Spoiler warning: This post will talk about everything leading up to the finale of season 4, but not reveal book spoilers.
Back in July Maisie Williams had some things to say about snobby book readers of George R.R. Martin's books, so of course two full months later is the best time to talk about it. I feel the pain Maisie describes, I have been there a lot of times. Normally, I am not a book reader; I rarely read books and I'm often surprised to find that certain movies or shows were books first. Some co-workers were talking about A Dance With Dragons when it first came out, around the same time Game of Thrones was announced as an HBO series. I tried reading the first book and was instantly hooked, and one year later I had read over 4,000 pages of the entire series, something I never thought I would do. Needless to say I am a fan of the books, and I am also a fan of the show, as is everyone I know who have both read the books and watched the show.
At my work there is a group of about five of us who have read the books and talk excitedly about what might happen in the show. And for us there is an added excitement to know the people in our lives are about to embark on something epic with each season. We were ready for the heartbreak of the red wedding, ready for the triumph of the purple wedding, and ready for more heartbreak of Red Viper, and we were excited to bring our friends and family along on that journey. I'm sure a number of ass-hats are less than welcoming, and they suck, but for most of us having read the books and talking to people who only watch the show is like taking your best friend to their own surprise party. You know the party is going to happen, but you are still going to have fun when you get there and be happy to share in your friend's surprise with them.
I welcome the changes the show has made over the books. Seeing Craster's bastard brought to what may have been the Night's King, that was amazing. I love how the show is showing us the events we only hear about with POV characters from the books. I like seeing twists and turns which are different from the book, and are more appropriate to be told in the show. They don't need to be 1:1 on everything.
But in the case of the season 4 finale, there was an amazing opportunity lost, and the expectations of book readers was set up by the finales of seasons 1 and 2.
Imagine if season 1 had not ended with the hatching of the dragons, as it did with the first book. It was an amazing cliffhanger and the perfect way to end the book and season.
Imagine if season 2 had not ended with the sea of white walkers bearing down on the men of the Night's Watch (although, arguably, not seeing the battle in the opening of season 3 might have made that setup more of a letdown.)
No one was sure how season 3 would end.
All 5 of the books have had great epilogues, and book 3 is arguably the best. For book readers waiting for the finale is the culmination of two seasons worth of events, and this epilogue is one of the most epic and surprising events to happen in the books, not just in epilogues. That's why it's so tough.
It's not leaving out a character which doesn't yet need to be introduced (like the Blackfish not being in the Eyrie in Season 1), or creating a character to help sum up a series of minor events (like Ros and all her doings in King's Landing). It is a major event at a pinnacle moment. It is the biggest twist and biggest surprise I encountered reading the entire series. It's cooler than the dragons, cooler than the white walkers. It's George RR Martin at his best and book readers are bummed out, left to imagine how much the show watchers are missing out on this cliffhanger which would make them go nuts having to wait until the following April for the premiere.
What makes it harder still is that I am sure the show is going to do a much better job with the events after the epilogue with the characters involved in the epilogue. What will surely be revealed in early episodes of the 5th season are going to have echoing repercussions throughout the rest of the season, and I am looking forward to how the showrunners are going to handle it, because based on previous seasons we are going to see much more than we did in books 4 and 5.
I still stand by the idea that part of the magic of the books, and the skill of George RR Martin, is knowing when to tease and when to reveal, and the epic quality of the finale of the first two seasons lived up to that magic, if not exceeded it. In my opinion season 4 was the best season of the series so far, and I won't go as far as saying it was worse for excluding the events of the epilogue, but knowing how much it floored me when I read it I just know it would have been epic.