After finishing the fourth season of the the Game of Thrones show I was a little put off by the consistent divergence from the original storyline in the books.

Before I had already resolved to understand that the show would certainly have restrictions in terms of the limited time in one season and also the cost of production. (Although I don't see how either could be a problem, especially after the show's profound success)

After the season finale, I sat back and thought about how frequently snippets of storyline were removed and also added in unnecessarily. I'm sure if the new things added in were replaced by the pieces removed they would have been balanced out.

One example of this would have been when Jon Snow very nearly meets Bran at Craster's Keep. Instead of this the show ought to have introduced Coldhands and how Bran and co. managed to get past the Wall. (Also why did Craster have the wolves and why did Sam break his promise about meeting Bran?!)

One solution to this was that GRRM wanted to introduce something new to the readers of the novel. But it was great the first time around! IMHO, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Is there something I've missed?

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    May I ask that you not post cross-site duplicates
    – Tablemaker
    Jun 18, 2014 at 14:33
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    “I had already resolved to understand that the show would certainly have restrictions in terms of the limited time in one season... (Although I don't see how either could be a problem, especially after the show's profound success)” — You think the show’s success means that it now has the power to slow down time?! Jun 18, 2014 at 15:27

1 Answer 1


I can immediately see that our opinions on this differ somewhat, so I'm not neccesarily expecting the thumbs up, but I'll try to outline some of the main points about adaptation: in this case, from the Book to the TV Show.

Firstly, you should know, the process of adapting original work is such a common part of TV/Movie making it is its own profession. It also has its own Oscar category, which this year 12 Years a Slave won.

Now the reason this film won, is precisely because it was not just the book played out on film. It was faithful, yes, and it communicated the themes of Northups' book eloquently; but it was also aware that it was a film, and not a book. This is the craft of screenwriting: the remediation of material from one medium to another, in recognition of the limits and advantages of its chosen medium.

There has never been a film made that was 100% faithful to its source material. Its simply an impossibility, it's beyond comprehension or the bounds of possibility. To condense a novel into a film, even a novelette, would be an exercise in futility. It would negate the point of its own existence, contributing nothing new to its culture.

Every remediation loses material (often to shorten its length in fitting running times/episode length) and also adds its own; costume is usually a big part of this, where the translation into a visual medium means elaboration is required.

Game of Thrones in particular is excellent at this, with its incredibly detailed costumes making Westeros seem rich with different cultures, and helping to flesh out the traditions further than was possible in the book: a chapter about embroidery would have stunk up the place, but its possible to communicate these details in film.

Both mediums are limited, and play to their strengths. Game of Thrones is already incredibly sprawling as it is, probably reaching the complexity ceiling for a TV audience. That's not to undermine TV audiences by the way; it's just a reality that there's only so many hours of TV people can be expected to sit through, and remain interested. Some can sit through entire seasons (I'm a Netflix Boxer myself), but a lot of the audience just wants to catch up with the show once a week when its gone, and then cherish the anticipation of it not being on for a year or so. It's part of the natural process of consumption.

So with all that in mind:

You're a screenwriter, you've been tasked to turn GoT into a TV series that can withold its own narrative (i.e you don't need to have read the novels to understand it) and it's on TV so its in seasons. To capture every single detail would take screentime running to about 60 seasons: you have the budget and probably will be able to hold an audience for maybe six-ten seasons. There's no point in being idealistic about it, the reality is you have to cut some elements out...

What do you Cut?

The GoT show is the current Showrunner and production teams answer to that very question. Yours will be different, but would it be better? if you think 'yes', I recomend getting on a screenwriting course, and seeing how it works out. You'll have to join a long queue in a competitive business, though...

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    As an interesting note: I think the most faithful thing I've seen translate written to film was Watchmen with a 3+ hour run-time (director's cut) and that still changed the ending (for better most people think). Overall, the points here properly convey a small scope into the logistics of translating a 4000+ page series (that is not done, mind you) into a 7-8 season show (70-80 episodes/hours).
    – Tablemaker
    Jun 18, 2014 at 13:04
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    Personally I agree, very much, with @JohnSmithOptional. The way I've always summed it up to people who don't like when things are changed for film and TV adaptations is, "If you want something exactly like the book, then go read the book." You're just not going to get everything with the movie or TV show, for various reasons beyond your control. The biggest thing to remember is adaptations aren't made just for the people who've read the source material, but more so for those who haven't.
    – MattD
    Jun 18, 2014 at 13:46
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    @RobertEnglish, OK: so you put Cold Hands in... what do you take out, to free up space? It seems to me you'll only be satisfied by a verbatim reproduction of the book, which is impossible. Concessions need to be made somewhere... Jun 18, 2014 at 15:55
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    There is also something that's quite upsetting for Cold Hands to accept: he's not important. He can't be, not only because of his absence but because GRRM has been involved in the TV production from the ground up. If Cold Hands had some seminal, critical part to play, do you not think GRRM would have told them? He's just world-building, an interesting character, or another incarnation of something else (Nights King/Three Eyed Raven/Benjen). If he was essential to the plot, he'd be in it. Jun 18, 2014 at 16:06
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    Great answer, but I think you're mistaken about "There has never been a film made that was 100% faithful to its source material." Have you watched/read Holes by Louis Sachar?
    – Wildcard
    Oct 11, 2016 at 16:25

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