Game of Thrones: 15 Book Moments We’re Glad Weren’t In The Show
In the beginning — of HBO’s Game of Thrones, that is — there were the book readers and the non-book readers. The non-book readers were a joyous lot of people who eagerly awaited the arrival of each new episode so that they could revel in the next chapter in one of television’s greatest adventures. The book readers were well aware of what those chapters contained, for they had read the sacred tomes that preceded the arrival of Game of Thrones known as the Song of Ice and Fire series. While both groups enjoyed HBO’s Game of Thrones, they would also clash over the supposedly superior knowledge of the book readers and their ability to see into the future.
It wasn’t long into Game of Thrones’ run, however, before the book readers realized that the show as not a word for word retelling of the novels. This fact became more obvious as the show wore on and major deviations from the books became commonplace. Because of this, a hardcore contingent of book readers began to lament that certain elements of the books didn’t make the show. While some of these characters, moments, and stories are missed, others were rightfully left behind.
15. DANNY DEFECATES HERSELF AFTER HER DRAGON FLIGHT
Some have called George R.R. Martin the best worst writer in fantasy history. It’s a strange qualification that speaks to Martin’s undeniable brilliance as a crafter of compelling overall narratives as well as his struggles to create equally great moment to moment sequences. Martin has a tendency to rely on almost childish descriptions and techniques to get his point across. This is particularly true of his infamous sex scenes.
One of the most questionable instances of this particular style comes towards the end of A Dance with Dragons, when Daenerys escapes Meereen on the back of Drogon. This moment was just as spectacular in the books as it was in the show, but the book hung a dark cloud over the proceedings by detailing how the Mother of Dragons proceeded to violently defecate herself shortly after landing. It’s strange enough that such a thing would happen, but the unnecessary level of detail used to describe her bowel movement makes us glad the show decided to overlook this plot point.
14. MELISANDRE GIVES BIRTH TO ANOTHER SHADOW ASSASSIN
One of Game of Thrones season two’s most memorable moments occurred when Melisandre gave birth to a shadow child that went on to kill Renly Baratheon. Aside from the shocking death of Renly, this moment is significant because it’s the first time we really get to see the potential of the Red Woman’s powers. In fact, as some have pointed out, it seems strange that Stannis wouldn’t just use this power to kill all his enemies and save himself some trouble.
Both the book and show try to explain that Stannis wouldn’t do such a thing because people would say Melisandre won the battle and not him. There would be no honor in that victory. The book dilutes this idea somewhat, though, by featuring a scene in which Melisandre gives birth to a second shadow assassin used to take Storm’s End. Seeing this technique used twice in a row makes the explanation behind its sudden disappearance feel hollow. We’re glad the show treated the moment like a submission to the allure of evil magic that shouldn’t be used lightly.
13. EDRIC STORM IS TAKEN TO DRAGONSTONE
Remember an entry ago when we mentioned the shadow assassin used to retake Storm’s End? Well, one of the reasons that it was birthed was because the men protecting Storm’s End refused to yield it to Stannis, out of fear of what would happen to the bastard child of Robert Baratheon that lived there, Edric Storm. Robert’s bastards get more attention in general in the books, but Edric is certainly the most significant bastard child cut from the show. In fact, it was Edric and not Gendry who was taken to Dragonstone to be sacrificed, according to the books.
The problem with Edric is twofold. First off, it’s pretty clear at this point that the Baratheon bastards’ storyline has run its course. As such, Storm’s subplot is ultimately kind of pointless. More importantly, it would have been very difficult for the showrunners to introduce another Baratheon child so late in the game and then immediately ship him off never to be seen again. Having Gendry take Storm’s place was the logical solution.
12. TYRION CATCHES GREYSCALE
Here’s a book-to-show change that is admittedly a bit debatable. In Game of Thrones season five, Jorah catches the dreaded greyscale disease while trying to escort Tyrion to Daenerys. While greyscale can theoretically be cured — as evidenced by Shireen Baratheon — it’s heavily implied that the disease is a slow kiss of death for any person that catches it. The situation plays out differently in the books. There, Jorah never kidnaps Tyrion and never catches greyscale. Instead, it’s the hyper-popular Tyrion that catches the disease.
In theory, there is nothing really wrong with that plot twist. Tyrion is a beloved character, and bad things happen to beloved characters all the time. However, Tyrion’s storyline in the books is much different than it is in the show, and his bout with greyscale helps influence his decision making later in A Dance With Dragons. His story in the show doesn’t benefit nearly as much from the fallout of the infection. Besides, Tyrion is interesting enough without it. It was Jorah who really needed a new plotline to work with.
11. THE FRUITLESS ADVENTURES OF BRIENNE AND PODRICK
A Feast for Crows remains the most controversial book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga. Fans of the fourth book tend to defend it on the basis of Martin’s experimentations with more detailed world-building and slow burn character analysis. Those who hate the book just find it to be a tedious read highlighted by very few significant moments. One thing that both sides tend to agree on, however, is that the Brienne and Podrick storyline featured in the book was a huge miss.
It’s clear that George R.R. Martin tried to turn Brienne and Podrick’s storyline into a Westerosi version of The Odyssey. It’s an interesting idea that is dragged down by a lack of entertainment. Imagine the Brienne and Podrick storyline of the show, minus the scenes and events where they actually discover the Stark children, but with more scenes featuring them riding around the woods. Worst of all, Brienne almost never gets to be the great warrior in the books that she regularly gets to be in the show.
10. RAMSAY BOLTON’S CONFUSING BETRAYAL
In season two of Game of Thrones, Theon decides to turn against the Starks by rejoining the Ironborn and capturing Winterfell. Things are going pretty well for Theon until word gets around that Winterfell has fallen, and the Boltons send an army to take it back from Theon’s skeleton crew. The young Greyjoy is captured by that army, taken to the Dreadfort, and infamously tortured by Ramsay Snow. It’s a pretty straightforward sequence of events.
That same situation plays out differently in the books. On the page, Theon manages to speak to Ramsay Snow and convinces him to betray the other northern soldiers trying to take back Winterfell. Ramsay decides to betray the other northern soldiers, but then kidnaps Theon anyway when he opens the gates of Winterfell to him. The idea here is that the Boltons were traitors and that they used this opportunity to kill Stark supporters and trick Theon. However, it’s not established at this point that the Boltons had turned, and the whole betrayal thing just plays out like a cheap double-twist that just isn’t needed.
9. THE REVEAL OF ARSTAN WHITEBEARD
Generally speaking, the character of Barristan Selmy is portrayed better in the books than he is in the show. Granted, that’s an opinionated argument, but the nature of book storytelling allows Martin to explore the character in greater depth. Also, there is the tiny matter of Selmy still being alive in the book and involved in a major storyline to consider when weighing in on that argument. However, not everything that happens to Selmy in the books would have worked for the show. That’s especially true of the storyline involving his alter-ego, Arstan Whitebeard.
In the books, Daenerys meets an old man named Arstan Whitebeard who saves her from an assassination attempt. Eventually, it is revealed that Whitebeard is actually Barristan Selmy. In the show, Selmy reveals his identity right away. Even though it seems obvious to say this, it would have been absolutely painful to watch the showrunners try to hide Selmy’s true appearance behind a layer of makeup and a wig. The Whitebeard story could have only worked in the books.
8. THE HORN OF WINTER AND THE DRAGON HORN
For the most part, Game of Thrones is wonderfully devoid of convenient plot devices. While the occasional “Oh, come on!” moment does rear its ugly head, most Game of Thrones episodes don’t play out like your average Law and Order episode, where the loose hair found in the empty Sunny Delight bottle leads to the arrest of a serial killer. For the most part, that’s a quality the show shares with the novels, but the books do feature a few more eyebrow-raising moments spread across its hundreds of pages.
None of those moments are more confounding than the reveals of the Horn of Winter and the Horn of Dragons. The Horn of Winter is a horn that the wildlings possessed which could allegedly bring down The Wall with a single blow. Eventually, it’s suggested that the horn is a fake, but then there is still the matter of the Dragon Horn. The Dragon Horn is currently possessed by the Greyjoys, and can apparently be used to gain control of Daenerys’ dragons. It’s not entirely clear whether or not this horn is the real deal, but the mere presence of these magical horns is just absurd.
7. PATCHFACE…JUST PATCHFACE
Whenever an epic series of books are being adapted for film or television, it’s generally accepted that there are going to be some characters that don’t survive the transition. Fans of the Song of Ice and Fire books were especially aware that not every book character was going to make the show. There are just too many folks in the books for that to be possible. While some cut characters are rightfully missed (we’ll always love you, Strong Belwas) others just wouldn’t have really been worth the effort required to incorporate them.
Patchface is a great example of the latter. Patchface is a fool in service of Stannis Baratheon who lost much of his mind when he almost drowned at a young age. It’s implied that this event granted him some kind of foresight, but mostly, Patchface just sings confusing rhymes and dances about. It’s also suggested at one point that he is the real father of Shireen Baratheon. That unfortunate possibility aside, Patchface is basically the Tom Bombadil of the books.
6. TYRION’S GIANT CHAIN
For the most part, the infamous Battle of the Blackwater plays out roughly the same in the books and in the show. Stannis and his forces invade King’s Landing, they’re driven back by the castle’s defenders, and the Lannisters reign supreme. There are a few differences here and there, but the biggest change between the book’s version of the battle and the show’s version involves the giant chain that Tyrion had crafted prior to the battle as it is portrayed in A Clash of Kings. The chain was designed to prevent the Baratheon forces from retreating and, along with the wildfire explosions, is one of the most significant moments of the fight as it was originally written.
This is just one of those things that works better in the books than in the show. In the show, the sight of wildfire spreading across the bay remains one of the great visuals in television history. It achieved that status without the addition of the chain. The chain would have required the production team to craft an additional CGI effect that isn’t nearly as impressive as the wildfire, and it would have required the writers to fit in extra scenes explaining how the chain came to be. This is one change that no one can really complain about.
5. CERSEI AND TAENA MERRYWEATHER’S RELATIONSHIP
The sex scenes in the Song of Ice and Fire books are, by and large, one of the worst aspects of the novels. George R.R. Martin likes to talk about sex a lot, but when he does so, he has a tendency to use phrases like “manhood” and “pink mast” a bit too often. It’s almost like the most sexually awkward person you know is writing a dime store romance novel.
While the show has the natural benefit of being able to show these scenes rather than describe them, the series’ writers also made the wise decision of cutting out some of the superfluous sexual encounters from the book. While the relationship between Cersei and her “bedmate” Taena Merryweather isn’t entirely sexual, it is an unnecessary plot development that seems to have been typed with one hand and with little thought. It’s essentially fan fiction that contributes nothing but sex for the sake of sex, and there is enough of that in the show already.
4. THE FAKE DEATH OF MANCE RAYDER
Part of the reason why HBO’s Game of Thrones was able to achieve so much early success despite being a sword-and-sorcery fantasy title is because the show was wonderfully grounded in real world elements like politics and relationships. As the series developed, the writers carefully began to incorporate more and more magical elements into the plot. The situation is a little different in the books, where magic is far more commonplace and generally accepted as part of the world now.
The difference between the two mediums’ treatment of magic is why we’re glad the show didn’t feature the fake death of Mance Rayder. In the books, Rayder wasn’t actually burned alive. Instead, Melisandre made a wildling named Rattleshirt look just like Rayder and burned him instead. Similar to the shadow child situation, the problem here is that introducing this element to the show doesn’t really gel with the specific world the series is trying to create. Besides, it would have been really difficult to squeeze Rayder’s subsequent adventures into the framework of the show’s narrative.
3. JEYNE POOLE POSES AS ARYA STARK
You know, when you really look back on it, George R.R. Martin really loves to use imposters or people in disguise as a plot element. This particular technique isn’t nearly as prevalent in the show, but it happens quite often in the books. One of the most notable uses of this plot device which didn’t make the show involves a character named Jeyne Poole. While Poole makes a brief appearance in season one of Game of Thrones, she’s largely a throwaway character.
Her situation is quite different in the books. There, Poole is disguised as Arya Stark and married to Ramsay Bolton. Essentially, her storyline is the same one that Sansa was forced to endure in the show, but Poole had it even worse than Sansa did. She was used as little more than a plaything for Ramsay, and she had to endure some of the most disgusting moments featured in the book. Truth be told, that story just doesn’t work for the show. Audiences would have had no emotional investment in the Poole character, meaning that the torture porn-esque sequences involving Ramsay which already drew controversy would have seemed even more baseless.
2. PENNY THE DWARF’S PIG JOUSTING
Tyrion Lannister is hands-down one of the greatest characters in all of entertainment. Part of the reason why Tyrion is so great is because he is so magnetic, intelligent, and compelling as a character that you tend to forget he is a dwarf unless someone — usually him — points it out. He’s a brilliant example of how physical features are but a shell that covers who we truly are, and that you should assign value to those features at your own risk.
Penny is the exact opposite. During Tyrion’s far different book adventures, he encounters a dwarf slave named Penny, who he participates in mock jousts against as part of a comedy show. It feels like Penny’s purpose in the story is to serve as a kind of contrast to who Tyrion is. The problem is that she’s fairly poorly written and, as a result, often comes off like a whiny one-note creation whose poor attempts at comedy land flat.
1. AEGON TARGARYEN’S SUDDEN RETURN
The fundamental appeal of the Song of Ice and Fire stories is that you never know what’s going to happen next. Characters can die in an instant, situations are constantly changing, and plot developments can appear out of nowhere and completely change the game. At best, these shocking occurrences take the form of moments like the Red Wedding or the execution of Ned Stark, which have become cultural touchstones. At worst, we get things like the appearance of Aegon Targaryen.
Late into A Dance With Dragons, it’s revealed that the Targaryen child everyone thought was killed by The Mountain is actually alive and well — or so he claims (it’s pretty likely that he’s not who he believes himself to be). Even better (or worse), he’s a capable warrior and leader who is ready to claim the Iron Throne. The problem with this character is…well, everything about him. He’s generic, his appearance requires you to overlook a number of plot holes, and he really removes a lot of the intrigue from the Daenerys storyline. The fact that — for the time being, at least — he was removed from the show entirely seems to be a strong indicator that “Young Griff” is nothing more than another red herring for book readers, one that the TV adaptation was wise to sidestep.