What’s neat about Game of Thrones is how involved George R. R. Martin is in the process. He’s regularly consulted, Benioff and Weiss spent a weekend with him this past summer to pump him for future information, he gets talked about in regards to casting, and once a season he writes an episode (they’d love for him to do more but he has to write the next book). The respect Benioff and Weiss show Martin is one of the reasons this show works but it’s also worth noting that the respect Martin shows Benioff and Weiss is equally important. He’s been supportive of the changes they’ve made even if certain members of the fanbase have howled about them (That horse is now a female! Burn them all!). A direct adaptation of a book to the screen will never work, after all. It wouldn’t work for any good book as a book is a remarkably different medium than the screen. A lot of people don’t seem to realize this and it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Game of Thrones or the recently released The Great Gatsby (the movie’s finest moment has the emotion from the book but the line of dialogue, “I wish I’d done everything in the world with you,” isn’t actually from the book even though it so felt like it was); you can’t do a direct adaptation.
What you can and should do is keep the emotion and ideas of the original work and translate them as best you can to the screen. It’s no easy feat but I think Benioff and Weiss have so far done a great job and it appears Martin agrees as he’s not only praised them but his own episodes follow that very same tactic. The episode Martin wrote last season, Blackwater, deviated from the book but it still had the same emotional impact as the Battle of Blackwater chapters in the original novel.
We see the same in tonight’s episode. The scene between Tywin Lannister (Is there a more elegant looking man than Charles Dance? I think not.) and Joffrey was not in the book as neither was a point of view character. Yet it was a highlight of tonight’s episode! It’s lovely to see Joffrey smacked down but in typical Game of Thrones fashion we couldn’t enjoy it too much because Joffrey was right when he said they should be looking more deeply into Daenarys and her dragons. It sucks that the little prick is right but he is. He’s DAMN right. Just like how Tyrion has been right in the past that just maybe the events beyond the Wall are more important than people think. It’s a great reversal, something the books do time and again, and while it wasn’t in the books, it feels thematically 100% accurate.
On the other hand, Jaime Lannister’s scenes were in the book and they speak to the same theme of reversal, but also redemption, that we saw in the Tywin/Joffrey scene. Jaime began this show as an evil guy; he threw a kid out of a window for Christ’s sake. Yet he’s on the path towards redemption and I’m inclined to grant it to him. It reminds me of the recent situation with Charles Ramsay in the news. When people found out he had a criminal past they were wary of labeling him a hero but I think the fact that he went and did some heroic speaks to the power of redemption. As dark a show as Game of Thrones is, it does have some very positive ideas about what humans can do if they try. It’s not a surprise that this was played up in a Martin written episode.
I also want to make special note of Michelle MacLahren whose direction was spotless. She’s a regular director over on Breaking Bad and has made that show one of the most beautiful looking shows to be produced and she brought her talent to Game of Thrones tonight. Not only is it nice to see a great director get work, but in a time where there are all too few female directors it is also lovely to see a woman being acknowledged as one of, I’d even argue best, the directors currently on television. She’s very good at letting the visuals tell the story. We get no dialogue from Brienne about how Jaime has redeemed himself because the way the scene is shot tells the whole story.
On that note, the final scene with the bear (and the maiden fair!) was in the book and the show translated it well but they both have very different feels to them which goes to show how an adaptation doesn’t have to be direct, it only has to be emotionally faithful. A lot of fans complain at the smallest of changes but I think that’s absurd. This show’s loyalty to the feel of the books is outstanding. This is a better adaptation than I could have ever hoped for. The scenes with the Unsullied, Daenarys, and the dragons made me smile because that perfectly represented the Game of Thrones novels that I’ve loved for so long. Ditto the scene between Jon and Ygritte, where he talks about the windmill and she wonders what it was. The show feels like the books; whether it’s exact to them or not is irrelevant.
Oh, and yes, my legs were crossed as fuck during that Theon scene.
Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.