Saturday, June 27, 2015

HBO Game of Thrones Season Five Differences/Analysis

*There will be some spoiler type material here below the fold. 
If you've read Mario Puzo's book The Godfather and watched Francis Ford Coppola's films The Godfather and The Godfather II, you will know Coppola excised many book plots from his film adaptation. Although I don't think Puzo was a horrible writer I do think that Coppola was a better filmmaker than Puzo was an author. The Godfather novel featured Puzo rambling on at length about Lucy Mancini's anatomical sexual abnormalities, the racist, familial and job related frustrations of NYPD police officer Albert Neri, Hollywood's poor treatment of writers and third tier talent, and the noble sacrifices of a friendly abortionist with the guts (however fleeting) to stand up to Michael Corleone. I thought that this was tedious reading and would have made for boring viewing. Coppola was right to drop it. There were other better written book subplots that weren't necessarily key to Coppola's story or were excessively detailed. Some of this material found its way into Godfather II, but some of it is unadapted, waiting for a Godfather IV film perhaps? I mention this because although I'm generally supportive of the author's original intent, I believe there are always things that simply don't translate well from text to screen. So I'm not a book purist or rather not only a book purist. When I read some books I hope that certain characters are massively redone or dropped from a possible film version. Just as I was relieved not to have to watch Lucy Mancini's gynecological melodrama in The Godfather, I thought that HBO's Game of Thrones was well served by (so far?) skipping or possibly rewriting Strong Belwas, a black obese eunuch former slave, who fights for Daenerys and often relieves his bowels upon or at those he defeats while speaking of himself in the third person (and often broken English). Yeah, no thanks on that one GRRM.

Season Five of HBO's Game of Thrones took several steps away from the published books. It wasn't always clear why the showrunners did this. We didn't know if the new material was their own creation or instead something which GRRM told them about but hadn't published yet. GRRM's British editor and some of his collaborators on other works have panned many text deviations. There are far too many changes to discuss but I did want to list four I thought most significant. Again there will be some inevitable spoilers listed. But, honestly there's not much left to spoil. Most main characters are now at the same place on screen and book. The last book was published in 2011. This year viewers saw things book readers didn't know about. I wasn't crazy about Season Five but I also wasn't crazy about the source material upon which it largely drew, the books A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons.

Shireen, Stannis and Selyse are still alive. 
This all grew out a fundamental difference in how Benioff and Weiss saw Stannis and how Martin wrote him. Stannis is an unpleasant man. Virtually no one in the Seven Kingdoms likes the man. He has the personality of a lobster. He's married to a less than attractive woman. He has no sons. No one wants to marry his daughter. Still, Stannis' defining characteristic so far in the published books has not been ambition, as Benioff and Weiss have shown, but rather duty. This is repeated over and over and over in the books. Stannis does things which are required because they are required. His own personal desires are less important. Stannis almost starved to death resisting a year long siege during Robert's Rebellion, long after most men would have surrendered because his older brother, whom he saw as the rightful king, told him to hold Storm's End. Stannis, at least in the books, was less interested in being king because of his desires but because according to the rules, after Robert's demise, Stannis was the man who should have become king. Rules and duty. It's only later that Stannis considers that he can do good for the realm as king. That's partly why he was the only Lord to take seriously the Night Watch's call for assistance. I'm not saying that Stannis has no ambition or hypocrisies. He's not a "good" man. But at this point in the books whatever ambition he has is still outweighed by his outrage that the rules have been broken. Of course in Stannis' case he would be well served by the rules being followed so no matter what he does in book or show he will be seen as self-serving. If, after your parents pass away, and someone steals your entire inheritance, will you really listen to a third person who tells you to let it go and stop being greedy and self-serving? Or will you perhaps decide that the fight is worth it. If the Shireen burning really did come from Word of God (Martin) then it is what it is I guess. But for Stannis to murder his only heir seems grotesque and completely out of character for a man who made these quotes in the books:
It is not a question of wanting. The throne is mine, as Robert's heir. That is law. After me, it must pass to my daughter, unless Selyse should finally give me a son. I am king. Wants do not enter into it. I have a duty to my daughter. To the realm. Even to Robert. He loved me but little, I know, yet he was my brother. The Lannister woman gave him horns and made a motley fool of him. She may have murdered him as well, as she murdered Jon Arryn and Ned Stark. For such crimes there must be justice. Starting with Cersei and her abominations. But only starting. I mean to scour that court clean. As Robert should have done after the Trident.
In the books Stannis has marched off to an offpage battle against the Bolton armies. Despite setbacks he's alive and kicking in the last published book and released excerpts from book six. And as he explains to Theon Greyjoy, whom he immediately despises, he's not exactly messing his pants at the prospect of throwing down with Ramsay Snow.
I defeated your uncle Victarion and his Iron Fleet off Fair Isle, the first time your father crowned himself. I held Storm's End against the power of the Reach for a year, and took Dragonstone from the Targaryens. I smashed Mance Rayder at the Wall, though he had twenty times my numbers. Tell me, turncloak, what battles has the Bastard of Bolton ever won that I should fear him?

Sansa was not married to Ramsay Bolton or raped by him.
This may have been the biggest single deviation from the books this season and the one which worked the least. This got all sorts of criticism because of the wedding night rape scene, which caused some bloggers and other viewers to stop watching the show. Ramsay is who he is. He rapes, murders and tortures. The fact of the rape didn't bother me as much as the fact that Sansa never should have been there in the first place. In the books, there was a wedding scene and a rape. It was FAR worse in the book. I had to put the book down for a moment to wonder about the mind that conceived such things. But it wasn't Sansa who suffered. It was Theon (will he ever get a break) and Jeyne Poole. Jeyne Poole is Sansa's friend and the daughter of the Winterfell Steward. When Ned Stark and his household were murdered in King's Landing, Jeyne was seized by Littlefinger and put to work in his brothels. When the Boltons have taken over Winterfell and need a patina of legitimacy, Littlefinger sells or gifts Jeyne to the Boltons. Jeyne is forced to pretend that she is Arya Stark. Obviously Roose, Ramsay and Theon know that this isn't the case, and probably so do some of the Northern Lords who attend the wedding. But with Roose, appearances must be kept up. No one, least of all Theon, has the guts to say that Jeyne isn't Arya. Some of Ramsay's abuse of Jeyne may well be related to the fact that she's not a real Stark. In the books, Sansa is still under Littlefinger's control. They are in The Vale. No one knows who Sansa is though some suspect. Sansa is governess to her sickly cousin Robert/Robin Arryn, also kept under close watch by Littlefinger.
It's very strongly hinted that Littlefinger struggles to maintain control of himself around Sansa. He jumps back and forth between trying to creep on her and portraying himself as her impressive intelligent father figure (who also still wants to creep on her). He reveals to Sansa how he's bribed and corrupted some of the Vale Lords. Littlefinger drops a few hints about his master plan, which may involve getting rid of Sansa's cousin, and marrying off Sansa to the Vale heir before revealing Sansa's true identity. This would allow her to make a claim to the Riverlands (through Catelyn) and The North (through Ned) backed up by the unvarnished power of The Vale (which stayed out of the wars). She could theoretically control almost half of the Seven Kingdoms.

Of course this is Littlefinger we're talking about so it's doubtful he's telling all or even any of the truth. Nevertheless he definitely views Sansa as an important asset. For both political and more personal reasons Littlefinger would not let Sansa out of his sight. This is why the televised version didn't ring true. Given that the Iron Throne still wants Sansa Stark for the murder of Joffrey (something arranged by Littlefinger and the Queen of Thorns) even a coldly ambitious Lord like Roose Bolton would think twice before allowing Ramsay to marry Sansa and thus make an open enemy of the Lannisters. I understand that the show runners didn't want to have Sophie Turner stuck all season in the Vale watching Littlefinger twirl his mustache and laugh evilly but it simply didn't make sense for Sansa to willingly walk into the clutches of a family that was well known for betraying her own. It did violence to her character and storyline. I don't think it added anything to the tale. In the books, Brienne is not in the North. She's still wandering around the Riverlands looking for Sansa Stark.

Northern Resistance
Speaking of Sansa the sole television Northern Resistance seems to have been reduced to a few grimy peasants muttering "The North Remembers" and an offscreen Northern Lord refusing to pay Bolton taxes. Well it's important to remember that the Starks have been in charge of the North since time immemorial. They aren't always liked but they are generally respected and even loved. In the books, Northerners who don't even know or like Stannis decide to join his march on Winterfell to save "The Ned's little girl". Other Northerners who can't act openly because some of their relatives are still held as hostages find other devious and deadly ways to express their displeasure. The Lannisters and Boltons aren't the only people who can get down and dirty. I hope that this will be shown in greater detail next season. In the Riverlands, Arya's wolf, Nymeria is still attacking Freys and Lannisters, though (like Arya?) she may have become completely feral. She's leading a wolfpack of over one hundred. Someone else is also killing Freys both in the North (several of them came North with Roose) and in the Riverlands. Again I'd like to see a lot of this shown next season. Time will tell. It was only nodded to in the show via an offhand remark by Roose, but the Boltons can't rule solely by terror. The North is too big and has too many other scary people. There were a lot of families who lost people at the Red Wedding. They're mad. They want revenge. Their patience is at an end. And the Boltons and Theon are not the only people who know that Rickon is alive. Purely for context it also would have been nice if the show had more greatly emphasized the long planned treachery of the Freys and especially the Boltons. The Boltons have had it in for the Starks for centuries. The Frey's sigil is a double cross. That tells you all you need to know right there. In the books, Roose Bolton, once he had a command and relative independence of action from Robb, proceeded to use houses that were more loyal to the Starks as cannon fodder. Most of the people who are aware of Roose's deliberately suicidal orders are dead, which is just the way Roose likes it. Unlike his illegitimate son, Roose is a very cautious calculating man.

Jaime is not in Dorne. Myrcella is still alive.
Myrcella didn't die in the books. She was wounded by a Dornish retainer who wanted to start a war. I thought the Dorne sections of the books were interminable. They contributed a lot to my dislike of A Feast For Crows. I understand that Martin wanted to move away from the Stark-Lannister battle royale that had consumed much of the story but I wasn't ready for him to do that. This was made worse by the fact that virtually nothing happened in Dorne. The ruler, Prince Doran likes it this way. As he explains to his nieces, the Sand Snakes:
I am not blind, nor deaf. I know you all believe me weak, frightened, feeble. Your father knew me better. Oberyn was ever the viper. Deadly, dangerous, unpredictable. No man dared tread on him. I was the grass. Pleasant, complaisant, sweet-smelling, swaying with every breeze. Who fears to walk upon the grass? But it is the grass that hides the viper from his enemies and shelters him until he strikes.
Doran is playing a very long game, the details of which aren't important now and/or are too spoilery. But suffice it to say that he, like Oberyn and many other people in Dorne, has not forgotten the rape and murder of his sister Elia and her children. Another difference is that as Dorne practices equal inheritance, Trystane, Doran's son, is not his heir. Doran's heir is his oldest child, his daughter Arianne Martell, apparently dropped from the HBO adaptation. It's Arianne who schemes, not to kill Myrcella, but to declare Myrcella as Queen, attempting to apply Dornish succession laws to King's Landing. Rather than being insanely vengeful towards Myrcella on account of Oberyn's death, Ellaria thinks enough blood has been shed. She counsels patience and acceptance. Jaime doesn't ever go to Dorne. He's in the Riverlands trying to clean up after the war, live up to his oath to Catelyn Stark to find the Stark girls and not take up arms against Tullys or Starks (not that there are many left). Jaime is undergoing a lot of introspection about his past actions and what it means to be a knight and Kingsguard member. So I get that this might not make for exciting television. But I thought that a daughter finding out a horrible family secret, being okay with it and then apparently dying in her father's arms was horribly cliched. In the books the Sand Snakes merely ask Doran for vengeance for Oberyn. He has them all arrested and imprisoned. 

So I understand why Benioff and Weiss made many changes from books I thought were less than gripping. Some of their changes were actually good ones. In the books Jon Snow does not go to Hardhome and engage in a desperate battle against the White Walkers and the Night King. Many show only viewers I know thought that was a high point of the season. But too often the showrunners tried to ante up the shocks and violence, often needlessly. I sometimes think that the showrunners (and GRRM?) have fallen in love with shocking people too much. The books may have had too many details of political manipulation and the war's aftermath. But the show went too far in the other direction. Barristan is still alive in the books. I thought his show death was well done but unnecessary. Loras is never arrested. Jorah never got greyscale. I did like the increasingly strong hints that maybe, just maybe Ned didn't break his marriage vows, a theory which is not confirmed in the books.

What did you think of this season?
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