Of all the great television series I watch, Game of Thrones is the easiest to look forward to. The sets, costumes, performances, and the scope of the story are like nothing I’ve ever seen on television, and this is to the credit of both George R. R. Martin for writing such and amazing series, and to the producers who execute the show to HBO standards (the highest standards on television).
The first three seasons have basically been jaw-dropping, and 90% of the content has been pulled from the source materials, the first book of which was released in 1996. But as the seasons fly by, the show has been creating more and more material not found in the original novels, presumably in accordance with Martin’s wishes, as he is an executive producer.
Season four, however, seems full of new material. The need for this is obvious; the show is on track to overtake Martin’s novels before A Song of Ice and Fire is finished. Without new material the show would overtake the novels, throwing both into the air. Basically no matter what they do, I’ll continue to watch because Game of Thrones is an event; it’s a world so rich and immersive it’s like a vacation once a week.
But a trend this year has somewhat dulled my anticipation. Some of the new storylines seem hesitant, afraid to commit to any bold new directions that stray from the source material. The audience has already accepted that the show is different from the books, but it seems the producers don’t want to alienate fans of the books by making it too different. The following contains SPOILERS.
Last season the show elaborated the torture of Theon Greyjoy by the bastard Ramsay Snow. This wasn’t in the books explicitly, and it’s only in the fifth novel A Dance With Dragons that we learn what happened to Theon. Since Ramsay is a compelling character and torture is cinematic and edgy, it made sense to continue this story in the show’s third season.
In the most recent episode, Theon’s sister (Yara in the show, Asha in the books) storms Ramsay’s keep with a group of men. But when she meets with Theon, he’s apparently been broken for good. He fights against her, obviously so programmed to fear Ramsay that the thought of leaving is too much.
Somehow, a savage battle inside a small kennel leaves both Yara and Ramsay alive, and Yara flees without Theon. Her real brother is dead, she decides. She had never treated him like a brother before, but decided, maybe for familial honour, to travel dangerous seas to get him back and when she is faced with difficulty, she gives up, returning us safely to the canon of the books (in which no storyline like this takes place). It’s a lot of work on her part to just give up and move on.
The mutineer crows north of the Wall are an ad hoc story creation and their brutal treatment of Craster’s daughters agitated many viewers. Jon decides to take a party to the keep and dispatch with them so Mance Rayder can’t learn the truth about how few crows occupy Castle Black.
This departure from the books was again a welcome storyline, one that could be told to completion without disturbing the events of the books. But when Bran and company are captured by the mutineers, I couldn’t quite get on board. Considering how callously the mutineers treated their former leader and current captives, the fact that they left Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor virtually untouched seemed an unlikely allowance to keep the audience from outrage.
Of course nothing will happen to these characters; we know from the novels they get much further north than Craster’s Keep. But because there seemed like a chance that Bran might be reunited with Jon, even for a moment, it was compelling. And once again, at the moment when these two brothers could have met, Bran decides it isn’t worth it; the chance Jon will refuse to let him go north is too much to risk, so Bran leaves to find the three-eyed raven and the mystical tree, bringing us back to the books once more.
Ramsay’s spy Locke was so perfectly cast and well written that I wasn’t sure where his true motivations were. His appearance at Castle Black was noted by Jon, and his fighting skills demonstrated he could be of value on the mutineer mission. And just as we learn something about him (by his attempted kidnapping of Bran), Bran warg-brain’s Hodor into pulling Locke’s head off. Once again, a curious addition to the novels’ storyline is quickly attenuated, bringing us back to safe ground.
I haven’t felt like much of a snob with regards to the liberties the show has taken. In fact, I could do with more. The additional focus on Margaery Tyrell, the change of Robb’s wife, the amplification of homosexual content, and Theon’s torture all felt like interesting cinematic angles to take from the books, and if not warranted, at least not too gratuitous. But this season has taken many strong departures only to collapse them, returning us abruptly back to the books. (That White Walker scene was great though, wasn’t it?)
Game of Thrones might be the first series of it’s kind; I’ve never heard of a television adaptation of a work in progress. It’s interesting to watch it unfold, but part of me wishes that the show was bold enough to truly depart, to be it’s own creation. Martin works on the show and should be able to keep the major points aligned with his vision. But with so many pieces in play, significant changes might be impossible.
The somewhat tepid departures from the books and their quick, convenient resolutions in season four have left me feeling that I’ve been watching a diluted product. And while Game of Thrones remains one of the best shows on television, my anticipation leading up to Sunday nights has recently been lukewarm.
Fortunately, the trial of Tyrion has ignited the fuse on more than one of ASoIaF’s great showdowns, and the final few episodes of the season should prove to be satisfying and adequately gut wrenching. They might not be Red-Wedding-level gut wrenching, but who would want to go through that emotional garburator more than once?