WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for all 7 seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones, all 5 ASoIaF books, and other related material/speculation.
I know there are sticklers and purists out there who dislike it when significant changes are made to the source material in order to bring a book or series to the screen, and I totally understand that perspective. But, as I see it, that’s why it’s called an adaptation. Sure, there are egregious adaptations out there, like the Percy Jackson movies, but sometimes, the changes made to the story in order to adapt it to a new medium are more of a positive than a negative, like in The Lord of the Rings, or must be made for timing, plot, or casting purposes. Books don’t function entirely the same as films or television shows, which is why such (occasionally drastic) changes between mediums are often necessary.
In the case of HBO’s hit fantasy series Game of Thrones, many changes have been made from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series in order to bring the novels to the small screen. And while some of those choices have understandably struck a nerve with die-hard fans or even caused some outrage, others have worked pleasantly well. And here’s a list of some of the changes I found myself a fan of, and even a few I found myself preferring. And, for reference, I did read the books first, and I LOVE the books and all of the rich detail they include; I’m just not a “one or the other” type of fan, so I don’t demonize the show or the show runners for taking creative liberties.
Here we go…
Aging the Characters Up
One thing that really threw me in the books is how young all of the characters are. For reference, in the books, Arya is about 9 when the story begins, Sansa is 11, and Daenerys is 13. In the books, it’s a realistic choice because of the medieval setting, as once girls hit puberty in those times they were essentially expected to marry and bear children. But, considering the fact that Daenerys gets sold as a bride to Khal Drogo in the first episode, among various other shocking events that occur to other characters, it’s a good thing that the characters were aged up a few years. Reading about heinous things happening to characters who are essentially children is different than seeing it, and might have deterred less die-hard fans. The aging up also works for characters like Robb, who was 14 in the books, as an older Robb leading his own army makes more visual sense.
Axing Lady Stoneheart
I’m going to be honest; I’m not a huge fan of the Lady Stoneheart plot in the books. I don’t dislike it, per se, I just thought Cat dying at the Red Wedding was more fitting and poignant as the end of her character arc, so when she didn’t make her vengeful return in the show, I wasn’t torn up about it. Admittedly, one of my favorite characters is Beric Dondarrion, and since he dies (for good) in order to bring Catelyn back in the books, I am glad it didn’t happen on the show because it means Beric is still around valiantly leading the Brotherhood Without Banners. I do think Lady Stoneheart might have bogged down the plot a bit too much if she had made an appearance on the show, since so many plot-lines have been shifted around, trimmed, and altered to move the story along. At the very least, it does seem as though elements of her character have been given to others – her daughters, especially. Plus, Catelyn’s influence and impact on the other characters is still felt in the series, roughly four seasons later, a testament to her strength as a character. Plus, we can’t be bringing all much-missed characters back from the dead.
Arya and Tywin at Harrenhal (and other interactions)
One of the perks of the TV show is seeing characters meet face-to-face and story-lines intersect, and the show has a couple of these interactions that did not originate in the books, the most prominent being Arya serving as Tywin Lannister’s cup bearer at Harrenhal in season 2. Their banter and discussions and Tywin’s developing fondness for her is a major highlight of that season, and it orchestrates additional tension, since Tywin has no idea that his new cup bearer is the missing daughter of a family in open rebellion against the crown. In the books, Arya has the same general arc, but serves Roose Bolton at Harrenhal instead, which isn’t quite as memorable. Other such interactions include the Hound and Brienne in season 4, Bronn and Jaime from season 5 onward, and, on a different note, the non-book conversation between Robert and Cersei in season 1 where they discuss Lyanna Stark and their marriage. I think that conversation will bear a lot of relevance in this season and the last…
Not much to this one, except Jerome Flynn is excellent as Bronn, inserting a bit of crass humor into his scenes, and I’m glad he’s been around the last couple of seasons instead of shacking up with Lollys at Stokeworth. Unfortunately, that means he’s in the thick of things and will probably die either this season or the next, but I do hope he gets his lady and his holdfast someday.
Sansa Goes North
I think this is a decision that resulted in some pretty severe backlash, and I understand that perspective; especially since Sansa had already suffered plenty before being handed over to the Boltons, where she proceeded to suffer even more – taking her pain to a near obscene level in season 5. I don’t like that Sansa going north and marrying Ramsay meant she needed to endure even more horrendous treatment right as she was beginning to gain new footing and independence, but it also advanced her plot and put her in position to reunite with Jon, reclaim Winterfell, and get her vengeance in season 6. She’s suffered enough, and though it was tough to watch, she couldn’t stay holed up in the Vale on the show or her plot would have lagged behind the others. Besides, if the show had followed the book plot, Ramsay would be torturing poor Jeyne Poole (being purported as Arya Stark) instead (and in far more gruesome fashion), which doesn’t bear as much emotional or narrative weight in the showverse, and wouldn’t have as big of an impact for the viewers.
Reduction and Streamlining of Minor/Supporting Characters and Plot-lines
Although I don’t think the Dorne story-line or the Iron Islands story-line made the transition to the screen quite as smoothly as they could (here’s looking at you, Sand Snakes) if they had thrown even more characters and intricate plot-lines and twists and turns into a story already has a ton of rich detail, or followed the books verbatim, the show could easily go for ten more seasons – which would be a dream for fans, but also a logistical nightmare and unrealistic. It’s a shame that dynamic characters such as Arianne Martell, Victarion Greyjoy, Arys Oakhart, Quentyn Martell, Moqorro, “Aegon Targaryen,” Jon Connington, and Dark Star were omitted, and others, like Doran Martell, Areo Hotah, the Sand Snakes, and Euron Greyjoy got scaled back, but I do think stream-lining the show, and adding a few character traits of absent characters to those already present in the show (Yara getting some of Victarion’s story, for instance, or Jorah inheriting Jon Connington’s greyscale) was ultimately a smart choice. It’s also a shame that characters like Strong Belwas, Edric Storm, the woods witch, Mya Stone, Patchface, etc, got left out of the show entirely, but again, combining characters (Gendry inheriting Edric’s storyline, as an example, and Daario taking on some of Belwas’s role) has been fairly effective thus far and kept the show from getting too bloated. I know a few folks who are more “casual” viewers who still don’t know the names of the main characters; imagine if they’d gone full tilt and adapted the books word for word! Other choices, like Talisa replacing Jeyne Westerling also worked pretty well from a narrative standpoint, as the character arc and relationship with Robb was a bit more dramatic to witness, and Vargo Hoat would have been entertaining/ridiculous to see, but I think Locke was an acceptable substitute. Do I wish we could have seen more characters/plot-lines? Yes – but I understand why the changes were made.
I know it’s a disappointment to many that so much detail was left out of the show, but let’s be real; the show is pretty darn great regardless. Besides – we always have the books! I think it’s safe to say the show and the books might meet the same general ending, but there are still plenty of surprises to be had from the book series that will not be present on the show, and I’m glad we have deeper plot-lines and a developed mythos to look forward to in the books, even if the show spoils some surprises.