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[Warning: Spoilers from the first five seasons of Game of Thrones, as well as the books on which the show is based, are ahead.]
It’s hard to imagine an adaptation more faithful to its source material than Game of Thrones — and even then, it’s not always in sync with A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels that provide the basis for the Emmy-winning show.
Take the Red Wedding, for instance. The horrific climax of season three’s “The Rains of Castemere” landed with all the impact of a thousand severed Ned Stark heads, just as Martin destroyed readers when the twist played out in his 2000 novel A Storm of Swords. It’s the finest example of Game of Thrones replicating the searing emotional pain found all throughout the books, but not without crucial differences from the text — the brutal murder of Robb Stark’s pregnant wife being the big one. Indeed, Talisa boasts a different name and background in the books, isn’t pregnant despite some tin-foil hat theories to the contrary, and is not dead, at least not yet.
There are countless other examples of major and minor differences, additions and omissions between show and book riddled throughout the series. Here are ten of the most memorable changes:
1. The White Walkers
The snow-born creatures north of the Wall are far more present on the show than in the books. At the end of season four’s “Oathkeeper,” viewers watched a horn-headed sorcerer turn one of Craster’s abandoned babies into a White Walker, brand new information currently unrevealed in Martin’s novels. The same sensation played out on a much larger scale in season five’s “Hardhome,” with the same White Walker leader making the full extent of his power known. It was a jaw-dropper for Jon Snow, as well as for readers who hadn’t experienced this level of supernatural horror yet in the books.
2. The House of the Undying
Daenerys Targaryen’s surreal trip through the cruel sorcery at the heart of Qarth ended with a surprise cameo by Jason Momoa, returning as a nightmarish version of Khal Drogo. It was a nostalgic throwback for show-only viewers, but many book fans were surprised and saddened to see it come at the expense of a major clue about Dany’s connection to Jon Snow.
3. Goodbye, Griff
Another omission in Dany’s story: Jon Connington and “Young Griff,” two travelers Tyrion Lannister meets on his way to Meereen in A Dance with Dragons. They are game-changing figures in the books, given Griff’s professed parentage, but were nowhere to be found in season five, leading most readers to assume the show will move forward without this potentially critical storyline.
4. When Tyrion Met Dany
Again, another intersection between two of the show’s biggest personalities. Finally, Dany encountered a major someone from the Westeros storyline when she met Tyrion in season five. It was a long-awaited meeting on the show, and one that book readers are still waiting to see play out in print … perhaps in The Winds of Winter, whenever those winds finally reach the shelves.
5. The Death of Barristan Selmy
The boldest knight in Westeros died a warrior’s death early on in season five, despite the fact that he still had much more to accomplish if the show followed Martin’s path. Ian McElhinney, the actor who played Barristan, was vocally surprised and disappointed by his early exit from the show.
6. The Death of the Baratheons
Beyond Barristan, season five killed off even more characters still alive at the end of Martin’s most recent novel — like the entire Baratheon family. Unlike the show, the book version of Stannis did not order the execution of his daughter Shireen (certainly not under such brutal circumstances), his wife did not subsequently commit suicide, and he himself did not meet the business end of Brienne of Tarth’s sword … but that’s not to say these things won’t happen in The Winds of Winter.
7. The Deaths at the Wall
Pyp and Grenn, killed by an arrow and a giant, respectively, remain alive and well in A Song of Ice and Fire. Likewise, Wildling leader Mance Rayder was not executed in the book series, living through that experience due to Melisandre’s magical trickery. Sadly, Jon Snow did meet a brutal betrayal at the hands of the Night’s Watch at the end of A Dance with Dragons, but nearly all show-only and book-reading viewers agree on his eventual return. (“It is known,” one might say.)
8. Sansa Stark in Winterfell
Sophie Turner’s tragic season five storyline was extra painful for book readers, because it’s so different from her circumstances in Martin’s series. There, she remains in the Eyrie, scheming with Littlefinger and learning the game of thrones, far away from her original home in the North, and even further away from an abusive marriage to Ramsay Bolton.
9. Jaime Goes to Dorne
Like Sansa, the one-handed Lannister knight experienced a very different fifth season than what book readers were expecting as he traveled to Oberyn Martell’s homeland of Dorne, even though he’s firmly entrenched in the Riverlands in books four and five. Early buzz suggests Jaime’s story will course-correct in season six.
10. Lady Stoneheart
Even viewers who haven’t read the books have likely heard about “Lady Stoneheart,” the alter-ego of Catelyn Stark after she returns from the dead to avenge what she lost during the Red Wedding. She has not appeared on the show, and at this point, maybe never will — good news for Jaime, perhaps, but bad news for the many fans itching to see Zombie Cat grace their screens.
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