A Song of Ice and Fire (Series) | Study Guide

George R.R. Martin

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A Song of Ice and Fire (Series) | Books versus Television


Once A Song of Ice and Fire became an international best seller, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood would turn it into a TV series or movie. This was somewhat ironic because George R.R. Martin, a former TV writer and producer, had written the series because his visions had always been considered too big in scope to be captured on television.

On April 17, 2011, however, HBO launched Game of Thrones, attracting record viewership on HBO, garnering dozens of Emmy awards, and creating a rabid international fan base. The producers assumed that by the time the show caught up to the events in the five existing books, Martin would have completed the last two. That didn't happen, and by the sixth season of the show, the TV series had caught up with the books. For the remaining seasons, writers and producers depended on Martin's outlines for the last two books—The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring—and also began writing original material.

Even before that, the story lines of the TV series had begun to diverge in significant ways from those of the books. Fans of the show who decided to read the books and fans of the books who loved watching the show had to be prepared for some surprising differences.

Most changes were for practical reasons. Trying to cover the hundreds of key characters and events in the books could only have resulted in superficial treatment of both and confusion for viewers. So, working with Martin, writers combined some characters, eliminated others, recast certain scenes, and cut dozens of key events entirely. The following are some of the most dramatic differences between the first five books and the show:

  • Mance Rayder's Fate: The King-beyond-the-Wall is burned to death in the TV series, but in the books, Melisandre uses her magic to change his features to that of another wildling, and he is sent by Jon Snow to rescue the girl Jon thinks is Arya.
  • Ramsay Snow's Bride: Sansa does not marry Ramsay Snow in the books. This horror is reserved for her friend Jeyne Poole, whom the Lannisters send to Ramsay under the pretense that she is Arya. In the novels, Sansa remains safely with Petyr Baelish, where he grooms her to play the game of thrones.
  • Premature Deaths: Ser Barristan Selmy remains alive as Dany's adviser through the first five books in the series but is killed by the Sons of the Harpy in the show. Similarly, Jojen Reed dies on the show but is still alive at the end of Book 5.
  • Changes in Dorne: Prince Martell is killed by the Sand Snakes on the show but is alive and scheming against the Lannisters at the end of Book 5. His daughter Arianne, who doesn't even exist in the TV show, also hatches her own elaborate plot to get back at the Lannisters.
  • Robb's Wife: Jeyne Westerling, Robb's wife in the books, is barely described. She also does not attend the Red Wedding, unlike Robb's pregnant TV wife, sparing readers at least one gruesome death.
  • Vanished Greyjoys: Once Balon Greyjoy dies in the books, his brothers, Euron and Victarion, compete against Balon's daughter, Asha, to rule the Iron Islands. Those events and the two brothers don't exist in the TV show, and Asha's name is changed to Yara.
  • Death of the Hound: In the books, Arya leaves Sandor to die after an encounter with Clegane's men. In the TV show, Sandor is wounded in a separate battle with Brienne of Tarth but is still left to die when Arya finds him.
  • Arya at Harrenhal: Arya is cupbearer to Roose Bolton in the novels and to Tywin Lannister in the TV series.
  • At the House of Black and White: There is no clear indication that Jaqen H'ghar is the kindly man in the books, but he definitely is in the series.
  • Another Heir: In the novels, Aegon Targaryen, son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, was not killed when he is a baby. He is revealed to be alive and seeking the Iron Throne. In the TV series, he does not exist.
  • No Pig-Riding for Tyrion: Several chapters in the book describe Tyrion being sold as a slave to a man who collects human oddities and performing in the same pig-riding skit that was presented at Joffrey's wedding. Tyrion is saved this humiliation in the TV series, although he does meet Jorah Mormont and is taken captive.
  • Stannis's Sacrifice: One of the most horrifying moments in the TV series occurs when Stannis's troops are stranded outside Winterfell and he burns his beloved daughter at the stake as a sacrifice to R'hllor. In the books, it is Stannis's men who push for a human sacrifice of four of their own men, although Stannis reluctantly approves their request. His daughter is barely mentioned.
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