June 9, 2013 at 10:00 AM ET
If you're still reeling from the "Game of Thrones" Red Wedding, steel yourself: One episode remains in the HBO fantasy's third season, and the finale could deal even more devastating blows to our already fragile psyches.
But even though the series is adapted from George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" fantasy novels, the show runners are deviating enough from his original story and timelines to keep even devoted readers guessing.
Here's a rundown of the major differences this season -- and what they could mean for Sunday's finale, "Mhysa." (More on the title's significance below.)
Baby-mama drama: The most gruesome, shocking scene in the wedding massacre -- the frenzied stabbing in the gut of Robb's pregnant queen -- never happened in "A Storm of Swords." In fact, "Talisa" (she was Jeyne Westerling in the books, with a different history altogether), wasn't even in attendance. Other than heightening the scene's drama and heartbreak, Talisa's murder probably won't change the story line that much, but it will definitely intensify the backlash and the Stark supporters' thirst for revenge.
Bloody face: What the writers giveth, they taketh away. While Talisa's gut-wrenching (sorry) death scene was made out of whole cloth (or, if you will, chain mail), "The Rains of Castamere" spared us from the madness of Catelyn. In fact, she went so bonkers after her eldest son's murder that she gouges her own face. To quote author George R.R. Martin, "tearing off strips of flesh, leaving deep furrows that ran red with blood." (This is a perplexing omission, considering what is to come.)
Slings and arrows: Joffrey is a monstrous, vicious psychopath and sadist, but in the books he never practiced his toy crossbow on prostitutes. This kid really needs a time out, and Tywin might give him one in their finale showdown.
Spirited away: Melisandre's kidnapping of Gendry never happened in the books. Her motives at this point are unclear, but we wager they have less to do with his blacksmithing skills than the fact that he's Robert Baratheon's bastard son -- and living proof for Stannis that Joffrey and his sibs aren't legitimate heirs to the Iron Throne. (On account of Uncle Jaime being their dad and all.) Melisandre's face time with Arya Stark never happened on the page either, but it's unlikely their meeting will be addressed until season four.
Run like the (Grey) Wind: During the Red Wedding, Robb's direwolf was murdered in captivity while Arya looked on. In the books, she never got that close, and Grey Wind was released from his stable -- inflicting some major damage before he was shot down. Maybe HBO didn't have any room left in the CGI budget for the direwolf's heroism? Or could this omission indicate their choice not to depict the Freys' horrifying "postmortem" of the King in the North? (It could still happen in the finale, so be warned: It's unspeakably gruesome.)
Torture chamber: Theon's tiresome, gratuitous "Hostel"-style torture scenes warranted only a very peripheral mention -- sans gruesome details -- in the third book. In fact, the show really steps on the gas when compared to the former Winterfell hostage's story in "A Song of Ice and Fire." The tale of the torturer's identity, and the new one Martin creates for Theon, isn't told until the fifth book ("A Dance With Dragons"), but considering how much airtime they devoted this season, it's possible it will be bumped up all the way to Sunday's finale.
You know nothing: Jon Snow is virtually unscathed (besides a few eagle scratches) when he abandons Ygritte in episode nine. Her reaction in "Swords" is more befitting of a wildling than her struck-dumb TV counterpart: She shoots him in the leg with an arrow as he flees. From the preview we know that Ygritte returns in the finale -- but will she stick around for season four after his betrayal?
Storming the city: While the writers dialed up the graphic horror of the Red Wedding and Theon's torture, they showed some restraint when Khaleesi's men stole into Yunkai. In the book series, they gain entry via the town's sewers. That's some real devotion to their queen!
Mother tongue: Now back to the finale's title. "Mhysa" presumably refers to Daenerys' successful taking of Yunkai, a Ghiscari slaver city-state. When the city's slaves shout "Mhysa" to the Mother of Dragons in "A Storm of Swords," her translator Missandei explains, "It is Ghiscari, the old pure tongue. It means 'Mother.' "
Could it also refer to Catelyn Stark, Melisandre or even Talisa? We'll find out Sunday -- or next season!