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Adaptational Villainy / Game of Thrones

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A lot of characters in the show are more villainous than their book counterparts:

  • In the books, it's left slightly ambiguous whether Mirri Maz Duur sabotaged Drogo's wound, since he later goes back to his traditional remedies. This is omitted from the show, though both versions are explicit that Mirri wanted him dead.
  • In the books, Xaro wants only to marry Dany so he can legally assume control of one of her dragons and simply withdraws his patronage when denied, forcing Dany to flee the city. In the show, he allies with the warlocks to assassinate the rest of the oligarchy, proclaim himself king, imprison Dany, and steal all three dragons.
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  • In the books, Doreah is simply a dutiful servant who dies of illness Crossing the Desert, and is loyal to Dany to the extent where Dany stops her Khalasar in the Red Waste so she can die in peace. The show gives her a more selfish personality and a fascination with dragons (who can fly where they please and kill those in their way), eventually leading to an abrupt Face–Heel Turn where she willingly betrays Dany to Xaro, and in a deleted scene she kicks the dog by personally strangling Irri. In her commentary on the Season 2 finale, Emilia Clarke states that there was another deleted scene where she explained her reasons for betraying Dany, clearly speaking directly to the people who were upset about this change, which appears to happen for little motivation in the final product. Unfortunately, she doesn't go into detail on what those reasons were.
  • Stannis gets a lot of this, despite being far from a paragon in the novels. On the whole, the show's version of Stannis is a Character Exaggeration of Stannis's flaws at the expense of his more frequently displayed virtues. In one featurette, D.B. Weiss admits he dislikes Stannis. This is also compounded by the fact that many of Stannis' enemies (Tyrells, Renly, Varys) are given Adaptational Heroism.
    • The nuances, such as moments when he is more moderate than his wife's retinue (who introduced R'hllor worship to Dragonstone) are lost. Stannis isn't a fanatical R'hllor worshipper, he sees Melisandre as a sorceress and believes only in her magical abilities but is far less rigid about other aspects of her faith.
    • He's fully aware and dismissive of his part in Renly's death since he dispatches Melisandre personally, whereas in the books his involvement is more ambiguous and he finds the thought greatly disturbing, is tormented by Bad Dreams afterward, and expounds on his grief and regret far beyond the single dismissive line used in the show. This also isn't helped by the victim's Adaptational Heroism.
    • He nearly strangles Melisandre in "Valar Morghulis", whereas in the books he is never physically violent towards women or anyone else.
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    • While Human Sacrifice is part of R'hllor worship, Stannis never burns anyone purely for the sake of fanaticism, rather he punishes rapists, cannibals or in the case of his former Hand, outright betrayal and conspiring with the Lannisters. Likewise, the men he burns simply for refusing his religious commandment in "The Lion and the Rose" were traitors who conspired to sell him out and surrender his daughter in the books.
    • He's obsessed with fathering a son in earlier seasons, something he shows much less concern for in the books where his reluctance to bed with Selyse is a source of much snark (meaning he isn't trying very hard) and he generally mentions possible sons only as a caveat to his insistence that Shireen is his heir.
    • His offer to name Renly as his heir ''until a son is born to me" is played as False Reassurance given his tone and Melisandre's Psychotic Smirk, while in the books it's a legitimate (if begrudging) attempt at conciliation.
    • He only relents from executing Davos and answers the call of the Night's Watch when Melisandre abruptly changes her mind on these issues, whereas in the books he makes these decisions himself after Davos appeals to his sense of duty to the realm, and this ends up removing the selfless nature of these actions. Even after this, he frequently threatens Davos like a Bad Boss in the show, while in the books, Davos is his Only Friend and held in the highest regard.
    • He callously executes Mance Rayder for defiance in "The Wars to Come" rather than doing it against his better judgement because his status as a Dangerous Deserter who attacked the whole realm demands it. Or at least, he thinks he executed Mance in the books.
    • He burns his only child, Shireen, alive in "The Dance of Dragons" to end the blizzard afflicting his army. While the burning may indeed happen in future novels, at the equivalent point in the books, as mentioned above, he refuses to burn anyone (not even captives or unbelievers) except as punishment for cannibalism and dispatches Ser Justin Massey with specific instructions to press Shireen's claim to the throne should he die in the coming battle - not to mention if said burning does happen it is quite possible if not likely that it would not be committed by Stannis himself. In the books, Stannis is hundreds of miles away still besieging Winterfell and possibly dead while Shireen is at the Wall while it's in a chaotic state of emergency. Word of Saint Paul (the showrunners) insist that she will be sacrificed indeed, but the precise circumstances will obviously be entirely different.
    • The fact that Dragonstone was primarily depicted as a dim, cramped, Mordor-esque place under Stannis but is re-established as a gleaming, soaring, Minas Tirith-esque place when Daenerys takes up residence in the titular episode "Dragonstone" also gives Dany a stark Fisher King vibe at Stannis' expense.
  • Melisandre is considerably more callous in the show, since she does not offer Cressen a chance to back out of poisoning them both, taunts Davos over his son's death instead of expressing regret, and expresses no empathy for those who suffer the pain of a sacrifice.
    • She also lacks her (admittedly few) Pet the Dog moments like helping to protect Devan Seaworth and Alys Karstark. The omission of Abel the Bard removes perhaps her greatest Pet the Dog moment in favour of more Human Sacrifice.
  • Joffrey is a horrific, power-crazed psychopath in the books as well, but the show makes him even worse by giving him two of Cersei's Kick the Dog moments — he is the one who orders both the massacre of Robert's illegitimate children, including the infant girl Barra, and the assassination attempt on Tyrion during the battle of the Blackwater. He also treats Cersei horribly and has a taste for sexualized violence, ordering Ros to beat another prostitute — this may be an age-based extrapolation of his sadistic streak, which culminates in him coldly murdering a named character by hogtying her to a bedpost and riddling her with crossbow bolts just to see how it feels to murder someone yourself.
  • While probably just as evil, live-action Littlefinger is a lot less affable than his literary counterpart:
    • In the books, he owes his success to appearing as a harmless, witty Trickster rather than the show's Obviously Evil Devil in Plain Sight who openly feuds with The Spymaster.
    • Similarly, though Littlefinger is certainly responsible for making Jeyne Poole a Sex Slave, brothels are only one of his many investments and he isn't involved in anything quite so vile as regularly serving up prostitutes to necrophiliacs and serial killers in the books.
    • The show also omits the more sympathetic moments from his past, like when Lysa Date Raped him in the guise of her sister, fueling his misconception that Catelyn loved him.
    • However evil Littlefinger may be in the books, he does not serve Sansa on a silver platter to Ramsey. In the books, Littlefinger takes a level in kindness when in 'Alayne' s' presence.
    • The Season 7 finale reveals it was he who ordered Bran's assassination, rather than Joffrey, just to further fan the flames between the Starks and the Lannisters.
  • Rast is little more than a Barbaric Bully who must be convinced to leave Sam alone in the books but a prominent mutineer who actively wants Sam dead, literally stabs Lord Commander Mormont In the Back, and reluctantly commits infant sacrifice in the show.
  • In the books, Khal Drogo recognizes Daenerys' apprehension on their wedding night and gently coaxes her with foreplay until she consents. In the show, it's a straight-up exertion of his Marital Rape License.
  • Jaime gets several extra Kick the Dog moments:
    • This starts in the very first episode when he delivers the infamous line, "The things I do for love," dismissively rather than resentfully.
    • It continues in Season 2 when he kills his young cousin Alton Lannister, who idolised him, to facilitate his own escape, which incidentally makes him a kinslayer, a taboo even violators of Sacred Hospitality balk at in the novels.
    • The lack of vocal consent from Cersei in "Breaker of Chains" in front of Joffrey's corpse turns a consensual sex scene from the novels into one that many viewers regard as rape, or at best grudging. The context change doesn't help either: in the books, Jaime has only just returned to King's Landing after months of captivity and recently losing his hand and son and is so starved for intimacy that he ignores Cersei's initial protests that they'll be caught. In the show, he's been around for a few weeks, making his actions seem a lot less impulsive.
    • He's also far more committed to his Destructive Romance with Cersei, notably turning his Breaking Speech to Edmure from a To the Pain gambit to save thousands and (sort of) keep his oath into a spiel about how Love Makes You Evil. Worse still, he remains loyal to Cersei and aids her in her conquests even after she definitively crosses the Moral Event Horizon (by enacting part of the very crime Jaime was previously so proud of stopping, no less) in stark contrast to the books where he burns her requests for aid while she's imprisoned by the Faith after realizing how toxic she is to him and how dangerous she is to everyone else. It is revealed that Jaime was working with Cersei in a misguided vision that Cersei truly means peace in the realm after eliminating all the enemies who may hinder her, and promptly leaves her side when Cersei reveals she will see the realm burn rather than fight for it.
  • Tywin is a huge jerk in the books as well, but his treatment of Tyrion is made even more petty and unwarranted by Tyrion's adaptational heroism, which omits or downplays many of the negative traits that Tywin is in some ways right to criticize, such as Tyrion's tendency to disregard Thicker Than Water, which Tywin loathes since family is everything in his eyes, and his vulnerability to manipulation because he Desperately Craves Affection.
  • Theon's Face–Heel Turn is somewhat blackened by his closer relationship with Robb, whom he even pledges fealty to in "Fire and Blood". In the books, he's more distant and his turn has a stronger The Dog Bites Back justification born of a decade with Ice hanging over him like the Sword of Damocles.
    • Furthermore, he betrays Sansa's escape plan in Season 5, something he never does despite equivalent levels of Brainwashed and Crazy in the books, where he's actually the only person to help Ramsay's bride for her true self rather than the aristocrat she's pretending to be.
  • The Thenns and their magnar Styr are more traditionally civilized than other wildlings in the books, characterized by their bronze technology, settled lifestyle, and greater respect for authority. In the show, they are portrayed as scarred-up, gleefully sadistic cannibals who disgust even the other merciless raiders.
  • Tormund Giantsbane is less jovial and more brutal than his book counterpart, most of which stems from his initial characterization as a Composite Character with Styr in Season 3.
  • The show turns Pycelle from a doddering but dutiful counsellor with Undying Loyalty to House Lannister into a vindictive Dirty Old Man who only pretends to be senile.
  • Selyse is a haughty and narrow-minded Grande Dame whose complete faith in the Lord of Light leads her to urge radical action in the books, but the show emphasizes her fanaticism to the level of a Mad Woman In The Attic who keeps her stillborns in People Jars and despises and resents her own daughter as sinful, and according to Word of God, because her daughter is a living reminder of her failure to provide Stannis with a son, rather than barely mentioning her stillbirths and verging on My Beloved Smother in her protection of Shireen.
  • Balon Greyjoy is unequivocally nasty to Theon in the show, where in the books, he's fairly impressed that Theon stands up to him and gives him eight ships instead of just one (making his mission less embarrassingly unimportant).note  The show also declines to establish that as lord of perhaps the most misogynist region of Westeros, Balon is extraordinarily comfortable with the idea of his daughter succeeding him.
  • Dagmer in the show is a Poisonous Friend and The Corrupter who urges Theon toward darker and darker deeds before betraying him when those actions come home to roost. In the books, those actions belong to another character and Dagmer appears only once as an Honorary Uncle and one of the few people in the world to treat Theon kindly.
    • The Ironborn raiders under Theon's command in general. While they don't hesitate to show their disagreement with his orders, the book raiders remain loyal to Theon. He even offers them the opportunity to leave, and they choose to stay and die fighting with him anyway. Their show counterparts, by contrast, are happy to betray Theon to avoid capture or death.
  • Though they do become very Knight Templarish in the books, the Brotherhood Without Banners doesn't sell out innocents as they do in the show.
  • Lysa Arryn's actions remain the same as the books, but her only motives seem to be general mental instability and pleasing Littlefinger, leaving her less sympathetic. In the books, her over-protectiveness stems from multiple stillbirths and miscarriages, and it's this trait Littlefinger exploits to manipulate her.
  • Ellaria Sand is the exact opposite of her literary counterpart. In the books, she's a refreshingly compassionate Only Sane Woman who advocates breaking the Cycle of Revenge with Turn the Other Cheek, but the show casts her as a Crusading Widow War Hawk who wants to take Revenge by Proxy by killing or sending Myrcella home one finger at a time.
  • The Sand Snakes want vengeance just as badly in the books but never mean Myrcella any harm. Nymeria comes closest by wanting to murder Tommen (among others) while Tyene actually proposes they crown Myrcella and Trystane and reassert Dorne's independence. In the show, they have an Ax-Crazy fixation on murdering all Lannisters and ultimately take it Up to Eleven when they massacre Doran and Trystane for not supporting their plans, all in the name of "avenging" Oberyn. For reference, in the books the notion that even Cersei might try to kill Trystane is enough to shock and appall them.
  • The whole Dornish populace as of "The Red Woman". In the books, the Dornish are very personally attached to their nobility (hence Oberyn's popularity) and the worst they do is pelt Doran's litter in their clamour for a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. The palace guards in particular are explicitly described as loyal Dornishmen who follow Hotah's command. In the show the guards stand impassive as Doran and Hotah are murdered and whole country apparently falls into line behind Ellaria and the Sand Snakes.
  • Members of the Faith of the Seven:
    • The Faith Militant is much more savagely puritanical in the show, using extreme violence against taverns, brothels, and homosexuals of all classes rather than enforcing legitimate laws against murder and adultery upon an aristocracy who consider themselves above the law.
      • Their motivations are also downplayed from shell-shocked survivors seeking justice, security, and fulfillment through religion after the apocalyptic devastation shown firsthand in the books to a few perfunctory lines before they don Obviously Evil robes, chains, and scarification and start terrorizing the city.
    • Lancel is a particular case since he becomes the point man of the Faith's violent crackdown instead of the humble, pious, and infirm boy who is constantly fasting, praying, and begging forgiveness in the novels.
    • Even without its overzealous militants, the Faith of the Seven lacks nearly all of its genuinely kind and beneficent members from the books like Septon Chayle, Septon Meribald, the Elder Brother, and the dwarf sparrow. Even the old High Septon is made into a lecherous Dirty Old Man rather than just a kindly old Yes-Man. The only exception, Septon Ray, is a Suicidal Pacifist who's quickly Stuffed into the Fridge by zealots of another faith (who use their benediction as an Implied Death Threat) to prompt another character to decide Violence Really Is the Answer.
  • The Night's Watch mutineers in "Mother's Mercy" are motivated solely by xenophobia in the show instead of their more multi-faceted reasons from the books. In the books, Jon likewise works to save the wildlings, which some of his officers really don't like, but Jon also ends up involving himself in the affairs of the realm as a result of Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! — compromising the Watch's stance on neutrality. As described by the Meereenese blot essays, Jon's Achille's heel as a leader of a traditional and neutral system is his hero's instinct to save innocents in danger and fix injustices — which ends up posing potential risks to the Watch because it compromises the Watch's neutrality. Meanwhile, Bowen Marsh and the other mutineers view Jon is breaking his oaths as they fear the help he has given Stannis will invite the Iron Throne's wrath against them and they strongly disagree with Jon's efforts to ally with and save the wildlings. When Jon announces his intention to march south and confront Ramsay Bolton after receiving Ramsay's threatening letter to him, thereby publicly breaking his neutrality as Lord Commander, the mutineers act to assassinate him. Bowen Marsh is crying as he stabs Jon, visibly upset as he feels he has no choice. In the books, the situation is a difficult one while in the show, it is made more clear-cut between right and wrong.
    George R. R. Martin: Were they mistakes (by Jon)? I guess they were mistakes in some ways since they led to him losing control of part of his group. But it might have been wise and necessary decisions in terms of protecting the realm and dealing with the threat of the White Walkers. I’m a huge student of history, and all through history there’s always this question of what’s the right decision. You look back with benefit of hindsight at a battle that was lost and say, ‘The losing general was such an idiot.’ Was Napoleon a genius for all the battles he won? Or an idiot for losing at Waterloo? Partly I’m reacting to a lot of the fantasy that has come before this. Ruling is difficult whether you’re a Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch or the King of England. These are hard decisions and each have consequences. We’re looking at Jon trying to take control of Night’s Watch and deal with the wildlings and the threat beyond The Wall.
    • Furthermore, the mutineers taunt him with a "traitor" sign and only Olly seems upset, rather than them all expressing remorse because they believe their hands have been forced.
    • Alliser Thorne is not present for the mutiny in the books as he is far away on an assignment. In the show he's the ringleader.
  • Lem Lemoncloak is the brutal but loyal Big Guy of the Brotherhood Without Banners in the books, while the man who wears his iconic cloak in the show is a renegade who gets hanged by the rest for slaughtering peaceful peasants.
  • Edmure orders the Blackfish seized and handed over to the Freys as part of his capitulation in "No One". In the books, he risks being thrown into a skin-tight oubliette to rot by surrendering the castle only after helping his uncle escape since, "You required me to surrender my castle, not my uncle."
  • Robert Baratheon:
    • In the first book, Robert confides that the only reason he doesn't sail away to Essos to become a mercenary is because he knows that Joffrey is a monster who should not be on the throne; despite his multiple failings, his misery is driven by the fact that he's martyring himself to keep a tenuous peace while his wife manipulates "their" son into destroying it. In the show, he comes across as much more of a drunk toddler, railing constantly about the things he can't have and shirking his responsibilities at every turn solely because of petulance.
    • Also, due to Cersei's Adaptational Heroism, the abuse in their marriage of convenience comes across as more one-sided, while in the books, Cersei is portrayed as cruel and vindictive from the get-go because of Robert killing Rhaegar, and even had sex with Jaime on her own wedding day (and still the deal-breaker came when Robert used Lyanna's name with her in bed) and Robert was the one who put in some effort to make it work. In addition, when Robert suggests bringing his beloved bastard daughter Mya Stone to court, Cersei implies she'll have the girl killed (it's also implied this wouldn't be the first time she's done away with one of Robert's bastard children). In the show, Cersei loved Robert at first, while Robert fell immediately into despair and alcoholism due to Lyanna's death.
  • Smalljon Umber combines this trope alongside Spared by the Adaptation. In the books, he dies in the Red Wedding while trying to save Robb's life. In the show, he isn't present at the Red Wedding and thus survives and later becomes an ally of sadist Ramsay Bolton (although he doesn't like him as a person, but allies with him for pragmatic reasons) who hated his late father, and worst of all, he hands Rickon Stark over to Ramsay, which ultimately leads to Rickon's death.
  • Roose Bolton. Not that Book!Roose isn't evil, but at least he clearly hates Ramsay for murdering Domeric. In the show, since Domeric is Adapted Out, Roose is somewhat more sympathetic with Ramsay and tolerates his sadism much more.
  • Ramsay Bolton is just as sadistic and evil a character in the books as in the show, but Show Ramsay is much more competent. Book Ramsay is a poor swordsman, lacks any substantial military command experience, is not politically savvy (he hasn't yet realised that most of those who he believes to be men loyal to him are in fact his father's agents), and is easily provoked into making mistakes. In the books, it is clearly Roose rather than Ramsay who serves as the main villain in the North. Show Ramsay, by contrast, is portrayed as a great general who easily politically outmaneuvers his father to become the main Northern antagonist.
  • Cersei Lannister:
    • In the books, her hatred of Tyrion is in part because of a prophecy that her younger brother will be the cause of her downfall, although she was cruel to the baby Tyrion before receiving said prophecy and it's clear she was also following daddy's example in seeing her younger brother as a little monster. The show removes that part of the prophecy and instead implies that Cersei blames Tyrion for the death of their mother.
    • Cersei's motivation for empowering the High Sparrow also changes in the show. In the book, she makes him the High Septon in order to have the protection of the Faith Militant (and to have him cancel a substantial debt that doesn't exist in the show). She didn't try to have them to target the Tyrells until after she became suspicious that they were in cahoots with Tyrion. In the show, she empowers the High Sparrow and his followers solely to get back at Margaery.
    • She is the one to tell on the Tyrells' plan to marry Sansa off to the heir of Highgarden (Willas in the books and Loras in the show) in the show and then gloats when Tywin decides to marry Sansa to Tyrion instead, to both their misery. The reveal that Cersei herself is going to be married to Loras for her trouble comes off like a well-deserved kick of karma on her face. In the books she had nothing to do with that scheme, Tyrion agreed to marry Sansa out of his free will, Cersei came off as a genuine victim when her father decided to marry her off without her consent and it was Tyrion who gloated on his sister's misery, not the other way around.
    • Come the Season 6 finale, she blows up a majority of the nobles in King's Landing (including Margaery Tyrell and most her family) during The Green Trial, something the showrunners claim to have come up with on their own. For all of Cersei's many, many faults in the novels, not even she has come close to bombing on her own city with no attention whatsoever paid to the massive collateral damage.
  • The Iron Bank is said to have taken a major financial hit thanks to the disruption of the slave trade, enough to convince them to back Cersei out of spite. In the books they very definitively don't deal in slaves, don't deal with people who deal in slaves, and don't do business with or in cities where slavery is legal. Bravos would run them out of town and/or riot if they did. Just to make it confusing this had actually been mentioned in one of the "History and Lore" DVD extras, which are generally taken as show canon. Although the statement by Tycho Nestoris may mean that the economy as a whole has been affected by Daenerys's actions, as a ripple effect.
  • In the books, Shae tries to apologize and cries while she tells Tyrion that the Queen made her lie in the trial, but she ends up saying the wrong thing and Tyrion kills her. In the series, she goes straight to the knife in an attempt to kill Tyrion, without any kind of conversation.
  • Book!Dany often shows a softer side that is sometimes missing from the show, the most notable being the absence of her horrified despair when Viserys draws steel in Vaes Dothrak, knowing that her brother has sentenced himself to death and the lack of how she pleads for a reconciliation. In the moments she reminisces on her recently-departed sibling on the show, it is without a hint of fondness and is instead dripping with scorn or derision. In the books, she acknowledges his effect on her formative years and how he loved, educated and protected her until the stresses of responsibility for his little sister, coupled with the humiliation of exile snapped his sanity in twain, which she forgives him for. She also has at least a couple of innocent Meereenese nobles executed at random on the grounds of "justice", either with crucifixion or dragon-fire, while when the city submits in the books, Dany lets the nobility choose who they will hand over to her to pay for the child slaves being nailed to posts.