How does HBO’s Game of Thrones compare to the continuity of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire? I’ll be assessing the biggest deviations the TV series has made on an episode-by-episode basis, and speculating on what effects the changes could have on future storylines. For the sake of ease, the altered appearances of characters (of which there are numerous), will not be included in any of my breakdowns.
It goes without saying that these articles will contain spoilers for Game of Thrones, but be wary that various events from A Song of Ice and Fire, which have yet to transpire in the TV series at the time of writing, will also be addressed on occasion. I will use a spoiler tag to ward anyone who doesn’t wish to have any of these moments ruined for them, which will be bold and capitalised, so there’s no excuse for missing it!
READ MY BREAKDOWN OF THE PREVIOUS EPISODE, “WINTER IS COMING”.
1. Jaime Derides Jon and the Night’s Watch
TV: Jaime greets Jon Snow at Mikken’s forge, and refers flippantly to the Night’s Watch, and Jon’s wishes to join them, openly mocking him with the following sardonic remark:
“Give my regards to the Night’s Watch. I’m sure it will be thrilling to serve in such an elite force. And if not, it’s only for life.”
BOOK: Jaime and Jon had no cause to converse in A Game of Thrones, but their brief communication in “The Kingsroad” subtly intimates something that is consistent with certain undertones in Martin’s books: Jaime’s dissatisfaction with being a Kingsguard, due to his respective, disillusioning experiences under Aerys’ and Robert’s kingships. The Kingsguard are a band of brothers who, similarly, are bound for life, and it’s a calling that, in his youth, Jaime fervently idealised much like Jon does the Night’s Watch (prior to seeing it for what it has now truly become).
2. Cersei’s Tragic Tale
TV: Cersei visits Catelyn at the comatose Bran’s bedside, feigning comfort with a story of how she lost the first of her and Robert’s children to a fever shortly after birth. She cites that all her prayers to the Mother went unheeded for her child, but that she prays for Bran all the same (a sly, double-edged nicety, just typical of Cersei).
BOOK: No such commune ever took place in the books (in fact, Cat and Cersei barely interacted at all during the Royal visit), and at one point midway through A Game of Thrones, Cersei even informs Ned that she has never birthed a single child by Robert’s conception. She elaborates that Robert had impregnated her only once during their entire marriage, and she’d swiftly undergone an abortion without her husband’s knowledge to stave the indignity of birthing his offspring.
Cersei might simply have been spinning a yarn to Cat in “The Kingsroad”, so as to alleviate any suspicion of her part in Bran’s near fateful fall, but it’s also worth noting that her telling of it is rather unusually heartfelt. She includes details she needn’t; describing Robert’s wroth, and her infant as a “black-haired beauty”, irresponsibly alluding to the discrepancy of her children’s golden locks, which was something discovered by Jon Arryn, and later by Ned himself.
It wouldn’t be the last time that Benioff and Weiss attempted to humanise the seemingly inhuman — all except for the love she has for her children (as Tyrion correctly notes in the Season 2 premiere, “The North Remembers”, it’s her one redeeming trait) — Cersei Lannister, by delving beyond the callous exterior she publically exhibits.
3. “You Starks are hard to kill.”
As an intermission to the seriousness, Jon Snow’s farewell conversation with Robb Stark about the probable fate of Bran is amusing in retrospect, and was probably intended to be so by Benioff and Weiss, who had foreknowledge of the desecration that would eventually befall the Starks at the time of writing.
Ned loses his head at King’s Landing; Sansa is taken captive; Arya flees and is presumed dead; Theon takes Winterfell and feigns the murder of Bran and Rickon to assert his tenuous authority; Ramsay Snow takes Winterfell from Theon, slaughters the civilians, and subsequently burns it to the ground; Robb ‘The King in the North’ Stark is felled at the infamous Red Wedding, along with his mother and matriarch of House Stark, Catelyn, his wife, and unborn son.
Dead Stark count: 5
It seems appropriate to now quote Ygritte: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
4. Catelyn’s Incriminating Evidence
TV: Cat ventures to the tower from which Bran fell, and scours it for signs of whom might have perpetrated his fall. She locates a single strand of Lannister gold hair, and correctly deduces Jamie and Cersei’s culpability.
BOOK: Cat was convinced of the Lannisters being responsible for Bran’s fall before any real evidence presented itself, predominantly due to Lysa’s earlier letter of warning and the considerable sum of coin found in the stables, which belonged to the ‘bald man’ who had attempted to finish her son off. She found nothing at the scene of the crime, because she never actually went looking there.
She only acquired a sole shred of proof in the form of one Valyrian dagger, said to have belonged to Tyrion Lannister. Her disdain for House Lannister was rather more effectively underlined in the book, with her resolute belief that the Lannisters were indictable for what had transpired, immediately following the attack, despite some of the protests from Theon and Ser Roderick when she addressed them about it.
5. Eddard is Ordered to Execute Lady
TV: After Arya’s scuffle with a sadistic Joffrey at the Trident, during which Nymeria took a bite out of the prince’s forearm, she is called before King Robert and Queen Cersei to answer for her perceived crime of unduly assaulting a royal. Robert trivially dismisses what happened, but Cersei demands that Arya not go unpunished. With Nymeria having been earlier let loose by Arya, in a canny move to safeguard her from any fatal punity, Cersei requests the life of Sana’s direwolf, Lady, instead. Ned steps up to the task, after his pleas for Robert to deny this course of action fall on deaf ears, slitting Lady’s throat with his dagger.
BOOK: Events largely follow the same pattern (except that this all takes place at Castle Darry in A Game of Thrones, and not the Old Crossroads Inn). Ned uses his Valyrian steel greatsword, Ice, to do the bidding, rather than an ordinary dagger, since the sharper blade results in a quicker, cleaner death. And he also employs a handful of his retinue to accompany the direwolf’s remains back to Winterfell, to be buried there, lest Cersei’s earlier promise that she would take Lady’s pelt for herself be fulfilled (something that’s curiously absent from the equivalent discussion in the TV series). Additionally, it is Eddard Stark’s men that first locate Arya out on the Trident, and Jory Cassel who assists her in frightening off Nymeria.
6. Bran’s awakening
TV: Immediately following Lady’s execution, Bran’s eyes spring open.
BOOK: There was no implied connection between Lady dying and Bran waking from his coma, as there is in Game of Thrones. Rather, his dreams of the three-eyed raven were responsible for his return to consciousness, with the creature constantly taunting him and telling him to fly, whilst Bran was forced to relive his fall. Bran’s dreams were an intrinsic part of his eventual destiny, which he would come to fully learn of and begin to fulfil in A Dance with Dragons.