Destroy All Monsters: HBO's GAME OF THRONES Is Better Than The Books

Matt Brown, Columnist

[Now that the third season of Game of Thrones is over, I'm going to look at the series in comparison to its source novels. I will not reveal any book plot information that has not already been revealed by the television series. I will mention the fourth and fifth books in Martin's series in a general sense but will not discuss story. As with all other pages of this site, DO NOT post book spoilers in the comments for this piece. They will be deleted, and we will be angry.]

The show's better than the books. What seemed like a creative impossibility only two seasons ago is now as plain as the lack of nose on Tyrion Lannister's face. By the conclusion of season three of Game of Thrones, which has been the marvelous series' most marvelous season yet, series showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are doing a better job telling George R.R. Martin's story than George R.R. Martin did. Spoiler warning: they're going to beat him to the end, too.

(Martin takes a producer credit on Game of Thrones and has written one episode per season of the show. He also provides guidance to the production team. The showrunners, Benioff and Weiss, retain the final creative word on the production of Game of Thrones, and I will regard them as the architects of the series' overall strengths and weaknesses.)

There are easy and obvious ways that screen adaptation can trump the written word. It is altogether more viscerally disturbing, for example, to follow a young boy up a castle wall only to come upon a brother and sister having a doggie-style fuck, than it is to read about it from the boy's (limited, underage) point of view. But there are also significant areas where the word will always win, particularly in worldbuilding; the producers of Game of Thrones can imagine it for you wholesale, but when you're reading a book and picturing the realms of Westeros in your head, you're getting top-market retail.

At ten episodes per season, and a budget that is record-breaking for television while still being a pittance next to, say, those Hobbit films, the first season of Game of Thrones evinced a kind of narrative strangulation that made it a promising, but highly frustrating, watch. Season one hit all the requisite beats from Martin's book, and set the paradigm for seasons to come (watch out for episode 9, every single time), but man, it felt frumpy. I remember looking at a shot in the third or fourth episode, where two armoured soldiers had been placed conspicuously on a hill in the deep background, and realizing that they were likely the only two armoured soldiers the episode's budget could afford.

Budget isn't storytelling, though, and the first season allowed Benioff and Weiss (and importantly, their revolving team of directors, most notably Alan "Thor 2" Taylor) to figure out how and where to spend their limited budget to conjure the larger Westerosi world, while simultaneously breaking in their characters, which is where the real money is anyway. "The North Remembers," the first episode of the second season of Game of Thrones, is a marvel of character development and worldbuilding, dancing across the Seven Kingdoms like a Braavosi swordsman to reestablish all of the series' major characters, plotlines, and locales. The episode essentially served, brilliantly, as a one-hour dramatized version of the show's deft opening credits, and announced that Game of Thrones could, and would, be as big as Martin's vast ecosystem of people and places needed it to be.

As big as needed, then, but only as big as needed. This is where Benioff and Weiss's adaptation begins to win when compared against the novels. The show's writers are cutting a cleaner line through the story than Martin did. Admire the heaps of blubberous fat that have been excised from Bran's discovery of his warg powers, a throughline which develops incrementally over the course of two or three of the books, but which manifests, in the series, in a single merciful episode.

In a masterful sequence from "The Rains of Castamere," Bran spontaneously mind-walks into Hodor, Summer, and Shaggydog, while Jon Snow's conflict with the wildlings bubbles over outside, uniting three of the sons of Ned Stark through action and clever overlapping construction. The edited scene brings Bran, Rickon and Jon together in a manner that the novel strives for and fails. The television writers also smartly push the final beat of Jon and Ygritte's separation into the following episode, teasing out the schism and allowing Jon to prove that he does, at last, know something.

Of course, much of all this is the natural improvement that comes of being a second draft. Benioff and Weiss have the foresight of some 8,000 existent pages of the novels, from which to survey and critique Martin's narrative strategy. Martin himself is likely just as aware of the flaws as the rest of us. At this point I think we all need to divorce ourselves from the disturbing popular delusion that content creators of any stripe (be they Martin, Tolkien, Lindelof or Lucas) begin a fantasy project of any scale with a complete picture of where the story will go.

But Martin has no goddamned idea where he's going, as is clear from books 4 and 5 of A Song of Ice and Fire, which expend so much narrative energy (and page count) keeping fruitless plotlines spinning that reading them becomes somewhat like getting stuck in the recursive time loop from Star Trek: The Next Generation's episode "Cause and Effect."

Benioff and Weiss, on the other hand, do know where they're going - they're even reported to know where Martin's ending will ultimately take the characters - and in addition to cutting away the mountains of wasted narrative that entomb A Song of Ice and Fire's back half, they are in a position to make smarter choices about character. So, for example, we get a single character (Gendry) standing in for the multiplicity of Baratheon bastards that populate the novels, which doesn't just give us the opportunity to hang out with Joe Dempsie's abs for more than an episode or two, but means that when the Red Woman is threatening to burn him up like a leech to ensure Stannis' ascension to the Iron Throne, we actually give a fuck.

What all of this amounts to is a kind of breathability in the television storytelling that doesn't exist in the books. We're allowed to watch the characters behave in more complex, human ways than the simple rote of the novels. My favourite episode of season three is "Walk of Punishment," the one where Jaime loses his hand, and the first episode of the show to be directed by one of the showrunners themselves (Benioff). It's a damned weird episode, because it evinces a sense of casual, even frivolous, invention around the text - with beats like the Small Council's game of musical chairs (a literal game of thrones, if you will), or more memorably, Bronn and Tyrion grilling Podrick about the powers of his Magic Penis.

The series has a kind of metatextual sense of humour about itself that isn't entirely earned, and is based in part on the secret language of the fan base, but which makes for an altogether more engaging storytelling style. It's a sweeping TV story that can feel surprising and emotionally rich, even to those of us who already know what is going to happen. The casual handling of the fully-built Westerosi world in "Walk of Punishment," alongside the confident delivery of the novels' required plot points, seemed to me to suggest that the showrunners of Game of Thrones had moved full-time into Martin's world and announced "We're in charge here now." (Or, if you like, "The Mad King is dead!") The hard cut to a rock n' roll cover of "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" as soon as Jaime's hand comes off at the end of the episode was a punky middle finger to the bearded Old God who created the song of ice and fire.

(We've come to a point where the only thing I miss - besides Khal Drogo, of course, on a weekly basis - is Martin's attention to the "prequel" story, which the author was able to pay over the course of his five novels and which - Jaime's bathtime confession notwithstanding - is largely missing from the television series. Although, based on Sunday's numbers, if HBO has any sense they're already commissioning a mini-series about Robert's rebellion and the fall of the Targaryens right now.)

In a way, Benioff and Weiss are winning the game of thrones because they are, essentially, writing the fan-fiction version of the novels. This season, for example, their addition of the Theon torture plotline is much more than a simple gambit to keep Alfie Allen in the show (whereas Theon vanishes for the entirety of books 3 and 4). The invented plotline also allows the showrunners to force contrition into Theon's mouth for all the awful shit he did in season two. Sure, it qualifies as shameless license taken with the source material, but on a fan level, it's not just enjoyed, it's positively required: once Theon successfully unseated Joffrey as the Biggest Asshole in the Seven Kingdoms, the audience deserved some catharsis. Like Daenerys freeing the slaves, benevolent Benioff and Weiss prove mother to us all.

This is all perhaps best exemplified by Benioff and Weiss' most significant deviation from the books: Talisa Maegyr, wife of Robb Stark, who is plotted as a major character in seasons two and three, and who does not exist in Martin's work. Talisa takes the place of Jeyne Westerling, an offscreen wife in the novels, who is shotgun-wedded to Robb after a one night stand. Now, the one night stand thing is agreeable enough as a line into Robb's character, and it pairs Robb with his father Ned, who also had an indiscreet evening outside his vows of honour; but if Robb doesn't much care for his bride, then neither do we.

Talisa, on the other hand - deliciously portrayed by Oona Chaplin - makes us care. Benioff and Weiss write her as a compelling addition to the Stark camp throughout his war on the Lannisters - third part of a triangle which was previously only a double act between Robb and Catelyn - and then add further stakes (as if they were needed) to the Red Wedding by placing Talisa in the fray.

Here, the synergy of the series' adaptation of the books reaches a superb, if nauseating, peak: an invented character, avatar of an invented love story, pregnant with an invented baby, stabbed in the invented belly, all in the midst of a glorious (and largely faithful) adaptation of the novels' single greatest narrative turn. Robb must watch his wife die - as do we all - and Talisa's bleeding stomach becomes the visceral, cinematic incarnation of the death of the King in the North's whole mission. It is also, in ruthlessly effective visual storytelling, the death of our faith in the Starks' ultimate victory over the series' ostensible antagonists in the overarching story; it's the death of our belief that Game of Thrones will be a nice story that treats us the way we expect fantasy to treat us. All with a character whose name has never graced a single printed page.

At this point, Martin should hand the last two novels over to Benioff and Weiss - or as will more likely be the case, we should just wait for the series to wrap up the saga while the mooted sixth and seventh books in A Song of Ice and Fire remain a cluster of disorganized notes somewhere in the tower of George R.R. Martin's Santa Fe home. The TV show has the baton and isn't just running with it; it's soaring, like Dracarys, up into the clear blue sky.


Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture.

Around the Internet:
  • An Agent of Chaos
  • Karn Kowshik

    I couldn't get through this article, it was so boringly written. But I did get through 5 books, in sequence, more than once.

  • leaf

    I can't even believe this article was written. As a woman reading and enjoying ASOIAF, I can tell you there were so many times in the show I was flat out offended by the way D&D botched most of the female characters. The out of character lines of Brienne and Arya that makes sound like they hate women (i.e. Brienne to Jaime "you sound like a woman"). The changes they made to the escape from Harrenhal, even if it was unintentional, was such a slap in the face to Arya's character, even if they brought to back in the most awkward way. The travesty D&D made of Catelyn Stark? The "disposable" sex workers? All the 'eye candy' for male viewers but they can't even let Ygritte have a proper cunnilingus scene? ASOIAF has so many great female characters and this aspect just flies over the heads of D&D. I still enjoy the show and the actors are great, but in the end it's just the poor man's version of ASOIAF. In the words of a previous commenter, "what planet did you come from and how fast can you go back there?"

  • slayjoy

    Wow. Just.... I don't even..... there were so many mistakes in that article that leads to only two conclusions: 1. Matt Brown is lying, and did not read the books. OR 2. Matt Brown read the books but his brain didn't (couldn't) process the words on the page.

    examples:
    1. Calling the Dany's dragon "Dracarys" (which is what a tv watcher would reasonably assume) instead of its actual name, Drogon (which is told to us time and time again in the books).

    2. Matt states that in the books, Robb Stark had a 'shot-gun' wedding when he married Jeyne (Talisa). Um, this made so much more sense then the books, then in the show:
    - In the show, Robb saw a hot girl being a nurse to injured soldiers. Fell in love. Married her, knowingly breaking his truce with the Freys.
    -In the books, Robb was injured in a battle, and Jeyne(Talisa) mended him. Around the same time, he found out that Bran and Rickon were dead by Theon's hands (or at least thought they were) and in his anguish, slept with Jeyne and got her pregnant. Being an honorable Stark, he wanted to do the honorable thing and so he married her. Robb saw the life that Jon Snow lived as a bastard, and did not want to do what his father did when he brought Jon home as a bastard baby. So Robb did what he thought was the honorable thing and married Jeyne, even if that meant breaking his alliance with the Freys.
    ---Matt: Please explain how this explanation in the books isn't more emotional, logical, and a better character development then Robb just randomly seeing a hot nurse and wanting to bang her??

    3. Calling Theon's plot 'invented' and wasn't in the novels. Matt Brown must have not read the fifth book. The entire Theon plot was there, and he explains in his tortured thoughts in the 5th book what happened to him at the Dreadfort during his captivity in the 3rd and 4th books offscreen. The tv show is just showing us this in real-time.

    4. The ridiculous claim that Martin has no clue where he is going. And the only reason Matt Brown claims this is because he thought the 4th and 5th books have fruitless plotlines. Really? Just because the narrative slows after the 3rd book, these new plotlines are fruitless? In depth character development and world-building must not be important to Matt Brown.

    5. Matt Brown actually states that he thinks the show is better because we get more Gendry on screen for his abs, rather than the books which splits his character into multiple bastard children of King Robert (which is much more realistic and makes for some interesting side stories, i.e. Edric Storm).

    I could keep going but I won't. Terrible, terrible article. (Dont get me wrong, I love the show but to say it's better than the books. Ha, ha, sigh)

  • Stierlitz

    A trolling well done, sir. If you're, by some evil coincidence, serious, however, you should be confined to the Black cells...

  • Ensorcel

    Clickbait has reached new levels of dementia.

  • Mad Ness

    This is when I'd wish to hear Daenerys say "Dracarys" and see Drogon's dragonfire burn this article to ashes.
    PS : No violence intended here, just a way to express how strongly I disagree with this article.

  • Ben

    you sir need to quit your job and find another profession, you have no idea what you're talking about. my guess is you haven't even read the books. post another crappy article like this and we storm HBO like Kingslanding in the Blackwater Battle

  • Dan

    So we would on the verge of destorying HBO until Time Warner came out of nowhere and fucked our days up?

  • Dia

    This article is a disgrace. It's one thing if you prefer the show to the book but to talk about the mastermind behind it like this is just simply disgusting. Couldn't even read the whole thing. Shame on you all.

  • Guest

    "fly like Dracarys" - I'd ask you if you even read the books, but, from the look of things, I doubt wheter you even pay attention to the TV show you "love" so much.

  • Raluca Alina Vintilescu

    "The TV show has the baton and isn't just running with it; it's soaring, like Dracarys, up into the clear blue sky." Wait. What?!

  • Guest

    Dracarys isn't the name of her oldest dragon you ignorant cretin. It's valyrian for Dragonfire. Get your facts straight before writing an entire article.

  • Franky Ciummo

    "The TV show has the baton and isn't just running with it; it's soaring, like Dracarys, up into the clear blue sky."
    I'm sorry, what? Are you under the impression that one of Dany's dragon's names is Dracarys??
    There is far, far too much I disagree with, but this just put me over the edge

  • IAmTheBloodOfTheDragon

    For those who have NOT read the books.....how can you even compare?!? You can't make an accurate judgement call unless you have experience both the show and the book.

    I believe the show is a great compliment to the books, but will always prefer the books over the series. However, the books (especially long books with complex and various plot lines) are not for everybody, so it's understandable why some might view the tv series as superior to the books.

    Dracarys....it's a command in High Valyrian meaning Dragonfire....how he confused that with Drogon (the dragon) makes me question how closely he read the books.....

  • shamonas

    Dude also thinks Ned Stark is Jon Snow's dad...

  • angry book fan

    I feel stupid even acknowledging that ridiculous notion, but I had to overcome it to tell you that you're a jackass. The show is good but if you learn how to read you will realize that the show doesn't even close to the books.

  • Saya KoRn

    "The TV show has the baton and isn't just running with it; it's soaring, like Dracarys, up into the clear blue sky."

    As someone said on FB..

    "Seriously? Can we just take a minute to acknowledge how this guy thought Dracarys was Drogon's name..."

  • Jeremy Truax

    What planet are you from and how fast can you go back there? Game of Thrones is not in any way better than the books and only an ignorant buffoon could possibly believe that. HBO has done a horrible job of sticking to the source material up to and including creating new characters that never existed in print. As for the assertion that season 3 is the best so far, I have no idea...season two was so abysmal I refused to watch any further. The younger generations can have this pathetic trifle, I will stick to the original works by the author. At least those can follow a timeline without rearranging it for "Dramatic Effect".

  • troudbit

    The show takes way too many shortcuts and overlook crucial characters and interactions, while at the same time it takes the time to emphasize on Renly and Loras homosexuality (which is only glimpsed in the books). This right there is a proof HBO is not trimming the fat. Anyone serious about the world Martin created cannot prefer the HBO series. Period.

  • TQWNS

    I'm going to elaborate on why too much emphasis on Renly's and Loras's homosexuality detracts from their characters for a moment:

    The show completely takes away from the fact that Renly and Loras are two capable warriors. They are strong. Renly is naive and charismatic, but he believes he would be a strong leader.

    On the other hand, Jaime sees Loras to be a younger version of himself in how Loras can be arrogant but is also a capable warrior. Loras might even be good at cunning and plotting based on some things we see in his family.

    Oh, and these characters just happen to be gay.

    They're fully fleshed out people and them being gay is completely normalized instead of turned into the stereotyped parody they have in the show.

    Not to mention that in the books, Loras is completely devastated by Renly's death. He really, truly loved him. Instead, the show replaced that love with having Loras sleep with the next guard who winks at him.

  • Saya KoRn

    Finally someone that points this out. Everything isn't lost.. yet.

  • jawad

    i haven't read the full article ... but i have read the books and watch the series... and guess what.... books are fa more better then the tv series........

  • Benoit lafleche

    I think a lot of people are missing the point in this thread, is that staying faithful and doing the books justice is utterly impossible due the scope, grandeur, number of characters, arcs, back story...ect...ect...the show would have to be 45 episodes a season and 87 season long, the budget would be ridiculous...with that point made, i believe the show is doing the most incredible job it could possibly do in inventing characters and plots still while staying faithful to the books....and also for those having issue with the ages of the characters in the book versus the ones in the show...I think the show has pushed many boundaries by killing babies, incest, underage marriage...I'm glad I don't have to watch kiddie porn, thank you...Dany being the age she is at in the show with that much of her being naked is fine by me, I don't need to be starring at a 13 year old naked chick...creepy

  • mal

    every scene in the series that is taken straight FROM THE BOOK are superb. THings they've added themselves are hit and miss. the misses were awful while the hits were damn good. I'm starting worry if they go ahead of the books, GRRM's writing are the best parts of the series.

  • Blackbelt_Jones

    I understand what he's saying,basically he's saying that these guys did a waaaay better job than the people over at the walking dead.I like the books as well but honestly people,there was fat and it needed to be trimmed. Take the lord of the rings movies for instance or did you guys get really bummed when none of the characters broke into song, or stop to recite a sonnet for like 3 pages? They put some of that shit in the Hobbit and it was fuckin stoooooooooooopid. And I say all this stuff as one of those people who are always being told to shut up after proclaiming that some book was better than it's movie counterpart.

  • Saya KoRn

    "or did you guys get really bummed when none of the characters broke into song, or stop to recite a sonnet for like 3 pages?"

    I was. Problem?
    Not everyone is like you.

    I'd rather watch a series of 7-10hr movies than watching a series of 2hr movies that BARELY make sense.
    Well, same with GoT. There was fat and it needed to be trimmed? Bitch, please, they cut out a lot of things for.. what? Renly and Loras fucking and kissing when it is BARELY mentioned in the books? (inb4 NOT HOMOPHOBIC). Or wait, cutting out lots of things but adding a scene where Thoros and Melissandre meet? That doesn't even EXIST in the books. Also, Robs wife is FAAAAAAAAAAR FAR away when the RW takes place.

    Please...

    They didn't make a bad show, but it isn't better than the books for sure.

  • Blackbelt_Jones

    Um,ok. Where in any of that did I say that the shows were better than the books? I said they did a better job than the folks over at The Walking Dead,I also said all those stories from those franchises have fat that can be trimmed if need be. You seem very easy to rise to anger so i won't push you to hard and besides,you seem like you had this pinned up for a very long time and I'm glad you had a chance to get it all out.

  • Ard Vijn

    You know NOTHING, Matt Brown!
    ;-)

    Seriously though, I do think the books are much, MUCH better. I really like the series and am pleasantly surprised by how well several parts of the books have been translated. BUT...

    Take the war effort, for instance. While we've seen some glimpses in the series, the books really dived into the battles, and Martin's ruthlessness with his characters assures that the readers were kept on their toes. The siege of King's Landing, and all the preparations on both sides leading up to that battle, were done far better in the books than in the series.

    In fact, I love reading Todd's reviews of the episodes, seeing his hopes and theories dashed on the rocks has been fun. The series obviously does a good job with the twists and turns. But I do read his frustration with the series becoming increasingly action-less, people talking about stuff instead of doing something. If I look where we are now in the series, and where I was in the books around the same point, there is no doubt about it that I got much more enjoyment out of the books, and that so much of the excitement and tension I found there is missing from the series. Yes, the Red Wedding worked. But the surrounding episodes come across as if the series is now gunning for soap-opera status.

  • Heijoshin

    I have to say that I disagree almost completely. I am enjoying the show however ,to me, everything that they show has changed with the exception of the personality of Robb's wife (not the circumstances), the personality of Shae and maybe not cutting off Tyrion's nose have been poor discussions.

    I have not enjoyed anything that show show has created on its own including the side story with Theon. And I feel that we have missed a lot of important character development in some of the cut out story parts, especially with Bran and Arya.

    I'm also a little more than annoyed with them making Sam to out to be much more useless than he already was in the books. It seems that they have taken away most of his redeeming scenes as well as not giving Tyrion his due on the battlefield either. I also find it strange how many scenes, dealing with supernatural things, have been removed. They have kept some but seemingly removed two for everyone they kept.

    I am happy that the show was made but as someone that has read the books I personally feel that the story has been hobbled in many areas. I agree with the aforementioned age changes also being an issue with the show. I really don't know how they could have gotten around that though.

    I just can't help but feel that I would have enjoyed the show much better if I had never read the books. On that thought though, I am glad that I did read them as I feel that they have been excellently written. I say this as someone that only started reading the books after the conclusion of Season One's airing. So just to be clear, I am not speaking as someone who is a George Martian fanboy but as someone that has immensely enjoyed the source material and has found the show lacking,

  • Giovanni

    Dude, while reading this I was like "WTF am I doing here? Well, I shall keep reading, maybe he has a point", and then I saw that you called Drogon for "Dracarys", and, now, I'm totally sure you're a perfect dumb guy.

    That's all.

  • DreadfulKata

    He made a minor slip, attributing one character another's name from a series that contains literally thousands of characters. In a context, incidentally, that was the author mentioning his affection for said character? That's a dumb stupid reason for dismissing reasoned and thoughtful argument.

    Some fanboys have such idiot logic, as if an ability to memorise and regurgitate details from books entitles you to be King Of Opinions.

    Here's a writer who demonstrates in this article that he has not only read the books but loved them and engaged with them intelligently and creatively. But your opinion trumps his because you would never mix up the names 'Drogon' and 'Dracarys'?

    Well done you. You can memorise stuff. I'm far more interested in hearing from the guy who has something interesting to say about the text.

  • TQWNS

    They mention the word "Dracarys" (which is not a name) all of about five times in the books, whereas they mention Drogon's name far more often.

    Not to mention that part of the reason Drogon's name is much more memorable — and important to remember — is because of his namesake and the symbolism that it might hold in regards to some prophecies.

  • AzorAhai

    "literally thousands of characters". Can you count to potato?

  • Ard Vijn

    ASCII characters perhaps?

  • Saya KoRn

    It's not even a character's name.....................................

  • Ana

    > Calling "Drogon" as "Dracarys"
    > Nothing to do here

  • Saya KoRn

    And in some comment he said "well, sorry, too many names.."

    IT'S NOT EVEN A FUCKING NAME, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF-

  • Jim

    Stop being stupid, the show is at its best when it sticks to the source, just look at the mess they made with winter fell. No one had a clue why it was burnt down all season.

  • ED!

    No way, the tv show is awesome but it only represents a fraction of what the books are all about. Reading the books is a much richer and different experience, that comparison doesn't make sense to me.

  • Stan

    "(be they Martin, Tolkien, Lindelof or Lucas)"

    An interesting article that will stir much debate,however to mention such a hack in the same breathe as Martin,Tolkien,and Lucas,that's just so wrong.

  • Snoop Lion

    I don't think any of those names are worthy to be uttered alongside Tolkien.

  • lil rudeman

    First, Tolkien is still the champion of creating a fantasy world as Middle Earth is so amazingly rich and full of great stories. But, it is pretty common to put LOTR (Hobbit, Silmarillion, etc.), Harry Potter, Star Wars and Star Trek in the same category as the best fantasy worlds (or universes) ever created. That would mean all of the creators in Tolkien, Rowling, Lucas and Roddenberry should all be mentioned together even if Tolkien is clearly better than them. Now, Martin and A Song of Ice and Fire are clearly the best candidate for that 5th spot and with the popularity of the show (and obviously the books) it seems as if it's almost there. Plus, Martin might be the first person ever to have created a world so rich and deep that it definitely has the right to be compared to Tolkien. Oh and while I actually like Lindelof (especially Lost) there is absolutely no way he should be mentioned with them...some people would say him and Lucas like to destroy things though (I don't entirely agree with that)

  • joelomite

    Half agree, half disagree.

    While Talisa is certainly an upgrade, many of the show's inventions are so awkward that they practically wink at the camera towards the book fans. Most notably: Rosalind (who was finally nixed via crossbow), Loras' obsession with French sleeves (uhhh, is France one of the Seven Kingdoms? Myrish lace anyone?), and also this complete and utter nonsense about Podrick Payne's sexual prowess. I get the feeling that Weiss & Benioff would be making a hackneyed fantasy soap opera were it not for the source material.

    That being said, I agree with many of the shortcuts and they are definitely going to finish the TV show before any of the books come around.

  • Game of Thrones is a fantastic adaptation, in that it really nails the soul of the book without getting caught up in a slavish recreation of the books. It has certainly made some improvements, and the producers understand there are things that work well in books, but not on tv. But I don't think that makes the TV show better, only different. As it should be.

    A lot of people hold up the Talisa/Jeyne thing as an improvement, and I can see that, but it neglects that while Jeyne is largely off-screen in the books, so is Robb - we mostly hear about him through other characters, particularly Catelyn. This is one of the best examples of Martin subverting traditional fantasy - the heroic young king leading his army to victory is an important figure, but not a main character. I always found the view of the war effort from Catelyn's POV much more interesting than anything Robb said or did.

    And there are characters like Barristan who are far more interesting in the books - the books establish a backstory & mythology for him, and Daenerys' discovery of his identity is a great moment. But TV doesn't hide identities well, and I'm not sure he comes across as much more than Jorah 2.

    Bran's dream-based storyline works more effectively in the books, and I'm also not a fan of TV-Melisandre; while she's a complicated character in the books, she's mostly a sexy accessory on TV. (I think one of the biggest flaws in s3 was having Stannis visit Davos in his cell, and not Melisandre herself - the moment when Davos realizes she's not just evil/manipulative was a key moment for me) And as much as I loved the Arya-Tywin scenes in s2, Arya's storyline in the book let her character be more proactive and thoughtful.

    There's obviously a lot of preference here - I like this and you like that - and I think it's part of what makes the tv show work. But until all is said and done, I don't think there's a clear "better".

  • Here's a fundamental question that's being danced around: Save for Matt's allusions to their various weaknesses, are there those willing to say that the TV show is good, and the books are kind of terrible? Or is this at heart for most book/TV watchers a Colbert-style great/greatest debate?

  • kokglock

    The show is amazing, but not as good as the books.

  • harumph

    Isn't the Bran "mind-walk" sequence from "Rains of Castamere" pretty much taken directly from the book? I remember it happening almost exactly the same in Storm of Swords, so I'm not sure how exactly the tv version accomplishes something that "the novel strives for and fails."

  • Joe Foolio

    I think really just boils down to readers vs watchers. Those that enjoy books are slightly disapointed by the lack of scope. Compared to those that aren't generally readers that only want the meat and potatoes of a story.

  • harumph

    I think there might be more of us who enjoy both the books and the show pretty much equally. But then, I'm reading the books in one giant chunk just to stay ahead of the show, so I don't have a 17 year history with the books. I can see how people who have a deep relationship with the books being irritated by dumb filler like the Podrick Sex God stuff, but I feel like it's easy to love both the novels and the show on separate terms. The show is growing into its own, and while I think not all of the changes have been for the better, at least most of them make sense. I just view it at a whole separate thing unto itself.

  • Prometheus

    This, I think, is the essential point missed in the article: that books and TV series function on entirely different parameters and to judge one by the yardstick of the other makes no sense.

    The show is better than the books at being a TV show. Thankfully. Otherwise it would be pretty bad indeed. But the books tell their story in an entirely different way that the series will never be able to. I for one appreciate having read the books first and then watch the series. This way I can "fill in the blanks", as it were.
    Other people have already pointed out many of the things the series does worse than the books: characterisation, the age problem, etc. The problem with Jeyne/Talisa eminently illustrates the difference. The principal task of a TV show is to engage its viewers (with emotion or excitement or something similar), while a book intrigues you (it must capture the imagination, fascinate you in a different way).

    I think everyone would have to concede that the series is a simplified version of Westerosian politics (how much is in the eye of the beholder). This is actually my major point of critique. The series tend to veer more towards a classical good/evil dichotomy than the books do. That is a shame. For me the strongest part about the books were their complete rejection of that awful fantasy trope of the oh-so-good guys fighting against the oh-so-evil guys. Even Joffrey, as psychotic as he is in the books as well, has a context for his insanity. Imagine being raised by Cersei with Robert as the closest thing to a father figure... In the series Joffrey becomes a carricature, which is good for the series because he really engages the viewer (we hate that little brat like nothing else), but we do lose some of the broader spectrum that the book has.
    The show is awesome and the books are awesome, because they both succeed at what they are trying to do. But if you force me to choose, I'll always go with the books.

  • Mars

    I totally disagree and by this last quote:

    "The TV show has the baton and isn't just running with it; it's soaring, like Dracarys, up into the clear blue sky."

    I can presume that you don't even read the books.

  • Metrogenic

    You...er...obviously didn't read the first paragraph, did you? Although it is absurd to compare the show to the books when you haven't read the books at all.

  • David Rose Curry

    i started to say the same thing..... careful with that Mars.... also. i think that it is at the point where you cannot compare the two and enjoy the show. season after season ive watched them change characters around, switch when things happened, and flat out got rid of characters too early. with that being said, some of the things added for dramatic effect actually... well works really well (sometimes) e.g. the red wedding. the drama of robs wife being there, which wasn't so in the books, also the killing of walders "latest wife" at the wedding made me feel just slightly better about what was happening. in the book it was his like.. slow nephew who they made a fool for entertainment. anyway once you look at it like youre watching lord of the rings but reading the hobbit, both will be entertaining. two separate entities.

  • Metrogenic

    Actually, I take that back. Wrong article. This guy has read the books.

  • Yes, I can assure you all, I have read the books. Hope that was clear - the alternative WOULD be absurd. :)

  • Abrantes

    In that case, it's probably best if you remember that the dragon's name is Drogon, not Dracarys.

  • My bad. Too many names.

  • AzorAhai

    So you prefer the tv series because you are easily confused by small words. Got it.

  • Lol. Have you READ my stuff? :)

  • AzorAhai

    Well you read the books (supposedly) and think that Theon's torture is an invented plotline, that Robb's wife is an invented character because they changed her name and that her pregnancy was also invented by the show. Among other things.
    So the question is whether you actually read the books or the plot summary in wikipedia.
    The series is superb of course. But books are usually better because of all the side stuff. The details you think are boring and confusing because Asha and Osha sound similar. The lore behind a fantasy universe is more than half the charm. Night's King, the entire back history of Patchface (stupidly cut from the show), Arthur Dayne, the Doom of Valyria.
    Claiming that Martin should hand over the last two books to D&D is like saying Peter Jackson could have written the lord of the rings because he did a good job making it a film. Inconceivably stupid.

  • Oh believe me, I miss Patchface too.

  • TQWNS

    Naw, but I'm sure the show version of your stuff is better.

  • It's a toss-up... the lead character's pretty ugly.

  • Alexander Kohlmann

    I don't agree at all.

    The show is doing a great job at visualizing a lot of the characters really good and the acting is amazing. Although, none of the characters are ugly. In the books, Arya, Brienne, and especially Tyrion are depicted as quite ugly. All of the actors play their role really well, no argument from me, but they are much to attractive to actually show the viewer how different they really are. I think the show. like many others and pretty much all Hollywood movies, tries to hard to uphold the generalized western ideal of beauty instead of using ugliness where it would be right. In Addition, the underlying intentions of the different characters and their houses is much more shallow than in the books. The extremists views of some of the characters that may be deemed heroes by viewers are snuffed out, because they might not fit with the expected political correctness.

    What you see as cutting a cleaner line I see as a necessity for a tv show. With the quite different setting between reading and watching television, one is forced to make adjustments to keep the scope small enough to fit in 10 episodes. On the one hand, the details left out allow the show to be enjoyed by a broad spectrum of viewers. On the other hand these details really make the books as brilliant as they are, because you really get a believable world.

    Talisa and Jeyne Westerling: Another point I thought a grief mistake on part of the show. The problems of the wedding of Talisa are pretty much one dimensional. While the consequences of Jeyne Westerlings weddings are much more complex.

    Those are just a few points that came to mind. Personally, I will be waiting for the last books before I watch the corresponding seasons, because I wont allow the show to spoil the ending for me or worse.

  • harumph

    I think what's missing more than the relative attractiveness, or lack thereof, of certain characters are the (admittedly necessary) age changes made to many of the characters for the show. Dany is 13 in the books, which I feel makes her character arc much more powerful and interesting than it is in the show. Same with Jon Snow. I think he's 13 or 14 in the books as well. Arya is 9. I think all these characters make more sense at their ages in the books, so the show is definitely handicapped a bit in this regard. The HBO Jon Snow irritates a lot of viewers, but his behavior is easier to swallow when you realize that he's supposed be 14 years old.

  • Sabina De Duonni

    Hey there,

    The "age issue" is a good point in discussing the book-to-screen adaptation. Would you be interested in elaborating on this subject via a post on moviepilot.com? Drop me a line at sabina@moviepilot.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

  • Funny, this is actually one of my big beefs with the show as well but I completely neglected to mention it in the piece. The age thing is a bit of a pain in the ass. I don't see any way around it in the format they've chosen, of course, but I do miss 14/15-year-old Daenerys.

  • kim jørgensen

    Actually, this was one of the worst aspects of the books for me... Totally unbelievable that any of the characters could act/react as depicted in the book - even taken into consideration the historic/fantasy aspects of the world. As far as I remember, Martin has somewhere stated that it was a mistake to age these certain characters so young.

    Side point: Interesting article, Matt, and sort of agree-able from a practical TV-producing point of view but for me it is really blasphemy to alter anything related to the story arch - it just takes so much away from the work and vision put into the massive, compelling world Martin created.

  • harumph

    "Totally unbelievable that any of the characters could act/react as depicted in the book..."

    That's a really sweeping statement, with no specifics to back it up. Assuming that you're just talking about Robb, Jon, Daenerys and Arya, are you really saying that each of those characters is totally unbelievable as written in the books because of their ages? And yet, on the other hand, you say that it's blasphemy to alter anything related to the story arc in the books? You have to be more specific about what exactly you're referring to if you actually want to have a discussion about this.

  • Having not read the book, you've touched upon something that I has always assumed - the show was weakest when it was clearly trying to adhere more strongly to the Ur-narrative, and by being given flexibility from another set of eyes it has proceeded in a far more effective way.

    Nice writeup, sir.

  • Jeremy Truax

    read the books, you'll stop watching the show.

  • Slapgravel

    I agree completely. The 1st book was a fantastic story and very well written. I cared about the characters and became completely immersed in the world. As the books went on, it seemed like Martin had no idea where he was going. Books 3-5 are very poor quality fantasy novels which do not do the 1st 1.5 books justice. I will not pick up book 6 as I now don't care even remotely about any of the characters of larger story. Even if the last 2 books are filled with epic scenes and wars involving dragons, I don't care enough about the outcome to enjoy them at all. Martin has only succeeded in making the plot defuse and mundane. On the screen (I'm yet to see S3) it is better by far as all the boring chum is ignored. Most adaptations book>screen there is too much so inevitably some good stuff is left out which has not been the case here.

    I have read literally hundreds of fantasy books and a song of ice and fire started in my top 3 and quickly became bottom of the list.

  • cantuse

    Ehmagerd. Anyone who says A Storm of Swords is a 'bottom of the list' fantasy novel is a troll of the most obtuse form. How you got even a single upvote is entirely beyond me.

  • I disagree quite strongly.

    Most book readers would argue that Game of Thrones lacks the scope of the source material and while I believe that’s true I think the show ultimately struggles because it doesn’t have focus. It has a vague thematic focus when it comes to telling stories about power and family but it has nothing like the grasp on character’s identities that the novels do. Honestly, these are two things that don’t really compare, but the major deaths in the books have so much more impact because you really get to know the characters as people. The same can be said for decisions they make, twists that occur or just really any of the plot that is strengthened by character development (which is all plot, well-realised characters make everything better). What you’d call narrative deadweight is what I’d call valuable time spent inside a character’s mind – it’s something that the TV show is incapable of doing and it makes the story disjointed and often messy.

    I won’t pretend that I don’t enjoy the TV series because I really do and there’s nothing like it on the small screen. It’s really just a glimpse into a much larger and more developed world, though, and I’ve seen many viewers express frustration at how things have been rushed through. The show skims over the rich history and significance of religion in Westeros/Essos in favour of what essentially becomes the most basic version of what is a fascinating story.

    Game of Thrones is a really ambitious TV show and it gives a great outline of the story that is told in A Song of Ice and Fire but it can sometimes feel like the show doesn’t understand what makes it all so interesting. The stronger character arcs in the books and the more assured world-building make it a considerably more rewarding experience. To really contextualise that I’m not predisposed to judge the show harshly, I’ll end by adding that I only started reading the books after Season 1 left me wanting more depth and colour from the storytelling.

  • Sabina De Duonni

    Hi Simon. Great comment. Would you be interested in posting this on moviepilot.com. Drop me a line at sabina@moviepilot.com. Looking forward to hearing from you

  • Bill Wall

    wrong

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