As promised, I’m about to get into the changes in Season 5 from the books. Please only proceed if you have 1) read all of the books, 2) do not plan on reading the books, or 3) have started reading the books but don’t care about spoilers.
Here’s one of the fun sigils I designed to offer ample space:
And here’s a picture I took last year of Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire swag. Here’s your last chance to click away:
Okay, are we good? Cool.
Let’s start with the basic problem of The Song of Ice and Fire post Storm of Swords – George R.R. Martin effectively wrote himself into a corner. His original plan was to kill off the first generation of main characters and give the younger generation a five year training gap – Jon as Lord Commander, Daenerys as Queen of Meereen, Bran as greenseer, Ayra as faceless assassin, Sansa as strategist. He abandoned this concept, and in its place he wrote two excellent but sprawling novels: A Feast for Crow and a Dance with Dragons.
Dave Benioff and D.B. Weiss decided to consolidate these stories into one season. The result is the following major changes so far. These have been controversial, but after much thought I am actually mostly okay with them.
The common theme is that when writing a book, the author is the god of the page. He has complete control. A television series has practical, creative, and yes, business concerns that shape what kinds of stories can be told.
Anyway, here goes:
The Books: In a Feast for Crows we get our first glimpse of Dorne. The major plot involves Doran Martell’s oldest daughter Arianne and a Scooby-Doo type gang of misfits absconding with Myrcella Baratheon in order to crown her Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Dornish law, you see, does not automatically place male heirs ahead of female ones, so Myrcella would outrank Tommen.
The Show (So Far): Arianne’s role of rabble-rouser has been taken over by Ellaria Sand (whom in the books is on Doran’s side). Ellaria rallies Oberon Martell’s daughters to get to Myrcella in order to start a war (so far implying that the plan is to kill her). Meanwhile Jaime Lannister and Bronn are trying to get to Myrcella first.
Why I’m Okay with This: A Feast for Crows sets up a group of all new characters that the readers have yet to encounter. Arianne and her Scooby Gang make five, along with three Sand Snakes, Doran, Doran’s bodyguard, and a Kingsguard. The show could not cast all of these characters. Instead, it looks like it is taking the basic storyline (taking Myrcella Baratheon to start a war) and making it a race against time between the Sand Snakes (who are in Doran’s dungeon at this point in the book) and Jaime (whom in the book is traveling the Riverlands on mop-up duty).
This consolidates the number of characters that need to be cast, which takes care of logistical and business problems. It grounds the plotline in already established characters, limiting the need for explanatory dialogue (which is crucial in a visual medium such as television). Finally, it puts one of the show’s biggest, and best paid, stars, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the center of a larger plot where he has an emotional attachment that does not need to be explained.
As for Arianne, I like her too. But if the show is going to cut two plotlines that would have made her important (or approach them a different way), and cut her brother Quentin entirely, there is really no need for more than one Martell child.
The Books: Littlefinger “trains” a girl from Winterfell to be “Arya Stark” and sends her north to wed Ramsey Bolton. Theon Greyjoy, with some help, breaks free from Ramsey and escapes with the girl. Meanwhile, Stannis is having a hard time getting through a snowstorm to attack Winterfell, and a key Northern lord is plotting to overthrow the Boltons.
The Show (So Far): Littlefinger takes Sansa from the Vale and offers her to the Boltons, ensuring her that he has a plan and she can play a role in it. Brienne of Tarth is in pursuit of Sansa, and Stannis plans to advance before the snows come.
Why I’m Okay with This: If you thought the number of Dornish characters introduced in A Feast for Crows is a lot, I haven’t even bothered to count how many characters the plotline generally known as “The Great Northern Conspiracy” contains. It makes for great literature, but it would bog down the show with having to introduce all of these people and explain why we care about them.
The show so far is setting up a convergence of main characters, each with a particular vendetta. Stannis wants to wipe out the Boltons and get the loyalty of the North. Littlefinger wants to expand his influence. Sansa wants revenge for her family. Brienne wants revenge for Renly. Roose Bolton is no fool, and will try to weasel his way out of it. This has the potential to make for the kind of exciting television that has made Game of Thrones a hit show without having to cast and explain dozens of new characters.
Adding Sansa into the mix raises the stakes considerably without having to go through the problem of getting the audience to care about “fake Arya” while we’re seeing the real Arya on screen minutes earlier. The false or secret identities motif works better on the page because it doesn’t involve the same type of suspension of disbelief that it needs on television/film. So instead of introducing a passive character in a way that might not play well with viewers, Benioff and Weiss have simply replaced her with an active character that’s already been established with the audience.
The Books: Daenerys has control of Meereen, but the Sons of the Harpy are a nuisance inside the walls and her enemies amass outside. She has a group of advisors with competing interests, including more Meereenese characters pushing her to make peace with the Wise Masters. Tyrion Lannister is on his way to Meereen but spends most of the book on a travelogue with – you guessed it – new characters.
The Show (So Far): The Sons of the Harpy have killed Barristan Selmy and, at the very least, incapacitated Grey Worm. Daenerys has only one Meereenese ally, and a reluctant one at that. Meanwhile, it appears that Tyrion’s travelogue has been greatly truncated.
Why I’m Okay with This: Calm down everyone. Breathe. Okay here’s my admittedly unpopular opinion. Dany’s plot in the book is as dull as dirt. Without the benefit of her internal monologue (which is mostly spent being super horny for Daario), it would be even more boring. This is the infamous Meereenese Knot after all.
Benioff and Weiss have decided to considerably raise the stakes. First, they have strained Daenerys’ relationship with the freed slaves. Second, they have made the Sons of the Harpy a dangerous threat as opposed to the annoying street gang they are in the books. Finally, they’ve severed, for the time being, Daenerys’ last remaining link to Westeros.
As for Barristan the Bold, I’ve been thinking about this a lot today. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Benioff and Weiss have earned my trust and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
First of all, they didn’t, and to a large extent couldn’t, develop Barristan’s character beyond “wise old knight everyone respects.” They have to assume that most of their audience has not, and probably won’t, read the books when they make creative decisions. Barristan’s history is mostly given in offhand comments in Season One. Most importantly, we don’t get his inner dialogue like we do in the books. By reducing Barristan’s legend, it makes it more plausible that he couldn’t necessarily win a fight against thirty men (even after killing a good twenty-five of them).
Finally, Benioff and Weiss have accelerated Tyrion’s plot substantially. This could mean that they are going to replace Barristan’s role in the second half of a Dance with Dragons with Tyrion. This would serve two television related goals. First, it gives Peter Dinklage, the show’s biggest and therefore most expensive star, a central role in a major plot. Second, it pulls the audience in by potentially setting up Tyrion to revisit his heroism from Season Two’s “Blackwater.” If this is where Benioff and Weiss are headed – I’m on board.
(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe