WARNING: There are spoilers galore for The Game of Thrones, The Song of Ice and Fire, and even The Lord of The Rings contained herein. Read at your own peril.
Update: I added a little section on Jeyne Westerling. As noted above, don’t read it if you don’t want spoilers!
The Game of Thrones is dead. The TV show, I mean. It’s dead to me. It’s become a big pile of poop interspersed with gleaming nuggets of gold.
Oh, I loved the first season, which tracked the titular first novel, The Game of Thrones, of The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. It was gorgeous, and beautifully created. The actors were mostly wonderful, and when the producers made changes to the source material, those changes made sense and were understandable.
Season two, which roughly tracks the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings, has introduced a variety of changes to the source material that do not make sense.
Let me explain: It’s not change that is putting me on tilt, it’s stupid changes. I am fully cognizant of the need to make changes when making a book into a movie or TV show. Sometimes there are things that are just perfect for the written word that utterly fail on the screen. A good producer/writer/director/editor team’s job is to fix those things, to make the story be as good as it can be on the big or small screen.
I get that.
For instance, let’s look at another adaptation, The Lord of the Rings. In the books, there is a seventeen year gap between The Party in The Fellowship of the Rings and the day that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin set off for Rivendell. Seventeen years.
In the movie, the lads set off the next day.
Who cares? It’s a needless complication for the movie, even though it worked well in the books, and despite the fact that it included another complication.
When Frodo left The Shire in the books, he was 51, though being longer lived that humans he would have looked about 35ish. In the movie, Frodo is young, he’s a teenager.
Now, I do have a little bit of a problem with that—there’s a lot about the relationship between Sam and Frodo that simply didn’t work with a young Elijah Wood and the older Sean Astin (loved them both, mind you!), but the reality is that a young hero is way easier to market than a middle-aged hero, and the whole seventeen year wait is just a needless complication when it came to the movie.
So I didn’t mind this change, even though it was kind of big thing for a Tolkien nut like me.
Skipping Tom Bombadil? Hey, I think that Tom was a big, big deal in the books, and I loved his part of the story. I loved Gandalf explaining that Tom might take custody of the Ring, but that if he did, he’d end up forgetting about it. Tom trashing the wights?! Good stuff!
But man, what a pain in the ass segment to film, and it would just leave a lot of audience members confused. I totally get axing it!
Making Arwen’s role 10,000% bigger than it was in the books? I get it! Tolkien wrote in a different time, and he lived in a man’s world. Having a hot chick is usually a good thing for movie audiences, and it was certainly smart to give female viewers something to better identify with. Again, I get it!
There were other things, like making Elrond into an angry and not very smart dude that I would have done differently, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s no biggee. I also frowned at having a bunch of elves show up at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, but whatever.
Where I flipped my wig in watching these movies was in stupid changes and changes that fundamentally altered important characters.
For the stupid, we have the LSD trip that Aragorn had in The Two Towers. You know, the one where he got separated from the party and wound up on some bluff…I’ve blocked the details from my mind, but my point is that it wasn’t in the books.
In that so many little things had to be cut from the story for the sake of time, I simply can’t understand why this crappy scene was added. It didn’t advance the story, it didn’t better tell the story on the silver screen, and it didn’t even give us exposition that we needed.
That was bad enough, but it was what was done to Faramir that ruined the movies for me. Let me start with Faramir’s role in the books. Faramir was sort of a stand in for The Way Things Were. You see, Tolkien thought that once upon a time things were better.
We saw this throughout the books. The Elves used to be awesome, but had faded. Men (with a capital “M”) used to be badass, but they had faded, having interbred with too many ordinary men (small “m”). All of his empires and kingdoms used to be super powerful, but in the Third Age, they were all faded remnants of the powers of old.
Faramir was a stand-in for the Men of old. He reminded you of Aragorn, and maybe a little of Gandalf. Even his father, Denethor, reminded Pippin of Gandalf.
In Faramir, the Numenorean blood of Men ran truer than it did in his contemporaries. He was a scholar, and a reluctant warrior. He fought when he had to, not for the love of battle.
His brother, Boromir, was a man’s man. Again, note the lower case “m.” Boromir reminded you of the Rohirrim, at best, but he most definitely was not an Aragorn or Gandalf, no sir. And he loved to fight. He had no time for scholarship, but he could swing a sword like nobody’s business.
These contrasts were drawn again and again for us, and in the end, there were two things that separated these two brothers. That separation was extraordinarily symbolic. Boromir was seduced by the ring from the moment he saw it in the Council of Elrond. He began coveting it immediately, and he eventually tried to take it from Frodo by force.
This was an expression of Tolkien’s loathing of Things Modern™ and his disdain for what he saw around him.
Faramir, on the other hand, did the opposite. Here he was in Ithilien on his pop’s orders looking for anyone trying to make their way to Mordor. He was to stop them and make sure to bring anything they might have on them to said pop.
And lo! Frodo waltzes right into his hands, and rather than being seduced by the power of the Ring, he does the right thing. He lets Frodo go, pats him on the butt, and shows him the way out of Ithilien into Mordor.
Why? Because he was a throwback to the Numenoreans of old. Since his Numenorean blood ran truer than that of his brother, he was able to make the right call and do the right thing.
At least that’s how it happened in the books.
In the movie, Frodo waltzes into Faramir’s hands and Faramir marches him towards Minis Tirith, taking Frodo and Sam in the opposite direction they needed to travel in the process. He doesn’t let him go until after they are attacked by the Nazgûl at Osgiliath (that battle with the Nazgûl at Osgiliath took place in the books—without Frodo or Sam—but it happened off-camera).
So in one fell swoop, the movie betrayed the very symbolic role that Faramir played in the books, took Frodo and Sam many miles out of their way, and added a long, drawn-out scene that made it necessary to cut other things out of the story.
It didn’t make the movie better, it didn’t better tell the story for the silver screen, and it added unnecessary scenes, all while fundamentally adulterating not only a character’s very character, but even one of the major underlying themes of the story (Old Good, New Bad).
I am very aware that most people don’t care enough about any of this to get so worked up about such things, but I do.
Getting back to Game of Thrones, the TV show, in season two, the producers have begun making wholesale changes to the story line that are stupid and/or unnecessary, and it’s gotten so bad that I find myself losing interest.
Roz the Whore with a Heart: Who gives a flying fuck about this character? I’m sick of this wholly added character getting any screen time when so many other characters have been cut from the show altogether (Cressen, anyone?)
Petyr Baelish Hanging out with Catelyn Stark at Renly’s Camp: Why is he here? How does having him be at this place make the show any better? In the books, he’s off camera at the Eerie seducing Lysa Arryn. I wouldn’t mind seeing those scenes, but I don’t see how having him NOT seduce Lysa while unnecessarily complicating the scenes with Renly is in any way necessary.
Craster Smashing Jon Snow’s Head: Why? I get that they wanted to make sure we understood that boy babies get sacrificed to the Others—something we learn through exposition in the books—but learning through exposition would have worked just as well on the show.
STOP KILLING DANY’S BLOODRIDERS! Why did one of Daenerys’s Bloodriders die in the first ep of season two? These three characters play important roles in the books going forward. If Roz is going to get one second of screen time, there is simply no excuse for killing these characters.
Where the Fuck Are Meera & Joren Reed? I’ll confess that I missed “The Old Gods and the New” and “The Ghost of Harrenhal” before watching “A Man Without Honour” tonight. So you can imagine my surprise to learn that Osha masterminded the escape of Bran and Rickon from Winterfell, and that Meera and Joren Reed never showed up. These two are very, very important to Bran’s story line, and I can not imagine his tale being told without them, at least not in any credible fashion. It’s not too late. They could certainly show up and talk their way into Osha’s confidence, but again, ROZ IS GETTING SCREEN TIME!?!
Stannis Baratheon’s Daughter: In the show, Stannis is childless, and the Red Woman is screwing him on camera, rather than it merely being hinted at in the books. Because GoT is contractually obligated to show 100 boobs per episode, I get the on-camera sex stuff, but I’d rather Shireen be mentioned and not seen than axed altogether. Really, this is probably one of those minor changes, but when added to the great big pile of other changes, it annoys me.
The Courtship of Jon and Ygritte: In “A Man Without Honour,” Ygritte and Jon Snow hang out for a long time and have this long cock tease banter. Seeing as how it already changes the way Jon Snow kills Qhorin Half Hand, I am not looking forward to the bastardization of that remarkable scene that lies in front of us. My assumption is that rather than Ygritte playing witness to that event, she will somehow be instrumental in it. We’ll see…
Jeyne Westerling Transformed Into a “Foreign” Florence Nightingale: If you haven’t read the books and are watching the show, don’t read this one.
In the books, Robb Stark goes off on a brilliant campaign in the Lannister’s backyard. During that campaign, he gets wounded and is cared for by the Westerlings, a minor noble family under the Lannisters. Their young, nubile, and delightfully cute daughter, Jeyne, becomes his nurse, and well…one thing leads to another, and boom! Robb Stark and Jeyne fall in love, there’s some (off-camera) sex, and what’s a young Lord Stark to do? Well, if you’re a Stark who was raised to be honorable by a man whose own reputation was tarnished by (allegedly) cheating on his wife and siring a bastard, you marry the girl.
The beauty of this subplot is how it unfolds. Jeyne Westerling was cleverly used by Tywin Lannister and her own parents to unravel Robb’s fragile alliances, and his eventual betrayal is heart wrenching, devastating, infuriating, and tragic.
In the show, this character has been transformed into some kind of foreign Florence Nightingale. We know she’s foreign, because some Northerner yells something about her being “that foreign bitch.” There’s no doubt that the show will be able to use her to orchestrate Robb’s demise, but it will not have the tragic undertones of Jeyne Westerling and her little brothers’ devotion to Robb. It won’t show Tywin’s ruthless brilliance. It will not represent an improvement to the story.
Someone Took the Dragons? This was it. This was the moment I literally threw my hands up in the air and gave up on the show. Dany’s three dragonlings have been taken. Why? Why change this? How in the world does this make a better show or a better story? And then 12 (or 11) of the 13 are killed by Xaro Xhoan Daxos—the King of Qarth?!?!?!—and his allies The Undying?
I personally find the power struggles between The Thirteen, the Tourmaline Brotherhood, and the Ancient Guild of Spicers as the reason why no one tried to steal the dragons far more compelling than the Undying simply taking them. In the books, Xaro’s long efforts to get Dany to marry him—despite his lack of interest in women—so that he can claim one dragon as a wedding gift is very intriguing.
Perhaps it’s just too much story to make work on-screen, or perhaps there were other issues, but again, with Roz getting screen time, this shit just isn’t worth it.
There have been many, many other changes that set me off, this list was merely the things I could remember off the top of my head.
One more point: I don’t hate change, per se, and rightly or wrongly I think that different books should get treated differently. Take my own book, which I’m shopping to agents now. It’s good, but it’s no A Song of Ice and Fire. If I am lucky enough to sell this book, and then insanely lucky enough to sell the movie rights, and then bizarrely luck enough to have someone actually make a movie from it, I would expect all manner of things to get changed.
But there are other books, like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, Dune, and even Stranger in a Strange Land, where the stories are so iconic, so beloved, and so strong that filmmakers should only make changes when those changes are absolutely necessary.
Many times, such changes might be frequent (as I said, there are all kinds of changes in The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones that I am OK with—some of them I’d even characterize as brilliant). When you start fundamentally altering the story itself, major themes in the story, and even the fundamental nature of characters, I’d rather just not watch.
I love George R. R. Martin’s story, and I think I’ll stick to its written form from now on. At best, the TV series has become one of those things I turn on in the background when I’m working rather than a show I sit down with and focus on.
There’s a lot to love about the TV show. It’s still gorgeous, it still has amazing actors, and if you haven’t read the books, none of the things I’m whining about matter. If you’re like me—I’ve spent countless hours trying to divine who Jon Snow’s mother is and I think I’ve got it; ask me privately if you want my thoughts—all of the unnecessary changes overshadow the great stuff.
Interesting review. If I had to nitpick, I’d take issue with your saying that Frodo and company took off the day after Bilbo’s party in the film. Simply not true. When Gandalf returned from his research it is clear that he’d been away for quite some time. Of course, Frodo hadn’t aged a day, but that’s a different story.
I may have blurred it a bit in my memory, but it definitely wasn’t 17 years. Planning on watching it any time soon? I’d love to know how it actually transpired.
I think my point stands, though. It was a drastic change in the time line that is, to me, completely acceptable.
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You talk as if one work of fiction is more True or Authoritative than another work of fiction. (or perhaps more precisely, an earlier draft of a work of fiction is more true than a later draft)
As far as I know GRRM is integrally involved in the production of the HBO series and doesn’t seem terribly upset about changes to characters and events. It is, after all, his license and prerogative.
I think both works (books and TV series) are excellent even though they are differ slightly and enjoyment of one doesn’t preclude enjoyment of the other. In anything these difference provide different insight into what the writers, editors, produces think are important to communicate as a story.
Now what Peter Jackson did to the Hobbit. Well… that is an entirely different essay. The word “Butchery” comes to mind.
thank you for saying this. it has been nagging me and killed asoiaf for me altogether. i just wanted to avoid it and the fandom of the show. i think i can get back to re-reading/continuing them in peace now.
Hey soliferi. Thanks for the note. Most people think I’m nuts—I actually think smorr above you has a better attitude than me on the subject. :)
But, I’m glad this resonated with you anyway, and if it helps you return to the books, so much the better.