I was talking to my mentor at my new job today about this review, and I’m going to keep this one short and sweet because otherwise, I’ll probably get into a negative rant. In keeping with Natasha’s post this week about the separation of narrative from book to screen, I’m going to take a look at the Song of Ice and Fire series which launched the hit TV series Game of Thrones.
If I’m being honest with you, I watched the TV show before I read the book. It was one of the first times I have read something because I’d watched the show. However, the show does a few things that I like about fiction really well. It has a whole bunch of subversive political layers, both between characters and between factions, and it really makes you think about what you’re watching to get the most out of it. The show also gives itself time to develop; each of the characters gets a decent enough chunk of screen time to move their narrative, and they slowly move in and out of each other’s paths.
Of course, there are misgivings for the HBO giant. One of them, of course, is the high amount of lewdness. I think with this series, though, lewdness is a necessity – it helps round out the depravity of situation and, for the most part, adds meaningful dialogue into the series. The show also copped a lot of flak for rewriting the script in recent seasons, drawing storylines into one overall arc that looks to be completed within the next two seasons or so. Like Natasha said too, they cut a lot of character creation, making a few of them very one-dimensional. However, I think the writers of the show kept most of the main characters as layered and able to hit more than one note (except for maybe Jon Snow).
However, I don’t think the books did a lot to really build the characters either. I can hear you crying out at your screens already; “Alec, no! The books are a modern fantasy epic made to rival Lord of the Rings!” And I can agree with you on that. The books are a modern fantasy epic, but that doesn’t make them good. What George R. R. Martin does is write for the world, not for the characters. I, personally, find this super interesting because it isn’t what a lot of writers do nowadays. However, I also found that it doesn’t work. While we get to read of all these far-off places and absorb this massive world spanning over two continents and a series of small islands, the characters exploring this place fall almost completely flat and the storyline becomes so drawn out you could cut it with a mace. (For those of you who don’t know, maces are not used for cutting).
What Martin ends up doing by introducing all of these locations through new characters is just split the story, and it ends up losing its pace. By the final books in the series there are too many characters to keep up with, resulting in books being split into two parts that follow the same timeline, and characters drift so far away from each other that it feels more like sets of different stories as opposed to one overarching narrative. As a result, the books turn into a sprinkling of scenes from the perspectives of different characters, and the fact that their chapters are spread so thinly it feels like you have to go and re-read their last chapter to understand anything in their next one.
A Song of Ice and Fire has all the makings of epic fantasy; a good lineup of characters, a rich world and a layered story trying to meet an end goal, but the presentation really lets it down. In contrast to this, HBO’s Game of Thrones presents the same story in a much more digestible way, where those character scenes take up about 5 minutes of screen time and are much easier to remember. They both definitely have their merits, but if you’re looking to get into the world that George R. R. Martin has created, the TV show is honestly the better way.