In case you don’t already know, Game of Thrones is, like, a really big deal. Not only is it quite possibly the best show on television at the moment (with the Emmy Awards to prove it), but it’s also a beloved series of books. The HBO television series is based on the series of fantasy novels, A Song of Fire and Ice. While the show’s creators have done a magnificent job at translating the massive epic fantasy to the small screen, there are still quite a few differences that are worth pointing out.
Fans of the books can get down with most of the changes made by the show, as many of them make sense or add more drama. (As if Game of Thrones really needs more drama, right?) There are also changes that have come from financial reasons, because even though the show is known to have a budget of $100 million per season, it still has to stay within that budget… that budget of $100 MILLION! There are also some changes that have gotten under the skin of fans of the book, whether it be omitting a beloved character or completely changing a character’s story. Don’t you worry, we’ll go through all the biggest differences below, the good and the bad and the ugly.
The real question is, with the series wrapping up, will the show and the books end in a way that is basically the same, or have the changes the show has made ultimately changed the course of the story as a whole? While no one knows the answer to that question, except maybe George R.R. Martin, we do know all about the changes the show has made to the story so far. Below are 16 mega ways the Game of Thrones television show is different from the books.
16. The Red Wedding
If you mention The Red Wedding to a fan of Game of Thrones, they may start hyperventilating. That’s because The Red Wedding was seriously scarring to fans. I mean, half the beloved Stark family was killed in that single bloody scene. In case you need a refresher, this was when Catelyn, Robb,and Talisa Stark all attended a wedding hosted by Walder Frey, who was maybe the grossest character ever on Game of Thrones. It was at that wedding that all three of these Starks were murdered in very gruesome ways, but special props to Catelyn Stark who went out like a total badass.
Though we all knew Talisa, the nurse who stole Robb’s heart, a bit less than we knew Robb and Catelyn, her death was, perhaps, the worst of the three. In this moment, Talisa was stabbed repeatedly in her pregnant belly… her pregnant belly carrying the baby she just told Robb she planned to name Eddard Stark. Oh, the pain. In the books, however, this doesn’t happen. That’s right, The Red Wedding was like 5% less awful in the books, because Robb’s wife and his unborn baby weren’t harmed. Instead, Robb does not bring his wife to the wedding and so she survives. But, Robb and Catelyn still totally die so there’s that.
15. The Sansa Stark And Ramsay Bolton Saga
Oh, and here’s another reason the show is actually much more torturous than the books. In the books, Sansa Stark never marries Ramsay Bolton. Guys, SANSA NEVER MARRIED RAMSAY in the books! Imagine a world in which this awful, violent marriage never happened. It’s a better world, right? Well, it’s only a slightly better world. Ramsay Bolton does still get married in the books, but it’s just not to Sansa.
In the books, Sansa’s childhood BFF is a girl named Jeyne Poole, who actually makes a very small appearance in the pilot episode of Game of Thrones. She’s a more major character in the books, as the Lannisters make Jenye pretend to be Arya Stark. They then marry Jenye/Fake Arya to Ramsay Bolton, in order to secure his hold of the North. It is at this point that Jenye/Fake Arya endures the same awful things we saw Sansa endure on the show, aka lots of rape.
Fans were outraged to see Sansa Stark’s story be changed in such an awful and dramatic way but, of course, Sansa ended up getting hers in the end. After seeing the pay off – Sansa feeding Ramsay to his own dogs and the evolution of Sansa’s character – it does make some sense that these storylines were swapped. I mean, why introduce Jenye for this story when you can just give it to Sansa and make her into a hardened badass?
14. Young Griff/Aegon Targaryen
This specific book-to-show change comes in the form of an omission. In the books, while traveling to Volantis to meet Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion is accompanied by two men named Griff and Young Griff. Young Griff, though, is really Aegon Targaryen. He is supposedly the son of Dany’s brother, Rhaegar Targaryen, and Oberyn’s sister, Elia Martell. Y’know, the same son that the Mountain supposedly killed by smashing his little baby head against a wall. This is huge news because Young Griff/Aegon Targaryen would be the rightful heir to the throne. But, how exactly is he Aegon Targaryen if Aegon Targaryen’s head was smashed in? Varys claims to have hidden the real baby Aegon, replacing him with a peasant baby. It was the peasant baby’s head that was smashed in. By the way, is there anything worse than being a peasant on this show?
While Aegon Targaryen’s rightful claim could be a game changer, it also might not matter at all. We’ve known from day one that a rightful claim doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I mean, Robert Baratheon, with absolutely no claim in terms of bloodline, simply took the throne after Robert’s Rebellion. It’s not unlikely that the show could end with someone simply taking the throne again. Also, the lack of Aegon Targaryen/Young Griff in the show is a red flag. Both the show and the books are building to the same point so if the showrunners felt that the Young Griff storyline wasn’t important enough to include on the show, it’s likely that he won’t really matter in the book. This could just be a loose end to confuse the readers.
13. That Time Jaime Raped Cersei
This is a specific scene that enraged audiences, especially viewers of the show who had also read the books. In the show, both Cersei and Jaime mourn the death of Joffrey Baratheon, who was their eldest son. It is at this point that Jaime makes a move on Cersei, right there in the Sept… like right in front of their dead son’s body. Super romantic, right? Cersei protests, but Jaime forces himself on her. Yes, the twin incest somehow got even grosser with a rape scene.
This rape scene, however, was not in the books. In the books, Cersei responds to Jaime’s advances immediately and the sex was completely consensual. Why, then, did the show change this in favor of a rape scene? It seemed senseless and, even worse, it seemed like it was done for shock factor. Sorry, but this book-to-show change gets a big, fat thumbs down.
12. Cersei’s Abortion
If you think way back to season one of Game of Thrones, there was one actual tender scene between Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark. Yes, I know, Cersei Lannister was almost kind and that’s totally weird. While Bran was in a coma, due to Jaime pushing him out a window mind you, Cersei shares the story of her first-born baby. Her first-born died shortly after she gave birth and she talked of the deep sadness she felt for that baby, which we can only assume may have actually been Robert Baratheon’s child.
In the books, however, Cersei never births a child who dies shortly after child birth. Instead, she aborts the child Robert Baratheon’ impregnated her with. She then takes herbal precautions (medieval condoms?) so she won’t get pregnant with any of Robert’s children again. Girlfriend goes to great lengths to make sure that she only bears Jaime’s children. It is thought that Cersei did this both because of her love for Jaime, but also because of her deep hatred of Robert Baratheon. There is also the fact that having a dark haired baby would draw attention to her blonde babies, prompting people to suspect the blonde babies are bastards.
Why the change in the show? Perhaps to soften Cersei Lannister. There’s also a noteworthy fan theory that Cersei’s baby didn’t actually die, but that she rather gave it to a peasant woman to raise and that baby turned out to be Gendry, the only remaining “bastard” of Robert Baratheon. We’ll see if that fan theory pans out in season seven since Gendry is said to be making his return.
11. No Strong Belwas
Strong Belwas is a character we will most likely never see in the show, which is a shame because he’s pretty badass. But, I guess Game of Thrones can’t include everyone from the massive books series. Strong Belwas shows up as part of Daenerys’ storyline and is introduced as a strong pit fighter in Meereen. Belwas claimed that he never once lost a fight, but he does let all of his opponents cut him once before they die, and so his body is littered with scars from the men he’s killed. By the way, doesn’t GRRM just think of the coolest characters ever?
As a member of the Queensguard, Belwas sits next to Daenerys when they reopen the fighting pits in Meereen. It’s at this point that Hizdahr zo Loraq offers Dany locusts to eat, which she passes on. Belwas eats the locusts, which were intended for Dany, and is poisoned… so Hizdahr zo Loraq was trying to kill Dany. Due to Belwas’ size, he survives the poison and is made part of the ruling council in Meereen. Considered we’ve already seen the reopening of the fight pits and this event never materialized, we probably won’t be seeing Strong Belwas.
10. No Lady Stoneheart
Book fans have been hoping and praying and dreaming for Lady Stoneheart to appear on the show, but it seems very unlikely at this point. In the books, Lady Stoneheart is the resurrected Catelyn Stark, who was brought back from the dead mostly because coming back from the dead just seems like a thing everyone does in this fantasy world. However, this is no Jon Snow situation. Lady Stoneheart is no longer the Catelyn Stark fans knew and loved. She’s a lady with one thing on her mind: vengeance. Lady Stoneheart hangs absolutely anyone, even children, who is Team Lannister, Bolton, or Frey.
The showrunners have sworn up and down that Lady Stoneheart will not be making an appearance, but the showrunners are not to be completely trusted. They also said that Jon Snow wouldn’t be coming back from the dead and we all know what happened there. However, the reason the showrunners have decided to ditch the Lady Stoneheart storyline does make sense. They claim that her presence wouldn’t do anything for the show and, in a way, that’s very true. Now that Arya and Sansa seem to be killing anyone Team Lannister, Bolton, or Frey, there may not be a need for Lady Stoneheart. Arya and Sansa are both Lady Stoneheart, except without the whole zombie-ish factor.
9. Tyrion Literally Loses His Nose
There are a few physical changes the show has made that obviously come from a place of practicality. The one most notable difference is that Tyrion still has a nose on the show. That’s right kids, Tyrion is nose-less in the books. Like, I’m talking, no nose at all.
In the book version of Battle of the Blackwater, Tyrion’s nose is literally cut off his face. So, after that point, the book version of Tyrion is nose-less. The show couldn’t afford the money or the time to apply the special effect makeup necessarily for Tyrion Lannister to be nose-less in every single scene he is in. While they ditched the nose-less thing, the show gave a nod with that big ol’ scar on Tyrion’s face. To be honest, the scar on his face is kind of cute so it doesn’t have the same effect as losing an actual nose.
Another major change is that in the books Daenerys Targaryen, and all Targaryens for that matter, have purple eyes. They choose to forgo this Targaryen trait on the show because the contacts used effected the actor’s ability to perform. The showrunners felt that the contacts hid a great deal of the emotion the actors were trying to portray.
8. The House Of The Undying
Remember way, way back in season two when Daenerys went into the House of the Undying? Yeah, well basically all of that was changed.
In the books, Dany’s dragons were not kidnapped, but rather she went into the House of the Undying willingly, so that’s a major change. Upon entering, Dany has visions that were really veiled prophecies. Oh, and the prophecies weren’t happy ones. Instead, they were dark and kind of disturbing. Some of these visions Dany experienced have puzzled readers and led to major fan theories about Dany’s fate. Specifically, Dany heard a voice tell her that there would be three fires she must light, three mounts she must ride, and three treasons she will know. Readers of the books feel like this could foreshadow Dany’s fate (as they discuss it in detail on Reddit), but exactly how this foreshadows her fate has yet to be determined.
In the show, audiences didn’t get any of this information. The showrunners clearly needed to find a way to make this moment more cinematic and less internalized. To do this, they brought back Khal Drogo and their child. While the show’s audience may have missed out of some major foreshadowing, it may not be information that we needed to know.
7. Robb Stark Legitimized Jon Snow
In the books, Robb Stark legitimizes Jon Snow as the son of Eddard Stark. While this is sweet to some extent, Robb really did it as a political move. Facing battle, Robb legitimized Jon Snow so that, in the event of Robb’s death, Jon would be the heir of Winterfell. At this time in the book, both Bran and Rickon were believed to be dead and Sansa was married to Tyrion, so it seemed likely that the Lannisters would make a play for Winterfell if Robb died.
In the show, this doesn’t happen. Robb brings up this idea to Catelyn, but she’s super against it because of all her issues with Jon Snow. (Hard eye roll to Catelyn for all of that.) At the end of season six, this doesn’t seem to matter since Jon Snow, bastard or not, has been proclaimed the King of the North. The more important question, now that it’s been revealed that Jon Snow is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, is if he will be legitimized in that regard, making him the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
6. Joffrey’s Death Was Even Worse
Did you kind of feel like Joffrey’s television death wasn’t bad enough? I mean, I’m glad that he’s dead because he was the worst, but I wanted him to really, really, really die. Like, I wanted to watch Joffrey have the worst death ever. Joffrey deserved the death that Oberyn Martell had. Sure, being poisoned at his own wedding in front of a zillion royals sucked, but it should have sucked just a little bit more. In the books, it did suck just a little bit more. It plays out mostly how it did in the show, with Joffrey being poisoned at his own wedding, but then Joffrey tries to breathe in the most bloody of ways. Joffrey claws at his own throat and rips off all the skin, exposing his muscles underneath. How utterly gross is that?
5. Ser Barristan Selmy Hasn’t Died Yet
Speaking of particular character deaths on the show, this one made readers of the books really mad. Oh, and it also made Ian McElhinney, who portrayed Barristan Selmy, pretty upset too, as he was sad to exit the show so early.
In both the book and the show, Barristan is described as one of the best knights… ever. Jaime Lannister even calls Barristan a “painter who only used red” which may be the coolest, most poetic way to ever compliment a knight. In both the show and the books, Barristan is kicked out of the Kingsguard and finds himself alongside Dany in Meereen. This is where things differ. In the books, there was finally a pay off to all this talk about Barristan being a great knight, with a scene in which all his knight skills are put on display. The show, however, contains no such scene. We never get to see Barristan be a painter who uses only red. Instead, we see Barristan put up a decent fight when the Sons of the Harpy attack… and then he dies. WHY? Why, oh why, would they kill off this amazing character, without ever having him reach his full potential?
4. The Age Of Almost Every Character
One change that almost everyone is okay with is that the characters on the show are a little bit older. Everyone, it seems, is a bit older on the show than they are in the books.
Daenerys, for example, is just 13 years old when she’s married off to Khal Drogo in the books. Considering that the relationship becomes very sexual very quickly, it would have been super weird to watch a 13 year old with Khal Drogo. I don’t know if even HBO would be willing to go there with that. In the show, it was stated that it had been 17 years since Robert’s Rebellion, which happened around the time Dany was born. This would make Dany around 17-years-old in season one, and somewhere in her early twenties at this point on the show.
When the books begin, Sansa Stark is only 11 years old. If the show started her out at that young age, she would have been just 15 when Ramsay raped her. In the show though, Sansa was upped to 13 in the pilot episode, meaning she was about 17 when Ramsay raped her, not that that really makes the scene any less awful to watch. Long story short, it makes sense that they upped the ages of the characters.
3. Just About Everything In Dorne
Almost everyone hated the Jaime and Bronn in Dorne storyline. It was largely criticized, as people didn’t feel that it fit the tone of the show. I mean, it was basically a buddy action movie happening in the middle of Game of Thrones, so yeah it didn’t fit the tone of the show. The reason it felt so out of place may have been because this storyline never remotely happens in the books. In the books, Cersei orders Jaime to go to Riverrun and that’s what he does. No Dorne for Jaime Lannister.
In the show, Jaime went on a whole quest in Dorne, which ended in Myrcella saying she knew Jaime was her father before dying. It was actually a really touching scene, but the rest of the plot was a little… let’s just say we didn’t need it. Season six of course corrected this and sent Jaime to Riverrun. This just proves that sometimes changing the story can hurt the story, especially when there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason as to why the story has been changed.
2. The Baratheon Family Tree
On the television show, the whole Baratheon family is pretty much dead. Cersei and Jaime’s fake Baratheon children, as they were really full-blooded Lannisters, are all dead. Robert Baratheon and Renly Baratheon both died quite early in the series. (By the way, does anyone else really miss Robert Baratheon putting Cersei in her place?) On the show, we also saw Stannis allow Shireen to be burned at the stake, which lead to Selyse’s suicide. Stannis was then killed off-camera by Brienne of Tarth. So, on the show, the Baratheon family tree, with the exception of Gendry the bastard, is dead.
In the books, neither Myrcella nor Tommen have died yet, but with Cersei’s prophecy that seems to be inevitable. However, the biggest change is that Stannis, Selyse, and Shireen are all still alive in the books. There was no burning at the stake, suicide, or execution, Brienne of Tarth style. Of course, all of this could very well happen in The Winds of Winter. In fact, because of the backlash the fate of Shireen received, the showrunners heavily hinted at the fact that her character will endure the same awful fate in the books as well. But, as of right now, the sweet Shireen is still alive and well in the books.
1. All Of Season Six
Because the show has now surpassed the books, what we saw in season six was basically all new material. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen in the books, but it simply hasn’t happened yet. This means that book readers were shocked by quite a few things… like hold the door. I know, I didn’t even want to mention hold the door, but it was a major, major reveal to which not even book readers were privy. The other huge reveal was Jon Snow’s true parentage, but it seems that this will inevitably play out in the book the same way. It also seems inevitable that Cersei will take the Iron Throne, though it’s unsure if the same massive events will lead to her taking the throne.
Despite the differences, there are still many elements that are present in both the show and the books. The White Walkers and winter are problems that need to be dealt with in both. It also seems that, in both the books and the show, Cersei Lannister, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen are destined to battle each other in one way or another. And, at the center of both the show and the books lie Varys and Littlefinger, who are pulling more strings than any other character seems to realize. It will all likely come to a head in a very similar way in both the books and the show, despite the liberties the show has taken with the adaptation.
Season 7 of Game of Thrones will be released July 16, 2017, so we’ll have to patiently wait until then to see how else the show deviates from the source material.