Article Lead Image

‘Game of Thrones’: The biggest differences between the book and the show

When you turn a 5,000-page series into a TV script, some shenanigans are bound to happen.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Jun 16, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 3:19 am CDT

Warning: This article contains spoilers from Game of Thrones and the A Song of Ice and Fire series.

When a popular novel (or series) gets turned into a movie or a TV show, the best and worst kind of fan is someone who already read the book.

On one hand, these folks can be great, helping other fans fill in context that can’t be incorporated into a visual presentation of the story. There’s the inner monologue, descriptions of food and far-off places, and the tiny details that just don’t make the cut. And, unless he or she is a complete jerk, a well-read fan can tell you what you want to know without spoilers.

On the other hand, the people who read the book can also be entirely insufferable and obnoxious about it, apt to remind you when things aren’t exactly how it happened in the text. A lot.

I am one of those people. I haven’t received any complaints—yet. For the past couple months I’ve spent my Sunday nights making jokes on Twitter and live-texting with my boyfriend (also a book reader) as Game of Thrones played in the background. Whenever something played out differently from the books, he was sure to let me know.

Now the most popular show in HBO’s history (and currently one of the most-watched shows on TV), it’s had its ups and downs. Some of the hiccups seem to be an inevitable part of trying to adapt a more than 5,000-page (so far) series into a television show. No matter how much we want some minor character to appear, it’s just easier to consolidate him or her into someone else. Also, because some characters’ story arcs are further along than others, we sometimes see parts of three different books in a single episode, not to mention some characters still alive in the books are now dead and vice versa.

The changes, as well as any further deviations from the story that result, are all filed under what A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin likes to call the “butterfly effect.”

“There are at least four characters who are dead in the TV show who are alive in the books still,” Martin told Conan O’Brien last year. “Hopefully it will end the same way in the TV show as it does in the books.”

That isn’t to say that Game of Thrones has abandoned the books completely; True Blood, set to take the coveted Game of Thrones time slot following the season finale on Sunday, hasn’t been even remotely faithful to the book series it’s based on for years. And even if the show eventually overtakes the books, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss already know how it ends, generally-speaking.

So in a way, we hope they know what they’re doing when they, for example, killed Pyp and Grenn (who are both still alive by the end of A Dance With Dragons) during the Battle of Castle Black. And I full-heartedly support scenes that feature two non-point-of-view characters sparring words ( Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, and Varys).

But how justified is the frustration from the book purists? With the final moments of Season 4 still fresh on your mind, we’ll look back at the biggest story departures and the angst they have caused. 


1) Jaime Lannister isn’t supposed to be at the Purple Wedding.

Frustration Level: 3.5/5


As touching/slightly disturbing as it was to see siblings Jaime and Cersei at their son Joffrey’s side as he struggled to take his final breaths, it just didn’t happen. In fact, Jaime and Cersei don’t reunite until after Joffrey Baratheon’s death at his own wedding to Margaery Tyrell. (More on that later.) So for a couple of episodes we have Jaime’s man-tears and sulking about while Cersei cringes at his golden hand.

On the other hand, Jamie’s presence allows Joffrey to mock him in fantastic manner while he reads from the White Book, a scene that happens internally on the page.


2) Arya Stark and the Hound’s storyline/run-in with Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne.

Frustration Level (Arya/Hound): 1.5/5


Frustration Level (Brienne/Podrick): 3/5


After the Red Wedding, Arya and the Hound don’t really have much to do before she heads off on a ship to Braavos. The inn fight in “Two Swords” was supposed to result in the Hound’s possibly fatal injury, but you can’t just have Maisie Williams show up in a couple episodes before her character leaves the Hound to die.

The result was a buddy comedy spin-off in the making between our two favorite cold-hearted killers, even if their relationship is a lot friendlier in the show than it is in the books.

While the Hound does plan to take Arya to Lysa Arryn, they never make it. There’s never the possibility of another Stark reunion only to end in disappointment yet again; in fact, just stop getting your hopes up until The Winds of Winter or A Dream of Spring tell us otherwise.

They also never run into Brienne and Podrick, who are tasked with finding Sansa Stark and returning her to Winterfell (pretty much a failure). Brienne and Podrick never run into Hot Pie and find out that Arya is alive, although Brienne does eventually hear that the Hound traveled with a girl, mistakenly thought to be Sansa.

It’s just killing time until she and Podrick go on even more adventures, and it certainly feels like it.

Luckily, their meeting was wrapped in a shiny and convenient plot bow: Brienne and the Hound fought for Arya, resulting in the latter’s life-threatening wounds, and Arya still headed off to Braavos after refusing to kill him mercifully. Well done.


3) We don’t actually see any of the Theon/Bolton plot or Yara’s rescue attempt.

Frustration Level (Boltons): 1.5/5


Frustration Level (Yara): 4.5/5


Did you hate all of the gratuitous Theon Greyjoy torture scenes? Well, in the book you only read about them after the fact when we finally meet up with Theon and Reek again in A Dance With Dragons. But as creepy his relationship with Ramsay Bolton is, it’s fascinating to watch Theon turn into Ramsay’s plaything—something so broken that he ran back into a cage when his sister Yara (Asha in the books) went to rescue him.

Which actually doesn’t happen. Yara’s rescue attempt wasn’t at all suspenseful for book readers because we know that Theon’s stuck as Ramsay’s pet for a long while. The decision to add a rescue attempt to the show could also put a damper on the siblings’ actual reunion as it happens in ADWD. Asha doesn’t even recognize Theon until he tells her who he is, and when she does find out, she’s in shock.

The scene in the show does serve to remind us that Yara is still around, as is her and Theon’s father, Balon Greyjoy, who should’ve died before the Red Wedding if the show stayed true to the books. 

The added scenes with the Boltons aren’t all bad, though. They provide a view of what’s going on in the North as well as this Lion King-like scene:


4) Jaime and Cersei Lannister’s “altar sex scene.”

Frustration Level: 5/5


There’s been so much said about this scene that I doubt I could add anything of further value; even Martin was forced to weigh in, and he noted that the butterfly effect was why the scene had changed.

The sex scene between Jaime and Cersei in front of their son’s corpse, while consensual from Jaime’s potentially unreliable point of view in the books, took what fans saw as a decidedly non-consensual turn in the television adaptation. After an uproar, the writers and director couldn’t agree on whether the scene was intended to be entirely consensual or not, which just made things worse.

It sparked an ongoing debate about violence against women in Game of Thrones, which seems to happen more often than in the books (for example, Daenerys Targaryen’s first time sleeping with Khal Drogo is a lot more consensual in the novel). It’s unclear why the showrunners made these choices, but fans clearly aren’t happy. 


5) Ser Pounce shows up once—and never again for the rest of the season.

Frustration Level: 5/5


Even though Ser Pounce isn’t introduced as a minor character in the books—and a kitten at that!—until A Feast For Crows, he made his only appearance in the show in a scene between Tommen Baratheon and Margaery that never happens in the text. While we assume the cat was inserted to break up the tension and any possible creepy undertones between Margaery and the much younger Tommen, the cat’s never heard from again and fans were understandably upset at losing their new favorite character.

After all, he is the Pounce that was Promised.


6) The White Walkers turn a baby into one of their own.

Frustration Level: 2.5/5


I rated this change right in the middle of the line because it was completely polarizing. Either people loved it, in part because it was something new for book readers (and it confirmed what the White Walkers did with Craster’s sons), or they hated it because it wasn’t straight from the books and could’ve potentially spoiled them. (I tend to fall on the former side of the debate.)

It’s a slow burn of a plot point for sure, but it served to remind us that the Wights and White Walkers are still out there. And whether you think the main White Walker is actually the Night’s King, which HBO quickly removed from the show’s synopsis page, or not is a battle of theories for another day.


7) The whole Craster’s Keep subplot with Bran/Hodor/Jojen/Meera and Jon/Night’s Watch.

Frustration Level: 2/5


More unnecessary rape scenes—we already know that the mutineers at Craster’s Keep are a nasty bunch—but for the most part, I liked these added scenes. To be frank, without them Bran Stark and Jon Snow wouldn’t have had much to do this season.

Bran, Meera and Jojen Reed, and Hodor end A Storm of Swords by getting to the other side of the Wall with help from Sam Tarly. They meet up with Coldhands (who sadly isn’t in the show yet), who then makes Sam promise not to tell Jon. Jon gets back to Castle Black just as a battle is starting. 

Both characters are too important to the show (especially Kit Harington) to keep out for that long. So there’s a totally new plot that a) offers a way to get rid of the mutineers without having to bring in Coldhands; b) allows Jon to prove himself to the Night’s Watch; 3) demonstrates Bran has more Warging skills; and 4) teases another meetup, especially because Jon knows Bran is alive.

Does any of that happen? Of course not. But considering how thin their storylines are this season it’s a consolation, even if many fans don’t like it and Jon’s story is still rather flimsy until the Battle of Castle Black.

After the final episode, Bran’s story is now in ADWD territory with yet another character’s death who is not yet dead: Jojen. In the books, Jojen knows when he’s going to die, but he was last seen going through a depression. There are theories about whether he’s even still alive.


8) Stannis Baratheon and Davos Seaworth never travel to Braavos.

Frustration Level: 1/5


Stannis meets with Tycho Nestoris to discuss money, but that doesn’t happen until The Winds of Winter, in a chapter Martin released early. What’s great about it happening sooner in the show is that we got to see Braavos, a place we only hear about until Arya’s arrival in Season 5. Davos, ever the Stannis fanboy, gets to demonstrate what’s so great about his king. And even better, it works.

Plus, Stannis really doesn’t have much to do until he crushes Mance Rayder’s wildling army at Castle Black.


9) There is actually a witness to Lysa Arryn’s murder—who is then framed for it.

Frustration Level: 2.5/5


As many have pointed out, Sansa and Littlefinger weren’t alone when Lysa made her exit through the Moon Door at the Eyrie. There was also Marillion, a singer who was last seen losing his tongue at the orders of Joffrey in the show.

In the book he has his tongue and is a favorite of Lysa’s at the Eyrie. He is there for Littlefinger and Lysa’s wedding, where he attempts to rape Sansa. He also brings Sansa to Lysa at the Moon Door where she can confront her niece, and we know what happens next.

Instead of trying to sell a suicide story, Littlefinger just frames Marillion for the murder, and the singer eventually admits to it after being tortured.

Also, there is no way that Littlefinger’s character in the books would’ve let Sansa go into that meeting with the Council without them being on the same page. The show did allow her to shine, though, making some of us want her to win the game even more.


10) No mention of Tysha, Tyrion Lannister’s first wife, when he is freed by Jaime.

Frustration Level: 2/5


While the deaths of Tywin Lannister and Shae played out largely like they did originally (even the whole Tywin dying on the privy thing), some of the emotional context was missing from what was otherwise an excellent scene.

When Jaime freed Tyrion, he told him the truth about Tysha, Tyrion’s first wife who he thought to be a whore. (For context, here’s the scene).

It turns out Tysha was a peasant girl who genuinely loved Tyrion, but Tywin made Jaime lie about Tysha being a whore to punish Tyrion for running off without his permission and marrying a commoner. Tyrion, upset about the news, tells Jaime in return that Cersei’s been sleeping around while he was held captive.

It’s in part why Tyrion finally pulls the trigger on that crossbow; Tywin won’t give him a direct answer as to Tysha’s whereabouts and only says that she went “wherever whores go.”


11) No Lady Stoneheart.

Frustration Level: 6/5


Fans waited for the reveal of Lady Stoneheart—Catelyn Stark brought back from the dead and out for pure vengeance against anyone associated with the Freys, Lannisters, or Boltons—at the end of season 3 and were disappointed when the final scene showed the slaves of Yunkai lifting Dany up and shouting “Mhysa!”

Some figured it might’ve been too soon to introduce Stoneheart because it might’ve cheapened Catelyn’s death if she was brought back only one episode after the Red Wedding. Ending the fourth season with Lady Stoneheart, however, made a world of sense. After all, the season covers the remaining parts of ASOS—and what an ending it would be. It’d compare to the White Walker reveal and Dany’s dragons hatching.

Lena Headey’s Instagram account seemed to “confirm” the spoiler, and as the final episode aired Sunday night the hype was never higher.

But, it didn’t happen. Even when the credits rolled following Arya boarding a ship to Braavos, there was hope for an after scene a la the Marvel franchise. But then, nothing. Now fans are inconsolable (just search “Lady Stoneheart” on Twitter), and what may have been the best episode of the season has been tarnished.

Lady Stoneheart, of course, could appear in a future season with a proper introduction and not just a last-minute tease. In the next day or so, Benioff and Weiss will do many interviews, and I’d be very surprised if nobody asked them about choosing not to include her.

They may be angry, but will it be enough to make them stop watching? Probably not.

Photo via Game of Thrones/YouTube | Joffrey heads by Jason Reed

Share this article
*First Published: Jun 16, 2014, 10:15 am CDT