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Game of Thrones S4E9 Book / Speculation followup for non-readers: "The Watchers on the Wall"


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lukeatlook explains The Watchers on The Wall:

Welcome to the weekly followup for non-readers! Here you can learn something about the book perspective and enhance your viewing experience with some useful backstory that can explain some scenes or confirm they make no sense.

Spoiler scope is more or less "You should be fine". The intention is to never spoil any events past the show storyline, but since the book-to-show scope is already crazy (we haven't finished book 3 in some places and yet other storylines are at book 4/5) I cannot promise safety to book readers who haven't finished all the books.

Speculation tag is for things like character merges that haven't concluded their storyline yet, but are visibly parallel to some book alternative. We'll get to some specific examples later on.

This particular episode is fairly difficult to break down to few parts since it's all based on Jon's three chapters, as opposed to Blackwater, which was based on six chapters from POV of three people (Davos, Tyrion, Sansa). However, since we finally catched up all the loose ends with the book, we can finally talk about the whole Wall plotline of ASOS.

TL;DR: Adaptation explanation - Reader rage - Overall overview

This episode will have somewhat serious section headlines, since I can't do it location-by-location and guessing what I had in mind based on vague references would be difficult. So the references are less vague.

The Road So Far

CARRY ON MY WAYWARD SO-O-O-ON

  • Seasons 3 and 4 are both based on one book, A Storm of Swords. It's so packed with events that it surely couldn't fit in one season, but two seasons is a little bit of a stretch. This is why some storylines had a weak ending of Season 3 (King's Landing, Daenerys, Stannis) and some had a weak beginning of season 4 (the Wall, Bran, Stannis again).

  • The best theoretical solution would be to make it into one 16 episode season, but that would both break any budget constraints and speed up the plot ahead of the books published so far. The solution chosen by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (from there on referred to as DDB, "Double DB"), however risky and controversial, was quite probably the best practical one.

  • To give you a good concept of timeframe, ASOS has 82 chapters, prologue and epilogue included. Red Wedding is chapter 51 and things like Purple Wedding, siege of Meereen, battle of Castle Black and Tyrion's trial happen soon after with no stops. The book is titled A Storm for a good reason. Anyway, after things happening in the expected tempo in season 3 (Red Wedding) or being significantly sped up (Brotherhood without Banners), some other events got pushed back to season 4 - sometimes creating the need to write a filler thread.

  • This is what happened with Jon's storyline. The very next chapter after he comes back to Castle Black, the wildlings attack, although it's only Ygritte's group. Then, in the next chapter, the Night's Watch prepares for the battle with Mance's army, and Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt arrive after both battles occur. Merging the two battles together made Jon's previous story in this season a little bit empty, so we got the filler with the mutineers at Craster's Keep. In the books, they're still there, but there is no time to take care of them.

  • We still have three chapters to conclude the Wall storyline for ASOS and this tells me we'll see two of those pushed to season 5, even possibly making most of that season. Which makes sense, especially since the writers have proven that the Wall fillers can be quite entertaining. Even though the scene had some weak points (Bran yet againpassing Jon by a few meters), Karl fooking Tanner made the legend.

  • Meanwhile, stories of Sansa and Daenerys passed their ASOS scope and stepped into AFFC (book 4) and ADWD (book 5) territory, respectively. AFFC and ADWD happen simultaneously and are divided by characters - there's no Dany in AFFC.

Camp Ginger Minge

You said she bit your member off - Jon Snow, calling on Tormund's BSOnly half. And half me member is twice as long as any other man’s - Tormund with an epic comeback

  • Tormund Giantsbane is also known as Tall Talker (a known bullshitter). Along with 20 other titles he earned or made up. The story is told with Jon present (as Ygritte is not a POV character) back before they climb the Wall. And, to be precise, Tormund does not lead the group, Styr does - Tormund is at the other side of the Wall with Mance.

  • Speaking of Styr, book Thenns aren't cannibals - the whole tribe became a mix of some wildling groups. They are, however, one of the most organised and important groups.

Since the battle of Castle Black is separate thing to the battle of the Wall:

  • there is no waiting for the sign - Thenns don't even have a warg

  • as mentioned earlier, Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt are not present, which means Donal Noye, a one-armed smith, is the acting commander

  • the battle resolves when Donal blows up the staircase to the Wall, burying the Magnar and most of his men alive with the Wall collapsing on them; that's where Jon finds Ygritte

The resolution is the same - Ygritte dies before Jon Snow's eyes.

  • Olly, the kid archer, is a show-only character. It's not sure who shot Ygritte in the books, Jon is only somewhat content it wasn't him (Jon, due to his fresh wounds, doesn't engage in hand-to-hand combat in the first battle).

  • Aside from the cave mention, their last conversation references Ygritte's desire to see a castle - she's happy that she finally got to visit one. Jon promises her they'll see more castles and that maester Aemon will patch her up, to which Ygritte responds that Jon knows nothing, which ends the chapter. This is 4 chapters after Red Wedding, so you can imagine the growing despair of the readers.

Camp Blue Balls

[Slynt] himself confronted me, emboldened by my empty scabbard, but he had only three men with him and I still had my knife - Barristan Selmy, describing his escape from King's Landing

  • Back to the Night's Watch, we have Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt way before they appear in the book (which is, after the battle of the Wall). They confront Jon like they did at the beginning of the season and send him to Mance to get rid of him, just like they send him to Craster's Keep in the show.

  • Janos Slynt was in the show from season 1. He was supposed to help Ned Stark take control of the Red Keep, instead the gold cloaks slaughtered the Stark men. In the beginning of season 2, Slynt was the one executing Robert's bastards and this is when Tyrion sends him to the Wall. It takes time since ser Alliser Thorne, who takes custody of him, stops by a few places to gather recruits for the Night's Watch.

  • Although Samwell's love story seems overblown (it kinda is), he's actually a POV character in the books, although with way less chapters than Jon. This means we get an insight into his head and his development is very much intended.

  • Aemon's backstory is actually quite develped. GRRM wrote a series of novelas Dunk and Egg, describing adventures of ser Duncan the Tall and Aemon's younger brother Aegon. No love interest is mentioned, though, so the best guess here would be Olenna Tyrell - the book age doesn't seem to match (100 vs 80), but it's possible to disregard those number, seeing as the show continuity has written off an entire generation of Targaryens - book Aegon was Mad King's grandfather, TV Aegon was his father. Both mentions (of Olenna's fiance and Aemon's love) are show-only material, so it seems very likely. And book readers deduced more from less.

  • I've already mentioned it, but Alliser Thorne has a personal grudge against Jon Snow as it was Ned Stark whose rebellion (and Robert's) caused him to fight for the losing side and get sent off to the Wall. His only crime being loyalty to Targaryens is a fair reason for him to be bitter about his fate.

  • As for Pypar, Grenn and Eddison "Dolorous Edd" Tollett, the overall feeling is more or less the same, but all those characters have more lines spoken and therefore are mor einteresting (also, Edd is very humorous in the books).

[Eddison:] I never win anything. The gods always smiled on Watt, though. When the wildlings knocked him off the Bridge of Skulls, somehow he landed in a nice deep pool of water. How lucky was that, missing all those rocks?[Grenn:] Was it a long fall? Did landing in the pool of water save his life?[Eddison:] No. He was dead already, from that axe in his head. Still, it was pretty lucky, missing the rocks

Cast Amputees

A one-armed smith slew Mag the Mighty? Har! That must o' been a fight to see. Mance will make a song of it, see if he don’t. To Donal Noye, and Mag the Mighty! - Tormund Giantsbane

There are some characters cut from the show, who play a significant role in the books - their role got taken over by other characters. One of them is Donal Noye.

  • Noye is the acting commander of the Night's Watch in place of Alliser Thorne, who doesn't come until right after the battle of the Wall. He dies an heroic death in the tunnel, taking the giant Mag the Mighty one on one. Unfortunately, keeping the smith in background all this time just to have him for one scene didn't make much sense, so the heroic death got ceded to Grenn and a few unnamed men.

  • As a matter of fact, book Grenn survives this battle, which slightly upset the readers who expected everything to be the same. Just a small difference.

  • The cook with a cleaver is Three Finger Hobb, Night's Watch cook not seen in the show until now... and possibly staying that way.

  • There are other nods to things cut from the book - I'd say the smithhammer blow to Styr's head could be a vague reference to Donal Noye.

More:

Crowstorm

We'll defend the Wall to the last man - Cotter PykeProbably me - Dolorous Edd

  • As I said in the last point of the main post, there are some other possible references - a very probable one is the "scythe", sweeping chain of impeding doom that clears the climebrs of the Wall. It's not mentioned in the books, but there is another chain: an epic piece of ironwork that surprisingly rises behind Stannis's fleet, keeping it in place at Blackwater's Bay. The book version of that battle involved a full-blown navy battle with dozens of ships on both sides. Tyrion used the Lannister navy as bait and sacrificed it in the wildfire explosion.

  • Since Janos Slynt and Alliser Thorne are absent from the battle of the Wall in the books, the chain of "You have the Wall" goes from Donal Noyle to Jon. No simultaneous attack of Ygritte's group makes the whole thing focused around the top of Wall and the tunnel.

  • Show cast cuts continue with Pyp, very much alive at the end of the battle in the book, but a victim to one of Ygritte's arrows in the show. One of the possible reasons for those changes is to cut down the cast since new season as usual will bring new characters (or even old ones - we haven't seen Mance's camp in a while, and while some people like his wife might get cut from the show, there's at least Rattleshirt).

  • Giants in the show are most likely father and son. This is pure speculation and doesn't matter that much since they're both dead, but there is a father-son giant duo mentioned in the book.

  • As you can imagine, books mention more mammoths and giants, all repelled by oil casks. Well, TV has it budget reality. And seeing the same thing more than once would kinda wear off its novelty.

  • Ghost isn't reunited with Jon until after he crosses the Wall to Mance's side (again, no Craster's Keep mutineers filler).

  • As the saying goes "The Wall defends itself". It's very unusual for the wildings to climb the wall and nobody sane would attempt to do so with aware archers on top of the Wall. Climbers and the scythe are show-only event.

  • The moment where the book and show storylines come to one point is when Jon marches to Mance's camp. Samwell Tarly, Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt are in Castle Black in both alternative storylines.

Bonus

Thanks for tuning in, and see you next week for the last episode! And that one is going to be... You have no idea. You have NO idea. There is no amount of hype that can prepare you for what's about to come. You may record your reactions to the whole thing.

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