There were two miracles about Game of Thrones season one: that it was so true to the book, and that it was so brilliant on its own terms. For season two, the show will have to choose one miracle.
With the second book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, the saga becomes much more diffuse, and a ton of new characters are introduced. It's also a good deal longer and more complicated than the first book. But the television version will still only have 10 episodes to tell the entire story.
Top image: A Clash of Kings cover art by Stephen Youll.
As producer David Benioff recently said:
But the truth is there are so many new characters coming in, so that could be confusing. Many more than characters who die in the first season. And that keeps happening, each season there are new characters coming in, and at a certain point you have to be careful because, a.) there is a budget, and b.) we have about 540 minutes to tell the entire story each season. And you can only go back and forth between so many characters before it all starts to feel so diffused that you lose track of what's going on and you lose touch with the central characters... All of the characters that you know from the first season are back in a major way, it's just there are some new characters as well. That's what I'm saying, I guess, we need to make sure we have enough time to tell all these stories properly and that does mean there are certain stories that we're just not gonna touch on, certain minor plotlines or minor characters we just don't have time to give proper weight to. We'd rather not throw them in there for a 30 second cameo as opposed to spending more time with our central characters.
For what it's worth, here's a great gallery showing some of the minor characters the show has already featured, including Janos Slynt, Jonos Bracken, Dareon and Lord Galbart Glover. You can assume that anybody who's already appeared on screen, however briefly, is safe.
So which characters should the show leave out? Here are some suggestions, including some people whose removal would simplify the story a fair bit. Warning: spoilers for A Clash of Kings, and minor hints for the two following books, ahead!
1. Ser Amory Lorch
There are two separate incidents in which Anya Stark gets separated from her group of new recruits for the Night's Watch on their way North. In the first, Ser Amory leads a group of raiders who attack an abandoned keep, killing Yoren and several others. And then, once Arya's group has dwindled down to just her and a few young boys, they are among a group captured by Gregor Clegane. Eventually, Arya is taken to Harrenhal to become a servant. One easy way to simplify this twisty storyline would be to compress the two depredations into one, and make Gregor Clegane the sole architect of Arya's misfortunes. (Although then we miss out on seeing Ser Amory fed to a bear, alas.)
2. Xaro Xhoan Daxos
This is the rich man who lets Daenerys come stay at her mansion in Qarth, when she meets with warlocks and witches, including Pyat Pree and Quaithe. He promises her lavish gifts, but in the end he throws her out of his house after she refuses to marry him. Xaro could easily be combined with Pyat Pree, who also makes lavish promises to Daenerys but then turns against her around the same time.
3. Lady Donella, Wyman Manderly, Mors Umber and Hother Umber
There's a long stretch of A Clash of Kings when Bran is left as the Stark in Winterfell, struggling to discharge his responsibilities as Lord. This includes the Harvest Festival, when a number of nobles come to visit Winterfell, and involve Bran in their disputes. Among other things, there's the matter of who's going to marry Lady Donella and inherit her lands — Wyman Manderly and Mors Umber want to marry her, but instead she's captured by the evil bastard Ramsay Snow, who forces her to marry him and then starves her to death in his dungeons. Most of this stuff happens elsewhere and we hear about it third-hand, so there's no need to meet any of these characters, other than Ramsay himself.
4. Brynden Tully
This is one we can actually make an educated guess about — as some people already have. Brynden, aka the Blackfish, is Catelyn Stark's uncle and is a stubborn and canny warrior. He refused to marry as his older brother Hoster wished, and was labeled the "black goat of the family," which he changed to "black fish" after the Tully family's trout emblem. His role in the first book was already cut to save costs, and the HBO webpage for Game of Thrones conspicuously leaves him out of the Tully family tree — causing widespread speculation that he'll be cut altogether. (This could cause some difficulties when the series gets to A Feast for Crows, but we should be so lucky as to have to worry about that.)
5. Tanda, Falyse and Lollys Stokeworth
The Stokeworth ladies are mostly present in some crowd scenes, although Lady Tanda Stokeworth hounds Tyrion Lannister and tries to convince him to marry her daughter Lollys. Later, during the huge riot that strikes when Myrcella leaves King's Landing, Lollys gets gang-raped by the mob. You could pretty much dispense with the Stokeworth clan altogether, except that Falyse plays a minor important role in A Feast For Crows. In any case, the Stokeworths seem like excellent candidates for deletion. There's still plenty of rape without them.
6. Big Walder and Little Walder
Two of Lord Walder Frey's grandsons, Big Walder and Little Walder, are fostered at Winterfell as part of the agreement that Catelyn Stark reaches with Lord Walder. This is also the agreement that involves Robb Stark marrying one of Lord Walder's daughters and Arya Stark marrying one of his sons. You'll notice that in the Game of Thrones episode "Baelor," though, there's no mention of Big Walder and Little Walder — although just like in the book, a different Frey son, Olyvar, is to become a squire for Robb. Thus, it seems highly likely that Big and Little Walder won't be turning up in season two — and it's easy to see why. They're two more of a seemingly endless succession of repugnant Freys, and their presence at Winterfell is annoying but seldom adds to the story. Although one of them does get himself bitten by Shaggydog, which is a plus.
7. Thoren Smallwood
He's a man of the Night's Watch, who becomes commander of the Rangers after the old commander is killed. The show already passed up a few chances to show him — for example, he tries to convince Jeon Mormont to let him lead the expedition beyond the Wall. But Lord Mormont insists on leading the Ranging personally — a decision that's already been taken at the end of the first season. Thoren later argues with Lord Mormont in favor of attacking the Wildlings, eventually persuading him. The fact that we haven't seen Thoren yet means we probably won't.
And now for a few more radical suggestions, which I freely admit may be going too far...
8. Vargo Hoat.
Almost all of the monstrous acts that Vargo Hoat commits in A Clash of Kings could easily be deleted or reassigned to the equally horrible Roose Bolton and his son Ramsay. And even if you keep Vargo as Roose Bolton's right-hand man, you don't necessarily need the complicated subplot in which Vargo is working for Tywin Lannister but then changes sides and hands Harrenhal over to Roose Bolton, with the help of Northmen who are pretending to be captives. There's a lot of "wheels within wheels" going on there. True, the threat of being left alone with Vargo is what finally scares Arya into fleeing Harrenhal. But she has plenty of other incentives to run away by that point, after all the other horrors she's witnessed. (And yes, Vargo commits one very important brutality in the third book — but there are plenty of ways around that.)
9. Aeron Greyjoy
While we're committing blasphemy, let's propose another fairly crucial character for deletion: the man who's so awesome, they named an office chair after him. I love Aeron, and he does play a more important role in later books — but the fact remains that there are too many Greyjoys. Aeron is Theon Greyjoy's loony uncle who nearly drowned and now has become a fundamentalist for the Drowned God. He helps Theon do some reaving along the coastline, as a diversion while Theon's father and sister attack the North. And then he's left behind, while Theon goes off to attack Winterfell. Aeron's fanatical worship of the Drowned God does give us another religion, to add to the Old Gods, the Seven and R'hllor, which is a plus. But all of his major scenes in this book, where he tells Theon that the Iron Men won't accept him as their prince after so long away, could be given to Dagmer Cleftjaw, who's prettier.
Okay, now here's the ultimate blasphemy. I know, I know — Craster is awesome. He's the lovable old psychopath who marries his own daughters and murders his own infant sons. He lives in Craster's Keep, pretending to be a Lord and harboring the Night's Watch in return for a new axe. Any man who touches one of Craster's daughter-wives loses a hand. I pretty much love Craster. But the soujourn at Craster's Keep is just one stop of many on the Night's Watch's tour of the frozen North. There's also the stay at the Fist of the First Men, and then Jon Snow's mission with Qhorin Halfhand, with its tragic end. Craster is pretty much just local color — except for his daughter Gilly, who forms a bond with Samwell Tarly. The stories of Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly would be considerably less entertaining without Craster in the mix, but it would be one way to simplify things quite a bit.