‘Game of Thrones’: Why the Books Are Better Than the Show

Game of Thrones fans typically find themselves divided between two camps: readers and non-readers. For the former, they’re familiar with every in and out of Westeros and beyond, having dug through literally thousands of pages of A Song of Ice and Fire novels before ever tuning into the HBO series. [Update, 5/11/16: Added news about sample chapter from ‘The Winds of Winter’.] And while the next novel in the series is still incomplete, George R.R. Martin has posted an excerpt from The Winds of Winter on his website.

The latter will eschew the long hours of reading in favor of just watching the show, choosing to understand the GoT story in its most visible medium. There are undoubtedly benefits to both approaches, but for the sake of this argument, we’re going to pick a side here. Let’s hear it for the readers, shall we?

1. Getting the full story

Game of Thrones Books - George R. R. Martin
Game of Thrones books | Source: Winteriscoming.net

Every season of HBO’s show is limited to 10 hour-long episodes, an approach that inevitably forces showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to play fast and loose with the source material. It’s in turn led to a fair amount of rearranging. While Seasons 1 and 2 were more or less a direct retelling of their respective books, Season 3 was where things began to run off the rails in terms of sticking to the books. The third season roughly accounted for about the first half of the third novel, A Storm of Swords, followed by the second half of the book in Season 4. Season 5 then combined the fourth and fifth novels, A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons. 

While all this is necessary from a television standpoint, it leaves a lot of important story elements on the page. Reading the books gives you the unabridged, full version of the Game of Thrones saga, while providing some much-needed insight into inner monologues, character motivations, and some major plot twists that HBO’s show simply doesn’t have the space to include (see: Lady Stoneheart).

2. The books are the perfect companion to the show

Game of Thrones - Tyrion Lannister
Game of Thrones | Source: HBO

It’s not just about the elements left out of the show that give readers an edge though. Why do you think people are clamoring for the companion material to The Force Awakens? Disney’s new series of canonical novels, TV series, and comic book all are integral parts to the franchise’s main story thread, and Game of Thrones operates in a similar way. The books may not be telling a separate, parallel story to the show, but they still act as a contextual guide to what we see on HBO.

3. It’s George R.R. Martin’s story as it was meant to be told

Battle of the Trident - Game of Thrones
Source: Deviantart

Depending on how you feel about A Song of Fire and Ice, you may have mixed feelings on this one. That being so, any purist would likely agree that the books are the purist form of George R.R. Martin’s story. Without the limitation of a 10-episode season, Martin is free to meticulously craft his universe, injecting dozens of characters and plot-lines into the pages of his novels. It’s a process that admittedly has slowed to a crawl in recent years, but one that still comes straight from the creator himself. HBO’s Game of Thrones may utilize Martin for input (and the occasional screenplay), but for the most part, it represents an altered version of his work.

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