Just how far has 'Game of Thrones' plot drifted from George R.R. Martin's novels?
There has been much handwringing ever since Game of Thrones passed up the books that now everything will be spoiled. What’s the point of reading George R.R. Martin’s novels if HBO is going to show the end of the story? But even though both tales are headed towards the same goal, how they get there has diverged further and further with each new episode.
One of the problems with television is the finite amount of time a show has to tell its story. A book can be as long or as short as it needs to be, but Game of Thrones must tell a complete arc in ten episodes that are each approximately one hour long. When it comes to a world as rich and complex as Martin’s, that limitation is going to leave a lot on the cutting room floor. From combining multiple characters into one person to removing entire subplots, sacrifices have been made. But with each change, the HBO adaptation looks less and less like the source material.
As we head into the hiatus, here’s a look at ten people and places that are in very different situations in the novels. The gulf between the books and the show is widening at an aggressive clip.
#1: Sansa Stark
On the Show: After years of suffering at the hands of her enemies (and alleged allies), Lady Stark finally has the upper hand. Her power base is secure as both the Northern Lords and the Lords of the Vale have declared for her brother as the King in the North, her loathed second husband is dead, and Winterfell is once again in Stark hands. Things are finally coming up Sansa.
In the Book: None of this is happening. Everything from Littlefinger’s pawning Sansa off onto the Boltons forward is a complete divergence from the novels. It is Sansa’s childhood best friend Jeyne Poole — forced by the Lannisters into pretending to by Arya Stark — that marries Ramsay Bolton and suffers at his hand. It is Jeyne whom Theon, Mance Rayder, and the wilding women rescue from Winterfell. It is another girl — Alys Karstark — whom Melisandre sees on a grey horse riding towards Jon and The Wall. As it stands, Sansa is still with Littlefinger in the Vale, being used as a pawn in a different marriage game - this time to Harold Hardyng, the heir to the Vale should Sweetrobin die without children. Which, knowing Littlefinger, he will.
Short of teleportation, as it stands Jon Snow will retake Winterfell without his sister at his side.
#2: Daenerys Targaryen and Daario Naharis
On the Show: With a fleet of ships and her army, the last Targaryen Princess is ready to reclaim her throne. But Dany can’t land in Westeros with a mistress on her arm if she hopes to make a marriage alliance. So Daario must stay in Meereen. The Mother of Dragons attempted to soften the break-up by bequeathing Meereen to her ex-lover, but her decision was final. They are never, ever getting back together.
In the Book: When we last left Dany in the novels, she was still on a hilltop with Drogon, having just bee discovered by the khalasar. Meereen is currently in the hands of Ser Barristan Selmy, the Green Grace, and Dany’s husband Hizdahr zo Loraq as Tyrion and Jorah are still slaves of the Yunkai army. There are many paths that can be taken to get Daenerys her ships, but it is unlikely Daario will be in a position of power when she does. As of the end of the last novel, he was one of many hostages Dany had traded to the Yunkai as a peace offering.
#3: Tommen Baratheon
On the Show: Seeing the brutal demise of his beloved wife Margaery at the hands of his mother, along with the realization that Cersei was indeed capable of a kind of darkness Tommen could never understand, the King plummeted to his death from the Red Keep.
In the Book: Being only eight years old in the novels, King Tommen has a very different relationship with his wife and mother. Instead of sex, Margaery exerts her influence over her young husband with gifts such as kittens. While it is still necessary for Tommen to be taken out of the Game of Thrones to make way for another, it seems unlikely he would commit suicide should events at the Great Sept play out in the same manner.
#4: Arya Stark
On the Show: Having forsaken her journey to become a Faceless (Wo)man because she could not justify the death of Lady Crane, Arya took back her Stark name and left Braavos. Upon returning to Westeros, she headed straight to the Riverlands where she exacted revenge on the Freys for the bloody business that was the Red Wedding.
In the Book: Wearing the face of another and calling herself “Mercy,” Arya has joined a group of mummers after being accepted into the order of the Faceless Men. Unlike her show counterpart, Book Arya went through with her first mission, killing a ship insurer. Despite her reservations about killing someone without knowing if they deserved it, Arya powered through and was given acolyte robes. Now working at the Gate playhouse, she has made no inclination about moving back to Westeros yet.
As for the fate of the Freys, Lady Stoneheart has that well in hand. Walder Frey will get what’s coming to him, and then some.
#5: Yara/Asha and Theon Greyjoy
On the Show: After losing her bid for the Seastone Chair, Yara and Theon fled across the sea with the best ships in the Iron Fleet. Landing in Meereen, the Greyjoys made an alliance with Daenerys: sovereignty of the Iron Islands in exchange for the use of their ships and men to fight in Dany’s war.
In the Book: Neither Greyjoy sibling is remotely near to Meereen. Both are in the custody of Stannis Baratheon, who is very much still alive and well and about to fight the Bolton forces for control of Winterfell. Asha, having lost her bid for the Queensmoot, fled to Deepwood Motte where she was captured by Stannis’ army. For his part, Theon was taken by Stannis’ men after jumping from the top of Winterfell with Jeyne Poole. Stannis treats Theon as a traitor and a murderer of the Stark boys, while the sibling reunion is the first time Asha sees what Ramsay did to her little brother. There is little hope that Theon will survive much longer as the lords of the North are calling for swift justice.
On the Show: Outed by Ser Davos as having burned Shireen Baratheon at the stake, the Red Woman was banished by Jon Snow for her deeds. Forbidden from returning to the North, Melisandre rode south to parts unknown.
In the Book: Melisandre never went on progress with Stannis. Instead, she remained behind at Castle Black, where she will conveniently be present to resurrect Jon Snow. However, this changes quite a bit of the aftermath as the Red Woman will not be present for Shireen’s death. Nor is Ser Davos anywhere nearby, having been sent on a mission to the Manderlys and currently concocting a plan to retrieve Rickon Stark from Skagos Island. Whether or not Melisandre will be banished North for her crimes — after all, she did burn a baby alive — remains to be seen.
On the Show: Leaving Meereen on a diplomatic mission, the Spider showed up in Dorne at the same time as the Queen of Thorns. Together with the help of the Sand Snakes, the stage has been set for an alliance between the Martells, the Tyrells, and the Targaryens.
In the Book: The Spider never left King’s Landing. In the novels, Varys has been working behind the scenes in the Red Keep from day one. He does not support Daenerys’ claim to the Iron Throne. Instead, he has backed Young Griff…aka Aegon Targaryen. The son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell, Aegon was vanished by Varys during Robert’s Rebellion and replaced with another infant. Everything Varys has done has been to bring Aegon out of hiding and put him on the throne. “A Dance with Dragons” concludes with Varys murdering Ser Kevan Lannister and Grand Maester Pycelle in order to keep the country off-balance and ready for Aegon as its savior.
#8: Jorah Mormont
On the Show: Dying of greyscale, Ser Jorah Mormont has been tasked by his queen to find a cure for the affection before it takes his life.
In the Book: Neither infected with greyscale (that fate befell Ser Connington) nor sent on a mission from his queen (he’s still banished), Ser Jorah is currently languishing as a slave under the Yunkai army with Tyrion Lannister.
#9: Rickon Stark
On the Show: Returning to Winterfell after years on the run, Rickon became a pawn in Ramsay Bolton’s demented games. On the cusp of reuniting with his family, Rickon was shot down with an arrow to the back by Bolton.
In the Book:
Still alive and well, the toddler son of Ned and Catelyn Stark is rumored to be on Skagos Isle with the wilding Osha and his dire wolf, Shaggydog. Shrouded in mystery, Skagos is populated with those who may be descended from giants. The populace still worships weirwood trees, performs human sacrifice, and engages in cannibalism. The island is also allegedly home to the mythical unicorn. Whatever Rickon has been doing there has probably done little to curb his wild nature.
As to his future fate? Ser Davos has been tasked by Ser Manderly to retrieve the North’s “liege lord” in return for backing Stannis as king. So there is still a chance the youngest Stark could end up in Bolton hands through battles lost instead of Northern turncloaks.
On the Show: Having killed Prince Doran Martell, Ellaria, and the Sand Snakes have assumed control of Dorne. The country’s new alliance with Olenna Tyrell to unseat Cersei Lannister from the Iron Throne will see the Dornish army enter the fray for the first time since the wars began. Varys’ presence also indicates Dany will back the Sand Snakes' need for vengeance.
In the Book: Prince Doran is alive and well, relatively speaking. His children Arianne and Trystane are alive. His eldest son Quentyn might be dragon chow, but that is uncertain. Myrcella Baratheon has been injured but not murdered. Ellaria Sand desperately wants the cycle of violence between the Martells and the Baratheon/Lannisters to end before her daughters get caught up in it. Obara Sand has been sent on a mission to find the Darkstar and kill him for his attack on Princess Myrcella. Nymeria Sand has been sent to King’s Landing to fill the vacant small council seat. Tyene Sans has also been sent to King’s Landing as a septa to get a bead on the new High Septon. None of the key players are where they are on the show, with no inclination that they will be. Dany will most likely still land her fleet in Dorne, but because of Quentyn and Doran, not the machinations of the Sand Snakes, Varys, and Olenna Tyrell.