Why We Should Be Glad Game of Thrones Is Ditching the Books
It's finally happened. That thing that we've been worrying about since the show aired its first season way back in 2011. Game of Thrones has now run out of books to adapt.
Once again, we did warn you.
The trailer for Season 5 just had its unofficial premiere a few days ago via leaked footage from the recent IMAX screening of two of last season's episodes. It's clear from the snippets in the trailer that this season is going all the way through the final existing book, A Dance With Dragons. The new season won't even have any of Bran, the only character in a major television series to spend most of his screen time riding in a basket on the back of a learning-disabled giant (Hodor, the aforementioned giant, will also be missing). Why? Because they've already filmed everything George R.R. Martin has ever written about those two characters. So, if you're a fan of the show, anxious to see what happens to Bran beyond The Wall ... too bad. You'll have to wait until next year, when the showrunners will have to start writing the show scripts based on Martin's rough plan, rather than his fully fleshed-out books.
"Uh, 80 percent of this script is just the word 'tits.'"
"Start writing" isn't even the correct phrase. As we write this, it is February 2015. Season 5 of Game of Thrones airs in April. Now, they started filming that season last July, and shooting didn't wrap until December. That's six months of filming for one season, which isn't unusual for Game of Thrones. It's an incredibly complicated show, with hundreds of characters, several sprawling exterior locations, and extensive visual effects. The upcoming season is almost certainly still in post-production and probably will be right up until it airs. That's a year-long production cycle for a single season, half of which is filming. You know what that means?
They've already started writing Season 6.
There's no way that the producers of the most popular (and expensive) show currently on television can afford to wait around until the very last minute to start planning next season's shoot. Just assuming that this year goes the same as previous years, shooting for Season 6 will probably begin in the summer, either June or July. As we pointed out, this is a show with a huge cast and numerous exterior locations, and virtually every single shot has some kind of visual effect in it, even something as basic as adding castles and shit in the background so it looks like a fantasy realm of dragons and intrigue and not 21st-century rural Ireland. Just from a budget and scheduling standpoint, they have to know what roles need to be cast, what locations they're going to be using, which previous cast members will be returning and where they'll need to be and how long they'll need to be there. HBO simply cannot wait for Martin.
That's another thing -- Martin is kept in the loop more or less as a courtesy. He has zero authority over what happens on the show. HBO doesn't even need to return his phone calls if they don't want to. They could put fucking RoboCop on the Iron Throne and there's nothing he could do about it.
"... and what if Hodor is really an ED-209, and what if ..."
As if anticipating the impending storm of desperate fans demanding a release date for Winds of Winter, the next book in the series, Martin's publisher took to the Internet the morning after the Season 5 trailer leaked online to clarify that they have absolutely no plans to publish a book in the Song of Ice and Fire series this year. They aren't expecting to release anything before 2016 at the very earliest.
"But feel free to buy new versions of my old shit."
It isn't even a question anymore of whether this is going to happen and when. It is already happening. The real question is: is that really a bad thing?
Let's be honest -- you want to see whether Jon Snow marries Daenerys, or if Tyrion finds his long-lost wife, or if Littlefinger pulls off his tunic to reveal an NWO shirt and burns the whole kingdom to the ground. And you don't want to wait another 10 years to find out. That's not an exaggeration, by the way -- Martin has taken about six years in between each installment, so if Winds of Winter comes out in 2016 (again, the very earliest that his publisher is expecting to release it), you've still got another six years to wait for the final book to wrap everything up and probably kill most if not all of your favorite characters. It's not unreasonable to assume it will be 2022 before we get to read the final chapter of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Don't forget: A Game of Thrones was published back in 1996. This motherfucker has been writing this story for 20 goddamned years already, and he's still only 70 percent of the way through it. To be perfectly honest, the thought that we might get to see the end of the story before the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie comes out isn't exactly horrible.
"Come, now; they'll at least have a trilogy done before me."
Before you all melt your shoes in your frantic rush to the comments section to point out all the ways the show has deviated from the books, let's take a moment and ask ourselves how many of those changes were actually for the worse. That is, what parts of the novels were streamlined for storytelling purposes to suit the condensed format of a weekly TV series, and what portions were genuinely mishandled? Because it's pointless to work ourselves up into a frothing uproar over whether or not the showrunners know what they're doing -- they're doing it. It's being done. No argument of ours can change the fact that Game of Thrones is going to write the rest of Martin's epic story for him. The only thing left to wonder is whether or not the story is in good hands.
Let's go ahead and start with the bad. The producers of Game of Thrones don't seem to handle subtlety very well. The implied relationship between Ser Loras and Renly becomes several scenes of passionate kissing and sensual manscaping. This isn't really a major alteration (the relationship between those two characters is important to the story), but it illustrates the fact that Martin's novels deal with a lot of read-between-the-lines nuance that the show just doesn't seem to have enough confidence in its audience to pick up on. HBO seems to have had a meeting where a group of people got together and decided, "The viewers won't understand that Ser Loras is gay unless they see him being gay, so write that in there."
"I, a man with a penis, am going to make love to you, another man with a penis,
by sticking my male penis into your male butt."
Similarly, we get a scene in the third season where Theon literally explains the entire conflict of his character directly into the camera. Anyone should be able to tell through the actor's performance that he feels confusion, guilt, and shame over betraying the family that actually cared for him, but HBO thought we needed to hear Theon actually say all of those things in order for us to understand him. The mysterious, horror-story relationship between Melisandre and Stannis is reduced to a simple sex scene in the show -- Stannis does whatever Melisandre says because she's his gorgeous lover and confidant, and his wife is weird-looking and crazy. (In point of fact, that's actually how the show explains every aspect of Melisandre's character -- she's just a crazed sex witch.)
It took two hours to find a scene of these two together clothed.
There's also the problem with Jaime, who in the story has a strong redemptive arc, but on the show keeps delving into unapologetic scumbaggery. In Season 2, he murders his cousin to escape the Stark camp, even though one of his most clearly defined characteristics is his unquestioning loyalty to his family. (In the books, Jaime's cousin is killed by the same group of lunatics that capture Jaime and Brienne and cut off Jaime's hand.) In Season 4, Jaime rapes his sister, Cersei, which is actually a huge disservice to both characters -- fucking nobody rapes Cersei, let alone her doting brother recently possessed by the powerful urge to start being a decent guy. Also, Gregor Clegane (The Mountain) dies and gets turned into a zombie knight, which is something that is extensively hinted at but never explicitly said in Martin's novel. Meanwhile, HBO all but has the necromancing Qyburn turn to the camera and say, "And now I shall turn The Mountain, Gregor Clegane, into a zombie."
"It will be as though he were Walking, yet Dead."
There's also a list of numerous small discrepancies -- minor characters (like Pip, Grenn, and Daenerys' Blood Riders) that are still alive in the books but are killed off on the show, Brienne fighting the Hound, the entirety of Daenerys' adventures in Season 2, etc. But none of that really matters unless you're the type of nitpicky person who can't enjoy watching a show unless it's exactly like something else that you've already got memorized (read: people who really enjoyed Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code).
Even then, Langdon's hair line was a much more prominent character in the book.
The thing is, it's up to HBO to decide what's important to include or remove. It always was, of course, but now they're leading the way. In the books, Robb Stark's wife is never pregnant (at least not that we know of), and she gets taken captive rather than stabbed into oblivion at the Red Wedding. The fact that she's still alive may wind up being an incredibly important detail in Martin's final two novels, but it doesn't matter for HBO's Game of Thrones -- they can write whatever the hell they want. It's only as important as they want it to be.
And look at some of the really great things they've done -- the majority of the relationship between Arya and the Hound was written by the showrunners. Every single fan of Martin's novels, without exception, would love to have read an entire book about those two characters roaming around the countryside, giving each other massive amounts of shit and fighting crime. We get precious little of that in the novels before Arya leaves the Hound to die (although anyone with an eye for that subtlety Martin is so fond of probably realizes that the Hound is far from dead). HBO took a fan-favorite storyline and stretched it out for us, adding to one of the most unique relationships in A Song of Ice and Fire in a way that probably offended very few die-hard fans of the source material.
"No offense? Fanfic will take care of that."
Speaking of Arya, another major change in the show occurs when Arya is brought to Harrenhal, the melted pile of haunted ruin serving as the de facto base for the Lannister army. Instead of having her squire for Roose Bolton, who is a character that hasn't seemed to have affected the story much beyond the consequences of his existence, HBO has Arya serving food to Tywin Lannister. This winds up being much better for us as an audience -- for one, it cuts a lot of unnecessary shortstopping between characters, thus streamlining the story. More important, it gives us more of Charles Dance, whose performance as Tywin is easily the most captivating of any in the entire show except for maybe Peter Dinklage's. Pairing him with Arya is brilliant and fun to watch. Maybe the lesson here is to just keep teaming Arya up with unlikely partners. Next season she'll probably be hanging out with Ser Jorah.
Just kidding, no women want to hang with Ser Jorah.
Brienne of Tarth is given a bit more dignity in the show (not to say she's short on dignity in the novels, but HBO definitely recognizes how to utilize a fan-favorite character). Even some of Tyrion's best lines are scripted rather than adapted from the source material, and that man is a verbal assassin. My personal favorite character, Dolorous Edd, doesn't repeat a single joke from Martin's text, but he still manages to be every bit as entertaining.
The point is, the showrunners clearly understand the majority of the characters. It's really only Jaime that's been damaged in the translation, and even then, it's nothing the character can't recover from. They already know how everything ends, and that's the most important thing.
Just gonna leave this here ...
Everything else along the way is just a vague blank for them to fill in, and judging by what we've seen so far, odds are whatever they write for the show is probably not going to be too far from what we wind up reading in Martin's final two books.
Have you ever watched a movie and then gone back to read the book it was based on? In some cases, the book is better, but you're still able to enjoy both on their own terms (like Jurassic Park). In other cases, the movie is clearly better and you never even look at the book again (like Jaws). That's pretty much what Game of Thrones is going to be -- your favorite version is still going to be your favorite version, regardless of what order you experience them in. We're just going to have to wait a few years before we're able to make the comparison. And I personally want to see how A Song of Ice and Fire ends before I'm in my goddamned 40s.
(And for those of you who are left inconsolable by this situation, know that -- in Martin's original pitch for the books -- there was a Tyrion-Arya-Jon Snow love triangle. You do not live in that universe.)
While we're on the topic, also check out 6 Insane (but Convincing) 'Game of Thrones' Fan Theories and 5 Hilarious Early Roles of 'Game of Thrones' Actors.