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Looking Back on Song of Ice and Fire Book 1: The Original vs. The TV Remix

Sean Bean as Ned Stark in Game of Thrones

Recently, I have embarked on a journey of reading through George R.R. Martin‘s series A Song of Fire and Ice. In conjunction with this, I chose to watch the HBO Series Game of Thrones as I finished the corresponding book. I finished Book One about a week ago, and have just finished Season 1 of the TV series. While I know I am behind, I have never been accused of being current in my pop culture (though I still don’t understand what is wrong with my Garanimals shirts and my Zubas trousers…?). I decided to tackle this with some overall observations, and then discuss my favorite characters and their representation in each piece of media. I will begin with this question: Do you think there was ever a time where Kristian Nairn (aka Hodor) ever had to stop shooting and ask for his line?

Obviously, this piece contains spoiler information for both book and series, so if you’re trying to remain free of one or the other…you pays your silver stags, you takes your chances.

[ad#rightpost]Miscellaneous Discussion

The events occur seventeen years after Robert’s Rebellion instead of fourteen years. This ages all the children three years, which I would imagine is done due to the sensitivity of some of the actions of the characters not being suitable for television audiences if they were younger as they are in the book. I have no issues with this change, other than it increases the length of Robert’s reign.

One scene that I felt was unnecessary and really felt out of place was the scene added to the television series with Cersei and Robert discussing their failing marriage, and how they used to be closer, etc. They also discussed Lyanna Stark and Cersei even asked Robert if she ever had a chance to replace Lyanna in his heart. My perception of Cersei is she is cold and calculating and has been trying to pull off this coup the entire time, not that her heart has recently hardened because of Robert’s drinking and unfaithfulness, as well as the way he treats her.

A similar type scene was added later in the series with Petyr Baelish discussing his love for Catelyn Stark with the whores. I understand the desire for making it more apparent that he had these feelings for her, but in my opinion in these types of stories, less is more. I didn’t need it to just be stated like that. Additionally, that entire scene felt forced and unnecessary, and seemed to just be HBO throwing some gratuitous nudity in.

The scene where Varys and Illyrio are overheard by Arya Stark in the Dungeon discussing the rise of the Dothraki and Khal Drogo’s desire to cross the river to attack is altered from the book. In the book, it wasn’t clear who was being overheard, and you didn’t know yet who the informant was. In the series, it was obvious. The follow up to this scene was Baelish and Varys essentially playing “who is bigger” by discussing all their different spying opportunities. This is another situation where I felt less would have been more. The way they acquire their information should not be something immediately revealed this early in a long series.

Harry Lloyd as Viserys Targaryen in Game of Thrones

Viserys Targaryen (played by Harry Lloyd)

My perception of Viserys from the book was while he may not have been large in stature, he certainly portrayed himself to be. I understand that his mind was clouded and he was being manipulated by Illyrio, but I felt the TV series portrayed him as a bumbling idiot. I did not get that impression in the book. I just felt he had delusions of grandeur. We are led to believe that if Robert Baratheon had not defeated his father, that one day Viserys would have been king. The portrayal in the series made it seem impossible that he could ever rule. To me, one of the most striking examples of this was when Drogo first looked at Daenerys and left without saying anything. Viserys came running down the stairs pouting like a lost child wondering where his mommy was going. I just didn’t like how inept they made him look.

That being said, I believe that Harry Lloyd did a great job of portraying the character the way it was written for television. My issue is with the writing, not the acting. As an aside, I felt while reading the book that pretty much every single time that Viserys spoke, he would threaten to wake the dragon. Because of how many times I felt I read this, I decided to make a dragon counter for while I watched the series. Only twice did Viserys make any mention of waking the dragon, and only a total of seven times did he refer to himself as the dragon, including three times in thirty seconds in one of his final scenes. Apparently, the writers of the series were also scared of waking the dragon.

Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones

Khal Drogo (played by Jason Momoa)

Drogo was a fun character. I thought Momoa was a good casting for the part also. My first impression was how much the Dothraki Language sounds like the Judoon language from Dr. Who. I spent the first few minutes of the scene introducing the Khalasar anxiously waiting for the Tardis to appear. (I think that would be an interesting crossover.) I do hereby claim this idea on behalf of Need Coffee Dot Com, and expect royalties to be paid when HBO and the BBC bring this to reality. (Kidding–no doubt the fanfic already exists.)

My issue with Drogo was his demise. I thought he was excellently written in both the book and the series, and his character was the same most of the way through. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Drogo learns of the attempt on Daenerys’ life, and makes the decree that they will cross the river and invade, then pledges the Iron Throne to his son. I think that is exactly the type of rage he would have demonstrated. However, the next time he is involved, things are quite different. From my recollection of the book, Drogo is wounded while fighting a rival Khal when they are raiding a village on their march to the sea. It is this wound that the sorceress ultimately uses to trick Daenerys. In the TV series, there is a added scene where Drogo and Mago fight, because Mago doesn’t want to listen to Daenerys orders. This scene was apparently added because it was felt that Drogo’s skill in combat hadn’t been displayed. Again, less is more in my opinion. It was obvious he was a fearsome warrior, we learned of his braids the first time we met him, etc. I didn’t need to actually see him fight. The precursor to this fight is Mago pressing his sword against Drogo’s chest, which cut Drogo. Drogo didn’t resist this and it came off as a taunt or sign of disrespect. Ultimately Drogo killed Mago and ripped out his tongue. This cut, however, is ultimately the cut that led to his death. I didn’t like the mighty Drogo falling to a flesh wound. My perception of the book was he was injured badly in the fight with the rival Khal, but he was hiding it initially from Daenerys and trying to remain strong, but it eventually had to be tended to. This wound in the TV series did not require immediate assistance like it was portrayed.

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones

Daenerys Targaryen (played by Emilia Clarke)

Emilia Clark, in my opinion, did the best acting job in the entire first season. She was fantastic in her portrayal of Daenerys. While this may be due to the fact that I am a man, and she is a gorgeous talented actress, I feel anyone would recognize how hard this role could have been. Daenerys was thirteen in the book, and was aged to sixteen for the TV series. When you think about what she goes through (an abusive brother, a forced (and rapey) marriage, falling in love, becoming pregnant, losing a child then losing her husband) it would be difficult to portray this in such a relatively short season. I thought Clark was phenomenal in letting Daenerys mature and age over the series, from a meek girl to a ruling woman at the end. She was absolutely my favorite character in Season 1. Really, the only issue I have at all with her character was the final scene. In the book, she steps into the Pyre and on the same evening, she steps out with the dragons nursing from her. In the series, it is the next morning, and she is discovered still alive, and the dragons are just with her. While I know this is a minor change, I was waiting for the image of her stepping out of that pyre with the Dragons clearly claiming her as their mother. When I did not receive that, I was a little let down. I don’t know what happens with Daenerys as the books progress, but she seems to be a key character, and the fact that she rules even the dragons seems essential and should have been depicted the original way.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones

Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage)

Nothing more needs to be said about how great a job Dinklage did in portraying Tyrion. He was well deserving of the Emmy he won. I thought Tyrion’s character was portrayed slightly different than the intention of the book, but I didn’t have much issue with it…save for two instances. First, there is an entirely silly scene with Tyrion, Bronn and Shae playing drinking games, specifically a “never have I ever” game. This seemed to be used as an opportunity to introduce some more background to the characters, but it just seemed out of character for Tyrion. He is so strategic that I can’t see him playing party games with alcohol that could lead to him revealing some of his plans. Secondly, in the Battle of Green Fork, the series shows Tyrion getting knocked out by his own man’s hammer before the battle even begins, and he misses the entire fight. In the book, Tyrion has to find a way to survive the battle and is very involved. He feels that his father wanted him to be killed and placed his gathering as a decoy in harm’s way. With the important role Tyrion plays in this series, I did not understand at all why they minimized his involvement in the battle, and made him look like he couldn’t be in combat. There was another reference like this earlier, when Catelyn’s group is attacked and Tyrion uses only a shield to help fight. I know that Tyrion constantly says he uses his mind to win and not his might, but there almost seems to be intent by the TV writers to make sure he is never seen in true combat.

Still, overall, I was very pleased with the interpretation from book to screen. I thought the story followed the first book very closely, and there were few scenes plucked from future books (one I can think of is Arya meeting some of the boys that accompany her in the second book). Of the omitted scenes from the book, none of them struck me as essential to my viewing experience. Very often when a popular book series is adapted to screen, some details are left out that are important to the story (the entire story arc involving Hermione and the House Elves in Harry Potter that was entirely omitted in the films, thus making Dobby’s reappearance and death seem very out of place). I didn’t feel any detail like this was missing. I may not have agreed with some of the portrayals of the characters by the TV writers, but in terms of the actual story, it was great. As I complete the second book and season, I will follow up and see if I still feel this way.


  • I will say that the Robert/Cersei scene, as I’ve stated elsewhere, was my favorite thing in the entire first season. That was the scene which sold me on the series from a writing standpoint in the same way that Tyrion’s arrest scene at the Inn with Cat sold me on the book. But different strokes and all that…

    But to balance that out, I too was a bit miffed at the Tyrion’s knocked out of battle thing. Was a bit too comical IMO.

  • I can understand that. The scene was well written and acted, I just felt I didn’t need it. I can also see how some additional content driven scenes would be more enjoyable if I had read the books previous to this venture. I agree with your previous review on how strictly the Series is following the books, and how it can prevent any surprise moments, so I am sure a nugget of bacon is nice to find.

  • Now to be fair, if they had bribed you with bacon, you would have enjoyed the show even more. Admit it.

    “You don’t want me to wake the bacon, do you?”
    “HELL YES.”

  • Agreed. Inserting bacon into the show’s thematic lines does make for a less menacing tone.

    “Bacon is coming!”
    “Fricking outstanding, where do I sign up!”

  • I think the Targaryens are not portrayed on the show as well as described in the book too. I had a few episodes that I liked Daenarys and a few that seemed rather flat. Yes, Viserys was way to whiny compared to the books. He is almost Luke Skywalker whiny to say the least.

    Peter Dinklage and poor Eddard Stark make season 1 awesome!

  • I thought that in the book, Tyrion was much more maniacal, constantly fantasizing about brutally maiming his enemies. Also I’m pretty sure his big battle scene got cut due to budget constraints, which seems to happen to a lot of battles in the show.

  • Eric: your Luke Skylwalker comparison is spot on, in my opinion. Though it would have been outstanding if Viserys had a creepy voice in his head repeating “use the dragon”…

    Niel: I understand the world of budget restraints, but I felt they did the character a disservice by not just cutting the fight, but actually making him look silly also. He is a scheming mastermind in the books, and through one series he isn’t portrayed that way.