Game of Thrones: Books versus Series

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A lot has been made about the recent episodes of Game of Thrones, namely the rape scene in the sept between Jaime and Cersei, and how it was changed from being consensual in the book. If you were really outraged about it, good for you; I’m here to discuss why they may have made the change, and why it was probably a good idea. I’ll also discuss some of the other points the A.V. Club has made about it (and the series at large) as well, but I want to make one point before I get specific.

Season four of Game of Thrones is based, in theory, on the last third of A Storm of Swords, the third book in A Song of Ice and Fire series. However, the practical reality is that between other changes they’ve made, namely shifting when certain things happen, and the sparseness of material in the aforementioned last third (i.e. big things happen but there’s not a lot of filler), season four is composed of a lot of original material that ties up those book elements, as well as wholly original material, and I’ll give my commentary on that. However, the point of all the original and added material is so that the last episodes will be a more book-to-script-to-screen adaptation.

With a few exceptions, I’m limiting my analysis to things from season four, since it’s more recent and more relevant. I’m also giving a minor spoiler alert to anyone who hasn’t (a) caught up with season four yet, or (b) hasn’t read the books. I avoid major plot points, but do discuss divergences from the books.

Let’s get started.

On and Beyond the Wall

Jon Snow leads a band of merry Night Watchers to destroy the mutineers from season three. Wondering which chapter it’s from? It’s not. The entire plot, from its beginning to the doom of Crastor’s Keep itself, was synthesized for the series, to bridge the plot gaps that naturally emerged at that point in the book. However, I think it’s all right, since it accomplishes one key task that the series really hadn’t done yet: it gives a dark edge to the Night’s Watch.

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The Night’s Watch is introduced in the early episodes as having a noble quest, which is understaffed, and mostly by a motley crew of men who didn’t want to have their hands chopped off for petty crimes. Jon Snow is introduced to this reality early on, but because we see it through his eyes, and in a sense through those of Lord Commander Mormont, we forgive much of the motley nature of the crows and want to believe in the mission they have.

The dark politics of the Night’s Watch, depicted implicitly in the series and far more explicitly in the books, is shown when they reference the future ‘choosing,’ or election, for the next Lord Commander, and Jon Snow’s mission is a way of removing him from the fold; the books do something similar, but maybe the show will do that too. We’ll see. Anyway, the politics, coupled with the return of the mutineers, shows us that the Night’s Watch is actually quite dangerous, and although Jon Snow is loyal to them over Mance Rayder, you wonder if maybe Rayder is the better option.

One other invention was drawing in Bran close to Jon, and having him choose to go north. I think it’s a cute idea, and it achieves the desired effect, but it serves as a reminder that, in the books, Bran has both the most intriguing plotline, with regards to its potential destinations, but the story is also the dullest, which is why George R.R. Martin doesn’t give him many chapters in A Dance of Dragons. I’m just hoping that they aren’t so desperate to include him that they shoehorn him into too many situations where he shouldn’t be.

Finally, the scene at the end of ‘Oathkeeper,’ where the White Walkers are implied to have reproduced themselves via the males Crastor has sacrificed to them was a brilliant stroke, albeit one that may have tipped the hand of the producers to book readers. I don’t care; I loved it. George R.R. Martin hasn’t taken us to the almost mythical Land of Always Winter, and it was nice to see the series give us a glimpse. It also does something for the series that the books can do more easily: it reminds us that the greatest threat to the well-being of Westeros are the Others (or White Walkers), and the implication that they’ve been building up their numbers, slowly and over time, should leave us genuinely frightened.

The Iron Islands

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The attempts by the Greyjoys to seize the North are one of the more interesting ones in the books. Moving up the revelation of Theon’s mental imprisonment at the hands of Ramsey Snow is interesting, but I’m amused that they also haven’t discussed the rescue mission that was commenced at the end of last season, or that they haven’t set up the inter-family squabbling yet, which for a serialized and dark soapy show is surprising.

However, I do hope that they bring them all back for season five, and give them a proper re-introduction, as well as infuse much of the culture from the books. The Greyjoys words, We Do Not Sow, as well as their seafaring ways, and the their belief in the Drowned God, as opposed to The Seven or the Old Gods, make them an interesting lot.

The North

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The show makes a lot more explicit the idea that the Starks will never rule the North so long as the Lannisters are in the capital, which is probably better for the series; the books present the possibility of the Starks returning should an heir be found, albeit under Lannister rule. The Boltons, who were never the nicest of men in the first place, are firmly in command, and remind us all that in Westeros, treachery pays off big time.

However, whereas in the books Ramsey is completely unhinged, I feel like the series should have held him back a little, at least until the right moment (if you’ve read the books, you probably know where I’m going with this); I’m not saying you’ll ever make him sympathetic, but at least make him look halfway decent at least once. I also feel like Roose Bolton has not been given a proper episode yet, aside from The Rains of Castamere.”

Across the Narrow Sea

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I have not issue with any changes made Daenerys plotline, namely because there (a) there haven’t been that many, and (b) like Bran, hers requires some fluff. Unlike Bran’s, though, hers is full of action, gore, and other excitements. Notably, they attempt to make her more iron-hearted, so as to show that her rule in Meureen may not be stable, but attempt to make her more queen-like.

One point the A.V. Club made was that back in the pilot, the original scene in the books was consensual, whereas it was depicted as a rape in the series. I don’t especially like the change either, but given that they were trying to depict her character as being very weak, I kind of understand it. I don’t like it though, when it boils down to it.

I was disappointed with the writers’ decision to introduce Braavos ahead of season five, which is when I expected it to be. The giant warrior statue is a true revelation that gives A Feast For Crows a stunning image to commence the novel. I also do not like Stannis actively seeking the Iron Bank’s aid, which differs from the books. I would prefer that they had made alternative filler to round out his storyline, and am anxious for them to return Melisandre, who is one of the most enigmatic and fascinating characters in the series, largely because, unlike most other characters, her true motivations are completely clouded in mystery.

In The Reach

I love the Arya / Hound dynamic. The slow realization on his part that she isn’t completely a little girl, whilst still holding her, effectively, as a hostage is a tough one to pull off, but they manage it brilliantly, especially since the writers are making him, kind-of-sort-of, a father figure; the flip side of the coin from Ned Stark, who taught her honor, whereas the Hound is about survival at any and all costs to others. Of course, the writers are moving towards a conclusion that will likely surprise those who haven’t read the books, but is rewarding for both newbies and readers alike.

The introduction of Brienne and Podrick in the Reach is an interesting choice, especially since it really doesn’t kick off until Feast of Crows. Of course, there are many different aspects to it, namely that they don’t have a set destination in the books, whereas they are heading towards the Wall in the series.

Of course, returning to the Vale, with Sansa and Petyr Baelish being warmly greeted by the otherwise psychotic Lysa Arryn (who soon reveals a lot about the origins of the events that kicked off the series in the first place), and Robin, Lord of the Vale, before being accused of being inappropriate with Lord Baelish, is one of my favorite sequences in the book, and the series delivered on it. Sansa is hated by many fans, and she’s not the most likable character in the early books, but I like her arc, starting from A Clash of Kings and moving forward, where she pays the price for her (inherent) betrayal of her family many times over, and seems to never find peace; and when she does find it, she is a different person altogether.

One aspect about the Reach: I do hope they re-introduce the Brotherhood Without Banners, as well as establishing that several north men and others are actively attacking and killing off the Freys in retaliation for the Red Wedding, something that is subtly done in the books, but would have to be more overt in the series.

However, the series’ devotion to the main points of the books means that the epilogue of A Storm of Swords will likely remain intact, which is a bombshell truly worth getting right.

In King’s Landing

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Jaime and Brienne do not reach the King’s Landing until after the Royal Wedding in the books. The series accelerates their return, allowing them to be present. I really wish they’d found some way to keep from being there, namely by having Jaime in hospital (say from lingering issues as result of the brutal amputation of his hand), and establishing that the Tyrells didn’t want Brienne at the wedding. I do, however, love Jaime’s sparring scenes with Bronn, which in a way further humanizes both of them.

The King’s Landing plotlines, though, are also splicing in original material to fill gaps from the books. Granted, a lot of things, like Tommen’s coronation, are referenced heavily (and why wouldn’t it be?), although not directly seen, but it is still added material. The writers make Margery more proactive in forging a relationship with Tommen, a nice touch, and one I like.

So, let’s discuss the elephant in the room. The scene in the sept ‘Breaker of Chains’) is not about that actual moment, which most people don’t realize; it’s about establishing where Cersei is going, and slowly re-directing her character. The story gap created by Jaime and Brienne’s early return necessitated scenes between Jaime and Cersei, and the writing staff chose, incorrectly in my opinion, that she would give him a cold reception right away.

Cersei has a very interesting arc in the coming seasons, if they follow the books with accuracy, but the critical aspect to that is the set up. The books, and the series, both establish that Cersei is a control freak, but she defers to her father for obvious reasons. The series needed something to shake her up, so as to set up her arc going forward. She needs to be harder, more cold-hearted, going forward, and unfortunately, that change from the books did the job.

So, as ever, feel free to comment and tell my why you agree, disagree, or think my points are interesting. Thanks for reading. I’ll likely post an update to this sometime after the season finale.

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About brettryanclu

I reside in California, and I am a graduate from California Lutheran University, where I received my Masters in Public Policy and Administration. I like to write, talk politics, and exchange comments and opinions.
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