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Game of Thrones: Content vs. Delivery

Game of Thrones - Season 6 PosterI’ve just finished the fourth episode of the current season and I’m more engaged with both the show and the world of A Song of Ice and Fire than I have been since A Dance With Dragons was published in 2011. This renewed interest in Mr. Martin’s world is 100% attributable to the fact that this season is the first “new” ASOIAF material fans have seen in years. Most of it has been good. Much of it has been great.

The concept of whether it “counts” or not has never entered the equation.

With the exception of, perhaps, the Star Wars universe, no other fictional world has been subjected to more canonical scrutiny than the world of ASOIAF. With the reboot of the Star Wars Expanded Universe prior to the release of The Force Awakens, fans were thrown for a loop (myself included) and much time was spent whining about things that “no longer count.” In the case of Game of Thrones, the “expanded universe” has eclipsed the source material. And, as expected, the Internet burst into flames.

In both situations, I had kneejerk reactions. And both times I was wrong. Good stories told well transcend “canon.” They entertain on their own merit. And that is exactly what the new Star Wars novels and the latest season of Game of Thrones are doing—entertaining fans of their respective universes.

Is it really that important that Martin’s story—originally intended to be told in novel form—is now being told through television? I don’t think so. Not anymore. Game of Thrones has gotten good again. “Must watch when it airs” good. “Stay off the internet” good. “Listen to podcasts about it” good. And I credit Martin’s story and the showrunners equally for breathing new life into a world that had gone a bit stale.

Game of Thrones - Title

When you know all the major beats of a book, watching it in movie or TV form can be entertaining, but it often lacks the thrill that comes with reading new material in the same world. With Game of Thrones, almost half the fan base has known—in broad terms—what they were going to be seeing. It was an entertaining show, but for book readers it wasn’t that thrilling. Until now. Not knowing where the story is going lead to multiple instances of me staring dumbfounded at my television.

And we’re only on the fourth episode of the season. (Editor’s Note: Five now. This was posted late.)

A Game of Thrones (cover)The other interesting change the great Game of Thrones eclipse has brought about is that it has leveled the field on which book readers and show watchers play. We’re all in the same boat now. Talking about the show is more fun. Reading about the show online is more fun. Even writing about the show seems like a worthwhile endeavor, because Game of Thrones feels important again.

I know, I know—what I’m watching is different from the books. You know what I say to that? AWESOME! Because fifteen years from now when the last book finally comes out, I’ll have be able to experience this same thrill twice. I don’t know what’s going to happen next on the show, I don’t know what’s going to happen next in the books, I know for a fact that the same things aren’t going to happen in both, and I’m ecstatic about it!

But the show doesn’t count, right? Well…why? Do the Lord of the Rings movies not count? Because I’ve watched them a lot more times than I’d care to admit and they are still three of my favorite movies of all time. And they haven’t impinged upon my love for the books one iota. Am I not a Harry Potter fan because I’ve never read the books? Do I automatically hate The Force Awakens because I loved the Zahn novels? Of course not! The entire argument about the canonical value of the show is “we can’t accept this as canon because we don’t know what canon is yet.”

Game of Thrones - Iron ThroneFans of A Song of Ice and Fire bemoan the fact that they’ve stayed loyal for twenty years in the hopes of finding out “what happens next.” And yet when that same fan base is served a heaping helping of “what happens next” on a silver platter, they turn up their noses because it is a TV show instead of a book? To me, that’s like saying “this steak tastes terrible…because it was served on a paper plate.”

So instead of enjoying something truly great, instead of being actively engaged in what has become one of the great pop culture successes of the 21st Century, instead of finally finding out what happens next, people will sit around, avoid the show and “wait for the books.” Books that may never see the light of day. A story that may never be told to completion in novel form.

Not me. Not today.



  1. Avatar Davieboy says:

    Thanks Zach, I’ve been one of those readers holding off from watching this series. Your post has probably convinced me to rethink, yours is a voice I trust!

    • Avatar Zack Matzo (@perch15) says:

      First off, thanks for the kind words. With that out of the way…

      I’m glad to hear you’re going to rethink your position. The show has been so good this season. Just one revelation after another, great pace, and the thrill of the unknown is palpable. I’ve been a reader since the 90s, and at this point I’ve completely given up on the books. I’m so happy that the show is allowing me to re-engage with this world that I love. It has all but eliminated my bitterness regarding the lack of new ASOIAF novels. I’m enjoying Martin’s world again, instead of either 1.) watching what I’ve already read or 2.) waiting for the next novel.

  2. Avatar JC Crumpton says:

    I agree. Enjoy the show for its own merits and the books for theirs. They can both bring a sense of wonder and delight in their respective mediums.

  3. Avatar Mike says:

    Good article and well argued. I personally decided to watch this, and to a lesser extent last, season because I’d much rather have the story ‘spoiled’ through the show than reading any major reveals online. A decision which I think has been vindicated now as people seem unable to have any tact or subtlety when it comes to talking about what’s happened in the latest episodes. It’s an interesting shift in a sense, as for years the readers have had to endure all the criticism from fans of the show about smugly lording it over them that we know what happens next. For the most part I feel readers kept the twists quiet entirely. You’d have to search specifically for a site with plot reveals in my experience. Now however, we’re beyond that and no thought whatsoever is given at all to the book readers and/or viewers who haven’t yet seen the latest episode as ordinary fans and major journalists alike plaster social media in not so subtle terms and spoiler ridden innuendo. We can choose to stay offline on a Sunday and Monday, but should we have to?

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