My friend and coworker Nick Tankersley has written this pretty awesome piece on the differences between “Game of Thrones” and the book from which season two is adapted, “A Clash of Kings.” Check it out and enjoy. — Richard
With the end of season 2 of “Game of Thrones” just on the horizon, I think it is a good time to double back and take a look at the show’s deviations from George R. R. Martin’s second book “A Clash of Kings,” which is the basis for season 2 of “GoT.”
Before we get started I would like to say that I have been very impressed with how the production team for “GoT” has been able to adapt Martin’s text under the constraints of a live-action television show. Martin’s second installment explodes the continents of Westeros and Esteros where all of the events for the stories take place. The producers, writers, creators, and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have definitely made skilled surgical cuts to Martin’s original opus and have found in their rendition a faithful companion to the nearly unmanageable menagerie of characters and events that Martin presents in “A Clash of Kings” (spoiler: get used to it, nothing shrinks in this world).
It’s probably easiest just to pick the major characters and list how their stories compare/contrast between HBO’s production and Martin’s book. We will go through the characters by family, starting with the Starks. At the end we’ll look at the miscellaneous characters. This is by no means an exhaustive detailing of the intricate differences between what Benioff and Weiss have created and what Martin put together for this installment of the series. What this is is a broad overview of the major variations. Please use the comments to append or argue with any of these.
FIRST UP – THE STARKS
I. Arya Stark
The end of season 1 and book 1 found Arya Stark on the road to the North with Yoren and the rabble he was taking to the Night’s Watch. Arya had taken to calling herself Arry and began presenting herself as a boy. In the group with her was a cage full of captives given to Yoren, Gendry, random criminals and a small group of children sold to the Night’s Watch or otherwise abandoned in King’s Landing.
For the most part, events leading to the fight at the keep between Yoren’s group and a host of nights/soldiers is pretty accurate. There is considerable more time afforded to Arya in Martin’s book, her relationship with Yoren is more developed in the HBO version and her attachment to the other children in the group as their ad hoc leader is more evident in Martin’s text. The battle at the burned-out keep that leads to Arya being made a captive of the Mountain and his army was instigated by the Gold Cloaks in the HBO version but was a raiding party headed by Amory Lorch, a Lannister crony who is seen intermittently throughout the book series in Martin’s text.
During the book-based sequence Arya and the group defend the castle against the raiders who demand to enter. Yoren refuses, similarly in both versions, and then a battle ensues. In Martin’s rendition this fight takes place on the ramparts of the castle. Arya and the group defend against the oncoming army until they set fire to the castle. Yoren is killed during the battle and Arya is heard screaming “Winterfell” as her battlecry (another of the younger boys takes the cry “HOT PIE!” as his). Arya, Gendry, Hot Pie and one other boy escape during the fire and free the men in the cage (Jaqen H’ghar, Rorge and Biter).
From this point on Arya’s story follows the same geographic path in both stories but the details vary from great to small. First, in Martin’s book, Arya and the rest of the group aren’t captured until a short time after escaping to a small town where they are held in a barn and tortured. In Weiss’ and Benioff’s version the same set of events takes place but at Harrenhal. In Martin’s book Arya endures the torturing of those around her until her host is moved to Harrenhal where she is put in the kitchens as a servant instead of immediately moved to the position of cupbearer to Tywin Lannister. In fact, Arya has no direct contact with Tywin Lannister at any point in the books. Tywin is present at Harrenhal for a short period but is only available from a distance.
Her relationship with Jaqen H’ghar is developed at Harrenhal in both installments. Jaqen kills for her in both versions as well but who he kills is very different. In the book H’ghar murders two low-level thugs, one a soldier boasting of rape and the other Arya’s boss in the kitchens who had a fondness for striking her. In HBO’s version of this part of the story Arya has Amory Lorch and The Tickler killed. Lorch, as mentioned previously, is a devoted Lannister follower and is in control of Harrenhal while Arya is kept there in “A Clash of Kings.” The Tickler is not seen again by Arya until book 3 where there is a confrontation at an inn.
In both versions Arya’s third request for the price of life that H’ghar promises her is Jaqen H’ghar himself, however the arrangement for taking back this request is greatly different. Martin has Arya barter for the help of H’ghar to release a large group of Northmen kept in prison in Harrenhal while Benioff and Weiss have her bargain for aid in her escape. In both cases H’ghar agrees. For Martin, Arya’s deal leads to the release of the Northmen and an overthrow of the troops holding Harrenhal. Lord Roose Bolton (who is a right-hand-man of Robb Stark in HBO’s season 2) takes command of the castle and makes Arya his cupbearer. She takes this position but does not reveal herself to him as the daughter of Ned Stark. The Bolton’s, though Northerners and Stark bannermen, are still strangers to her and she refuses to turn herself over to another stranger. Arya serves Bolton until he treats her harshly. She stays at the castle until it is left to a group of sellswords at which point she makes her escape with Gendry and Hot Pie. All the arrangements of the escape are hers.
That moment of escape is the current stopping point for HBO’s version, there isn’t much more in terms of action for her character after she leaves Harrenhal for the duration of this installment.
In addition to the above-mentioned changes, Jaqen H’ghar serves the God of Many Faces in the books and the Red God in HBO’s version (introducing two entirely different religions in one season would be a bit much for television audiences). Also, in “A Clash of Kings” the group of sellswords who take control of Harrenhal after Bolton leaves are known as The Brave Companions, a group of maniacs led by a slobbering psychopath named Vargo Hoat. Hoat and the Companions (also called the Bloody Mummers) are entirely absent from the HBO version.
II. Sansa Stark
The court at King’s Landing is one of the most crowded settings in both versions of this story. There are multiple lords and ladies pandering for the audience of the king and the queen regent. Because of the cacophony of characters that bloom in King’s Landing, at this time the HBO team has decided to merge many of them into one or two characters with which we are already familiar. In HBO’s telling, Sansa basically absorbs all of the misfortune thrust upon lesser characters in Martin’s text. Faithful to its source, HBO has made Sansa’s strength something that isn’t wholly apparent on the surface. She suffers at the hands of tormentors too numerous to name and all the while thanks them for her inclusion. Sansa, in both tellings, is a captive of the royal family, presumably to marry Joffrey once she is able to have children. She is a quiet and obedient character whose true strength lies in her patience and forbearance. In both renditions she is beaten, mocked and made to grovel as Joffrey’s pet whenever he deems necessary.
The major differences in the story come by way of the fact that the HBO production did not include Tanda and Lollys Stokeworth, a mother and daughter pair of ladies who are a constant companion to the queen and her court during this installment. Sansa has taken over some of their use in the narrative. During the riot in King’s Landing in Martin’s version, Sansa is swept away quickly from the mayhem by the Hound, it is Lollys who is dragged off from the crowd and raped. Afterwards, Lollys is found to be pregnant and Shae (Tyrion’s girlfriend) goes to work as her servant, not Sansa’s. Instead, HBO places Shae in Sansa’s employ very early on in the season and the two seem to grow fond of one another. They have no connection in the books and likewise neither do Tyrion or Sansa, whom have had a few conversations in the show.
Besides those small points, Sansa’s story is very faithful to the text. In the book, during the scene where she begins her first period, she attempts to burn her mattress before she is discovered. In the TV series she is immediately assisted by Shae.
Sansa’s story is more contained than most. She lives in a small, confined space and is always being played with by the Lannister family so it makes sense that there wouldn’t be much need for many major changes. She lives entirely in small chambers and by the side of the king, for now…
III. Robb Stark
Robb Stark’s story and character in HBO’s production diverges from Martin’s version the most of any other character in the “Game of Thrones”/”A Song of Ice and Fire” world, primarily because Robb is the only non-perspective character from the books who is a focal characters in the TV series. Martin follows the exploits of the young wolf via his mother Catelyn and by way of military dispatches and rumor. The reader of Martin’s tome is never given personal insight into Robb Stark and only glimpses of his inner circle are given by way of Catelyn.
HBO has made a great choice in giving Robb a little more screen time. His story is now and will be one of the more memorable experiences for anyone just coming to this story. That coupled with the fact that they found a very good looking man to play Robb and an even better looking woman to play his love interest, why wouldn’t you give them as much time on screen as possible? But it is in that relationship that Weiss and Benioff stray the most from Martin.
In Martin’s “A Clash of Kings” Robb Stark spends most of his time harrying the Lannister lands and taking various castles and holds. In both renditions, Stark dispatches and is then betrayed by Theon Greyjoy. It is hard to say what his state of mind is in the books, but after learning of Winterfell’s capture Robb takes solace in Jeyne Westerling, the daughter of a Lord who oversees The Crag, a Lannister-sworn castle where Robb was injured during a siege just days before the news came down about his home and brothers. Robb then returns to his central camp with Jeyne severing ties with the Freys to whom he has promised to marry into the family.
In both versions he is completely immune to defeat on the battlefield but loses his hold on power because of tactical, political decisions. There is still one more episode to go in HBO’s second season so I won’t guess how they conclude his story for the season. Be on the watch for how Rickard Karstark (the old man who was furious when Catelyn Stark released Jamie Lannister) acts in this next episode. The business between Robb and Rickard lays out the future of the North.
Of course the most important change is the addition of Talisa in favor of Jeyne in Robb’s life. Talisa is a foreigner from the city of Volantis. Whether Talisa is actually Jeyne Westerling in disguise has yet to be seen, but as the last episode featuring Robb reveals, Robb retrieves supplies from The Crag with Talisa before their rendezvous in his tent. Whether or not she is Jeyne, she is providing the narrative force that Jeyne provides in Martin’s book.
IV. Catelyn Stark
Catelyn Stark’s story in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is perhaps the most loyal to Martin’s books. In “A Clash of Kings” Catelyn is dispatched to Renly Baratheon’s host to negotiate terms of peace between the North and South. Catelyng spends much of her time in the Baratheon camp and then returns North with Brienne of Tarth after Renly’s murder. The major uncomformity with Martin’s take on Catelyn’s story comes at the Baratheon camp when Catelyn meets with Little Finger and is then given her husband’s bones. Little Finger and Catelyn have no interaction in Martin’s book and Ned Stark’s bones are dispatched by Tyrion as a gesture of integrity and are attended by a group of silent sisters to be delivered to Catelyn at Riverrun and then moved to Winterfell.
The other major difference in Catelyn’s story comes by way of the fact that Robb Stark’s army is currently in the field in the HBO version and not stationed at Riverrun, Catelyn’s childhood home. This seems like a practical decision as finding another castle location in which to strand an army would be expensive and a bit redundant for HBO. When Caetlyn releases Jamie Lannister she is imprisoned in her father’s castle, where he is slowly dying. There are multiple scenes between the two and much of Catelyn’s time is spent pondering about what her family and she has become.
V. Jon Snow
The story of the Night’s Watch and the land beyond the wall is complex. It is a mystery to Jon Snow, who is the audience’s only outlet for experiencing it, and to most others in the land of Westeros as well. Martin’s version of Jon Snow’s travels are fairly simple. They more or less match the HBO production in terms of major locations and introduction of characters but their methods for bringing people together and tearing them apart has been a significant source of variation for the television show.
The first time we see the two stories diverge is at the home of the Wildling Craster. It is here that the character of Gilly is introduced. This portion of the stories are almost exactly the same (one could make the argument that Sam is more involved and forward in the TV show than in the book but not enough to make a real difference). The first major deviation in the television show comes when Jon Snow follows Craster into the woods to watch him put out a child for the Others. Jon is discovered by Craster, who hits him over the head. That event leads to Craster expelling the Night’s Watch from his home. Jon takes a lot more flack for being irresponsible and compulsive in the television show. In Martin’s book Jon is very capable of keeping himself in check while out with the Watch. Furthermore, the scene with Craster and Jon never happens in Martin’s book. In “A Clash of Kings” the Night’s Watch leaves Craster’s home with no more animosity than was present when they arrived.
Martin also takes the opportunity of Jon being north of The Wall to introduce that he, too, is a warg (skin changer) and can slip into and out of Ghost’s skin. This skill is not yet present for Jon in the TV show. During Martin’s tale Jon finds himself as Ghost, hunting in the North and stalking to a bluff overlooking Mance Rayder’s wildling camp. There is no indication that Benioff or Weiss will reveal this power in Jon Snow in season 2 and would probably only complicate that story if it were introduced so late in this season.
While both series include the ranging party led by Qhorrin Halfhand, the events leading to Jon Snow’s capture are wildly different. In Martin’s version of this part of Jon’s story he is accepted as a part of the Halfhand’s party and quickly becomes close with Halfhand, further proving that Jon is the perpetual protege. The group confronts a band of wildlings who are providing overwatch on a mountain ledge. Jon and the group advance on the watchmen at night and take them. Jon kills one and stops short of killing another when it is revealed that it is a woman. The Halfhand orders Jon to killed the woman, named Ygritte, which he intends to do but balks and lets her go instead. Jon’s first victim was a skin changer who escaped into his eagle before his death. The eagle becomes a source of torment for the small forward team of rangers who are hunted down by The Magnar of Thenn (aka Rattleshirt, aka The Lord of Bones) whose platoon was led to the Night’s Watch group by the eagle. Throughout their flee from the Wildlings each ranger is killed in turn until only Qhorrin and Jon remain, trapped in a small crevice surrounded by wildlings. Qhorrin tells Jon that he must be willing to do anything to help the Night’s Watch and with that Jon commits an act that is currently being alluded to in the series but has not been shown, yet. Ygritte convinces the Magnar that Jon is a good man who let her live and that he should be given the chance to join Mance Rayder instead of being killed.
Much of the chemistry between Jon and Ygritte that is established in book three by Martin is instead established late in season 2 by Benioff and Weiss, opting to have Jon and Ygritte become lost together instead of him immediately letting her go. When Jon is captured pursuing an escaped Ygritte he finds the Halfhand likewise captured who explains that the rest of the team died looking for Jon. This is a very different set of events from the book and explains that it is Jon’s fault that the rangers are dead. In Martin’s telling, there is little chance for them to escape in the first place.
Among other changes that are not so important is the fact that Jon is the one who finds the black hood with the dragon glass daggers and horn buried by the First Men in Martin’s book, not Sam who finds it in the HBO version.
VI. Bran Stark
The little broken lord of Winterfell is a complicated character for the screen. As the series continues HBO audiences will notice him becoming more supernatural, and more often than not he will be slipping into his wolf’s skin. So far this has happened at least once in the show. By the end of “A Clash of Kings,” Martin has Bran skin change multiple times.
Weiss and Benioff have also elected to omit two major characters in Bran’s story, Meera and Jojen Reed. The Reed’s arrive amongst a harvest festival lightly attended by those Northern families and Lords that are not currently warring alongside Robb. The Reed’s are children sent by their father Howland Reed, the Lord of Graywater Watch. The Reed family is fiercely protective of the Starks. Jojen is a young boy, around the age of Bran but small for his age, he is blessed/cursed with greendreams which give him insight into the future. Meera is around 16 years old and is a skilled huntress. The Reed’s come to Winterfell and it quickly becomes apparent that Jojen knows that there are greater things in store for Bran. Jojen and Meera hide with Bran when he escapes Theon with Osha, Hodor and Rickon. Jojen compels Bran to break company with Osha and Rickon who head east to find sanctuary and follow the path North to meet someone who can help Bran develop his abilities.
The exclusion of Jojen and Meera Reed raise many questions about how Bran’s story will play out. The Reed’s are the driving force for Bran and his guide and protector through most of Martin’s tale. Without them in the HBO version it is hard to tell how things will progress, perhaps they will be introduced along the way or perhaps Osha is serving their purpose. Either way, them missing in the HBO version is currently the greatest disparity between the stories of the Westerosi characters.
VII. Rickon Stark
Rickon is a background character in both the book and the series. His role is greatly diminished at the end of “A Clash of Kings” when he is separated from Bran. He is never given a chapter of his own. Likewise, Benioff and Weiss seem to be fine leaving the youngest Stark up to his own devices while the rest of the cast settles into their roles. As of the end of the fifth book and the current episode of season 2 of the TV series, Rickon is little more than a tag along to Bran’s group. There is little to no difference between how he appears in either version.
Next installment will feature The Lannisters.