Saturday, June 9, 2012

HBO Game of Thrones: Difference Analysis

Ok. I can't take it anymore. This post assumes you have seen both seasons of HBO's Game of Thrones. If you haven't seen them, don't know what happened and aren't interested in them skip this post. This post also discusses a few key differences between the books and the HBO series. I don't (and won't) mention anything that has yet to happen in the HBO storyline but again, if you haven't read A Game of Thrones or A Clash of Kings and don't want to know anything about what happens in those books, skip this post. And as always if you have read beyond A Clash of Kings and/or know exactly what happens PLEASE DON'T DISCUSS IT. This post is ONLY about some differences that annoyed the **** out of me in HBO's Season 2. I am not a book purist. I don't think GRRM is a god. I fully accept and am aware that a different medium requires different editing and writing choices. I think that Weiss and Benioff are doing a good job adapting, in general. I enjoy the HBO series and hope it continues for years to come to rave reviews. But I just have to say a few things:


Catelyn Stark was not well served in this season. She just wasn't.
Some of this was caused by aging Robb up. A 17-18 year old will not be as deferential to his mother as a 15 year old (Book Robb's age) would be. But having read a lot of blogs and listened to my partners' dismay and dismissal of Catelyn's actions I have to point out one key difference in the book. In the book, Catelyn Stark released Jaime Lannister ONLY AFTER hearing that Winterfell had been taken and Bran and Rickon Stark had been murdered. Now think about this. Lady Stark was already worried about her daughters in Lannister hands. Now as far as she knows her baby boys have just been murdered!!! She wasn't there to protect them. She doesn't think that Robb Stark is, due to the requirements of patriarchy, putting enough value or urgency into getting the girls back. So wild with grief and desperate to seize control of events rather than just react to them she makes a gambit.  Is this wise? I can't call it. But I hope that you can understand the difference in the book and why Lady Stark does what she does.
People simply do not make rational decisions when in a short period of time their home has been burned down, they have lost their spouse and two youngest children, and other relatives are in peril.

Like everyone else Catelyn has limited information. She is not as interested in justice or revenge as much as she is interested in getting her daughters back. Additionally in the book (and it was mentioned in season one but not shown in season two) Catelyn has blood family.  If you remember her arrest of Tyrion at the inn is ONLY POSSIBLE because she's on her family's land and reminds various bannermen of the loyalty that they owe her father. Her family of course supports Robb's secessionist claim and fights for him. We'll see Robb's maternal uncles and relatives in season 3. They should have been in this season. It is after all their lands where most of the fighting is taking place.  Robb Stark relies heavily on his Tully kindred. As the book points out over and over again, Robb Stark takes after his mother's side of the family physically. All the Stark children look more like Tullys than Starks except for (obviously) Jon Snow and Arya. And it is Robb's uncle's mistake that allowed Tywin Lannister to escape Robb's carefully laid trap and return to King's Landing in time to relieve the siege by Stannis. Book Catelyn does not see Littlefinger in camp but even show Catelyn would not have let Littlefinger escape alive had she known of his treachery. Grey Wind would have had a special treat that night.

Robb Stark is not an arrogant young lordling.
In the show "Talisa" is a spunky, sassy little proto-feminist who doesn't mind giving attitude to the self-styled "King in the North" and evidently just hangs around his camp flirting with him. Ok. That's that whole modern "I am intrigued by your sassiness woman, so I must have you" trope that really belongs more in 1940's screwball comedies than A Game of Thrones. In the book, "Talisa" (she had a different name and background) was helping the wounded Robb after he had stormed her castle. It was only then that Robb learned of his brothers' "deaths". Overcome with grief and guilt, he turned to physical interaction with "Talisa". The show makes it seem just like he was just a horny lad. Well maybe but there's more going on here. Book Robb is many things but an arrogant frat boy he is not. Robb married "Talisa" out of both love and obligation. He took her virginity. And a honorable man marries a woman after doing that. Again, consider that book Robb is only 14-15 years old. Many of his reactions are based on "What would Dad have done in this situation?". From Robb's POV he was faced with a choice between two warring concepts of honor. This goes back to Jaime Lannister's lament that there are so many different obligations that a man is unable to keep them all. Robb Stark was not crazy about marrying the Frey girl but in the book his decision to marry "Talisa" is based much more on the idea that a Stark man does not just copulate with a girl and leave her.

One theme that flows through the books is the difference between what we learn from our parents and how that fits with real word experience. Sansa is the child who most embodies this but all of the Stark children have to experience this, obviously much earlier than they should have. Part of growing up is learning to mix the lessons we get from our parents with what we learn every day in our varied environments. Often times a parent's wisdom will have to be modified to work; sometimes it may not work at all. Times change. Think of the lessons you've learned from your own parents.

Although there is some friction between Robb and Catelyn in the book it is minor and nothing compared to how much they rely on each other. Robb shares a lot of his fears with his mother, who does her best to support her first born without undermining his authority. It's a tricky situation. A lot of book Catelyn's insights, thoughts and dialog was given to Robb. I think the show suffers for that.

The Stark Wolves-I need more.
It's mentioned in season one that the direwolves haven't been seen south of the Wall in years. In the South they're even considered almost extinct or legendary. But the Stark direwolves all have a VERY strong connection to each of the Stark children (and possibly the North as a whole). They are just as much part of the return of magic as are the dragons.

In A Game of Thrones when Tyrion Lannister visits Winterfell, he is surrounded and stalked by a snarling Grey Wind and Summer, who herd him into a position where he can be attacked from behind by Shaggydog.  It is only Robb's embarrassed intervention that saves Tyrion's life. Ghost also attacks Tyrion when Jon Snow gets annoyed with him. Nymeria attacks Joffrey to defend Arya. Arya drives Nymeria away but Nymeria starts a wolfpack of her own, grows to become the biggest female direwolf anyone's ever seen and leads her pack to attack and harass Lannister troops across the South. It's actually Ghost, not Sam, who finds the ancient obsidian spearheads and the horn. All of the Stark children have dreams in which wolves play a part, though Bran's are the most vivid. The wolves are hypersensitive to dangers that the children face and seemingly in tune with the children's emotions without a word being said. Bran's connection with Summer is the precursor to greater abilities which I can't mention here. It's probably not an accident that the captured Stark child looks more like a southern princess (i.e. her mother) than a northern lady and not coincidentally is without her wolf, Lady, that was foolishly killed by Ned. The wolves are an incarnation of Northern "wildness" and an early warning system (the aborted attack on Tyrion) against Stark enemies. It is not just their size that worries Stark enemies but also their intelligence (Grey Wind finds the secret path that allows Stark forces to flank and destroy a Lannister army).

Cersei Lannister is pure evil.
The show has played up the wickedness of Joffrey (again he's been aged up somewhat) and given a slightly more sympathetic version of Cersei. I don't like this. In the penultimate episode we saw what I think of as the real Cersei. That's good. I hope that continues next season. In the book, it is Cersei, not Joffrey who orders the murder of all of King Robert's illegitimate children. Cersei and Joffrey are not at odds with one another. Although Cersei thinks Joffrey is hard to handle sometimes there is never any hint of physical violence between them and definitely not a threat of matricide. The fact that from her point of view Cersei has legitimate gripes about not being able to hold power in her own right because of her sex doesn't change the fact that she is a ruthless manipulative vindictive woman who employs murder and torture to get what she wants and thinks nothing of starving thousands of the smallfolk if that is what is required. Her attempted murder of Tyrion in the show is of a piece with previous attacks against her brother going back to childhood.

There is a lot more that I want to say but obviously can't so I'll stop now.
Please do yourself a favor and read the books. They're long but worthwhile. The first three books redefined fantasy literature and are just magnificent works with deep insights into human nature. If you don't have time to read them, check them out on audiobook versions. The shows are good works and stand on their own. But all in all season two deviated a bit more from the books than season one. So I didn't enjoy it quite as much. I'm not talking about changes done for budget or timing so much as I'm talking about storyline or theme changes which in my opinion weren't needed. But what do I know. Again, please read the books.
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