Fair warning. Spoilers for HBO’s Game of Thrones Season 1 and 2, George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords abound!
Further note: I have read all 5 existing volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, but I have not yet seen Season 3 of Game of Thrones.
When I watched Season 1 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I thought it was pretty good. It was necessarily somewhat abridged, but for the most part, the casting was spot-on (even improving my image of the characters in some cases), the acting excellent, and the writing translated well to the screen. For the most part, events and characterization was consistent with the source material, and I even saw the occasional improvement from the brevity–characters being condensed in ways that made more sense as a story, things like that.
I only recently finished watching Season 2. Hoo boy. Where do I start?
Let’s begin at the high level. How is it that in 10 episodes they managed to either reverse or otherwise corrupt nearly every character’s motivations? When they weren’t flip-flopping characters on their heads, they seemed to take every opportunity to revise a situation to give the character an easy way out.
Now for some examples. I’ll take the characters one by one for crystal-clear illustration.
TV: Catelyn’s story is accelerated somewhat in Season 2, as with a number of other events. Somewhere in the middle of the TV season, she’s forced to set Jaime Lannister (the Kingslayer) free from his imprisonment in the northmen’s camp because Lord Karstark’s son (I think…?) was killed during Jaime’s escape attempt so now they’re gonna cut his ‘ead off, and he’s her last hope of getting Sansa (and Arya, she thinks) back from King’s Landing. This paves the way for Robb getting super-pissed at mommy, and begins turning the northmen away from Robb’s cause.
SOURCE MATERIAL: Okay, fine. Those are roughly the events from the books. Here’s the problem: for this scene, Catelyn’s motivation was supposed to be the fact that they had just gotten a raven from Winterfell, informing them that Bran and Rickon had been killed (even though they hadn’t). Her desperation had nothing to do with a “countdown”–it had to do with the fact that she’d just lost her two youngest children, as far as she knew. However, this only serves as a primer for the NEXT (and much larger) problem…
TV: In Season 2, Robb I Stark the Adorable, first of his name and King in the North, stumbles into a cliched meet-cute with a sexy exotic doctor from beyond the Narrow Sea. She gives him lip, he falls head-over-heels in love, she gives him more than lip, and then he chooses to forsake his vow to marry the Frey girl (you know, the honor-pledge he made to get his people across the river) for teenage moon-eyed puppy love while his mother desperately pleads for sense. When she brings up good points, he snarks at her about making good decisions, revealing him to have neither sense, honor, nor any apparent Stark blood whatsoever. I was forced to wonder whether Ned Stark was truly Robb’s father at all. Maybe in the TV show Robb’s as much a bastard as Jon Snow (or even more, if you subscribe to certain conspiracy theories!)
SOURCE MATERIAL: Okay, this is a little complicated, but here goes. In the books, Robb is almost entirely off-screen, but his events are still important. During a battle to take a place called the Crag, Robb is (mildly) wounded. After his men have taken the castle, he receives the raven from Winterfell informing him that his younger brothers are dead. A young lady named Jeyne Westerling “comforts” Robb in his physical and spiritual pain. The next morning, Robb immediately marries Jeyne out of a sense of honor, proving himself to be a fool for honor, and this is important,exactly like his father.
When he returns to Riverrun (where his mother has just freed the Kingslayer and sent Jaime and Brienne on their way), Robb neatly traps her by forgiving her for setting Jaime Lannister free and then revealing his sudden marriage mere moments later.
“If I could wish the Kingslayer back in chains I would. You freed him without my knowledge or consent . . . but what you did, I know you did for love. For Arya and Sansa, and out of grief for Bran and Rickon. Love’s not always wise, I’ve learned. It can lead us to great folly, but we follow our hearts . . . wherever they take us. Don’t we, Mother?” (Robb Stark, A Storm of Swords, Chapter 14: Catelyn)
SANSA STARK, CERSEI LANNISTER, TYRION LANNISTER… okay, the whole KING’S LANDING gang
Actually, they did mostly okay with this. There were some abridgments, but Peter Dinklage steals every goddamn scene he graces, Lena Headey is more than sufficient as nasty Cersei, Jack Gleeson is very convincing as Joffrey, and the Battle of the Blackwater was pretty much exactly what happened, minus the whole “ghost of Renly” thing.
Honestly, the corruption of Robb’s storyline is probably the thing that bothered me the most. However…
What. Just… what the hell were they doing with this whole thing? It’s true that Dany doesn’t get a lot of screen time in book 2, and I know that some of her things would have been prohibitively expensive/impossible to show (say, the visions in the warlock’s tower foreshadowing the events of Season 3, Episode 9–which I haven’t watched but know about–or the vision of Rhaegar, which would have required casting Rhaegar, which… anyway, I have a headache just thinking about it) but I admit it was nice to see Jason Momoa make one last appearance as Khal Drogo, because he’s awesome.
Farther on she came upon a feast of corpses. Savagely slaughtered, the feasters lay strewn across overturned chairs and hacked trestle tables, asprawl in pools of congealing blood. Some had lost limbs, even heads. Severed hands clutched bloody cups, wooden spoons, roast fowl, heels of bread. In a throne above them sat a dead man with the head of a wolf. He wore an iron crown and held a leg of lamb in one hand as a king might hold a scepter, and his eyes followed Dany with mute appeal. (George R. R. Martin, A Clash of Kings, Daenerys IV)
The last one, and this one bothers me more and more as I think about it…
It’s really that last scene that gets me. He voices doubts to Melisandre, and in this weird melodramatic soap-opera-ish scene she promises him that he will be king, for she has seen it in the flames. He accuses her of failing at Blackwater, blah, blah…
Except these doubts are supposed to exist in Davos Seaworth‘s head, and occasionally out loud. Stannis doesn’t doubt Melisandre, any more than he would have ever let her get away with saying that he “will” be king. Stannis is, like, the definition of Lawful Neutral (Stupid). He won’t be king. He is the goddamn king, even if it’s only in his head. In the books, he knows they failed at Blackwater because Davos talked him out of allowing Melisandre to join them for the assault (whether or not it would have made any difference, who knows, but that’s beside the point).
Stannis has no doubt about his claim. His sole source of humanity is what he voices to Davos about his encounter with Renly (from which the peach was also cut, sigh, mutter). The whole point of Stannis is that he isn’t even sure that he believes in Melisandre, but he believes in her power, which was PROVEN (in his mind) at Blackwater, not undermined.
And one more for the road…
TV: I actually don’t mind the condensation of Arya’s story, giving her to Tywin Lannister to serve as cupbearer instead of Roose Bolton. Condensing all of that into the scenes we had was fine, plus it put Charles Dance on the screen for more time, and that alone was worth it.
Ja’qen was done well (that actor is now officially my picture for Ja’qen) and his reveal at the end was also quite excellent. My biggest problem with what they did to Arya was the “escape”.
In the show, Arya gets annoyed with Ja’qen and petulantly names him as her third kill. He begs her to reverse it, she agrees, but only if Ja’qen helps them escape. Ja’qen kills all the guards and pins them to the gates to make it look like they’re still keeping watch.
SOURCE MATERIAL: After suffering for months under Gregor Clegane’s rule over Harrenhal, a band of northmen are captured and placed in the dungeon. After careful thought, Arya names Ja’qen H’ghar as her third kill. He begs her to reverse it; she agrees, but only if he helps them to free the northmen from the dungeon–in the end, giving Harrenhal over to Roose Bolton, whom she serves as cupbearer. Ja’qen gives her the coin (valar morghulis) and vanishes forever.
Much, much later, Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie make their escape. Arya uses the coin to distract the guard at the gate and then she kills him herself.
That’s twice now that they’ve let Arya off without having to make the hard choice of taking a life–in Season 1, she never had to kill the stableboy who was going to turn her in, and now she didn’t have to kill the guard either. I get that Maisie Williams is young, and a girl… is that why she can’t kill people on screen? How is she ever going to (WARNING WARNING SPOILERS SPOILERS) become an assassin?
Oh, and one more thing. In TV-Westeros, does Jon Snow even know what the Halfhand’s plan was? Qhorin made it pretty clear in the book, but I’m not certain at all that our much denser (as if it were possible) Jon Snow had any clue what Qhorin was talking about when he dropped those hints.
I guess Ygritte (who is pitch-perfect in the show, btw) is right after all. He really does know nothing.
Okay, I don’t really think this made me feel any better. Still, it’s good to get it written down and out of my head.
I’ll just go back to enjoying the books.
Whether or not I’ll watch Season 3… I really don’t know.