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10 Differences Between HBO’s Game of Thrones and George R.R. Martin’s Novels

by tahsinnoor|August 7, 2013|in Best & Worst Lists, News|

Top 10 Differences between HBO's Game of Thrones and George R.R. Martin's Novels

Even with the boom of the (newly-minted) Golden Age of television, with shows such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and House of Cards all bringing cinematic brevity to the television screen, there is one show that truly leaps among them all. HBO’s Game of Thrones, apart from breaking all sorts of records and creating the sort of hype that is unparalleled for a company of even HBO’s calibre, is a monumental undertaking that ranks as one of the greatest epics ever made. Rather than be restricted by their medium, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, affectionately known as David & Dan, both authors in their own right, have in fact revelled in it.

David & Dan knew full well that adapting George R. R. Martin’s magnificent novels were going to be a mammoth, gargantuan-level task, but they had a dream and went out and achieved it. Game of Thrones is one of the most powerful fantasy adaptations of all-time, and it has well and truly etched itself a place in the echelons of greatness, alongside Lord of the Rings (with which it is often compared — and justly so, as Lord of the Rings was a major influence on creator George R.R. Martin).

If one were to tabulate a list of the best choices the writers have made so far, it would be a most difficult task considering how uniquely beneficial they have all been, but here is a list of some of the decisions that have gone on to define what is the behemoth that is Game of Thrones. Take a look of Top 10 Differences between HBO’s Game of Thrones and George R.R. Martin’s Novels here.

HBO's Game of Thrones VS George R.R. Martin's Novels

1 of 20
The ages of the Stark children
Tywin Lannister
The Wall
Meera & Jojen Reed
No talking ravens
Shae’s relationship with Tyrion
Strong female characters
Arya’s interactions with Tywin
The Beggar King
Ser Barristan Selmy

The ages of the Stark children

In the books, the Stark broods are much younger than their television counterparts, with Robb and Jon aged in the mid-to-late teens and Sansa in her mid teens. Arya and Bran may perhaps seem the closest in age to their book counterparts, but as the television series progresses, the actors playing them, Maisie Williams and Isaac Hempstead-Wright, will grow older than their book counterparts. Isaac, for instance, has been growing into his mid-teens, and as one will notice in the third season, his voice has certainly grown more masculine. Rickon, on the other hand, is not much older than a toddler in the books, whereas in the TV series, he is much closer to Bran in terms of age. In hindsight, it is quite simple to imagine why David & Dan made this choice, as many of the Stark children, in particular Robb, Jon, Sansa, and Arya, go through certain decisions that younger children would not feasibly make in this day and age — and thus, finding actors in the age range that is cited in the books who could portray those kind of decisions with dexterity will have been an insurmountable challenge.

The ages of the Stark children

It’s impossible now to even imagine anyone else apart from Richard Madden, Kit Harrington, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Art Rickinson, playing the roles of Robb, Jon, Arya, Sansa, Bran, and Rickon. Nina Gold has to be given her due credit for finding such an amazing cast who can portray the Stark children with such honesty and authenticity — younger actors could not certainly have done so.

Tywin Lannister

What makes the perfect villain, in terms of characterization? A character of pure evil is often considered the archetypal villain, but as stories must be rooted in reality – can anyone truly say any person can be pure evil, in terms of their intentions? Is a character like Sauron believable when their motivations are difficult to fathom, and indeed their purpose is to clearly act as a protagonist in the story? That has been a question that story writers have had to grapple with for years, from the time of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur — and George R. R. Martin, a truly studious man with influences as vast as Stan Lee and historical fiction such as Maurice Druon’s the Iron King saga, must be given credit for creating truly believable, three-dimensional, honest characters that have clearly got their own motivations which they believe to be justified. That is precisely how human beings work — as the world is not a black and white place. That being said, Tywin in the books is largely seen as a despicable character in the books — as merely the feared, vile overlord of Westeros. We don’t really get to see inside his head, primarily because there are very few scenes where we get to see him think on his own, so the many scenes in the TV series where we see Tywin’s machinations and choices fleshed out is a pure delight.

Tywin Lannister

This is partly due to the magnificent portrayal by Charles Dance — who deserves an Emmy nomination for his consistently brilliant performances throughout the series — and indeed, when you have an actor of Dance’s brilliance portraying Tywin, one can easily decipher why Dan & Dave have devoted so many scenes to Tywin. His interactions with Tyrion are an absolute joy, and in particular his scene with the Queen of Thorns in season 3 is one of the greatest highlights of the entire series.

The Wall

Now, this has been a matter of contention between book readers for a while. The Wall, as vast as it is seen during the third season’s “ascent scenes”, has largely been decreased in its scope — in terms of the Night’s Watch. In the books, the Night’s Watch is more akin to a series of legions, all attached to different towers, rather than the tightly-knit group we see in the TV series.

The Wall

Now, some fans have clamored against the decision to compartmentalize the Night’s Watch’s characters, and while it would have been a pleasure to see Sir Denys Mallister and more of characters like Bowen Marsh — the choice to focus on the smaller group of Jon’s friends and compatriots in the Watch has been a godsend for the show, at least for the first few seasons. We truly see a camaraderie created between these characters develop, and the other characters can always be added as the series gains in popularity and season’s progress.

Meera & Jojen Reed

Many fans, including myself, were slightly disappointed not to see Meera and Jojen Reed make earlier appearances in the series. If the books were followed to verbatim, they would have appeared in the second season, just as Bran was beginning to act as Lord of Winterfell and meeting various delegations from the vassal states of the Starks, including the Reeds. However, they make their pitstop in the TV series in season 3, just as Bran and Rickon are evading the Boltons’ sack of Winterfell and are literally badly in need of direction. Their inclusion at a moment when the Stark children desperately need their help is a perfect moment for viewers to learn about the Reeds — not only does it magnify their role, but it makes them even more interesting as characters and more essential to the series.

Meera & Jojen Reed

Jojen’s role as perhaps the only one who can decipher Bran’s strange dreams make him an essential friend of Bran’s, and while I’m disappointed not to see Meera’s frogspear and the Bran-Meera dynamic from the books (where he had a crush on her on first glance), is quite an admirably headstrong character in the TV series, where she regularly argues with Osha.

No talking ravens

If you remember, the ravens, in particular Commander Jeor Mormont’s talkative little chirper, could repeat various phrases to the various characters and could speak. Whereas the decision not to include this aspect could be due to obvious logistical reasons, talking ravens would have distracted from the dialogue of the characters, which plays as essential a role in Game of Thrones as it does in Shakespeare, and would have made the series even more of a fantasy than is.

No talking ravens

Everyone knows that Thrones’ strength is how it conforms to the real world even with the setting of the series — take, for instance, the belief that magic is a myth, and the role of rulers and governance in how the world runs — and talking ravens would have taken away from that.

Shae’s relationship with Tyrion

By increasing Shae’s love for Tyrion — she is clearly in love with him, and is loyal to him — the series has made Tyrion, George R.R. Martin’s favorite character, even more likeable than he is in the books. In the books, it is clear that she is not more than just a former prostitute that Tyrion has “hired” for his exclusive use, whereas in the TV series while that fact is indeed made when she makes her introduction.

Shae’s relationship with Tyrion

Shae truly begins to build a bond of love with Tyrion as the series progresses. The show-exclusive scene when she refuses Varys’ offer to leave Tyrion’s side in season 3 is touching, and builds up her character tremendously well.

Strong female characters

Whereas I have always been of the view that George R.R. Martin has created strong female characters in the books, the series has truly expanded upon that tenfold. The female characters in the series, specifically Daenerys, Catelyn, Margaery, Meera, Shae, and yes, even Cersei, truly show a great sense of what it means to be a strong and confident female in the World of Ice and Fire. This can be due to the fact that the portrayal of these characters by their actors, but don’t let it dissuade you from the fact that the script is what has made these characters the strong figures that they are. The script is an actor’s bible, and when they can work with the kind of excellent material the show’s writers come up with time and time again for the characters, it truly shows in their performances.

Strong female characters

An Emmy award for some of the female actors in the show is bound to happen — and needs to happen. One of the most powerful scenes we’ve seen so far is when Daenerys Targaryen rise to power, got herself 8,000 Unsullied soldiers and killed the slave master Kraznys.

Arya’s interactions with Tywin

In the books, these characters never meet — it’s in fact Roose Bolton that Arya interacts with instead. By having Tywin Lannister — and an actor of Charles Dance’s sheer bravado — interact with Arya instead is one of the best choices that the writers have made thus far. The fact that Arya tricks not only Tywin, but later Littlefinger (although by a whisker!), is a brilliant decision from David & Dan.

Arya’s interactions with Tywin

The face-off of Arya and Tywin is excruciating to watch. We don’t know if Tywin will recognize her as one of the Starks. This highlights how adept Arya is becoming at hiding her identity — tricking the most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms — which will become intrinsically important to her character as the series progresses.

The Beggar King

Don’t get me wrong — Viserys is still very much an annoying pest in both the HBO series and the books. However, in the TV series he is portrayed with such humanity by Harry Lloyd that you can understand why he went slightly insane. Craving power and a throne that was in fact rightfully his (in terms of the same rights that Daenerys has on the throne), Viserys was infuriated by Khal Drogo’s lack of movement towards Westeros — and indeed, even though he had promised to do so, Drogo was never going to march towards Westeros, what with the Dothraki’s hatred of the sea, until, ironically, a misjudged assassination attempt was made upon Daenerys’ life.

The Beggar King

And then fearing – correctly – that he would be used mostly as a pawn in the Dothraki invasion, he tries to take matters to his own hands and meets a grisly death. The fact of Viserys’ status as the rightful king of Westeros had haunted him all throughout his life, so it was much this spectre of power that had turned him into the man he was, and this is made evidently clear in the series, when you have an actor of Lloyd’s clear skill portraying him.

Ser Barristan Selmy

The scene in which Ser Barristan throws away his armor at the feet of Joffrey ranks as among not only the best scenes in the first series, but indeed television itself. Having made such a conspicuous exit, the writers may have felt justified in waiting until Ser Barristan makes his next appearance in the series, but not as Arstan Whitebeard, hidden under the veneer of a beard in an apparent homage to Gandalf of Lord of the Rings, but as himself.

Ser Barristan Selmy

By discarding Arstan Whitebeard, the writers made a shrewd choice. TV viewers would have clearly seen through Arstan’s disguise, due to the fact that an actor of Ian McElhinney’s presence would not be forgotten in the background, and by quickly getting to his real identity we see the vast importance of his role as Daenerys’ foremost Queensguard. I cannot wait to see how this particular role develops in the oncoming seasons, particularly as Daenerys marches onward.

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