WARNING: There may be spoilers in this post. I’ll try and keep it to a minimum, but if you’re worried about finding out who dies before you’ve seen it happen then go read one of my other posts instead 😉
So, first off I’m going to get in before fans of the series start shouting “But the books aren’t even called Game of Thrones, they are collectively called ‘A Song of Ice and Fire'”. Yea, I bloody know, but most people know it as Game of Thrones because they haven’t read the books, and frankly, good on them. Because the books kinda suck.
George RR Martin is an OK author. I’m not saying that as an author myself (because from that point of view he’s kicking my ass from a great height), but I’m saying it as a reader. When I found out that Game of Thrones was coming to TV, a few of my friends who had read the books started screaming “They will ruin it in the TV show!” and since I love a good argument, I decided to get in on the ground level and start reading the books so that I could be irritated right along with them.
Let me say right now that I went into the book series expecting something decent. Not excellent, because going in with high expectations is a dangerous business for my emotions, but keeping them somewhere in the middle, giving me the best chance at potential enjoyment.
What I got was this: A fairly good story with a well rounded bunch of characters… buried underneath a steaming mound of useless description, pointless references and backstory, and an indecisive writer who forgets about characters for a while so decides to kill them off.
Martin does something that, as a reader, I absolutely hate. He waffles. Now, if you read a lot of fantasy, you might argue that this is something that happens quite a bit in this genre anyway. But come on. Just because Bob next door likes to shag pigs, doesn’t mean you should copy him. Sicko.
Here’s a not-very-verbatim excerpt of something I remember from the books (these aren’t actually characters, I just made them up):
… here was Ser Olodas, his green standard shining clear and bright at the fore of the group. A red ox on a field of green. Behind him rode Ser Bentos, a hedge knight from the southern Perdu region. He had made his name during the siege of Perdu, although he held no lands. The Bentos standard flew lower than most by design, and depicted a purple tower on a field of brown, a historic nod to his knightly heritage.
Behind him, the steward of…
So, here’s the kicker. Does Ser Olodas show up in the book… ever again? Does Ser Bentos make a heroic appearance to save some maiden in distress? No, they bloody don’t. None of them do. There are pages and pages of this, and after you cotton on to what’s happening, the next time you sense it coming you feel like skipping to the next chapter so you don’t waste your time. Why the hell do I need to know what the coat of arms and the standard of some pointless character is? Why do I need the backstory of a knight who is never going to show up again?
And that’s the problem. These books could have been much, much smaller. Getting to the point and keeping the story rolling along nicely, but instead they are jam-packed with pointless waffle. It’s annoying, it’s unnecessary, and it makes the books look larger and arbitrarily more epic from the size and length, when actually you’re really looking at a trumped up medieval Eastenders with swords and dragons. Although I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but Eastenders doesn’t give a bunch of backstory to a character and then never feature them again. I’m pretty sure, I don’t watch Eastenders…
The show, by contrast, does an excellent job of cutting through the crap left behind by the books, and tidies up a lot of loose ends. In a lot of instances this involves not even bothering to introduce some characters at all (Strong Belwas, Vargo Hoat, Penny, Edric Storm and even Coldhands to name but a few) which seems strange, but it does a great job of preventing the show from becoming confusing and getting bogged down, especially since each season only runs as 10 episodes, you really need to condense the content. I’m sure they used this reasoning when explaining the situation to Martin, and then clapped their hands in joy when he agreed, because they could fix his mistakes.
So here’s the other thing. Killing characters. This can be great, and authors use this all the time as a way to introduce shock value, to shake up the world or maybe for a bunch of other reasons. I have no issue with the books killing off characters. It’s brilliant, exciting, unexpected and keep the reader guessing.
What I absolutely hate is the blithe way this is handled on a few occasions in the book. Balon Greyjoy, a crucially important character at the early stages of the story, is killed off by falling off a bridge in a storm. Now, if that wasn’t mundane enough, the scene isn’t even written in the books, you only find out when character A) tells character B) “Oh, did you hear that tosser Balon Greyjoy fell off a bridge in a storm and died?”… And that’s it! That’s all you get.
WT actual F?
The Hound, another critically important character for a huge portion of the book series, might be dead. For a long time you are never really sure, because someone is riding around the Riverlands wearing the hound helmet. So that should be him, right? Naw, it’s some other dude that found his helmet. The Hound died, somewhere. Not sure where. He’s dead though, it just wasn’t written.
So yet again the writers for the TV show step in. Not really sure what to do about the whole Balon Greyjoy thing, they at least insert a scene in the show that shows him being knocked off the bridge. But the Hound, well he ended up in an epic battle with Brienne, and was then callously left to bleed to death by Arya. This, in a word, was epic, and not just because it was different to the way the books did it. It was better.
Next. Confused characterisation. This happens a few times in the books, but the most obvious is Jon Snow. For the entire time he is at the Wall, before and after he comes Lord Commander, Jon is adamant in his vows to the Nights Watch. Yea, OK, he got himself some tail while he was infiltrating the Wildlings, but he was Jon Bond at that point, so it’s OK. The point is that he has vowed on many occasions to stay firmly out of the affairs of kings and men. Cementing that he wants only to help protect the Wall.
Then, for no reason whatsoever, he decides to take half of the Watch and go attack Winterfell.
What? I mean, they stab him for it, and rightly so. But the characterisation makes no sense given his backstory and previous sentiment. You get the feeling that Martin just needed a reason for him to be stabbed. But he already had one… the wildlings. Again the show’s writers step in and pick up on that flaw, clerverly removing the attack on Winterfell entirely and using the wildlings as the reason for Snow’s stabbing.
Oh, and one more thing. Who the hell releases a series of consecutive books that take place in chronological order, and then releases two and randomly says “Oh yea, these are meant to be read simultaneously, the events happen alongside eachother.”
Get in the sea.
Now, this isn’t to say the TV show does everything right. The last season did feel a little rushed, although it ended right where it should, leaving everyone with mouths agape and demanding more information. JOONNNN SNOOOWWW.
These are just a few examples of the worst crimes the books commit. There’s an awful lot of content there to pick apart, and so I’m not going to try. If you enjoy great fantasy, and can see past some flawed writing and ill conceived choices, then you will probably still love the books, hell I read them all. But before you go ahead and pick up the books, maybe you should consider watching the show instead.
EDIT: Something I missed.