contenders for the Iron Throne who have translated splendidly from the pages of George R.R. Martin’s books to the HBO’s
. Weasely Joffrey, scheming Cersei, witty Tyrion, and scrappy Arya all quickly established themselves as characters we either love or love to hate. But some characters had a tougher time winning hearts onscreen. While
unpopular character (we’ll try again next season, Bran!), it has already made great strides with three major characters this season. How did it do that? By going off book. Fair warning, this post contains plot discussion up through and including Season 5, Episode 4, “Sons of the Harpy.”
Jon Snow (Kit Harrington): The biggest issue for making Jon Snow work onscreen has always been his age. Kit Harrington is 28 years-old and Jon Snow is 14 years-old when the book series starts. For reference, Brenock O’Connor—the kid who plays Jon’s steward Olly—is already 15. So George R.R. Martin is, in fact, writing about a very different character. If Jon Snow were a young teen, his bravery would be magnified, his weakness for Ygritte more understandable, and his rise to power in the Night’s Watch downright incredible.
, wisely, has decided they can no longer write a boy’s plot to fit a man. Between last year’s skirmish at Craster’s Keep and Jon’s enhanced leadership at the Battle for Castle Black, the maturation of Jon Snow has been coming on for awhile now. But this season the show is hitting those parallels between Jon and Ned Stark hard. Last week we saw it in the Starkish way Jon dispatched Janos Slynt, and this week we saw it in his resistance to a very naked Melisandre.
Sure, we can chalk that scene up to some of HBO’s gratuitous nudity, but earlier in the episode, Stannis’s unpleasant wife Selyse dismisses Jon Snow as “a bastard by some tavern slut.” “Perhaps,” Stannis concedes, “but that wasn’t Ned Stark’s way.” Fast forward to Jon in the enviable position of having a very willing Red Priestess literally in the palm of his hand. We know that Jon has a thing for redheads and the nights on the Wall are dark and full of terror. And yet he says no while honorably and Starkishly recalling his vow. We can all point to the hypocrisy there, as Melisandre does, but Jon both admits that he loved Ygritte and that he won’t betray his memory of her or his newfound commitment to his oath. We can all feel a little bit sorry for Jon sitting there all alone in his principles, but the point stands that this show-created scenario between Jon and Melisandre only makes us appreciate Jon Snow more as the second coming of Ned Stark. The honorable path may not have ended well for Ned, but we were rooting for him all the way.
Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner): Not much has to be said about Sansa here. We’ve been over it a lot before. She suffers the same age problem as Jon Snow—Sansa is 11 in the books—and though Sophie Turner is an engaging actress, some of Sansa’s more immature or helpless moments weren’t doing much to endear her to audiences. But Sansa turned a corner last year when
threw out her book plot in favor of what’s being affectionately called Dark Sansa. Ever since the sashayed down the Eyrie steps with her new goth look, a large part of the audience has been on board with the Sansa story.
Sansa has zigged a little where Jon Snow zagged. Rather than taking after the honorable Ned Stark, Sansa is studying at the feet of a more duplicitous father (and lover, gross!) figure. But no matter how calculating Sansa grows under Littlefinger’s tutelage, we’re still rooting for her because against all odds she’s stiffened her spine and joined her sister Arya and the bastard Jon Snow in the ranks of against-all-odds survivors.
Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane): Stannis will probably never be as popular as some of the other contenders for the Iron Throne. (He lacks dragons, for one thing.) And while there has always been a baffling subset of the audience who just adores him, his dour and stiff demeanor hasn’t made him the easiest to love. Respect? Sure. Who wouldn’t respect one of the last surviving combatants in The Battle of the Five Kings? (Renly, Joffrey, and Robb are all dead. Balon Greyjoy is out there somewhere . . . I guess.) And if even Littlefinger is #TeamStannis, it’s hard not to see which way the wind is blowing at the moment. But respecting is one thing,
is another and while we all know popularity was more King Renly’s thing, this week’s episode went a long way towards softening audiences on Stannis. The emotional connection between Stannis and his daughter Shireen (not in the books)
be setting us up for something truly painful, and we should know better than believe someone we actually like is going to make it, but in the meantime it makes Stannis much more enjoyable to watch.
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