Game of Thrones Books vs Show: 20 Main Differences

Does the show follow the book series? Apparently not...
game of thrones books vs show

This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones.

If you ask just about anybody if they’ve seen the popular television series, Game of Thrones, the majority will reply with a resounding “yes.” Far fewer, however, have dedicated themselves to reading the lengthy novels upon which the show is based. This is a feat typically reserved only for the most die-hard fans.

As book readers will tell you, the TV show does a good job recapping the novels. But given that the series moves much quicker than George R.R. Martin’s books, lots of details inevitably get left out.

After reading the novels and binging the television series, I’ve taken it upon myself to pick out the biggest differences between the Game of Thrones books and TV show — from characters the series erases to subplots that have been totally scrapped.

Biggest Differences Between the Books vs Show

1. Jon Snow, Aegon Targaryen, and Young Griff

One way the Game of Thrones show strays from the books is that it turns Jon Snow into an amalgamation of two characters: Aegon Targaryen and Young Griff.

In the show, we learn that Jon is Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar and rightful heir to the throne (our infographic explains this clearly). But the name “Aegon” had book readers scratching their heads. 

In both the novels and series, it’s well known that Rhaegar’s second child was named Aegon, said to have been killed by The Mountain as a baby. Beyond this background, though, the books and series differ. While the show confirms Jon to be Aegon, the books lead readers to believe that Aegon has lived on as “Young Griff,” a peripheral figure intending to marry Daenerys and rule the Seven Kingdoms. 

Time will tell if George R.R. Martin intends to pivot from Young Griff and give Jon the same Targaryen heritage in the books. 

2. The Three-Headed Dragon Theory

Book readers are aware of the Three-Headed Dragon theory. It is revealed to Daenerys during one of her visions in the House of the Undying, where she sees her brother Rhaegar saying, “The dragon has three heads.” The theory is that three Targaryens will ride Dany’s dragons, Rhaegal, Viserion and Drogon. 

In the books, it’s still possible this GoT theory comes to fruition. Many believe that the aforementioned Young Griff is Aegon and that Jon will be revealed to be an as-yet-unknown Targaryen. The two of them, alongside Dany, could ride the dragons. 

In the show, however, the theory comes crashing down — literally. We witness Viserion brought down beyond the Wall only to be resurrected and ridden by the Night King. While Jon does ride Rhaegal alongside Dany and Drogon, Viserion is never ridden by a third Targaryen. 

3. Joffrey Baratheon’s Death

In the book, A Storm of Swords, Joffrey’s demise is much more gruesome than the Game of Thrones death we watched. The poisoning scene in the show is fairly traumatic; seeing the boy king’s purple face gasping for air is hard to forget.

The books are different, however. Joff’s death is flat-out nauseating — as the poison hits him, he claws at his throat for air, while his skin breaks and reveals tightly constricted muscles. 

Although I’m sure HBO had the budget to recreate the gruesome scene, I’m personally happy they did not follow the disturbingly detailed scene from the book…even if Joffrey was so despicable, some found his suffering satisfying. 

4. The Sons of the Harpy

No one can forget that iconic Game of Thrones battle against The Sons of The Harpy in Meereen’s fighting pits. These antagonists are depicted as insurgent fighters wearing intimidating golden masks, which they leave behind to mark their victims.

But compared to the books, the Sons of the Harpy disguise themselves not with masks, but by hiding in plain sight. They are unidentified and never seen by the point-of-view characters. Also, rather than leaving masks to take credit for killings, the insurgents in the books draw harpy symbols with their victims’ blood. 

5. Changes in Appearance

The show fails to follow the books in terms of a few character appearances. This can be difficult — especially with a fantasy series where characters have purple eyes or are, urm, dragons!

Tyrion Lannister, for example, is said to have two different-colored eyes, while the Targaryens, including Dany, are depicted with violet eyes and silver-blond hair (at least the show got the hair right…kind of). 

Daario Naharis, on the other hand, looks completely different in the television show. Dany’s fleeting love interest is described in the books as having a blue beard and long, bright blue hair, with a gold mustache and matching gold tooth.

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6. Catelyn’s Take on Ned Being Hand

In the earliest episodes of Game of Thrones, King Robert Baratheon arrives in Winterfell to ask that Eddard “Ned” Stark serve as Hand of the King. In response to this request, Ned’s wife Catelyn is fearful; she begs her husband not to accept and is clearly apprehensive about the very sort of political peril that ultimately dooms Ned. 

Compared to the show, the first book depicts Catelyn as more opportunistic. While she is not as starry-eyed about the idea of King’s Landing as, say, her daughter Sansa, she sees the benefits of the idea of Ned serving and urges him to accept the position. 

7. Talisa and the Red Wedding

One of the most unforgettable Game of Thrones scenes in the HBO series was the “Red Wedding.” For better or worse, viewers will always remember watching Robb Stark being murdered at the hands of the Freys. The scene was all the more shocking, however, because Robb’s pregnant wife Talisa was also slain. 

Fans who haven’t read the books may be surprised to learn that while the Red Wedding is very much part of the books, the added horror of Talisa’s death (and that of an unborn baby Stark) was invented for TV.

In the books, there is no Talisa. Rather, Robb marries a character named Jeyne Westerling, who is neither pregnant nor present at the Red Wedding. Good for her, at least. 

8. Catelyn Stark and Lady Stoneheart

In both the show and the books, Catelyn Stark dies at The Red Wedding. The book, however, continues her story after her horrible death. Wielding the mysterious powers of the Lord of Light, Beric Dondarrion resurrects Catelyn in a zombie-like form.

This version of Cat becomes known as Lady Stoneheart and leads remnants of the Brotherhood Without Banners on brutal quests of revenge against the Lannisters. 

Despite the awesome (in my opinion) on-screen potential of this character, she remains unmentioned in the TV show, even though she plays a major role on paper. This may be because even as of this writing it is still unclear if George R.R. Martin has plans for her that matter to the core plots of the saga. 

9. Sansa Stark and Jayne Poole

Another major difference between the Game of Thrones books and show is Sansa Stark’s fate. In the show, Sansa is married off to the sadistic Ramsay Bolton at the behest of Littlefinger. She travels to the North with Ramsay and endures despicable treatment. 

In the books, however, it is Jeyne Poole — Sansa’s childhood friend, disguised as Arya Stark — who suffers this fate. Sansa, for her part, stays at the Eyrie with Littlefinger, not exactly in a happy position but certainly better off than Poole. 

10. Jorah Mormont and Jon Connington

In the TV series, Dany’s (mostly) faithful knight, Jorah Mormont, contracts the horrific disease “greyscale.” This plot gives rise to Dany’s sympathies, ultimately helping her to forgive Jorah for having passed information to her enemies. But it’s also an invention by the HBO writers and showrunners. 

As mentioned, there is a character in the books — Young Griff — believed to be young Aegon Targaryen in disguise. Well, there’s another fellow ignored by HBO named Jon Connington who travels in disguise as Young Griff’s father, Griff.

Connington was Hand to the Mad King and ultimately serves Dany in an attempt to help the Targaryens back to the Iron Throne. In the books, it is he who contracts greyscale while serving Daenerys.  

11. The Tyrell Family

We do miss the occasional Tyrell appearing on our television screens — especially the unflinchingly badass Olenna. The season six finale put an end to the Tyrell line, but in the books, there is hope of more Tyrell content — if George R.R. Martin ever finishes the series, that is. 

Even if the Tyrells we know from the show suffer the same fates in the books, there are other members of the family out and about in Westeros.

One Willas Tyrell is a figure of authority at Highgarden, and Garlan Tyrell, older brother to Ser Loras Tyrell (and a formidable warrior) is at large. Neither character features in the show, but hopefully we’ll learn more about them in the books to come. 

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12. Jon Snow and Arya Stark’s Warg Abilities

It’s a family thing! Another major difference between the Game of Thrones books and show is that Bran isn’t the only Stark who can warg. Jon Snow and Arya can, too — in the novels, at least.

Jon wargs into Ghost several times in the books, while Arya is also believed to have the same ability. Bran can warg consciously, while Jon and Arya do it subconsciously while dreaming. 

In the show, this wasn’t the case. While there are clear connections between Jon, Arya, and their respective direwolves, HBO only saw fit to show Bran warging. Perhaps the showrunners figured Jon and Arya already had enough special abilities up their sleeves!

13. Missandei and Grey Worm

This one is pretty straightforward: Missandei and Grey Worm don’t hook up in the novels. Why? Well, there are two good reasons. One is that Grey Worm is a eunuch (which the show acknowledged but later ignored). The other is that in the books, Missandei is only 10 years old!

This sort of thing doesn’t typically stop George R.R. Martin, but the character in this case was fully presented as a child (with Daenerys even referring to her as “little scribe”). 

Show viewers will recall that HBO elected to turn Missandei into a fully grown, beautiful woman. But how she and Grey Worm overcame the whole eunuch thing is unclear.

14. Gendry and Edric Storm

Fans of the Game of Thrones show will recall Gendry, the strapping young lad identified as a (likely) bastard son of King Robert Baratheon. Gendry exists in the books too, but he’s a little different. He is known as Edric Storm. 

Edric Storm is essentially just another, younger bastard of Robert’s. As she does with Gendry, the red woman Melisandre takes an interest in Storm for his royal blood. She does not, however, sexually assault him the way she does Gendry. Such a scene would have been all the more troubling given that Edric is 12 years old. 

15. Littlefinger’s Manipulation

Littlefinger is one of the show’s most iconic tricksters. This is consistent between the books and the show, but Littlefinger’s style of trickery and manipulation is altered. 

In the books, he is described as trustworthy; he learns secrets by appearing harmless and influences others by gaining trust. In the show, Littlefinger is basically an overt schemer; he is blatantly untrustworthy; he is able to manipulate others because he gains leverage, rather than trust. Functionally, the character is the same. But the nature of the man is completely different. 

16. House Redwyne

House Redwyne is perhaps the most powerful Westerosi family that TV show fans don’t know much about. Although they’re occasionally mentioned in the series (as well as in House of the Dragon), they don’t seem significant. 

Book readers learn that the Redwynes were major Targaryen supporters back in the day, and that their influential wine trade has led them to have a large, powerful navy. So far, they still haven’t done much (other than produce Olenna Tyrell, who was originally a Redwyne), but George R.R. Martin has planted enough seeds to make us wonder if they’ll be significant players in the final novels. 

17. Jaime’s Sparring Partner 

In books and show alike, Jaime Lannister is one of the most feared knights in Westeros. And in both versions of the story, he loses his dominant hand. In the show, Jaime trains with his sellsword bestie Bronn, but in the books, he uses infamous Ned Stark executioner Ilyn Payne, instead. 

This difference in the books makes sense: Payne has no tongue, and so Jaime knows he can’t tell others of any weaknesses in Jaime’s sword-fighting game. But the showrunners’ decision to swap Bronn in for training is understandable, too: Bronn is a fan-favorite Game of Thrones character, and this was an easy way to give him more time on screen.  

18. Mance Rayder’s Fate 

In the series, Mance Rayder, is burned at the stake by Stannis and his forces, and he is gone for good. While a similar event occurs in the books, there is a difference: Rayder gets away.

In A Dance With Dragons, Melisandre switches Rayder with his lieutenant, Rattleshirt. It is therefore Rattleshirt who burns, appearing to be Rayder, while Rayder lives on and is ultimately sent to Ramsay Bolton’s Winterfell to rescue Arya (who is actually Jeyne Poole). 

It’s all a bit complicated, but as of this writing (before The Winds Of Winter), Book Mance Rayder lives.

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19. Victarion Greyjoy 

Victarion Greyjoy is the brother of Balon and Euron Greyjoy and an uncle to Theon Greyjoy. But if you haven’t read the books, this might be a foreign name to you.

Victarion didn’t make the cut for the TV series, but elements of his story are folded into those of Euron and Asha Greyjoy. 

In the books, Victarion has quite a few pages; in fact, he’s even a POV character, and will be in the next book, too! For much of the series, he’s more or less sailing around the northern seas pulling off minor conquests. Later, though, he is sent on a quest to find Daenerys and secure her as Euron’s wife. Instead, Victarion claims the Dragon Queen as his own, and heading into The Winds Of Winter, that quest is ongoing. 

20. Moqorro 

Red priest of R’hllor, Moqorro, is another book character who is omitted from the Game of Thrones TV show. 

From Thoros and Beric Dondarrion, to Melisandre, followers of R’hllor (the Red God) carry out some of the most consequential feats in the name of their god. Not unlike Melisandre with Stannis, Moqorro — in the books — is linked to Victarion, and has major influence on the Iron lord. A priest of R’hllor allied with a powerful lord in search of Daenerys seems like a pretty big power player for the show to have left out… 

So there you have them: the biggest differences between the Game of Thrones books and show. There are actually quite a few interesting discrepancies to puzzle over, particularly given that we don’t yet know how George R.R. Martin means to wrap up his version of the story. 

And while the HBO adaptation may be based on Martin’s books, it’s also interesting to consider where the author originally gained inspiration for his stories and characters. Believe it or not, much of the content of the Game of Thrones book series is actually based on real-life events and characters. Have a look at the many historical inspirations the books were inspired by.


Tale Teller

  • Angela Stephanou

    After completing her BA in Communication, Media and Film studies, Angela launched Tell Tales Online, and now writes and oversees the content and strategy across the site. As a pop culture junkie, she follows more celebs than real-life people, her guilty pleasure is watching The Kardashians, but she's also a fan of Marvel and Game of Thrones.

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