The book is always better than the movie or the show. Isn't that true? Isn't that what we always say, at least? A Song of Ice and Fire is a remarkable story, and the world George R. R. Martin built is full of a rich history readers can practically drown in. And sometimes, you do whether you want to or not. Game of Thrones takes the best of A Song of Ice and Fire, and feeds it directly to our eye holes without any of the cumbersome slog that comes with five books that are each nearly 1,000 pages.
To be clear, A Song of Ice and Fire is an amazing, fantastic, seminal series of novels. Game of Thrones, however, is phenomenal. Literally. It's a global phenomenon, and it's in that position for good reason: Game of Thrones perfects the storytelling of A Song of Ice and Fire. There's a constantly present tension in the show, created by impeccable pacing and many (so, so many) engaging characters.
Is Game of Thrones better than A Song of Ice and Fire? That's difficult to say, and it's obviously subjective. But, does the show do some things better than the books? Absolutely. So, let's take a look at the things Game of Thrones does better than A Song of Ice and Fire.
Westeros is a diverse continent composed of many climates. From the frozen north to the tropical south, most ecosystems are represented. Of course, a book can only describe such things. It's not George R. R. Martin's fault he can't show us sweeping planes or sprawling oceans, but for this very reason, Game of Thrones does deserve credit for the visualization of these environments.
When they show us a scene of rolling green hills immediately after we've witnessed the snow covered wildlands north of the Wall, we can't help but wonder at the sublimity of it all. Martin does as good a job as any author in conveying the nature and scope of his world with the written word, but there's simply no way it can match that which our eyes can see.
If you didn't vomit when Oberyn Martell's head was crushed, there's something wrong with you. While the violence in A Song of Ice and Fire is disturbing and at times shocking, it simply cannot compete with the visual medium of television, and the effect that actually seeing the merciless brutality of that world has on the viewer.
The Red Wedding was truly horrifying, as was Princess Shireen's burning at the stake. In fact, the violence of the show can arguably go too far, but it certainly makes an impact. Martin's world of Westeros is bleak and terrible, and Game of Thrones does not let you forget that.
In the books, everyone takes forever to do anything. Not even taking into account the vast majority of the events in book five are contemporaneous with book four (although that is a huge deal), there's a lot of plodding along in A Song of Ice and Fire.
Brienne and Podrick pursue Sansa for most of A Feast for Crows, and continue to do so long after they've lost her trail. Worse, however, is being forced to pay attention to the storylines of certain characters who don't exist in the show. The thing is, they don't exist for good reason. Arianne Martell, the daughter of the Prince of Dorne, is introduced in A Feast for Crows, and her chapters are interminable because: A) we haven't been given reason to care about most of the characters in Dorne, and B) there's a lot of hanging out and making plots in Dorne, because of the culture in general.
It doesn't exactly make for page turning action. In Game of Thrones, we are introduced to Dorne through the fascinating character of Oberyn Martell, and then we witness some serious intrigue in Dorne, skipping over the languor.
At their collective heart, the story of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire is a political thriller. Within the regular action of the show, there are enough climactic events to keep your interest. The fantasy genre, as a rule, shares a portion of the blame for A Song of Ice and Fire's less-than-frenetic pace. Of course, this also leaves time for world building, and is what makes this story and others like it so immersive. Still, there's really no point in the show where the audience says, "Stop describing types of roast meat for two seconds!" That's the difference.
The tension of this whole story, this Song of Ice and Fire, lies in the petty squabbles of mankind while the whole world is at risk from non-human enemies. Jon Snow even overtly says as much in "The Queen's Justice," that the bickering over thrones and kingdoms is meaningless in the face of an enemy that will extinguish all life.
There are times when reading the series where you simply forget about the existence of the White Walkers, and you'd be forgiven for that. To be fair, this has its own power, as it truly captures that fatal flaw of humanity: myopia. But, while the show still manages to portray the many palace intrigues south of the Wall, it doesn't let you forget about the true enemy north of the Wall, and the frivolity of these throne seekers' behavior in light of them. The show strikes a perfect balance, keeping that impending doom at the very least in the back of our minds, if not gnawing away somewhere right in the middle. The Night King cometh.