Game of Thrones is a frustrating show. While it’s generally understood that the later seasons fell apart, I think the problems of the show go deeper and earlier, and one episode I think is really indicative of it is the second episode of the show and how it adapts the corresponding Jon Snow chapter.
(If you haven’t read the book this won’t really make a lot of sense to you, but this is my blog, so hush. Also I know I’m in the minority, but Jon’s face is oh so punchable in the early seasons. Kit is a fair actor, but the impression of Jon we get is less of an intelligent and occasionally sullen bastard, and more just sulky.)
Jon’s second chapter is a critical one to understanding his character; it’s his single on page interaction with Catelyn, and the one that solidifies just how traumatic a figure she is in his life. It’s also a tour of all his major Stark relationships outside of Ned: Catelyn, Bran, Robb, and Arya. It’s a chapter that cements our understanding of his feeling of being an outsider in the Stark Household, and his complicated relationship with Catelyn Stark and the ways she treats him as a pariah.
The show changes the chapter in a few really significant ways. There’s two scenes that take place in the same timeframe that are added. One is Jaime mocking Jon for going to the Wall, which is very Jaime and adds to the theme we’ll see in Tyrion II of Jon not quite understanding what he was signing up for, but otherwise doesn’t do much.
The other scene is Cersei coming to visit Catelyn at Bran’s bedside. This is a weird scene for a couple of reasons (not least of which is Cersei losing a child that will then be totally forgotten a few seasons later in Maggy’s prophecy), but for our purposes it changes what Catelyn’s mental state is for the scene with Jon. Instead of being half mad with grief and sleep deprivation as she is in the book, Catelyn really isn’t that distraught in the show. Sad and worried, sure, but not out of her mind.
Before we get there though, Jon goes to say goodbye to Arya. Switching the order of this scene to before the on with Catelyn and Bran actually changes more than you’d think. I can see why they thought it was a good idea: there’s more of a dramatic progression this way, but it robs Jon and Arya’s scene. Instead of a scene where he draws strength from his relationship with Arya, it’s a sadder and more somber scene. It’s also a significantly shorter scene than it is in the book, with less banter, and combined with the cutting of the scene between the two of them in Arya I, it makes their relationship a little perfunctory. Jon also sasses Arya for not having Nymeria react to her command, which runs completely counter to how supportive he is in the books. In general he’s a little more harsh with her.
It’s not a problem, per se, you still get a sense that they’re close, but it’s the first step in a general flattening of Jon’s character. Speaking of which…
A lot of the dialogue in the scene by Bran’s bedside gets cut. A lot. Catelyn literally has two lines, one at the beginning, and one at the end.
Jon: I’ve come to say goodbye to Bran.
Catelyn: You’ve said it.
And then after Jon says his thing to Bran.
Catelyn: I want you to leave.
It’s fair to cut some of Catelyn’s dialogue here. The way she glares at Jon non-verbally communicates some of it, but it fundamentally changes the scene. While I don’t think there’s a need to keep Catelyn as sharp as she was in the original scene, because we don’t have access to Jon’s inner thoughts, cutting all her dialogue means that for all intents and purposes all the complexities of Jon’s character are lost: the toll Jon’s bastard status takes on him, the strained nature of his familial relationships, the way Catelyn’s actions affected all the Starks are just… gone. None of it exists on the show.
(Oh, also Ned is in the scene now. Do we see how he reacts to Jon and Catelyn’s relationship? Nope, because none of it happens.)
It’s the way the show handles a lot of things, and one of the reasons I wasn’t too fond of it back even in season one: really the show is interested only in a surface level reading of the text, and flattens everything, jettisoning a lot of the thematic and character richness Martin fills the books with.
A Note on Price: While you may not be a bastard leaving his home for the Wall, most of us still need financial help from time to time. If that sounds familiar then a title loan may be the best option for you.