Ok, Season Four of HBO's Game of Thrones saw more differences between the books and show than I could remember or to be more precise more than I would care to write and certainly more than you would care to read. Presumably the series creators believed that their choices, minor or not, were necessary for the narrative advancement. As Game of Thrones has become HBO's biggest hit ever, officially surpassing The Sopranos, Benioff and Weiss deserve all the praise they receive for successfully translating Martin's textually dense and narratively complex works into the visual medium. That doesn't mean I wasn't irked at some thematic alterations. The biggest and most disappointing change to me (and apparently quite a few book readers judging by vicious comments on fan blogs) was something that I can't in good faith detail here because it's not been 100% officially ruled out of Season Five. I can say that there was some Stark revenge from an entirely unexpected source which was left out of Season Four. My heart turned to stone upon watching the last few episodes of Season Four and realizing the show dropped something big. If you've read the books you know exactly what I'm talking about! But in the admittedly unlikely event that next season includes it, keep quiet about it here. For this post I want to mention some of the more important, interesting or shocking changes from the book to the screen. I'm not interested in a character's name change or a man with no manhood trying to run some game on a woman who was actually a little girl in the books. Those are small potatoes. But when you change a character's knowledge or his motivations for patricide, I think those changes matter a little bit more.
I will shy away from discussing nearly certain future events or even future events that appear to be generally likely. If you've read the books I hope that you will share that restraint as well. However the very nature of this post requires listing some events which didn't happen in the show. For all I know the show creators could rectify some of this next season. So if this entire discussion is something you consider vaguely spoilerific, well you know what to do regarding this post. The first book in A Song of Ice and Fire was published in 1996 while the most recent was published in 2011. So read the doggone books. Of course if everyone read the books I wouldn't be this guy any more so there's that. Hmm. I strongly believe that the series' first three books had a quality and pace not matched by the last two releases. I would have preferred more televised fidelity to the high quality source material of the first three books. I will be less concerned with how the show handles the upcoming adaptations. Next season I think the show from necessity as opposed to convenience will invent more of its own story lines, prune back some of Martin's and create even more surprises for book readers and show viewers alike.
Lysa, Littlefinger and Sansa
In the show Lysa Arryn (Tully) is hot to trot for Littlefinger and can't wait to share some of her crazy pie with him. Once they are alone Lysa reminds Littlefinger of how long she's been pining for him and what she did on his orders. These acts included murdering her husband Jon Arryn (Hand to the King and Ned Stark's/Robert Baratheon's godfather) and then writing to her sister Catelyn Stark to blame the murder on the Lannisters. These actions helped set the stage for war. More than a bit discomfited, Littlefinger suggests they not talk of these things. No one hears them. However in the book Lysa does not mention any of this to Littlefinger in private. It's when Littlefinger has interrupted her attempt to throw Sansa from the Moon Door that a hysterical distraught Lysa angrily reveals both her adultery with Littlefinger and all she's done at Littlefinger's behest. See the difference? Sansa hears ALL of this. Now Book!Sansa is only about 13 and may not have realized all that she heard. I mean if you're trying to avoid being tossed from 600 feet by your crazy aunt, your total attention is likely dedicated to that task. Still, if Sansa ever stops to remember a few things that Lysa was saying or put two and two together she will know that Littlefinger is her family's single greatest enemy. It was Littlefinger who manipulated the Stark and Lannisters into a war which saw the destruction of Stark hegemony. Revenge for "losing" Catelyn Stark may have been among the motivations for Littlefinger's actions. It's not in the show but the reader learns that one reason that Lysa was willing to help destroy her blood family and her sister's family might have been because her father Hoster Tully tricked Lysa into getting an abortion before marrying her off to Jon Arryn. Lysa was carrying Littlefinger's child.
On his death bed a delirious Hoster Tully tries to apologize but sadly doesn't realize he's talking to Catelyn, not Lysa. Lysa refused to visit her dying father. And Catelyn's never able to figure out what her father was rambling about. Lysa's last words to Sansa, gloating over the deaths of her sister and father, certainly indicate some long hidden malevolence.
There was no near miss with Arya and Sansa at the Eyrie. I understand why the show wanted to set this up but in truth it's logically incoherent. The Stark name is well known in the Vale. Although the Vale stayed neutral in the war because of Lysa's orders (which is say Littlefinger's orders) the titular ruling Lord is Arya's first cousin, the previous Knight of the Gate was Arya's great uncle, the Blackfish, and there are several other powerful Lords who were close friends to or mentors of Ned Stark who were quite vexed at being forced to stay out of the war. Upon hearing that Ned Stark's daughter was at the gate, no one would have let her leave. The conversation wouldn't have stopped with news of Lysa's death but would have continued. "I.e, your aunt is dead but your father's good friend Lord Royce is here and rumors say your sister is as well." Under those circumstances would Arya and The Hound have left? There would have been safety for Arya and a promise of recompense for the Hound. In the book there was a patsy for Littlefinger's murder of Lysa, a troubadour named Marillion, who had previously attempted to rape Sansa and was singing to drown out Sansa's screams as Lysa tried to kill her. And speaking of Sansa, in the books released so far she never ever reveals her identity to the Lords of the Vale. There are a few Lords and others who are suspicious of Sansa's identity.
Brienne, The Hound and The Mountain
There was no fight between Brienne and The Hound. They never even met. It was one of those things that was great for the show in that it settled who was a better fighter but to me it felt like fanservice making up for the mostly inaccurate accusations of show sexism and generally accurate accusations of excessive mammary gland display. I didn't like the scene because I thought that it made the Hound a bit more noble than he is. Although no one noticed it at the time he openly admitted that he was protecting Arya with no hope of compensation. While that may have been the case it's extremely doubtful that the Hound would ever have admitted that. In the book The Hound's disabling and possibly deadly wounds were obtained in the inn fight with his brother's men depicted much earlier in the show. He and Arya part ways before they get anywhere close to the Vale. Also although it's lost in the "women can fight too!" hoopla around the Brienne character her defining characteristic arguably may not even be her astounding strength and endurance but her rock solid morality and sense of honor. Although the show depicts Cersei sneering at Brienne's honor and implying that it's heavily mixed with lust for Jaime, book Brienne is an oft melancholy but surprisingly durable and honorable warrior. Her loyalty is beyond question. Ironically she may well be the "true knight" that Sansa had idealized. Fortunately so far Brienne has been a tad more pragmatic than Ned Stark. And speaking of the Hound's brother, the thuggishly evil Gregor Clegane, the poison which Oberyn used was so incredibly painful that the man's unending screams were heard throughout the castle. Responding with her normal sense of compassion and solicitude, Cersei had the Mountain moved to the dungeons so he wouldn't disturb her sleep. The Mountain wasn't lying in bed peacefully. Oberyn specifically chose a poison that would make the Mountain's last days on earth unimaginably painful. In the book while displaying the spear to Tyrion and explaining his planned duel tactics he tells Tyrion not to touch the spearhead..no matter what. The duel between Oberyn and The Mountain lasted a little longer. Oberyn's speed and dexterity wore The Mountain down.
Tyrion and Tywin Confrontation
Along with incest and violation of guest right, kinslaying is one of the greatest taboos in Westeros. It's just not done. There are exceptions to this rule but it's safe to say that most people would think twice before doing it. In both book and show it's hinted broadly that Tywin uses the farce of Tyrion's trial to get around the otherwise ironclad prohibition on kinslaying. Think about it. Tywin Lannister, who uses monsters like Amory Lorch and the Mountain, who has exterminated entire houses for revolt, and who is known far and wide as a vicious and ruthless pragmatist, still did not dare to kill his son, though he clearly hated him and had countless opportunities to do so. Similarly, Tyrion, who has every reason to hate his father and wish him ill, still takes his father's side in the war with Stannis Baratheon and Robb Stark. When left on his own Tyrion doesn't try to cut a deal with Stannis for King's Landing. He does not free Sansa Stark or broadcast news of his siblings' incest though he knows all about it. In Westeros it takes a LOT to turn someone against their family. In the show Jaime frees Tyrion and explains that Varys has a ship waiting. Tyrion, upset about his narrowly averted fate, walks upstairs, finds his father's apartments, kills Shae, after she grabs a knife, and kills his father. Tywin is incredulous that Tyrion loved a dead whore (Shae).
In the book this was handled a little differently. Jaime frees Tyrion but makes the mistake of saying he owed Tyrion a debt. Tyrion presses his brother on this statement. Jaime admits that Tyrion's first wife Tysha, whom Tywin had ordered gang-raped, was not a whore. Jaime lied on Tywin's request. This is critical because Tyrion's entire adult personality is based largely on the belief that he is unlovable because of his deformity. It is why he only sleeps with prostitutes. He has horrible self-esteem. To find out that no, a non-prostitute really did love him and that his father and brother lied to him sets him over the edge. Angered beyond measure by this revelation that the ONE Lannister he thought he could trust betrayed him, Tyrion decides to hurt Jaime with a mixture of lies and truth. He tells Jaime the truth about Cersei, that she has been sleeping with their cousin Lancel, many other men at court and for all Tyrion knows the court jester as well. Tyrion also lies and tells Jaime that he murdered Joffrey and was quite happy to do so. Jaime leaves. It's then that Varys finds Tyrion and leads him away. However Tyrion figures out that they are beneath the Tower of the Hand. He wants to know the path to the bedchambers. Varys shows him the secret passageway while invoking his inner Willy Wonka saying there's no time. Tyrion arrives at the bedchambers and murders Shae. There is no hint of self-defense. And when Tyrion murders his father it's his father's ugly dismissal of Tysha, not Shae, that causes Tyrion to pull the trigger. These are small but extremely important differences.
The reveals between Tyrion and Jaime permanently alter the relationship among all of the Lannister siblings. There are legitimate questions about what Varys' purpose was in releasing Tyrion. Cersei never confesses incest to her father. Tywin had no intention of giving up The Mountain to Oberyn Martell. Jaime never agreed to leave the Kingsguard and marry to save Tyrion's life.
Roose, Ramsay and the Greyjoys
There is no aborted rescue mission by Yara (Asha in the books) Greyjoy to the Dreadfort. The Dreadfort is not easily reached from the Iron Islands, being even further away than Winterfell. Once captured by Ramsay, Theon doesn't see his sister again in Book 3. The show pulled events ahead from later books and invented some storylines here. And believe it or not the show greatly reduced the sexual violence which Martin describes in horrific detail during many of Ramsay's hunts of women. It's safe to say that even cable couldn't include all of Ramsay's depravities. Martin goes above and beyond to be as disgusting and as disturbing as possible describing Ramsay's activities. It is important to realize, as the show did not make clear, many of the women Ramsay hunts are former residents of Winterfell. In the book there was no "Locke". Instead the man who crippled Jaime was a sadistic and psychotic mercenary who routinely switched sides between the Lannister and Stark forces. In the books this man ultimately came to a nasty end presided over by The Mountain, not killed in the far north by Bran-Hodor. Bran and company are never captured by Night's Watch mutineers. Given that Show!Roose was upset that his son had maimed and degraded a less important hostage like Theon, it's doubtful that Show!Roose would have kept Locke around. Locke maimed the much more important Jaime Lannister. Roose Bolton knows what his best interests are. Employing someone who irritates and angers Tywin Lannister is neither prudent nor smart.
Anyway there were many more differences but that's enough for now.