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It has been a while since I've read the books and I recall the show being fairly accurate. What are the plot differences between the two of them?

Are they substantial, or are they particularly minor?

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There were several issues with this question: a) asking about one episode is the way to ruin. Are we going to ask about every single episode? I made the question about the entire series. b) The spoiler is completely unnecessary, even if this was about one episode: anyone who's going to be able to answer the question knows where the episode ends. Consequently the lame padding is unnecessary. c) If you have a question about what's on-topic, ask it on the meta-discussion site, not in your question. –  user366 Apr 19 '11 at 19:26
    
@Mark Trapp @Binary Worrier: First off. I, for one, will miss you. Secondly, let's let the community decide if this is a good or bad question. Finally, Part of the problem with this site is that most of the valid topics are older, so the chances that people have the content fresh in mind are slim. This topic is perfect fodder for questions because it is new. So I'd like to see more questions about it. –  DampeS8N Apr 21 '11 at 0:11
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Note: if anyone thinks this question is too localized, or that questions about ongoing shows are inappropriate, please read Joel's position. Then, if you still have issues with this question, raise them on Meta. –  Gilles Apr 21 '11 at 0:16
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It would be awesome if this question had one compiled answer that just sums up all the differences, rather than several answers adding just one bullet point. Still its an interesting comparison, especially thinking about why they changed things –  Ivo Flipse Jun 16 '11 at 13:24
    
Related meta discussion. –  Keen Dec 17 '12 at 16:15
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18 Answers

up vote 30 down vote accepted

It is, so far, a fairly good distillation of the plot, though there were a few differences that stood out to me. From memory (and from the small portion that has currently been aired):

  • Dialogue is, understandably, truncated drastically. I'm sure this was a necessity

  • In the previews it appears Cat objects to Eddard becoming the Hand of the King, whereas in the book she encourages it

  • In the HBO series, there was no red sap faces in the Weirwood trees, rather they appeared to be created from knot holes

  • In the HBO series Bran is 10 when Robert visits Winterfell, in the book he is 7

  • Daenerys wedding night consummation on the HBO series was alot less consensual than it eventually became in the book

  • Tyrion is less ugly and twisted in the HBO series, instead portrayed as a relatively attractive dwarf

  • Tyrion appears more debauched in HBO series, with an apparent obsession with whoring, well beyond what is described in the books.

  • Arya is not the least bit horsey looking in the HBO series

I yelled at the television (a habit my wife finds fairly annoying) a few more times than this through-out the first episode, but most of them were fairly petty grievances, brought on largely by the fact I had just finished reading Game Of Thrones so it was fairly fresh.

Most of the differences were, I am sure, to impart the most amount of plot information as possible in the limited time (and attention span of the average viewer) that the medium of a television series offers.

EDIT

I have spotted many more, subtle and blatant, in the ongoing series, but have decided not to update the list here, primarily as it just sounds bitchy.

Also, I believe, I have already made my point, that HBO have kept true to the spirit of the book, although they have culled a lot (and changed a little bit) to make it a worthy television adaptation. I am enjoying it, but not as much as I did the books, but I think that was to be expected.

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* In the prologue a different Black Brother survives. –  System Down Apr 21 '11 at 23:26
    
@System Down I just re-read the prologue and there are apparently no survivors ("apparently" because it ends with the fingers of one of the corpses-come-alive tightening on the throat of the remaining Black Brother). –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 23 '11 at 19:28
    
@Vitaly Check my comment to your other question on the matter. Apparently there was a survivor. It was indeed a different person than in the TV show, but still a survivor. –  System Down May 3 '11 at 18:56
    
@System Down Cool!! –  Vitaly Mijiritsky May 3 '11 at 19:50
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@Kirk Woll, it was really the first episode I think, where they were trying to set up characters, and they kind laid on the 'Tyrion likes whores' a bit to thick, afaik –  johnc Oct 12 '11 at 4:04
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The Targaryens have purple eyes in the books, but not in the tv series. Apparently, they tried purple contacts and such, but this looked too fake.

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+1 Because you made me laugh! –  Secko Mar 12 '12 at 14:53
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Couple more. I've only finished the first book though, so they may have been mentioned in subsequent books.

Joffery is supposed to be handsome but in the series he is not that great looking but rather crafty.

During the confrontation with Jaime Lannister, Ed Stark's leg was impaled by a guard in the series but in the book he was injured when a horse fell on him.

It was not shown in the series that Sansa was the one who betrayed the Starks by telling Queen Cersei that they were leaving King's Landing. I thought this was an important part.

In the series, Ed Stark saw Arya at the feet of a Baelor statue and told Yoren. There was no mention of it in the book.

Lord Renly is gay in the series. Did not get that impression in the book.

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If we're restricting to differences just between the series so far and book 1, agreed - although later on there are some subtle hints about Renly and his relationship with the Knight of Flowers. –  The Evil Greebo Jun 15 '11 at 10:05
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It's odd, if you accept the relationship between Renly and Loras whilst reading, it is blatantly obvious in the book, whilst never being overtly pointed out in it. –  johnc Jun 20 '11 at 23:03
    
I rewatched that episode, and while, I agree it probably is meant to look like he sees Arya, it could be read either way –  johnc Jun 27 '11 at 0:20
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I did get the very distinct impression in the series that Sansa betrayed her family, even if it wasn’t explicitly mentioned. –  Konrad Rudolph Aug 20 '11 at 11:52
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Renly being gay was strongly implied in the book, but not directly confirmed as has been the case in the HBO series. –  kekekela Aug 24 '11 at 18:43
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I don't think there are any really major departures. That said, there are a few nitpicky things that could make their lives more difficult in the future:

  1. Making Renly's sexuality explicit shortcuts any interest in the later storylines about the consummation of his marriage to Margaery. On the same subject, Renly's the one bit of casting that doesn't work for me, as you can't really believe this man is charismatic enough to lead 100,000 men to war against the rightful king. He's almost as whiney as Sansa.
  2. Making Varys and Illyrio the obvious participants in the conversation under the Red Keep removes any ambiguity and tension about Varys's motivations.
  3. This may just be me, but despite his crimes, I didn't feel Jaime stuck out that much as evil in the early books, compared to the TV series. I hope they've not gone too far for people to enjoy him in the later stories, where he's one of the most compelling characters.
  4. There's no way Tyrion can kill Shae with that tiny brooch they give the Hand of the King. ;)

But really, they've not hamstrung themselves in any way. There were always going to be changes, not just because of the length of the books, but because they're all written from within the characters' heads.

Now that the final episode has aired, only one more quibble arises: we never got any sort of Ned reminiscence or dream sequence in his cell recalling the events at the Tower of Joy. This means TV viewers haven't been inducted into one of the most interesting mysteries of the books.

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Your comment on Littlefinger is incorrect. In the book, the chapter actually ends with Littlefinger using Ned's own dagger, putting it against his throat and saying that he told Ned not to trust him. The TV show cannot be more accurate than that. –  Zottek Jun 16 '11 at 9:47
    
Ah, fair point. For some reason my brain decided not to believe that. :) –  Thom Jun 16 '11 at 18:02
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from memory he strangled Shae with a gold chain, not the Hand pin –  johnc Jun 27 '11 at 0:17
    
re #3 I thought Jaime was being painted pretty clearly as a villain in the early books as well, so this doesn't seem like something the HBO show missed out on. That said I initially thought the actor for the role was horribly miscast, but he ended up growing on me towards the end. –  kekekela Aug 24 '11 at 18:45
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I actually thought, particularly after watching Tywin shoot down his snotty attitude, that Jamie became significantly more sympathetic as the series went on. I seem to be the only person I know who thinks this, so maybe I'm just weird. –  Chris Lutz Mar 13 '12 at 0:03
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Rickon is hardly referenced in the show. I had to watch the episode twice before I was even sure he is there. He's not identified by name, he's just this kid standing next to the Starks when the king arrives. And he's rather grown up in comparison to the book. Even on the IMDB page he's not listed by name. At first I thought they cut him out of the show, but Jon does say "5 pups, one for each of the Stark children".

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and you see 2 older males carrying them, I am assuming Robb and Theon (holding Rickon's). Confused me for a bit –  johnc Apr 28 '11 at 4:52
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He is referenced explicitly in the second episode though. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 28 '11 at 6:32
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Spoilers if you have not read the books

Several semi-important characters are conspicuously absent from the show making some scenes rather awkward later on in the series (as dialogue is swapped to other characters.) Obviously this is difficult for the show since the books have far too many characters but there are 3 which I noticed who are set up in the first book and play significant roles throughout the next 4 books.

Brynden Tully, Catelyn's uncle is probably Robb's most important advisor, and his absence means that Robb seems to be surrounded by a very undistinguished bunch, Great Jon is a bit of an oaf, Theon is a sleaze etc

Tyrion asks for his squire, to which Bronn replies he doesn't have one. This is a bit of a wink at those who have read the books because Podrick Payne is Tyrion's squire and plays a minor but continuing role throughout the next 3 books, and when last we saw him was left in a cliff hanger alongside the Maid of Tarth. I wonder if Martin knows he is unimportant later on already or if the show writers figure they could just write him in later if required.

Roose Bolton is probably the most important character to be missing from a thematic point of view because he keeps the North Men from being the 'good guys,' and shows the readers that in war every side has their heroes and villains (or at least villains.) Not only is Bolton gone, but so too are the 10,000 men he is supposed to be commanding. Rather than winning an indecisive victory against half of Robb's force left under Bolton's command, and then having to withdraw to gather his strength at Harrenhal, Tywin crushes 2000 men left to die by Robb. This really doesn't make much sense, since first of all Robb has fewer men than the lannisters to begin with, and why send 2000 to whole sale slaughter anyway. More to the point it would be pretty reckless of Robb to leave the Twins and the Neck completely open to attack by Tywin (since he wouldn't know of Stannis/Renlys plans.)

Geography is not really focused on in the show though so some license is reasonable. However leaving Bolton will affect the Brave Companions, Arya, Jamie, Brienne, and without Bolton introduced the events in the north involving his bastard son will also be a bit out of left field.

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I assume you know by now (2012) that Roose Bolton has appeared in season 2, has already expressed his preference for flaying men, and has said "his bastard" will retake Winterfell... They couldn't have cut House Bolton anyway, since they are a major storyline in the later books! –  Andres F. May 25 '12 at 23:57
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A notable difference is that all the child characters are significantly older than in the books, some (danny,older stark boys) significantly so.

I suspect this is an understandable combination of it being easier to work with and cast older actors, some of the things the characters do just not seeming plausible on screen with young characters versus sounding plausible in writTen form, and the opportunities for 'sexing up' afforded by older characters (e.g. there certainly would be a lot less sex scenes for danaeris if she were cast as the thirteen she is at start of the books, rather than the significantly eighteen plus she looks on the show!)

however, this really doesn't seem to impact on the plot at all. overall it seems to be a surprisingly good, faithful adaptation.

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The actions of the young characters in the book are out of whack with their age. Bran at 7 as the maturity of a 25 year old, Robb is a master stratege at 15, Rickon has a teenager's personality at 4. I suspect, this is easier in a book, where you don't have a constant dissonance between the look of a character and their personality. –  JDelage Jun 11 '11 at 13:42
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A year in this universe may not be the same as a year in ours. I always treated the years in the books as relative, rather than exactly equivalent to what we think of as a year. –  Greg Whitfield Nov 14 '11 at 17:30
    
All of the characters are older, not just the children. In the books Ned and Catelyn are only 35, but they look much older in the series. Tywin is 58 and Walder Frey is 92, meaning the characters of the books span at least 4 generations. –  curiousdannii Apr 2 at 4:04
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In the series Littlefinger tells Sansa about how the Hound's brother burned his face, but in the book the Hound tells her himself. I find the Hound to be one of the most interesting characters and I don't know why they made this change.

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Another small difference that the series added is the whore Ros, whom we see in scenes with Theon Greyjoy, Lord Littlefinger, and Maester Pycelle. She really gets around.

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I read somewhere (IMDB I think) that she was the first 'HBO character', not actually featured in the book. By first, I presume there will be more HBO characters in the future –  johnc Jul 12 '11 at 3:26
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Khal drogo's fight with Mago did not happen in the book at all. The wound that eventually killed him was from an arrow he caught in the chest while they were raiding that village. That fight was pretty bad ass though, when he took out Mago's tongue.

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It's been a while since I read the books but I remember this part for some reason: After Arya's direwolf bites Joffery, Sansa is pleading with the Queen and Ned not to harm her direwolf, Lady. In the book, Sansa's pleading suddenly reminds Ned of watching his sister, Lyanna, die.

In the book, Ned seems haunted by the death of his sister and the promise she begged him to keep. Not so much in the show. This is not a complaint in any way! I'm loving the show!

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Not that we know, but depending on what theories you follow (e.g. Jon Snow is Lyanna and Rhaegar's son), that promise could end up being incredibly important to the stories, so it's sad none of the Tower of Joy stuff was covered. –  Thom Jun 20 '11 at 15:16
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Dont get me wrong, I do like the show. But here are some differences that stuck out to me:

Theon was not given a perspective at all in the first book, but he speaks and has much more of a role in the tv series, spoiling some of the twists later given in the second book. Potential reader beware.

Tyrion is more of a letch in the tv series, but in the books his penchant for women seemed more restrained- he hasnt touched a woman in at least a year when he finally meets Shae, for example.

In fact, while the books arent prudish at all, it seems like some of the nudity in the show is just there for the sake of nudity and seems more distracting and cheesy. As a result, for me anyway, its harder to take some of the scenes seriously.

Sansa seems pissy and bored in the tv show, where she was childishly naive and star struck in the book.

Joffery on the other hand seems more thoughtful than the book portrayed him. In the show he has almost a philosophy behind how he thinks authority should rule, whereas in the book he seems like a spoiled brat with unlimited power, and in another instance, in the series Joffery seems struck by Sansa at one point, where in the book he always seemed like a sullen kid who's too self centered to be interested in Sansa at all romantically.

The wolves in the book are much bigger than on tv, but thank goodness they didnt waste money trying to make some hokey CGI wolves, that would have been stupid, imo.

As others pointed out, Drogo is actually somewhat emotionally tender and with Daenerys and shows her some dignity when consumating their marriage in the book.

And, in the book, Sandor Clegane confides in Sansa himself about what happened to him. The contrast bewteen his views of knighthood and Sansa's fairy tale outlook was pretty nifty, I was sad to see it left out.

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Joffrey cuts out Marillion's tongue in the show. In the 3rd book he is in the Eyrie singing for Lady Lysa and also part of a very important scene involving Littlefinger and Sansa. How can they address this issue in the series?

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I think any similar bard would do. Marillion is a truly minor character in the books; it's not like his role cannot be fulfilled by another character. –  Andres F. May 26 '12 at 0:01
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Each chapter of the book is a limited point of a view of a particular character. In the first book, The Game of Thrones, only Ned, Catelyn, Jon, Tyrion, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Tyrion and Daenerys have chapters on them. This means that much of the scenes in which these characters didn't appear wasn't in the book. For example, the book doesn't have the sex scene between Lord Renly Baratheon and the Knight of Flowers, although Renly's homosexuality was hinted throughout.

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I thought the books were fantastic but then I watched the HBO series and thought the sex scenes were more like soft porn and were much more graphic than the books. In the book the sex seemed part of a narrative. In the series it seems as though it was focused on out of proportion to other scenes just so more sex could be aired or made up (eg Danerys' lesbian scene with her slave which didn't happen in the book). A shame really. Everyone in our house started to get bored. Cut the gratuitous sex and put more dialogue in. Too many scenes were nothing like the book and some of the scenes that were changed didn't add anything to the narrative eg when Ned cuts Lady's throat and Bran suddenly wakes from his coma - cheesy.

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Well, Doreah was the Lysene handmaiden specifically chosen and present to teach her the 'womanly arts of love' –  Josh Mar 26 '12 at 15:17
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You need to re-read the books. Daenerys quite explicitly had her maidservant stimulate her sexually on more than one occasion. –  TheMathemagician Apr 5 '13 at 9:11
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In the book Joff is seen as handsome I think. In the show he looks like the child of incest he is. Well, just a little different looking. Not ugly.

On another note I think Bolton will be seen in the next season. I also think Tyrion did not have Podrick as a squire until he became the King's Hand in King's Landing. I could be mistaken.

Most of the other differences have been pointed out but obviously in the show you don't have insight of what the character is thinking. Well as least not as clearly as you do in the book but that is just the nature of the mediums.

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To give a very short answer to the question -

The books are a masterpiece. The Series is just another TV show.

Without all the background information, and the various point of views that appear in the book, the TV series is nothing more than an soap opera staged in a Fantasy environment. I really have a hard time to believe J.R.R Martin assisted in downgrading his own masterpiece to just another popular product for the masses.

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That’s rather subjective. I think the TV show is a masterpiece, and while I enjoyed the books, they have their own share of (serious) flaws, starting with a major flaw in the writing style: Martin really doesn’t know how to write concisely. This really bloats the books needlessly, and quite substantially. –  Konrad Rudolph Aug 20 '11 at 11:57
    
Martin also doesn't know how to keep his characterizations straight, and seems clinically incapable of finishing a plot line in the book where it started. This means that his first book doesn't finish any plot lines. None. Zero. Zilch. If that's not evidence of "I'm in this for the money folks, thanks for being such suckers", I don't know what is. –  Martha Nov 21 '11 at 14:59
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@Martha Wow, that's way too harsh! It's true GRRM has a tendency to drag his subplots, and it's disappointing that some of them end up being red herrings, but really... just for the money? Why can't he just have some writing flaws? "A Song..." is a really complex series of books, it must be difficult to keep everything together. –  Andres F. May 26 '12 at 0:05
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The TV show featured a lot more explicit sex than the book. HBO seemed trying to make a really good book (I just finished it) into soft porn. Otherwise it was fairly close to the book. I felt no need to watch the rest of the series.

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-1 It's a lot more "explicit" mostly just because seeing sex sticks out a lot more than reading about it. –  Ilari Kajaste Mar 12 '12 at 17:00
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