Seven Kingdoms Scoop: What could be next on 'Game of Thrones'?

Robb Stark was trying to figure out how to win a war;
I'm trying to figure out what's coming next on HBO. Same stakes, I'd say.
Yes, I know: Game of Thrones just ended on Sunday, and yes, it's insane for me to already be thinking about the next season. It's nearly a year away! That's so much time! But whatever, I've read the books, I know what could be coming, I'm going to think about it, stop cutting into my Gendry daydreaming time. So much Gendry daydreaming time.

But of course, I'm not the only person who is thinking about where Game of Thrones will go from here; Entertainment Weekly recently published a story in which they talked to George R. R. Martin and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss. What's the scoop? That Martin is still working on the series' sixth book, The Winds of Winter; that there is some concern from HBO about how obviously the show's younger actors, like Maisie Williams (Arya) and Isaac Hempsted Wright (Bran) are growing up; and that allowing Martin to finish the books before the show catches up with the storyline might mean the show going into hiatus.

I mean, I gasped at that last part. HBO would never let that happen; Game of Thrones is a cash cow right now, a cultural zeitgeist. But I wonder how faithful Benioff and Weiss can really be to the series' fourth book, A Feast for Crows - which introduces many new elements and storylines into this already-sprawling world - and how willing to deviate from Martin's version they are. This can't be a True Blood situation, can it? That show deviated so far from Charlaine Harris's original Southern Vampire Mysteries novels as to be virtually unrecognizable. I appreciate all the male nudity on that show, but please. Game of Thrones can't go down that way.

So what could, or should, be compressed for seasons four and five of Game of Thrones? I do, of course, have a few suggestions. Click through to read them and share what you think! (Of, and of course, SPOILERS AHEAD, somewhat.)

1. The rest of season three will be the second half or so of Martin's third novel, A Storm of Swords, and it is very Kings Landing-heavy, with a lot of the Lannisters, and Wall-heavy, with a continuation of the Night's Watch vs. Mance Rayder and the wildlings storyline. There is also some Dany and some Bran, but ultimately I think season four needs to ditch some of the scattered nature of season three's episodes and be more focused, more like "Second Sons," which dealt mainly on three storylines. Because so much of this season will be tracking preparation for Joffrey's wedding and preparation for the Wall's showdown against Rayder's army, it just makes sense to keep episodes tighter. Of course, this will frustrate some people who are wondering what's going on with Dany, what's going on with Yara, what's going on with Arya, but if the showunners start drawing material from future books to fill out these earlier scenes, they're going to run through material at a pretty fast rate. Which wouldn't be a good thing.

2. And then, when you get to season five and adapting A Feast for Crows, start cleaving. I mean, a lot. A Feast for Crows is probably Martin's most frustrating book of the series, if only because it seems to just meander for so long. We're introduced to new houses, new lands, and new families with this novel, specifically Dorne and House Martell. (Dorne is actually introduced in A Storm for Swords, but a far larger chunk of A Feast for Crows is devoted to the location.) Remember Dany's older brother, Rhaegar Targaryan, who was killed by Robert Baratheon for supposedly kidnapping Ned Stark's sister Lyanna? Well, Rhaegar was married to a woman named Elia Martell, and she and her children were killed after Robert killed Rhaegar (she was also raped by the Mountain, the Hound's older brother). So the Martells are almost, in a way, like the new Starks - looking for revenge, bitter against the Lannisters, trying to find a way back into the game of thrones. That's all very compelling, but Martin is building a whole new world in Dorne - and it has far too many characters to work onscreen. The showrunners could cut out the extraneous Martell family members, or maybe get to their plan for revenge quickly, so we have a reason to root for them. Otherwise, making us wait for an unwieldy amount of time could create another Theon-getting-tortured situation; we're burned out on the storyline before it even gets to the good stuff.

3. How else to focus season five? Don't be afraid to skip some characters entirely. To be fair, this will be a huge gamble, because A Feast for Crows very noticeably omits some fan-favorite characters: Jon Snow, Tyrion, and Dany are absent for pretty much the majority of the novel. But A Feast for Crows also includes significant updates on Cersei, Sansa, and Arya, and the book overall is quite defined by this divide between men and women and how female characters navigate these waters. Cersei, Sansa, and Arya have never shared that much except for their gender, but the book continuously places them in similar situations, in ways they become mirrors or doubles of each other - they shed off identities, they try to escape the past, they try to navigate new futures in the same kinds of ways. It's fascinating how Martin links these narratives together. So I would like to see that kind of navigation on the screen, too, and if that means skipping out on Tyrion or Jon Snow or whoever else for a little while, so be it. Perhaps that's just not feasible given how Peter Dinklage's contract works - and he of course has a lot of leverage, given that he's the show's only significant award-winner - but I don't think a narrow scope would be a bad thing.

4. Give us more of the Greyjoys. The family and the Iron Islands play a significant role in A Feast for Crows in a way that brings them in touch with a few other families they've never interacted with before in the series, and in that move, Martin gives us a good sense of the rigidity of this culture. We get more information about their Drowned God ("What is dead may never die") and Theon's and Yara's father and uncles, and of course, they have their own familial shit, too; drama that is similarly gut-wrenching to that of the Starks and the Martells. How season three seemed to skip over the Greyjoys entirely while still giving us extraneous Theon torture scenes was somewhat infuriating, and Yara going to save Theon is a change from Martin's original narrative, but there is still a lot of Greyjoy context that we can get. Give it to us.

5. And lastly, I would like for the showrunners to continue not sugarcoating things for us. The Red Wedding obviously hit viewers like a ton of bricks, and there are other moments coming up too that are equally weighty and impactful. That's not to say they are equally depressing, but shocking things continue happening, and Benioff and Weiss shouldn't shrink back when people threaten to quit watching the show because of it. Keep giving us these kinds of stories. They're the challenges we need.