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Winter has come…And gone.

“Winter is Coming” – it is all we heard for months and months before April’s premiere episode of Game of Thrones. HBO really went for it – they literally shoved Game of Thrones down our throats. I would argue that since the likes of Lost there had not been a show this hyped and we know how big that went on to be…

The fantasy community prepared themselves…prepared themselves for disappointment. From a fantasy fan’s perspective, pretty much every book that those television guys have picked up has been torn apart and ruined. A couple of examples for you: Neverwhere, The Colour of Magic, Tales from Earthsea (Studio Ghibli), Legend of the Seeker, Dresden Files and that is just to name a few. They all sucked. (Click here for more examples.)

I think the problem with television is that they try to ‘television-up’ the books. They move away from the story, they tone things down, they ‘enhance’ the action and they simplify the story. It’s why films of books don’t work. A book, as far as I’m concerned, is a work of art. For it to work you need to see the creators work as a complete piece. When you start chopping things up, moving them around, playing with the composition and adding things – it’s a completely different picture to what you started with, and it’s not always pretty.

So again, we were braced for disappointment.

Straight away, as soon as the intro came on and we saw the complexity of the map and the banners of the houses, there was a feeling this would be different. Television introductions tend to tell you a lot about the show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer – fast music and ass kicking, left right and centre; CSI – detectives looking intelligent and hot smiling people everywhere; Friends – happy go lucky music and ridiculous actions throughout. The fact Game of Thrones intro wasn’t full of sword fighting or overly dramatic scenes was great.

The Cast

So on it came and one by one we were introduced to the characters. Each actor seemed to suit the character they were portraying perfectly. I guess for the sake of the article I should judge the strongest and weakest depictions. The strongest five for me would have to be; Joffrey, Theon, Arya, Tyrion and Daenerys. Arya especially seemed perfectly suited to her role, Joffrey had the exact amount of evilness and smugness whilst still seeming young. Tyrion, although different to how the books tell him, just simply worked. Daenerys was innocent and yet brutal enough. Theon was that smarmy, dark guy that he needs to be for later events. The fact I had a hard time picking just five shows the strength of the casting.

The worst five? I would have to say: Robb, Catelyn, Jon, Cersei, and dare I say it Eddard. Robb I don’t think looked quite right. Catelyn didn’t seem strong enough, similarly neither did Cersei (although she did grow on me). Jon didn’t seem quite lost enough for me and Eddard I just didn’t seem to love.

Of course, it’s all preference and my top five may well be your worst five and vice versa. I think a fundamentally genius decision they made was to raise the age of each character by about 2 years. Any younger and some of the themes would just seem wrong. Any older and by the time series four/five comes along they’d just look too old.

The Story

Moving now onto the story. We basically had ten hours worth…again, a great-great decision. I really loathe those mid-budget 3 x 1 hour shows that try to squash everything in. They just don’t work. This did. Although twenty hours would have been better, ten hours worked. There were obviously pieces of dialogue and smaller houses removed, however everything seemed to be there.

Game of Thrones - Dire Wolves

The obvious differences:

– The direwolves seem to take a backseat.
– The emphasis on gods and mythology has been made a bit more significant. There seems to be a lot more reference to gods in the show.
– Catelyn Stark is not as pretty, nor does she seem quite as attached to Ned as in the books.
– Renly and Lorus’s gay relationship is made obvious – in the books it is simply hinted.
– Robert and Cersi seem far more despising of each other.
– Lysa’s child doesn’t seem ill – just a brat.

Whilst watching, I was glad that the sex scenes were all there. Not because I’m a pervert or anything – but you really do need it. If they left out the fact that Daenerys Targaryen was abused (both physically and sexually) by her brother then you wouldn’t understand how she could watch him die. If you didn’t watch her raped by her husband-to-be you would not understand where her coldness comes from. If you didn’t see Tyrion sleeping with whores, you wouldn’t understand him as a character. Without all the nakedness (boobs and willies included!) you would not understand the kind of world Game of Thrones is set in and the communal acceptance for it. With all this though, it never seemed overdone to me. It seemed to fit the right amount with the books.

a-game-of-thrones-hbo-first-scene

Format

I think the thing that made the book A Game of Thrones work was that it is essentially four/five stories running alongside each-other linked just enough to make the plot connected at all times. Martin opens with a scene that means no matter where you are in the world, something is coming to get you. So every single character is going to be affected if winter does indeed come and the ice demons come with it. More importantly though is the linking between the kingdoms, and this was done masterfully. The stories I would split into:

– Jon Snow
– Bran & Winterfell
– Catelyn & Ned
– Robb Stark
– Joffrey & Sanza
– Arya becoming
– Tyrion
– Robert & Cersei
– Taragaryens

There are a few more smaller stories too, but the fact that each of these characters have a story and they all interweave, without being merged is what makes people just say ‘wow’ and finally come to understand what epic means. These stories are complicated in many ways and to remove too many elements or to simplify them would be to ruin them.

Again, they didn’t do it – unlike so many other series, they didn’t add in needless action, they took the important dialogue and they just let it run. They made the show for epic fantasy’ fans; they didn’t make it for your average Joe action junky. What happened was something of a revelation. I guess that HBO saw the series after production and just thought: “Oh Wow!” This show wasn’t made for the masses, but it had mass appeal. The illusion that you have to push up the action and cut down the dialogue had finally proven wrong and I bet HBO will take some huge lessons from this in the future. Watch out for shows such as The Wheel of Time or Night Angel Trilogy or Necroscope – or any of these kind of shows come to television in a well done manner in the future.

What’s to Come?

I told my girlfriend that the future of Game of Thrones would depend on the ending. How would they do the dragons? I think some people who were unsure of the series would be enticed to see the next series (Clash of Kings) by how well they done the reveal of the dragons. Others would be put off with poor portrays of the dragons. Would they use cheap-ass graphics like Prime Evil or would they go all out and do it properly? They did it properly and I found myself grinning as that beautiful, beautiful dragon screeched from Dany’s shoulder.

Daenerys and the Dragon

One thing that these great graphics made me thing is… hmmmmmm…direwolves. My complaint earlier about the direwolves being pretty much removed from the series could be because secretly Game of Thrones have a good team of animators. As the wolves getting bigger and more important to the series in the next series (doing moves and takes down probably impossible for real animals to do) they will need a solution. Perhaps that solution is CGI and the reason they tried not to show too much was because they didn’t want the transition from real dog to CGI to seem so great. Speculation though of course.

Clash of Kings as a book could easily become a television series. A lot more in my opinion would need to be missed out. There are a number of chapters in Clash of Kings that are full of backstory and conversation – but at the same time there is a huge amount that could be great. The five characters who claim the right to kingship, their battles between each other, the rising and falling of the characters and the rising threat of winter – it could really, really work.

So, time for you to add your thoughts and make your vote. Did it work?

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar Ken says:

    I thought it was one of the better shows that came out this year and something that must be seen. I love how the show added more depth to some of the characters like Cersei and Robert Baratheon and a few great lines to Tyrion. The casting and acting are also great, they really did find the perfect person to play Joffrey.

    The show was what got me started reading the book, but after finishing the book I did notice a few flaws in the show.

    1) The whole show was like the book on fast foward. I wish they had the budget to do a few more episodes and slow things a bit.
    2) The characters seem much older in the TV series. I feel less impressed with Robb in the TV series than the fourteen year old Robb in the book.
    3) I feel they throw in random scenes of nudity just because they can.

  2. Avatar ChrisMB87 says:

    I can’t wait for the DVDs to come out so I can check this out at long last. I don’t have cable, don’t intend on getting cable when I move, and I’m not a fan of torrents. From what I hear, the response to the series has been overwhelmingly positive, but I’ll reserve my judgments for when I finally see it.

  3. Avatar minesril says:

    Neverwhere is NOT based on a book. It’s the other way around.

    I really enjoyed Game of Thrones, I thought most of the characters were well cast. I thought Catelyn was great, i get rather annoyed by fantasy fans (supposedly an intelligent group of people who don’t judge by appearances) complaining that someone isn’t ‘pretty enough’. She is pretty. But she’s not 20 anymore. OK?

  4. Avatar Khaldun says:

    Amazing show, but not surprising since they are working with such great source material.
    Not as good as The Wire (but there isn’t a single television show that is) but still a great adaptation.

  5. Avatar Dan the Funky Scarecrow says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my nerd-adjacent wife, my non-nerd mother, SF nerd father and somewhat annoying chav best mate. That’s a pretty broad spectrum right there, particularly when you consider the show certainly sped up, but in no way dumbed down, sugar coated or over simplified the book.

    I’m the only one of my RL social circle to have read the book and let me tell those of you whose RL social circles are geekier than my own: What happens to Ned Stark shocked the everliving daylights out of my friends and family. True-blue, hands-to-the-mouth, slack-jawed-and-wide-eyed shock. The series will do for casual fantasy fans what the book did for the hardcore ones. It will free them from the idea that the ‘good’ guy/girl always wins, that the ‘bad’ guy/girl will eventually get their comeuppance, and that the two can be easily told apart or are even two different people in the first place. That’s assuming the show gets a second series, of course. Even if you remove the sex, graphic violence and bad language, you’re still left with one of the most morally complex and adult fantasy series yet shown on television.

    I’d say that Game of Thrones, along with The Shadow Line, Boardwalk Empire and, to a lesser and more visceral extent, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, have set a really high bar for the rest of this year’s new drama series to follow. I just hope the second half of 2011 is as good as the first.

  6. After watching the show, I started re-reading the novel. I enjoy studying adaptations, having written a few stage adaptations. I have now decided that the show is better than the novel. Martin has fantastic character development and dialogue, but his writing is a bit raw and lacks finesse. The show obvioulsy doesn’t contain the writing flaws, and showcases the wonderful characters and dialogue. Plus, the annoying minor characters that pull away from the main ones were mostly cut in the show. The casting was superb, and I thought they did a fantastic job adapting the novel — including the crucial scenes and dialogue. I could have done without some of the sex — did we really need that 15 minute scene with Littlefinger coaching the whores? Otherwise, I was very impressed. And now, reading the novel again, less impressed with that.

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