Complete and faithful cinematic or television (TV) adaptations of books are the exceptions, not the rules. Even with the author’s creative involvement in the project, there’s bound to be deviations or omissions in the overall plot. Sometimes in the name of streamlining plot, saving time or just simply removing unsavoury scenes. One particularly example being the most recent adaptation of Stephen King’s IT removing a scene in which Beverly…does something to all the boys so they could grow up quicker and escape the sewers. Okay, look just go read the original novel, there’s some pretty strange shit in there that clearly could not be made for film. Needless to say, it’s not uncommon for stories and characters from book adaptations to have drastic changes for the material to fit the medium. Game of Thrones is no exception.
Long before Season 6 came along with its own original take on George R.R. Martin’s novels, the series had already made changes to some of its characters, whether in terms of personality, plot or appearance. Some of them are fairly innocuous like with characters like Daario Naharis having different hair colours or with Ramsay Bolton being uglier or crueller. Some of these changes, however, are frankly for the worse, they range from making characters considerably less interesting to downright butchering them to the point of beyond recognition. These are some of the worst book-to-show character changes we’ve seen in Game of Thrones.
1. Euron Greyjoy
The Euron Greyjoy of the books can only be described as the devil incarnate. A suave, handsome man with one eye as blue as the open sky and an eye patch covering the other. Theon in a chapter of The Winds of Winter suggests that behind his patch is a “black eye shining with malice”. He is a man well travelled, claiming to have sailed all the way to the far east of Essos in places like shadowy Asshai and even the ruins of doomed Valyria as stated in a chapter of the novel A Feast For Crows. Characters speak of him as a dark shadowy being, not unlike Stephen King’s Randall Flagg. A charismatic demon set to bring ruin and sow strife where ever the man he sets sail. A Red Priestess once described him as a “tall and twisted thing with one black eye and ten long arms, sailing on a sea of blood”.
Euron in Game of Thrones is a delusional braggart and brute. A far cry from his literary counterpart. The man has more in common with a high school jock looking to score some mad pussy than he does with world’s most deadly, cunning pirate. There’s no nuance to his character, and at times he feels like he merely exists to even the playing field. Game of Thrones has always prided itself in crafting complex, morally ambiguous characters, which is why I was shocked to see what they did to Euron. The only man he’s scaring is his barber who has to deal with that ungodly beard of his.
2. Barristan Selmy
Credit where credit is due, I’m actually quite happy with the way the show presented Barristan Selmy. He’s every bit the noble warrior he was in the book. After being forced to retire due to his failure to protect Robert Baratheon from dying at the hands (or tusks) of a boar, Selmy ends his career in the most gangster way possible. He draws his sword on that brat Joffrey, making everyone even the Hound a little nervous, before throwing it to the ground and walking out on the court. He travels to Essos to pledge his undying allegiance to Daenerys and the rest is history. In fact, in a preview chapter for him in George’s latest book The Winds of Winter, Barristan is gearing up with the Targaryen loyalists to repel an attack on Meereen. Their opponents being the slavers of Yunkai and Ironborn led by Euron’s other brother, Victarion Greyjoy who is not in the show.
In Daenerys’ absence, Barristan leads the city’s defence and is very much still alive. The show decided to replace the drawn-out siege between the Yunkish slavers and Ironborn with Tyrion’s negotiation and smaller skirmishes with the Sons of the Harpy. Barristan Selmy met his end, fending off over a dozen Sons of the Harpy.
I won’t deny it was nice to finally see the renown knight prove his ability to cut through his foes like carving a cake. It would have been better to see Selmy take control of Meereen and take on the siege in place of the meandering internal politics that ultimately proves how inept Tyrion has become at diplomacy. We do get the siege in the ninth episode of season 6 “Battle of the Bastards” but it’s far less elaborate or thoughtful than the ones we get in the books. They sacrificed a long and careful character arc for Selmy for a cool set piece to show how badass Dany is; a poor trade in my opinion.
3. Stannis Baratheon
Stannis Baratheon is a lot of things. A hard man, a rigid authoritarian and maybe even a boring man but one thing that’s never called into question is his honour. At least, that’s the way it was in the first four seasons of the show and books so far. In the season 5 finale “Mother’s Mercy”, we see Stannis burn his daughter alive at the behest of Melisandre. She believes that her death will turn the battle to Stannis’ favour, it is a heartbreaking moment for many. For me, it was utter cock and bull! In the books, Stannis was seen as something of harsher, more ruthless Ned Stark but nonetheless fair, and not without a heart. He remembered Jon Snow as the son of Ned Stark and was willing to reinstate his status as Stark and claim him Warden of the North.
Then, there was that scene in the fourth episode of season 5 “Sons of the Harpy” in which Shireen, his daughter, asked if her father was ashamed of her. Stannis told her of the time she had contracted Greyscale and how everyone said that she would die or go feral. They even advised him to send her to the Doom of Valyria to live out her life with the other infected or “Stone Men”. And he told them all to go to hell and how he moved heaven and earth to find Shireen a cure. Why? Because, and to quote the man, she “doesn’t belong across the world with the bloody stone men”, she is his daughter and he loves her.
So to have Stannis burn Shireen at the stake for some random ass magic is a direct slap to the face to fans of Stannis, and the character himself. In the books, it’s even stated in a preview chapter of George’s latest book Winds of Winter that Stannis says that if he should fall, his men should fight to have Shireen take the Iron Throne. Stannis could have been an intriguing fourth player for the throne but nope, he was cut down unceremoniously like some B-grade character. His whole arc was ended prematurely in a cheap and dishonourable fashion. Stannis deserved better.
4. Catelyn Stark
The Red Wedding truly was a tragedy of monumental proportions. In one fell swoop, the Lannisters had brought to ruin one of the Great Houses of Westeros. The Young Wolf was cut down, his mate and pup gutted at the scene. His men murdered and his mother dead with her throat slit. There were a myriad of things I felt when I first saw the scene: anger, sorrow…and excitement.
For you see in the novel A Feast For Crows, Catelyn Stark isn’t truly dead nor she is truly alive. Oh no, the Brotherhood Without Banners raised her from the dead as a terrible, living manifestation of vengeance. She would eventually come to lead the company in a guerrilla campaign to kill the Freys and exact her bloody vengeance on the Lannisters. And so I waited eagerly to see her arrive at the end of Season 3, and I’ve been waiting ever since. I’m starting to suspect that we’re never going to get a Lady Stoneheart. Just a feeling.
Most of her plot points were given to Arya with her becoming the avenging hand of the Starks. Arya did a fine enough job I suppose playing badass assassin and picking folks off her list. Still, it simply doesn’t feel nearly as impactful as to have Catelyn be the one to slaughter the Frey. It would have been amazing to see Michelle Fairley take on the role of what was once a beloved mother, turned vengeful revenant.
There’s truly no love like a mother’s and no wrath like hers. She’s meant to represent the ugliness of retribution and how it morphs us into monsters beyond recognition. Arya sort of has that realization near the end of this week’s episode “The Bells” with her witnessing the Hound throw away his life to kill his brother and Daenerys’ devastating rampage. Its lacklustre execution thought left me wondering how much more powerful it would have been for Arya to realize that from her own mother!
5. The White Walkers
In the books, the White Walkers are more commonly known as the Others. They’re seen as ethereal like beings, more comparable to that of the elves of Rivendell than emaciated, ice demons we see in the show. Regardless of their depictions, I thought that for the first five seasons Game of Thrones did a wonderful job of creating an air of mystery and power around them. They were the boogeymen of Westeros, the hidden threat nobody believed.
We got bits and pieces about them here and there in the books but for the most part, their origins remained a mystery. Are they gods? Are they guardians of nature? George R.R. Martin always kept things decidedly ambiguous with the more supernatural elements of his story. It’s meant to illustrate that the evils of this world are never so black-or-white. Sometimes, we don’t get to know where they come from, only that they’re there. Sadly, Benioff and Weiss didn’t get the memo.
In the fifth episode of season 6 “Hold the Door”, the Three-Eyed Raven reveals to Bran that it is the Children of the Forest who created the White Walkers to defend themselves against mankind. Then, somewhere down the line their creation had turned on them and began going on their undead crusade. From the mysterious and complex race, the show had turned them into what is essentially the fantasy version of Skynet’s Terminators. This origin for the White Walkers feels lazy, tacked on and frankly doesn’t make much sense.
How come during the war between the First Men and the Children of the Forest, the White Walkers were never mentioned once as being used against mankind? The first appearance of the White Walkers came 2000 years after the peace pact between the Children and the First Men. Were they taking a long nap during the war and got pissed when the Children woke them up 2000 freaking years later? The enigmatic force of winter gearing up for war with Man turns out to be just another generic faulty automaton, how disappointing.