You've heard your friends say it, or maybe you said it yourself: "The show just isn't faithful to the books..." or maybe "it doesn't stick to the canon!" I'm a huge fan of both the TV show Game of Thrones, and its source material A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF), by George R. R. Martin, and I often hear complaints like this about the show from fans of the books.
I find that I enjoy movies and TV shows more with the following attitude: all stories, whether they be made into movies, books, comic books, TV shows, or whatever, exist somewhere out there in the 'ether' (figuratively, or even literally if you subscribe to the metaphysical "multiverse" hypothesis). An author/writer snatches them out of that ether and puts them into book/TV show/film/whatever form. Many stories are adapted repeatedly, in the same media or different media, such as the stories of King Arthur, or Batman (how many times do we have to see Bruce Wayne's parents die?). Some might think of a specific version (often the first version) as the 'official' or 'canonical' version -- but I don't think that is necessary. I think we can see them all as 'official' and 'canonical'. To take a non-ASOIAF example, let's look at the Star Wars universe: I've read online many SW fans complain that the new movies are discarding the novels and comic books of the Extended Universe, in which they felt personally invested. Some even felt betrayed! From my point of view, there's no betrayal -- the Extended Universe really 'happened', and so did the new movies... in the figurative or literal infinite multiverse, Chewbacca died on whatever planet in whatever year, and he also survived to have further adventures with whomever and whenever. They both happened, but in different universes.
I think this applies to Game of Thrones and ASOIAF as well. These are two different, but related, universes. In one of them, Strong Belwas met up with a disguised Barristan and served Daenerys. Loras had two brothers, Garlan and the disabled Willas. In the other universe (the show universe), Belwas never existed, or just never met up with Barristan... and Barristan never disguised himself, and Loras is an only child. Maybe there's another handful of universes in which Gregor and Daario look like totally different dudes but are otherwise the same :). The important thing, in my view, is whether or not an adaptation faithfully hews to the spirit of the 'original' story... and in that sense, I believe the TV show has succeeded greatly so far. I know Belwas fans are sad that we won't see him on the screen, but that didn't do significant harm to the spirit of the story (in my view).
The point is that different versions of the same story can work and can be 'faithful'. Batman's story, as an example, is 'faithful' in the Christopher Nolan movie trilogy, the comic books, and the Tim Burton movies from 25 years ago, even when they had different details (at least if you liked all those versions). Similarly, the Hound's story for Game of Thrones/ASOIAF is faithful in both the books and the TV show -- even if he didn't meet Brienne in the books.
This is all just my point of view, of course. Complaining can be fun, and there's nothing wrong with it. I just bring this up because I think it helps me enjoy both the books and the TV series more than I would otherwise. Feel free to disagree!
Andy Crawford is the writer of two novels: the fantasy adventure Sailor of the Skysea, and the satirical fantasy The Pen is Mightier, which is perfect for fans of Game of Thrones. You can find his books in paperback or ebook on Amazon below.