POSSIBLE SPOILERS WITHIN
(Depending on the show’s creators’ willingness to maintain any integrity regarding the source material.)
“Game of Thrones is finally back for its fifth season this weekend.”
Those words would have thrilled me just a few years ago. I remember the long waits between seasons 1 and 2 and seasons 2 and 3. It was like Christmas come early (or late) every March/April. Now, I’m filled with anxiety at the prospect that rampant social media attention will spoil key book plot points as the show prepares for its end game.
That end game, as has been revealed in recent weeks, involves the show spoiling the ending of the books. While George R.R. Martin admitted he revealed the ending to Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. he has also acknowledged he still doesn’t know exactly what paths characters will take in the final two (or potentially more) novels in A Song of Ice and Fire.
For non-book readers, the prospect of three more seasons and a multitude of new adventures and revelations sounds like a dream (of spring). Book fans can only hope to avoid Twitter, Facebook, television review sites, general news outlets (because apparently discussing TV is now real journalism), the watercooler and your overexcited cousin George “who doesn’t usually like fantasy stories, but really likes Game of Thrones.”
It’s certainly a slap in the face of early adopters who have been with the series since A Game of Thrones was released in 1996. To them, the excitement of seeing the books visualized must’ve been intoxicating at first. Major events like the Ned Stark’s execution, the Red Wedding and Joffrey’s death were welcome olive branches for years of loyalty. Book fans were continually assured the show would never pass the novels. The 2011 release of A Dance with Dragons placed GRRM on a tight, yet plausible schedule to complete the series in time for the show’s finale. Fans were treated to a number of new characters and twists in the fifth volume, enough to satisfy their cravings for a few more years.
Then time passed. And more time. Year after year of no progress. GRRM worked on other projects. He wrote episodes for the show. He made media appearances. All while offering no concrete timeline on The Winds of Winter. I’m patient. I want the books to be as well written as possible. If that takes another five years, I’ll wait. It’s the assumed cost of becoming invested.
Game of Thrones simultaneously trucked along, however. It followed the central direction of the books, but gradually chipped away the edges of ancillary storylines. Most often, these deviations were not only poorly written, but baffling in the way they changed character’s motivations.
Consolidating ponderous prose, combining characters, tightening stories to fit into ten one-hour episodes is understandable. Hell, the first season did it masterfully. But how does a viewer reconcile Jaime Lannister’s redemption over a two season arc with his rape of Cersei? Why set up Tyrion’s past marriage to a supposed whore as described in Season 1 if there’s no payoff when he confronts Tywin at the end of Season 4? Why is Asha “Yara” Greyjoy led on a completely meaningless task when she should be convening at the Iron Islands Kingsmoot?
The latter example is part of why I find Game of Thrones storytelling so bizarre. Stannis Baratheon is one of the major players in Westeros, despite his crippled status. Excluding Daenerys, he has the best legitimate claim to the Iron Throne. More importantly, he is still alive at the beginning of Book 6, no small feat in Westeros. His blood ritual with the leeches was a powerful moment at the end of Season 3. Whether you believe in its power or not, King Robb, King Joffrey and King Balon all perish in its wake, while Stannis remains. These deaths should’ve all occurred in relatively quick succession, and with Stannis’ ritual firmly in viewers’ minds. Instead, the show highlighted the first two deaths (in different seasons) and hasn’t even acknowledged the third. As a way of avoiding a slew of new casting for the Greyjoys’ storyline, Game of Thrones kicked the can down the road. I can only believe they’re forthcoming in Season 6, but the jury’s still out.
Both book fans and show fans who are friends with book fans will note the absence of Lady Stoneheart. Interviews suggest she’s omitted completely. Well I guess I now know her storyline is ultimately inconsequential to the books’ finale.
This same rationale can be applied to every character that dies in the show while their book counterpart lives. The mystery of underestimating potentially influential characters keeps the narrative engaging. What is Lady Stoneheart doing in the Riverlands? Might Jeyne Westerling carry Robb Stark’s heir? What will Westeros hold for Dany’s Dothraki companions? “Doesn’t matter, asshole,” the show has consistently reminded me, “can’t you just be satisfied with endless marketing based on dragons?”
Marketing Game of Thrones based on four or five shots of CGI dragons a season is appealing to the lowest common denominator in search of viewers.
I’m going to go right ahead and be a hipster snob, the show would be better if it had more modest success. The overwhelming number of fans turned what should be quality, intricately plotted High Fantasy into pandering garbage. Artistic integrity demanded any attempt to transfer the books to a visual medium wait until the full scope of the series was realized. In much the same way the early Harry Potter movies chopped major subplots, Game of Thrones jumped in with both feet before realizing the scale of the undertaking.
George R.R. Martin has repeatedly derided fan fiction. He respects authors like Tolkien, who carefully craft worlds better left untouched by anyone but their creators. How can he then sit idly and watch Game of Thrones turn his magnum opus into half-baked fan fiction worthy of a fourteen year old boy? Weiss and Benioff will be injecting more original ideas as the series winds down to its conclusion. It’s inevitable. GRRM is still working on details that they won’t know until the books are published. This is the worst kind of fan fiction.
HBO continues to stand firm on seven seasons. Period. And yet, at this very moment, the series is still salvageable. If GRRM scales up his production and releases The Winds of Winter in 2016, the show can slow the tide and use its seven seasons to tell six books. After the show’s finale in 2017, GRRM could then work fervently on completing Book 7. Assuming the final volume is ramping up to the epic battle we’ve been led to believe, a film version of the seventh book would be an ideal medium to portray these events.
This isn’t revolutionary. GRRM himself mentioned the possibility in a 2014 interview. Places like HBO are meant to be havens where artistic expression can flourish in contrast to canned network TV. Execs have dismissed this idea and stayed true to their vision, not the author’s.
As long as the show cuts significant characters, alters major plots and seeks to spoil the ending of an unfinished book series in which I’m still invested, I can’t continue to watch. There’s no thrill in encountering new twists, just disappointment. But for non-book readers, I’d also argue that your show just isn’t that good. When constrained by 10 hours per season, there is no room for filler, yet it’s evident on a weekly basis. Without firm backing by the source material, juggling so much makes every individual element hollow.
Stop ruining A Song of Ice and Fire, stop watching Game of Thrones.