A friend from college who worked for a bookstore, and whom I’d also gamed with occasionally, once pulled me aside while I was browsing the shelves, pulled down a thick silvery paperback and thrust it into my hands. “This is really good,” he said. “You should read it.”
I think that was from when I was living in Virginia and took a trip back to Duluth, where we went to college, in late 1996. It wouldn’t be for a few more years — 2000 or 2001 — that I’d finally check out A Game of Thrones. I tore through it in a matter of days before moving on to its sequel, which then led to an agonizing year-plus wait for its sequel, and then multi-year waits for its next two installments. So, excited as I was when a TV series was announced, I was also patient. Instead of going through the hassle of ordering and then cancelling HBO for a few months just to watch it and little else, I decided to wait until the DVDs came out. Which they did earlier this month. I got them on Tuesday and today, Sunday, I finished the 10th episode.
And after such a long wait, I’m a little disappointed. (Season 1 spoilers ahead.)
It’s not for lack of quality from the show, the actors, the sets, or anything like that. Catelyn comes off a bit more shrill than I would have expected, Daenerys warms up to Khal Drogo more quickly than I recalled, and the dire wolves are practically non-characters, but it’s overall very well done. You can’t go wrong with Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage is marvelous, and, my previous objections aside, Emilia Clarke does a great job with Daenerys, whom I didn’t care for much in the first book. Maybe I like her so much because she seems stronger than I anticipated, which isn’t how I remember her early appearances, and that’s why I’m sort of ambivalent about the season as a whole: It’s too predictable.
I know, I’ve read the book (twice), so I should expect to be able to predict things. But far too often I found myself too easily predicting scenes, character appearances, even lines, and not just the “famous” ones, like “You win or you die” or “Winter is coming.” I was that annoying guy who’s seen Star Wars 37 times and quotes every major line when you’re just trying to watch the damn movie; I would have been absolutely dreadful to watch this with. Last year, when a friend who wasn’t familiar with the books said she’d been shocked at the end of the first episode, I knew what it was and correctly guessed the last line.
It gives me greater appreciation and understanding for what was done in The Lord of the Rings movies. I naturally knew the plots of those, as well, but the exact placement of words and scenes were, in many cases, not precisely as laid out in Tolkien’s works, which angered many fans. After watching the additional materials, I can understand by Peter Jackson and company made many of the changes they did. Some were simply the natural demands of film versus book. Some were because of language that, while valid in Tolkien’s time, would not have fit in a 21st-century movie. And some were… well, they just made more sense. A lot of people dislike the movies’ characterization of Faramir, but I agree with the sentiment expressed that he shouldn’t have simply said, “Oh, this incredibly powerful and tempting artifact you have that could save my people and has brought many others to ruin for their lust for it? Nah, I don’t want it. You keep it.” Changes from the source material like that kept me guessing, even just a little bit, at how things would turn out. Sure, the good guys would win in the end, and I knew generally how they would get there, but I didn’t know the exact path.
That’s not the case with the Game of Thrones series. Most everything is in the exact same order as written down by George R. R. Martin, making for an entertaining, though predictable affair, for me, at least. The only times I got really excited was when there was a scene between one or more non-viewpoint characters — that’s when I knew I’d be getting something completely new. The scenes between Littlefinger and Varys, or Robert and Cersei, or Renly and Loras, or even Rose and Theon/Littlefinger/Pycelle were among my favorites, and I strained my ears to listen to what was said. Even in those scenes, however, I was able to see a little behind the curtain, understanding how they were explaining things that had been otherwise described in the book or setting up events that were to come, such as Renly’s suggesting that he declare himself as king to Ned, not to mention what Theon will be up to in season two.
I imagine I’m in the minority, though. Judging by most comments I’ve seen from friends, they’re not as intimately familiar with the books as I am, and I’d wager that the majority of the audience isn’t either. And, as much as I’d like to believe that the show is designed for people like me, it’s probably not. My inherent memory of the books seems to lessen as they progress; when I re-read the then-four books a couple of years back, I was surprised at how much I’d forgotten, so maybe I’ll be “surprised” more over the next two seasons. For now, I’ll just bide my time and look forward to the spring 2013 DVD release of season two.
The things I do for love.