Game of Thrones Season 2: The 10 Biggest Changes From the Books
Adapting a book to the screen is always tricky. You have to balance faith to the original with necessary changes due to the medium. On one hand, you have budget and time limits; on the other, you have new tools for shedding a different light on the story. Great adaptations keep to the spirit of the source material while also telling a strong story that can stand alone in the new medium.
By that standard, Game of Thrones is shaping up to be one of the best adaptations ever put on the small screen. Fantastic casting, showrunners who are devoted fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire books series, and the involvement of ASOIAF writer George R.R. Martin all add up to a show that generally does justice to the books while also working as a piece of art independent of the original.
That said, as fans of the book series, we can't help but fixate on the changes the show has made. Some of them make perfect sense to us; a few are downright brilliant. Others we aren't fond of. Here's a rundown of what we saw as the 10 most significant changes between the book series and the TV show in Season 2 — with a focus on characterization issues — and whether or not we liked them.
Tywin and Arya's relationship: Let's start with the single most ingenious change of the series: The decision to pair Tywin and Arya. In the books, Tywin is only at Harrenhal briefly, and he and Arya barely interact. Adding their scenes allowed us to learn about what makes Tywin tick while also seeing another side of Arya. Charles Dance and Maisie Williams killed these scenes; they made such a fascinating pair that we found ourselves enjoying the show's version of Arya's time at Harrenhal more than the book's.
Theon's arc: As Alfie Allen pointed out in our recent interview with him, Theon was explicitly presented as more sympathetic in the show than the book. His divided loyalty and inner turmoil was highlighted; credit goes to both the writing and the acting for making us give a damn about the guy. In the books, we found him annoying, and then terrible. In the show we found him sympathetic, and then terrible but also still sympathetic and maybe even a little heartbreaking.
Jon and Ygritte: Jon's storyline got shuffled around a bit, allowing him to spend more time alone with Ygritte before eventually killing Qhorin. We liked this change. It livened up Jon's frankly boring Clash of King's story, allowed us to get to know Ygritte (and through her, the Wildling POV of the world), and added a dose of much needed comic relief here and there.
Jaime's added scenes: Jaime is only in A Clash of Kings very briefly, when Cat interrogates him. Moving his A Storm of Swords storyline up was a good call; he's too interesting to waste, and he and Brienne will have enough to do next season as it is. But most of all, we adored the added scene between he and his cousin. Although we have mixed feelings about having Jaime kill the cousin to escape, his open reflection about who he is as a person was masterfully executed.
Shae's characterization: Shae is feistier and more interesting on the show, and her love for Tyrion seems more genuine. In the books, she always felt like a blank slate for Tyrion to project feelings onto; in the show she's a full character who we like on her own.
Everything about Margaery Tyrell: In the books, it's hard to tell exactly who Margaery Tyrell is. We loved that the show firmly characterized her as a crafty political schemer who will be more than able to hold her own in King's Landing. The scene where she tells Renly to invite Loras into their bedroom remains one of our favorite additions.
Robb and Talisa: Robb's romantic arc was completely changed; indeed Talisa is literally a different character than Robb's romantic interest in the book, Jeyne Westerling. In the books, Jeyne is a noblewoman who nurses Robb after he was injured in battle. He sleeps with her after learning of Bran and Rickon's (supposed) death at the hands of Theon, and then marries her to preserve her honor. It's a less romantic story, but a more interesting one. In the show, Robb throws duty aside because he feels like it; in the books a moment of weakness leaves him in a position where he'll be in the wrong either way. We prefer the more complicated version, and think it could have worked on screen.
Speaking of Bran and Rickon: We hate that Robb and Cat have yet to hear that Bran and Rickon are "dead." In the books, that emotional blow is essential to many of their later decisions (like Cat releasing Jaime in attempt to get her daughters back), and we don't see why it couldn't have been incorporated into the show.
Dany's arc: Listen, we liked a lot of the changes made to Dany's story this season. The added political intrigue in Qarth was an excellent way to make that plot more dynamic for TV. But it fell apart in the last episode. Xaro's takeover of Qarth didn't go anywhere, the visit to the House of the Undying felt pointless and, damn it, Dany would not lock Doreah in a vault to die without even allowing her to explain herself. We don't really believe she'd lock Xaro there either, but it's Doreah that really stings. That is not the Dany we know and love from the books; she is quick to anger, but she's not sadistic, and she doesn't like hurting those she cares about.
Stannis strangling Melisandre: Okay, there are arguably bigger changes that we haven't mentioned yet (like the continued softening of Cersei's character, or the removal of the Reeds and Reek from the Winterfell plot), but this one was a slap in the face. The show generally did an excellent job with Stannis, but we don't buy that he'd physically attack Melisandre, no matter how upset he was. That's something Robert would do, and Stannis is supposed to contrast his brother.
Obviously, there were plenty of other differences — plots have to be streamlined and characters cut when you're turning hundreds of pages into just ten hours. What did you think of the changes? Let us know in the comments below!