As just about everyone knows by now, the currently airing sixth season of HBO’s high-fantasy hit Game of Thrones marks the first time the TV series has well and truly lapped author George R.R. Martin and his Song of Ice and Fire novels. For the past five years Martin’s been working to complete The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the saga, but the work’s been slow and the show has soldiered on without him, breaking into uncharted territory with many key characters and discarding others entirely. It’s very clear at this point that we’re destined for two different versions of this tale, and Martin’s latest Winds of Winter excerpt shows just how different those versions might be—and makes a strong argument for which will prevail.
SPOILERS for Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire below
In a post on his “Not A Blog” yesterday, Martin revealed that Winds is still not done, but he’s working on it, and to prove it he dropped a new excerpt from the novel focusing on the character Arianne Martell. If you’re a TV-only consumer of this story, you won’t recognize that name. That’s because, to the dismay of many book fans, Arianne is not a part of Game of Thrones. Her character was cut from the show entirely, but she’s clearly going to be a big part of The Winds of Winter.
Now, here’s where the two version of this story really diverge. Deep breath.
On the show, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is the last of her dynasty, the Mother of Dragons who is hellbent on raising an army that will help her reclaim the Iron Throne of Westeros for her family. In the books, that’s not the case. In 2011’s A Dance with Dragons, Martin revealed that there are other Targaryens still alive: Aegon, the son of Rhaegar Targaryen (Daenerys’ brother, who was killed by Robert Baratheon before the series started) and Elia Martell of Dorne (the murdered princess who spawned Oberyn Martell’s ultimately disastrous revenge quest in Season 4). Aegon was thought to have been murdered during the Baratheon rebellion, but he was actually spirited away to the East by Jon Connington, a Westeros lord loyal to the Targaryens who was banished when Robert Baratheon took power. By the end of A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys is more or less where she is now on the show—at the mercy of the Dothraki—but Aegon is actually in Westeros, taking castles with an army of mercenaries and making plans to capture the Iron Throne, hoping that his aunt Daenerys will eventually join him in power. Oh, and in the books, Tyrion’s hanging out with him, not Daenerys.
Now let’s talk about the Martells and Dorne. The Game of Thrones writers have basically ripped Dorne to shreds at this point. Back in Season 4 Oberyn was killed by the Mountain, and then in Season 5 Myrcella Lannister began a relationship with Prince Trystane Martell, but there the similarties seem to end. We’re just three episodes into Season 6, and already Myrcella, Trystane and Prince Doran Martell—the ruler of Dorne—are dead, thanks to a plot by Ellaria Sand (Oberyn’s lover and the mother of his daughters, the ferocious Sand Snakes) to seize power and organize vengeance against the Lannisters. And, as I mentioned before, Arianne Martell doesn’t even seem to exist.
In Martin’s novels, all those characters (well, except Oberyn) are still very much alive, and Arianne not only exists, but is in a position to be extremely influential. Aegon Targaryen (the prince who doesn’t exist on the show but is busy conquering in the books) is the son of Elia Martell, which makes him Arianne’s cousin. Therefore, if he is who he says he is, then he could have an ally in Dorne, and Prince Doran has dispatched his daughter to find out just how legitimate this new prince on the scene is. The excerpt Martin posted describes Arianne’s covert journey (accompanied by three knights and one of Oberyn’s daughters) to Aegon’s stronghold, where she learns his invasion plans are farther along than she thought.
Complicated, yes, but it also enriches a part of the tale that the TV series essentially abandoned in favor of a murder spree. Dorne is such an interesting part of Martin’s lore, in that it’s part of Westeros but also often fiercely independent. In the novels, Martin seems to be setting it up as the linchpin for the future of the Iron Throne. On the show, it just seems to be about stabbing people.
With the very well-timed release of this excerpt, Martin’s making one thing very clear: Watch the show if you want, but I’m still telling this story my way.