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Game of Thrones Book-to-TV Comparison: “You Win or You Die”

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!


1. Introducing…Tywin Lannister


The episode opens with a scene between Jaime and his father, Tywin, discussing the letter of summons issued by Ned, and the importance of upholding the esteem of the Lannister name to ensure a legacy that continues throughout the generations to come.

Whilst Jaime would later go on to become a perspective character in A Feast for Crows, Tywin never does, so this exchange obviously didn’t occur in the books. It does, however, aptly highlight the central themes and conflicts of Jaime’s relationship with his father. E.g. despite being Tywin’s favourite child, Jaime is perceived to have constantly performed below his father’s lofty expectations, and has an antithetical way of thinking and operating; rash and impertinent (just look at the trouble that “golden tongue” of his landed him in on one particular occasion), as opposed to brutally cold and calculating. In fact, Tywin has far more in common with the ‘lecherous little stump’ than either Jaime or Cersei, even if he wouldn’t care to admit it.

2. When you play the game of thrones…


TV: Eddard confronts Cersei in one of the Red Keep’s courtyards about the incestuous parentage of her children, and offers her a merciful chance to flee from Robert’s wroth before Ned informs him of what he’s discovered. Cersei does not heed Ned’s advice, and instead responds with the infamous ultimatum; ‘When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.’

Book: Eddard meets with Cersei in the godswood — the only place he can find respite in King’s Landing — and relays what he knows in much the same fashion. The crucial difference is Cersei’s attempt to seduce him, and how unkindly she reacts to her advances being rebuffed by him, which indicates a degree of uncertainty in her schemes playing out as planned and desperation to prevent them being scuppered at the final hurdle, despite her departing promise to Ned that his meddling in this game of thrones will be fateful for him.

It also presents Cersei with an opportunity to confide in someone other than Jaime about the abortion of Robert’s child that she underwent, since Eddard already knows too much, and will be silenced in due course.

3. Littlefinger


With two of his girls, Ros and Armeca, explicitly practicing their craft in front of him, Baelish divulges the incentive for his sly manipulations, and general disaffection. He outlines a lusting for power above all else and how he intends to accrue it. Littlefinger’s true intentions were more ambiguous in the books; he was never so overt about what he wanted, or how he meant to acquire it, to anyone, let alone those he employed in his brothels.

His intentions are not made all that clear until A Feast for Crows, in which he likens himself to a chess master; moving all the pieces in play (whether they be aware or not; willing or unwilling), to benefit his own gradual ascension through the ranks of power. The Littlefinger of the TV series isn’t quite as furtive about his schemes, and he lacks the sagacity of his counterpart from the books (in one instance later in the series, even being so unwisely audacious as to openly goad Cersei, accompanied by her retinue of steadfast Red Cloaks, about her incestuous relationship with Jaime).

4. A horse without its rider


TV: Benjen Stark’s horse returns to Castle Black, absent its rider, or any of the other accompanying riders on Benjen’s ranging. The implication is that Benjen and the rest of his company perished, and the horse was the only one to make it out of whatever skirmish took their lives.

Book: Benjen was presumed dead by the Night’s Watch not because his horse returned alone, but because he did not return to Castle Black at all.

[SPOILERS AHEAD] The horse returning in Game of Thrones, though, could be a subtle foreshadowing of Cold Hands; the White who is first encountered in A Storm of Swords, and assists Bran in his exploits north of the wall during A Dance with Dragons (he also should have appeared in last season’s finale). He has long been assumed by readers of A Song of Ice and Fire to be a revivified Benjen Stark, and Benjen’s horse having abandoned him and returned to Castle Black riderless in the TV series might well be a hint towards Cold Hands’ rather unusual mode of transport, which is a great elk.

5. Eddard’s letter to Stannis


TV: Ned, fearing the worst, writes a letter to Stannis informing him that he is the lawful successor to the Iron Throne, due to Robert having fathered no rightful heirs.

Book: Stannis was well aware of this fact, having assisted Jon Arryn’s investigations into the true ancestry of Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella, well before Ned arrived at King’s Landing, and Eddard was equally informed of Stannis’ involvement in those earlier investigations, so there was no need for him to send a letter bearing this information to Stannis. We may not have been witness to Stannis’ movements prior to A Clash of Kings, but it is inferred that he was putting things in place for his succession.

6. Sam’s becomes a man of the Night’s Watch


TV: Sam graduates from trainee to the position of Steward, and a man of the Night’s Watch, at the same time as Jon and everyone else in his group of inductees.

Book: Sam’s graduation to a man of the Night’s Watch is fraught with far more difficulty. Jon, sensing that Sam might be denied his initiation at the same time as him, and fearing what he will endure from those left behind in his company (which includes Rast, who remains a lowly recruit), he sets about convincing Maester Aemon to promote Sam to Stewardship, due to Sam’s proficiency with reading and writing. It’s a subplot to Jon’s storyline that, though irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, really cements the burgeoning friendship between him and Sam, and the almost sibling, protective relationship that would be the predominant theme of the relationship from Jon’s side.

7. Robert’s vanity


Cersei states in her conversation with Ned that Robert was bearded at their wedding, but in the books it is said that he was clean-shaven, up until he began to gain weight, at which point he grew the beard to conceal the numerous chins that were beginning to form. No, to answer the obvious question your thinking, this isn’t a remotely serious inclusion in the list.



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