Recently, at the primetime Emmys red carpet, A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin expressed his opinion that Game of Thrones could’ve continued for at least five more seasons.
“We could’ve gone 11, 12, 13 seasons” he told Variety.
Show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss ultimately decided for 8 seasons, albeit shortened ones in terms of the number of episodes: the first six seasons had ten episodes each, but the seventh had seven and the eighth will only have six.
Finishing with the story now makes sense. Game of Thrones is at the height of its popularity, and unlike many fantasy series, it has managed to be both a critical darling and a fan favorite. It’s better to go out on a high note and be fondly remembered than overextending your welcome and petering out as a shadow of your former self.
Personally, I’m very satisfied with how David and Dan adapted such a sprawling and complicated story. What they (and everyone involved) accomplished is nothing short of a miracle, figuratively speaking (since it was not the result of divine intervention) when you think about all the ways the show could’ve taken a wrong turn.
Allowing it to grow indefinitely would’ve been detrimental to it, no doubt (just imagine being teased with the Walkers and the Great War for ten years or more), but let’s forget for a moment the inherent risks in allowing a show to continue for too long, and imagine that there wouldn’t be a dip in quality or in interest from the audience.
How could it have continued without becoming boring or too bloated? I have some ideas about material they could’ve taken from the novels, some verbatim, others with some changes.
After a journey of predictions about the final season, this time we’re sailing to “what if” waters!
Warlocks & Dragons
The warlocks’ beef with Daenerys seemingly came to an abrupt end when Barristan Selmy foiled their assassination attempt at Astapor. It makes sense for them to fade away, there’s only so much time for each story thread and the Good Masters/Sons of the Harpy were set to be Dany’s enemies for the time she’d spend in Meereen.
But whenever I rewatch Season 3 I find myself thinking yet again “Oh right, the warlocks have unfinished business with Daenerys”. So they failed once and then decided to go home? Not likely, in my opinion.
To be fair, the warlocks from the novels don’t seem to pose much of a threat by themselves: Pyat Pree sent a Sorrowful Man (a hired assassin) to go after Dany instead of having his own people doing the deed. We also find out that Randyll Tarly asked a couple of warlocks to help in making Sam brave, but then scourged them after they failed. I’m going to assume he wouldn’t have done that if he feared some sort of retribution.
Then there’s Euron Greyjoy basically enslaving and mutilating a number of warlocks. One of them, captured inside the Silence and hanging from a rafter, keeps crying “Pree” (it is unclear, so far, if that warlock is Pyat Pree or related to him in any way).
The adaptation gave the warlocks a rather nice upgrade: Pyat Pree was able to multiply himself, and this wasn’t just for show or a mere illusion, that much was clear when his copies murdered the Thirteen at the same time. He was also able to teleport himself with swiftness and conjure stuff, managing to bound Daenerys with chains that appeared out of nowhere.
None of that saved him from getting roasted by the dragons, but he wasn’t the only one with that set of skills, as we saw when the warlock girl teleported to escape Barristan.
Though unnecessary (the plot progressed well enough without ever having to even mention the warlocks again), an escalation of the conflict could’ve kept Team Dany busy for at least one more season and the bigger budget would’ve allowed for more impressive magical abilities and illusions, perhaps even some Doctor Strange-like trippy imagery.
Sure enough, it could’ve been repetitive (what are they going to do? chain Dany again? kidnap someone?) and at the end of the day the dragons could’ve just burned all the warlocks to a crisp, but it remains a bit of a shame that foes that could’ve been formidable were essentially forgotten. If not on their own, they could have allied themselves with either the Good Masters or Cersei, in order to fight a common enemy.
More than the visions from the House of the Undying, I truly wanted to see the Undying themselves in all their creepy glory (especially as illustrated by Marc Simonetti). Maybe next time.
I think we’re all in agreement that Ramsay was dispatched at just the right time. He was a great villain (with Iwan Rheon elevating material that could’ve been hammy in the hands of someone else) but fairly one-note and I remember reading from many fans that they were ready to move on.
So it’s doubtful (at best) that one or two more seasons with him would’ve benefited the show, but we did miss out on some of the best parts from A Dance with Dragons, and that is Wyman Manderly and the Frey Pies. We did get a nod to that moment when Arya kills Walder, but it could’ve been interesting to have a “whodunnit” subplot at Winterfell, with the Boltons/Freys unsure of which one of their “allies” is killing people in the castle.
And though Wyman Manderly does show up on screen, his role is very small-ish. I have to agree with the book readers who missed him: he’s a very charismatic character, and one that defies expectations in the sense that no one respects him because he’s fat, his own people mock him and give him nicknames, so you’d think he’s an incompetent oaf, but he’s actually a really cunning individual, loyal to House Stark.
I understand we needed some tension, to show Jon and crew facing insurmountable odds, but I don’t think having the Manderlys responding to the call instead of refusing it would’ve changed much of that. Unfortunately, as with many other characters and plot elements, there’s just no enough time for everyone.
I obviously don’t know what is George planning to do with Osha and Rickon, but whatever happens it surely won’t go the same way as in the show. Having them die works for the plot: Osha had outlived her usefulness as a character and Rickon’s death, more than just a provocation, added some stakes to the Battle of the Bastards, as opposed to having Ramsay not killing anyone important.
I gotta admit I’m not too sure how to fill the gaps here as it’s not known what they’re doing in Skagos or what’s their ultimate purpose, but since Davos is getting involved, we should find out in future books (unless it all happens “off-screen”, so to speak). There are some pretty detailed theories out there about how Skagos is an island of wargs and Osha took Rickon there to help him master his own warging skills – but even if that’s the case, the show made Bran the only warg in the Stark family.
So what could they do instead? I’m not trying to fix what isn’t broken (minor nitpicks aside, the story works just fine as it is) but if we wanted to keep Rickon and Osha alive, at least for a while longer, we could’ve had them traveling in a similar way to Arya and the Hound. Flesh them out a bit more, have them working together, with Rickon growing and learning from her, so when their demise comes, it hits harder.
Both are fairly minor characters who made an impression, so they were never going to get lots of pages in the books or more than enough screen time in the adaptation, but it was nonetheless a bit disappointing that Rickon died without any lines and Osha’s death was more of a footnote than a memorable sendoff. Shaggydog: we hardly knew ye.
It wouldn’t really advance the plot or serve as character development, but I can’t help to imagine we could’ve gotten some more scenes from the past during Bran’s training with the Three-Eyed Raven. The Tragedy at Summerhall or the execution of Rickard and Brandon Stark (a moment that was filmed, but has not appeared in any episode, and much like the original pilot, probably won’t ever see the light of day).
It would be like the “Histories and Lore” featurettes from the blu-ray sets, but in live action. And I’d agree that the problem here would be the scenes feeling a bit like padding, or even like fanservice, unless these little bits were presented in a way that felt more like seasoning for the general plot than filler.
We’ve heard a lot about Aerys, but the execution scene would hammer the point home as to why the Northerners are wary of the Targaryens. And we’re aware that the White Walkers are a threat, there’s honestly no need to give them much of a backstory (the mystery is part of their appeal for me), but elaborating a bit about their motivations, if done well, would help to make them look like more than just killing machines.
And, it would give some breathing space to scenes like the Battle of Winterfell, the Wight Hunt and even the quarrel between Sansa and Arya in Season 7. I feel like the first two could’ve used a bit more of time, so there’s an actual siege instead of a brief moment of Stannis getting steamrolled and so the Hunt doesn’t feel rushed or like Dany’s dragons arrived there in a matter of seconds. I’m fine with both Mother’s Mercy and Beyond the Wall the way they are, but there’s definitely room for improvement, especially when it comes to the spat between the Stark sisters.
A Tale of Two Aegons
For someone adapting a story to a visual medium, deciding which characters will get cut is likely not an easy task. In the case of A Song and Ice and Fire, dozens of characters have been axed from the narrative, including one that came as a curve ball: Aegon or “Young Griff”. Turns out the son of Rhaegar and Elia was rescued by Varys, swapping him for another baby who was then killed by Gregor Clegane during the Sack of King’s Landing.
Though there’s no confirmation yet, it looks like Aegon is a fake Targaryen, the so-called “Mummer’s Dragon”. Whether or not he’s someone (like a Blackfire, a Brightflame or even Illyrio’s son) or no one (just a random boy chosen to play a part in Varys and Illyrio’s scheme), remains unclear and I wonder if we’ll even find out in Winds or if we’ll have to wait for A Dream of Spring.
I can see why he was cut from the adaptation, as his inclusion would just have made the story really convoluted and we would have two Aegons.
If anything, he could’ve been included as an antagonist of sorts, to both Daenerys and Cersei, or just the former. Drop the Shy Maid and Jon Connington and age him up a bit more, make him the leader of the Golden Company.
It would be a radical change, but an effective way of streamlining his way into the show, without having to add too many extra characters and several days of boat travel. Now you’d have the (alleged) son of Rhaegar and Elia, with an army of his own and ready to roll.
This would even allow the war to last a bit longer, since all of Dany’s allies (the Sand Snakes, the Greyjoys and the Tyrells) were quickly obliterated after a Season 6 finale that seemed to imply she had the upper hand. Plus, it’d add a set of interesting complications for Dany: How would she react after finding out there’s another Targaryen, after thinking for so long she was the only one? Would she be willing to destroy her nephew in order to win the Iron Throne?
Following the poor reception to how the show handled Dorne during its fifth season, it was not surprising to see damage control kicking in when Season 6 arrived and both Doran and Trystane are murdered from the get-go. I was sad to see them go, because Dorne could’ve had a lot of potential, but I can’t blame the writers for not wanting to risk it.
The way the events unfolded, however, left the region effectively leaderless and hanging. I doubt we’ll see some resolution to that in the final season, leaving us to wonder who’ll become the new ruler of Dorne.
The obvious choice here would be to follow the “Queenmaker” subplot, including Arianne Martell and her attempt to crown Myrcella as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. With some adjustments (I mean, let’s ditch Darkstar please) it could be a really intriguing story to follow. And it would also give Areo Hotah an excuse to use his weapon. Truly, it made me sad that DeObia Oparei didn’t get a chance to shine. The actor seemed genuinely excited to be on the show and I wish he could’ve been in at least one fight scene.
Nonetheless, with Arianne in the mix you no longer have the problem of who’s going to rule Dorne now that all the leader figures have been killed. And there’d be a chance to keep exploring a different region that didn’t get enough screen time: we only got to see the Water Gardens (those scenes were shot in the beautiful Alcázar of Seville). There are many amazing places in Spain that could’ve been used as locations, I can picture the Alhambra as Sunspear, and boy, it would’ve been a sight to behold.
Also, much like Darkstar, Quentyn can remain in the cutting room floor. We already had Trystane to play the prince of Dorne part (and he was gone too soon, like the rest of them).
Now, I know, Penny’s hardly among fan favorite characters and I can’t say I missed her myself.
But her addition could’ve worked, why not? But just as Tyrion changed in the process of adapting him to the screen, Penny wouldn’t be the same as in the books, either.
A change of personality would help a great deal: not as innocent and not as naive. Her role in the books is, after all, to serve as a moral compass to an embittered, cruel, manipulative and even vile Tyrion, a far cry from the character Peter Dinklage has portrayed during the show’s entire run.
Since there’s really not a need for Tyrion to rediscover his sense of empathy (considering he didn’t lose it to begin with), Penny would be more of a check on his privilege. Sure, he’s a dwarf, and sure, he’s not loved by most people around him, but he enjoyed a rather comfortable life, as opposed to other dwarves like Penny and her brother.
Through the series we have seen Tyrion caring for his friends and allies, and some members of his family as well (Tommen, Myrcella and Jaime), but his relationship with Penny would be one of a different kind. We don’t get to see often the point of view of lowborn characters, those who suffer the most damaging consequences of the game of thrones.
Feeling guilty for being indirectly responsible for Oppo’s death (who was killed by some “drunken fools” who were expecting to get a reward from Cersei), he’d take Penny under his wing. And the two of them, together with Jorah, could navigate their way out of slavery (keep Yezzan the way he was portrayed by Enzo Cilenti, no “Yellow Whale” and no “freak collection”) and into Dany’s camp.
Even with a different attitude, I wouldn’t expect Penny to be battle-hardened or anything. All the opposite, which would complicate things as the war gets worse. I imagine that in the novels George is setting her up to become collateral damage as a result of Tyrion’s choices. The show version of Tyrion would do his best to protect her, I have no doubt, so it could’ve been interesting to see if such efforts would’ve backfired the way it happened with Shae.
Barristan and the Siege of Meereen
Killing Barristan Selmy the way it happened in the show was a bold move from the writers. As with many things that diverge from the source material (in which Barristan is still alive, so far), not everyone liked it, but I thought it was handled really well. He was an old man, no matter how skilled, and couldn’t have been expected to pull some superhuman feat after getting ambushed and outnumbered by the Sons of the Harpy. Nonetheless, he went down swinging and took many enemies with him, before succumbing to his wounds.
Much like the Battle of Winterfell, the book version of the Siege of Meereen will have a bigger scale than its show counterpart. And in the absence of Dany, it is Barristan who is leading the charge, riding on Dany’s Silver.
It’s an armed conflict tailor-made for “Episode 9” material, with thousands of armed combatants, trebuchets, dragons and war elephants. There’s not a lack of spectacle for sure, and while there are no major characters actively participating in the battle, the show could’ve had Dany and Tyrion. They’re both present during the show’s portrayal of the siege after all (and though it was brief, since the Battle of the Bastards took the lion’s share of the time and budget, director Miguel Sapochnik really delivered).
I think there’s a good chance Ser Barristan may die during the siege in the novels. Unless George has something else in store for him, it would mirror what happened in the show somewhat closely, with the old knight dying in Essos and not getting to return to Westeros with Dany and the rest.
Season 6 gave us a more grounded Euron Greyjoy than the book version of the character. Less pirate-y and more suave. And though he needs no sidekick (he’s way too happy stealing the scenes he’s in), in a hypothetical longer version of the show, this is where Victarion could’ve showed up. Only that instead of making him a dullard and a brute (in the words of the author himself) who punched his wife to death, he could’ve been a more sympathetic presence, a counterweight of sorts to Euron (which also makes sense if we have in mind that Victarion hates Euron with a passion).
Now that Jaime has left Cersei’s side, there’s now a lack of characters to root for in King’s Landing, with perhaps the sole exception of Bronn (I’m not saying there aren’t people who’d like Cersei to win against the Dragon Queen and the White Wolf, but I think it’s safe to assume they’re in the minority), so a more likable version of Victarion could’ve helped to fill that space.
A lot of fans wanted Ray Stevenson to play Victarion, and I was inclined to agree, he would’ve been perfect for the role: he’s got the looks and the acting chops. Imagine Titus Pullo in Greyjoy armor, chopping heads off with an axe. Sadly, that ship has sailed, but in a world where GRRM got his 13 seasons wish granted, perhaps it could’ve happened?
The naval battle we got in the second episode of Season 7 (“Stormborn”) was nothing short of spectacular, and maybe I’m getting a bit greedy here, but it would’ve been cool to get some more scenes of combat at sea and watch some more of the Greyjoys in their element. We have heard about all their reaving and raiding, but haven’t been able to actually see it.
A bit more of the Brotherhood
We know that the Brotherhood Without Banners, the Merry Men-like group, was committed to fight the Lannister rule and all who preyed on the common people. And in return, the people would give them food, information and other resources. But we never saw them interacting with any townsfolk. And other than Beric and Thoros joining forces with Jon during the Wight Hunt, and hearing the stories of the many times the Lightning Lord has been killed, we didn’t get to see them in action.
In the third book, Arya and Gendry are witnesses to a skirmish between the Brotherhood and the Brave Companions. The sellswords were inside a septry that had been previously looted, and were flushed out when the Brotherhood set the building ablaze. Then a fight ensued, which the Companions lost.
The closest the show got to that moment was in the seventh episode of Season 6 (“The Broken Man”) and the following one (“No One”), when Lem Lemoncloak and other Brotherhood men who went rogue kill Brother Ray and sack the unfinished sept, which prompts Sandor Clegane to seek revenge against the murderers.
Another moment from A Storm of Swords I really wanted to see in the show was the appearance of the Ghost of High Heart, a mysterious old woman with pale skin and red eyes who has prophetic dreams. When she meets Arya, the Ghost is shaken, saying Arya reeks of death and grief.
You are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!
Melisandre fulfilled that role in a way, when she talks about the darkness she sees in Arya, and all the “eyes she’ll shut forever”.
And so, while I’m quite happy with the way the show handled the Brotherhood, I wouldn’t have complained about spending a bit more of time with them. Especially Thoros- which makes me realize we didn’t get to see him joining Beric in battle with a flaming sword of his own, all thanks to that snow bear. So thanks a bunch, bear.
To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of the resurrected version of Catelyn Stark. The first time I read the epilogue, I was thrilled. But after a while of mulling about it, the idea went sour for me.
I’ve talked about this in past articles, but I feel like having Catelyn back, even as an undead who’s hellbent on revenge, undermines the impact of her death in the Red Wedding and effectively turns her into a villain the moment she orders Brienne and Pod to hang. Keeping Beric and his flaming sword instead was one of the best decisions made by the writing team so far.
But that’s just my opinion. I know many people wanted to see her, George included, so including her in the list is a no-brainer.
But you know, take some liberties. Instead of sacrificing Beric, have Thoros revive her. And though in the novels she has difficulty speaking (due to the wound in her neck being too deep), that wouldn’t work well in an audiovisual medium (I suppose that’s part of the reason Vargo Hoat was replaced with Locke). So, allowing us to understand what she’s saying would be helpful.
I have a feeling that she won’t survive the meeting with Jaime, because I don’t think the Kingslayer will hang. And surely Brienne won’t die either. So where’s the Stoneheart subplot going is anyone’s guess.
Some theorize she could give the kiss of life to Jon, putting aside the hatred she felt for him in life, but the presence of Melisandre at Castle Black (and how she’s the one who does revive Jon in the show) undercuts that idea. Others think Arya could be the one who gives Stoneheart the gift of Mercy, and I can see that happening. As the name implies, not all death is punishment: sometimes it can be the compassionate thing to do.
It’d be a bittersweet moment, but also an opportunity for Arya to say goodbye to her mother and laying her to rest in a proper way. Probably bring her body back to Winterfell. Because, as we heard from Sansa, in the show version of the story Catelyn’s body was simply dumped in a river and that was the end of it, whereas Ned’s bones did reach the castle (unlike the novels, since the Silent Sisters haven’t been able to reach Winterfell).
The novels have so much content, we could be discussing about all the possibilities for years even after the show reaches the finish line. And that’s not taking into account that we still have two more novels to look forward to.
Like all screen adaptations, a lot had to change and a lot more had to be cut. And I feel like, much like with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, we got the best possible version.
Maybe some years in the future (after the book series is hopefully completed), someone else will attempt to adapt the story again, though it’s difficult to imagine a new cast playing the characters or the locations having a different look than the one we’re used to now.
For the time being, though, we still have one more season to go, and then a prequel to look forward to. If The Long Night is successful, we may see more Ice and Fire content heading to our TVs. Aegon’s Conquest? The Dance of Dragons? Something entirely new and unexpected? There are places in Essos that are ripe for exploration, like the Shadow Lands. Time will tell.
One thing is certain: Thrones isn’t going away any time soon!