HBO's epic series based on George R.R. Martin's first novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series concludes next month. I've been doing my best to sum up the adventures of the Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens each week in such a way that newcomers to the story wouldn't be overwhelmed by the sheer tonnage of characters and storylines weaving their way through the series.
But having read the books (several times) and receiving a convenient lead-in from last week's newbie observations entry from Rich Connelly, I thought I'd go the opposite route and look at some key differences between the series and the book it's based on. Because anal-retentive nitpicking is what we do. In America.
And unlike my show recaps, things are going to get fairly spoiler-y after the jump. If you're looking to avoid surprises for the rest of the season (and next, for that matter), you've been warned.
1. Where Are the Goddamned Direwolves? You remember them, right? One for each trueborn child of Ned and Catelyn Stark, plus one for Ned's bastard Jon Snow.
They popped up here and there in the first few episodes (Sansa's wolf Lady was famously killed by Ned after Nymeria - Arya's wolf - gnawed on Joffrey). Ever since, the only one we've seen is Jon's (Ghost), even though Grey Wind (Robb's) and Summer (Bran's) supposedly played a key role in taking out the wildlings who attacked Bran last week. Instead, they were nowhere to be seen.
For all I know, this is a conscious strategy by Benioff and Weiss given the...somewhat diminished role the wolves play in later books. Still, they shouldn't be hard to incorporate at this stage, given that they're still only the size of your average German shepherd.
2. Ned's May Or May Not Be a Total Badass In the show, Ned squares off with Jaime in front of Littlefinger's brothel, giving as good as he gets before one of the Lannisters puts a spear though his leg. Jaime, the captain of the Kingsguard, is widely regarded as one of the finest swordsman in the Seven Kingdoms, and Ned fought him to a standstill.
I'm of two minds about this. In the book, Ned is a soldier when required, but doesn't live for it. Jaime Lannister, on the other hand, is mentioned in the same breath with Barristan the Bold and Ser Arthur Dayne (the "Sword of the Morning"). More to the point, Ned and Jaime never actually cross swords.
Then again, when Robert's Rebellion is discussed later in the series, it's pointed out that Ned was one of only two survivors of the fight in the Tower of Joy against Dayne and two other members of the Kingsguard (the other being Howland Reed, Lord of Greywater Watch). So...maybe he is as badass as they portrayed him. More likely it was just a way to get the two primary figures in the series to mix it up.
3. The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name
It's (strongly) hinted in A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings that Renly and Loras were...putting from the rough, but neither was ever given a POV chapter and nothing like the manscaping scene happened in the books. Frankly, I don't think it radically alters things. To be honest, there was a hell of a lot of exposition to get through in the first half of the TV season, and it couldn't always be Robert and Ned bullshitting with each other.
Speaking of Renly, in the book he's described as a young Robert (tall and muscular), so I'm not buying the popinjay they have playing him now. But since we've most likely seen the last of him this season, it doesn't make much difference either way.
4. "Khalasar" Is Just Dothraki for "Dollar Store"
Khal Drogo is the mightiest horselord across the Narrow Sea. His khalasar numbers in the tens of thousands, so why does every shot of them look like a home movie from the Renaissance Festival? The wedding of Drogo and Danaerys in the book took place over hours and featured thousands of gifts and presentations. On TV, it looked like a backyard (Mongolian) barbecue.
It's not just that, it's the location sets (the Dothraki scenes were shot in Malta), the extras, the costumes...Jason Momoa is fine as Drogo, as is Emilia Clarke as Danaerys, but unless they butch up Qarth and Astapor in the next season, this whole side of the story is going to feel secondary to the goings-on in Westeros.
5. Tyrion Lannister: Stud Muffin
First off, If Peter Dinklage doesn't win an Emmy for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister, it means Jack Palance must have misread another envelope. But Dinklage himself cuts quite the dashing figure next to the book's depiction of "the Imp:" stunted legs, a jutting brow, mismatched eyes of green and black, and stringy blond/white hair.
A minor sacrifice to get someone of Dinklage's talent. And none of the wit or cunning has been sacrificed.
6. The History of the Hound
For whatever reason, Joffrey's "dog" Sandor Clegane is getting short shrift on the TV show. They've given him a few lines and preserved his fight against brother Gregor. But in the book, he's the one who tells Sansa the story of how big brother Gregor burned his face when he was a child (he and Sansa have an interesting relationship). In the show, Littlefinger tells the tale.
Sandor's been relegated to a largely background role thus far, which is curious considering how integral a part he plays in the next two books/seasons. The good news is, it looks like we'll be seeing more of him in coming weeks.
7. Honeymoon in Pentos
HBO certainly hasn't scrimped on the nookie for GoT, but they got Drogo and Danaerys' wedding night all wrong. On TV, Drogo basically bends her over and mounts her, like any self-respecting horselord would. In the book, Danaerys takes more control of the situation, which is intended to show us an indicator of how she'll act when she's on her own.
8. And the Rest
Everything else at this point is a minor nerd quibble, but that never stopped me before.
Robert -- Robert Baratheon slew Prince Rhaegar Targaryen on the Trident by crushing his breastplate with his war hammer. King Robert in the book is the most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms gone to seed. Mark Addy just looks like a fat guy.
Arya -- I think Maisie Williams is doing great so far as Arya, but she's supposed to go by the nickname "Horseface" and is described as much plainer than her sister Sansa, which is a bit off the mark here.
Sam -- Not nearly craven enough. And the Samwell of the books wasn't such a freaking pussy hound -- a whole scene where he and Jon talk about girls in the mess hall? I think not.
Theon -- The ersatz heir to the Iron Islands isn't much different personality-wise from how he appears in the books, it just takes longer to get there. Theon doesn't figure prominently in AGoT at all, but they're obviously telegraphing his second-season misdeeds early on.
Cersei -- I don't know if Lena Headey was told to deliberately play it subtle, or she doesn't have the chops to pull the role off, but "book Cersei" is a hell of a lot more tempestuous than her HBO counterpart. This, to me, has the potential to be more damaging if the series continues past season two.
Ros - Mentioned a handful of times in the novel, Winterfell's favorite prostitute has taken on a new role in the series: extruding plot exposition from everyone she gets naked for. Tyrion talks about his family, Theon explains the dynamic between him and the Starks, and Littlefinger explains how he became the man he is. If sex for money doesn't pan out, Ros should consider becoming Westeros' first therapist.
Direwolves -- Seriously, I better see Grey Wind ripping out some entrails in the Whispering Wood.
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