When adapting books to any other form of media, it goes without saying that there will be differences. It’s both a way of saving time and money and other resources (for example cutting characters), adding creative freedom, or just simply that what works in a novel can’t be adapted to screen.
In regards to Game of Thrones, the first season is by far the most similar to novels being an almost complete parallel of the first book. One of the biggest changes isn’t down to storyline or plot but the simple matter of upscaling the ages of many characters. This is the most understandable of all the changes, presenting such young characters on the television – with Game of Thrones heavy sexual themes – probably wouldn’t have gone down well. One of the problems would have been in casting actors of the appropriate age, set in a middle age world of marriage occurring 13. We’re all relieved they chose this option, no one wanted to see a 13 year old Daenerys consumate her marriage with Drogo.
Characters and Relationships
Drogo and Daenerys: Let’s discuss the first series and without a doubt one of the worst changes the TV show made. Daenerys’ love for Drogo in the TV show was a lot more complicated (and when I say complicated I mean vile), considering their first few nights together were rape. The scene when they consummate their marriage is really uncomfortable to watch and so starkly different from the book. Her relationship with her husband and Khal makes so much more sense when you realise that he chose not to have sex with her until she consented. Yes, they spent their time in the outside, alone to consummate their marriage, but his approach to her was slower, easing her into sex. Suddenly when the relationship isn’t built on rape, but consent (which is surprising enough for a race like the Dothraki) we understand why Dany will go so far to get him back.
Ros: For the people who read the books, Ros was something new that we could expect surprises from. With no similar character in the books, it was nice to have someone else demonstrate how dangerous the game is. Her involvement in the show introduced a character who was smarter than she appeared, though a whore was able to climb to a good position as someone who Littlefinger trusted (at least with the business side of things when it came to running his own brothel), and then she showed us why no one should cross Littlefinger.
Arya and Tywin: I just want to thank the show for allowing an interaction between these two fantastic characters. In the books Arya and Tywin were never at Harrenhal at the same time. It showed us a completely different side of both characters. He may have picked her as his cupbearer, but before he left, Tywin knew Arya wasn’t some commoner from the south. He never would have suspected that she was Arya Stark but he was pretty confident that she was a Highborn from the North. Sure, he really should have considered the possibility she was the missing Stark, but it’s nice to think that he actually liked this strange girl who reminded him of his daughter but who was somehow even more defiant. With her being a stranger it gave him a chance to appreciate her in a way he couldn’t with his own daughter.
Catelyn and Jon: Catelyn despised Jon in the book. She was vile to him throughout and there was no reconciliation, no regret on Catelyn’s part. But in the TV show we get a beautiful story about how she sat by his bedside when he was ill, and though she failed to accept him, after everything had come and passed she regretted that she couldn’t love a ‘motherless child’. In some ways, her regret redeems her and this becomes more important now we know Ned never actually cheated on Catelyn, that Jon was her nephew not the son of a whore.
Red Wedding: Talisa was a very different character from Jeyne Westerling (her counterpart in the books). While it’s nice to see young Robb fall in love and be a fool to it, his actions in war time seem a lot more flawed in the TV show. Knowing he was engaged, he let himself fall for this other woman, marry them and create a family – something that doomed not only them but their entire war. In the books, Robb’s relationship with Jeyne is very different. Instead of throwing himself into the arms of foreign beauty over the course of many months, he is injured and nursed by Jeyne, upon learning of Bran and Rickon’s (supposed) deaths she comforts him and they sleep together. To protect the girl’s honour, he marries her the next day. This is such a different representation of his character than in the TV show, instead of a fool for love, he is victim to honour just like his father. Proving once more in Game of Thrones, that the honourable act will probably get you killed.
And this is where the Red Wedding comes in. Because Robb used his head and chose not to offend his hosts and bring his new wife to the wedding, Jeyne Westerling actually survived and the last anyone heard of her, the Lannisters were taking good care of her and ensuring she wasn’t pregnant with any heirs.
The Legitimisation of Jon Stark: Believing his two younger brothers (Bran and Rickon) are dead, and that his sisters are being held by the Lannisters, Robb knows that he needs to find a way to stop Winterfell falling into the Lannisters hands in the case of his death. In an event witnessed by his Bannerman, Robb legitimises his bastard brother Jon Snow. It’s something Robb is happy to do, considering his good relationship with Jon but doesn’t impress his mother. Either way, it means in the books Jon would have even more support from Robb’s bannerman. The show has managed to effectively legitimise Jon as King in the North anyway, saving itself on time and had they included this little scene in season 3 chances are people would have forgotten about it by now.
Coldhands: When searching for a way back South over the Wall, Sam and Gilly are aided by a mysterious figure nicknamed Coldhands, who then helps Bran and his companions to the cave of three-eyed-raven. We don’t see Coldhands in the TV show until Bran and Meera are attacked in the cave and he rescues them. In the show he’s quickly revealed to be Benjen Stark, but his introduction early in the books led to a lot of speculation about his identity – most answers pointing to Benjen.
Is the Hound Alive?: That depends purely on whether you’re watching the show or reading the books.Firstly his death in the books is different, instead he’s left to die from an infection (Arya offered to clean) – somehow I feel this fits in much better with the brutal world of Game of Thrones but it’s completely understandable why the show opted for a spectacular fight with Brienne instead. Though dying of his infection feels a lot more medieval, a fight makes a much better display on television as audiences are usually hoping for something a bit more. (The biggest flaw I found with this however, was why wouldn’t Arya want to go with Brienne? The logic seemed flawed,the Arya from the books would have been awed by meeting a female knight and she’d want to be just like her.)
But let’s talk about his current status. Audiences were relieved to find him alive in the show finally making his way to the Brotherhood Without Banners. Whether he will join them in the show is yet to be seen, but it makes sense considering his place in the books. In the books we heard rumour of the Hound raping and killing people, after some investigation Brienne found out it was someone who had stolen his helmet and the Hound was confirmed to be dead. After the thief was killed, the Hound’s helmet ended up in the hands of Lem Lemoncloak (also the person we saw the Hound hang in the show – though his character in the book is different) who is one of the Brotherhood. In many ways the choice to bring the Hound back in the television show could be a result of fanservice and knowing that most of the audience are itching to sea ‘Cleganebowl’ (a rematch between him and his brother the Mountain).
Gilly’s Baby and the Prince Over the Wall: In the books it’s learned that Mance Rayder had a son who is brought over the Wall with the rest of the Wildlings. Knowing Stannis and the Red Woman intent to sacrifice a Prince, when Gilly leaves with Sam he orders her to take Mance Rayder’s son instead of her own and keep the child safe.
The Fight For the Iron Islands: One of the most boring parts of A Feast For Crows was the fight for the Iron Islands. We were filled with backstory on Balon Greyjoy’s brothers (only Euron playing a major part in the show) and disagreement with Asha’s (named Yara in the TV show) intent to take the Seastone Chair (Salt Throne in the TV show) for herself. Thankfully the TV show made the wise decision to cut this out in season 5 (though this meant Balon Greyjoy got to live a little longer) and put a fast-forward on it in season 6.
Loras Tyrell’s ‘Death’: I’ll start with saying that unlike in the show, Loras Tyrell is not the Heir to Highgarden. Instead of being threatened with the Kingsguard, he joins it willingly. Instead of having his honour and will stripped from him, Loras dies a warried death (well, he’s ‘fatally wounded’ – no word on whether he’s actually dead or not). Sure, Cersei had her hand in it by sending him to Dragonstone (fyi. he still succeeded in his mission there), but his homosexuality (implied in the books) wasn’t used as a weapon by Cersei and the High Sparrows to strip him of his integrity and strength.
Characters Who Took the Place of Others
Gendry/Edric Storm: This was the first instance of the television series having the character take the part of a different one. Instead of introducing Edric Storm, probably Robert’s favourite bastard, the show had Gendry take his place and be taken by the Red Woman. Alternatively in the books Melisandre takes Edric Storm and similarly Davos helps the child escape. Gendry is still with the Brotherhood.
Sansa/Jeyne Poole: This change caused a lot of uproar when season 5 aired. In the books, Jeyne Poole was a friend of Sansa Stark. Knowing Arya was missing, the Lannisters disguise Jeyne as Arya and send her to marry Ramsay Bolton. Sansa on the other hand was safe in the Eyrie, with Littlefinger plotting to marry her off with the second in line to the Eyrie. A good match that would give her an army to help her take back Winterfell. In the show however, poor sweet Sansa Stark is married to the sadistic arsehole and saving Jeyne Poole the torment.
Missing/ Changed Characters
Aegon Targaryen: In the books Tyrion meets Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell, however he is currently absent from the TV show. His placement is quite relevant in regards to the ‘three heads of the dragon’. As on the sigil, Dany currently has three dragons. Aegon the First, Visenya and Rheanys first conquered Westeros on their three dragons. Daenerys and Jon will be two of the three heads in the show, but the books already have Aegon as the third dragon.
Lady Stoneheart: Completely cut from the TV show (though their are theories Arya’s might take her place in the storyline – as demonstrated by that amazing moment in the finale), Lady Stoneheart is the reanimated corpse of Catelyn Stark. Found dead by the Brotherhood after the Red Wedding, Catelyn Stark is resurrected by Beric Dondarrion (which leads to his death in the process). Due to having her throat slit she can not speak, and having been dead for a while before she was found she was in a further state of decay. Very different from Catelyn Stark, Lady Stoneheart leads the Brotherhood on a path of vengeance.
Arianne Martell: Why why cut this marvelous woman from the stories? Her storyline put a lot of focus on a big difference between Dorne and the rest of Westeros; that the eldest child was heir, regardless of their gender. Arianne Martell is heir to the Dornish throne, but fears her father wants to ignore her line of succession in favour of her younger brother when she intercepts a letters. So she starts her own plot, to ensure her place on the Dornish throne and get Myrcella on the Iron Throne in place of her younger brother, Tommen. This version of the plot is much more interesting, especially when you consider other characters in place. How would Cersei react to Dorne trying to get her daughter on the throne? Would she have supported this, considering she always felt limited by her gender? I also loved the resolution of this conflict, it pulled so many pieces together and added more players in the game. In the TV show we end up with a bunch of dead kids, Myrcella’s poison kiss and Trystane’s death by snakes. However it’s nice to see Ellaria with a place and Oberyn’s death being a greater impact, reading the books made everyone want to see more of the Sand Snakes; it’s a shame that the show had to remove Arianne to do this.
I definitely haven’t covered all the differences, though I’ve managed to get through a lot of them. Hope everyone enjoyed some more Game of Thrones reading and if you’re interested, check out our article of some ‘who isn’t going to die’ theories for the next season!