7 Reasons to Stop Comparing the Game of Thrones TV Series to the Books

There’s plenty of people frustrated with Game of Thrones. Over the last five seasons, significant details have changed in comparison to the original Song of Ice and Fire books. Entire plotlines have been dropped, while new ones have developed. Many characters have had their roles vastly diminished, or they’ve been axed altogether. People aren’t where they’re geographically supposed to be.

There’s really only one thing to do.

Get over it.

Think about this: have you ever seen a movie or TV show that’s better than the book on which it’s based? Most likely no. If you’re a purist, insisting on a completely faithful reproduction, you will never be satisfied with an adaptation because the nature of books and TV shows demands change to occur.  So here are 7 reasons to stop comparing the two.

1. TV Shows are not Books

TV shows and books are very different media. Why expect them to function identically? The responsibilities of authors and script writers are very different. First, authors have very few size constraints. As such, they can delve into the minute details of a nearly infinite number of scenes: far too many to be reproduced in a show. So the script writers have to pick and choose, and they often do it on a subplot level.

Second, there is the question of structure. While an author can run many different subplots, there will also be an overall structure which builds into a climax and then has some conclusion at the end of the book.

Script writers, however, need to mold the plot into ten, one-hour episodes. Each episode needs to be a story in its own right with its own plot structure: it needs a beginning, a middle and an end. If they simply created a ten hour movie and chopped it into one hour pieces, the result would be disjointed, poorly timed and terrifically awful.

2. A Need to Show, Not Tell

Author George R. R. Martin writes his books from the perspectives of multiple important characters. This allows readers to really get in their heads and understand their motivations. Short of voiceover narration (which is universally terrible), there’s no way of reproducing that in the show. Instead, you have to show the character’s viewpoint through words and deeds.

3. A Need to Connect the Dots

The differences between show and books are not just about missing plots and characters. There’s also a wide variety of characters doing things they didn’t do in the books. What’s up with that?

Game of Thrones is a collection of highly interwoven subplots. Take out one plot, and two other plots might need to be modified in order to keep them connected. Small changes can ripple into big changes; the show and the books have been diverging more and more every season, and you can expect that to continue.

This process is often far from obvious for viewers, because viewers don’t know the end game. The writers do. They know where characters need to be and what they need to be doing by book seven: Martin has told them. Their job is to find the best way of getting them there within the confines of their media.

4. Something Can Always Be Better

I get it: Song of Ice and Fire is awesome. But Martin is not infallible, and the series is 20 years old.

It’s completely natural for script writers to make what they consider to be improvements. They wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t. There are concepts more relevant to us today than they were back then, and vice versa. Martin may have used characterization and plot elements now considered overused.  These are things script writers keep in mind.

5. Characters Need to Be Kept Current

Another major challenge facing Game of Thrones writers is keeping characters in the minds of viewers. You don’t want viewers constantly asking “Who is this guy? Are we supposed to know him?” Nor do you want them asking, “Just what was he doing last we saw him?”

The solution is to cut down the number of characters, and then, when necessary, fill their roles with existing ones. Thus, instead of Ramsay Bolton marrying a girl posing as Arya Stark, as happens in the book, he instead marries Sansa Stark, who wouldn’t have been doing much at the time anyway. It removes a minor character while keeping a major one relevant.

6. George R.R. Martin Is Fine With It

This is what Martin has to say about the situation: “The show is the show, the books are the books – two different tellings of the same story.”

The two versions share a great many characters and events, and they are both moving toward the same ending, but they will develop differently, and those differences will be numerous and complex. Despite their similarities, they are distinct entities.

7. Season Six Doesn’t Give You a Choice

Nothing can underscore this separation between show and book as much as the looming season six, which will be written before book six is ready for publication. Sizable discrepancies are pretty much guaranteed. However, there’s no reason to think the new season will be any less well written just because there’s no source book, because slavishly following the books has never been the goal.

If you just have to have the series mimic the books, honestly, I don’t know why you’ve watched as long as you have. The accuracy is not improving, and it will assuredly only get worse. However, there’s nothing wrong with liking both the show and the books, enjoying each for what they are.


1 Comment

  1. It’s like purists who were screaming about how horrible the Lord of the RIngs and the Hobbit movies were for not being “exactly like the books.” I remember when people were howling when the elf that brought Frodo and company to Rivendell in the first movie wasn’t Glorfindel but Arwen. As you pointed out above, we were going to see a *lot* of Arwen — in an abridged movie, why have another character that’s going to be on screen for a few minutes when we can just bring in a more important character?

    I liked the books for the books and the movies for the movies, and I realize that the second was *based* on the first. There was no way to have a pure “Lord of the Rings” nor is there any way to have a pure “Game of Thrones.” Your question is perfect: why are people still watching if they can’t stand it?


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