Monday, June 2, 2014

On Game of Thrones' Book Deviations and the Cruel Hope It Gives

by Sara N.

Spoilers through The Mountain and the Viper (S4E8), discussion of book differences, and vague allusions to future spoilers.

For 30 seconds last night, everybody who's read the Song of Ice and Fire books had a brief glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, one of the changes from the source material would be a good and welcome thing.

Like many book fans, I've been displeased with some of the ways that Game of Thrones has diverged from the novels. But last night, for a brief, shimmering moment, I realized that waaaaaait just a second, these (mostly infuriating) changes could be used to keep a good character around a little longer. (Of course, that tender green shoot of hope was quickly crushed. More on that in a bit.)

 First, here's a rundown of some of the most egregious changes from book to screen:

  • The Stark girls are now (semi-) public knowledge. In the books, very, very few people know that Sansa and Arya Stark are alive, and even fewer know their true locations. After last night's episode, that number has increased greatly. Granted, it's possible that the guards at the Bloody Gate didn't believe the Hound's assertions that this was Lady Arya, and the elders at the Eyrie will most likely be discreet. But the knowledge is out there. No matter how powerful Sansa's scenes were, and no matter how amazing that unhinged laughter from Arya was, it changes the scope of this secret.
  • Tyrion and Shae in love. In the books, Shae's an opportunist who's in it for herself. In the show, she's a smitten dummy who refuses to flee after her protector explicitly tells her that King's Landing is no longer safe for her. SHAE WOULDN'T DO THAT.
  • Jaime raping Cersei. I've covered this before, and while the scene in the book is problematic (keep going until "no" turns into "yes" isn't the way to secure consent, folks), it's still less upsetting than the straight-up assault that happened on screen between two people who allegedly love each other and then is never mentioned again. I'm still upset about this.
  • Rapetown at Craster's Keep. The show's addition of the Night's Watch mutineers brutalizing Craster's wife/daughters told the audience just how loathsome these men are. But ... we get it. You've already got rape and female nudity problems, show. Don't pile on. (Plus, the mutineers kidnap Bran and his traveling companions, which probably won't change things in the future of book versus show, but who knows?)
  • Grey Worm and Missandei's flirtation. These are two fine actors, and they're creating a tender relationship. It's by no means an offensive addition, but it's not serving to move any of the larger plotlines along and just adds to the character bloat.
  • Robb's wife. She's Jeyne Westerling in the books, a minor Westerosi noble who's still alive, albeit widowed. She's Talisa Maegyr in the show, a noblewoman from Volantis who is definitely dead. The reason for this change has never been well explained and remains a source of frustration for book nerds. What if Jeyne has more to do in future books? Why change a perfectly good storyline in the first place?
  • There are many more examples of changes, and none of them are deal-breakers. Yet. But who knows how things will develop in future books?
At any rate, while watching last night's episode, the beauty of the changes the show has been making suddenly became clear to me when I realized that's what's dead might never die — that is, an immensely likable characters who dies in the books might actually survive on screen.

I'm talking, of course, about Oberyn Martell. Like all right-thinking viewers, I've adored Pedro Pascal's take on the cocksure, revenge-seeking Oberyn. He burns with anger and passion. He beds men and women. He stabs his enemies and appreciates Tyrion. What's not to love?

As this season has built toward his inevitable duel with The Mountain, I knew what was coming: Oberyn fights valiantly, nobly and honorably. And Oberyn dies. So I prepared myself for this crushing blow last night as the duel commenced.

But then, something happened. Oberyn exploded into a lithe, twirling dervish, nimbly evading The Mountain, harrying him with his blade and eventually felling him. It was a tense, breathless fight, with Oberyn moving as if gravity didn't pull on him the way it does the rest of us — and in high heels, no less. And for one brief moment, book readers held their breath and wondered, Is he going to win this time?

Forget about the fact that if he won, it would mean Tyrion would be acquitted of the murder of King Joffrey, which would radically change the shape of the rest of the show. As Oberyn skimmed around the prone body of The Mountain, book readers had a moment of crazy hope. If the show's been changing other things, maybe this time ... ?

But no. Oberyn spends too much time Inigo Montoya-ing, and a quick, brutal reversal leads to his quick, brutal death — perhaps one of the worst in Game of Thrones history. The episode ends with the horrified screams of his lover, then silent credits.

So there, show. I hope you're happy. You've broken my heart again. You make strange, often pointless changes to the storylines we know, and then when we dare to think that one of these changes might be something we've secretly wanted all along, consequences to future plotlines be damned, you dash our hopes under The Mountain's unyielding thumbs.

I have been paying attention. I know this story won't have a happy ending. But for the briefest of moments, I hoped this this particular one might. 

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  1. I have to say that I haven't watched Game of Thrones. I read the book, liked them, but was just exhausted by them. Every time I start moving towards watching the show something comes up that reminds me why I'm not. The latest is the Jaime raping Cersei scene. It's sad because it sounds amazing!

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