Game of Thrones and More: The Best Book to TV Adaptations Ever

It's been 24 years since George R.R. Martin first took readers to Westeros, eventually spawning one of the most celebrated TV shows ever. His books are in good company.

von Billy Nilles Aug 02, 2020 02:00Tags

Well, Game of Thrones fans, it's time to arrest George R.R. Martin.

As the author of the sprawling A Song of Ice and Fire book series has kept fans waiting nearly a decade for The Winds of Winter, the sixth installment of a planned seven, it's come to light that he hasn't lived up to his end of a bargain struck in a blog post dated May 21, 2019. 

"As for finishing my book… I fear that New Zealand would distract me entirely too much. Best leave me here in Westeros for the nonce," he wrote to fans last year, explaining why he wouldn't be visiting the country just yet. "But I tell you this — if I don't have The Winds of Winter in hand when I arrive in New Zealand for worldcon, you have here my formal written permission to imprison me in a small cabin on White Island, overlooking that lake of sulfuric acid, until I'm done."

The kick-off date of CoNZealand, the 78th World Science Fiction Convention, of which Martin is serving as (virtual) toastmaster: July 29, 2020. 

And what do you know? No book in sight.

What's Next for the Game of Thrones Cast?

While the wait for Martin's next book continues to balloon, at least fans can take heart in the fact that they've got a beloved TV adaptation to turn to, courtesy of HBO and co-creator David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Airing on the cable network for eight seasons from 2011 to 2019, the series that introduced Martin's work to a much wider audience eventually surpassed its source material in its endeavor to end the story. And though the events of that final season remain a source of contention among fans who were left less than satisfied, at least they got an ending, right?

As readers wait to see if Martin's penned ending to the series he kicked off 24 years ago diverges from that of its adaptation—talk about a real chicken or egg conundrum—let's celebrate the anniversary with a look at our picks for the best book-to-TV transitions out there.

Big Little Lies

HBO's adaptation of Liane Moriarty's best-selling novel of the same name lured some A-list talent to the small screen, with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz and Laura Dern occupying the very enviable real estate owned by the five women who find themselves caught up in a murder investigation. Every bit as enthralling as the book, the first season earned eight Primetime Emmy Awards and enticed none other than Meryl Streep herself to sign on for a pivotal role in the second season, which Moriarty helped shape despite there being no source material left to mine. Though not as universally beloved as the first, season two still earned Streep and Dern Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series nominations at this year's ceremony, which will be held virtually on Sept. 20.

The Handmaid's Tale

Premiering on Hulu in 2017, this adaptation of Margaret Atwood's dystopic 1985 novel now has three seasons under its belt, with a fourth on the way. Centered in the totalitarian state of Gilead following a Second American Civil War, the series has long since left its source material behind as it continues the tale of June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), the titular subjugated handmaid, and her quest for freedom. It's won several Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Series in its first season.

Queen Sugar

For four seasons, this OWN series created and executive produced by Ava DuVernay has brought author Natalie Baszile's 2014 novel of the same name to life in achingly poetic fashion. Telling the story of three siblings (played by Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardner and Kofi Siriboe) in rural Louisiana dealing with both the aftermath of their father's sudden death and the 800-acre sugarcane farm he left behind, Queen Sugar is critically adored and visually stunning. A fifth season is on the way.

Game of Thrones

This drama full of epic battles and star-crossed romance is based on the popular book series by George R.R Martin. While the novels are best-sellers in their own right, the TV show has garnered fans from all over the world, including many who wouldn't even call themselves fans of the source material. Over the course of eight seasons, the HBO series received 58 Emmy Awards, more than any other drama in history. And while viewers remain divided on the controversial conclusion, which saw the series surpass Martin's plotting to reveal an ending all its own, the show will go down as one of the most celebrated of all time.


The Vampire Diaries

The cast of hotties, including Nina DobrevPaul Wesley, Kat Graham and Ian Somerhalder, in this supernatural series is definitely a major contributor to this CW hit's popularity. Fans of the book series by L. J. Smith got to see their favorite heroes come to life in the drama, which ended in 2017 after eight seasons.


A modern take on the iconic detective series by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this U.K. series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman is not only a success in its homeland, but the drama has won fans all over the world, including the U.S., where it won the trophy for Best Television Film at the 2016 Emmys.

Gossip Girl

This series, based on books by Upper East Side native Cecily von Ziegesar, has become an iconic representation of the secret lives of young NYC elite. Whether you're a Blair (Leighton Meester) or a Serena (Blake Lively) you can't deny that the high-fashion cast made you just a little bit jealous during its six seasons on The CW. Whether the reboot, due on HBO Max in 2021, will be as beloved remains to be seen.

The Magicians

Syfy drama The Magicians gives fans of Lev Grossman's popular book series a glimpse into the magical world of students at Brakebills University. The characters must navigate the typical challenges of college students (like fraught relationships and drug addictions) with the added twist of learning how to control their magical powers - as if life wasn't already complicated enough. Over the course of five seasons, the missions grew more dire, usually tasking the heroes with saving the multiverse or magic itself. (No big deal, right?) But one thing stayed the same: You could always count on an incredible musical episode.


This crime drama following Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a blood spatter expert by day and serial killer by night, was originally based on books by author Jeff Lindsay. Over the course of eight seasons on Showtime, the series garnered a cult following, as well as 23 Emmy nominations. That series finale, though? Let's just say it's never easy to stick a landing. 

True Blood

A waitress who can read minds and vampires with southern accents are only a few of the intriguing characters on this immortal drama. The series, starring now-real-life couple Anna Pacquin and Stephen Moyer, is based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries books by Charlaine Harris and focuses on a small town in Louisiana. After seven seasons, the show came to an end in 2014, but we will forever be grateful for giving all of us the gift of naked Alexander Skarsgård and Joe Manganiello.

Pretty Little Liars

The successful book series by author Sara Shepard is now a favorite guilty pleasure show for binge watchers everywhere. The stylish squad featured Lucy Hale, Shay Mitchell, Ashley Benson and Troian Bellisario, who always kept fans on the edge of their seats. After seven seasons on Freeform, PLL tried to answer all the questions its legion of fans had as the end neared. Whether they were satisfied with those answers, well, that's another story.


This groundbreaking mini-series was originally adapted from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alex Haley's 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Just one year later, Roots, starring LeVar Burton, premiered on ABC and became a cultural phenomenon, winning nine Emmys as well as a coveted Peabody Award. The ratings were also sky high, and the finale still holds a record as the second-most-watched-overall series finale in U.S. TV history. In 2016, a remake of the same name premiered, starring Malachi Kirby and Anika Noni Rose.

Orange Is the New Black

The award-winning Netflix original series is based on author Piper Kerman's memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison and was an instant hit. Fans loved the show's mix of sarcastic humor and heart-wrenching storylines, as well as the strong female characters, including Crazy Eyes Suzanne (Uzo Aduba), Sophia (Laverne Cox), Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) and the beloved Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley). After seven seasons, viewers left Litchfield behind for good in 2019.

Friday Night Lights

Before Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) entered the TV screens and hearts of viewers, this sports drama was initially adapted into a film starring Billy Bob Thornton in the same role. But in 2006, author H.G. Bissinger's non-fiction book, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, hit the small screen and made non-football fans into believers. In addition to Chandler, the series also starred Connie Britton, Minka Kelly, Scott Porter, Michael B. Jordan, and everyone's favorite bad boy, Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins. Everyone say it with us now, "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts..."


Time travel, rebellion, and a love triangle are just the beginning of this exciting series based on historical fiction books by author Diana Gabaldon. Caitriona Balfe plays a nurse who travels to a different century and eventually falls in love with a rogue Scottish highlander (Sam Heughan) despite already being married in her time. With five seasons of swoonworthy romance already aired, a sixth is on the way.