Throne For a Loop

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.)

"I think I just stabbed my foot..."

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.

I liked Tyrion before it was cool

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.

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10 Responses to Throne For a Loop

  1. You’re right, you really can’t go wrong with Sean Bean. I’ve heard of this series, but I wasn’t aware it was a book. I might have to tap into the read…

    • jasonwinter says:

      It’s currently five books. Five very thick books. If you like it, that’s no problem, just as long as you don’t expect a typical novel to limit itself to 400 pages or so.

  2. pandamanana says:

    I never read the books, but I watched Season 1 of the Game of Thrones and I was a little underwhelmed. Some of the characters were interesting, but I don’t like the way that the story was constructed. The author tries really hard to stray from the basic way to write a story…
    Step 1: Protagonist has a goal
    Step 2: Antagonist creates a barricade between the Protagonist and his goal
    Step 3: Protagonist overcomes obstacles and complete his goal

    In Game of Thrones the story goes more like…
    Step 1: Protagonist has a goal
    Step 2: Antagonist kills Protagonist
    Step 3: Antagonist completes his goal

    I don’t really enjoy this kind of story telling, because I spend half of the time HATING all of the characters and not being able to really attach to any of the protagonists because they die so quickly.

    The only character I really find redeeming in GoT is tyrion lannister, but even he is an antagonist… so it feels a bit strange.

    • jasonwinter says:

      That’s definitely a hallmark of the series. Basically, don’t get too attached to anyone.
      GRRM knows how it’s all going to end, and my thought is that everything else is, in a sense, filler. If he knows that characters, A, B, and C will live through the end and triumph (and reading about the various speculation is a lot of fun), then everyone from D to Z are expendable.
      In other words, nobody truly important will die 🙂

    • kim says:

      Tyrion isn’t an antagonist. He’s just tyrion. Likewise with Jaime. The thing about Martin? Everyone thinks they are the hero! Some sides are up, others are down — and then the die rolls again.
      “win or lose, the dice won’t speak till after they are thrown”

  3. Metallia says:

    It was good to read your perspective on this JW. As a new fan to George (why they insist on the two R’s ?) Martin’s book and almost done with the 2nd book , which is another page turner. After watching the HBO series, I agree it totally followed the book, which is good and bad, they did leave out the whole meaning to the dire wolves , which I hear they play a bigger part in the series later? But isnt that always what happens to great books, putting them in film takes away so much? Although I am a huge CS Lewis fan and thought Disney did a great job on that 🙂 HBO is doing a pretty good job with just a touch of flair , at least its not total sex scenes as in Spartacus ? ;0

    • jasonwinter says:

      Yeah, the wolves definitely play a bigger part later. especially with one of the characters. As for leaving stuff out, it’s a shame we don’t get to see more of Ned’s internal dialogue, especially while he’s in the dungeon. It lays the framework for probably the biggest revelation in the whole series (which is widely speculated but hasn’t yet been confirmed in print).
      And I never saw Spartacus. The only other HBO series I caught was Rome, again on DVD a couple years after it came out. Goodly number of sex scenes in that one 🙂

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