Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor
Tyrion awakens to a changed situation. King Joffrey doles out rewards to his subjects. As Theon stirs his men to action, Luwin offers some final advice. Brienne silences Jaime; Arya receives a gift from Jaqen; Dany goes to a strange place; Jon proves himself to Qhorin.
“Blackwater” was always going to be a hard act to follow. The first episode to feature only one location, the biggest battle ever seen on the show, written by George R.R. Martin himself, directed by Neil Marshall—it was a monster of an episode, by far the most popular on the forums. So when “Valar Morghulis” aired, I think many expected it to fall a bit short. Perhaps, even, a bit short of the first season finale, “Fire and Blood”. And, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, it did: not only did it fall short, in the estimation of many fans, it was (in some areas) woefully far from where it by all rights ought to have been. At the same time, the episode has to be seen in the larger context of the aims of the writers, what came before, and more. It was not, by any means, an easy episode to create, and there’s no shame in having failed to achieve the heights of last season’s finish, with its iconic moments and imagery.
There’s certainly much that is good in this season. From the Lost-like eye that’s our first frame, we’re brought into Tyrion’s suddenly-constrained world, an unexpected reversal after the valor and brilliance that he displayed at the Battle of the Blackwater Rush. With a gloating Pycelle—strangely, Julian Glover seems to have been directed to cast aside his pose as a dotard, which seemed a little too on-the-nose; yes, it may show his contempt for Tyrion that he thinks it doesn’t matter how he acts, but at the same time, it seems to be something he’s cultivated for many years—standing over him, Tyrion is hammered with the news that he’s lost his spacious quarters, he’s lost his great victory (it’s Lord Tywin who wins the lion’s share of credit, which must be especially galling), and most importantly he’s lost the office of Hand. He’s back to the place he was when the series began: the unwanted son, the Imp with nothing to do but clean out Casterly Rock’s drains and whore and drink and read books. Peter Dinklage shows the crushing weight of this series of disasters with terrific skill, carrying it all in the way he holds his body on the bed, the doubt in his voice, the fear in his eyes. It all comes welling up when Shae finally comes to him, and it’s a touching scene, and one that gives Sibel Kekilli a chance to shine a bit more (a welcome trend).
The choreographed undoing of Joffrey’s marriage and his taking up with the “innocent”—there’s no other way to use that word but in quotes—Margaery Tyrell is well-handled, an obviously carefully planned charade for the sake of the crowd. More importantly, however, the scene gives Sophie Turner a chance to stretch her range, to finally smile and laugh (the first time she’s laughed all season), and then to see her own dreams of happiness crushed by Littefinger’s blithe revelation that Joffrey will continue to abuse her, may well even rape her… and then, of course, he offers the promise of escape. It’s such a slimy, grimy manipulation, and yet you can see that he’s sunk his hook with the bait: she may say that King’s Landing is her home now, again, repeating the rote words that she’s engraved on her heart to keep her safe, but there’s something that suggests she dares to hope.
My personal favorite story all season has been that of Theon Greyjoy. It was the favorite of the writers as well, at least going into the new season. And on the whole, I think it worked well in the final, all thanks to Alfie Allen’s remarkable display of vulnerability, frustration, and rage—rage against his failure, rage against his family and foster family—puts on display. That wild-eyed speech, preparing the ironborn for a glorious death with him, was well-done, full of the mad energy of a man willing himself to die rather than live with ignominy. And then his legs are cut out from under him, and the audience: Dagmer, so faithful and helpful, reveals himself to be a survivor above all else, ready to betray anyone. It’s a clever turn, neatly resolving problems with how they would get Theon to where he needed to be. It’s not a perfect scene: why are the ironborn cheering him when it seems, from the way Lorren and Dagmer act, that they had all agreed to hand him over in return for the promised amnesty? Why do no less than four Winterfell denizens stand around dumbly while Luwin falls to the ground clutching his bleeding belly?
It’s worth nothing, as well, that while they well and truly grabbed at the essence of Theon Greyjoy and put it on display, at the final moment there is a rather large deviation: Theon chooses death and a chance to put himself out of his misery, and perhaps to win some measure of respect from his family, rather than deciding (as in the novel) that the Watch is for him. The thing about the character in the novel is that while he had doubts about what he did, while he was sickened by it to some degree, at the end of the day he was and remained a moral coward and he sought the path of least resistance. Theon is resigning himself to his death when Maester Luwin suggests he can take the black, and it takes very little persuasion. I’m unsure what narrative purpose Theon’s choice of a glorious death serves that’s superior to the final proof of his abject failure, and it seems to me that having Theon fail at the last rather than giving him a moment (even a hollow one) of a battle speech does detract a bit from the story they’ve created. They’ve predicated too much on Theon’s remorse, and not quite enough on his desperation.
Winterfell also offers one other bit of sloppiness, as we see the burning Winterfell without any real knowledge as to why it happened. In the novel, it’s made very clear. And on the show, Maester Luwin really ought to have been firmly capable of telling them what happened. And yet… nothing. It was a strange choice for the writers to make, and the reasoning behind it escapes me. A chance at leaving some kind of “mystery”? It’s a weak one, and it hardly makes up for all the mysteries that the production has purposefully marginalized over the course of the season.
And yet for all the good… this episode simply tried to do too much. Why wasn’t Arya’s story wrapped up in episode 8? For that matter, why wasn’t Robb’s? Why not Brienne and Jaime’s? So much of this episode is devoted to racing between one character and another that it meant the strength of the individual scenes were curtailed because of a lack of solid context. It’s been a problem endemic of the entire season—and again, “Blackwater” didn’t help this, with its narrow focus—that the writers have expanded some stories without seeming to give enough thought to just how little time would be devoted to other stories that were clearly important in the season. Catelyn and Sansa Stark seemed to be particularly curtailed compared to where they ought to have been, and it’s hard not to imagine that the insistence on doings things such as wrapping up every story in episode 10—rather than allowing some to close in episode 8 to allow others more room to breathe—contributed to the somewhat mixed reception that the episode received from fans and critics alike regarding the structure and pacing of the episode.
I’ve already noted the many issues with the Robb and Talisa relationship on the show, and the Robb and Catelyn relationship for that matter, and this episode changes nothing as far as that goes. I like Richard Madden as much as the next guy, and Oona Chaplin’s good on screen, but sometimes you just need to put aside the fact that you really like an actor or think that the season needs to be a “season of romance” to allow other stories to develop more. Every moment with Robb outside of the bookending first and last episodes strikes me as an obvious error, a choice that pulled away time from storylines that really needed it. The whole of Robb’s time, invested in Arya’s story, might have allowed the production to make more of her imprisonment and development into what she becomes by the end of A Clash of Kings; and that’s just one example where the expansion of a story not from the novels has damaged other parts of the narrative. It’s a weaker story for spending the time with Robb.
Indeed, almost every significant complaint I’ve seen with this episode relates to too much time spent on additions. The Jon Snow denouement was rather shockingly gutted of one of the most cinematic, thematically rich passages in the whole novel (I describe it in some detail in the Book-to-screen section). And why? I can’t see any other reason than to feature Rose Leslie somewhat more, and yet despite her chemistry with Kit Harington (enough to make me look forward to seeing them again next season) I can’t say that the interactions in episode 7 were especially important or enjoyable; they were good, but not great, whereas the material Martin had handed them was fantastic, giving Qhorin greater complexity and weight, giving Jon a more emotional arc. And certainly, while one might like the touch of leaving Jon’s killing of Qhorin as being more ambiguous in its motivations—actual rage? realizing what Qhorin wanted him to do?—I don’t believe that would have contradicted the thrust of the novel’s version of this story. Indeed, it may have enriched it further.
We can put it down to a missed opportunity, in the end. And again, all of this? It’s the most complicated hour-long drama production on the air right now, more so even than HBO’s other big and costly shows such as Boardwalk Empire; missed opportunities are going to be relatively common, given how much is going on, how much is crossing the desks of the showrunners. They have to be respected for even daring to do this.
And yet, they’ve stated certain goals, and one of them was to be faithful and true to the voice and meaning of the series. Yes, they shifted from adapting A Clash of Kings to adapting “A Song of Ice and Fire”, and while in many particulars—Tyrion, Sansa, Theon—they’ve succeeded almost perfectly, in one or two others they seem to have failed abjectly. I won’t harp any more on Robb and Talisa and how damaging it’s been to Catelyn Stark’s story and how damaging it’s been to the general reputation and appreciation of Robb Stark among the viewership. But Daenerys has been the largest question mark all season, and in the end? Her narrative arc was weakened by the insistence of making her more present than what was provided in the novels. What the writers replaced it with was such a sham, so transparently unimportant, that the deaths of Xaro and Doreah have hardly earned any reaction, and practically no discussion. Xaro’s vault being empty (shades of Bernie Madoff, one supposes, though so head-thumpingly obvious that it strains credulity) or his crowning himself? Nothing, practically, has been said of it; it was so unreal that few have any real thoughts about it. People did not care one jot, and rather than embracing that and perhaps borrowing from Martin’s page and rendering Qarth an exotic trap, a mirage that was trying to lure Daenerys in, they crudely grafted on a little bit of a political story that simply didn’t mean anything.
Even more than that, Daenerys’s passage in the House of the Undying marks the clearest example that the writers have practically no interest in the historical aspect of the narrative. The “song of ice and fire” is literally mentioned in the corresponding chapter in the novel, the first and clearest example of how the narrative ties into a much bigger picture, and it’s gone. The antipathy that the writers seem to have towards enigma is, I believe, the single most surprising thing about them. For myself, and for many readers, the enigmatic parts of the story have been fodder for thousands of hours of speculation and discussion; topics trying to interpret the deep history of the setting, the mysterious prophecies, the secrets in the more recent past, are among the most popular around. The series seem tailor-made to capture some of the Lost viewership, to give viewers something to chew over and ponder between seasons. And… no. Nothing. It’s so baffling.
What they offer instead is… visually, it’s beautiful. The image of the ruinous throne room covered in snow? Gorgeous. But if you had told me before the season started that not a single image from Daenerys’s actual passage through the House of the Dying would make it to air, I would have called you mad and unnecessarily pessimistic about the showrunners. Sure, the romanticism of the past was largely gone from the first season, but what happens in the House of the Undying ties past, present, and future in the right way and at the right moment. I’d also argue that the beauty of using the House of the Undying to go truly surreal and to litter the narrative with hints of things to come and things that were and things that might be is that viewers don’t have to bother with them, if they don’t want. But why leave out material that some—many, probably—would engage with if they were given the opportunity? It’s not as if the show would suddenly be closed to any but those who want to piece together every detail; as someone who watched Lost at a semi-devoted level, I know I did not get involved in the ARGs, nor did I mine every viral video for every last detail, and I never felt that I missed anything that I really wanted to be involved in—but I always felt that I was involved as much as I wanted to be, more than the casual viewer. Now it’s hard, very hard, to do that between seasons because the show literally leaves nothing to the imagination, leaves practically nothing to speculate about that is not plot mechanics.
All in all, the Daenerys narrative that the writers created this season suffered not so much from having to adapt a very internal and relatively brief storyline, but from their deciding that “action” could be dropped on top of what Martin created without much additional work, and it’d be just fine, and simply by placing Daenerys more in the spotlight than they ought to have done. The theft of the dragons might have sounded appealing at the time, but I don’t believe it has left any real mark. The numbers who seem turned off by Daenerys being such a rote character, predictable in her rages and her insecurities, makes me dearly hope that next season the writers determine to stick much closer to the source text, as they did last year. I would certainly love to really enjoy Daenerys’s story, but only if what the writers provide is actually up to matching that expectation.
This isn’t the worst episode the show has ever had… but it’s nowhere near the best. It’s a season where a “sophomore slump” might be in play, so making a strong finish to try and match up to “Blackwater” and prove that all the changes and adjustments they made were going to come together beautifully seems all the more important, and the failure to do so is a disappointment. In hindsight, a number of missteps might well have been avoided if the writers had only trusted the source material—and their own abilities—more than they did, and fought more to adapt faithfully rather than loosely, slowly beginning to shift some storylines and characters from “based on” to “inspired by”, as some have dubbed it. Decisions to highlight actors because they “loved” them, or because they’re “main characters” and they “can’t” be off screen for so long (why didn’t this stop David Simon for leaving the break-out character, Omar, out of long stretches of episodes?) constrained how much time could be devoted to each narrative, further stymieing their efforts to turn out more, perfect episodes. while doing very little to expand on the story and world in some unique way that really enriched it in a way that made up for what was lost.
I, for one, hope that the splitting of A Storm of Swords into two seasons, more-or-less, will allow the story to breathe and give the writers the confidence to stick more closely to what many consider (not I, but many) Martin’s finest entry in the series to date.
The episode covers the following chapters of A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords: Tyrion XV, Sansa VIII, Jaime I (ASoS), Theon VI, Tyrion I (ASoS), Arya IX, Bran VII, Daenerys IV, Jon VIII, Jon I (ASoS), and Prologue (ASoS).
Changes of note, chapter-by-chapter:
Tyrion XV: The scene follows fairly closely on the chapter, though with the notable change that Maester Ballabar—a member of Lord Redwyne’s retinue—tends to Tyrion in the novel, and his conversation with Tyrion is much less fraught with tension as Pycelle clearly gloats over Tyrion being brought down and confined to a small, out of the way chamber. Furthermore, it is noted that Maester Ballabar keeps Tyrion dosed with milk of the poppy, basically keeping him under for a long period of time to heal. In the novel, Tyrion asks Podrick to dismiss Ballabar and demands that another maester, Frenken (the maester at Stokeworth), to treat him before he passes out due to another dose of milk of the poppy. This is the last Tyrion chapter in A Clash of Kings
Sansa VIII: The details of the triumph in the throne room are largely similar. The most notable differences are that Joffrey in the novel actually showed stubborn displeasure at having to “give up” Sansa as his bride. However, the choreographing of the successive pleas and counsels to put aside his marriage is quite the same. Similarly, Lord Tywin really does ride into the court room. Another notable omission is that Ser Loras Tyrell—in the novel accompanied by his older brother Ser Garlan (who we later learn was “Renly’s Ghost” instead of Loras) and their father Lord Tyrell—does not ask to join Joffrey’s Kingsguard. That’s actually a bit of a surprise, really. More rewards were handed out to Lord Baelish—not only was he named lord of Harrenhal, he was also proclaimed Lord Paramount of the Trident, essentially taking over the role the Tullys had held for three centuries. Hallyne the Pyromancer is given the style of lord (but no lands or castle to go with it; it’s an empty honor). Finally, the show omits a number of other rewards to lesser personages, including the seat of Nightsong to the one-eyed kngiht Ser Philip Foote for killing Lord Bryce Caron in single combat, knighthood, lands and the funds for a towerhouse in the riverlands for the freerider and Littlefinger’s sworn sword Lothor Brune (who won the name Apple-eater after cutting his way through half a hundred Fossoway men to kill or capture several Fossoways of both branches o the family), a promised knighthood for a 14-year-old squire named Josmyn Peckledon who’d killed or captured four knights single-handedly, and a man-at-arms named Willit who protected Ser Harys Swyft and was rewarded with new equipment and the chance for his sons to win knighthoods at Casterly Rock.
Following the rewards and honors conferred, the many captured lords and knights are brought forward to bend the knee to Joffrey and swear to fealty. One of them, a zealous follower of R’hllor, denounces Joffrey, leading the king to scream for his head. Others start to denounce him, and Joffrey he slams down his fist angrily on the arm of the Iron Throne… and he cuts himself. He wails for his mother, and Cersei runs to him. As the knight screams that it’s proof that the Iron Throne itself rejects him and Joffrey is no king, Joffrey is ushered away and the knight is killed by Ser Meryn Trant, quickly and brutally, on Lord Tywin’s silent command. Lord Tywin himself takes matters in hand after ward, seating himself on the steps of the dais and presiding over the rest of the surrenders.
The other notable detail is the fact that after Sansa departs, it’s Ser Dontos Hollard—not Littlefinger—who informs Sansa that this makes her position even more dangerous in regard to Joffrey. Littlefinger’s line that theyr’e all liars, and better liars than Sansa, is actually taken from the Hound much earlier in the novel (the second time that Baelish has been given dialog meant for Clegane). Through the novels, Dontos has been meeting with Sansa in secret in the godswood, apparently acting on behalf of a mysterious benefactor who tries to help her. Sansa’s chapter in the novel ends with Dontos giving her a silver hairnet with purple gemstones, a gift from his employer, which he says is magical and will see her home in time.
Jaime I (ASoS): This scene is essentially drawn from Jaime’s first chapter in A Storm of Swords (and in the series). There are notable differences such as the fact that Ser Cleos Frey is accompanying them, and Brienne does not abandon the boat at this time, instead sailing it down the Red Fork. When they see the bodies (hanged, in all likelihood, by Lord Bracken—a riverlord—rather than northmen), she insists on cutting them down and burying them… but instead of three Stark men-at-arms, it’s a river galley loaded with Tully men-at-arms and led by the captain of the guard Ser Robin Ryger. Brienne’s ingenuity and strength allows her to damage the pursuing galley sufficiently to escape. Another significant change is another example of Brienne’s ability to be a ruthless killer—which is actually a sharp change from the character in the novels, who has never killed a man in her life. It’s actually a significant part of the character’s story in the novels, but the writers seem to have decided that ruthlessness suits her better.
Theon VI: Theon’s final chapter features several notable differences. For one thing, he in fact seems intent on asking Ser Rodrik (still alive, and leading the force surrounding Winterfell) to allow him to take the black. That’s actually a very strong motivational change. So as you can guess, his wild-eyed speech about dying gloriously does not happen; in fact, when Black Lorren suggests challenging them to single combat to decide their fates, Theon refuses him though he recognizes that Lorren is merely looking for a glorious death. The other major change entails the fact that another force joins the Stark forces… and then begins to slaughter them. This is where Ser Rodrik is killed, as well as Leobald Tallhart and young Lord Cley Cerwyn. Theon allows his saviors in, and a man in costly armor made to look like a flayed man reveals himself: Reek, or the man Theon thought was Reek, but in fact was the infamous Ramsay Snow, the Bastard of Bolton. Theon attempts to reward him as promised for bringing so many of his father’s men to save him… and Reek smashes his face with a steel-gauntleted hand, and orders the killing of all men, the taking away of women and children, and the burning of Winterfell. The last we see as Theon passes out is his horse, Smiler, running out of the stable with its mane on fire. The show (rather clumsily) leaves the question of who burned the castle open.
Tyrion I, II (ASoS): Tyrion’s discussion with Varys, filling him in further on the state of things, is loosely based on Tyrion’s first and second chapters in A Storm of Swords. There, it’s Bronn, not Varys, who meets with him and discusses how things went for him at the Blackwater, and other such details. As noted in the past, Bronn never held the post of Commander of The City Watch in the novel—that went to Ser Jacelyn Bywater, called Ironhand, who was probably killed by his own men while trying to rally them. Podrick’s importance to Tyrion is clear enough, however, as it’s Pod who spends his time collecting Bronn and making sure he comes. Varys arranges a secret meeting with Shae, who is acting as Lollys Stokeworth’s handmaiden at this time, but it should be noted that Tyrion had seen her several times before that and merely had no opportunity to be in private with her. Finally, the question of Ser Mandon Moore is never answered in the series (as of A Dance with Dragons)—Tyrion suspects Cersei but neither Varys nor anyone else offers him any link that allows him to prove it. Truth be told, we suspect it was supposed to be Joffrey, not Cersei, who tried to have Tyrion killed (we’ve no special knowledge on this point, merely our own speculation).
Arya IX: The conversation with Jaqen is almost entirely drawn from the book, but it actually takes place immediately after he fulfills her command to help her (by slaughtering several Lannister guards and freeing northern prisoners just in time for them to join the Brave Companions in betraying the garrison).
Bran VII: This scene drops an extended warging point-of-view as Bran and Rickon control their direwolves to look about the burning, abandoned castle. It also fails to provide the perspective inside the crypt for reasons of economy. In the novel, the door is blocked by debris from the razed First Keep and it takes Hodor’s great strength to force their way out into the light. Osha, Bran, and Hodor each takes sword from the tombs, as does Meera Reed (who, with her brother Jojen, is not present this season). When they step out in the castle, they see that among the dead are ironborn, including Black Lorren with several dead northmen about him. They do find Luwin in the crypt, and unlike on the show, Luwin is quite explicit about the fact that he’s dying. He does, however, send the children away before asking Osha for a merciful death because of the pain. Finally, a significant change is the fact that at the end, Bran travels with Hodor and the Reeds toward the Wall—because Jojen Reed says Bran’s destiny lies there—while Osha takes Rickon away in a separate direction, at Luwin’s suggestion as the safest way to try and keep at least one heir to Winterfell safe.
Daenerys IV: The House of the Undying has been radically revised from what’s in the novel. Compression is not a surprise, given time and budget considerations, but the fact that not a single image or prophetic statement from the scene in the novels made it to the screen was quite a shock for many viewers who’ve read the books. For the sake of completeness, here is a bullet-point summary of what happens in the scene:
Daenerys arrives at the House of the Undying in a palanquin, with her bloodriders, Ser Jorah, and Xaro (who, in the novel, has not attempted a coup or anything like it). She has Drogon, the black dragon, on her shoulder. Xaro calls it the Palace of Dust. Unlike in the novel, it is not a tower: it’s a sprawling, ancient crumbling palace, low and with no towers. There are trees with black bark and inky blue leaves from which the warlocks make their shade of the evening, the sorcerous potion they drink. Pyat Pree appears and informs Daenerys she must enter without anyone else, although Drogon is permitted to go with her. She must drink shade of the evening to open her eyes, and then she must always take the first door of the right, and never go down stairs but always go up. Daenerys receives a phial of shade of the evening from the smallest dwarf she’s ever seen and then enters alone.
After several rooms, she comes to a hallway with doors only on the left. Drogon takes a tentative flight from her shoulder, flying twenty feet down the hall before thudding to the ground. She follows. The carpet beneath her feet is rich but ancient and moth-eaten, and she can hear sounds of scrabbling in the walls which make Drogon scream at them, and some of the doors she passes she can hear other, more disturbing noises and thumps.
Not all the doors are closed. In one, a beautiful naked woman sprawls as she’s being ravished by four dwarfs, and one rips at her breast with his teeth.
Further down, another shows Daenerys a feast of corpses, savagely slaughtered. In a throne above them, a dead man presides, holding a leg of chicken as if it were a scepter and an iron crown on his head… which is the head of a wolf. Daenerys feels his dead eyes following her in mute appeal.
The next open door shows her her childhood home in Braavos, the house with the red door which was the place she felt safest in the world. Then Ser Willem Darry—the loyal knight who spirited her and Viserys away from Dragonstone when Stannis’s fleet approached and the garrison at Dragonstone was preparing to surrender them up—appears, leaning on his cane, calling to her. She almost enters the room at his beckoning, until she remembers he died long ago.
She runs and runs down the hall, passing many doors, opened and closed, of all shapes and sizes and styles. Drogon rides on her shoulder, his tail whipping against her back, “urging her on.”
She finally comes to an open door on the left, a great bronze door, and there she sees a huge hall with the black skulls of dragons all around. On a tall barber throne, an old man with dark eyes and silver-grey hair speaks: ‘“Let him be king over charred bones and cooked meat,” he said to a man below him. “Let him be the king of ashes.”’ Drogon screams, unheard by the men in the chamber, and his claws dig at her through her gown, and she moves on.
At another door she sees a chamber and at first she thinks Viserys is there, but then she realizes it’s another man with silver-gold hair, with indigo rather than lilac eyes, and he’s taller. A woman lies in bed, nursing an infant. He tells her the boy’s name is Aegon, and there’s no better name for a king. She asks him if he’ll make a song for him: ‘“He has a song,” the man replied. “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.” He looked up when he said it and his eyes met Dany’s, and it seemed as if he saw her standing there beyond the door. “There must be one more,” he said, though whether he was speaking to her or the woman in the bed she could not say. “The dragon has three heads.” He went to the window seat, picked up a harp, and ran his fingers lightly over its silvery strings. Sweet sadness filled the room as man and wife and babe faded like the morning mist, only the music lingering behind to speed her on her way.’
She walks for at least an hour more, or so it feels, and always the doors are to her left. Then the hall stops with stairs leading down, and no door to her right. She wonders i there’s a hidden door, as the torches that lit the hall begin to extinguish one by one, those furthest away first. She starts to panic, terrified, when she realizes that the first door on her right would be the last door on her left. She pushes through it, and rushes through a number more doors.
She enters a chamber with doors, but the one across from her looks just as the one she entered the House of the Undying in, and through it she sees Pyat Pree. He’s disbelieving that she’s done already, and says she must have taken a wrong turn. He tells her to come with him, he’ll show her the way… but she realizes it’s another trick, another illusion. She takes the first door on the right as he cries after her and crumbles inward, dissolving into a grey, worm-like thing.
Dany takes a stairwell and climbs a long time. When it finally opens at a landing there’s a great wide door flung open, carved of ebony and weirwood. Sh enters and in it she finds a splendor of wizards, beautiful and magnificent to look on. They tell her they are the Undying of Qarth and promise to tell her all the secrets they know. She starts to step to them, when Drogon leaps from her shoulder to chew at the doorway. Doubt seizes her and she moves back, and starts to move the heavy door with all her strength… to discover it hid a grey, splintery and plain door which was the true first door on the right.
Entering the doorway, she comes into a gloomy room with a long stone table. Above it floats a pulsing, corrupt blue heart that beats, sending out washes of indigo light. In the gloom she can see the Undying of Qarth as no more than blue shadows. Then she hears whispering, moaning voices greeting her as the mother of dragons. When she can see through the murk more easily, she sees that the Undying do not breath, their bodies are withered and still and dead, their clothes have rotted on their bodies. But they live through magic. The inform her that what she glimpsed in the rooms were “the shape of shadows . . . morrows not yet made,” and tell her to drink from the cup of fire, to drink from the cup of ice before calling her the mother of dragons and the daughter of three. They say a number of other things:
“three heads has the dragon . . . mother of dragons . . . child of storm . . .”
“three fires must you light . . . one for life and one for death and one to love . . .”
“three mounts must you ride . . . one to bed and one to dread and one to love . . .”
“three treasons will you know . . . once for blood and once for gold and once for love . . .”
As they speak, Dany finds herself growing weaker and weaker, her voice growing fainter. She asks them to help her and show her what they promised. Suddenly there’s a swirl of visions and the voices of the Undying whisper at her:
Viserys screamed as the molten gold ran down his cheeks and filled his mouth.
A tall lord with copper skin and silver-gold hair stood beneath the banner of a fiery stallion, a burning city behind him.
Rubies flew like drops of blood from the chest of a dying prince, and he sank to his knees in the water and with his last breath murmured a woman’s name . . . . mother of dragons, daughter of death . . .
“Glowing like sunset, a red sword was raised in the hand of a blue-eyed king who cast no shadow.
A cloth dragon swayed on poles amidst a cheering crowd.
From a smoking tower, a great stone beast took wing, breathing shadow fire. . . . mother of dragons, slayer of lies . . .
Her silver was trotting through the grass, to a darkling stream beneath a sea of stars.
A corpse stood at the prow of a ship, eyes bright in his dead face, grey lips smiling sadly.
A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness. . . . mother of dragons, bride of fire . . .
Faster and faster the visions came, one after the other, until it seemed as if the very air had come alive. Shadows whirled and danced inside a tent, boneless and terrible.
A little girl ran barefoot toward a big house with a red door.
Mirri Maz Duur shrieked in the flames, a dragon bursting from her brow.
Behind a silver horse the bloody corpse of a naked man bounced and dragged.
A white lion ran through grass taller than a man.
Beneath the Mother of Mountains, a line of naked crones crept from a great lake and knelt shivering before her, their grey heads bowed.
Ten thousand slaves lifted bloodstained hands as she raced by on her silver, riding like the wind. “Mother!” they cried. “Mother, mother!” They were reaching for her, touching her, tugging at her cloak, the hem of her skirt, her foot, her leg, her breast. They wanted her, needed her, the fire, the life, and Dany gasped and opened her arms to give herself to them . . .
Dany gasps and realizes the Undying surround her, touching her, grabbing her. One bites at her throat, another licks at her eye. She can’t breathe, she doesn’t even feel her heart beating.
Then Drogon’s wings buffet her and the dragon screams, and suddenly there’s heat and a glare as he breathes a jet of flame as he sets the Undying alight. They cry out in high, thin papery voices as they burn and fall back. He then flies to the corrupt, pulsing heart and begins to tear at it with his teeth, tearing chunks from it before he burns it as well. Daenerys gets to her feet and bulls through the burning Undying, taking every stair up, taking every door to the right.
Exiting the House of the Undying, Pyat Pree gibbers and screams in a foreign tongue and takes out a dagger, dancing towards her to threaten until her bloodriders deal with him (though they do not kill him) and Ser Jorah kneels and puts an arm around her shoulder.
For more thoughts and details, see our (very spoilerish) Prophecies section at the Citadel.
Jon VIII: In the novel, Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand are the last two members of their ranging—two had been killed, and one’s fate remains unknown after he was sent to climb a difficult path out of the mountains in hopes that he could escape—and have been chased by the ever-closer wildling band. It’s night and aware that they won’t be able to escape any longer, Qhorin tells Jon to build a fire. Alone together, Qhorin asks first if his sword is sharp, and Jon informs him it’s Valyrian steel. They repeat the words of their vows together, and it’s here when Qhorin informs him that when they are captured, Jon must yield. Jon argues that they’ll only spare oathbreakers… and Qhorin makes it plain that’s what he’s to do: do anything he has to, even break his oath, to live, and be part of the wildling army to listen to their plans and secrets, waiting for the chance to run to the Wall and tell the Night’s Watch. It’s actually a very beautiful, evocative scene. Most notably, Jon Snow doesn’t realize the rest of Qhorin’s plan at the time: he asks him to make sure to tell Lord Commander Mormont when he gets to him, that he never truly turned his cloak: ‘Qhorin Halfhand gazed at him across the fire, his eyes lost in pools of shadow. “When I see him next. I swear it.” He gestured at the fire. “More wood. I want it bright and hot.”’
They’re finally trapped at a waterfall and the wildlings approach. Jon yields. Rattleshirt himself considers Jon a useless craven and is ready to kill him when Ygritte speaks up for him. And then Qhorin turns on him, calling him a traitor. Rattleshirt demands Jon prove his intentions by killing Halfhand… and that’s when Qhorin attacks. They fight, and Qhorin is superior, raining blows everywhere. Then, unlike in the show, Ghost leaps in and clamps its teeth around Qhorin’s calf. It gives Jon an opening and Longclaw slices through Qhorin’s throat. His last words are, “... sharp”. For my part, it’s a much, much stronger and more dramatic approach than what the producers chose to do for what solely seems to be more time with Rose Leslie’s Ygritte. It also undercuts Qhorin’s character, having him so readily captured, whereas here he leads Jon through a dangerous flight down the treacherous mountains and hills, using every trick he knows to try and keep out of reach.
Jon I (ASoS): Jon doesn’t actually get within sight of the wildling host until this chapter.
Prologue (ASoS): The prologue in the novels is told from the perspective of Chett, a disgruntled member of the Night’s Watch who plots with others to mutiny and murder Mormont and several others. In the novel, Chett particularly hates Samwell because he blames Sam for taking his place as Maester Aemon’s assistance, and he means to kill him. However, as he enters the sleeping Sam’s tent, the horn sounds. And then it sounds again. And then a third time. The chapter ends there, with the result of that event revealed in a later chapter. One notable detail, however, is that again the Others and the wights are acting in daylight rather than at night; in the novels, they always operate at night.
Ros and Varys: As Ros is a new character, no scene like this has ever been shown in the novels.
Robb and Catelyn: Robb marries Jeyne Westerling without ever speaking to his mother, as they’re quite widely separated. However, the important point to raise is that his motivations for marrying Jeyne are largely different than here. He sleeps with Jeyne after the grief of learning of Winterfell’s taking by the traitorous Theon and the death of his brothers. Then, feeling a passion for her and believing it what honor demands, he marries her. On the show, the motivation—according to the producers—seems to tie into his belief that since so many others are being false to their promises and duties (and, specifically, his mother(!)) that he should be able to do so as well when Talisa is so wonderful.
It is a very poorly handled storyline, not least because the writers still fail to allow Catelyn to point out that Jaime Lannister was going to be killed by the Karstark men before Robb ever arrived.
Stannis and Melisandre: That Stannis questioned Melisandre’s visions and the power of her god after his defeat at Blackwater is true enough. He has a definite crisis, and casts doubts on her prophecy. And just as in the novels—this chapter basically corresponds to an “unseen” chapter in A Storm of Swords, and doubtless was inspired by Stannis’s description of things after his defeat in Davos IV —Melisandre does show Stannis visions in her flames, visions that convince him he must be king. However, it should be said that what he saw did not awe him: it terrifies him, showing him snow and cold and frightening shapes.
Robb and Talisa: The wedding between Robb and Talisa is never depicted. Weirdly, they made it a marriage ceremony of the Faith. While all the Stark children were raised with both faiths, it’s clear some favor one over the other, and it’s very clear that Robb takes more to the old gods. Why they did not use that here, I do not know; it’s not as if Talisa worships the Seven, being from Volantis.
Xaro and Doreah: In then novel, Xaro is last seen turning Daenerys out after he warns her that Qarth has become dangerous for her following the collapse of the House of the Undying and the madness that ran through the warlocks. Strange things are seen. He makes a last offer of marriage, a marriage that would allow him to claim one of the dragons as her morning-gift to him, but she rejects him. Doreah, of course, dies far earlier in the novel, wasting away in the Red Waste.