[Originally published on TheCelebrityCafe.com]
Ever since the show’s first season, fans of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels have been nitpicking changes to the books in the HBO adaptation Game of Thrones. Some of these changes are pretty minor, like the fact that Daario has blue hair in the novels but dark brown hair in the show, or the show changing Theon’s sister’s name from Asha to Yara.
Other changes are a bit more significant, like the fact that Robb Stark’s wife died in the Red Wedding in the TV show but is still alive in the books. Then there’s the expansion of existing book content, like giving Bronn more to do or allowing Tywin to interact with Arya. There’s also events flat out dropped from the show and other events that have happened in the show but have not yet occurred in the books.
Of course, any fan should be able to recognize that changes are necessary for any adaptation. A TV show is a totally different medium from a book with its own strengths and weaknesses, and so a story must be adapted to fit that medium. It can be frustrating for book fans to not see their favorite moments on screen, but at the end of the day, the job of the showrunners is really to create the best show possible, not necessarily the best adaptation possible.
Still, it can be fun to explore and discuss these book changes, both to provide non-readers with some insight into the source material and also to analyze why the showrunners decided certain things were worth changing or excising. With the show quickly getting past the books, this season is expected to be the most different from the novels so far, so there will certainly be a lot to talk about in the coming weeks.
Here are some of the changes to the book we saw in last night’s premiere, “The Wars to Come.”
Tyrion and Varys
A lot of changes throughout Game of Thrones involve giving more screen time to fan favorite characters, even when they don’t have as much to do in the books. It looks like that’s going to be the case with Varys this season based on last night’s episode. In “The Wars to Come,” Varys brings Tyrion out of King’s Landing and talks him through the plan to put a new family on the Iron Throne. In the books, Varys helps Tyrion escape and then pretty much just vanishes for a while. Instead, Tyrion is dropped of with Illyrio Mopatis, who viewers right remember from Dany and Drogo’s wedding in Season 1. Game of Thrones has wisely given Conleth Hill much more to do this season, rather than just allowing Varys to disappear like George R.R. Martin did.
In addition to adding in Varys, Tyrion’s whole journey here is pretty different than it was in “A Dance with Dragons.” For one, to the chagrin of many book readers, Tyrion spends what feels like ages aimlessly getting drunk and feeling sorry for himself in “A Dance with Dragons” before really doing anything, but here it appears that Game of Thrones has wisely condensed all of that to this one episode. Also, in “The Wars to Come,” Tyrion appears to be ready to leave Pentos with Varys to go meet Daenerys, but in the book while he still heads in that direction, he isn’t leaving specifically to meet Daenerys. Tyrion also is accompanied by new characters named Griff and Young Griff, who become pretty significant later on. However, the show has apparently cut out the Griffs in favor of a more streamlined plot line focusing on the existing characters rather than introducing a bunch of new ones.
One pretty interesting scene from “The Wars to Come” was a Cersei flashback where she visits a fortune teller, Maggy the Frog. In the episode, Maggy tells Cersei that she will be a queen, but only for a time. “Gold will be their crowns. Gold – their shrouds.” As George R.R. Martin notes, this makes her extremely paranoid and suspicious, especially of Margaery Tyrell. One major thing left out was that in “A Feast for Crows,” Maggy goes on to say, “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands around your pale white throat and choke the life from you.” Valonqar in High Valayrian means “little brother,” and so this added part of the prophecy says that not only will Cersei outlive her children, but she will die at the hands of Tyrion (or possibly Jaime, since he’s technically younger than her by a few minutes). That definitely provides a bit more justification for Cersei’s hatred of Tyrion and desire to have him put to death for supposedly killing Joffrey, but in the show this is not the case.
We got a brief glimpse into Sansa’s life with Littlefinger in “The Wars to Come,” but one element of that which the show has dropped is that in “A Feast For Crows,” Littlefinger is still passing off Sansa as his bastard daughter, Alayne Stone. However, this is no longer really the case in the show, with Sansa’s true identity now no longer really a secret after she revealed it in last year’s finale.
A lot of Brienne’s motivations this season are going to be pretty different from where she is in the books. In “The Wars to Come,” we see a very dejected Brienne, having found but immediately lost Arya in last season’s finale. In the books, though, Brienne has still never been anywhere near Arya. At the equivalent point in the novels, Brienne is still searching for the Stark daughters but having never really gotten close. However, in the show, she now has to deal with having finally found Arya but also losing her. She came very close, and yet Arya didn’t want to come with her. So what does she do now?
Jon shooting Mance
This is a pretty minor, but wise change on the showrunners’ part. In the very last scene of “The Wars to Come,” Jon Snow decides to put Mance out of his misery and shoot him with an arrow so he doesn’t have to burn alive. He takes this action himself without anyone’s permission. In the books, Jon doesn’t actually shoot the arrow himself, instead ordering the archers to do it. It’s the same end result, but the show allows for a much better sense of Jon taking things into his own hands and a great, satisfying moment of defiance for him.
Mance’s dignified death
Speaking of that scene, the manner in which Mance dies is also different in the book. In the show, he goes out in a pretty dignified manner, having some defiant last words to Stannis before willingly going to his death rather than bending the knee. In the book, Mance’s death is far more bleak. He screams and begs for mercy as he burns, yelling about witchcraft before the archers finally put him out of his misery. There’s a clear reason for this, but it’s not totally clear if the show will still be going there or not, so we’ll have to wait and see how much the showrunners have changed here.
In “The Wars to Come,” Lancel has become pious and joined the sparrows, a religious movement. Because of this, he approaches Cersei with his regret about sleeping with her and about helping her murder King Robert Baratheon in Season 1. In the books, Lancel never became a sparrow. Instead, he is married to Amerei Frey and heads off to the Crownlands. However, he does still become pious while recovering from his wounds in the Battle of Blackwater, and eventually leaves his wife to join the Faith Militiant.
Cersei and Jaime
In a pretty brutal scene from “The Wars to Come,” Cersei insults Jaime and accuses him of setting Tyrion free. This is a pretty different dynamic between them compared to the beginning of “A Feast For Crows.” In that book, Cersei does not suspect Jamie’s involvement in Tyrion’s escape. Instead, it’s Cersei’s paranoia over threats to her power that alienates Jaime, rather than Jaime’s actions alienating Cersei.
More of Margaery
One of the best scenes from “The Wars to Come,” involved Margaery being completely awesome in a conversation with her brother Loras. This never happens in the books due to the limitations of George R. R. Martin’s narrative approach. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one point of view character, and so we only ever see the world through these characters’ eyes. Since neither Margaery nor Loras has a POV chapter in any of the books, this scene is only possible in the show. This has become the absolute best thing about Game of Thrones over A Song of Ice and Fire: these great added interactions that probably happened off page in the books but which add so much more richness to these characters. And any opportunity to get more scenes with Natalie Dormer is fine by me.