Five years of living high on the Westerosi hog is about to come crashing down around Game of Thrones’ most fervent fans. The show has caught up with the A Song of Ice and Fire books, and no one knows what’s going to happen next. Book readers have been living in the light of knowledge for five seasons, and now they’re all being slowly plunged into darkness. I’m one of them, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.
I’ve read fantasy my whole life, but I arrived late to the ASOIAF party, picking the books up for the first time in early 2011. That was months before the show premiered, though, and by the time it did I considered myself a bonafide expert. My enjoyment of it has been couched in that smug feeling ever since; There were a few surprises along the way, but for the most part I knew what was coming. And I was never shy of lording it over my show-only counterparts in the Game of Thrones fandom.
I’m not the only one. Where A Song of Ice and Fire readers were once united as one bickering, obsessed fan army, the HBO show has created a major rift. Readers insist that the books are better (because they are) and look down on show-watchers who refuse to fully commit. Meanwhile, watchers are sick of hearing about it.
On Reddit, there are different hubs for the show and the books; on decades-old fan sites, separate forums exist for discussion of the screen adaptation. Fans drew these lines years ago, and we’ve been etching them deeper and deeper ever since. Now neither side wants to cross them.
But season 5 is the great equalizer. It’s not just that the show has finally caught up with 2011’s A Dance With Dragons, the most recent of the novels in the series, with the next, The Winds Of Winter, still nowhere in sight. There’s also the fact that Game of Thrones is diverging more than ever from the source material this season — and in ways that seem impossible to reconcile.
The books and the show have always had their differences, but until now it seemed like they were heading to the same place. With almost every major character in the show going way off-script in season 5, though, that no longer feels as certain. It’s a tough sword to swallow.
It might not have been so bad if the show hadn’t started out so faithful; the first season was a practically word-for-word recreation of the first book, and it spoiled us. Now, show Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is going to Dorne, where half the book characters have either been cut or are unrecognizable; Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) has encountered both Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner), who’s for some reason headed to Winterfell; Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) is working with the Boltons; Mance (Ciaran Hinds) is dead and Lady Stoneheart is woefully missing; the entire Iron Islands storyline has apparently been swept under the rug and possibly forgotten. No doubt there are more deviations to come.
I’m not saying these changes are bad. I’ve enjoyed a lot of them, and it’s a fact that the show is plotted much more tightly than the often-meandering books. But the result is an official adaptation that feels more like a fan fiction written by the show’s creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
It’s no secret that Benioff and Weiss have inside knowledge of how the books — even the ones author George R.R. Martin hasn’t written yet — will go. But right now it seems they’re opting to write a version that’s more convenient to film, less costly to produce, and simply more to their liking, for better or worse. I’d love to be proven wrong, but that’s how it looks.
So what does it all mean? How are we supposed to feel about it? Some readers have sworn off the show entirely until the books catch up — whenever that might be. Others don’t care, since the show has diverged so far it’s basically a different story at this point. And there are those who, like me, would rather finish the books before the show, but aren’t strong enough to abstain from watching while Martin spends the next decade (oh, please no) writing the series’ ending.
So from now on I’ll be living in the dark with the rest of you. There will soon be no more Red Weddings or Mountain vs. Viper fights to giggle about while show fans writhe; we’ll all be writhing together. And it’s only going to get worse, as the show ventures farther and farther ahead — and diverges more and more.
But there are those who will wait, and the show watchers’ classic plea is about to be reversed; it’s book fans who will beg, “Please, no spoilers!” Now that’s a role reversal Martin, the man who made us love an incestuous little-boy-out-of-windows pusher, should be able to appreciate.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Games Editor, in charge of all things gaming but mostly concerned with maxing his Destiny characters. He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and two dogs. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.