Game of Thrones: How Much is the Show Departing From the Book?


To get an expert's opinion on how well HBO has adapted George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones for television, we asked Pietari Kortekangas—a.k.a. RitariKnight, the editor of the Game of Thrones showspace here at TV.com and a longtime fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire books on which the series is based—to share his thoughts.

Caution: There are very slight spoilers in the article for those who have not read the books, with an emphasis on very slight! Read at your own risk.


Adapting the Un-Adaptable
How does HBO's new fantasy series Game of Thrones compare to its source material? Author George R.R. Martin is involved as a co-executive producer and even as a writer for the show (he wrote the upcoming eighth episode in the first season and will write another episode for the second season), which should bode well for the story to stay as true possible to the books. Martin, who spent a decade in Hollywood writing for TV, has said that he wrote these novels as a response to studio executives always demanding that he trim his scripts to fit the budget. He wanted to tell a story that literally has thousands of characters, dozens and dozens of locations, a vast history and mythology, and bigger “special effects” than anything anyone's ever seen before. He set out to tell an un-filmable story. So now that HBO is adapting that story for TV with a large-but-still-limited budget, let's look at how it's done in the six episodes that've aired so far.

Martin has built a very rich mythology, and conveying that to viewers is probably HBO's biggest challenge; it needs to come out mostly through characters' conversations, and lots of talk that’s basically just exposition can get old very quickly. I mean, how many times have we seen a conversation in a movie or on a TV show where it's obvious that, in the real world, such a conversation would never take place?

So far Game of Thrones has provided a ton of exposition, but for the most part it has been doled out in interesting ways. The writers have opted for the reveal-only-what's-necessary-for-the-next-scene approach—which should make some parts of the story more difficult to follow for the uninitiated, but makes the show more timeless and re-watchable. I would recommend re-watching the whole first season, once it's finished airing to better understand the details and the richness of the story. And read the book afterward, too; it’s excellent.

A-Casting We Will Go
The cast is huge—Season 1 features 18 star-billed actors and around 60 recurring roles, plus dozens of guest roles. The show has already been renewed for Season 2, and that will only drive the cast numbers up.

The show's casting so far is excellent. Sean Bean (Ned Stark) and Peter Dinklage (Tyrion) are perfect; both topped the shortlists for their respective roles in the executive producers’ minds. Emilia Clarke is a revelation as Dany, as are child actors Maisie Williams as Arya and Isaac Hempstead-Wright as Bran. Of course, there are differences between the show's depiction of its characters and the books' descriptions of them, and sometimes they're striking. On the show, many of the characters are older than they are in the books, which is the biggest change by a mile. Also, Tyrion Lannister is not the hideously ugly dwarf he is in the books—though he does retain the same personality. The Targaryens' coloring is not quite the same; their hair is more white than silver, and their eyes lack the unusual violet color described in the books, but that’s not really a big deal. And a slim Lysa Arryn instead of a plump one is no big deal; she’s equally deranged regardless.

There are also differences in the characterizations of some of the main characters: Catelyn, though still resentful of Jon Snow, is not as devilish toward him as she is in the book. Cat's stance toward Ned’s departure for King’s Landing is different, too—on the show she was very much against it, but in the book she was the one who tried to persuade him to go. On the show, Jaime and Cersei Lannister have been portrayed in a more complex fashion from the get-go; in the books, we didn't get to see what Jaime is really like as a person until volume three, and the same happened with Cersei in book four.

Finally, a few changes have been made to some character developments. In Dany’s case it is understandable, since much of her development in the books comes through her thoughts, but we can’t hear them in the show. Having her speak all her thoughts aloud, alone or in company, would be silly, now, wouldn't it? Thus, her story arc is somewhat differently portrayed; instead of being seduced by Drogo on their wedding night, she was practically raped, and is slowly coming to understand that she can control her life and not just be a puppet. But Dany's slow understanding happens in the book as well, so the only change, really, is how the development is shown on-screen.

Where Did That Come From?
A few of the changes have left me somewhat baffled, though. I’ll mention two. Early in Episode 2, Cersei went to visit Cat in Bran’s chambers, where she told Cat how she lost her first son. That conversation never took place in the book. There’s nothing wrong with adding such scenes to the show; on the contrary, they flesh out the characters nicely. The thing that confused me about this one was one bit of detail in Cersei’s little tale to Cat. In the books, Cersei never gave birth to any other children beside the three she has. I’ve been following the discussions on many forums about the TV show, and many theories based on the news in this scene suggest that Cersei and Robert’s first boy died an infant. From the books’ point of view, those discussions are mostly going in the wrong direction: The dead baby is misleading people to theorize things you would never even think of if you read the books. The private conversation between Cersei and Robert in Episode 5 at least ruled out the possibility that Cersei was lying to Cat about the boy (which was a possibility before that scene). This is either poor writing or very clever writing; we’ll find out when we get far enough into the HBO version's story.

Another scene that has raised cries of outrage from fans of the book: the one in which Littlefinger told Sansa about The Hound’s childhood. This piece of background on The Hound was disclosed to Sansa in the book, but not by Littlefinger. The info came from The Hound himself, who told her and then threatened that she'd better not tell anyone while escorting her back to her chambers after the tourney. Many readers, myself included, feel this was a strange change to make, considering the special kind of relationship Sansa has with The Hound in the books. The tale of how his face was burned by his big brother was an important, early step in that relationship. With that exchange absent from the show, it begs the question of whether their relationship will be different than it is in the books. It’s possible the writers will add other scenes to develop their relationship toward what we readers expect, but then again, maybe not—especially if the executive producers have decided to forgo the whole relationship to save screen time for other matters. (It's a pity if that is the case, but I could understand such a decision being made.)

The Devil's in the Details
Other changes have been made to the scenes found in the book. I’ll mention just one as an example: The first episode started like the book, with a prologue scene. Even though the basic stories in the two prologues are similar, the execution is very different—especially in the details. On TV, the action appeared to take place much closer to The Wall, while in the book the three rangers came upon the dead Wildling camp nine days after leaving Castle Black. In the book, there's no mysterious symbol of dead body parts laid out on the snow; the dead lay where they’ve been slain, with their limbs mostly attached to their respective torsos. In the book, the White Walkers, also known as The Others, wear icy (white) armor and look less primitive. The leader of the ranging expedition, who was not named in the show at all, died quickly in the HBO version; not so in Martin’s novel. And so on and so forth. So as you can see, the basic idea in the prologue stayed true to the book, but many of the details were different, overall making the scene more horror-like.

It's obvious that HBO can't stick to the book page for page, but so far the changes that've been made seem appropriate. What do you think?


Thank you, Pietari, for your contributions! And readers, weigh in: How do you feel about the differences between the show and the books?

Comments (42)
Submit
Sort: Latest | Popular
Actually as to the part where Cersi has a conversation about having another child that actual conversation took place with Ned instead of Cat SPOILER when he confronts Cersi about being with Jamie(her brother) and she says that her three kids are Jamie's not Robert's but one time Robert got her pregnant and Jamie killed the child it says all of this in the first book.
Reply
Flag
Except the killing of that child happened in the womb. Jaime got some old woman who knew the use of some herbs and such to abort the baby. In the books, Cersei never gave birth to any other children besides Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen.
Reply
Flag
I too am a little baffled by some of the changes (a prime one that struck me was the same as mentioned above- the Hound not being the one to tell Sansa his past). Martin is apparently an advisor for the show, so I can only assume he helped, if not condoned the changes. As far as the Renly being 'gay' goes, I never really got that from the book- yes, it was implied, but I always felt he was just 'indifferent' towards women.



I understand if Martin says "I always meant for people to know Renly was gay, so here's a chance to just put it out there", but I don't understand minor unnecessary changes (Cersi slapping Joff and being threatened by him) which do nothing to enhance, shorten, or provide insight on the story.



Please stop doing this!
Reply
Flag
@headclub. You are right on the Knight of (the) Flowers thing not having anything to do with him being gay There's another contemporary reference to homosexuality in book 2 concerning a certain order of knights (book readers should know what I mean), but even that does not have anything to do with homosexuality in the books. The imagery is for something else. We shouldn't attach contemporary views to certain imagery in the show/books. They should be interpreted from the point of view of the society the books/show represent, not ours.
Reply
Flag
@JoshDavis4 OMG!!, you totally have just enlightened me regarding the paternity of Jon Snow, surprisingly enough i had never even considered...SPOILER .............................................................................That Jon was not even Ned's kid, and he took him in to protect someone else's honor. You are right Ned would never have cheated, which is why he never talks about it, in fear he lets the cat out of the bag, your right my guess Snow has some Taragaryen in him. The series is called Ice and Fire...Damn
Reply
Flag
Here, someone please explain this one to me-- In the books, Loras is The Knight of Flowers. Now in the show, he's The Knight of THE Flowers. Why the change???? So he sounds more gay Honestly, I don't know, you tell me.... It's absurd to make that change though. and it sounds asinine.
Reply
Flag
Possible SPOILERS ahead---In the show, it is Loras who tells Renly he should be king (in the books, we're not privy to that info). and the way Renly reacts, it's like Loras gave him the idea.... Obviously if you have read the books, you see the implications of (the show) adding something like this, because of Renly's future actions. I feel like HBO is trying to gain the gay audience which is fine, but in doing so, it's placing much more importance on a relationship that WAS NOT important at all in the book. To the point where it was never even confirmed, in 4 books!!! and if I hear one more person say Loras must be gay (Timmy!!) cuz he's The Knight of Flowers.... his house's sigil is a rose!!!
Reply
Flag
Clemontine, Loras and Renly are lovers in the books too. The only difference is that neither of them is a point-of-view character in the books, so we only hear the whispers about them, we don't actually see them screwing each other.
Reply
Flag
I can imagine a very simple reason for the detail of the Cersei's infant child -- that the timespan from the last war was changed to 17 years (increasing the ages of Jon, Robb, Daenerys, thusly allowing sex scenes), but Joffrey for different reasons had to stay 14 years old like his age in the book. (Joffrey needed to stay close to age to Sansa, who had to stay young, because her naive stupidity would have been inexcusable to someone older than 13)

So the three-years gap between the end of the war (where Robert married Cersei) and Joffrey's birth had to be filled with some known pregnancy, or (given the mores of the place) Cersei would have been thought barren and the marriage dissolved.

Logic!
Reply
Flag
In the book, Cersei explains to Ned that she 'has other ways to satisfy Robert' when he came to bed and the king was often so drunk he didn't know the difference. She was pregnant with a child of Robert's but killed it prior to birth. There was no need for her to change the 'tone' of her character by this narration with Cat.
Reply
Flag
@droken. Like I already said in an earlier comment, I wrote this prior to Episode 6, which had that scene with Bran in the woods. Yes, they don't show them much, and Ghost barked in Episode 7, which is a change from the books, but those are just nitpicking (I already had one nitpick in the article, the one about the Sansa/Hound relationship). I believe the reason they haven't been used much, is the fact that the breed of dog (Northern Inuit) used in the show is very difficult to train to do what is wanted, but they used them nonetheless since they look very much like wolves. I've also said that I chose only a few things to focus on, and not try to mention everything that has been changed. That was to keep the article relatively short; it was actually a bit longer, but what was cut from the published version was only some more elaboration on the details in the prologue and then something short about Arya that was a bit spoilerish. There's also many things which have been added that I didn't mention for the same reason, to keep the article from being too long.
1
Reply
Flag
@Clemontine. No mention of that since they were an item in the books as well. The only change was to bring it out this early and explicitly. There was a good reason for that as well, which I won't go into since it would be very spoilery.
Reply
Flag
What about the direwolves, there were scenes where they were taken out when they had huge action on the book. Like the one in the woods were they found osha and saved both bran and robb....
Reply
Flag
No mention of the fact that Loras and Renly arent supposed to be lovers?
Reply
Flag
lol, but they are!!!! There is so much subtext in the books about how they 'pray' together, and characters who seem to know also discuss it with Loras and he doesn't deny it. There's things like "they were both often on their knees together..." hahaha if that isn't a euphemism for sex, I don't know what is.
Reply
Flag
Strange that I read the books four times each and never recall this implication, nor this inference.
Reply
Flag
You're right about those details.. but that's what they are.. just details. And one thing is reading the books other totally different is the serie. Reading the books u interpertat as u want and i think it was that what they are trying to do.. It's always like that when a serie or a movie is based on a previous book. Some things can't really be like the books. Like Danny for example and is age. Imagine a 14 years old girl having relations with a man many years old.. Ok u can imagine, because that was what u have done will reading but it won't be easy to do that with actor for real. The case of Cersei's death boy also confused me a bit but i didn't disliked it.. It's a away of giving something different even for those who readed the books =) I'm enjoying this serie very much. I can tell if i enjoyed the books more or the serie.. Are different thing. In the books probably u live it more and creat ur idea of the chars and the story.
Reply
Flag
@JeffSands1. Frankly, we don't know yet what the show will call the wights, since there hasn't been any mention of them yet even though we saw them in the prologue. There should be a mention of them before the season is over, though, so we'll find out soon. The show runners' decision to not use the term Others is curious, but White Walkers is fine as a term, especially since it is used once in the books. There might be a problem in season 2 and onwards with not using "the Others", but I won't say more on that to not spoil their origin to non-readers. Book-readers should know what I mean.
Reply
Flag
@Khutie You are right that they are only called wights in the book not wight walkers, but it is still a difference between the show and the book. My point was that the show makes little distinction between the "wights" of the books (zombies) and the "white walkers"(zombie raisers) of the show. That white and wight are homophones adds confusion, which is what i was trying to make note of.
Reply
Flag
@chefpuck, judging by the episode descriptions the first season will coincide almost perfectly with the first book (specifically with respect to storylines in King's Landing, Winterfell, the Wall and Daenerys across the Narrow Sea.) There is however going to be atleast a little bit of material from book 2 in episode 10. Hope that helps!
Reply
Flag
can anyone tell me how far the first season goes in corilaition with the first book, game of thrones?? i wanna start the book if the first season doesnt complete the first book....
Reply
Flag
So far the series 'seasons' appear to be spaced per book.



So, you could read the first book and not go outside of the first season and vice versa.
Reply
Flag
It doesn't matter because I am HOOKED!
Reply
Flag
@JeffSands1. Like Khutie already mentioned, the term White Walkers is used in the books just once, and then to refer to the Others. The Wights are never called Wight Walkers in any of the books. They're just Wights.
Reply
Flag
@hila234 and others. I only mentioned a few things in the article to keep it relatively short. Despite that, TV.com has shortened my original piece a bit, especially removing something I wrote about Arya and condensing the end about the prologue. I'm fine with the changes they made. I didn't mention Sansa's character changes to keep the piece shorter, and of course her rudeness towards the Septa was in Episode 6, but I actually wrote this before it came out. I could have written a lot longer piece to include all the numerous things that have been changed as well as what's been kept true, but it would not have been published. So I instead focused on a few things to give the non-readers a glimpse on how the show has been adapted. There might be a follow-up after the first season, we'll see when we get there.
Reply
Flag
I'm surprised you didn't mention the difference between Sansa's character in the book and in the show. In the book, she was sweet and polite to everyone around her (with the exception of Arya). In the show, she's an insufferable teenager. The most drastic difference is her attitude towards the septa. In the book, she would never have been impolite to her.
Reply
Flag
@Jeffsands1
Sorry, but what you just said is actually wrong. White Walkers and the Others are in fact the same thing, and its WHITE not WIGHT. WIGHTs are mentioned in the book as being the people that rise from the dead. They are NEVER called Wight walkers, but simply wights. The term White Walkers is only used once in the entire series of books, because they use the Others more. THe reason why they say white walkers in teh tv show and not Others is becaus of the comparisons people would draw to Lost. So yes, they are the EXACT same thing. Google White Walkers if you need proof or even just re read the scenes in the books. THey never called the zombie guys Wight Walkers, just wights. Also, in the beginning of the first episode, when Bran says "did he really see the White Walkers", he couldnt be talking about the wights(zombies) because in the book thats the first time anyones seen them, where as the Others have been around forever.
Reply
Flag
the only thing i have to correct you on is that in the book, Wight Walkers (not white walkers) are the dead that are raised by the Others. They are not an interchangeable term. Other than that dead on (pun). Also the direwolves were used a lot more in the book but it is difficult to use the dogs in the show.
Reply
Flag
Excepting the Hound's story going to Littlefinger, I think the changes made were all appropriate changes. The show needs to seem believable and things like Dany falling for Drogo on her wedding night and AFTERWARDS getting raped just make no sense if we can't get an inside view of her thoughts. Her love for Drogo needs to develop naturally not ebb and flow. As for Cersei and Jaime's changes, they need to be seen as somewhat sympathetic now, otherwise we'll just hate them in season 3/4 and wonder why the hell we're still bothering with them. In the case of the infant Baratheon child, it needed to be said to show Cersei as someone who did love Robert and try at first, and to also give viewers clues towards the Jon Arryn mystery. Finally with regard to changes such as the prologue change, I think the show is trying to develop a sense of urgency with regards to the Others, we'll see how it pays off, but it could go either way. All in all the show is enough like the book that should satisfy most readers, and the changes made are well done for the newbies and to make everything more cinematic.
More+
Reply
Flag
Also - I believe they added the Baratheon son scene to later find out that Cersei or Jamie had the boy killed... just to emphasize how much she hated Robert...

SPOILER ALERT......
It is my guess that John Snow is actually Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar's Son. Just my guess.... Which is Why Ned took him and had to make up the story about him being a Bastard... Ned would never betray his vows... as you all shall see...
Reply
Flag
One of the issues I had with the Show (I love it btw)... was with architecture.. Why did they make Winterfell look the way it did? Anyone with any knowledge of Architecture would know that you don't build flat roofs in a place that snows alot. The steeper the better. The artist who designed the HBO Winterfell obviously did not take this into consideration... in fact it resembles Jabba the Huts palace more than a Castle in the north. I wish they had stuck more to Ted Nasmith's vision of Castles. He's the Man when it comes bring the architecture to life.
Reply
Flag
If there is a difference in the HBO series to the books fantastic. I hadn't read the books before I had seen episode 1, I promptly downloaded book 1 and then books 2 - 4 and cannot wait until 5 comes out in July. The difference between the two should be celebrated not criticised - I wouldn't have found this wonderful saga if it hadn't been on TV first and I dont think I will be the only one claiming that. Pick your fleas elsewhere.
Reply
Flag
I want more of the direwolves on screen. It feels like they've been totaly ignored and they have a big part in the storry. Also i found that the adding a few years to the younger characters was a big mistake cause it doesn't fit well with what those characters do later on. It was made just to make american wievers feel better to haveing Daenerys beeing raped and SPOILER Aria killing lots of people and Rob leading an army at 16. There's lots more of these PC age changes and it's robing the storry.
Reply
Flag
@Writerpatrick. I'll have to respectfully disagree with what you say about what the show is designed for. It's clearly designed for the general HBO audience with some extra pointers put in for the book readers that don't take away anything from the non-reader viewer; especially in Episode 4 there were lots of small details mentioned that were put there by the writer specifically as homage for the book, but which didn't really have any significance on the story. The story has followed the first book very closely so far, but like I point out in the article, there are some differences (e.g. Cersei's first son dying), and quite a lot of the book's material has been left out because of time and budgetary concerns. The show is trying to stand on it's own feet, and so far it looks like it will manage to do so. I, however, don't believe the forthcoming seasons will stay as true to the books as the first one has; simply because the story broadens A LOT especially in books 3,4, and 5, and trying to fit all of their story into 10-13 episodes will not be possible. Either they will need to have multiple seasons for those books or they need to simplify the story extensively. Actually, I believe a combination of these things will happen. It will still be one of the best TV shows, because the source material is simply superb.
More+
Reply
Flag
It would have benefited from a 14-15 episode season instead of 10.... For example, we have barely seen Jon at the Wall.... Lady died, but we saw Sansa with her a grand total of once.... I can go on and on. Plus, the physical time constraints cause these awkward scenes where Tyrion barks exposition at Theon from a horse.... All that said, I am enjoying the show and I give HBO mad props for taking on the big challenge and kicking ass.. I just hope season 2 is longer!!
Reply
Flag
@RitariKnight I'm not saying there aren't fans of the show who haven't read the book, but it does seem to be designed more to appeal more to those who have read the books. Someone who hasn't read the books might not enjoy it as much as one who has. Knowing what is to come allows one to enjoy the exposition more than someone who doesn't. It's also making an effort to stick closer to the books for the sake of accuracy rather than deviating and trying to make the episodes more exciting the way Legend of the Seeker did to appeal to the non-readers.
Reply
Flag
@Writerpatrick. Not at all. Book readers get more out of it, yes, but the show is clearly not aimed at those who know the story already. There are lots of people who are enjoying the show without having read the books. Many of them probably felt that it took them a few episodes to get to know the characters and all that, but now that most of the introducing is done, they can follow the show just fine. At least the ones I've spoken to and read about on different forums feel this way.
Reply
Flag
show z good enuff as it is......deviations from the novels happen
Reply
Flag
This sounds like the show was made for those who read the books. I can't see it becoming big amongst those who haven't.
Reply
Flag
@RobVolz. You are correct. Since they didn't introduce the Mountain prior to the tourney scene, they needed to do it just before the joust with Ser Hugh. But since nobody apart from the show runners know yet where they are taking the story regarding Sansa/Hound, it was surprising for most book readers to see that bit of background info come from Littlefinger. But like I said in the article, it's very possible that the Sansa/Littlefinger relationship, which is far more important to the main story, got a good start this way. And for that, it was a good change. If the whole Sansa/Hound relationship never happens in the show, then the show loses some depth found in the books, but it's not a big deal and completely understandable since the TV show has limits (budget and time) on what it can do and show while Martin doesn't really have to consider such matters when writing the novels.
Reply
Flag
The other main reason they changed this scene was strictly for plot advancement purposes. In the book, the Sansa/Hound convo takes place after the Hound/Mountain fight at the tourney. However, the book provides plenty of prior background info about the Mountain and his relationship with his brother, the Hound. So the reader already understands their motivations for fighting each other. In the show, the Mountain has not even been mentioned until he shows up at the tourney to joust Ser Hugh (and later, Ser Loras). Having Petyr tell Sansa the tale of how the Mountain burned the Hound gives the audience that backstory and explains their motivations. Unfortunately not everything from the books can be kept in the show, but I thought that was a great way for the writers to include that great story. And allow the brilliant Aidan Gillen to show off as Pedofinger.
Reply
Flag
I think it has been very faithful to the books so far, I don't think the changes they've made from the books even have a big effect on the long run. Sure changing the Hound's story to be told by Petyr to Sansa was uncalled for but it is also good to have an extra scene between them. MINOR SPOILERS: Because in later books the relationship Sansa has with Petyr becomes a lot more important than the relationship she has Sandor Clegane. So it is good to have a little bit more development between the two leading up to later events in the series. But in the end I guess I would of preferred it to be unchanged as well. Other than all that I think it has been extremely faithful to the books.
Reply
Flag

Like TV.com on Facebook