Game of Thrones and “A Song of Ice and Fire.” They’re the same story heading to a shared predetermined end. Only the author of “Ice and Fire,” George R.R. Martin, and the Game of Thrones showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, know where that snowy path will lead, and until the fifth season, they mostly have been making that journey together.
Yet in Game of Thrones season five, the HBO adaptation has seemingly parted ways with the book series for good, even surpassing it narratively and spoiling for book readers the reemergence of the Night’s King, the outcome of the Battle for Winterfell, and most especially the bitter, bitter fate of Shireen Baratheon. But all of those elements are apparently things to come in Martin’s prose, for even if one moves at the pace of a direwolf and the other like Ser Dontos during a king’s Name Day, each narrative is still the same story. Except when they’re not.
So before Game of Thrones season six makes this divergence total, we thought it prudent to look back at the past five seasons, which more or less adapted the five published novels of “A Song of Ice and Fire,” and decide what were the very best changes that Benioff and Weiss made…and which were the very, very worst.
The 15 Best Game of Thrones Book Changes
15. The Ladies Tyrell
One of the most fascinating aspects of Martin’s novels is that every single chapter is a perpetually fixed angle that never gives a full picture of the events it documents. By telling an epic only through the eyes of countless point-of-view characters over some 6,000 pages, he crafts a mosaic of unreliable narrators that can rarely see Westerosi politics or events beyond the five feet in front of their face.
This has allowed him to intentionally leave several major blind spots with important players throughout the saga, including until recently the Martells in Dorne, all five men who called themselves “king” during the war, and the entire inner-working of the House Tyrell.
But for better or worse, television does not have that luxury, and in the case of the Tyrells that turned out to be an advantage. On the page, Margaery Tyrell is a pretty young thing who at 16 years of age either has the worst or best luck in the world depending on your vantage. Married three times and twice the widow before consummation, she is intentionally a blank slate for characters like Cersei to project their hatreds and paranoia onto. And the Tyrell matriarch, Olenna Redwyne (aka the Queen of Thorns), is even more mysterious since she only appears twice before the hopelessly outmatched Sansa Stark.
Yet, on the show both were by necessity developed into fully fleshed out characters—which is all the better for us when Benioff and Weiss cast actresses of Natalie Dormer and Diana Rigg’s caliber in the roles. Instead of being mysterious gameplayers in the wings, we see the skill and cunning with which Margaery manipulates every man in her life, and the actual sharp-edged point of the proverbial queen’s thorn.
Coloring Margaery with both avarice for a crown and disdain for her mother-in-law who shares it, as well as genuine compassion for Sansa Stark and her brother’s plight, makes all the difference in creating one of the best characters on the series. And then the other is Diana Rigg dispensing more venomous barbs than Tyrion Lannister. This is nothing if not an improvement.
14. The Man Who Called Himself Jaqen Returns
Honestly, there was no desperate reason for Jaqen h’ghar to return after he frees Arya and her band of childhood heroes from the confines of Harrenhal. And he has not as of yet in “A Song of Ice and Fire.”
Still, one of the smallest but most gratifying changes about Game of Thrones season five was the reintroduction to the Man Who Speaks in Third Person at the House of Black and White. In the novels, there is likely not a single reader who had not hoped to see this dryly funny assassin again when Arya landed in Braavos—and probably still more than a few who suspect the Kindly Man who trains her to be Jaqen in disguise.
But Game of Thrones realizes this small yet gratifying reunion, which gives Arya’s storyline in Braavos more familiarity, is wholly welcomed by sullied and unsullied fans alike.
13. The Removal of Griff and Young Griff
As with every year, there seems to be some debate about the pace of Game of Thrones season five. While we tend to agree here that it was a step down from the quality of the past, generally pacing issues tend to be borne just out of fans’ impatience for the next episode to air. Indeed, for the sullied fans of the show who have read the books, season five moved like a freight train with the way it sped through characters’ travels and adventures.
This was most especially true for Tyrion Lannister and his journey to Volantis and Ser Jorah Mormont. By comparison, Tyrion’s chapters in A Dance with Dragons amount to a very, very, very long tourist’s guide and travelogue of Essos. He even does a degree of sea turtle watching with Griff and Young Griff—a father-and-son duo who turn out to have a major secret.
For the Unsullied reading this, you should know that the rest of this entry might pertain to a future spoiler…but I doubt it.
In one of the most bizarre choices of Martin’s labored fifth novel, it is revealed that the too-educated-to work-a-riverboat father-and-son duo are not related at all; they are young Prince Aegon Targaryen (Daenerys’ nephew and son to the long deceased Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell) and his sworn bodyguard, the former Hand of the King and the former Lord of Griffin’s Roost, Jon Connington.
Essentially a double-blind Targaryen revelation, Tyrion learns that there are two exiled Targaryens in Essos with dreams of reclaiming their family’s honor; he then seemingly tricks Prince Aegon into a suicide mission of landing in Dorne without any army and to order Prince Doran to help him reclaim King’s Landing!
It is certainly a plot twist. It’s also a belated game player entering the proceedings with winter nigh upon us and Dany still wasting away in Meereen after 1,500 pages. If Dany’s storyline is any indication, the pace with which this younger Targaryen reaches Westeros might be decades after the fact, and he most egregiously feels like a cheat this far into the story. He also never comes back at all in the fifth novel.
Thus there is good indication that Benioff and Weiss feel the same way since not only did they excise this run-in with Tyrion Lannister, but they also gave Jon Connington’s story arc to Jorah Mormont. In A Dance with Dragons, it is Connington who is infected with greyscale when the stone men attack his boat with Tyrion on it, and it is likewise Connington who hides his condition from Prince Aegon as he seeks to place the boy on the throne. Aye, it’s much like the latest dynamic between Mormont and Daenerys, who viewers and readers both would prefer spending time with over this ill-fated duo.
12. Sansa Goes North
Didn’t expect this one, did you? Well, let’s just say that before the episode “Unbowed, Unbroken, Unbent,” this entry would have been much higher. Still as it stands, Sansa Stark spent all of the first three novels and first four seasons of the television series being abused and psychologically tortured by Joffrey, Cersei, and the whole court of King’s Landing, save for her impish husband. Even her Aunt Lysa tried to kill her. Much of this seemed to be building towards Sansa hardening from victim to survivor, and to finally major gameplayer.
…Yet, we’re still waiting for that last bit in both mediums. However, one of Martin’s most interesting characters spent the whole of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons taking an epic elevator ride down from the Eyrie and then touring the Vale while Littlefinger tutors her by day and steals lecherous kisses by night from his “bastard daughter.” So giving her a major arc about taking back her namesake and homeland from the Boltons seemed like an inspired decision once, and it still might be in the long run…except for, well see the next page’s list for more…
11. Brienne vs. the Hound
Pretty much like the title suggests, having Brienne fight the Hound was a much more satisfying moment for both characters’ arcs in season four. While this fudges the timeline a little bit, Brienne’s search for Sansa Stark in A Feast for Crows got the most amount of chapters this side of Cersei. And since we could safely see that Sansa Stark was in the Vale for the entirety of those chapters, the feeling of listlessness and failure were omnipresent during Brienne’s tribulations.
But that’s not the case on Game of Thrones. Barely out the door of King’s Landing, Brienne the Beauty had a beautiful chance to test her much-praised steel against another one of Martin’s most fearsome and lauded warriors—and she came out the better. It is an epic, grueling fight to death between Brienne and Sandor Clegane that includes biting, near eye-gouging, and cruelly aimed punches and kicks at each other’s most sacred of areas. It also made for a satisfyingly blood-soaked cause for the Hound’s demise, as opposed to the simple infection that began to rot in A Storm of Swords.
10. More Bronn
That’s pretty much it. In “A Song of Ice and Fire,” Bronn vanishes from the novels after refusing to fight in Tyrion’s stead against the Mountain. In Game of Thrones, he has gone from Tyrion’s sidekick to Jaime’s. If we could pair him with every character, the show could only get better still.
9. Arya Becomes Tywin’s Cupbearer
We certainly have issues about how Arya’s exploits were downsized, but this addition nearly makes up for any such grievances.
When Arya goes to Harrenhal in season two, she does not have to spend her time scrubbing floors or pretending to be a boy. Instead, she proves to be the kind of child that Tywin Lannister always wanted: a budding sociopath. Discovering that she is a well-read girl with the wits about her to dress as a boy, Tywin takes her on as his cupbearer and provides the series with some of its still greatest performance highlights.
Charles Dance and Maisie Williams make their screentime together both endearing and uneasily tense; they honestly make us almost wish that Benioff and Weiss blew a hole in Martin’s intricate narrative tapestry just so these two murderous personalities could square off with admiration and veiled hatred for the length of the entire series.
8. Sansa Does Not Tell Cersei About Eddard’s Plan
“A Song of Ice and Fire” is a stunning work of imagination and intense “big picture” plotting. However, one issue that I think Martin tended to overlook in his early novels is how to predict reader reaction. For instance, he has repeatedly admitted surprise and apprehension to the cult of personality and fandom that has developed around Stannis Baratheon amongst book readers; nor could he guess the level of unforgiving scorn certain fans developed for either Catelyn Stark or her daughter Sansa.
To be sure, there might be something cultural to consider about how readers can forgive a man who murders his brother and has countless more burned at the stake due to the prophecies of a red witch (and that’s not even bringing in what may or may not happen to literary Shireen in the near future), yet simultaneously condemn Catelyn or Sansa as monsters due to their much less deadly and fratricidal foibles.
In Sansa’s case, this vitriol stems from her rather petulant warning to Queen Cersei that Ned Stark plans to leave the Capitol with his family. For a certain stripe of reader, this naïve but believable action by a 14-year-old girl led many to blame her for her father’s maiming later that day at the hands of Jaime Lannister, and most strangely the eventual events that befell him and their whole family. Indeed, there are many fans that say Sansa deserved Joffrey’s beatings, naked humiliations, and worse because of this act.
Such ignorance and female scapegoating should not be placated. Still, it is probably for the best that Sansa not become the patsy for television viewers for an action that would all but be inevitable with Varys and Littlefinger’s spies everywhere to explain away Jaime’s confrontation (never mind Ned’s own numerous blunders before and after this incident).
7. Brienne Finds the Stark Girls
It only lasted a moment in season five, but it made a world of difference. While it is a shame that Brienne and Podrick did not have nearly enough to do during the back half of Game of Thrones’ fifth season, at least they featured in a role of success and competence that allowed them to discover Sansa Stark and follow her North. Think if season five had Brienne and Podrick still riding around the riverlands, repeatedly getting jumped and essentially mugged while vainly looking for the Stark girl that we know is hundreds of miles away. That was the alternative.
6. Catelyn Stark
Like the title suggests, Catelyn Stark as a whole is given added dimension in Game of Thrones that is not present in “A Song of Ice and Fire.” This is not to say that Cat is uninteresting in the novels or narratively plays a different function, yet a few subtle choices by Benioff and Weiss made for a much more sympathetic and mourned protagonist.
For instance, like the aforementioned Sansa issue, Benioff and Weiss wisely chose to remove Catelyn telling Jon Snow that she wished it was him who fell from a window and was paralyzed instead of Bran. Similarly, she is depicted in season three as showing remorse for how she treated Jon Snow throughout his childhood, suggesting that her current tragedies were a result of not keeping her oath to the gods that she’d treat the boy as her son if he pulled through an illness.
Additionally in Game of Thrones, she is a better diplomat with Renly—possibly negotiating a potential accommodation between the two kings before Stannis’ shadow got involved—and more understanding of Brienne’s hardships as opposed to judging. She even has a more believable reaction to Ned being summoned to King’s Landing as Hand of the King: don’t go. This seemed a more human reaction than the wife he’d leave behind singing the praises of Ned’s eventual glory in such a position.
Less one change than a multitude of miniscule ones, they ultimately played out all the better into our sorrow when Cat met the business end of Walder Frey’s hospitality.
5. Cersei and Robert Had a Stillborn Child
Cersei Baratheon is one of the most troubled, layered, and quite mad characters in Martin’s mythology. Imagining herself a Machiavellian mastermind at the center of a complex play, Cersei’s self-delusion and arrogance can often take on at least Shakespearian qualities—especially after Tywin is dead and nobody can hold her back from her worst inclinations and phantom paranoias.
However, Game of Thrones wisely decided to add an extra nuance of genuine humanity and compassion underneath all that vanity and bitter resentment. The first instance of this occurred in the second episode when Cersei reveals to Catelyn that she too lost a child in childbirth—apparently her first babe that was truly consummated with Robert Baratheon.
This admission is one of nigh guilt since she knows that Bran is in a coma, likely to die at that moment, because her brother and lover pushed him out of a window. She too wants the boy dead, and confers as much to Tyrion when she ponders whose side he is on when he boasts of curiosity to hear what the boy saw before his fall. Yet, this infinitely selfish queen can still take pity on a fellow grieving mother in Catelyn and finds some of her own past horrors in the Starks’ current anguish. It’s a small but incredibly telling addition to Cersei’s backstory. Which leads us to…
4. Cersei and Robert Actually Had a Kinship
In A Game of Thrones, Martin’s first novel, the king and queen’s relationship extends only so far as shared public events. Otherwise, one is seeing to his boars and whores, and the other is planning to see him die by them. While that is all still very much in tact in the HBO series as well, both are rounded off in much more dynamic ways when we are given a glimpse into their married life past and present.
Indeed, one of the very best scenes of the series is created out of whole cloth by Benioff and Weiss as Cersei sits down with Robert to discuss his strategy about the Targaryen girl across the Narrow Sea, his seeming break-up with Ned Stark, and of course the state of their eternally broken marriage. The conversation reveals much about both characters, including that Cersei attempted to truly love Robert and perhaps was not always as deranged as she is now. She was sold off to marry the handsome leader of a rebellion and was then subsequently raped on their wedding night. Yet, she even still tried to love this man after their first and (unbeknownst to Robert) only child died. Sadly, Robert’s irrational grief over Lyanna poisoned any hope of happiness for either royal spouse.
Instead of being the crazy-for-incest Lannister who came to King’s Landing already planning to jump her brother at any passing moment to make her babies, Cersei was once a frightened girl (much like Sansa) who came to marry a king, but only found a crown of Seven Hells. It’s only when she achieved the same level of acrimony and disdain that her husband wallowed in that she was able to sit across a table from him and speak plainly about Lyanna and the past. It is a small tragedy for both people, an enormous one for the realm, but also a fascinating victory for the viewer.
In the books, Hardhome is a place we learn about in passing via cryptic letters from Beyond the Wall. Knowing full well that this last holdout of Wildlings will soon become fresh recruits for the Army of the Dead, Jon Snow sends men on ships from Eastwatch by the Sea to rescue them. The mission was apparently a disaster with many brothers in black stranded in the North by the incoming attacks of Others. Not much more is known.
On Game of Thrones, Jon Snow personally leads the rescue at Hardhome. While the geographic realities of this are a bit suspect at best, it provides hands down one of the most jaw-dropping moments in television history when Jon Snow’s Night’s Watch brothers stand shoulder-to-shoulder and terror-to-terror with Wildlings as the White Walkers and Wights descend upon them like an avalanche of death. It is a grisly and breathtaking sequence where the heroes categorically lose, and tens of thousands of Wildlings are slaughtered—adding to the ranks of the dead.
Proving that sometimes showing is better than telling, the slaughter at Hardhome and the Night’s King’s reveal to the Night’s Watch acts as the first snowfall of Winter on Thrones. And it looks to be a stunningly bleak one too.
2. Daenerys Meets Tyrion
For any unsullied viewers out there, imagine for a moment that you read a near 1,500-page book. Now consider that said book is structured in large part around the idea that one of the fan favorite characters (Tyrion Lannister) is on a quest to meet another fan favorite character who has yet to meet a major player from Westeros (Daenerys Targaryen). And just as you get to the end of the book where both are in the same gladiatorial arena at the same time…the meeting never happens. Dany flies away with Drogon, and Tyrion remains a slave with Yunkai masters.
Pretty disappointing, right?
Well fortunately for you, Benioff and Weiss decided not to spend all of the fifth season or more teasing this plot development with no payoff. Aye, Tyrion does meet Daenerys, and East and West collide in spectacular fashion. It’s so satisfying that it could have been a series finale closer, but instead we got three more episodes, which includes amazingly clever tete-a-tetes between the characters, showcasing Tyrion’s ability to talk his way out of any situation not involving Cersei.
When Tyrion piques the Silver Queen’s curiosity with small hints about Cersei, Tywin, and Joffrey’s cruelty, he lands himself the open position of being Dany’s Westerosi advisor. And for fans of any House, there was much rejoicing at the prospect of this wonderfully potent Targaryen and Lannister combination.
1. Aging the Characters Up
This change might have largely been implemented out of practicality, but it has made a world of difference from the very beginning.
In “A Song of Ice and Fire,” nearly every character is either a teenager or still considerably young by modern standards. When A Game of Thrones begins, Lord Eddard Stark is 35 years of age, his wife Catelyn is 34, Robb is but 15 (the same age as Jon Snow), Sansa is not yet 14, and little Arya is merely nine-years-old. Tyrion, meanwhile, is 25, and perhaps most problematically, Daenerys is just about to turn 15-years-old as she is taken by the barbaric Khal Drogo for her wedding night.
The list goes on but in “A Song of Ice and Fire,” most of the characters are still essentially children.
This is partially done because Martin wants to expose readers to medieval notions of adulthood in shocking ways with his fantasy series. Further, it allows him to also deconstruct fantasy archetypes like the boy hero and boy king (see: death of Robb Stark for more).
Yet primarily, it always seemed a bit uncomfortable how other than Tywin Lannister, nobody of age or increased experience was developed in a meaningful way. Ned and Catelyn are depicted as young and pretty as just about every other character in the saga, despite also being parents of five children. But more awkward for any television series is the insistence that teenage girls, such as the aforementioned 14-year-old Dany, are considered the most beautiful “women” in the land as they are the objects of lust and lechery for all the men around them, including siblings.
For whatever subversive reasons Martin had to keep his characters young, and even childish, it is more than welcome that a few were allowed to age past their mid-30s, or indeed not be played by children for when their brothers covet their flesh on their wedding day. In fact, all things considered, it was probably the shrewdest and most appropriate change Game of Thrones could ever make.
The 11 Worst Game of Thrones Book Changes
11. Jon Snow Knows Nothing (Interesting) in Season 2
When the decision came to partially shoot the second season of Game of Thrones in Iceland, the series wisely picked a beautifully harsh land full of cinematic vistas around every seeming corner.
Unfortunately, shooting on ice is much more difficult than writing about it. As a result, many of Jon Snow’s scenes from that season, as well as season three, were truncated for the practical limitations of shooting in brutal snowy weather. Sadly, part of this decision involved cutting much of Jon’s adventures from A Clash of Kings. Most notably, in order for Jon to have short and character-building adventures with Ygritte, he had to lose any shred of competency, as well as one of the most suspenseful vignettes in all of Martin’s writings to date.
During the second book, there is a memorably tense tale of survival and hardship as Jon and four other Night’s Watch brothers attempt to outrun the winged eyes of a Warg’s hawk. Slowly, the Wildlings stalk them down a snowy mountain pass. Day by day, and mile by mile, the Wildlings get closer, and slowly but surely, every one of Jon’s traveling companions is picked off and murdered save for Jon and Qhorin Halfhand.
It is one of the most compelling moments in Jon Snow’s narrative prior to becoming Ygritte’s crow-toy. So, it’s such a shame that it was cut. The first of many compromises to Jon Snow’s storyline, which underserved the character between the second season and until about when Ygritte put three arrows (as well as some forward momentum) into the Bastard of Winterfell’s step.
10. A Full Season of Torture
Looking back, I can almost safely say that season three is my favorite year of Game of Thrones thus far. Of course, the Red Wedding is now as legendary to TV audiences as it is to fantasy aficionados, but that batch of episodes had other great moments like the Hound and Arya meeting, the redemption of a single-handed Jaime Lannister, the Bear and the Maiden Fair, and of course “Dracarys.”
Yet one mark that can be held against season three is that it was also the year of torture. While the literary course charted by Martin for Theon Greyjoy was not probable for a TV series—after the sacking of Winterfell, Theon is captured and readers know not if he is alive or dead until he shows up fully formed as Reek three novels later in A Dance of Dragons. However, keeping an actor of Alfie Allen’s talent on-set should not have meant 10 episodes in various stages of agony as he is flayed, skinned, and finally unmanned.
But that is exactly what we got. Ramsay Snow really is a bastard, no matter who pardons his birth. But as this list will show again, Game of Thrones has a habit of reveling in his nastiness far too gratuitously.
9. No Peach for Stannis
This is a tiny but missed opportunity. Considering that Stannis is a hard man to like on his best days, the one following the murder of his brother Renly was an especially grim one at that. However, one of Martin’s most wistfully haunting refrains is that during their last conversation, where Catelyn tried and failed to broker a peace, Renly was eating a peach. Full of life and confidence, Renly offered Stannis that fruit as some brotherly token.
Stannis of course refused his kin that he was planning to murder anyway. But after that moment, he could not help but stare at peaches and wonder what Renly was trying to say to him with the offer. It’s a bad dream of guilt and regret that stayed with him to the Wall, and made him much more human. With all of the shenanigans that the middle Baratheon brother would get up to, that would have only been a good thing.
All of it.
7. Tyrion Doesn’t Learn the Truth About Tysha
In A Storm of Swords, Tyrion’s choice to slaughter Tywin is the inevitable solution to a lifetime of variable slights and vindictive punishments. Yet, none was crueler than the time he forced Tyrion to watch Lannister soldiers gang rape his bride after Jaime admitted she was nothing more than a prostitute the older brother had hired to deflower the lad. In the books, it even goes one grotesque step further when Tywin forces Tyrion to abuse Tysha last in a line of dozens, paying her with a gold stag since his Lannister name was worth so much more. Thankfully, Benioff and Weiss left that last horrific detail out (Lord knows they’ve added enough rape scenes to make up for it…).
However, the story of Tysha should not have ended there. In fact, if it had, Tywin Lannister might have lived to get off that privy. Aye, in the third book, Tyrion’s decision to risk life and capture after Jaime’s noble rescue is given much more logical context and believability: Tysha was never a whore.
While Jaime rescued Tyrion out of love like in the show, he also saw that he was repaying a debt to his younger brother because he had wounded the Imp grievously decades prior to the event. When Tywin discovered Tyrion had taken a lowborn woman as his wife, the stern patriarch forced Jaime to lie to his little brother about her being a whore he paid to take Tyrion’s virginity. In fact, Tyrion had lost the V-card to the only woman who ever loved him for who he was, coins be damned.
This revelation’s implications are three-fold: it reveals why Jaime was so appalled with his father that he forsook earthly treasures and his family’s wealthy legacy for the relatively impoverished life of a member of the Kingsguard; it also revealed a new layer of Tywin’s malice and snobbery; and finally, it gave a convincing reason for Tyrion to decide to murder his father in a fit of passion.
While the absence of this reveal makes Jaime look even more saintly—an irony considering future entries on this list—it robs Tyrion of a genuinely cathartic reason to flush away any love for his family for good and all, along with his father’s life.
6. Jaime the Kinslayer
Speaking of Jaime, here is a character that will feature on this list extensively. Perhaps the best magic trick of Martin’s writing, Jaime Lannister is the personification of repugnance for two novels, as well as the man who will repeatedly attempt the murder of a child in order to hide his predilection for fornication with his sister.
And still somehow by the end of A Storm of Swords, we finally see from Jaime’s perspective why he grew up to be such a twisted person, not least of which involved his heroic decision to break an oath in order to save a city. For most of Jaime Lannister’s life, he has hidden under mountains of arrogance and sardonic flippancy the desire to be a good knight and a better man. Consider that he is only remembered for the king he slayed—but not for the tens of thousands of lives he saved in the process since Mad King Aerys wanted to burn every soul in King’s Landing alive.
From that point on, beginning with the contempt Ned Stark held for him when he found the slain king, Jaime was a cynic. But he still was not an evil or malicious presence. Despite his kingslaying, he loved his family as much as his father, if not more considering the affections he showered on his dwarf brother (never mind his sister).
Thus the decision to have Jaime Lannister escape from Robb Stark’s camp in season two by murdering a cousin is not only shocking, but it’s out of character. Jaime’s inability to kinslay is why he was so blindsided when Tyrion did that very deed to Tywin. Kinslaying in Westeros is viewed as the worst crime of all before the eyes of gods and men. He who kinslays will be cursed for all his days. In short, for a knight looking for redemption, it is not only a sin; it’s plainly dumb.
5. The Sansa and Ramsay Marriage
And for those who skipped from the twelfth entry on the last list, here is the rest of that thought:
Sending Sansa into a dynamic role of manipulating the Boltons is all well and good, but Benioff and Weiss failed to deliver on that promise. Instead of getting the “Dark Sansa” everyone expected from the season four finale—also the one who saved Petyr Baelish’s life with a lie—we were treated to a return of Sansa the Victim. Or more precisely, Sansa the Rape Victim.
The actual sexual violence Sansa had to endure, as repugnant as it is, might not even be the biggest problem with this development. Because in all honesty, marrying a man like Ramsay Bolton could not have ended in any other way. The bigger issue is that Sansa neither used her increased gameplaying abilities or Northern resources in any meaningful way to exact revenge or announce herself as more than a victim and survivor; at this point, Sansa should be building her place at the top of the North if she is to take over Winterfell, which is so obviously where her storyline is headed. Unfortunately, Benioff and Weiss were fine with her being locked in a tower and fretting about her fate, as she has always done. It robs Sansa of her character growth from the previous four seasons, and on top of that, it trivializes the rape of a teenage girl whose suffering is hardly even touched upon in a genuinely insightful way.
It turned one of their best changes into one of the worst.
4. No Amazing Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie Adventures
Another casualty of the budgetary and time limitations of television production, the transcendental adventures of Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie (and Lommy depending on the novel) crossing the riverlands was sadly removed during seasons two and three.
While in Clash and Storm, the three of them get into a variety of anecdotal vignettes, meeting persons born high and low, devastated and untouched by the War of the Five Kings, this medieval fantasy version of Mark Twain is almost entirely absent from the TV series due to not serving the plot in a significant way. As a tradeoff, we got some wonderful moments between Arya and Tywin, but it will always be a shame that we never see Arya’s attempt to steal food from village guards or their true daring escape from Harrenhal.
Aye, “Weasel’s Soup” becomes the stuff of legend amongst Roose Bolton’s men (you read that right) when she frees them from the Mountain’s clutches by throwing scalding hot soup into their guards’ faces, and slaughtering the rest with Jaqen h’ghar by her side. It’s just one of the many Arya adventures that will sadly have to remain exclusively on the page.
3. Craster’s Keep
On the previous page, we discussed how adding the Battle of Hardhome was a visceral way of increasing the action and showcasing the White Walkers in a crucial way for the series.
…Yeah, well the added Battle for Craster’s Keep is absolutely none of that.
In an attempt to check off a box about a presumable season four action quota (even though it featured one of the series’ great battles only a few episodes later in “Watchers on the Wall”), this was a moment purely contrived for television expectations and it showed. There was no convincing excuse given for Jon Snow to lead an expedition Beyond the Wall to punish these traitors, nor did it add anything to the series except a rather unexciting action sequence, complete with a little rape. Because after all, showing these guys slaughter the likable Lord Commander Mormont in a previous episode and inferring that they have participated in cannibalism isn’t enough. Nope, apparently they needed to be raping a woman in the background, because…shock? Horror? Hopefully not titillation.
There truly is nothing positive to say about this entire detour.
2. Jaime and Bronn Go to Dorne
But if Craster’s Keep was a waste of an episode’s last 15 minutes, then Dorne turned out to be a horrible misuse of two of the series’ best characters in season five.
Like a year-long variation on the Craster’s Keep problem, Jaime and Bronn are sent to Dorne to kidnap the Princess Myrcella back from the no good Martells since the Sand Snakes have rather foolishly announced via package their intent to murder the young “Baratheon.”
Ergo, rather than bring this to the attention of Prince Doran, who ended up stopping the assassination with his own guards since it was stupidly executed in broad daylight, and who subsequently gave Myrcella to Jaime to take to King’s Landing anyway, Jaime and Bronn waste time sneaking into Dorne and then get…promptly captured.
When contrasted with the fact that this was substituted in for Jaime Lannister impressively taking Riverrun without killing a single man, as well as having a tense confrontation with Edmure Tully (whose ignominious fate is finally revealed), the frustration is only compounded. In the novel, Jaime also uses this time to discard a letter of urgency from a frantic Cersei, remarkably showing major growth since he’d prefer trying to repay a debt to the long-dead Catelyn Stark for giving him his life.
Meanwhile, Game of Thrones season five had him go on the dippiest road trip ever with Bronn. Weak.
1. Jaime Rapes Cersei
Could it be anything else?
While Jaime is not even my third favorite character in this story, it is stunning how many of the worst mistakes are the character assassination of the Kingslayer. It’s a tribute to either Martin’s story or Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s performance that he is still one of the most popular characters on the series considering the number of snafus that have thus far been made.
Yet, none are worse than the time that Jaime Lannister took Cersei against her will in the Great Sept of Baelor…at least that is what appears to happen? Even though neither character acknowledges or reacts to it in the following episode?!?
Perhaps this is because it was not even the intention of the writers or director for it to be a rape scene.
But it is. The fact that they did not even realize this puts it at the top of the list with a dragonglass spear.