Natalie Dormer, Jack Gleeson, Peter Dinklage in ‘Game of Thrones/Photo © Macall B. Polay/HBO
From the very first episode, HBO's "Game of Thrones" has had to walk the difficult tightrope between being as faithful as possible to its source material, George R. R. Martin's acclaimed fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, and creating a worthwhile series for TV audiences that could stand on its own. That, like pretty much every cross-media adaptation, means making changes to allow the story to fit into the new format. In the first three seasons, the "Game of Thrones" writers have done everything from trimming superfluous subplots to merging various minor characters into amalgamations, while keeping the major characters in a matching progression of plot points to the books. But as the series has progressed, its writers have taken more and more liberties from the A Song of Ice and Fire story. "Game of Thrones" season four, which just wrapped up Sunday night and is based on the second half of the novel A Storm of Swords, featured bigger divergences from the books than any other season. Below we take a look at the biggest differences, why they mattered, and whether or not they worked.
Warning: If you're not caught up on the latest season, read on at your own peril. Spoilers abound below!
Arya's First Kill for Revenge
Arya Stark's transformation from mischievous tomboy to hardened, vengeful killer has made her a fan favorite for both show watchers and book readers. For the most part, the show has pretty much matched Arya's evolution in the books, and this season featured what is probably the biggest turning point for the character - her first kill for revenge (her character's driving motivation). Ultimately, it's just a different person than in the books.
In the season's first episode, "Two Swords," Arya and her traveling companion/captor Sandor Clegane, known to many simply as "the Hound," get into a skirmish with some soldiers in a tavern, one of whom - the soldier Polliver - was part of the group that captured her in season two and killed her injured friend, Lommy. Arya repeats the words Polliver said just before he killed Lommy, which ensures he recognizes her. In the book, the victim is a torturer from her time at Harrenhal nicknamed "the Tickler" and Ayra repeats the lists of questions he asked his victims. "The Tickler" was also on Arya's death list, which she recites every night before going to sleep. So while changing the target of her rage may have worked as a better scene in the show, the larger gravitas of being Arya's first kill from her list is lost.
Jamie's Rape of Cersei
Without a doubt, the most blogged and tweeted about scene this season (which isn't necessarily a good thing) was the forced sex scene between Cersei Lannister and her brother/lover, Jaime, in the church with their son Joffrey's body lying next to them. A similar scene exists in A Storm of Swords, and while it does include some protests by Cersei to Jaime's overtures, it is a consensual encounter (or at least appears to be from Jamie's perspective) - which is not how it goes on the show.
The ensuing internet firestorm got so intense that Martin himself jumped into the comments section on his personal blog, explaining: "The setting is the same, but neither character is in the same place as in the books ... If the show had retained some of Cersei's dialogue from the books, it might have left a somewhat different impression - but that dialogue was very much shaped by the circumstances of the books, delivered by a woman who is seeing her lover again for the first time after a long while apart during which she feared he was dead. I am not sure it would have worked with the new timeline."
The change is especially puzzling because, just like the books, the show has been slowly redeeming Jaime Lannister to the audience as the overall story progresses. Obviously, the decision by the show's writers to go this route seriously hampers that redemption.
Who Killed King Joffrey Revealed
If you just read the A Song of Ice and Fire books, you know that Joffrey dies as the result of poison on his wedding day (the so-called "Purple Wedding"), but who, exactly, was responsible is still a mystery. If you watch the TV show, you know exactly who did it. Maybe. There are clues about the identity of the person responsible in the books, although it's never overtly revealed. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Martin himself admitted, "The conclusion that the careful reader draws is that Joffrey was killed by the Queen of Thorns [Olenna Tyrell], using poison from Sansa's hairnet, so that if anyone did think it was poison, then Sansa would be blamed for it." In the show, the hairnet is changed to a necklace and viewers are treated to an explanatory speech by Petyr Baelish (aka "Littlefinger") a couple episodes later that essentially says the same thing. It's an obvious move to satisfy the demanding need of TV viewers - an audience whose attention span is likely shorter than that of book readers - for some sort of answer/resolution, but it could lead to bigger problems when adapting the still unwritten books into the show. As Martin explained in the same interview, "I make no promises, because I have two more books to write, and I may have more surprises to reveal." Of course, we should remember that it is Littefinger who's doing the revealing and, as he warned Ned Stark back in season one, he shouldn't be trusted.
The White Walker "King"
The biggest addition by the show's writers that caught the attention of that special breed of fan who's read the books and watches the show, is also one that comes out of nowhere. At the end of the fourth episode, "Oathbreaker," the last son of Craster, the wildling ally of the Night's Watch, is given as a sacrifice to the White Walkers, the mysterious mythical race that can raise the dead to do their bidding and have been threatening the realm of Westeros since the first season (in the books they're just referred to as "the others"). The baby is eventually given to a White Walker with protrusions on its head in the shape of a crown, who then (presumably) transforms the infant into a White Walker. Nowhere in the books published to date does a scene or a character like this exist. In fact, the character's name in HBO GO's information titles, "Night's King" ended up sparking a tidal wave of online speculation due to its similarity to a minor character in the massive Ice and Fire mythology. Whether or not any of the conjecture will turn out to be true waits to be seen - most likely with the release of the remaining books in the series.
The Battle of Craster's Keep
At the end of season three, and halfway through A Storm of Swords, the surviving Night's Watch members from the Battle of the Fist of the First Men take refuge at the homestead of the wildling Craster. The majority of the men go the way of mutiny and kill Lord Commander Mormont and Craster, taking control of Craster's Keep and the late residents' many wives/daughter. In the books, that's the last of Craster's Keep; but not in the show. Midway through this season, Jon Snow leads a band of Night's Watch Brothers to kill the mutineers before they reveal the Watch's weaknesses to Mance Rayder, the king beyond the wall, and his approaching wildling army. At the same time, his younger brother Bran and his band, who are heading north on a mission of their own, are captured by the former Brothers. It all leads to a rousing swashbuckling confrontation, one of the series' more memorable battle sequences. And it was all probably done to add some excitement where the book's narrative slips into a relatively quiet lull.
Theon Greyjoy's Transformation to Reek
Captured by Ramsay Snow (the bastard son of Roose Bolton) at the end of A Clash of Kings, the former Stark ward and betrayer of Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy, is absent except for a few mentions in A Storm of Swords. In fact, the character doesn't even appear again until the most recent book in the series, 2011's A Dance with Dragons, and by then he's already been broken by Ramsey's mental and physical torture and is going by the name "Reek." But in the show, starting in season three and including an episode written by Martin himself, we see Theon's torture, and in this season, his full transformation into Ramsay's slave/pet. The conversion culminates in the failed rescue attempt by Theon's sister Asha in episode six, "The Laws of Gods and Men," in which Theon fully rejects his old identity and asserts himself as Reek. It's a powerfully moving story arc that evokes pity for what was once one of the show's most despised characters. It's also never depicted in the books.
Brienne Fighting the Hound
Probably the most thrilling part the season four finale was the epic showdown between Brienne of Tarth and Sandor "The Hound" Clegane. When you think about it, it's a perfectly poetic match between two characters who are mirror opposites of one another: Brienne, a woman who can never be a knight but fights for all that's honorable, versus the Hound, a man who meets all the requirements for knighthood but is a selfish, murdering psychopath. And yet, in the books the two characters never even meet.
Think we missed an important difference in this most recent season of "Game of Thrones" from the books? Tell us below.