Whenever a beloved book is adapted for movies or TV, a major issue is casting. Fans will want the characters to look exactly how they do in the source material but that doesn’t always work. A key case is Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin said he was always worried about letting someone adapt his Song of Ice and Fire series and change it up too much. But HBO has allowed Martin to help out and craft a smash hit Emmy-winning TV series that’s gotten fans going. They’ve managed the challenge of making the book work and even altering it at times. They’ve also done a great job with the casting and presenting the characters. Although some fans may complain the exactness isn’t quite good enough.
Now some castings of the show tend to be dead on. Sansa, Arya, Cersei, Littlefinger, Ned, they all look almost exactly like their book characters. A few look prettier such as Brienne of Tarth or Jaimie. You make allowances for actors better off with the performance than just the look. But some characters are notable for being far different than what their book counterparts should be. Some are older or younger; some don’t have the same scarring or more attractive; and some just bear nearly no resemblance whatsoever to the source material. Again, you can cut some slack thanks to how great the show is but it’s still notable when Game of Thrones makes such changes. Here are 30 characters from the show and what they should really look like to illustrate the challenges in adapting such an epic work to the screen.
30 Theon Greyjoy
The son of a lord who basically hated him, Theon lived with the Starks for years until forced to betray them. His efforts to be taken seriously just led to more death and violence and then he endured absolute hell at the hands of Ramsey Bolton. Thus, you can sympathize with him despite his bad moves. The book version of Theon actually starts off far more handsome than how Alfie Allen looks on the show, more dashing than the thin and somewhat unattractive man at Winterfell. The bigger changes come from Theon’s torture at the hands of Ramsey which is far more brutal in the books. On the show, he comes out of it looking much the same but the books have him prematurely aged so his hair turns grey and missing several fingers, toes and teeth. The character is supposed to look like he’s been through hell and back, not just a bad vacation and strange how Alfie manages to look both worse and better than his original character.
This character has a twisted history, willing to kill his own brother and throw in with a witch and even sacrifice his own daughter to get the throne. Stephen Dillane nails the uncompromising demeanor and secret lust for power of the character but that’s where the similarities end. A major issue is that Robert was the older brother yet Dillane looks a lot older than Mark Addy. Indeed, the character is supposed to be 34 but Dillane is 60. He’s also supposed to be mostly bald with darker beard and whiskers. The character is seriously “aged up” in the TV show which is odd given how he’s meant to still be a younger commander and his dashing manner winning over folks to his side more than Renly. He can capture the character’s intimidating manner and even command yet the TV character should be a lot younger and a bit less scarred and weathered to properly capture the commanding role of a would-be king.
28 Jorah Mormont
Now here’s a clear case of the TV version being far more attractive than the book version is. Daenerys’ loyal knight and follower is played by Iain Glen as dashingly handsome, light hair and beard, great in a fight and the attraction to his Queen is clear. The book version however, is older and while still has that love, not as easily returned. The first line of his introduction openly states that “he was not a handsome man.” The book version has him mostly bald with the idea that most of his thick hair is on his chest and back. While Glen is a bit lithe, Jorah in the books is stronger, broad-shouldered and meant to emulate his home of the Bear Isle. Also, he should have a scar tattoo under his right eye, branded when he and Tyrion are taken in as slaves. While Glen is good in the part with his loyalty to his Queen, he’s a far cry from the more animal-like character he was in the original text.
27 Sandor “The Hound” Clegane
To their credit, the makeup guys do a good job putting some scars on the face of Rory McCann. The actor’s own build and heft aids him as well in carrying this brutal fighter who has a dark heart but a surprisingly noble spirit at times. The fact is, the Hound should look far, far worse. First off, the scars are on the wrong side as it’s the left half that was cut and burned, not the right so that should be switched. They should also be far broader, a mix of burning and cutting and his hair brushed over more as it doesn’t grow on the other side. The burning should also be larger and “you could see a hint of bone where his flesh had been seared away” by his jaw. There shouldn’t be an outer ear on that side and McCann is a bit healthier in his weight than the book version. While it’s mostly cosmetic, the fact remains that the Hound should be a lot uglier than he is.
26 Brienne Of Tarth
The producers were worried a bit about finding the right person to play this role. How many women are out there over six feet tall and believable as warriors? As it happened, Gwendoline Christie came along and just perfect for the role. The character is a warrior who wants to be loved but held back by being quite unattractive, especially by Westeros standards. Christie is far more attractive than the book character but still retains a rough edge and wisely they keep her short hair. She has the same bright blue eyes but should have plumper cheeks, crooked teeth and a face covered with freckles. Also, over the course of her adventures, she loses two teeth and half a cheek bearing scar marks from being bitten, not to mention a broken nose. Christie gets the height right but they could have done a bit more to try and make her a bit more “uglified” to keep with a woman with a bright spirit but not quite beautiful looks.
25 Lysa Arryn
Catelyn Stark’s sister is the widow of the former Hand of the King whose murder sets the entire show in motion. Catelyn goes to her for aid only to find Lysa has basically gone off the deep end, totally paranoid and even breast-feeding her eight year old son in public. In many ways, Kate Dickle nails the character’s insane nature, constantly seeing enemies and going on wild tirades. However, she’s also far thinner and more attractive than the book version. The point is how Catelyn was always the more beautiful sister and Lysa in her shadow yet now Lysa looks the older. The character should be overweight, even plump with a double chin and puffy face from years living a higher lifestyle. It’s a major contrast to Catelyn and shows the vastly different people they’ve become. While Dickle can show the insanity of Lysa, she still looks better than her book character does.
24 Syrio Forel
His appearance is brief but very memorable to make this character an instant fan favorite. The “Dancing Master” is the one who trains Arya in swordplay at King’s Landing and teaches her fighting skills. Suave and debonair, the character sacrificed himself to give Arya time to escape when the Lannisters took over the place. Miltos Yeromelou wonderfully played the role with grace and charm, a bright smile as he taught Arya the skills to survive and terrific in his fighting. The major differences come in his age and appearance. In the books, Syrio is older, more in his late fifties and very experienced, much written about how he moves like a man much younger. He’s also bald with a sharper nose whereas Yeromelou has a full head of hair and bright bushy beard. It might have been interesting to see an older man doing these same moves to make his time on the show even better.
23 Daario Naharis
Not one but two actors have taken on the role of this fighter who romances the Queen of Dragons. And neither time has he looked close to what the character should be. Ed Skerin took on the role, a handsome man without any facial hair, long flowing hair and easy charm. Skerin left for some other commitments and so the role has been played since by Michiel Huisman. He plays the role a bit tougher with a lush beard, not quite the same charm Skerin had but capable in a fight. The book version is much different, however.
As described, “Daario Naharis was flamboyant even for a Tyroshi. His beard was cut into three prongs and dyed blue, the same color as his eyes and the curly hair that fell to his collar. His pointed mustachios were painted gold.” In other words, the guy is supposed to look wild and daring with various coloring. The showrunners have noted they thought it was way too much and that it would look stupid for some serious fighter to go around with so much coloring in his appearance. They may be right on that as photo shopped bits do look off but still a very notable difference from the book character.
22 The Mountain
Three actors have taken on the role and none have quite matched the actual book character. Conan Stevens (7' tall) played Clegane in season one, followed by Ian Whyte (7'1") in season two. Since then, the Mountain has been played by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (6'9") in a suit of armor. Each has been quite impressive but not to the level of the book character. There’s a reason he’s called the Mountain Who Rides as even Hodor is small compared to him. “He is almost eight feet tall and must weigh thirty stone, all of it muscle. He fights with a two-handed great sword, but needs only one hand to wield it. He has been known to cut men in half with a single blow. His armor is so heavy that no lesser man could bear the weight, let alone move in it." As incredibly impressive as the various actors have been, the real Mountain should match his name, huge and basically looking like a pale-skinned Incredible Hulk to match his name.
A major character shift from the books to the show is in the nephew of Tywin Lannister. His early appearances are much like the book character, Eugene Simone with long hair and a dashing appearance, used when he sleeps with Cersei. But a big shift comes when he’s injured during the Battle of Blackwater. In the books, Lancel decides to leave Westeros and takes up his old land. He then gives up his title to join the Faith Militant but is still alive. In the show, Lancel joins the High Sparrow and undergoes a change with a buzz cut and a branding on his head. He’s killed off when the wildfire blows the Sept to pieces with hundreds inside. The book version had him prematurely aged by his injuries in the battle, his hair turning grey. Also, he doesn’t undergo the branding as he’s following a different type of religious faith. Whether the character would still live or die is one thing but he could have looked like he’s older than his years.
Played by the gorgeous Nathalie Emmanuel, this former slave is the main aide to Daenerys and a loyal follower of her queen. She has shown off her nude body in a hot bath scene and a romantic subplot of her own. This comes as a shock if you read the books where Missendei is actually only ten years old when she comes into Daenerys’ service. Aging up the Stark kids a couple of years is one thing but making the TV version of Missendei in her twenties is something else. Furthermore, the descriptions of her homeland and culture showcase a more Asian influence than the African land she hails from on the series. Now, the producers could have had her as a teenager at least so as still a romantic plot but not as old as Emmanuel is. Also, an Asian actress with darker skin would have been an intriguing choice. Few characters are as vastly different from the books as she is and quite stunning how her look is supposed to be something else.
19 Yara/Asha Greyjoy
One of the odder changes for the character is her name as she’s Asha in the books but changed to Yara on the show. She shows up as a rider bringing Theon back home and he actually feels her up at one point. Naturally, he’s more than a little disgusted when he realizes it’s his now-grown sister. Clearly more favored by her father, she fights against him to rescue Theon from captivity and shows a very steely side to herself. Gemma Whelan nicely captures the character’s self-assured nature but doesn’t quite look the part. The book describes her as “lean and long-legged with black hair cut short.” The TV show has her hair lighter and longer and a seemingly permanent scowl whereas in the book, Asha is known for a bright smile. Also, her nose should be more pointed and sharp than the pug nose of the actress. While she may have the character aspects down well, Whelan doesn’t quite match what the book character should look like.
A running theme in audio commentaries for the show are the producers and stars cracking on how somehow the actors continue to look good even when they’re supposed to be in the wild. A key case is Ygritte, the Wildling who introduced the now famed line “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” The character was meant to be a wild lady, an adventurer with bright red hair that was a tangled mess, going all out in battles and such. However (much as with Brienne), the producers picked a truly gorgeous lady to play someone meant to be not too attractive. Rose Leslie has the red hair but lighter than it should be and far too smooth. Her nose should be more upturned and crooked teeth to boot. Obviously, the show loves to “prettify” its characters and this is a clear case as Ygritte should be a lot wilder.
17 Tywin Lannister
Casting Charles Dance for the lord of the twisted clan was a masterstroke for the show. In so many ways, Dance was perfect, commanding, intimidating and believable as the guy who could get even the King of Westeros to back down. His powerful presence was hailed by his fellow actors and most think no one else could have played the part so well. Yet there are still a few differences between the book and TV versions. On the show, Tywin still has hair, although thinning, however in the books he’s completely bald. Also, his beard should be thicker and more blonde just like his children. He also tends to go for more flamboyant clothing than the more serious tones he wears on the show, not above flaunting a cape now and then. Dance is closer to the book than others on this list but giving Tywin a bald head would make an already intimidating character even more terrifying.
16 Ramsey Bolton
It’s hard to believe this twisted, sadistic monster could be even worse but it’s true. Iwan Rheon managed to make the character a tiny watchable because of his handsome demeanor and charm. Those are absent from the book version as Ramsey is openly described as “an ugly man” with pink and blotchy skin with longer hair that’s stringy and looks unwashed for some time. The big difference are the eyes which are meant to be chilly white, almost like snow itself and intimidate anyone who looks at them. The descriptions note the man tends to lean toward a hard-living lifestyle that’s likely to make him fat down the road, hardly the handsome man Rheon is. It even seems to become darker as the character goes on his murderous actions and as he takes on more of a ruling role, he becomes more self-indulgent. So as nasty as he is on the show, Ramsey should look even darker than that.
15 Daenerys Targaryen
Emilia Clarke has won massive hails for her performance as the rising queen and Mother of Dragons. Fans adore her performance and her ease with multiple nude scenes. While the look is mostly right, there are some differences, the biggest being that in the books, Daenerys is much younger, in her young teens, which makes her ability to command armies all the more striking. While she does have blonde hair, it’s supposed to be cut far shorter or at least held up in a tight bun rather than let loose. She also has bright violet eyes that seem to sparkle brightly and mixed with the silk she wears. Another change is that when her dragons give “birth,” Daenerys has all of her hair burned off, her scalp as smooth as a melon. The producers changed that to just her hair tight on her head but the books carry how she uses her bald appearance to be even more commanding. Thus, while Clarke mostly has the role in hand, there are some differences meant to make the Mother of Dragons even more intimidating.
14 Roose Bolton
The Lord of the Dreadfort seemed to be a capable general for Robb Stark. But he ended up betraying Robb and stabbing him during the infamous Red Wedding. Michael McElhatton did a good job playing the man who ended up being killed off by his own son. The issue is that he bears little resemblance to the book character. He’s bald and aged whereas the book Roose has long dark hair and (oddly) an unlined face. He’s also without scars despite his numerous battles as many note how it’s strange time and violence don’t seem to touch him. His eyes are also meant to be much darker and overall, he’s a huge contrast to bastard son Ramsey. To his credit, McElhatton does capture the character’s mostly silent demeanor and how it’s more of an impact when he does speak or strike. However, at least a wig would have helped him look more like his print counterpart.
13 Tyrion Lannister
From the moment the show was announced, fans were adamant on one point: Peter Dinklage had to play Tyrion Lannister. The long-popular character was already a favorite and casting Dinklage just made it better. It paid off as Dinklage has won massive hails and two Emmys for his work on the show. Overall, his look isn’t too different although his hair is darker. It’s more his character, the book Tyrion even more brutal and the hair blonder. Also, he’s actually a tad shorter but Dinklage still nails the overall look. The big difference comes from what Tyrion should look like after the Battle of Blackwater. In the book, he suffers a horrible blow that slices his nose off and he’s been without it ever since. In the show, they changed it to just a scar across his face. Indeed, they even poked fun with Cersei saying she’d heard rumors of him losing his nose and Tyrion shrugging it off. Also, there should be one eye discolored and some scarring around it. Producers thought it was a tad too grisly for a loved character but notable how the TV version of the dwarf gets off a bit luckier than his book counterpart.
12 Jaime Lannister
For the most part, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is perfect in the role. He’s tall, handsome and you can buy him and Lena Headey being twins. He brings the right combination of arrogance and fun charm for the Kingslayer, a man who can do a noble act one day then one of utter evil the next. That charm is what lets viewers empathize with him despite his dark deeds. The main issue is his hair. For the first two seasons, Jaime should have long curly blond hair in flowing locks, which gets him a little mocking. He should also be clean-shaven as it’s mentioned in the books how he grows more of a beard when captured by the Starks. Afterward, Jaime totally shaves his head and grows a long beard as he’s trying to be incognito when he and Brienne go on their “road trip.” While the show did have him lose a hand (which some thought they wouldn’t go so far with), Jaime is meant to have a very unkempt appearance by season 6. He may be missing a hand but the TV version of Jamie still looks a lot better that the book version should.
One aspect of the beloved giant can’t quite be replicated on the show and that is the size. Hodor is a true giant, over seven feet tall and while Kristian Nairn nearly matches seven feet, the directors tend to shoot him from a lower angle or use framing to make him look much larger. Also, the actor is known for having nearly white hair on the show whereas the book character has dark brown hair and clean-shaven. Some descriptions have him with a bit of a sloped brow and long arms and legs rather than the stocky build of Nairn. In many ways, the character is meant to be thinner and a bit deceptive in his strength rather than the beefy guy who can give the Mountain a run for the money in power. He still carries the same power, undying loyalty to the Starks and shady bits that hint to his shocking origins. Yet the TV version of the character comes off a bit lighter yet also darker than his book persona.
10 Edmure Tully
The younger brother of Catelyn Stark, Edmure has had a few appearances on the show, played by Tobias Menzies. He has an eye for the ladies which ironically saves his life as he marries Rosilin Frey which is the kick-off to the infamous Red Wedding. Held captive, he’s freed by Jaime and helps take over Riverrun. He’s mentioned to be back in jail by Walder Frey but when Walder is killed by Arya, his fate is unknown. A major bit is that Mezies looks as old as his sister when he’s meant to be in his 20s or at least early 30s. He should also have “a shaggy head of auburn hair and a fiery beard.” The character should be a bit stocky, not quite as overtly handsome as on the show and should also bear some marks from his various captivities. A clear case of the TV character more handsome than in the books.
9 Robb Stark
In the books, the Stark children seem to be divided between who takes after which side. While Arya leans after her father, the others tend to go for their mother Catelyn’s side with reddish hair. Robb is supposed to be the same, his hair more auburn with piercing blue eyes and also clean-shaven. Like the rest of the Starks, Robb is meant to be younger, sixteen rather than the twenty-something Richard Madden. He is more like the book character than a few on this list but should be younger and indeed, the lack of a beard is meant to add to how he seems out of his league when he becomes “King of the North.” For so much of his time, he’s a boy playing a man’s game and not quite eighteen when he’s cut down at the Red Wedding. Madden made the character a heartthrob for female viewers yet he’s meant to be more innocent in the books and this a far stronger version of the character.
8 Euron Greyjoy
The Crow’s Eye is an intimidating figure who murdered his own brother so he could take on the Salt Throne. Pilou Asbæk is promising that in the upcoming season, Euron will become the major threat to many players and a huge bad guy. But the fact is that the TV version pales next to that of the books. Sure, he looks impressive with some scarring but in the books, the “Crow’s Eye” nickname comes from how one of his eyes is as black as death and wears a dark patch over it. His hair should be dark as a raven’s and his remaining eye “bright summer blue.” This mix of beauty and darkness is what makes the character work so well and for the producers to ignore this is a bit surprising. At the least, an eyepatch would make it better as Euron is meant to look as terrifying as he truly is for viewers and enemies alike.
7 Bran Stark
Now one change from the books is completely beyond the control of producers. They were just as shocked as anyone when actor Isaac Hampstead Wright underwent a growth spurt between seasons, going from a little kid to nearly six feet tall. They’ve covered for it with the paralyzed Bran lying down a lot but still a big change from the short kid of the books. That’s not the only difference, however. Bran is meant to copy his mother Catelyn with the same hair coloring, red and bright blue eyes. On the show, Bran seems to follow Ned with darker hair and his eyes only get bright with contacts when he’s doing his wild “spirit walk” stuff. Again, the height is something that was unexpected but the fact remains the kid is supposed to follow his mother’s side of the family, not his dad and the least they could have done was color the hair differently. So while close, not what the character should be.
6 Ned Stark
Here’s where things get interesting. The casting of Sean Bean as the head of the Stark clan was one of the show’s best masterstrokes. Fans loved him as he was a star and they could buy him as the hero of the show. That would make it all the more shocking when he’s beheaded and fans rocked to discover the hero of the piece didn’t even live through the first season. In most ways, Bean captures the character well, the issue of how he puts honor above reason which leads to his fall and so much of the show’s events. The casting directors do a good job capturing the part but Ned is supposed to have darker hair, much more brown and longer. He should also have a face more beaten by the elements of the North and carry a bit more weight around him. Overall, Bean was a quite capable Ned yet not quite as perfect as the book character should be on screen.
One of the many daughters of Craster, this Wildling has been very popular with fans as a fresh-faced innocent who soon finds love with the husky Sam. Pregnant be her own father, Gilly is taken under Sam’s wing as he soon helps her escape and the latest season has him taking her to his father’s home to try and get more of a normal life. Like many other characters, the issue is the age as the character is meant to be only a teenager. Hannah Murray is actually 27 and so brings a bit more age to the role than it’s meant to be. Also, she started off buck-toothed, a feature not in the books and rather distracting. That’s been dropped since but the character should be thinner, a more gaunt face and try to look a few years younger. Another case of how the actor is able to cover for the changes with her performance so even if it’s not an exact duplicate, it’s still very good to bring the character to life.
4 Cersei Lannister
Another case of the TV version being oh so close but not quite exactly like the source material. In so many ways, Lena Headey nails Cersei, the cold demeanor, the wicked charm, the ruthlessness, all of it. Still, there are some differences such as how her hair should be much blonder, much like twin brother Jaime. On that, the two are supposed to be more like mirror images but one can cut the casting director some slack as that’s tricky to get. Also, her eyes should be an emerald hue to better offset her hair. Her imprisonment and her “walk of Shame” should leave her a tad thinner when she finally takes the Iron Throne. Another shift should be when the stress of all this rule and the coming war drives Cersei to drink more wine and thus gain weight. So she should be a bit more plump and even some trouble handling the complex dresses yet still a regal command over things.
This character has undergone a terrific evolution from a foolish fat humor man to a truly capable fighter and even ready to take up a lordship. John Bradley has most of the bulk of the body down and captures Sam’s earnest demeanor and enjoys the good humor well. In the book, he’s clean-shaven, has light-colored eyes and actually weighs about fifty pounds more than Bradley does. He mostly carries the weight well but the book Sam is supposed to be even more nervous and more protective of love Gilly. While Bradley does a great job with Sam overall, especially in his growth as a noble fighter, he actually is a bit thinner than the book character should be although thankfully, he’s still far more than comic relief. The hair could be a bit more of a pale grey but Bradley would no doubt prefer not having to pack on even more pounds than he already carries on the show.
2 Barristan The Bold
A fan favorite, this veteran knight is made a lesson by new king Jeoffrey who has him stripped of his rank and banished. Traveling to Essos, Barristan takes up the name of Artsan Whitebeard and joins with Daenerys. Eventually, she finds out his true identity but still accepts him as a noble aide. Ian McElhinney fits the age of the character and carries himself well as a warrior far more capable than he looks. A shift is in the fact that to help his disguise, Barristan grows a long and thick white beard and his hair much longer. He trims both when he reveals his identity but still keeps the longer hair going. Thus, he should have the longer locks which aid in his intimidation factor. Also, his eyes should be bright blue, not hazel so contacts would have been better. Otherwise, this man does capture the title of “the Bold” well for his great flair in combat.
One aspect of the books that has been altered for the show are the ages of characters. Many (including the Stark children) are meant to be barely teenagers but even HBO would balk about having someone under the age of consent involved in scenes of such nudity and violence. So, several characters find themselves “aged up” a bit. Podrick is a good example. The book version is just barely over thirteen years old when he becomes Tyrion’s squire and aids him in both battle and as Hand of the King. He’s short and quite thin with a stye over one eye and so quiet that Tyrion at first thinks he’s mute.
One the show, Podrick is played by 25-year-old Daniel Portman, far taller and more handsome. He’s much more capable in a fight and in other ways. A classic scene has Tyrion “rewarding” Podrick by sending him to a brothel and is shocked when the boy claims he did so well that none of the “ladies” charged him. The “boy” is quite obviously a man on the show and a major case of how some book characters have a unique “growth spurt” for TV viewers.