Book vs. Show: Which Will Reign on the Iron Throne?
Game of Thrones has been a smash hit and a cultural phenomenon, reinvigorating fantasy as a viable genre for high quality television drama. But it was a book series beloved by readers long before it appeared on the small screen and George R. R. Martin’s renowned slowness has readers fearing that the show will wrap up before the books do. What are the chances of this happening and would this be such a bad thing?
Conflict between fans of books and their screen adaptations is not new, especially for the fantasy and sci-fi genres, but one dilemma we haven’t seen much before faces us now: what happens when an adaptation of a series catches up to and threatens to surpass its source? Game of Thrones is catching up plot-wise to its source of inspiration, Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and it’s unclear if Martin will have written his next novel by the time the seventh season is upon us.
The situation isn't entirely new—other shows have encountered similar problems, such as AMC's The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead hardly deviated plotwise from the comics that inspired it more than Game of Thrones did from its source, but changes in depiction of characters made for a very different feel. Rewriting characters in the show to the point where they are unrecognizable from their comic counterparts makes for fans that are far more upset than Game of Thrones fans, since character development has remained largely the same.
Fans of book and show alike would agree that Game of Throne's success is due in part to Martin’s heavy involvement. He's written one script per season so far but will not be writing one for season five, perhaps in a move calculated by current showrunners to get him to speed along with the upcoming sixth novel, The Winds of Winter.
How closely is Game of Thrones sticking to A Song of Ice and Fire? One of the obvious changes from the start was the age of characters. In Martin’s novel, they are years younger than they appear in the show. Martin has stated he felt it was a mistake in the pacing of the books to make the characters so young. Because it was his decision but not the way the book took form, which is the “real” version of the story and does it matter?
On one hand, no one is owed faithfulness to the original and a lot of the lengthy description and internal monologue Martin employs in the books just doesn’t transfer to television. Slower plot points are cut in the show, eschewing exploration of internal conflict in favor of fast-paced action. On the other hand, maybe this is an opportunity for the show to delve deeper and develop a less ham-handed approach to exposition. Right now, the show is notorious for its “sexposition,” such as when Lord Peter Baelish inexplicably reveals his sinister machinations to his prostitutes and their clients to move the plot forward.
Whatever you think of them, these choices were made with knowledge of what happens in the books to draw from and no one knows what it would look like without that. Some fans are pressuring Martin to write faster. Others are begging him not to sacrifice quality for a television deadline. Martin has been vague about book release dates but it's becoming increasingly likely the show's ending will be first. The implications of such a timeline may not be as dire as they sound. Viewers of the show who have not read the books will not care about differences between the two and fans of the books will still be able to look forward to the final novel.
Note: It has now been confirmed that the show will indeed spoil the books. You can read that announcement here.
A huge thank-you to Brandon for the wonderful article. We always love having him on the blog!
Are you a fan of the book series, the show, or both? What are your thoughts?