Game of Thrones Divergence

Game of Thrones, the TV series, has always included some divergence from its source material, the A Song of Ice and Fire book series by George R.R. Martin.

Image provided by imdb/HBO

In early seasons of Game of Thrones that mostly amounted to omitting characters from the novels from an already character-packed TV production or eliding certain character journeys, given the different pacing needs of television and books. Certain events got shuffled a bit and certain things that were merely hinted at in the novels got a more explicit airing on TV. But overall, the TV action followed the books fairly closely.

As seasons passed, though, Game of Thrones began to diverge more from Martin’s novels. To some extent that was unavoidable. Later entries in the A Song of Ice and Fire series introduced lots of new characters and locales. Given the more concentrated narrative approach of the television production, there wasn’t room for a lot of those additions. The stories of some key characters may have worked for the books, but were a poorer fit for a visual medium like TV.

In the fifth season of Game of Thrones, the story has diverged more from the books than ever before. Without the space that the novel format provides Martin for an expansive, more deliberately paced saga, the TV writers have had to go their own way. And the show is mostly better for it.

Let’s examine a few key Game of Thrones Season 5 divergences. Spoilers ahead.

Tyrion and Danaerys have a chat: Image provided by imdb/HBO

Two of the most popular characters in both the TV and book versions of the story, Danaerys and Tyrion had lengthy journeys in A Dance with Dragons. Both characters had a lot of experiences that felt repetitive. A lot of “two steps forward, one step back.” Readers anticipated a meeting between the two key figures, but the closest they got before the book’s end was Tyrion’s brief comic relief appearance in the fighting pits with Dany in the audience.

Game of Thrones did some really smart editing of Martin’s longer-simmering plot in adapting it to TV. Many secondary characters were cut out. The political turmoil surrounding Dany was acknowledged in some scenes, but didn’t overwhelm the proceedings. And Tyrion took a much more direct route to Dany’s kingdom. That paid off for fans in Tyrion and Danaerys coming face-to-face for some very satisfying interactions that help point the way to the show’s end game.

Game of Thrones also took a couple of other detours in this corner of its world. The most shocking was the death (via street battle) of Dany’s key adviser Ser Barristan Selmy (still very much alive in the books). It also included a detour for Tyrion through the fabled lost city of Valyria. These alterations added unpredictability that jolted jaded book fans and added some interesting dimension to the Game of Thrones world.

And we can all rejoice that the words “Where do whores go?” went missing from page to screen.

Marrying Sansa is dangerous: Image provided by imdb/HBO

In the books, Sansa mostly hid out in the Eyrie, mollifying her bratty young cousin while Littlefinger arranged a new marriage for her. The Winterfell action found Ramsay Bolton marrying a minor character who pretended to be Sansa’s sister Arya.

Game of Thrones took a big risk in merging those plots and sending Sansa home to marry Ramsay. It gave Sansa a more active story, as she chose to go through with the marriage as part of a long-range revenge scheme against the Boltons. It also gave rise to one of the most controversial scenes in five seasons (Sansa’s wedding night rape). It was a major departure, but it raised the stakes of the Winterfell action and put Sansa in a position to take charge of her destiny. It also gave a new purpose, and set up a juicy dilemma, to Lady Brienne, Sansa’s self-appointed protector, who otherwise was stranded by the show’s decision not to pursue the Lady Stoneheart plot of the books.

Amidst all the despair, TV Sansa got a bit of hope so far denied her book counterpart: learning that her younger brothers are alive. All of these changes made Sansa, once the least essential Stark, one of the most interesting characters on Game of Thrones.

Bronn and Jaime do Dorne: Image provided by imdb/HBO

Another character stranded by the absence of Lady Stoneheart is Jaime Lannister. In the books, Jaime heads north to pursue rebels. It’s crucial that Jaime be absent from King’s Landing for Cersei’s story to work the way it needs to. But without Stoneheart, there was little point in sending Jaime north. Another plot had a minor member of the Kingsguard in the southern province Dorne to retrieve the young princess (Jaime’s secret daughter).

Sending Jaime to Dorne for the rescue mission was a good “two birds, one stone” move for Game of Thrones. It got Jaime out of King’s Landing and added some heft and complications to the events in Dorne. It also gave Bronn something interesting to do. Bronn was a comparatively minor character in the books, but became a fan favorite in the TV version for his dark humor. Sending him along as Jaime’s partner-in-crime was a smart move. The two characters play well off one another and helped to (mostly) successfully boil the Dorne action from the books down to its TV essentials.

You expected Hardhome to be pleasant?: Image provided by imdb/HBO

Honestly, The Wall chapters were some of the least compelling in A Dance with Dragons. Jon Snow’s struggles as the new Lord Commander were intermittently interesting and his engagement with the Wildlings had some plot potential. But those strands moved slowly and felt repetitive. Meanwhile, sympathetic Sam was dispatched southward to train as a maester and to protect the baby of Wildling “King Beyond the Wall” Mance Rayder.

Game of Thrones never introduced Mance’s baby and the threat to it (the sorceress Melisandre) went south with Stannis instead of remaining at the Wall as she did in the books. So keeping Sam at the Wall a bit longer made some sense, to have a familiar anchor character there. Because Game of Thrones did something way more interesting with Jon. The books talked about Hardhome, a coastal enclave where many Wildlings had taken refuge. They were threatened by both starvation and the Others (the ice demons that are the series’ ultimate threat). Jon sent a mission to Hardhome, but no scenes occurred there.

Game of Thrones instead had Jon himself lead the mission to Hardhome to urge the Wildlings to come south. And thus was on hand when the Others and their ice zombies attacked. It was one of the show’s most impressive action sequences ever. It was big, bold and bloody, shocking and thrilling. Jon and most of his allies got away with their lives, but had hardly won. Fans got a good look at the Others and gleaned a little bit more about them. This may have been the best divergence from the books. It energized an otherwise sleepy corner of the narrative and provided some clues about the ultimate “ice vs. fire” conflict teased in the title of the book series. And made Jon way more interesting.

Originally published at on June 4, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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