws his sword, and while she tries to tell him that Stannis’s “shadow” did the slaying, he threatens to kill her. “You have no honor. Draw your sword. I won’t have it said that I slew you while your hand was empty.”

Jaime intervenes, and this allows the situation to de-escalate. Instead of trying to kill her, Loras insists that Brienne is arrested for murder. As Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Jaime tells his men to escort Brienne to a tower cell. Later, Jaime convinces a cooled-down Loras to consider the evidence and to question the prisoner: “If you are still convinced that she murdered Lord Renly, I will see that she answers for it. The choice will be yours. Accuse her, or release her. All I ask is that you judge her fairly, on your honor as a knight.” After Loras talks to Brienne off-page, he returns Brienne to the Lord Commander. “I … it may be it happened as she says, ser. That it was Stannis. I cannot be certain.” Left alone, Jaime then gives Brienne her freedom and sets her on the mission she’s on now — to find and protect the Stark girls.

Certain singers and fools
Don’t order a bowl of singer’s stew in Flea Bottom — unless you want to try some Symon Silver Tongue. When the singer tried to blackmail Tyrion to participate in a tournament of singers at Joffrey’s wedding, he made the mistake of suggesting he sing a song about Shae. Tyrion told him he would arrange it, but then instructed Bronn to make the singer disappear, and the sellsword suggested a pot shop that makes “a savory bowl of brown” with “all kinds of meat in it.” Other singers had less savory fates — Marillion, who was punished early on by King Joffrey, managed to survive long enough in the books to get to the Vale, try to rape Sansa, and be fingered for Littlefinger’s murder of Lysa Arryn. Littlefinger also found singers useful for propaganda and means of persuasion, as he told Sansa:

“I also planted the notion of Ser Loras taking the white. Not that I suggested it, that would have been too crude. But men in my party supplied grisly tales about how the mob had killed Ser Preston Greenfield and raped the Lady Lollys, and slipped a few silvers to Lord Tyrell’s army of singers to sing of Ryam Redwyne, Serwyn of the Mirror Shield, and Prince Aemon the Dragonknight. A harp can be as dangerous as a sword, in the right hands … Mace Tyrell actually thought it was his own idea to make Ser Loras’s inclusion in the Kingsguard part of the marriage contract. Who better to protect his daughter than her splendid knightly brother? And it relieved him of the difficult task of trying to find lands and a bride for a third son … Be that as it may. Lady Olenna was not about to let Joff harm her precious darling granddaughter, but unlike her son, she also realized that Ser Loras is as hot-tempered as Jaime Lannister. Toss Joffrey, Margaery, and Loras in a pot, and you’ve got the makings for kingslayer stew.” Is it as tasty as singer’s stew, we wonder?

Strong Belwas
A slave born and bred in Meereen, Strong Belwas is the comic relief in Dany’s free-the-slaves tour of the East. We’re introduced to him along with Barristan Selmy, and he soon makes an impression by how much he can eat. He also makes an impression by fighting as the Khaleesi’s champion, defecating in the direction of Mereen, and wiping himself on the cloak of the man he had just killed, before looting the corpse. (This kill and the subsequent toilet humor gets switched over to Daario, who pisses instead.)  To know how many men Strong Belwas has killed, one need only count his scars. “I let each man cut me once, before I kill him,” he says. And who knows? Perhaps he’ll kill more to come — once the fighting pits are reopened in Meereen, he could still be a part of the show in season five. Honeyed locusts, anyone?

Game of Thrones Season 4: Book vs. Show