For some Game of Thrones fans, the book series on which the show is based, A Song of Ice and Fire, is sacred. George R.R. Martin's word is the word of God, and anything less than a one-to-one adaptation of his work is a failure.
It is true that some of Game of Thrones' best moments are lifted directly from the books. In early days certain scenes like Ned's execution or Arya's training were lifted verbatim from the source material. It's also true that Game of Thrones have deviated from the source in ways that were huge mistakes.
As the show leaves the books behind entirely, it is worth pointing out that on occasion, the show has really exceeded its foundation. Sometimes, even if it is not always, Game of Thrones make changes to A Song of Ice and Fire that make it for a much better and cleaner story. We've already covered moments from the books that we're glad the show never attempted. This isn't just about things that were omitted. These are merely the instances where the show zig where the show zagged (unlike Rickon under a hail of arrows) and everyone was better for it (also unlike Rickon under a hail of arrows).
So here are the Game of Thrones' 15 Best Changes from the Books!
15 Getting Sansa Away from Littlefinger
Don’t misunderstand this entry. Game of Thrones made a huge mistake when they substituted Sansa for a relatively nameless character who is forced to marry Ramsay and then abused and raped by him. In the books, Ramsay was an unknown quantity before his marriage to a fake Stark girl, and that was readers' first introduction to his evil nature. In the show, he had firmly established himself as a sadistic freak way before wedding Sansa. We didn’t need Sansa, or anyone else, to be abused by him to make his death be satisfying and earned.
The show’s decision to separate Sansa from Littlefinger has greatly benefited her character, however. When Petyr Baelish took Sansa into his “care” Post-Purple Wedding and pre-Sansa’s own wedding, she might have been less abused, but the atmosphere was just as oppressive. In the books, Sansa is completely at the will of Littlefinger and would never be quite as forceful, smart, or as awesome as she is now in the show.
Getting Sansa away from Littlefinger allowed her to flourish, and for Sophie Turner to do something other than be doe-eyed distress. It’s just a shame that it had to come about because of GoT's favorite plot device: rape.
14 Jorah Getting Greyscale
In the books, it is a completely different character --one who hasn’t been introduced in the show and likely never will -- that takes Tyrion on a boat to meet Daenerys. It is this character who then contracts greyscale and who has their days seemingly cut in a dramatic fashion. The show made the wise decision to simply slot Jorah Mormont into that role.
Greyscale feels like it's become a very small, but important cog in the grand machine of the series’ endgame. It's been around for a while, but only when a character other than Shireen Baratheon contracted it did the series properly delve into the disease. By making that character Jorah, someone who's been around since the beginning, there is a high level of emotional investment in watching him deal with the affliction.
It also helps that in the books, Jorah becomes one of many side characters who loses his purpose but manages to stay alive and in the narrative. After Jorah gets dumped by Dany in the books, he does almost nothing but mope. The show took this beloved character and made sure to keep his story going in a dramatic and interesting direction.
13 Mance Rayder is Really Dead
Despite being played Ciaran Hinds, Mance Rayder was kind of a dud. He made a lot of big speeches, somewhat charmed Jon Snow, and did command one of the series' best battles. At the end of the day, Mance lost his war and he was put to the torch by Melisandre and Stannis. It was a completely straightforward and almost predictable story.
In the books, Mance meets another fate altogether: he doesn’t get burned alive or killed at all. Melisandre and Stannis merely trick everyone into thinking the King Beyond The Wall has been killed, but instead send him to the Bolton-occupied Winterfell to spy.
It sounds like it could be a cool story, but it would've been just another plot thread for the show to have to wrap up in the already overstuffed seasons 5 and 6. Game of Thrones did the wise thing and let Ciaran Hinds go, calling it quits on their just OK iteration of Mance Rayder.
12 Making Coldhands into Benjen Stark
Coldhands is a mysterious figure in the books that helps Bran from the moment he leaves Winterfell after it is captured for the first time. A White Walker with the morality and mind of a human, Coldhands has sparked a lot of debate among book readers. Many have assumed that he was Benjen Stark, Bran's missing uncle, but George R.R. Martin has repeatedly and vehemently denied that to be the case.
The show went with the fans on this one, with Coldhands entering Bran’s story much, much later. It's a significant change from the source material, but since Coldhand’s identity hangs over his every scene in the books -- which makes the character seem far more important than he likely is -- this looks to be a positive change. By making the switch, Game of Thrones expelled the needless mystery. There is much more emotional investment in Ned Stark’s brother being Coldhands than if it was some no-name mystery man from some deep part of Westerosi lore.
11 Removing Almost All Greyjoy Uncles
House Greyjoy were never a barrel of laughs, and they've always been just as drab as their surroundings. But for whatever reason, in A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin greatly expanded the known cast of characters in House Greyjoy. Theon and Yara have all sorts of uncles in the books that are pretty much completely missing from the show. While Game of Thrones just has a Euron Greyjoy and his “younger” brother Aeron, A Song of Ice and Fire as Euron, Aeron, Victarion, Harlon, Quenton and a bunch of other brothers who all sound like rejected Pokemon.
To be fair to the source material, most of House Greyjoy's brothers are dead. Once Balon is killed off, things mainly focus around the trio of Aeron, Euron and Victarion. Except for Euron, however, these characters are just a waste of space. They do make the world feel bigger, but not necessarily more interesting. Game of Thrones trimmed the fat greatly with House Greyjoy, and the series benefited.
10 Giving Robb's Wife a Real Character
Robb Stark’s experiences and adventures are filtered completely through his mother Catelyn in the books. Even though the books never get into Robb as a person as much as the show, he still manages to feel like a fully-fledged character. The same cannot be said of his wife. In A Song of Ice and Fire, Robb Stark's wife, Jeyne Westerling is as boring as her name would imply.
Game of Thrones decided to not only give Robb’s wife a new name, but a real personality. Unlike Jeyne, who had nothing else to offer but "good child bearing hips," Talisa Stark was fiery, passionate, and fun. She challenged Robb in a very interesting way, and their relationship felt mature and believable. Robb and Jeyne’s marriage in the books feels more like a teenage infatuation that grows into a marriage that gets everyone killed.
The character of Talisa not only made the Red Wedding that much horrifying -- in the books, Jeyne survives because she doesn’t attend -- it also helped make sense of Robb’s actions. It was easy to understand why Robb forsook his vows and fell in love with Talisa, because she was so likable to the audience.
9 Brienne Finding and Protecting Sansa
Brienne of Tarth is a character much like Jorah Mormont in the books. While she starts off as a very compelling and important side character, the longer her story goes on, the more it seems like Martin has no one idea what to do with her. In the books, Brienne does receive the same mission from Jaime as she did in season 4 of Game of Thrones. Brienne is tasked with finding Arya or Sansa and protecting them. It just doesn't go all that well.
Brienne wanders around aimlessly in her mission, having no idea where to search for Sansa or Arya. It’s realistic, but it's also dreadfully boring. Brienne also ends up getting tied up into a complicated plot that takes her character completely off course.
Game of Thrones gave Brienne a purpose after Jaime made it to King’s Landing and sent her off to fulfill their vow to Catelyn Stark. She's in a wildly different circumstance in the show, but she is far better off as a character.
8 Daenerys Never Married Hizdahr
Hizdahr zo Loraq is about as paper-thin as characters on Game of Thrones get. He's awful, and so is the Meereenese plot surrounding him. In the books, Hizdahr and his story are so much worse.
While some one-dimensional characters in the show have greater depth in their original form, Hizdahr is not one of them. Just like on the small screen, Dany agrees to marry the dullard to strength her position on the Meereenese throne, but she actually goes through with the marriage in the books. Ugh. The most damaging thing about the marriage is that when Daenerys is nearly assassinated and escapes on Drogon’s back, it is Hizdahr, not Tyrion, who rules in her stead. It's a frustrating story on every level, as Hizdahr is not only unsympathetic as a leader, but intensely boring as well.
Game of Thrones did not have the good sense to eradicate Hizdahr’s character entirely. They did at least kill him off before Dany could marry him and he could rise to rule Mereen. It's all about the little things.
7 Margarey Becoming the Face of House Tyrell
Margaery Tyrell is present within A Song of Ice and Fire, but she's much less significant. It's Loras who is the biggest character from House Tyrell in the books, not Margaery. Thankfully, once Game of Thrones cast Natalie Dormer as Margarey it was clear that the character couldn't just be a bit player.
Everything that happens with Margaery in the show happens in the books -- it's just on a much bigger stage. While her rivalry with Cersei exists mostly in Cersei’s wine-addled mind in the source material, it was a significant reoccurring conflict on the small screen. The Margaery of the books is a lot more subtle than the show version, but Game of Thrones traded subtlety for one of its most entertaining characters ever.
By giving Margaery such a bigger and more influential role, Natalie Dormer got to show off her chops as a magnificent, charismatic actress. It also allowed House Tyrell to serve as a real counterpoint to the rest of Westeros. With Margaery and Olenna, it was obvious that the women ruled the roost in Highgarden, and it was awesome.
6 Not Wasting Time with Tyrion Meeting Dany
Game of Thrones often gets taken to task for its pacing problems -- the show has unnecessarily taken its time with arcs on more than one occasion. But the series is nothing, in this regard, compared to the source material. A Song of Ice and Fire can often spend an entire book building to an event that will never come. This is the case with Tyrion’s story in A Dance with Dragons.
Just like the show, when Tyrion murders his father, he flees for Essos and tries to meet up with Dany. Tyrion’s entire subplot in A Dance with Dragons is about getting him into the same room as Daenerys, but despite the fact that Dance is over a thousand pages, this event never happens. He hasn’t even met Dany yet on the page, much less become her Hand.
Since Tyrion and Dany met in season 5, their scenes have been among the best in the series. It's Tyrion being in Daenerys’ court that made the Meereen plotline at least slightly entertaining. More Tyrion is almost always a good thing. His accelerated journey to Dany might be less believable than what happens in the text, but it has led to a much stronger story by ditching the pacing issues of the books.
5 Arya Spending Time with Tywin
In both the show and the books, Arya spends time as a lowly servant in Harrenhall while Tywin Lannister controls the castle, but the decision to put her in the same room with him (as his cupbearer) was a small screen-only stroke of genius. The scenes between the two were nothing short of extraordinary.
Arya’s time as Tywin’s servant led to some of the tensest moments in Game of Thrones history. The show also became a spy thriller for a spell, as each scene was perfectly teased and constructed so that Tywin almost, but never quite managed to discover Arya’s identity. More than just being a source of delicious tension, the interactions did wonders for both characters.
Arya got to learn from a man who was at the very top of her kill list. Tywin also showed a surprising amount of softness to the young Arya, and it made him a more human and complex character. The pair's scenes were a perfect example of the deeper meaning of Game of Thrones. Neither was portrayed as a good or bad guy -- they were just people on the opposite sides of a war.
4 Making Bronn a Much Bigger Character
In the books, once Tyrion is imprisoned for Joffrey’s murder, Bronn pretty much disappears. As far as George R.R. Martin was concerned, the sellsword had served his purpose as Tyrion’s personal bodyguard, and was no longer needed. While this does make sense, Jerome Flynn's Bronn was far too lovable and hilarious to go out that quietly.
Rather than give the character his exit from the books, Game of Thrones decided to switch Bronn from being Tyrion’s BFF to Jaime’s hired hand. It turns out that lightning can strike twice when it comes to Bronn’s chemistry with the Lannisters.
Being a TV show, there are certain things the books can do that Game of Thrones simply cannot manage (like the direwolves being in nearly every scene with a Stark kid; that CGI budget would be nuts). At the same time, Game of Thrones being a TV show means that a fan favorite character like Bronn can’t just fade away to the background, and we are all happier for it.
3 Aging Up the "Kids"
If a Game of Thrones viewer jumps into the books after seeing the show, their first biggest surprise is that all the Stark children they know and love are much younger than their television counterparts. For many reasons, not the least of which are child labor laws, the show decided to age up nearly every character under the age of 18 in the books. Bran went from being 7 in the books to a preteen in the show. Arya became a slightly older child killer. Most significantly, though, characters in their mid-teens like Jon, Robb, and Dany became people in their late-teens and early twenties.
Some book purists will always want the Stark kids to be kids. There is something especially effecting about Jon and Dany going through all their respective journeys when they are just coming out puberty. Robb being just 15 does explain some of the character’s foolish decisions, too. Ultimately, however, GoT showrunners did make the right call.
Older characters meant older actors who could more effectively portray their character's hardships. It's hard to imagine younger actors being able to pull off some of the things that the series' cast pull off on a weekly basis.
2 Removing Aegon Targaryen
The latest books in A Song of Ice and Fire are some of the weakest in the series because several complicated plots are introduced when several other ones need to be wrapped up. The worst offender of this issue is the character of Young Griff, who appears for the first time in Dance with Dragons.
It is revealed throughout the course of the novel that Griff is actually Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar who was supposedly killed by The Mountain. According to the text, thanks to some slight of hand tricks from Varys, Aegon was swapped out for another unfortunate child.
This might seem like a shockingly big thing for the show to leave out of its narrative, as Aegon’s existence questions Dany’s very right to rule. Unfortunately, there is a lot to suggest in the novel that Young Griff is just a random teen who just believes he is the son of Rhaegar. He may well be a fake, and the whole subplot is nothing but a red herring. Even if Aegon is real, he should have introduced far earlier than the fifth book in a seven book series.
Game of Thrones had enough problems getting Dany to Westeros; they didn’t need to introduce a secret nephew for her. Well, at least a secret nephew that’s not Jon Snow.
1 No Lady Stoneheart
The biggest event of Storm of Swords is the Red Wedding, but it is not the most shocking one. The true jaw-dropper of the third book is its ending cliffhanger, when it is revealed that Catelyn Stark is not dead, at least not completely. Following her death at the Red Wedding, Cat was resurrected by Berric Dondarrion’s crew when Berric gave up his life for hers. In her second life, Catelyn is a twisted and vengeful version of her former self, and she goes by the name Lady Stoneheart.
It’s a cool twist, but also one that undermines the impact of the Red Wedding's tragedy to a certain extent. Plus, it would have made Jon Snow's resurrection even less surprising and anticlimactic than it already was for viewers.
A zombie Catelyn would have blown most viewers' minds, but there’s not much to Lady Stoneheart other than shock value. She’s not all that deep or interesting, and in the end, the decision to hand over most of her vengeful arc to her daughter Arya was a smart one.
Do you agree with this list? What is your favorite change from the books that Game of Thrones has made? Sound off in the comments!
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