22 Big Differences Between the Game of Thrones TV Show and GRRM’s Books

Books Lists Game of Thrones

In the fifth season of Game of Thrones, HBO has become bolder than ever in departing from the plot laid out by George R.R. Martin in his Song of Ice and Fire novels. There have always been minor changes—it’s inevitable—but as the show catches up to the books, those changes have become increasingly significant. Benioff & Weiss had a difficult task on their hands—fitting very lengthy books into ten-episode seasons of television—and many of the changes are meant to simplify the narrative.

Let’s take a look at 22 of the most prominent differences from the whole series. Be warned that there are major spoilers ahead!

1. The Red Wedding

In the Book: For the most part, HBO followed Martin’s action faithfully. However, in the books, Rob’s wife Jeyne Westerling stays at Riverrun to avoid any tensions at the wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslyn Frey. Westerling and Robb have tried to get pregnant, but to no avail. After the Red Wedding, Westerling is pardoned by the Iron Throne, and guarded by soldiers for two years to be sure she has not given Robb an heir.

On the Show: Robb’s wife on the show is Talisa Maegyr from Volantis. Not only does she get pregnant, but she accompanies Robb to the red wedding, where she and her unborn child are slaughtered along with everyone else.

2. Lady Stoneheart

In the Book: After Catelyn Stark is murdered at the Red Wedding, she is brought back to life by Beric Dondarrion, a disciple of the Lord of Light in the same style as Melisandre. He trades his life for Catelyn’s, who becomes a zombie-like creature called Lady Stoneheart who can’t speak. She is consumed by a desire for revenge, and even makes plans to execute Brienne of Tarth—an execution she is on the verge of carrying out at the conclusion of A Dance With Dragons, Martin’s last novel.

On the Show: When Catelyn dies, she dies. The Lady Stoneheart plot was never even shot, much to the consternation of book fans.

3. Fake Arya/Sansa/Ramsay Bolton

In the Book: Jeyne Poole, one of Sansa Stark’s best friends as a girl in Winterfell, is used by the Lannisters to secure an alliance with the Boltons. They pretend she’s Arya Stark and send her off to marry the sadist Ramsay Bolton, who apparently knows she’s a fake. He locks her in a tower and tortures her when the mood strikes, and her cries are heard throughout Winterfell. She later escapes with Theon and Mance Rayder.

On the Show: In order to simplify events, the real Sansa Stark is betrothed to Ramsay in season five.

4. The Fate of Mance Rayder

In the Book: As in the show, Stannis plans to execute Mance Rayder for not bending the knee, but Rayder and Melisandre conspire to disguise him as a wildling named “Rattleshirt,” and to send Rattleshirt to die in his place. Mance then goes on a mission to rescue Jeyne Poole (who he believes is Arya Stark). The mission is successful, but according to a letter from Ramsay Bolton to Jon Snow, Mance is captured and being held hostage.

On the Show: Mance is executed by order of Stannis, and there’s no indication that any magic saved him from his fate.

5. The Fate of Ser Barristan Selmy

In the Book: Ser Barristan is alive and well, and in charge of Meereen after Daenerys has left on the back of Drogon, one of her dragons. Their enemies at Yunkai are preparing to attack, and Barristan is in charge of the city’s defense.

On the Show: Ser Barristan dies in the streets of Meereen in a battle with the Sons of the Harpy, a secret society devoted to overthrowing Daenerys.

6. Jorah Mormont’s Relationship with Daenerys

In the Book: Just as in the show, Jorah is a spy for the Lannisters who was told that providing information on her whereabouts would end his exile. However, he falls in love with Daenerys, asks for her hand, and attempts to kiss her in the books. Each time, she puts him off. When she learns of his betrayal, she sends him on a dangerous mission to Meereen that he survives. She his ready to forgive his espionage, but he is recalcitrant, and she has to exile him for undermining her leadership.

On the Show: Jorah’s love for Daenerys may be implied, but he never makes an overt move, and he is exiled immediately after the revelations of his betrayal.

7. The Fate of Xaro Xhoan Daxos

In the Book: As in the show, Xaro proposes marriage to Daenerys when she visits Qarth, though it is merely so he can claim one of her dragons. She notices that he has homosexual leanings, and she leaves the city after rejecting his offer. Later, he brings 13 ships to Meereen, urging her to leave because her presence has hurt his business as a merchant, and he wants the slave trade reinstated. When she refuses, he leaves, and Qarth declares war on Meereen.

On the Show: Here, Xaro also proposes marriage, but his ambitions are higher—he wants to help her conquer Westeros and take the credit for himself. He conspires to steal her dragons, but Daenerys escapes and finds him in bed with Doreah, her handmaiden. She leaves both of them locked in Xaro’s vault to die, and steals all his gold.

8. Tyrion’s Journey to Meereen/Aegon Targaryen

In the Book: When Tyrion flees King’s Landing after killing his father, he doesn’t leave with Varys. He recuperates with Illyrio Mopatis as in the show, but he sets off for Meereen not with Varys, but with a set of traveling companions that includes two named “Griff” and “Young Griff.” He later finds out that the boy is Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen, which makes him Daenerys’ nephew—the one who was supposed to have been murdered when Robert Baratheon took King’s Landing, and who would be heir to the throne of Westeros. Tyrion convinces him to turn away from Daenerys and lead an attack with his small army on Westeros, which is a tactic Aegon later adopts, heading for the Stormlands.

On the Show: There is no evidence of Aegon Targaryen in the show, and since Tyrion has been capture by Mormont, the moment when he appeared in the books has come and gone. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll appear without seriously over-complicating the story, and we’ve already seen how the HBO crew try to avoid that.

9. Jaime Lannister’s Whereabouts/The Dornish Revenge

In the Book: After the death of Tywin Lannister, his father, Jaime accepts an order from Cersei to end the siege of Riverrun following the murder of Robb Stark at the Red Wedding. He accepts, and learns to fight without a hand along the way in sparring matches with Ilyn Payne. The last we see of Jaime, he ends the sieges and his reunited with Brienne of Tarth.

On the Show: Jaime and the sellsword Bronn head out on a secret kidnapping mission to Dorne, where Jaime hopes to bring his “niece” (read: daughter) Myrcella back to King’s Landing.

10. The Fate of Bronn

In the Book: After abandoning Tyrion in his time of need, Bronn is married into the House Stokeworth as a favor from Cersei. Later, she tries to have him killed because she fears he is still loyal to Tyrion, but Bronn triumphs in a duel and manages to improve his position. Nothing is heard from him in Martin’s last book, A Dance with Dragons.

On the Show: Apparently he was too good a character to forget, because HBO has reunited him with Jaime and sent them off to Dorne. Also, he was Jaime’s sparring partner instead of the silent Ilyn Payne.

11. Mace Tyrell

In the Book: Mace Tyrell is not the brightest man in Westeros, but he’s portrayed with a kind of simple cunning, and he’s always been ambitious for his daughter Margaery, hoping to make her a queen. Cersei tries to get him out of the capital to capture Storm’s End, and when he returns, he is made Hand of the King by Kevan Lannister, and gradually increases his influence over the city.

On the Show: In the televised version, Mace is a simpering oaf who can be won over with flattery and bossed around. In the latest episodes, it seems that Cersei has sent him off to be killed by Ser Maryn Trant in a so-called trip to the Iron Bank of Braavos.

12. Loras Tyrell’s Imprisonment

In the Book: Loras is one of the greatest warriors in Westeros, and is hugely popular in King’s Landing. When Cersei sees him as an enemy, she sends him off to capture Dragonstone, hoping he’ll be killed. Her plan seems to have been success, as the last we heard indicates he is perhaps fatally wounded.

On the Show: Cersei uses the Sparrows to imprison Ser Loras for his homosexuality. This element of Loras is implied in the book, but is never so overt as it’s made in the television series.

13. Jon Snow’s Refusal of Stannis

In the Book: When Jon refuses to leave the Night’s Watch to join Stannis, his reasoning is primarily religious—the return of his direwolf from beyond the wall reminds him that the old gods rule the north, and he doesn’t want to yield Winterfell to Melisandre and R’hllor, the Lord of Light. This despite the fact that Stannis offers to make him a legitimate son of Ned Stark, a dream of Jon’s since early childhood.

On the Show: Jon’s refusal on the show stems from loyalty to the Night’s Watch. His choice inspires the Night’s Watch to make him their new leader, whereas in the book, Samwell conspires to win him the election before he makes the choice to deny Stannis.

14. Robb Legitimizes Jon Snow

In the Book: Before his death, Robb legitimizes Jon Snow as a son of Eddard Stark, in order to keep the north out of the hands of the Lannisters in the event of his death (at the time, Tyrion is married to Sansa, and it is believed that Bran and Rickon are dead). The ceremony is witnessed by his bannermen.

On the Show: Robb brings up the idea to his mother, who protests vigorously. It isn’t known whether he ever goes through with the legitimization.

15. Brienne Fights the Hound

In the Book: Brienne is all over the place, searching for Sansa Stark, who is still in hiding at the Vale under the name ‘Alayne.’ At one point she tries to find the Hound (Sandor Clegane), not realizing he is with Arya instead of Sansa. Despite her attempts, she never finds him.

On the Show:

16. The Hound’s Fate

In the Book: Sandor is trying to find a Stark elder to whom he can ransom Arya. The two of them run into a pair of Gregor Clegane’s men (Polliver and the Tickler) at an inn, and though they slay them both, the Hound is seriously injured. His wounds become infected, and he begs Arya to kill him. She refuses, and leaves him.

On the Show: The two survive the fight at the inn, but after the fight with Brienne, Arya finds the Hound with a broken leg. As in the book, Arya leaves the dying man without killing him out of mercy.

17. The Rape of Cersei Lannister

In the Book: Cersei almost immediately responds to Jaime’s advances in the sept as they mourn Joffrey.

On the Show: Jaime initiates, and it’s far less consensual, if it’s consensual at all. Even George R.R. Martin was compelled to write a response to viewers’ reactions.

18. Who is Arianne Martell?

In the Book: She’s the daughter of Doran Martell, Prince of Dorne, and an incredibly interesting, ambitious character who is desperate for vengeance when Oberyn Martell is killed by the Mountain. She hatches a crazy plot to name Myrcella queen of the seven kingdoms, and start a war with the other Lannisters. Her plot is a disaster, and ends with Myrcella getting her ear chopped off, after which she is imprisoned by her father in a tower, and forced to undergo a hunger strike to get him to reveal his plans for securing the Martell dynasty by supporting the claim of Daenerys Targaryen. Later, she is sent to meet Aegon Targaryen while her brother Quentyn goes on a quest to seek Daenerys’ hand in marriage—where he is killed by one of her dragons after she refuses his hand.

On the Show: Arianne Martell is erased from the television show, and a sort of stand-in is played by Ellaria Sand, the mother of the Sand Snakes. In the book, Ellaria is dismayed by the violence, but in the show, she stokes everyone’s appetites for vengeance.

19. The Missing Greyjoys

In the Book: A Feast For Crows details the fight for power in a kings moot at the Iron Islands after Balon’s death, which is ultimately won by Euron Greyjoy (Balon’s younger brother) over Asha Greyjoy (his daughter) and Victarion Greyjoy (another brother). Euron sends Victarion to find Daenerys to propose marriage for him, and Asha leaves for Deepwood Motte, where she is later captured by Stannis.

On the Show: The politics of the Iron Islands apparently did not compel the folks at HBO, as it was never depicted. Instead, they replaced it with a story of Yara (Asha’s name in the show) attempting to rescue her brother Theon from Ramsay Bolton, and ultimately failing when he refuses to follow her, insisting his name is “Reek.”

20. Joffrey’s Throat

In the Book: Joffrey claws open his own throat in an attempt to breathe: “Joffrey began to claw at his throat, his nails tearing bloody gouges in the flesh. Beneath the skin, the muscles stood out hard as stone.”

On the Show: The folks at HBO spared us this gruesome detail, though the vision of his purplish face is plenty horrible.

21. The Fate of Jojen Reed

In the Book: Jojen, a greenseer, helped Bran Stark escape Winterfell and escorted him on the journey to the cave of the three-eyed crow. His sister Meera helps him escape an ambush of white walkers outside the cave, and at last check, Jojen is depressed, sure that a greendream has predicted his death once he returns home.

On the Show: HBO had seen enough of Jojen—in the attack by the Wights outside the cave, he is fatally wounded, and Meera slits his throat in an act of mercy. She burns his body so he won’t come back to life.

22. Coldhands

In the Book: Coldhands is a mysterious figure who looks like a white walker, and smells like a dead man. He saves Samwell, Gilly, and their baby after they leave Craster’s Keep. He seems to be expecting Bran Stark north of the wall, and when Bran and the others finally arrive, he escorts them to the cave of the three-eyed crow. There are hints that Coldhands is a former brother of the night’s watch, and some believe he’s a half-dead, half-alive version of Benjen Stark, though apparently Martin said this was not true in an earlier manuscript.

On the Show: So far, there is no indication that Coldhands will appear, and Bran has already reached the cave of the three-eyed crow.

Thanks to Josh Jackson, Danielle Ryan and Luke Larsen for contributions to this list.

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