In 2011, HBO set forth on a veritable task in the eyes of gods and men.In 2011, HBO set forth on a veritable task in the eyes of gods and men: to make a television series based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (eventual) heptalogy.
The show is largely written and produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, with the occasional episode written by Vanessa Taylor, Bryan Cogman, or Martin himself. George R.R. Martin is listed as the show’s co-executive producer. He has provided the show writers with enough information about the unpublished novels in the series that they could finish the television show in the event of his untimely death.
The show maintains an appropriate balance of known actors and newcomers or relative unknowns.We have all the elements of a winning television series. Direct author involvement? Check. Respected, premium channel whose previous shows have surpassed the books from which they were adapted? Check. See True Blood. Good marketing? Um, I found out about Game of Thrones from the Boston Phoenix AND Cosmo (“pin down your man like Princess Daenerys!”). Yeah…moving on. Thoughtful casting? Yes. The show maintains an appropriate balance of known actors (Sean Bean as Ned Stark, Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister) and newcomers or relative unknowns (Emilia Clark as Daenerys Targaryen, Kit Harington as Jon Snow).
But is the book better? If you’ve slogged through the published books’ 5000-odd pages, you already know the answer.
Let’s touch on a different question first: is the book more frustrating?Let’s touch on a different question first: is the book more frustrating? Yes. You thought it was hard waiting a year between Sam and the White Walkers and Daenery’s dragon pwnage across the Narrow Sea? Try waiting SIX YEARS between books, with only a meager sample chapter and miles of Internet speculation to quell the gaping, Moon Door-like hole left by the chasm of time. The books will always be more frustrating, as long as the show has not caught up to them. A Song of Ice and Fire readers understand how hard it is to censor one’s own spoiler alert when their friends enthusiastically root for a certain couple or a character whose fate takes a turn for the worse, as Martin’s protagonists are wont to do. Keeping that in mind, I will attempt to compare the two without touching on book content that has not already aired.
Book fans will notice that the show chooses to highlight certain aspects of the series and downplay others. Theon Greyjoy’s torture, which is mainly inferred in the books, has been a major focus of the last few episodes. In season two, Arya Stark’s interactions with the shapeshifting mercenary Jaqen H’ghar also seemed to carry more weight onscreen. And readers will recall characters like Tyrion Lannister and Catelyn Stark as more nuanced in the books. Even war heroes and heroines have a dark side.
Don’t try to tell me that it wasn’t awesome when Stannis and Melisandre got busy on the map.Certain relationships are foreshadowed beautifully in the show. Others—most notably, Ser Loras’ extracurricular activities—come out of the woodwork. And don’t try to tell me that it wasn’t awesome when Stannis and Melisandre got busy on the map where they were supposed to be plotting their battle strategy.
I mean, it’s an HBO show. They’re allowed nudity and gratuitous violence, which at its worst overshadows the emotional core of the show. However, random naked scenes that are not essential to the show’s plot, like Littlefinger instructing whores at his brothel, have dwindled in the third season. What we are left with are moments like Brienne standing up in the baths at Harrenhal after Jaime Lannister’s harrowing monologue revealing how he became the Kingslayer. It’s an intense, poignant scene that in my opinion outdoes the corresponding chapter in A Storm of Swords. There are so many chapters in this book that I am excited to see how HBO adapts to the small screen.
The show’s narration abides to the same structure as the books, following a different character for each “chapter” or scene. The staggering number of characters (dear gods, the lists of Houses at the end of each book) makes this a challenge to accomplish on screen. Especially in season three, a single episode may consist of five or six vignettes where a particular location or set of characters is never revisited. Story lines jump forward and are unevenly paced. This phenomenon is not altogether absent in the books, but at least there, two characters like Sam and Jon Snow may have their say without a week’s lapse in between.Martin’s character-jumping structure lends itself to the most important discrepancy between the show and the books. Martin’s character-jumping structure lends itself to the most important discrepancy between the show and the books. Characters like Sansa Stark and Jaime Lannister are multifaceted in the show, but the full extent to which these characters are developed comes across far more clearly in the books. You get to read their thoughts, understand their insecurities and fears, and see their personalities change along with the course of their fates. Martin turns traditional male-dominated fantasy tropes on their head. Arguably, the female characters in A Song of Ice and Fire are more developed and interesting, compared to their male counterparts. It’s just good writing. What else could account for such a widely-watched, well-received crossover hit? Okay, maybe the fact that there is at least one naked chick per episode.
The show glosses over the more minor plot points and characters to leave the best and brightest story lines.Finally, there is simply more content in the books. Ten 60-minute episodes are not enough to cover a thousand-page novel. As a result, viewers have missed the full stories of characters like Davos Seaworth and Asha Greyjoy (called Yara in the show to eliminate having characters named Asha, Osha and Arya). Other characters from the books have been condensed or changed, most notably Robb Stark’s wife Talisa, a nurse from Volantis. In the books, Robb marries a woman named Jeyne Westerling, who similarly “gave him comfort” after the battle of the Crag, but it is less certain whether the young Wolf King married her out of love rather than his perceived duty to preserve her honor. The show glosses over the more minor plot points and characters to leave the best and brightest story lines. It’s outstanding television, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Final verdict: Game of Thrones is one of those rare adaptations for which the televised series and the novels that it was based upon complement and enhance each other. But the books are better. It is known.READING vs WATCHING!! Which rules and which drools?? Let us know in the comments below.