‘Game of Thrones’ Books vs. Show: 5 of the Biggest Differences

Spoilers ahead for all seasons of Game of Thrones!

Last year, Game of Thrones wrapped up its epic fifth season on HBO. While it’s enjoyed record ratings and a devoted fan following, this past string of episodes has also been amongst the most divisive for fans the George R. R. Martin’s book series on which GoT is based. That’s because on more than one occasion, major events have gone down differently than they do in the novels.

It’s not the first time it’s happened, though. Every year, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have made changes and strayed from a plot that’s intensely familiar to book fans. Sometimes, they do it to condense plot lines and keep the show’s story moving. Other times, they seem to do it to keep fans on their toes.

Whatever the reason, there are plenty of differences that fans eagerly debate and deconstruct. From the very first episode to the fifth season finale, here are five of the most obvious differences between the page and the screen.

1. Sansa Stark and Ramsay Bolton

Sansa Stark and Ramsay Bolton in 'Game of Thrones.'

Sansa Stark and Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones. | Source: HBO

This is one of the most obvious, and certainly one of the most controversial, changes from the books. In Martin’s version of events, the Lannisters pass off a Stark family friend, Jeyne, to the Boltons as collateral for an important alliance, convincing the Boltons that Jeyne is actually Arya. In HBO’s GoT, Jeyne never enters the picture at all. Instead, Sansa herself marries the superbly evil Ramsay Bolton in Season 5 as a means of gaining political power. Keeping with the theme of the novels, in which Ramsay holds Jeyne hostage and relentlessly tortures her, he rapes Sansa while Theon watches on in horror.

After Sansa’s assault, fans were enraged with the show’s deviation from the book’s plotline. Their anger was mostly due not to Jeyne’s absence, but to the fact that the show has a questionable portrayal of sexual assault, and many feel as though poor Sansa has already suffered enough.

2. The Fate of Shireen Baratheon

Shireen Baratheon

Shireen Baratheon. | Source: HBO

This tragic sequence was one of the most buzzed about moments of Season 5, both because of the depravity of the moment, and because it’s something that just plain hasn’t happened in the books — yet. Stannis Baratheon’s daughter Shireen was, in so many ways, a rare symbol of light and goodness in the Game of Thrones world. So, it was particularly cruel when he chose to take heed of Melisandre’s warning and sacrifice her to increase his power. He burned his own daughter alive, and stood by as she screamed and begged for her life — how heartless can you get? Nothing like this moment has happened in Martin’s Westeros, which has fans speculating as to whether the show just released a major spoiler for future books.

3. Mrs. Robb Stark

Talisa and Robb Stark in 'Game of Thrones.

Talisa and Robb Stark. | Source: HBO

In the Game of Thrones novel A Storm of Swords, Robb Stark falls in love with Jeyne Westerling, but has to marry her in secret because he’s been promised to one of Walder Frey’s daughter. That probably sounds familiar to TV-only fans, because it’s very similar to a plotline from the show’s third season, with a couple of very crucial differences — the woman Robb marries, and her fate at the hands of the Freys. In the TV series, Robb marries the decidedly less homely Talisa, a nurse he meets on the battle lines. Like in the books, he does this despite making a promise to marry one of Frey’s daughters. This ultimately still results in one of the series’ most tragic moments — The Red Wedding. But while Jeyne isn’t present at the wedding, and thus escapes the massacre that takes both Robb and Catelyn Starks’ lives, his TV wife isn’t as fortunate. She’s present and pregnant at the ceremony, and meets an even more gruesome demise than her beloved husband.

4. Lady Stoneheart

Catelyn Stark

Catelyn Stark at the Red Wedding. | Source: HBO

After the infamous Red Wedding, fans of the books were delighted when Catelyn Stark was resurrected as the vengeful Lady Stoneheart. After all, poor Catelyn deserved a little revenge after her husband, Ned, and son Robb were both ruthlessly murdered by their adversaries. So naturally, when the Red Wedding hit the TV series in Season 3, and Catelyn died tragically with a haunting scream, fans eagerly awaited the return of LS — until she didn’t show up. For more than a season. Benioff and Weiss have been vague about whether they’ll eventually bring her into the fold, but Michelle Fairley, who portrayed the Stark matriarch, indicated that she didn’t think she’d be returning to the series, reports The Huffington Post.

5. The White Walkers

The White Walkers

A baby crying as a White Walker approaches on Game of Thrones. | Source: HBO

These insidious and terrifying creatures are one of the mysterious pieces of Martin’s mythology. But in his book series, they are more often talked about than seen or heard. In the live-action version of Game of Thrones, we meet the White Walkers early — in the opening sequence of the series’ first episode. Over the past five seasons, we’ve come to see their terrifying faces often, and learn more about how they operate — including what they do with the children they take as sacrifices.

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