Ever since Game of Thrones premiered on HBO, people have been tracking the changes between the television series and the beloved fantasy novels, cataloguing every difference and plot shift. So, as season two spread out and brought us the amazing events occuring at Harranhall, King’s Landing, the Wall, and Qarth, we’ve had plenty of chances to compare the show with George R.R. Martin’s written saga. Some changes worked better than others this season and now that the finale, “Valar Morghulis,” has come and gone, we can look back at the major differences in some of our favorite scenes and characters, presented here in no particular order.
(This comparison is very spoiler-heavy in terms of events in the books and potential reveals for season three plot. If you’ve read the series or don’t care, read on!)
1. Luring Daenerys Into the Home of the Undying
This is one of the more significant shifts in plot from Martin’s writing in A Clash of Kings. In the books, Daenerys willingly goes to the House of the Undying to gain insight into her future. In no way are her dragons kidnapped—she willingly faces trial by the Qartheen sorcerers. Once there, her visions are prophetic, vague and disturbing, offering her insights into the past of the Targaryen dynasty and her future. The only similarities here lie in Daenerys receiving a prophetic vision while in the tower of the Undying and that, once attacked, her dragon Drogon sets the sorcerers and their entire tower on fire. However, the show’s changes to the plot gave the end of season two a great deal more immediacy, as Daenerys had to ride to the rescue to save her children, rather than choose to endanger herself just for the sake of prophecy. The struggle to pull herself away from the tempting visions of her dead husband and child to protect the only children she believes she’ll know in life—her dragons – makes her story vastly more compelling. When the dragons rain fire on the sorcerer at her command, it also makes the payoff all the more satisfying.
2. The Riot of King’s Landing and the Near Rape of Sansa
Set earlier in the season, the riot in the capitol and the near rape of Sansa Stark represented a pivotal shift which showed the audience just how much everyone just really hates King ‘Want to Slap Him Always’ Joffrey. And while the riot on the show has plenty of similarities with the source material, it comes off in the text as Oh So Much Worse than the version captured on television. Martin goes into detail about how violent the fighting is and how terrible it is when the High Septon is pulled apart by the starving people—but it’s the description of the rape of a young noblewoman named Lollys Stokeworth that is particularly horrific. Martin doesn’t go into too much detail initially, but when she is found later it’s pretty clear how awful things were and the character later bears a child of her multiple rapes. With no Lollys in the picture, the series instead transfers that event to Sansa Stark, but has her rescued by the Hound at the last minute. I felt that this helped bring home the horror of the riot by making it a character we care about. This transfer of events also cements the Hound and Sansa’s relationship, which always has a touching, and yet uncomfortable, feeling in the books. After all, when the Hound abandons Joffrey later, in the books he kisses Sansa before leaving. That whole kissing thing was edited out for television but the connection between the two is still there as he plays wannabe hero to his lady fair.
3. Speaking of Detestable—Let’s Hate Joffrey Even More
In the books, Joffrey is a horrible human being. He’s an arrogant little brat, and one with a mean streak a million miles wide. But the show goes so far as to make Joffrey probably the Worst Person Ever with their inclusion of the most skin-crawling abuse scene anywhere. Your uncle offers you some girls to get frisky with (as a gift intended to get the edge off your unbearable cruelty)? Turn it into a chance to inflict that unbearable cruelty on these girls in the most sexually depraved ways possible. Why not? You’re the king! The writers have made the character so unlikable that he could dive into a fire pit to rescue a bunch of baby direwolves and we still would want to hit him as much as his mother does. You know that he’s a horrible human being when even Cersei Lannister is looking on in disgust. I can’t decide if this portrayal has gone way over the top for me or not, however I feel it was probably done so that any retribution that falls on Joffrey’s head (and that I’m not going to spoil) will not bother folks even though he’s, essentially, a kid.
4. Tywin Lannister and Arya Stark at Harrenhal
Some of the best scenes anywhere on the show this past season have come from Arya Stark in Harrenhal. Whether she’s trying to go unnoticed as Tywin Lannister’s cup bearer (‘What? You’re going to slaughter my brother? Oh no, pass the wine? Sure!’) or planning covert murders with Jaqen H’ghar, Arya struggles to decide who she is among all the death and dismemberment at the cursed castle. This whole storyline has been changed from the novels, where Arya is indeed a servant at Harrenhal, but she almost never comes into contact with Lord Tywin (she is instead cupbearer to Roose Bolton). Still, I think it’s safe to say that some of the most tense and fantastically acted scenes from this season featured Arya and Tywin and their careful verbal sparring matches. Even more Arya fun involves her murder plots with Jaqen H’ghar, but in the book, it’s Arya that kills the last guard on her way out of Harrenhal as a last act of transformation from little girl into cold-blooded survivor. The series instead gives all the kills to our favorite Faceless Man and therefore Arya’s story feels a little anti-climactic after a season of tension. Sure, we get to see his awesome face-change (so worth every second of the wait!) but the lack of murder here takes something away from Arya’s storyline and feels a little too much like a rescue for me.
5. A New Love Interest—Rob and His Volantene Love
One of the least understandable storylines in all of A Storm of Swords, the third GoT novel, has got to be Robb Stark and his marriage to Jeyne Westerling. One second, he’s betrothed to whichever Frey is going to get tossed his way, and the next he comes back with a girl named Jeyne announcing they’ve been married. Now in the books, Robb gets injured in battle and gets nursed back to health and ‘comforted’ by Jeyne, which is book code for “he slept with her in a moment of emotional pain over his brothers’ deaths.” Still, his betrayal of the Frey wedding contract is an issue in the book, and their story is less a love story than that of a noble man trying to protect a girl’s honor after they’ve tumbled in the sheets. The Season Two storyline involving Talisa of Volantis is a complete departure from the books, giving Robb a legitimate love story to explain his betrayal of the Frey marriage. Considering the nightmare that the Freys bring down on the Starks over Robb’s choice in brides, this choice to change Jeyne for Talisa is a very satisfying one. Talisa is a fully fleshed out woman and an equal for Robb, and provides the audience with a moment of joy for the new couple before whatever next season has in store for them.
6. Most Awesome Inspiration Speech Ever: Theon Greyjoy
Oh, how did Theon get so screwed? This season of Game of Thrones worked very hard to show everyone just how messed up Theon Greyjoy really is and how he descends into bad decision making and ultimately, homicide. It’s that fully fleshed-out fall from grace that completely rewrites how Theon loses Winterfell in the books to great effect. While lots of the scenes in his story arch are straight out of the book (yup, the whole feeling up his sister’s in the source material, but who was really surprised, there?), it is the epic speech given by Theon in the last episode that really sums up the poor guy’s fate. No matter how much he channels Aragorn and Leonidas and every other big heroic leader ever, he’s still going to get lumped on the head from behind, bagged like a Christmas goose, and handed over to some horrible fate. This is completely different than the more honorable siege story in the books, where Maester Luwin manages to convince Theon to take the black before the castle is overwhelmed and Theon is taken captive by Ramsay Bolton. In the HBO version, we are able to see the tragic and almost pathetic fall of Theon Greyjoy, who sacrifices the last of his humanity for victory that is all in vain.
7. Missing In Action- Jojen and Meera Reed + A Couple of Freys
Now, with every adaptation there’s going to be some streamlining. With a series as huge as Game of Thrones, of course some folks are going to get left behind on the cutting room floor. In Season Two, two sets of characters got cut out of the story in Winterfell to help move the plot along and (probably) to focus more on Theon Greyjoy’s evolution. The characters of the Frey boys sent as part of the wedding pledge for Rob Stark really made not much sense at all in the overall plot of the season, so it’s understood why they were cut. But it was the characters of Jojen and Meera Reed—two children of the crannogmen who become companions to Bran on his quest—that I missed the most this season. Their insight into Bran’s developing abilities to see in his dreams were seemingly transferred to Osha and her wildling knowledge, but the interaction between Bran and the Reeds remains vital for the continuation of his story.
Fear not, however! Recent announcements have stated that both children will show up in season three, so it’s more of a case of shifting things around then forgetting about them altogether. How they’ll get into Bran’s story as he’s headed north with his little band, we’ll have to wait to find out…
8. Most Awesome in General: Osha
Osha the Wildling, while pretty badass in the books in general, ascends to new levels in the television series. She begins in the first season as a prisoner, given mercy and set to work in the kitchens. By the second season, she has evolved into a caring protector watching over young Bran and Rickon, and is instrumental in their escape from Theon Greyjoy’s hands. The last we see of Osha, Hodor and the boys, they’re heading north into the cold with their wolves, yet this is far different from what happens in the books. Since a lot of Osha’s wildling wisdom is instead imparted by Meera or Jojen Reed in the source text, Osha instead does not go north with Bran but instead takes Rickon and Shaggydog away while Bran heads further north with Hodor and the Reeds. It remains to be seen whether or not Osha will continue to be Bran’s protector in the story, since the Reeds are going to be introduced, yet since they’ve worked so hard to build her up as a character I don’t think they’ll be so quick to send her off with the youngest Stark.
9. Playing the Game—Margaery Tyrell
Kudos for season two for taking a demure and quiet Margaery Tyrell and turning her into a pragmatic, manipultive powerhouse in Natalie Dormer’s Queen Margaery. Fresh off of her Anne Boleyn best, Dormer’s Margaery is a fiercely practical competitor for the throne who knows exactly what she wants—she wants to be queen. If that means marrying Renly Baratheon and sharing him with her brother or maneuvering her way into Joffrey’s bed by ousting Sansa Stark into the hands of creepy Littlefinger, then whatever—it’s all a means to the Iron Throne for her and House Tyrell and she’s going to do it. While House Tyrell in the books is a solid, subtle, scheming force with designes on the throne, this Margaery inspires no question about being able to give Cersei a run for her money in the scheming department. Not to mention that the show does a great job of showing Margaery as a fashion-forward queen who is all about that plunging neckline.
10. Jon Snow and Ygritte—Bedding Down on the First Date
Jon Snow’s story is way off in the distance at points during this season, an important yet oft overlooked piece of the world that gives way to snow, snow and more snow. Oh yes, and did I mention a redhead popped up? Ygritte in the book is just as awesome as her television counterpart, challenging Jon’s views on being a crow—and his views on not wanting to sleep with women. But in the books, there is one subtle yet very important change in the action. In the text, it is very clear that Jon Snow makes the choice to let Ygritte escape because he cannot kill her. In the series, however, Ygritte makes a run for it and the two become separated from the Halfhand and the other Rangers, which leads to their run-in with the Wildlings later. While this isn’t the most dramatic change, it is a big difference between the book’s Jon Snow who decisively decides to not kill a woman prisoner and the Jon Snow who accidentally wanders off and gets lost while trying to bring Ygritte back. Still, the change gave the audience the chance at that super awkward sleeping scene between Jon and Ygritte, which was adorable and playful.
Bonus Change: Brienne and Jaime, Best Buddy Adventure Ever
It’s like the best 80’s adventure that never was. The tough-as-nails lady cop is out to take her prisoner, the dashing and complex murderer, across a country that wants to kill them both, all in the name of justice and a little bit of understanding. The exchanges between Brienne and Jaime in the books are some of my particular favorites and moving them up into season two allows the show to keep both characters relevant and involved. In the books they both seem to take a powder for so long when we switch between other people’s perspectives in A Storm of Swords, but this pacing gives us the opportunity to watch them cement their strange relationship early on, before whatever comes in season three. I can’t wait to see what further gold these two amazing actors will bring us come the next season.
Some interesting changes that also bear mentioning: the inclusion of Stannis absolutely sleeping with Melissandre (something only hinted at in the books), Shae as Sansa’s handmaiden (in the books, Shae works for Lollys Stokeworth), the exclusion of the Damphair and his perspective from the Greyjoy story, and the changes done to Yara/Asha Greyjoy (her name, her appearance, etc.).
With all the changes made and information coming out over time about what is going to come next season, what are you most looking forward to?
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com