Back to IndieWire

5 Major Differences From HBO’s ‘Game Of Thrones’ & George R. R. Martin’s Books

5 Major Differences From HBO’s ‘Game Of Thrones’ & George R. R. Martin’s Books

Well, the brilliant “Game Of Thrones” is obviously over for another season, and we enter the long, tortuous wait for its return next year. Unfortunately for many fans, when it does return they probably won’t see a highly anticipated character (or more accurately, the resurrected version of a deceased one) make her debut. While speaking with Entertainment Weekly, actress Michelle Fairley revealed that we’re unlikely to see the character Lady Stoneheart make the transition from page to screen. Lady Who? What? Where? We’ll explain in a minute.

The news of the forthcoming absence of this major character got us thinking about the other differences between the novels and the TV show, and we’ve decided to address the top five major changes that the series has made to George R. R. Martin‘s text, in an attempt to see if we can understand the reasons behind them. Obviously some spoilers for those that haven’t read the books yet, and or haven’t finished this latest season.

Like any adaptation, HBO‘s small screen take on Martin’s “Song Of Ice And Fire” saga was obviously never going to be completely faithful to its source material, but for its first couple of seasons it actually made a damn good stab at it. Sure, there were a few minor changes here and there, but it was really only in seasons 3 and 4 that the showrunners (David Benioff and Dan Weiss) began to take things way off the Westeros map… and consequently, of course, incurred the ire of the hardcore fans. As the show rapidly catches up to Martin’s typing, changes were inevitable, and some of them arguably even improve on certain aspects of the story and keep the TV narrative flowing—however, some others are pretty baffling.

1. The Event: Character deaths.
What Happened In The Show: Several minor characters still breathing in the books have been killed off in the show. Even one major character too. It began with one of Khal Drogo’s “blood riders” named Mago meeting a grisly end in the first season, and since then we’ve had many more; most recently Night’s Watch men Pyp and Gren, and in the season 4 finale, Bran Stark’s warg-seeing friend Jojen Reed.
What Happens In The Books: Well, they’re all alive! After Mago’s death, Martin commented that he still has plans for the character so we can expect the show to deviate significantly from the books in that respect. Can we expect the same of the others? It’s very hard to believe that, at the very least, Jojen won’t have another major role to play in the novel before checking out, if he even does.
Why The Changes: Probably just for added dramatic effect. When Mago was killed, the reason given was that Drogo never had a chance to show off his famed prowess in battle, and his disrespectful second-in-command seemed like the obvious choice for a demonstration. Another Dothraki horserider Rakharo was killed off simply because the actor scored a better gig elsewhere. By the same token, a couple of familiar faces (Pyp and Gren) meeting their fate during the attack on the wall in season 4’s penultimate episode certainly added some weight to the battle. And Jojen? Well, we know that Weiss and Benioff are in constant contact with Martin, so he may well have given them the okay to off the young fella—don’t be surprised if he’s the first casualty of the upcoming book “The Winds Of Winter.” While chatting to EW, Benioff says that it made sense for Jojen to sacrifice himself to save Bran at that point in the story, and that “there are a lot of wights in that frozen field. It seemed pretty unlikely they wouldn’t score at least once.”

2. The Event: Jamie helps Tyrion escape.
What Happened In The Show: Jamie Lannister springs his little brother Tyrion from his cell, and saves him from the same fate as poor dead Ned Stark. After a touching farewell, Tyrion lingers just long enough to murder both his ex-lover Shae and his scheming father Tywin before joining Varys on a ship to freedom.
What Happened In The Books: Things play out much the same in “A Storm Of Swords,” but for very different reasons, and the dynamic between the brothers is completely altered for the TV show too. Remember Tyrion’s story back in season 1 about his wife Tysha? The Imp had thought her to be a whore, paid off by his father to pop his young son’s cherry—but in the book, Jamie admits that Tysha was who she claimed to be, and had actually loved Tyrion. This means Tywin had her gang raped, and Jamie knew about it. Obviously Tyrion is devastated by the news: First he yells at Jamie that he did actually kill his “vile son” Joffrey, before killing a defenseless Shae (in the show she attacks him with a knife) and putting a couple of arrows in his own father. Varys then helps him escape, but does not accompany him on the ship.
Why the changes: Possibly so as not to vilify Tyrion too much. In the book the truth about Tysha really sets the character on a dark path, beginning with the cold-blooded murder of Shae. Sure, he has his reasons (she did lie about him at the trial, and sleep with his dear old Daddy), but the manner in which his ex-lover is dispatched does leave a bad taste in the mouth. Also, amid all the death and misery of the episode, it was probably felt that we could use a brief moment of tenderness between Jamie and Tyrion before the latter goes on his killing spree. Plus, they might not have counted on viewers to even remember all the Tysha stuff from way back in the first season—and that’s a lot of ground to go back over in a show that doesn’t use flashbacks.

3. The event: We learn what the White Walkers are doing with Craster’s bastards.
What Happened In The Show: The mutineers at the keep continue the tradition of leaving the newborn sons of Craster’s “wives” out in the snow for the demonic White Walkers. We see one of them collect the infant and take him to what we are to assume is the Walkers’ domain. There, what appears to be their king touches the boy’s face, instantly transforming him into White Walker junior.
What Happens In The Books: None of that! After we find out that the Walkers are taking the children, it’s not even mentioned again up to the point we’re at in the saga, “A Dance With Dragons.” So this is either an example of the series taking things in its own direction, or a big spoiler from future books.
Why The Changes: At the end of season 2, the White Walkers are seen advancing on the men of the Night’s Watch with their undead army, and then… nothing. We see them again in a couple of brief scenes (Sam kills one later on), but many fans have wondered why in seven hells they didn’t continue their march on the wall. The show’s decision to go back and see what they’re up to is likely just down to them feeling the scary buggers could use real some screen time—but with nothing else from the books to draw from, they jumped forward to an event that readers haven’t witnessed yet.

4. The event: No Coldhands, No Stoneheart.
What Happened On The Show: Despite fans expecting at least one of them to make an impactful appearance in the season 4 finale, these undead characters from the books did not show up.
What Happens In The Books: While Bran and his posse are on their way to see the Three-eyed Raven, they come under attack and are saved by a mysterious character they christen “Coldhands.” This undead fellow (believed by many to be Benjen Stark) is mute, rides an elk, and is generally just a very cool addition to the story. Another, more controversial resurrected character many expected to see was “Lady Stoneheart,” a.k.a. Catelyn Stark. After her demise at the Red Wedding she’s found by the Brotherhood without Banners, and their leader Beric Dondarrion gives his last “life” to raise her from the dead. I think pretty much everyone expected Stoneheart to be the big season 4 finale cliffhanger and there was certainly a lot of loud fan outrage when she didn’t appear.
Why The Changes: There’s always a chance these two will still show up in the series of course, but if that is the plan, not featuring them—Lady Stoneheart in particular—in the last part of season 4 feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Perhaps they simply felt there was a bit too much going on with the other characters. Also, the resurrected Catelyn Stark (or “Un-Cat” as she’s also referred to by fans) ties into Brienne and Pod’s story, so once it was decided that they’d be encountering The Hound and Arya in the show, (which also doesn’t happen in the books) her introduction at that point would have been problematic.

5. The Event: Sex scenes become rape scenes.
What Happened On The Show: This is a controversial one for sure. Two consensual, though not exactly conventional, sex scenes from the novels were given a far more sinister twist in HBO’s adaptation. Early on in the first book, Khal Drogo and his new bride Dany have sex for the first time. She’s nervous, terrified even, but Drogo waits until she is ready, and is actually gentle. In the first episode of the show however, it is made very clear that Drogo is basically taking what is his and raping her. Then, in the season 4 episode “Breaker Of Chains,” Jamie Lannister forces himself on his sister Cersei in Joffrey’s tomb.
What Happens In The Books: The same, but the sex is consensual.
Why The Changes: This one is baffling. In the case of Drogo and Dany, in both the book and the show she eventually grows to love him, so the decision to have him rape her makes that much harder to buy. With Jamie and Cersei it’s not so clear cut however. When the scene aired debate raged online, with some reasoning that although Cersei initially resists, by the end she relents and has consensual sex with her brother next to the body of their dead son (see, not so creepy after all then!). The episode’s director Alex Graves sees it that way too, and explains why, when quizzed about it by Vulture. “It’s my cut of the scene. The consensual part of it was that she wraps her legs around him, and she’s holding on to the table, clearly not to escape but to get some grounding in what’s going on. And also, the other thing that I think is clear before they hit the ground is she starts to make out with him. The big things to us that were so important, and that hopefully were not missed, is that before he rips her undergarment, she’s way into kissing him back. She’s kissing him aplenty.” A lot of people didn’t buy this, and Martin himself sounded a bit dubious about the changes to his text.

So there you have it. Obviously there are other alterations, but these seem like the ones that will most directly affect the story. Martin is hard at work on the sixth book in the series, “The Winds Of Winter,” but there’s no doubt that we’re going to see plenty more deviations from the source, and even though the author is on hand to guide and advise the direction of the show, it’s entirely possible that at some point they will be forced to make some big decisions for themselves where the characters are concerned. More fan backlash on the way? Count on it.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox