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'Game of Thrones' TV Book Club: Arya! Sansa! Brienne?! Let's talk 'House of Black and White'

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Helen Sloan/HBO

Welcome back to the Game of Thrones TV Book Club, a discussion space forThrones viewers who have also read the five books (so far) of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. This week, Darren Franich and Hillary Busis dive into season 5’s change-filled second episode, a banner hour for the Stark girls (and the Maid of Tarth). Check out James Hibberd’s full recap of the episode, then join us as we venture into the narrative borderlands of A Feast for Crows, A Dance With Dragons, and beyond. (You know there’ll be spoilers for both the books and the show, right?)

DARREN: Arya’s back! Arya’s back! Hillary, Hillary, did you hear about how Arya’s back?

HILLARY: Ummm, more importantly: JAQEN H’GHAR. Did you cackle with glee when the House of Black and White’s Kindly Man morphed his face with a wave of his hand? Because I know I did.

DARREN: A pattern is starting to form. When GRRM started writing the books post-aSoS, his standard operating procedure was: “You know all those minor characters you liked? They’re never meeting our main characters again.” But when Benioff & Weiss started working on this season, their standard operating procedure was: “You know all those minor characters you liked? THEY’RE BACK, BABY.” So you were stoked to see the Faceless Man’s face again?

HILLARY: Was I ever! Also: Maybe it’s just because I recently started binging Daredevil, but I can’t help thinking that TV Arya’s plot line has become the closest thing the Thrones universe has to a traditional superhero origin story. She’s from a wealthy, storied family; her parents have been murdered; she’s traveled to a mysterious, far-off land to learn assassanry at the hands of a mysterious, accented mentor. With tonight’s episode, Arya basically becomes Batman.

Er.. and I just googled “arya batman” only to realize that this is not an original thought.

DARREN: “Reddit did it!” is the Simpsons did it!” of “Game of Thrones” adaptation analysis.

But you are on point in a big way. To me, Arya felt like a minor part of books 4 and 5: Banished into a literal blind alley, gradually learning how to be an assassin. GRRM initially planned a five-year time jump between trilogies—ack when aSoIaF was merely planned to be six books—and Arya’s arc probably suffered the most with the decision to NOT just jump to the good stuff.

Conversely, serious question for you: Is Arya, like, the ultimate protagonist of the TV show? She’s the one with the coming-of-age superhero-origin arc, and she’s probably seen more of the Known World than anybody besides Salladhor Saan.

HILLARY: I do think that Arya may end up being the protagonist of the show in a way that her print counterpart definitely is not the protagonist of the book series. You’re right that she’s sidelined in both Crows and Dragons, which really disappointed me the first time I read both—but I have a feeling that show fans would riot if Thrones tried to pull a Bran with her. (Or maybe Maisie Williams’ growth between seasons just isn’t as, well, stark as Isaac Hempstead Wright’s.)

Can I shift gears toward the other Stark sibling whose story saw major movement tonight?

DARREN: If you’re talking about who I think you’re talking about, then please allow me to quote directly from a text message I sent to you. (Timing is accurate and PST.)

HILLARY: And Rickon by episode 9. (Remember Rickon?)

DARREN: Rickon is to Game of Thrones as the Russian is to Sopranos.

HILLARY: Wait, so you don’t think he’s going to be riding the third dragon???

DARREN: In all seriousness, I have always assumed that the final scene of A Dream of Spring was Rickon being crowned king and everyone else being dead.

But let’s talk Sansa. More specifically, let’s talk about Westeros’ OTHER superhero: Brienne of Tarth, who was bitten by a radioactive plot contrivance and given the incredible ability to accidentally run into Stark children!

HILLARY: Okay, yes: It is incredibly convenient that out of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, Sansa would walk into this one. But think back to the first thing you said in this conversation: Benioff and Weiss’s M.O. is convergence, rather than the sprawling divergence of the novels. How could they possibly achieve that goal without indulging in a little contrivance? I’m okay with it, especially if Brienne’s story is going where I think it’s going. (In short: Sansa’s going to need a champion. Brienne can be that champion.)

DARREN: I kid ’cause I love! Brienne and Sansa could be like Arya and the Hound, except the tomboy’s a princess and the miserable swordsman is a slightly-less-miserable swordswoman! (Also, it’s worth pointing out that Catelyn just randomly ran into Tyrion at the Inn at the Crossroads, way back in A Game of Thrones.) But while we’re talking New For Television pairings, can we discuss my new favorite bromance? Jaime and Bronn! BronnMie? JaBronn?

HILLARY: It’s a pairing that seems so natural I almost can’t believe GRRM didn’t think of it first—though both characters are less charming rogues in the books than they are on the show. (Bronn’s a soulless mercenary; Jaime’s a tortured antihero.) I will say, though, that I’m a little sad to see them embarking on an invented-for-the-show journey to Dorne, mostly because it means tearing Bronn away from  my new favorite character: Lollys Stokeworth. Am I crazy, or was her minute-long nattering monologue about wedding arrangements goddamn delightful?

DARREN: You are not crazy. Lightning round: Name the Bronn-and-Lollys married-couple sitcom spinoff. That’s My Bronn? Bronn Again? Brains & Bronn? LOLlys?

HILLARY: Diff’Bront Stokes.

DARREN: Okay, you win this round.

But on a more serious note: I want to once-and-for-all sound the funeral trumpet for Book-Jaime on television. Looking back, I realize that the main reason I enjoyed Feast for Crows was how it turned Jaime into the heart and soul of the series—or anyhow, the half of the series focused on the southern part of Westeros. I know some people don’t groove on the slow pacing, but so much of what I remember about Feast for Crows is Jaime making his way through the absolute ruin of post-War Of Five Kings Westeros. As you point out, that journey was way more about his internal torture. As of this episode, TV-Jaime is a man on a mission, heading on a road trip with a buddy-cop archetype. He’s a very different Jaime—and we’ll see just how different in episodes to come. But the good news is: He’s never looked better.

HILLARY: Which brings us to TV Jaime’s destination: Dorne, or The Land Without Arianne Martell. I think book-readers would largely agree that of all the new POV characters suddenly jockeying for our attention in books 4 and 5, Arianne is the most compelling—partially because, as much as I hate this term, she’s a Strong Female Character, and partially because she’s the text’s closest analogue to Oberyn once he’s axed. The show, though, considers her superfluous to the story it’s trying to tell; it seems like Ellaria Sand will largely be Arianne’s stand-in. In this episode, we see Oberyn’s paramour voicing the same concerns Arianne does in the books. Do you think consolidating these two characters works, or are you finding yourself missing Arianne almost as much as you miss Quentyn?

DARREN: I’m Arianne-agnostic. I loved the idea of a princess who Venn Diagram’d Cersei and Dany: devious but with noble intentions, vengeful but savvy. The character didn’t necessarily pop for me in Feast for Crows—clearly I was too busy crushing on the Greyjoys!—but I was always kind of looking forward to what the show would do with her.

I like Ellaria just fine; Indira Varma was great on Thrones’ HBO spiritual-prequel Rome, which I loved. But as an even bigger Deep Space Nine fan, the most intriguing part of our first trip to Dorne was Alexander Siddig’s Doran Martell. I feel like this season more than the last few is focusing on the idea of What It Means To Rule. (We’ll get to Meereen in a moment. Or not!) And I liked how, in our first sight of him, Doran is a different kind of ruler: cerebral, slow to action, neither a maniac nor a coward.

What jumped out at you about Dorne, Hillary? Besides wondering how much it would cost to install Water Gardens in a New York apartment?

HILLARY: Mostly, how much Myrcella has grown… probably because she’s been recast. She’s now played by an actress who’s two years younger than original Myrcella Aimee Richardson, presumably to make that growth seem a little less obvious. (New Myrcella’s real name is Nell Tiger Free. NELL TIGER FREE.)

DARREN: (Nell Tiger Free is the new Moon Bloodgood.)

HILLARY: Back to What It Means to Rule: Stannis reveals his philosophy on the matter up at the Wall, where we get the episode’s only real novel-copied scene. Shall we congratulate Jon Snow’s storyline on finally closing the book on A Storm of Swords?

DARREN: I am so torn, Hillary, so torn indeed. The last few Jon chapters in Storm of Swords are such a greatest hits album. Jon gets the offer to become Jon Stark–everything he’s ever wanted! Ruling the North! No more celibacy!—and in his final chapter, we follow Jon around as he experiences a full-fledged Last Temptation of Christ moment. I quote directly from the text:

“I could name him Robb. Val would want to keep her sister’s son, but we could foster him at Winterfell, and Gilly’s boy as well. Sam would never need to tell his lie. We’d find a place for Gilly too, and Sam could come visit her once a year or so. Mance’s son and Craster’s would grow up brothers, as I once did with Robb.”

HILLARY: Sniff! And you’re not as moved by Jon’s Dance with Dragons storyline, I”m guessing.

DARREN: You know, I kind of like Jon’s arc in Dance with Dragons. In the later books, GRRM gets super focused on the Process: not just the theoretical notions of how a ruler should rule, but what it really means to be in charge in every nitty-gritty sense. Jon in Dance is doing less fun stuff—”management of resources” is not as exciting as “hot springs sexpionage”—but I always groove onto Jon’s internal struggle. This episode just jumped right over his internal stuff, though; in the process, his big moment of success becomes more like a win for Samwell Tarly. Are you excited or nervous about Jon hitting Dance territory, Hillary?

HILLARY: My fear is that moving beyond book 3 means that TV Jon is now all set to become the Daenerys of the North: an ever-embattled ruler stuck both pacing the same three sets and trying to navigate a politically impossible situation. In other words, not exactly the most compelling TV.

DARREN: Ice Meereen! Meereen of the North! Neereem!

HILLARY: Does this mean it’s time to wrap things up?

DARREN: Think so, Hilltown. But first, let’s take a quick look at some of our favorite comments from last week’s EWGoTTVBC. First up…

Colin French: I’ve gone from “show-viewer only” to “show-viewer 1st, book-reader 2nd,” and then finally (after last season) graduated to “finished the available books, waiting to see how the show compares”… apparently just in time for it to become moot. But, that’s okay. One thing I started to notice in the last couple of seasons was how annoyed I was by the mere 2 minutes of progress everybody SEEMS to make per episode. The world of characters expands and expands… and the episodes stay roughly the same length. If excising peripheral characters can help minimize that effect, I’m all for it. And if bringing them together ahead of schedule (or completely off of schedule) helps with that too, so much the better.

DARREN: “Two Minutes Of Progress” is what they call Game of Thrones in Finland. This speaks right to your point about concision, Hillary. Playing devil’s advocate, I think there might’ve been a more creative solution—what about a year of centric episodes? Like, a Tyrion mini-movie, a Daenerys mini-movie, an Arya Batman Begins?—but I recognize that’s probably impossible given obvious basic mandate  to feature popular characters at least once a fortnight.

HILLARY: Ugh, and can you even imagine how dull the Bran one would be?

My turn!

a57se: Why do I have a feeling Sansa will die before the ned of the season?

HILLARY: I have to pull this one out because, as I said in a comment reply, this has to be the most amazingly appropriate typo ever left on a GoT-related message board.

DARREN: “The Ned of the Season!” Can we get this on TVTropes? But c’mon, a57se, no way they’ll kill off Sansa. There are way more likable characters to kill off first!

One more on my end:

Texasfan: Am I the only only who gets up and takes a br break or fast forwards every time Missandei and Gray Worm are on the screen together. I think this is the most inane addition to the story since the decision to keep Roz around for about 13 episodes too many.

DARREN: Have to disagree on this one, because I kinda loved the Roz addition. Thrones is so top-heavy with royal characters, and I like how Benioff & Weiss always try to have a few focal-point little people. Bron’s the best example of this: A relatively normal everyguy compared to the incesty powermongering royals. Also, how can you not love a love story that is so clearly doomed from day one?

HILLARY: I agree that the show’s few commonfolk characters are a welcome inclusion, and I occasionally miss Roz’s status as Westerosi Forrest Gump, Except a Hooker. And I, too, am a bit of a MissWorm ‘shipper… because you’ve got to be rooting for somebody in Meereen, and it sure ain’t Dany/Daario.