I've been avidly watching Game of Thrones on HBO, and as with most HBO productions, I've been impressed with the crisp, controlled writing. Word on the street was that the show followed the book pretty closely, so I didn't rush to buy the books, but I have them now and I'm about halfway through the first one. Based on this limited reading, I would agree that so far, the series is true to the books, but there are some minor changes. One of them, I think, bears examination. There are no spoilers here, so don't worry if you haven't seen the series to this point yet. The lines we'll look at came from about midway through season one, but they won't reveal much about plot or conflict.
The character Tyrion Lannister has had a run of bad luck, and finds himself in the woods with only one swordsman with him. This is hostile territory packed with warring tribes. Soon enough, some of the tribes people come upon Tyrion at his makeshift camp. Dialogue ensues, including these two lines.
From the book:
"How would you like to die, Tyrion son of Tywin?"
"In my own bed, with a belly full of wine and a maiden's mouth around my cock, at the age of eighty," he replied.
From the HBO episode:
How would you like to die, Tyrion, son of Tywin?
In my own bed, at the age of 80, with a belly full of wine and a girl's mouth around my cock.
I won't embed the HBO clip here, but it can be readily found on youtube here, here, and probably other places, too, until takedown notices go out. The main thing I want to point out is how much the emphasis shifts when the phrase "at the age of eighty" is moved. Remember the general rule that what comes last carries more emphasis, and burying things in the middle will diminish their impact. And I want to point out -- this is important -- that either line is equally valid, depending on what you wish to emphasize.
I would say, then, that the book is more preoccupied with issues of life and death, and is more willing to diminish the sex and drinking that's so dominant in the series. Based on my reading so far, there's very little actual sex -- a few minor details, but nothing like what we see in the series. The series is pretty graphic in that respect. The book does pay more attention to the way people die and how it weighs on the minds of the living, so this particular arrangement -- sex and wine buried in the middle, the pop at the end from "age of eighty" -- makes sense for the book.
But the series is different. Not different in plot or character, but different in emphasis. There are naked women all over that set (Hey, HBO! Even it up and show us more naked men already! Fair's fair!) and Tyrion's wit seems much more evident because of the brilliant way the character is played. So they played this line for shock and laughs, and they diminished the life-and-death aspects by shifting focus to the sex-and-wine aspects. It's the right choice for the series, given the context.
How would it be different if they had shifted other bits around, too? What would that have told us about the emphasis of the story?