The saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but in the case of Game of Thrones, it should say, “Don’t judge a book by its TV show.” Game of Thrones has been a wildly successful show for HBO for the last four years, but George R. R. Martin has been writing the show’s source material, the novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, for about two decades. While there have been small differences in the crossover between novel and television over the last four seasons, the show, in many respects, has caught up with the material that Martin has published in his series.
Entering its fifth season next month, the show’s producers have informed fans that they will go ahead and finish their television series ahead of Martin’s novels, concluding at, more-or-less, the same endpoints. If you had asked me a few years ago, when I was tackling the 5,000, small-print pages of material that Martin had written for the series, if I would have been happy with the show’s surpassing of the books, I would have said that the show wouldn’t have been true to Martin’s material and that it should hold up for Martin to produce the rest of his series.
This was, looking back, an extremely silly thought and there were a lot of points I hadn’t acknowledged when it came to the popular adaptation.
Martin writes way too much and takes entirely too long to write each book. Since he started writing the series in the early ‘90s, he has written and published five books of his seven-book series. He published the first three within two or three years of each other, then took five years to produce the fourth book and finally six years to produce the fifth book. The fifth book was published back in 2011 and now, four years later, Martin announced a month or so ago that his sixth book would not be released this year. It’s fine that Martin wants to take time to develop his series, but to halt the show’s production for an indeterminate amount of time for Martin to finish his series, at his very deliberate pace, is ridiculous.
The show itself has done a lot to make the series much more approachable to new fans. Martin writes his books from the third person limited point of view of a selected number of characters. While this gives his books a sort of centralization that some might say the show lacks, the show’s lack of a focus on particular characters has made some of the series’ more compelling characters more apparent and involved than they are in Martin’s writing.
The show’s writers have created a lot of awesome scenes that don’t exist in the novels because they have broken away from Martin’s limited perspective. My personal two favorite characters, Littlefinger and Varys (both known for their deceptiveness and cunning) have had some fantastic, ridiculously sarcastic and dark-humored banter that I’ve ever seen.
In the novels, these characters are around each other a lot, but they never have any interactions like the ones the show sets up for them. Tyrion and his sellsword buddy Bronn are another fantastic pair that the show has greatly expanded on and made what was a humorless, distant relationship into a heart-breaking friendship that has lasted through almost the entire show. The novels’ adaptation has allowed for an insane amount of relationship development that Martin’s writing never accounts for and that any fan of his books or show probably enjoy much more than what he originally wrote.
Writing isn’t Martin’s strongest trait either. He’s much better at story development than he is at prose. There might be an over-abundance of sex scenes on the show, but imagine reading those sex scenes (and many more) in the writing of a nerdy 60-year-old man. It’s one of the most uncomfortable and repetitive writing styles imaginable and I cringed whenever I came across one of his intimate scenes. He’s not great at or even original in landscape and castle description either. It’s really just painful to read about all the walking that happens past book three, every location sounds exactly the same. If a fan wants to picks up the series to see Martin’s writing, they should put it right back down—it’s not worth it.
Game of Thrones has smoothed out the biggest flaws of Martin’s writing. I realize now that I only trudged through his novels for the plot points that the show couldn’t deliver yet and now that Game of Thrones is all caught up, I pledge my loyalty forthwith to the one true incarnation of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Featured Image Courtesy of Home Box Office