10 Game of Thrones Characters that the Show Failed
From Sansa to Stannis, here’s a look at some of the biggest offenses made to Game of Thrones characters throughout the last 5 seasons.
With Season 6 on the horizon there comes a certain amount of apprehension from the fanbase. And it is for a few reasons – for starters, many of the show’s plot lines have now outpaced George RR Martin’s books, leaving the tv series to trailblaze as far as the story is concerned. But the second reason for the apprehension may also be that if Season 5 was any indication, leaving showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss to their own devices, with the freedom to deviate from the books, is not always a good thing.
There are many examples of how the tv series have done the books justice and actually improved upon the story. Having a visual medium and strong actors to work with allows for the plot to be streamlined without sacrificing the complexity, subtlety and richness of the Ice and Fire mythos. We don’t have to halt the plot for paragraphs of food and clothing descriptions, because we can show actors wearing the clothes and eating the food while doing plot things. Battle scenes dont have to feel like level-grinding in an RPG because they can show us things like the armor and tactical manuevers rather than telling us. Actors can also give us more human and interesting takes on their roles, and some characters, noteably Lena Headey’s take on Cersei, are more sympathetic on the show.
However, sometimes even the best actors struggle if the script they are given is rushed or poor. As a consequence, not all of the characters have had treatment that makes sense. At some points, D&D hit “fuck it” as far as characterization and plot are concerned. To follow are some of the more noticeable offenses they’ve done.
1. Sansa Stark
Y’all knew she would be on this list somewhere so lets just get her out of the way first.
The Stark girl has had a pretty difficult run of things since she first left her wintry home for Kings Landing and discovered the hard way that life is not like the romantic, heroic ballads she so loves. But where things got particularly heated for fans was midway through Season 5 when she returned to Winterfell and got married off to Ramsay Snow in an attempt to reinherit her home and/or so Littlefinger could expand his territory. Following the wedding we get a bedding ceremony that is clearly painful and has dubious consent at best, made all the worse by the fact that Theon/Reek is made to watch.
Before I unpack this, I will point out that I am not about to re-hash the argument about whether this scene was offensive or what the place of sexual violence in televised drama is. There are, however, still some problems with this scene. There is for starters the obvious complaint of “but it was Jeyne Poole in the books”, a character largely neglected by the show. Bringing her in for just this plot point would, unfortunately, undo the emotional impact and it means the shows budget would need to accommodate another actor. You might ask, “But somebody had to marry Ramsay for the sake of inheriting the Northlands, and it’s not like Ramsay was ever going to be a gentleman, so what’s the problem?”
Looking past the volatile issue of rape, there are two problems with Sansa’s treatment that are a bit more objective. The first is that she is already married to Tyrion, a legally and religiously binding contract that still stands even with his exile because he is still alive. And at no point does the show seem to acknowledge this wrench in Petyr’s/The Boltons’ plan. Without her marriage to Tyrion annulled, there technically is no marriage between her and Ramsay to consummate.
The second problem is a matter of character arc. The ending of Season 4 shows Sansa very clearly growing up and leaving her status as a victim behind. She smacks up little Robin and lies to save Baelish. But then he ditches her at Winterfell and leaves her at the mercy of the Boltons to be jerked around in her own homestead, causing her character development to regress, because of… reasons?
2. Jaime Lannister
The Golden Boy of the Lannisters doesn’t have a much better run. In another example of the show botching character develop, D&D seem not to understand the meaning of the words ‘redemption arc’. Things were fine and dandy with Jaime for the most part – his adventures with Brienne were performed wonderfully, and his return to King’s Landing happens earlier than in the books, meaning he is present at the Purple Wedding. Being present and at Cersei’s side while their son dies is a poignant moment even with all the unsettling incest business. As Joffrey is being poisoned we don’t see the great Lannister clan, but a family scared and in pain. For Jaime it is a great character moment but also the eye before the shitstorm.
Following this he proceeds to rape Cersei next to the vigil over Joff’s corpse, a scene that was at least consensual in the books. (Nor is this the first time the show has changed a consensual sex scene for the sake of shock value – remember Dany and Drogo’s wedding in season 1?)
While he still gets to smuggle out Tyrion at the end of Season 4, he fails to confess his complicity in the prank involving the whore Tysha from their youth, a confession that is meant to mark the change in Jaime’s character into his start towards human decency and not being controlled by Cersei anymore.
Then next season, the still pussy whipped Jaime gets shipped off to Dorne in place of other disposable secondary characters to retrieve Myrcella, only to be utterly useless while there. When he finally gets to bring his niece/daughter home she too falls victim to poisoning as part of a revenge plot by the late Red Viper’s paramour and bastard daughters. The death of the Lannister princess is a classic case of Women in Refrigerators by having a female character sidelined and killed in order for a male character to evolve or have angst.
And what we are seeing so far of Season 6, Jaime is STILL being bossed around by his girlfriend/sister and he hasn’t yet figured out that he ought to dump her and stop fighting her battles. Get your shit together, Jaime.
3. Ellaria & The Sand Snakes
Remember how much we all loved The Red Viper and his lady love in the 4th Season? The suave and deadly Oberyn served as a great enticement to how capable and awesome the rest of the Dornishmen could really be. A furious fighter who manages to get come-uppance on The Mountain posthumously thanks to his poisoned spears? Wow, surely the rest of the Martell house is this badass too, right?
Oh, sorry, by “badass” maybe D&D meant “one-dimensional plot fillers who don’t do anything.” Is playing slaps in prison supposed to intimidate us? Who in their right mind thought the “bad pussy” line was acceptable writing? Not to mention Ellaria disobeying a direct order from the ruler of their kingdom by murdering Myrcella? We have a crew of a few women with whips and swords against their own kingdom as well as the rest of Westeros. They are screwed when it comes to playing the Game of Thrones and their arrogance and downright incompetence doesn’t even make their efforts all that tragic or valiant. In spite of how formidable Dornishmen are supposed to be, their depiction on the show thus far seems like a bad soap opera.
4. Stannis Baratheon
If you’re familiar with the trope “Ron the Death Eater”, then you have an idea of what happened to the middle Baratheon brother. For the uninitiated who don’t want to fall down the rabbit hole that is TVTropes.org, this is when a fanfiction author or the director of an adapted work chooses to villainize a character they personally dislike, pretty much just because of their own personal bias towards said character.
With The Mannis’ characterization, any notion of moral ambiguity, one of the pillars of the series, get thrown in the toilet. While he is a character that does bad things, it does not actually make him a bad person because he is meant to be making calculated sacrifices to ensure the Seven Kingdoms is actually equipped to fend itself against the impending invasion of ice zombies. The show very drastically cuts back on his motivation for doing things and how he feels about his own choices. And if you’ll pardon my book snobbery for a moment, the endgame for his adaptational villainy is so non-bookies can go, “Aha! We knew he was the bad guy all along!” and feel like they’ve figured out something clever, without actually being challenged to look at the show with a more critical eye.
D&D, incorrectly, claim that Stannis is driven out of ambition, rather than the pragmatism and duty that the character explicitly states as having in the books. The show depicts him as a kool-aid drinker of the Red faith and callously allows Melisandre to burn people because it asserts his power, but viewers are not in on the fact that he only sanctions the sacrifice of traitors, rapists, and others already facing death sentences. The infamous shadow-baby assassination of his brother Renly is treated as proof of how evil he can be, downplaying the fact that Renly was equally willing to commit fratricide in a battle that would have caused unnecessary death and suffering for both sides. Stan’s guilt after the fact, including repeated nightmares, are likewise swept under the rug. Killing your little brother with a shadow baby assassin is a dick move, but it does not make Renly a martyr. He turned his back on both of his elder brothers and Ned Stark and then acted surpirsed when one of them stuck a knife in.
And then, of course, there’s the burning of Shireen in Season 5 like a flaming cherry on top of a massive, multi-tiered bullshit cake. While he’s stuck in the North attempting to mobilize people against the Boltons as well as the White Walkers, one of the Seven Kingdom’s best military tacticians get stuck because of some crappy weather and Ramsay’s twenty fucking good men. And so to clear the way and try earning the favour of the Gods, they sacrifice Shireen because of the power of king’s blood.
Can we just back up here please? Because my suspension of disbelief has been smashed on the ground like it was a wight that got shanked with obsidian. There’s logically no reason that a grown man with military experience going back to his teens would be set back by things like this. It turns Ramsay from a genuine threat to a flat-out Marty Stu. If the ill-equipped, under-trained Crows can endure attacks from Others and Wildlings with clear victories, Stannis being in the kind of trouble he’s in makes no sense. An earlier episode of this season has a father-daughter moment where he states no harm will come to her. He ends up going back on his word, something he has never done before given his rigid and stubborn nature. Although GRRM has confirmed that Shireen will be on the chopping block, it’s hard to believe that even a killer like him would end the life of a little girl so casually.
The middle brother of the Baratheons has complexity and struggles as a character that are ignored for the sake of a dumb-downed story about how you shouldn’t be seduced by the dark side when there should be no clear light or dark side in this universe. Stannis’ depiction as evil is lazy, self-indulgent, irresponsible and unprofessional writing, coming from one of the biggest tv shows of all time. All things considered, I think it’s okay to hold D&D to higher standards than common fanfiction authors, considering each GoT episode has a budget of millions.
5. Ser Barristan Selmy
Ah, Barristan the Bold. Barristan the Boss. Barristan the Badass. This guy might be the closest we ever get to the World of Ice and Fire having a true, clear-cut heroic character.
In spite of the political maelstroms that persist in his world, Selmy extends kindness and courtesy to everyone he meets, although when crossed his inner warrior awakens and he can unleash a power and fury unmatched in the Seven Kingdoms.
He accidentally helped start Robert’s Rebellion by letting his friend Rhaegar Targaryen beat him at the Harrenhal Tourney, a victory that Rhaegar used to crown Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty over his own wife. The guilt Selmy feels from this incident drives him to locate and serve Dany several years later as she builds her own political prowess on the Eastern continent. The show wisely saves time by getting rid of the sub-plot in which Selmy pulls a Clark Kent by leaning on a walking stick and serving her in disguise as a old squire. Instead he reveal himself to her upon their first meeting and under her service, acts as a guard, advisor and a moral counter-point to the self-interested Jorah and Daario.
Everybody knows how awesome Barristan is. Everybody. Varys remarks that of Robert’s Kingsguard, “Only Ser Barristan Selmy is made of true steel”. Jaime Lannister calls him “perfect” and “A painter who only used red”. When they reunite in Essos, Jorah identifies him as “one of the greatest fighters the Seven Kingdoms has ever seen.” He didn’t get the nickname Barristan the Bold because of his preferred font style on his resume. When he is fired by Joffrey and Cersei he challenges them and the other knights, and he could have easily slain the whole room if he were willing to break his vows, and they all know it.
In spite of all this, in Season 5 of the show, he flops over to his death in an alleyway because of a love tap from a nameless assassin character that corners him in an alleyway. His death serves as a rare example of gender-swapped Women in Refrigerators, as the main reason for killing him seems to be to make Dany sad and deprive her of a voice of reason.
But really, I envy D&D. They’re right up there with EL James for being some of the highest-earning fanfiction writers in the world.
6. Daenerys Targaryen
Although a fan-favourite, Dany’s characterization has been lacking in recent seasons. From orphaned exile to Khaleesi to Mother of Dragons to Breaker of Chains to – oh god damn it, don’t make me say all her titles. But the thing is, she earned all those titles because she went through some serious stuff, and she persevered. She is working on a pretty solid claim to the throne, if only she could get back over to Westeros.
Some of her highlights as a character include the siege of Astapor at the end of Season 3 where she barbequed the master and freed the Unsullied army. Even if you’re on Team Stannis, you have to admit that scene had you cheering for her. The trouble is, she really hasn’t done a whole heck of a lot since. She’s been treated like a messiah when most of her scenes have consisted of sitting and talking for 2 seasons. And no, having one of those talky scenes be with Tyrion does not make it better.
Sure, having Daenerys sit back with her internal monologue as she tries ruling is pretty loyal to her character arc and chapters in the books, but D&D have also made it pretty sure that they’ve stopped giving a shit about the books. Why not give her a little bit more to do? Even her cool line about wanting to break the wheel gets kinda deflated when you realize she’s just as much a political player as any other candidate for the throne.
7. Every Plot-Critical Character Left Out
Okay, I get that there’s only so much budget for paying actors and maybe something about union regulations as well. But it’s just plain silly that D&D can’t seem to make room for certain people.
I mean, come on. Stoneheart? Connington and Young Griff? Cold Hands? Strong Belwas? Hellooooo?
8. Asha/Yara GreyjoyAsha, renamed Yara in the show to avoid confusion with the wildling Osha, just doesn’t seem to be a very remarkable woman. I’m not entirely sure that she, the iron woman and estranged sister of Theon, is actually anyone’s favourite.
I don’t mean to bad-mouth her character, but she hardly has a character to bash. Where George RR Martin gave us a steely woman trying to prove herself in her brother’s absence amongst a family of patriarchal plunderers and pirates, the show version of the Greyjoy girl, whichever name you prefer to use, just doesn’t stand out. She’s got righteous anger and a strong will, but not as much as Arya. She’s a capable warrior, but not as much as Brienne. She has difficulty finding her place in her family, but that struggle is much clearer and more sympathetic when played out by Sansa or Cersei. She fights against the wrongs done to her family, but not as hard as Daenerys. Upon attempting to rescue Reek, she turns away because she sees a lost cause by the psychological harm done to him by the Boltons. Oh, and because the Boltons had attack dogs. Nice job, iron born.
9. Petyr Baelish
I’m not smart enough to always keep track of what Littlefinger is doing and why. As an enigmatic character, even he admits that he will sometimes do things for the sake of confusing his foes so that they don’t catch onto his schemes. As a character, he is a great ace in the hole for writers as he can basically account for any loose plot threads at a moments’ notice without it being out of character for him to do so.
And overall things were going pretty well for him until, you guessed it, Season 5 attacked. Even starting in season 4 the script saddles his character with choices that make him look like an idiot for no good reason. What’s the point in immediately admitting his role in Joffrey’s assassination and removing Sansa’s plausible deniability during the incident? What is he trying to accomplish in telling Sansa about R+L=J? And why, Gods, why did he leave Sansa alone with the Boltons? Has he seen their flag? Does it have fucking cupcakes and fluffy unicorns on it?
10. Brienne of Tarth
The maiden of Tarth is another example of characters that are quite well-written, until they aren’t. In all fairness she’s not exactly given a whole lot to do in the 4th and 5th books other than re-enact “Dude, Where’s My Car?” With Podrick, in which the car is Sansa. Oh, and I guess a chapter she has that foreshadows Cleganebowl (GET HYPE). But in the show’s attempt to give one of their leading ladies more to do, they also undermine a lot of what makes people root for Brienne.
At the finale of Season 4, she gets a great “you go girl!” moment when she kicks the shit out of The Hound and leaves him for dead. This is a scene that shows how departures from book canon can be a good thing, if done well.
In the 5th season she becomes mopey over her inability to protect the Stark girls and other missions she’s failed in the past, which suddenly makes her vengeful over Renly Baratheon. In a poor attempt to replicate the magic of her face-off with Sandor from last season, Brienne follows Sansa and Littlefinger to the North, then decides to track down Stannis and avenge the death of the youngest Baratheon brother.
In fact, she becomes so focused on this revenge-ladyboner she suddenly has, that she completely misses her window of opportunity to actually rescue Sansa. She then manages to conveniently find Stannis in the massive and barren northlands at the exactly the moment when he’s wounded and had his troops either flee or be slain. The honour-bound warrior woman then proceeds to… avenge the assassination of her gay boyfriend without considering the treason inherent in his claim to the throne, kick a guy while he’s down literally and then decapitate him. Stannis was, BTW, the one that Ned Stark died trying to get onto the Iron Throne in the first place. No offense Bri, but I think you just became one of Ramsay’s 20 good men there.
In spite of objections from fandom, though, there appears to be a lot of excitement for the next Season. But where does it come from? The fanbase that remain loyal, or is it the marketing team going full speed ahead with manufactured interest, promising story lines made to shock?
But I guess that’s none of my business.