by Coop Cooper
Fans of the “Game of Thrones” books are in for quite a shock as Season 5 of the adapted show for HBO has begun to depart from the original source materials. Two episodes in and I have already noticed some big changes which will have long-lasting repercussions for the series and could ultimately change the course of the original storylines.
Author George R. R. Martin is famous for dragging out the paths of his main characters who seem to get further and further away from each other with no chance for reunion in sight and he shows no indications of tying up all of the many loose ends introduced in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels on which the TV series is based. The show puts out one season – based on one book – per year, while Martin takes three to five years to publish a new novel. It’s easy for one to see how this could cause problems now that the show is about to catch up with the last published book. Showrunner David Benioff has been anticipating this transition and has made some interesting changes.
For the uninitiated, “Game of Thrones” takes place in a completely fictional Medieval-like fantasy world in which dozens of feudal houses and their lords battle for control over the kingdom of Westeros after the assassination of the king leaves a power vacuum. The land was once populated with magical creatures such as giants, zombies and dragons, but men have made them all but extinct. The players vie for political positioning through arranged marriage, betrayal, ever-changing alliances, and cold blooded murder. As the nobel Starks, the duplicitous Lannisters, the stubborn Baratheons and the ancient Targaryens fight for power, a frightening hoard of monsters and wild men threaten to breech the great ice wall to the north and ravage the kingdom. “Game of Thrones” (the books/TV show) is also infamous for its graphic and shocking depiction of sex, violence and Machiavellian double crosses. To many, those are the reasons to watch, even if one is not into fantasy fiction. Think of it as an R-rated “Lord of the Rings” with less magic and more nudity and back-stabbing.
To adapt the books, Benioff and his staff doesn’t have it easy. Most books are over 1000 pages long and the multiple storylines have increased in number over the course of the series. It is his job to boil the material down to cover what is most relevant and focus on the most important storylines. Oddly enough, Benioff has edited the material down and made logical narrative changes to make the books more cinematic. Surprisingly, this has actually improved the flow of the story… an extremely difficult feat to pull off. Not only have they made the story more satisfying, but they completely nailed the most memorable (and shocking) scenes in the book such as “The Red Wedding” and “The Viper vs. The Mountain” sequences. Before this season, fans of the books had these moments to look forward to in the series, but the need to preserve expectations is about to run out and Benioff’s team can take more liberties with the material.
Of the changes/improvements so far: Brienne of Tarth’s storyline has become more important as the show has allowed to actually locate both of the Stark sisters, although convincing them to return with her has proven more difficult than she imagined. Jamie Lannister is going on a quest to retrieve his daughter from Dorne and has hired Bronn the sellsword to accompany him, which seems to be a totally new storyline. Tyrion Lannister’s quest to find Daenerys Targaryen is proceeding at a much quicker pace than in the books. Even the poster for Season 5 seems to suggest he will reach her by the season’s end, something he has yet to accomplish in the books. Arya Stark’s transformation from street urchin into magical ninja assassin is progressing much more quickly as well and Sansa Stark seems to be going through a radical character change from a weak, boy-crazy maiden into a shrewd observer and crafty manipulator. Fans are patiently awaiting the arrival of the fierce Sand Snake sisters of Dorne, although it has been announced that the Princess Arianne character will be omitted. It appears that Jon Snow and Danerys’s characters are the most on-track with the book, although changes/additions with the dragons and the white walkers may happen to improve those storylines. Theon ‘Reek’ Greyjoy has yet to return this season and he will, but the storyline involving his family’s power struggle will be omitted. Benioff and his team will not be exploring Bran Stark’s storyline with the magical creatures in this season at all, putting it off until Season 6.
With this much unpredictability, this is an exciting time for “Game of Thrones” fans. There are a few big shocks and twists still coming for the fans to look forward to (Cersei’s ‘walk of shame’ through the streets of King’s Landing should be especially satisfying), but after that, anything goes in next year’s Season 6. The show will follow an advanced outline that Martin provided for them, but that doesn’t guarantee that Benioff and his staff won’t completely change everything. However, with their track record of preserving and improving nearly everything in the books already, this prospect is encouraging. I have confidence that they can bring the series to satisfying conclusion, but given its popularity, I wouldn’t rule out the continuation of the TV show past Martin’s outline or even a prequel series that takes place right before the current series or even during the ancient “Age of Heroes” time period mentioned in the companion material for the books.