Regardless of how the final season turned out, there is no denying that HBO’s adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, will go down as one of the most successful and ambitious television adaptations ever made. As it stands, there are upwards of 68 hours of pure and unadulterated entertainment that spans the entirety of Westeros, and a good chunk of Esos (with a tiny bit of the islands strewn in there for good measure). Given the success, it is interesting to note the Game of Thrones differences between the books and television show.
While the show had source material to work with, many fans praised HBO for adapting it as closely to the source materials as possible. However, even with said praises in order, there were still quite a lot of things cut or changed, in order to make the show more appealing to television audiences. Say what you will, but it is common knowledge that readers and viewers differ substantially from one another. As such, we have compiled a list of ten huge Game of Thrones differences that the writers had to consider while adapting the books into the television series we all know and love.
These changes range from very small things that have big implications for the plot, through to huge changes that would ultimately have made no difference in the greater scheme of things.
Without further ado, here are the ten biggest Games of Thrones differences:
1 – Robb Legitimises Jon Snow
In the Book: The premise that there must “always be a Stark in Winterfell” becomes a bit strenuous as the War of the Five Kings rages on. As a means of precaution, Robb Stark legitimises Jon Snow as a true son of Eddard Stark in the event of his death. This is witnessed by all of Robb’s bannermen and will act as a possible means to keep the Lannisters out of the north if need be. At the time of the ceremony, Sansa is married to Tyrion while Bran and Rickon are assumed dead.
On the Show: During the first season, Robb briefly mentions this to Catelyn before he sets off to capture the Kingslayer. Catelyn protests this motion and it is never mentioned again.
2 – Jeyne Poole & The Rape of Sansa
In the Book: Readers not only follow the story of Sansa Stark, but also a girl named Jeyne Poole, one of Sansa’s best friends. After the events of the Red Wedding, the Lannisters use Jeyne Poole as a means to secure an alliance with the Boltons. They pretend that Jeyne is Arya Stark, and send her off to marry Ramsay Bolton. Unfortunately, the plan is moot and Ramsay immediately takes her for an imposter. He throws her in a tower, where he tortures and sexually assaults her at his leisure. Her cries are often heard throughout Winterfell up until the day that she escapes with Theon and Mance Rayder.
On the Show: Jeyne Poole does not exist in the television adaptation. Rather, the events are simplified and merged with Sansa’s arch, where she is instead betrothed to Ramsay. Also, Mance Rayder is dead at this stage in the show. The merging of these two characters is one of the main Game of Thrones differences in the show
3 – Mance Rayder Lives
In the Book: Mance Rayder, the “King Beyond the Wall” is left at the stake and ordered to be executed by Stannis Baratheon, the brother to Robert Baratheon and “the true heir to the throne”. As Mance burns, Jon shoots an arrow through his heart. However, it is revealed that Rayder and Melisandre had conspired to disguise him as a wildling named Rattleshirt, while the real Rattleshirt was sent to die in his stead. Their conspiracy proves successful, and Mance heads south toward Winterfell.
On the Show: Most of Mance Rayder’s arc follows the same trajectory, up until the part where he is burned at the stake, and shot through the heart by Jon. However, there is no indication that the Red Woman saved him, and he definitely was not the one who helped Theon escape Winterfell with Sansa.
4 – Jon Refuses Stannis
In the Book: Stannis recognises Jon’s natural ability to command. He also recognises that some northerners might still hold on to the legitimisation ceremony held long before. As such, he offers to legitimise Jon and give him the last name, Stark. Jon, however, refuses Stannis. His reasoning for this seems to be religious in nature: Ghost had just returned from beyond the wall, and it reminded him that the old gods may still rule the north. He also does not want to give the north up to Melisandre and her god, R’hllor, the Lord of Light. Jon refuses Stannis and stays behind at Castle Black. Samwell proceeds to conspire with the rest of Jon’s closest brothers and named him Commander of the Night’s Watch.
On the Show: If anything, Jon is the most loyal character on the entire show. He has never broken any oaths, and also never will. As such, he refuses the offer to become Jon Stark, not because of Ghost’s return (since Ghost was captured by the traitors at Craster’s Keep at this time in the show); but rather because of his loyalty to the Night’s Watch. This inspires the Night’s Watch to make him their Commander during the vote.
5 – Xaro Xhoan Daxos wages war
In the Book: When Daenerys Stormborn enters Qarth, Xaro proposes marriage, just like in the show. His reasoning, however, is merely to claim her dragons as his own. Daenerys notices that he has homosexual tendencies, and leaves the city, rejecting his offer. Down the line, this results in thirteen ships being sent to Meereen at his order. He meets with her once more and urges her to leave Meereen. Since she rejected him, his influence as a Merchant King had apparently become tarnished. She refuses him once more, which angers him so much that he declares war on Meereen before sailing off.
On the Show: Xaro also proposes marriage, but the HBO adaptation penned him as a much more ambitious character. Xaro wants to conquer Westeros together with the Dragon Queen. However, when it becomes apparent that she is not interested, he conspires to steal her dragons and rule Qarth along with the Warlocks from the House of the Undying. Daenerys finds her dragons, kills a Warlock, and locks Xaro in an empty vault.
6 – Tyrion heads to Meereen & Aegon Targaryen lives
In the Book: Tyrion kills his father and flees from King’s Landing, where he recuperates with Illyrio Mopatis. Not long after, he sets off toward Meereen where he aims to seek a position in the court of Daenerys Targaryen. He has two travelling companions as he makes his way east: Griff, and a man named “Young Griff”. The younger boy is later revealed to be Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen. This makes him Daenerys’ nephew! However, instead of continuing on the journey together, Tyrion urges Aegon to take his small band (he calls an army) west, in order to lead an attack on Westeros. Aegon takes heed and heads for the Stormlands while Tyrion continues southeast.
On the Show: While the true heir to the throne (and another named Aegon Targaryen) is still called Jon Snow at this point in time, it seems that HBO completely threw this plot out of the window. Instead, they opted to have Tyrion flee King’s Landing with Varys’ aid. Tyrion also got captured by Jorah Mormont, who ultimately resulted in him finding the queen at the pits. It is unknown whether the Aegon in the book and the Jon/Aegon reveal from season 7 is meant to be some version of the same character. This is is easily one of the biggest Game of Thrones differences in the entire series.
7 – Jorah is sent into exile
In the Book: Jorah Mormont spies on Daenerys and sends information back to Westeros. This eventually leads to Daenerys sending Jorah into exile. However, before this, Jorah falls in love with the Dragon Queen and asks for her hand in marriage. He attempts to kiss her numerous times only to be refused. There is never an indication that she reciprocates his love. When she does learn of his betrayal, she sends him on a dangerous mission to Meereen. He survives and immediately earns her forgiveness. However, Jorah is a true knight who takes broken oaths seriously. He hesitates to accept her forgiveness, which leads her to send him into exile for undermining her leadership.
On the Show: While Jorah’s love for Daenerys is portrayed openly in the show, he never actually asks for her hand in marriage, or even attempts to kiss her. Instead, Jorah Mormont of the show is portrayed as “the friend-zoned guy” who will forever love her but will never receive the love back, and he knows this. Jorah is also exiled immediately after his betrayal becomes evident.
8 – Brienne never finds the Hound
In the Book: Lady Brienne of Tarth seeks out both Stark girls in honour of Lady Catelyn Stark’s last orders. She seeks high and low for both, but ultimately never finds them. After a long search, Brienne assumes that Sandor Clegane (the Hound) may still be with Sansa. She heads off to find them, not knowing that Sandor is actually travelling with Arya (who uses the name “Alayne” during this time). She never finds the Hound.
On the Show: Brienne finds both the Hound and Arya Stark after she and Podrick Payne were given clues to Arya’s whereabouts during a pitstop. The very nature of the show demands a duel between Brienne and the Hound, and HBO delivered spectacularly. Although one of the bigger Game of Thrones differences, it is one that works better as aired on television.
9 – The Hound’s fate is still unknown
In the Book: As Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark (under the guise of Alayne) travel the Vale in search of an elder Stark to whom he can ransom Arya, they run into some trouble. A pair of Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane’s men, called Polliver and the Tickler, fight with both Arya and the Hound, where he gets injured and his wounds become infected. He begs Arya to kill him, but she refuses and leaves. Sandor’s fate is unknown after this point.
On the Show: Sandor fights a few men with Arya, killing the Lannister soldiers with ease. These events lead them to the mountains where they enter a fight with Brienne and Podrick Payne. The Hound becomes wounded and breaks a leg. Arya leaves him to find passage East as he lies dying. Sandor Clegane comes back in the show and is depicted in good health. This is the start of his redemption arc.
10 – Lady Stoneheart
In the Book: After Catelyn Stark is murdered at the Red Wedding, and her body is dumped into the river, she is brought back to life by Beric Dondarrion. At this point in time, Beric has forsaken his vows as a bannerman for the Starks and is now a disciple of the Lord of Light. He is also the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners. When he finds Lady Stark’s body, he trades his life for hers, thanks to the magic of the Lord of the Light. This results in Catelyn Stark’s return to life as an undead zombie-like creature called Lady Stoneheart. She cannot speak and is fueled by a desire to seek revenge. Given that Beric gave his life for hers, the Brotherhood Without Banners now follows her lead.
On the Show: Catelyn Stark dies at the Red Wedding, and is never seen again. Conversation between extras implies that her body was dumped in the river. Even then, however, the Lady Stoneheart plot is never realised in the adaptation, and her death remains a heartfelt and sombre result of the fateful wedding. Easily the most lamented of the Game of Thrones differences, as she would have made a super interesting character on the show.
While these are not the only Game of Thrones differences between A Song of Ice and Fire and the TV show; they certainly are the biggest… at least up until A Dance With Dragons, George R.R. Martin’s youngest published novel in the series. While these differences are compared from the perspective of how much the books were changed, the future may have us look at how much the books have changed because of the series! What a thought.
Personally, I desperately wanted to see the Lady Stoneheart plot come to life. I honestly wanted a lot more magic and mysticism from Game of Thrones than what viewers ultimately got. However, only time will tell how true to the source material the show would have been, had the books been around before filming began. I, for one, cannot wait to see these differences become emphasised as more books release, and when the eventual reboot of the show happens in a decade or so from now