Game of Thrones Books vs. Show: An Introduction and House Targaryen

Another season of Game of Thrones is in the books (no pun intended).  There is only one more season of the show left, but eventually, maybe, supposedly, if the legends hold true, we’re due for two more novels.  The reality is that a good chunk of the major plot points of the future books have already been revealed to us on the show.  But how much, and what are they?

I should point out that eventually I’m going to get into major spoilers from the show and the books.  If you’re interested in keeping either unspoiled you should stop now.

The show began diverting from the books in a major way in season two.  In seasons two through five, and to a lesser extent season six, it was readily apparent what was changed from the source material.  Most notably, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons (books 4 and 5) were collapsed into one season.  Whereas creative license was taken in adapting A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, the adaptations of books 4 and 5 completely re-arranged characters and storylines.  Some of these edits had creative justifications such as fewer travelogues.  Other edits had clear financial/Hollywood reasons, like cutting new characters so they could pay the current cast more money, and reducing the role of the direwolves to save special effects money for dragons.

With the changes in the television adaptation, patterns have emerged.  My central hypothesis is that we can separate what plot developments from the last two seasons are probably from George R.R. Martin and what are probably the show’s writers/showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

Generally, the different writers have different flaws.  Martin is great at character development and world-building, but not so great at crafting concise plots.  The show’s writers are good at big, flashy set pieces and great images, but not as strong on characterization and world-building.  Their plotting is flawed for a different reason than Martin’s – whereas Martin meanders too much, the show’s writers have a tendency to take shortcuts and rush things along.

Now, let’s take some of the main groups and try to predict what’s going to be in the books from seasons 6 and 7 and what is probably a show-only development.  If I try to do everything in one post, it’s going to be take forever, so I’ll go one group at a time, starting with House Targaryen.

Here are the major developments in seasons 6 and 7 for Daenerys and Company:

  • The Dothraki

Daenerys needs the Dorthraki to wrap up her story in Meereen and expand her army for Westeros.  However, I don’t think Daenerys will do so by burning the khals.  When she meets the Dothraki in the book she has a healthy, menacing Drogon right by her side.  There will probably be no need for any further demonstration of power.

  • Tyrion

Most of Tyrion’s season 6 plot is given to Barristan Selmy in the books (more on him in a moment).  Tyrion still hasn’t met up with Daenerys at the end of A Dance with Dragons, although he’s getting closer.  Besides it doesn’t make sense for Tyrion to get into Daenerys’ good graces so quickly when she still has Ser Barristan by her side.  However she returns to Meereen, we can expect a long series of interactions between Tyrion and Daenerys before she places her trust in him.

  • Ser Barristan

Ser Barristan may not be long for this world in the books, but I doubt he goes out so easily as he did in Season 5.  The way the show’s writers dispatched him didn’t make a lot of sense for his character and felt like one of their shortcuts to 1) trim the cast and 2) make way for Peter Dinklage to take a more central role.  He may even make it back to Westeros.

  • Grey Worm and Missandei

As all book readers know, this entire subplot is new on the show and impossible in the books.  Grey Worm isn’t much of a character in the books and Missandei is like 12.  This just isn’t going to happen, and was probably developed whole-cloth to give the actors something to do.

  • Daario

Daario may not even be alive right now in the books.  If he is, however, it  does kind of make sense for Daenerys to leave him in Meereen.  She has other allies in the books to take up the administrative slack, so she won’t give him as much power, but it doesn’t make sense to take the sellsword to Westeros for the same reasons she articulates  on the show.

  • The Battle of Meereen

Pre-released chapters of The Winds of Winter indicate a much longer, more complex battle than portrayed on the show.  Daenerys might join the fray at some point, but it won’t be as simple as the three dragons roasting some ships.

  • Hizdaar

Hizdaar is dispatched quickly and easily on the show.  It won’t be so easy in the books.  He’s still alive and might have tried to murder Daenerys.  He’s also already married her, so there would be that thread to untangle.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the Meereenese nobleman that Daenerys fries with Drogon like the she did to the nameless, redshirt one on the show in season 5.

  • Allies

The alliance situation is far more complicated in the books.  Doran Martell, who in the books is a brilliant puppet master rather than a lame sad-sack, wants Fire and Blood, but he won’t soon forget that his son got fried.  The released Arianne chapters show that Doran is going to be in the Aegon camp, at least for the time being.  As for the Tyrells, there has been no indication that they will ally themselves with Daenerys.  The Iron Born on the other hand, might end up following a similar story-line, with Victarion replacing the Theon/Yara one on the show.

  • Invasion of Westeros

This will be longer and more complicated in the books.  The entire Aegon story-line was cut from the show, so  it’s unclear how that will play out.  What I can predict is that the fight to bring Cersei to heel will be longer and bloodier than the shortcuts taken on the show.

  • Daenerys and Jon

It’s inevitable that we’ll see some version of this coupling in the books.  They’re both the Blood of the Dragon after all.

  • Ice Dragon

The entire “let’s get a wight and bring to Cersei” feels like a contrivance to rush along the plot, a hallmark of the show’s writers.  I seriously doubt it happens at all in the books.  Additionally, the book has the Horn of Joramun, which the White Walkers are searching for.  They won’t need a dead dragon to bring down the Wall.  Additionally, the books have the “dragon has three heads” prophecy and have mentioned legitimate ice dragons.  It is unclear to me that Viseron will die and be resurrected by the White Walkers, or if he’ll even need to be.  If it does happen, I expect it to be under completely different circumstances.

Next time we’ll talk about the Starks.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe