We'll be talking up-to-date SPOILERS for both the books and the show.
1. Sansa Stark is a Badass, and Then a Victim, and Then a Badass again
If there's one thing the HBO showrunners like to add it's violence and abuse against women. Which isn't to say A Song of Ice and Fire -- the name of the book series used mostly these days to differentiate it from the show -- treats them all that well either. Though the show revels in it in a way that gets fans worked up like seemingly no other show on TV.
Case in point: Sansa Stark. At the start of Game of Throne's fifth season it's already clear the showrunners were going another way with the eldest Stark girl. They took her out of the Eyrie and onto the ground. Ostensibly to marry professional sadist and TV series anomaly Ramsay Bolton. Here, Littlefinger starts coaching Sansa on the finer points of "the great game," just as he does in the books. Unlike the books, however, Sansa working her way back into politics (not to mention Winterfell) is much more direct.
At first, it seems like she'll have a great deal more to do than be resilient in the face of the pretty awful horrors she's already been subjected to. She might, in fact, get to become a serious player herself.
Maybe later. Game of Thrones gotta Game of Thrones, and as a result the would-be player gets thrown to Ramsay Bolton like so many bit characters before her. The audience -- not to mention Theon "Reek" Greyjoy -- are forced to endure a scene of the bastard raping Sansa. It's tough to argue that this was anywhere close to necessary; we already knew Ramsay was an asshole, and we already knew Sansa had a string of raw deals, and after 30 episodes devoted to it, we sure as hell knew Theon was a broken man. Though Sansa recently wrapped up a satisfying revenge tale, the fact remains that the rape added nothing to a character who had already suffered awful treatment for years.
Interestingly, in the books it really is a bit character tossed into the Ramsay grinder: the mostly-excised-from-show Jeyne Poole. On Game of Thrones she appears exactly once, in the first episode, as Sansa's friend. In the books she's passed off as Arya Stark by the Red Keep, and sold to Bolton to secure the North. All the while Sansa stays in the Eyrie, not doing much other than building snowcastles and slapping children.
Jeyne is tortured as well, though mostly "off-screen," as it were. Much later on she's saved by Theon and one Mance Rayder. Oh, uh. Surprise! He's alive in the books, too.
2. Oberyn Martell is More Fleshed Out in the Show
left via Magali Villeneuve
Oberyn Martell. The Red Viper. The big man with a long spear. A hero among openly bisexual characters on television (by virtue of being one of, like, three in the history of the medium). On Game of Thrones Oberyn Martell is pretty damn cool -- as is the case in the books. Though one thing HBO did was give us just a little bit more character to this... character.
Much of which comes from how the two products are presented. In the books, every chapter is offered up from the perspective of a single character. Each book has only a handful of characters to play with, so in a saga with as huge a cast as this we rarely get to hear what's going on in everyone's heads.
Oberyn Martell is one such character. That is, a person we don't get to hear inner thoughts from. Most of what we know about him comes from Tyrion. Which is appropriate, given that he acts as the youngest Lannister's champion. Meanwhile, on the small screen, we can and do jump around a whole lot more. In this case, mostly to Martell's bed where he waxes poetic about the nature of love, fighting, and sexuality.
In the books Oberyn is only rumored to be bisexual. Much like Renly Baratheon was only rumored to be gay. Since we never actually got to see what went on behind those characters' closed doors rumor was all there was. Not so in the TV series, where Oberyn proudly proclaims "when it comes to love -- I don't choose sides." His extra characterization doesn't end there, though.
The Red Viper's climactic fight scene against The Mountain -- the man who killed his sister and her children -- plays out more-or-less the same in both versions of the tale. One major exception is that on Game of Thrones the Dornish prince demands to know who gave his family's killer his orders.
Though he, and we, and most of Westeros already knew the answer to that. It was Tywin Lannister. The fact just hadn't been proven. On television Oberyn was willing to call Tywin out right in front of him, in the middle of what was (pragmatically) his seat of power. That's a power play if we've ever seen one. It's just a shame -- and we mean that -- his plot didn't work out as intended.