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, “YOU WIN OR YOU DIE”.
1. Sansa’s part in the King’s Landing massacre
TV: Accompanied by Septa Mordane when the commotion occurs, Sansa flees when the guards are heard approaching. She is confronted by the Hound and taken prisoner at Cersei’s request.
Book: After Ned foolishly warning her of what he intended to do with the information he’d uncovered about Joffrey, Tommen, and Myrcella’s incestuous parentage, Cersei resolved to prevent any attempted departure from King’s Landing and enacted the plans that would see Ned imprisoned and disgraced.
But it was Sansa, distraught about her father’s insistence that they would be returning to Winterfell, and how her proposed engagement to Joffrey would suffer as a result (hindsight is a wonderful thing, and all that), who pleaded with Cersei to change Ned’s mind, and in the process spilled the beans on Ned’s intention to covertly depart the capital. This prompted Cersei to advance her plans, and so contributed quite substantially to the massacre of Ned’s men, Ned’s incarceration, and eventual execution. Had Sansa kept schtum, things might have panned out rather differently.
Sansa was also confined to her bedchamber immediately after her discussion with Cersei, and remained there all the time the massacre was ongoing.
2. Syrio’s last dance
TV: In the midst of their lesson, Arya and Syrio are confronted by a troop of Red Cloaks, headed by Ser Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard, all clad in heavy armour. Syrio fells all but Trant with his wooden sword, disarming and knocking the rest of the retinue unconscious with blunt strikes, before he himself falls.
Book: The guards that arrive to take Arya captive are described as being lightly armoured, all apart from Trant, and most are very brutally dispensed with, including one who loses his eye to the blunt force of Syrio’s wooden sword. Syrio’s very brutal display, armed with nothing but a mere training sword, underlines just how much he was holding back on Arya during their practices.
3. Arya’s first kill
TV: Arya comes upon the upended contents of one of her father’s carriages, which happens to include Needle; the sword Mikken fashioned for her at Jon’s behest. She is then startled when the stable boy who confronts her makes a move to grab her, and inadvertently stabs him in the stomach as she is turned around.
Book: Arya’s kill is unequivocally deliberate. As the stable boy takes a hold of her and attempts to drag her away, Arya unsheathes Needle from its hilt and thrusts it upwards into the boy’s belly, where it protrudes from between his shoulder blades. Only when he pleads for her to remove it does she do so. This is an early hint at Arya’s barbarous approach to killing, which burgeons throughout A Song of Ice and Fire.
4. Traitor’s blood
When Jon enters the common hall during “The Pointy End”, following the news of his father’s arrest, he is greeted by an awkward, almost accusatory silence from all those present. In the book, the majority of the Night’s Watch commiserate Jon, and assure him that none believe the allegations against Ned. It was evidence of Ned’s renowned and revered nobility that so many were in support of him and disbelieving of his alleged treason based on reputation alone.
5. The Wight attack in the dead of night
TV: Woken by Ghost, Jon follows the direwolf to Lord Commander Mormont’s chambers, only to be confronted by a White Walker. After a brief scuffle, during which Jon learns firsthand how ineffective stabbing a White is, he grabs a nearby lantern and sets the creature alight, dispensing with it.
Book: On his way to Mormont’s room, Jon happens upon a corpse that indicates something is wrong. He is confronted by the White in much the same fashion when he arrives there, but the fight is far more of an ordeal (he’s even attacked and almost suffocated by the White’s severed hand), and one that involves and nearly costs Ghost his life. The lantern that Jon throws drips burning oil down his arm as he does so, and severely impedes his use of that hand for a long time afterwards (in the latest of Martin’s books, A Dance with Dragons, he still seems to suffer with the hand stiffening due to the injuries he obtained here and so flexes it regularly to keep that at bay).
6. Khal Drogo’s fateful wound
TV: Whilst pillaging one of the Lhazareen towns, Daenerys intervenes during one of the khalasar’s barbaric age-old customs; rape. As a result of her intervention, Mago contests the rule of Khal Drogo. Mago raises his arakh just as Drogo is advancing on him, and wounds him, which would later, thanks to Mirri Maz Duur, be the death of him. The fight goes Drogo’s way, with him demonstrating his superior combat prowess by shedding his weapons, and brutally killing Mago with just his bare hands.
Book: Drogo’s wound was not inflicted by Mago (who remains alive at current in the books), but by the Khal of a rival khalasar; Khal Ogo, whom he defeats. His injury is also far more severe in the book, with a portion of his chest around the nipple almost completely sheared off, and hanging by just a bit of skin. The severity of his wound necessitates Mirri’s feigned assistance far more than the superficial one he acquired in the TV series.
7. Ser Barristan’s dismissal
TV: Ser Barristan is called before the [false] king, and dismissed from his position as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Selmy protests; citing that the commitment is lifelong, but Joffrey’s petulant imprudence prevails, and Selmy is forced to shed his armour and depart the Red Keep. But not before tossing his sword at Joffrey, suggesting that he melt it down and add it to his throne.
Book: Barristan’s departing suggestion was the crucial difference here. He stated that Joffrey would need the sword for when Stannis arrived at King’s Landing. Barristan the Bold, indeed! Branding this a treasonous remark, Joffrey sends two Gold Cloaks after Selmy, both of whom are killed before he vanishes from the city.