A fair question. Isn’t the point of adapting a book for either the silver screen or television to tell the story told in the book? I am not suggesting that you can’t make changes due to time constraints, complexity issues, economy of character needs, or even just flat out massaging of the story, but if you are setting out to tell a story that is fundamentally different from the source material, with characters who share little other than the name and physical descriptions of their source counterparts, why not just make an all original production?
Perhaps I am being a bit hyperbolic. Let me try a different method.
It is magically the past, and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is all the rage. Any adaptation is going to have critics, and Jackson’s was no different, especially when it came to his decision to cut Tom Bombadil from the films. While there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the most pure of the book purists, most viewers didn’t miss him one bit. To be frank, Bombadil is bit of a strange character who comes out of left field, disrupts the flow of the story, and disappears never to be heard from again. He is a piece of world building, and when working with the written word, you have much more room to include things just for flavor. The films are long. Even as well done as they are, their length becomes noticeable while watching, and none of the three could really afford to be much longer.
But what if Jackson made some much more substantial changes to the story? What if he decided that bringing Gandalf back in the second film was too cheesy, and kept his “Fly, you fools” moment as his last in the films? And what if they decided that when Frodo got stung, Frodo was d-e-a-d dead. And Aragorn never pretended to be Strider, because who does that? Oh, and Éowyn was forced to marry Wormtongue and he raped her while Théoden watched, and the point of the scene wasn’t what it did mentally or physically to Éowyn, but all about its affects on Théoden? Oh, Oh, OH!!!! And it isn’t Éowyn who kills the Witch-King during the climatic battle either! Instead, it is a 11 year old boy named Olly. Cause they will never see that coming. Peter will just seed it through out the series with Aragorn and Olly nodding knowingly at each other during every scene.
I want to admit that feeling the overwhelming rage of book snobbery is a weird feeling for me. After all, Game of Thrones (yes, that’s what this post is about.) is how I found the A Song of Ice and Fire series, which has become without doubt my favorite series of novels. I started watching the show late in the second season, and had finished all the books by the start of the third season, and for the entirety of the third and fourth seasons, as I completed multiple re-reads of the series and finished all the supplemental writings on Westeros Martin had released, I defended the changes Dan and David, the showrunners (D&D), had made, often rolling my eyes at the next idiotic book snob complaint to come down the road. (Seriously, you are going to bitch that Littlefinger didn’t say “Only Cat!” when he pushed Lysa out the Moondoor? Seriously?)
I also admit that this season kind of frightened me. Seasons 3 and 4 were adapted from A Storm of Swords, a book that is chock full of climatic moments and devastating plot twists. While some characters (Sansa) had actually finished their written plots in the novels by the end of season 4, season 5 was still being set up to adapt two huge novels; novels much more slow paced than the previous one, with layer upon layer of intricate plotting. I argue that it is impossible to fully grasp the combined work that is A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons on the first read through. There is just too much going on that lies on the periphery, things the POV characters witness but never fully grasp. Perhaps this is why so many seem to feel these books are the weakest of the series, while others (myself included) feel they are the best part of the series. No matter your opinion on the books, however, after taking on a book per season for the first two, then splitting book three into two seasons, D&D were setting a mighty task for themselves by adapting the next two books into one season.
Casting news in the off season did nothing to end my fears. No Greyjoys meant the removal of one plotline (which according to next seasons casting news, may be back in some form or the other), no Griffs meant the death of another, and no Arianne and the leak that Jaime and Bronn would be going to Dorne meant that plot was also receiving a major reshuffle. Also, the recasting of Myrcella personally left a bad taste in my mouth, since I thought the job Aimee Richardson did in season 1 and 2 was excellent. And yet I still anticipated the start of the fifth season like a fucking kid waiting for Christmas. I actually subscribed to HBO this year for it.
And now, here I am, ten weeks later, having just watched a……
I don’t even know what to call it. Let me be clear. I have no idea how I would have felt about this season if I never read the books. Being a book reader is a perspective I can not turn off, no matter how much I may like to at certain times. There are some things I am fairly certain would be major issues without any book knowledge. I can not see anyone saying the time spent in Dorne this year was time well spent, and I think having Sansa’s character arc going from innocent child who believes the songs—-abused betrothed to the King—-unwilling wife of Tyrion who treats her decent yet still under threat from Cersei and Joff——being whisked away to safety——reclaiming her identity and finally becoming a player!!!——raped, locked in a room, ready to die was a bit (to say the very least) ham-fisted.
Once you add in book knowledge, or more specifically, love of the source material, it just gets so much worse. Take Jaime and Brienne for example. Here is a brief take on their story line in the novels during this time. Due to serious friction in their twincest relationship, the Queen Regent sends her brother through the Riverlands to bring the last rebels into the King’s Peace, while Brienne also sets off through the Riverlands on her quest to find and protect Sansa Stark. Brienne first meets some travelers, then finds Podrick Payne following her and the join together. Jaime enlists Ser Ilyn Payne (tongueless, remember) to join him as his sparring/drinking partner. Brienne meets some people from her past, a knight who she detests and Samwell Tarly’s dad. Jaime visits a place from his past, Harrenhal, and begins doling out justice. Brienne follows a lead in her quest and instead finds three former Brave Companions from her recent past. She is forced to kill the three, the first people she kills apparently in her life, something that she herself had wondered if she would be able to do, that her trainer doubted she could. It is a huge emotional moment for her, as well as a kicking fight scene. The knight she detests shows up at the end, joining their little crew. Jaime is killing time avoiding Riverrun, because he is trying to keep his oaths now, and he made an oath not to take up arms against the Tullys. Instead he goes to Darry to visit the new Lord of Darry, his cousin (and Cersei’s sex boy) Lancel Lannister. Lancel has changed a bit, going full on religious fanatic, hair shirt and all. He tells Jaime all about his sins, and his plans to renounce his lordship, set aside his wife and become a knight sworn to the Seven. Jaime is left disillusioned in his relationship with Cersei. The Brienne crew visit the Quiet Isle and we see a different view of the Faith than the fanatical one in King’s Landing. The Elder Brother tells Brienne much of the way the wars and violence affect the lives of men, explaining that he was a man of violence until he “died” in battle and found his way to the Quiet Island to begin his second life. Huge moment for Brienne as she tells her whole story to the Elder Brother. In the background of this location is a new recruit on the Island, The Gravedigger, who is very possibly Sandor Clegane, who “died” in violence, and has started his second life on the Island. Jaime heads off to Riverrun, facing the problem of dealing with the siege forces comprised of loyal Westerners, recent enemies who just bent the knee, and selfish, poorly disciplined Freys and getting the castle to surrender, hopefully without a great loss of life on any side, preferably without having to break his oath about fighting Tullys.
I’m going to end the recap there, because it is getting long and I think you get the point. Though the two characters do not meet until the very end of A Dance with Dragons, their stories are linked, with both characters learning about nearby plot developments through others eyes, and separately visiting places that echo with their shared past. A few of my favorite chapters in the series are POV chapters from these two characters during these missions. I think some of it is George’s best writing.
And even after writing all of that, if D&D really felt scrapping the book storyline and sending Jaime to Dorne was the right thing to do, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, until after I witnessed what they put in its place.
I really don’t know. Over 8 million people tuned in for the finale, so even though the season has been getting flayed by critics and it doesn’t seem like a rash statement to say that this was the worst season of Game of Thrones by far, it was still a huge success for HBO.
So other than Jaime and Brienne, what problems did I have with the adaptation to move me into full book snob rage mode? How much time do you have? For book fans who are similarly disgusted I urge you to stop on over at both The Cultural Vacuum and GoT G&M, two sites that offer up rather hilarious insight into the differences between show and books while definitely pulling no punches. It really is worth a visit, I promise.
I just really don’t get it. I understand that some changes will have to be made in any adaptation, but this is now barely even the same story. I know that very few people have any interest in this, so I will cut it off now, but damn….