In the process of adapting the Game of Thrones books into one of the most popular television shows in the world, showrunners, writers and producers were forced to decide on a variety of changes to the original text, potentially igniting the wrath of a legion of fans.
George R.R. Martin wrote his epic fantasy tale through a limited perspective that jumps between various protagonists and antagonists, providing readers with a chance to interpret the story from the different points of view. On the other hand, the television show unfurled the story through an external camera that provided greater distance from the characters while showing a much wider point of view, giving the audience visual information unavailable to the actors and actresses on-screen.
The fundamental differences between the two storytelling mediums required the creators to make difficult decisions about the original source. Due to time and budget considerations, the creators of the show had to leave a lot of the original text on the cutting room floor, eliminating lengthy world-building scenes from the book while streamlining certain storylines and characters. As a medium that relies heavily on tight plotting and compelling images, changes were also made to increase the emotional impact of important events while taking advantage of the opportunity to present the audience with amazing visuals.
Some of the biggest differences between the Game of Thrones television and book series resulted in a tighter storyline, an opportunity to showcase great character actors and the creation of one of the most brutal surprises in modern television history. Other changes weren’t as successful, making fans of the books and TV show scratch their head in unison.
10. Jon Snow North of the Wall
The television show injected a shot of adrenaline into the parts of A Clash of Kings where Jon Snow ventures north of the wall. This change accelerated the story, raising the stakes quickly rather than gradually building the narrative.
In the book, Snow doesn’t accidentally lose Ygritte but intentionally frees her instead. The television show adds their chase scene through the harsh, frozen landscape and their dramatic stand-off in Castle Black, just before she tells Jon that he knows nothing.
The television series also decided to show Snow witnessing the infant sacrifice offered by Craster to the White Walkers, followed by Craster sneaking up to Snow and bashing him in the skull, neither of which occurred in the book.
9. Daenerys at Qarth
George R.R. Martin’s ability to build believable worlds breathes life into his books, providing readers with sensory details, cultural profiles and even the history of the cities and landscapes visited by the heros and villains of the epic.
In the books, Martin spends time constructing the social order of the Qarth civilization, enriching the reader’s understanding of how this city compares with the rest of the world. However, the television series doesn’t have the luxury of spending a great deal of screentime developing the intricate structures of the Qarth society.
To increase the pace and intensity, the showrunners changed Xaro Xhoan Daxos from a dandy aristocrat into a more dominating presence while creating additional drama and tension for Daenerys’ storyline through the kidnapping of her dragons.
8. The Hound and Brienne
In the novel A Storm of Swords, Sandor Clegane, known popularly as The Hound, attempts to ransom Arya back to the Stark family while Brienne follows orders to find the missing Stark child. After Brienne and Sandor fail their missions, The Hound becomes seriously injured in a fight against his brother’s men and Arya leaves him as he’s slowly dying from infected wounds.
The TV show completely changes this story when Brienne’s path intersects with The Hound and Arya, creating direct conflict between the two powerful warriors. As Brienne and Sandor fight over Arya in one of the best duels of the television series, Arya slips away.
Brienne wins after a brutal, prolonged exchange of violence, cementing her status as a legend while adding drama to The Hound’s supposed demise. Arya abandons The Hound in both versions, refusing to euthanize his pain.
7. Young Characters are Older on the Show
Inspired by the history of the middle ages, George R.R. Martin created the social order in the books to reflect a time when children would get married at a much younger age and assume responsibilities that now typically fall on the shoulders of people past their adolescence.
For the television series, the showrunners decided to increase the age of the younger characters to reduce the shock of watching a 13 year-old Daenerys get married to Khal Drogo and Jon Snow pledging his future to the wall at the age of 14. Likewise, audiences would find it difficult to watch Bran struggle through his paralysis at the age 7.
The decision to add years to the age of these characters for television doesn’t eliminate the tragedy they experience. Instead, this change reduces the emotional burden of watching a show that’s already too raw and visceral for some viewers.
6. Blending Two Characters into One
Sometimes, changes from the original source during adaptation serve to magnify characters of greater interest to the audience while streamlining the storytelling process. The Game of Thrones television series accomplishes this by merging two characters from the book into a single entity on the show.
One of the last surviving bastards of King Robert Baratheon, Gendry, serves a greater role on the TV show when he’s captured by Melisandre instead of Edric Storm, another Baratheon bastard. Viewers sympathize with Gendry’s plight due to his magnanimous nature while the producers accomplish more with Melisandre and Gendry using less screen time.
Tyrion’s sellsword Bronn is another example of the show blending two book characters into one. In the novel, Tyrion promotes Jacelyn Bywater, not Bronn, to the top post of the watch. Choosing Bronn as the captain in the show results in the continuation of Tyrion and Bronn’s witty repartee while streamlining Tyrion’s story.
5. Theon’s Transformation into Reek
One of the more puzzling changes between the book and the show is the treatment of Theon Greyjoy’s storyline. The novels deal with his ugly transformation to Reek post-torture while the TV production stretches the ordeal across an entire season, exposing the audience to scene after scene of excruciating sadism.
Yara – named Asha in the books – attempts to rescue him on the show while on page she discovers him later on, shocked that she doesn’t recognize him at all. On-screen, Theon runs back into the cage rather than escaping to freedom with Yara.
Changing details and displaying Ramsay’s psychopathic rampage to the audience increases the profile of both his character and the Bolton clan as a whole. This also reduces the emphasis on Asha and Theon’s relationship as siblings.
4. Littlefinger, Big Changes
On the television programme, Littlefinger seems to pop up everywhere, from King’s Landing and Eyrie to random patches of dense fogs that hang in the middle of the sea. He’s a key player who espouses Machiavellian wisdom about the high-stakes games of power played across the kingdom.
Littlefinger’s behavior in the books trends more towards a subtle, stealthy approach to ruling the world. Instead of broadcasting his intentions to rule, Petyr Baelish doesn’t reveal his ultimate goal in the books, instead hinting at conspiracy through his devious actions.
The scene where Sansa lies for Littlefinger after he throws Lysa through the moon door doesn’t exist in the books. The written narrative features Littlefinger torturing Marillion in the process of securing a confession for Lysa’s murder.
Sansa’s added scene where she lies to help Petyr does add tension, but the book’s version appears to be more in line with how a sociopathic megalomaniac would take care of the situation.
3. Tyrion’s Wife and Lover
The TV shows handling of Tywin’s brutal pattern of interfering with Tyrion’s love life somewhat reduces the emotional impact of all the terrible events caused by the father’s sociopathic treatment of his son.
One alteration that reduces the tragedy of Tyrion’s first wife takes place when Jaime frees his brother from his cell. In the book, Jaime reveals that Tysha wasn’t a prostitute but a commoner who genuinely loved Tyrion. Jamie also reveals that Tywin told him to lie to punish Tyrion for getting involved with a commoner and disobeying his father’s orders.
The show skips this confession and also tones down Shae’s love for Tyrion, which removes some of the emotional context behind Tyrion killing his father with a crossbow.
2. Tywin and Arya
One of the most pleasing changes between the television production and the book takes place when Arya visits Harrenhall. In the books she serves as the cupbearer for Roose Bolton while in the show she becomes the cupbearer for Tywin Lannister instead.
This sets up a fascinating relationship between the two, with Tywin behaving in a fatherly manner towards a child whose family he destroyed, simply because he doesn’t recognize her. Tywin is also much more powerful and interesting than Roose.
The resulting scenes are among the most enjoyable character exchanges in the show, featuring a terrific actor and actress delivering sharp, intelligent dialogue in a situation rich with irony.
1. The Red Wedding
One of the most traumatic surprises ever to grace television is the infamous red wedding, which blew the mind of audiences who hadn’t read the books.
The novels build the Frey family in such a way that their betrayal of the Stark family is almost inevitable, while the show does well to hide the massacre from most viewers who haven’t read the books. Another big change is the fact that Lady Jeyne Westerling is Robb’s wife in the books while Lady Talisa is the woman he marries on TV.
In addition to setting up audiences for an unforgettable shock, the television show increases the brutality of the red wedding by having Robb’s wife murdered alongside him at the tragic event while Jeyne survives in the books by never attending the red wedding in the first place.
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