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In Game of Thrones, season 1, episode 1, the three rangers go beyond the wall. It's the first time we ever see the white walkers, when they slaughter a ranger expedition. In the TV show, the young ranger, Will, is allowed to flee south, where he is captured as a deserter and executed by Lord Eddard Stark (remember him?). However, in the books, the older ranger, Gared, who had been back with the horses is the one who escapes death only to be executed by Lord Stark a few pages later.

It seems like such a trivial detail to change, but that is why it disturbed me so much. Why change it at all if it made so little difference?

I'm sure the reality is something simple like a contract change or difficulty with air travel, but I'm wondering if anyone knows the real reason.

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    An old ranger all of a sudden cacking his pants and talking gibberish is more suspicious than a new one and so more likely to be taken seriously and investigated. Also the old one would surely be more likely to go back to the Nights watch and tell them what they saw. Personally it makes more sense to me for the young guy to flee and go on the run than the old experienced one. – TheLethalCarrot Aug 14 '17 at 10:15
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    “It seems like such a trivial detail to change, but that is why it disturbed me so much.” If you’re going to check out adaptations, you may find it useful to get acclimatised to things changing. – Paul D. Waite Aug 14 '17 at 20:10
  • Maybe they did that deliberately. ;) To show book readers right at the start of the show that yes, just because you've read the books doesn't mean you know who'll live or die, or in this case when and how they die. – Llewellyn Aug 16 '17 at 18:22
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To get the actual answer you would have to ask the show writers, however, we can speculate on the reasons:

  • They wanted to make it their own and to show that the story won't tie in exactly with the books.
  • As @Llewellyn comments on the OP:

    Maybe they did that deliberately. ;) To show book readers right at the start of the show that yes, just because you've read the books doesn't mean you know who'll live or die, or in this case when and how they die.

In my opinion the change actually makes more sense. Consider the two characters:

  1. Gared: Older and more experienced, a leader, been with the Nights Watch for a long time.
  2. Will: Younger, not been at the wall for too long. An experienced poacher also used to working alone.

Out of the character descriptions it would make sense that the fleeing one would:

  1. Go back to Castle Black to warn his brothers.
  2. Flee to look after himself.

And when captured, in both cases, the story isn't really believed, however:

  1. Gared telling his story after losing his mind is more likely to be taken seriously due to his experience. Ned essentially dismissing it seems odd.
  2. Will doing the same thing is likely to be dismissed as him wanting out of the Nights Watch and not to be taken too seriously.

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