The pop culture juggernaut known as Game of Thrones is coming to end this year with its final season airing in 2019. The TV show premiered in 2011, and eight years later, we have a lot of questions for how this series will wrap up all the loose ends, including how ice dragons even work. This doesn’t compare, however, to the wait the book fans have endured. While the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1999, fans are still waiting for the final book from George R.R. Martin. There are indeed fans who have literally grow up with this book series, and the show has become a way for them get more of that Game of Thrones content that they desperately want.
Since the show is based on the books, there are lots of similarities and differences. Each book is at least 1000 pages, so there are definitely events and characters that needed to be condensed. The TV series, unlike the books, cannot take 20 years to make -- the actors who started the show as children grew up so quickly. In the show, some characters got a lot more attention than they did in the books, and vice versa. In doing so, some of these characters improved, while some of them were better in the books. Here at CBR, we’ve ranked the 10 Game of Thrones characters the show made better, and 10 that were better in the books.
20 SHOW MADE BETTER: OLENNA TYRELL
In the show, Diana Rigg plays the matriarch of the Tyrell family, Lady Olenna Tyrell. In the books, we don’t get Lady Olenna’s perspective directly: we read about her from an outsider’s perspective, especially Sansa’s. While she has some great lines in the book, her lines on the show in the most recent season have become iconic and the material of memes.
When Lady Olenna chooses to poison herself, she says to Jaime Lannister, “Tell Cersei it was me,” referring to her role in Joffrey Baratheon’s demise. She was bitter to the very end -- it’s difficult for us to think of more legendary last words. Her advice to Daenerys in season seven was also incredibly inspiring, “You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
19 BETTER IN THE BOOKS: EDDARD STARK
Sean Bean’s performance as the Lord of Winterfell was unforgettable, no question. Ned Stark was so bound by his moral compass that it eventually led to his own demise. Viewers of Game of Thrones miss Sean Bean’s portrayal of this character to this day.
In the book series, we don’t necessarily say goodbye to Ned Stark so quickly. We continue to find out more about him even after his end because of the chapters from his family members’ points of view. The sections where Catelyn reflects upon the man she loved are especially telling, and there’s no arguing that Ned Stark was truly a good man.
18 SHOW MADE BETTER: JOFFREY BARATHEON
Joffrey Baratheon is a unlikable boy in both the shows and in the books. The way that he accosts Sansa is equally upsetting in both versions, as is the way he chooses to govern his people. Honestly, we just can’t forgive him for Lady’s end -- she was a good direwolf!
Jack Gleeson plays Joffrey on the show, and we were just so thrilled when he was written off because of how good Jack Gleeson was at making us hate him. Though Jack Gleeson was young (he was under 20 when he got the role), he played this character to perfection. The mannerisms, the tone of voice, everything that we hated in the character in the book was amplified by Jack Gleeson.
17 BETTER IN THE BOOKS: ARYA STARK
Arya is a popular character regardless of whether we’re talking about the TV or book version. In the TV show, we finally got to see the Stark sisters reunited, and they team up to end Littlefinger. In the books, Arya has killed people, but the TV version also got the satisfaction of ending Walder Frey to avenge her family.
However, the book version of Arya has an additional ability: she’s a warg. In the books, she can see through the eyes of Nymeria, her direwolf, much like her brother Bran can see through the eyes of his direwolf, Summer. Additionally, in A Dance With Dragons, Arya can skinchange into a cat, so she doesn’t need a close bond with the animal to inhabit its body.
16 SHOW MADE BETTER: CERSEI LANNISTER
Cersei is another character in Game of Thrones that we love to hate. In the books, we have no details past Cersei doing the walk of the shame, literally, after she admits to having affairs. It was so interesting to see in the show how Cersei would pick herself up from hitting rock bottom. She proves herself to be ruthless even after experiencing such shame, as she blows up the Sept and everyone in it.
Unfortunately, as a result, she loses Tommen and therefore she has no more children. In the aftermath, Cersei gets very dark. When someone has nothing left, they become even more dangerous, so we can’t wait to see what the show does with Cersei next.
15 BETTER IN THE BOOKS: JON SNOW
Look, we love Kit Harington, but as far as his brooding character Jon Snow on Game of Thrones, we have to say that the book version of his character is better. Hear us out!
In the books, Jon is a lot more perceptive. We see this in all the chapters we get from his point of view. He and Bran are the characters who can more easily read situations and see people’s true intentions. As Jon says in the first book, “A bastard had to learn to notice things, to read the truth that people hid behind their eyes.” We’re not sure if Jon Snow will be alive in the next book, but the content we’ve gotten from Jon’s perspective in the books so far has been great.
14 SHOW MADE BETTER: SANSA STARK
Sansa Stark, in both versions of her character, has grown a lot over the years. Sophie Turner is one of the actors who plays a Stark kid that literally grew up during the filming of the show. However, the character growth on the show was even more impressive.
Like the books, Sansa Stark starts out as a naive child. This all changes as she’s embroiled in the court politics after her father’s demise. Sansa has suffered a lot, especially on the show, making her revenge on Ramsay Bolton and Littlefinger even sweeter. She’s a powerful young woman on the show now as regent of Winterfell.
13 BETTER IN THE BOOKS: SAMWELL TARLY
Samwell Tarly is so pure and lovable, like another famous Sam we know in an epic fantasy series. Our Samwell on the show demonstrates that he’s got smarts to go along with that sweetness. In the last season specifically, we see him cure Jorah Mormont of his greyscale, despite all of the warnings not to perform this procedure.
However, Samwell is still struggling to get the respect he deserves. In the books, he’s got more of a reason to earn the Night Watch’s respect. While in the show Gilly was the only witness to him killing a White Walker, in the books, it’s witnessed by one of his brothers who can vouch that it did in fact happen.
12 SHOW MADE BETTER: DAENERYS TARGARYEN
Daenerys Targaryen of many names, including Khaleesi, the Unburnt, and Mother of Dragons, is one of the most popular characters in the books and on the TV show. Her absence in one of the books is deeply felt.
In the books, Daenerys doesn’t resort to violence as often as she does on the show. It’s not often that we get to see a complex strong female character like Daenerys express her anger and strength using violence, which is cathartic for a lot of women watching the show. Her dragons have fought in battles with her, such as the attack on the Lannister caravan last season, which brought about many satisfying ends.
11 BETTER IN THE BOOKS: RAMSAY BOLTON
Ramsay Bolton is a terrible human being in both versions of his character. He rivals only Joffrey Baratheon in characters we just loathe in the Game of Thrones universe. While he’s played brilliantly in the series by Iwan Rheon, he’s even worse in the books, if you can imagine.
While we saw him be incredibly cruel to Sansa on the show, even assaulting her on their wedding night (HBO switched up that plot line), we thankfully we didn’t have to witness the types of acts he committed on poor Jeyne Poole. Sansa’s hint of a smirk when Ramsay was chewed by his own dogs was indeed cathartic for both book readers and TV show watchers.
10 SHOW MADE BETTER: HODOR
Hodor was a sweet gentle giant who was one of the few pure characters in the Game of Thrones universe. His responsibility throughout the story, on TV and in the books, is to help Bran. In the show, this leads to Hodor sacrificing himself for Bran’s safety.
In a moment that cannot be forgotten in season 6, Hodor as his young stableboy self Wylis, gets a vision of his future demise with Meera yelling “Hold the door!” As the White Walkers continue, Wylis in the past hears “Hold the door” in his vision and repeats it so much it becomes “Hodor”. Hodor in the present does hold the door for Bran to escape, but Hodor doesn’t survive. It’s an incredibly tragic origin story, one that we haven’t read in the books yet.
9 BETTER IN THE BOOKS: KHAL DROGO
Obviously, Jason Momoa is a god among men, and his chemistry with Emilia Clarke who plays Daenerys was amazing. However, the character Khal Drogo is even more impressive in the books. In the first book, Khal Drogo is introduced as a fearsome leader of the Dothraki whose hair jingles with bells and has never been cut because he’s never lost a fight.
The biggest reason why Drogo is better in the books is that he does not immediately force himself upon Daenerys on their wedding night. He focuses on her first and waits for Daenerys to give consent. Even Drogo, with his limited knowledge of languages outside of Dothraki, knows the difference between “no” and “yes.”
8 SHOW MADE BETTER: ROBB STARK
Robb Stark is a 14-year-old boy in the first Game of Thrones book who has to grow up quickly to be the man of Winterfell after Joffrey takes out Ned. Catelyn muses upon his youth a lot in her chapters. In the show, Robb Stark is a young man played by Richard Madden.
We don’t get chapters immediately from Robb’s perspective in the book. In the show, we got a lot more development out of Robb’s character and story than in the book, making the Red Wedding even more tragic. In both the book and show, the audience would expect the eldest son to avenge his father, which ultimately does not happen. We still miss “The King in the North” all these seasons later.
7 BETTER IN THE BOOKS: LYSA ARRYN
In the show, Lysa, Cat’s sister, is basically portrayed as a crazy woman who treats her son Robin as if he’s still a baby -- even though he’s far beyond the appropriate age. She holds grudges and is more than happy to chuck her enemies out the Moon Door.
Lysa is a much more tragic character in the books, as is the lore of Vale itself. In Vale, there’s a mountain called “Alyssa’s Tears,” named after Alyssa Arryn who didn’t cry after her family perished, so the gods said she would weep until her tears “watered the black Earth of the Vale.” Even in land’s folklore, women are punished and go through many ordeals, which explains why she’s so protective over Robin to the point of madness.
6 SHOW MADE BETTER: TYRION LANNISTER
Tyrion Lannister is already a great character, but one that is made even better combined with the talent of the actor who plays him, Peter Dinklage. In fact, Dinklage won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2011, 2015 and 2018 for this role.
We love all the scenes when Tyrion has an opportunity to read someone down to filth, and perhaps more exciting is when Tyrion meets a character who can conversationally keep up with him, such as Daenerys. The show emphasized the similarities between these two characters such as them being orphans with problematic relationships with their family members. This isn’t something we’ve gotten in the books yet.
5 BETTER IN THE BOOKS: LORAS TYRELL
Loras Tyrell is more than just a pretty face. In the books and the show, Loras and Renly Baratheon have a romantic relationship; however, Renly is married to Margaery and is busy rallying his troops to support him in his bid for the Iron Throne. Despite them not being able to publicly be together, the love between Loras and Renly is real.
In the show, Loras doesn’t have much to do after Renly’s demise since the writers took out the other heirs to Highgarden. Instead of a complex plot where Loras chooses to join the Kingsguard, Loras gets engaged to Sansa, and then Cersei, and is later arrested for being gay. There is little character development beyond his relationship with Renly in the show, which is disappointing.
4 SHOW MADE BETTER: BRONN
Bronn is one of those characters that improved with further development in the show. In the books, we mostly learn about Bronn through his interactions with Tyrion, which show that while he’s a sellsword, he’s still got a heart.
In the show, Bronn gets a lot more to do than he does in the books since he accompanies Tyrion in his journeys beyond what the books offer. One of Bronn’s best moments was when he goes up against one of Daenerys’s dragons, Drogon. He saves Jaime from a fiery end and also has a role in negotiating a truce between Daenerys and Cersei.
3 BETTER IN THE BOOKS: JAIME LANNISTER
Jaime Lannister’s story arc where he and Brienne of Tarth join forces was one of the most enjoyable ones to watch come to life on the show. While Jaime’s introduction to the story is as someone who’s willing to do anything, it’s been interesting to witness his development in both the book and the TV series.
However, in the fourth season of Game of Thrones, Jaime forces himself upon Cersei, and she repeatedly tells him no. He doesn’t stop despite her protests. In the books, Cersei also protests at the beginning of the scene but eventually gives consent. This is a controversial scene in both the books and the series, but Jaime is by far a better character in the books.
2 SHOW MADE BETTER: MARGAERY TYRELL
Margaery Tyrell, Renly Baratheon’s young wife, is much more developed and nuanced in the show than she is in the books. Margaery is an adult in the series versus a teenager, which allows her to have more interesting storylines and character development.
Case in point: the rivalry between Margaery and Cersei seems much more personal since they’re closer in age on the show. We are really able to witness how good Margaery is at manipulating people and situations to her advantage so she and her family can retain power. Her demise was jarring, but honestly, there was no other way to defeat Margaery other than an explosion. That’s how good she was.
1 BETTER IN THE BOOKS: CATELYN STARK
Catelyn Stark, mother of the Stark children and wife to Eddard Stark, deserved better than she got on the show. Michelle Fairley played her so well, and the Red Wedding scene was absolutely gut-wrenching because of her specifically. In the books, Catelyn is resurrected, which we, frustratingly, never got.
Beric Dondarrion brings her back from the dead, but since she was gone for a bit, her personality is largely gone and her body has had some decay. What’s left is a hatred of House Frey. Zombie Catelyn Stark goes after the Freys, and people start calling her Lady Stoneheart. There has been no mention of Lady Stoneheart for three seasons on the show.