Game of Thrones is one of the most talked-about TV shows of the last 10 years. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ve probably been living under a rock. But I will give you a short introduction before you have to leave so not to be spoiled. The first season premiered in 2011 and since then it has broken records in Emmy nominations and illegal downloads worldwide. It is an adaptation of the yet to be completed A Song of Ice and Fire book series by the American fantasy author George R.R. Martin. However, the latest season has outpaced the currently five published novels.
Both the novels and the TV show take place in the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos. Westeros was once divided into seven kingdoms, which are now nine regions, each one of them having a lord protector, member of a great House, who serves the king sitting on the Iron Throne. At the beginning of the books and the show, that king is Robert Baratheon, who won a rebellion against the Targaryens years prior the events taking place. The Targaryens are the family that had managed to unite the seven kingdoms hundreds of years before, mainly because they had… dragons!
After Robert’s Rebellion, the only two surviving Targaryens moved to Essos, remaining there in exile. One of the main strands of the story focuses on the siblings Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen, whose aim is to return home and take back their father’s throne. Meanwhile in Westeros, the great Houses are playing dangerous power games that leave various traces of turmoil. Throughout the first season and book, we become acquainted with Houses Stark, Baratheon, Lannister and Greyjoy. But the number of Houses and characters keep on growing as the story progresses.
Another strand of the plot focuses on the Wall. This is an imposing structure made of ice which separates the seven kingdoms of Westeros from the lands where the wildlings or Free Folk live. The Wall is guarded by the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch, which Jon Snow joins early on. It is from beyond the Wall that lurks the most dangerous enemy: the Others, known as the White Walkers in the TV series.
This is a really intricate story, full of well-crafted and complex characters, important little details and political intrigue, which is based on medieval European history and is mixed with fantasy elements. In the TV show the story is transformed into a visual feast that in some instances leaves you in complete awe of not only the visual effects, but also the skilled performances of the actors.
Before I explain why Game of Thrones is one of my favourite book-to-TV adaptations, I need to mention what I look for in an adaptation. It doesn’t have to follow all plot strands, and the story doesn’t have to be told in the exactly same way as in the books. For me different media require different forms of storytelling. What works on page may not work on screen and vice-versa. The feeling I get from both the book and the TV series must, however, be the same. Game of Thrones meets this requirement in my opinion. Some major changes were made throughout the latest seasons, but I don’t think they have changed the emotions that the story being adapted has to convey.
If you haven’t watched the first six seasons of the TV show, haven’t read the books (you should do both as soon as possible) and don’t want to know what happens in the story, this is a good time to stop reading. Spoilers ahead!
Some of the best television moments
One of the things that I appreciate the most about Game of Thrones as an adaptation is how it has translated to the screen some of the most iconic moments of the book series. After seeing the Red Wedding on TV and the Starks being brutally and dishonourably murdered, I don’t think I’ll ever be at ease during a wedding again. I really needed time to mourn for those characters. Not all deaths during weddings were that sad, though. I loudly cheered while Joffrey choked during his wedding feast. It really felt good! Does that make me a bad person? It is also impossible to forget the moment when Oberyn Martell dies at the hands of the Mountain. Lesson: never wait to kill your opponent because you want a confession! And obviously there is also Ned Stark’s death, who was supposed to be the main character but didn’t survive the first season.
I watched all of these moments on TV first and only experienced them on page afterwards. Before watching the TV show, I had never heard of the books. It was just after binge-watching the first two seasons, during less than two weeks, and watching the third season as it was being broadcast, that I started considering reading the books, because spoilers were almost everywhere. I started reading them at the beginning of 2014 and managed to read the first two (A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings) before the start of season four. After a pause not to get the books and the TV show mixed up, I resumed reading the book series. So, it was only during the fifth season that I knew which main events were about to happen.
The story in the books is told from different points of view in the third person. So, in order to fully understand the events taking place, the reader sometimes has to piece together the points of view of the different characters through which the story is being told. This experience is in a way replicated by the TV series when the viewers are led to believe that certain events happened in a certain way or were the responsibility of someone, but some episodes or seasons after those assumptions are revealed to be wrong. This is the case, for example, with the murder of Jon Arryn. At the beginning, the viewers are led to believe that the Lannisters were responsible for it. However, sometime later it is revealed that he was poisoned by his wife Lysa Tully at Littlefinger’s request.
Some changes are worthwhile
The TV show doesn’t strictly follow every single plot point from the books and, mainly since the third season, there are many major changes between the two. Some of those changes actually improved the show in my opinion. Jon Snow going to Hardhome to save the wildlings and the battle between them and the “army of the dead” was a fantastic moment of television. I don’t think I even blinked until the moment that Jon Snow’s sword isn’t destroyed by the White Walker he is fighting and he, thus, manages to destroy him. This doesn’t happen in the books, though. Moreover, the speech he makes to convince the wildlings to go with him to the other side of the Wall is just incredibly well written and delivered.
Other change I enjoyed was the one related to Robb Stark’s wife. In the books he marries a character named Jeyne Westerling, who is extremely uninteresting and a pawn in her family’s hands, to protect her honour after sleeping with her. On the other hand, in the TV show he falls in love with Talisa Maegyr, a noblewoman from Volantis who is working as a healer on the battlefields during the War of the Five Kings. She doesn’t hide her opinions and shows some independence, which makes her an attention-grabbing character in comparison.
There is a change I was a bit unsure about at first but that ended up making the story move forward: Sansa going back to Winterfell and marrying Ramsay Snow/ Bolton. Although that somewhat changed Sansa’s character in relation to the books, it had more impact on screen to have all those cruel things happening to her than to a girl that had hardly appeared on the show and that would have been used as a stand-in for Arya Stark. It’s much more complicated to deliver well a fake character plot on a TV show than in a book. It is also nice that a sort of “pink letter” ends up making an appearance, nevertheless.
Not all of the changes worked so well, unfortunately. The Dornish part of the plot didn’t even get close to the high standards I have for Game of Thrones. The story was too oversimplified and every time the Sand Snakes were involved in a scene the acting was not that good (exception made for the scene with Olenna Tyrell, in season six, due to Diana Rigg being a genius). Maybe now that they have joined Daenerys, their importance for the story will be more noticeable.
The TV series is, since the beginning of the latest season, ahead of the books and, because of that, it had surprises, confirmations and revelations for everyone. The last two episodes will be remembered for years to come as some of the greatest moments on television. The wildfire spreading to the Sept of Baelor, which disappears with a green blast, the electric Battle of the Bastards, Jon Snow being hailed as King in the North and the revelation/ confirmation of his parentage are unforgettable moments.
The clues left throughout the six seasons of the show regarding Jon Snow’s real parents perfectly recreate what is done in the books. Since book one there are hints that lead attentive readers to believe that Jon Snow is not Ned Stark’s bastard, as it is stated, but that he is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. The repetition of “Promise me, Ned”, the King’s Guard presence at the Tower of Joy, Lyanna being given the Queen of Love and Beauty laurel made of blue winter roses, a rose growing from a chink of ice and other instances, all seem to allude to the theory known as R+L=J.
During the last episode of season six, the show confirmed the theory true after having also left clues throughout previous episodes. There are a number of videos on YouTube which compile the scenes that prepared the audience for the revelation. The scene when the face of the baby fades to Jon Snow gives me goose bumps every time I re-watch it. Although it was uploaded before season six, this is my favourite video focusing on the clues:
There are still two more seasons of Game of Thrones (albeit shorter than the previous ones) before the end of the show, and George R.R. Martin still has two more books to finish for the story to come to an end. Despite the TV series quite certainly ending up revealing the ending before the books are released, I will still read them, as some of the strands of the story were omitted from the show. I want to know all the details and enjoy the writing style. This is more than a story, it is an entire world. There are so many important things going on and so many relevant characters that this blog post is nothing more than a little crumb.