Game of Thrones is an amazingly faithful adaptation of the Song of Ice and Fire books, given their significant scope. But the books have thousands of characters and many more plot lines than can possibly fit in a TV show, and some things — even some important ones — have to get left on the cutting room floor.
I know, I know: “The books are always better.” In the case of Game of Thrones, anyone who reads them will tell you as much — and anyone who doesn’t will tell you how sick they are of hearing it. For the first group, here are some of the best plot points you no doubt miss from the books; and for the non-readers, here are some of the things you’re missing by only watching.
There are spoilers here for the books up through A Dance With Dragons, but if you don’t plan on reading them and you’re caught up on the show, nothing in this article will ruin it for you, because there’s just no room for these book-only stories on Game of Thrones any time soon.
MANCE RAYDER, WE HARDLY KNEW YE
The show version of Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds), formerly King Beyond the Wall and now dead at the hands of Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington), is a charismatic leader who inspires fierce loyalty in his Wildling subjects. But there’s so much more to the character in the books, where he has a wife and a son — and where he lives much longer than he does onscreen.
In the season 5 premiere, Stannis and Melisandre (Carice van Houten) burn Mance alive for refusing to kneel, and Jon mercy kills him with his Winterfell-learned archery skills. In A Dance With Dragons, though, Melisandre — unbeknownst to Stannis — casts a spell on another Wilding leader, Rattleshirt, and burns him instead.
With Mance dead as far as almost everyone is concerned, the former king is free to embark on a secret mission for Jon Snow. I won’t spoil what it is, because they’ll likely have another character fill his role in the show, but it involves Mance’s skill as a bard — a skill in considerable demand during wedding season.
It’s tempting to see hints of this twist in the looks Mance shared with Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) during that scene in the episode, but with the way it was portrayed it’s clear that show Mance is really dead.
A GREYJOY FAMILY REUNION
Theon’s (Alfie Allen) family, the Greyjoys, have faded into the show’s background as Theon has continued to lose his identity and fall farther and farther down Ramsay Bolton’s (Iwan Rheon) rabbit hole as “Reek.” His sister Yara (Gemma Whelan) — who in the books is called “Asha” — made a valiant rescue attempt, but her brother was too far gone by then.
Everyone knows that the show is going to introduce a new cast of characters from Dorne, the homeland of Oberyn “The Red Viper” Martell (Pedro Pascal), in season 5. But in A Feast For Crows, the novel on which this season is partially based, the Greyjoys also took center stage in a way that they likely won’t in the show.
The Greyjoy family’s power players, including more than one of Theon’s uncles who the show hasn’t even introduced, hold a pow-wow — part political rally and part family reunion — in the Iron Islands to determine what their next play should be. For many readers it’s not the most interesting storyline, but it does lead to some cool intersections in the greater plot — many of which have yet to fully play out even in the books.
It’s clear that we’re not going to see this story during season 5, if at all. Best case scenario is the events are described to Theon as they take place off-screen, moving the plot forward and leading to some character development for him as Reek contemplates the events and people in his home leaving him ever farther behind.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE TULLYS?
The last we saw of Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies), brother of the late Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) and Lord of Riverrun, he was being ushered off to consummate his marriage while the Freys sharpened their blades for the Red Wedding. Whatever happened to him?
Well, Menzies got a leading role on Outlander, so we probably won’t be seeing him in Tully colors again any time soon. But in the books, Edmure’s storyline remains important. Riverrun, the Tullys’ riversider stronghold, is besieged by Lannister forces during A Feast For Crows, the fourth book in the series, and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) shows up to help negotiate with Catelyn’s uncle, the “Blackfish” Brynden Tully (Clive Russell).
The show made sure to note, through a conversation between Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) and Walder Frey (David Bradley) after the Red Wedding, that the Blackfish is still alive. But that was two seasons ago, and Riverrun’s current status is unknown. The siege could still happen later on, but not before a whole bunch of plot detours; Jaime and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), the characters who were wandering around this area during Feast, will be far away from there this season. It’s unclear whether we’ll catch up with the Tullys again before the show ends, but if we do there’s no way it will be in the same way we did in the books.
The Valonqar has been a major source of speculation and theorizing for book readers, but the show left it out during Cersei’s (Lena Headey) flashback in the season 5 premiere. In the episode, Maggy the Frog (Jodhi May) — the witch woman young Cersei and her friend visit — predicts the abundant infidelities of King Robert (Mark Addy) and the deaths of Cersei’s children, but there’s more to it in the book.
Only Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) has bitten it so far, but if Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) follow then the rest of Maggy’s prophecy — the part that’s only in the books — will seem even more ominous: “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”
“Valonqar,” in the series’ language of High Valyrian, translates to “little brother.” At face value that suggests that Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) will murder Cersei like he did Shae (Sibel Kekilli) and Tywin (Charles Dance), but that might not be the case. There are plenty of other fan theories as to who might be the Valonqar; for example, although Cersei and Jaime are twins, Jaime popped out second and so technically is also Cersei’s little bro. And who said it has to be Cersei’s little brother specifically? There’s an entire mercenary company — led by Dany’s (Emilia Clarke) lover, Daario (Michiel Huisman) — called the Second Sons.
The point is it could be anyone, and there are a million reasons why the show might have left this bit out. The most likely is to not distract from the dread the Lannister queen feels at the thought that her other two kids are next, and in this case the simplification works fine. But it’s something for hardcore fans to keep in mind.
HEART OF STONE
The show and books alike established early on that red priests like Melisandre and Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) — whom Arya (Maisie Williams) encountered during Season 3 — can use the power of their god, R'hllor, to bring the dead back to life. Thoros demonstrates this ability when he heals a mortal wound suffered by Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) in season 3, and he later describes the power to Melisandre.
By now this magic was supposed to have been used on at least one other character — a person who, so far, has stayed dead on-screen, but not in the books. I won’t say it outright, in case the character does reappear in the show by surprise later on.
But with so much time having passed since that should have happened, it seems more likely that the writers are saving this particular Deus Ex Machina for another storyline — although that’s firmly in the realm of speculation, as the books haven’t even gotten that far yet.
There are plenty of other book storylines the show is leaving out, from trivial ones to a few that seem important enough that they’ll have to pop up later on. But if you want to know about any more, you’ll have to start reading and discovering them for yourself.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Games Editor, in charge of all things gaming but mostly concerned with maxing his Destiny characters. He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and two dogs. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.