You want it darker? No, not really
Lifting a successful story from its original medium and plopping it in another is a tricky business. And before wandering off into useful digressions (but digressions none the less) of examples like The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings, or even Hamlet, I’ll skip the intro that proves I did the most the reading in high school, to say, finally and I’m running out of breath here, that A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones is one of these pan-medium stories. And, objectively, it’s been a good transition from thousand page novels to hours of television HBO programming to comic books to fake history books to merchandi$e.
The fundamental differences between the books and the shows can basically get boiled down to this medium issue, though I’m going to soon be at issue with the way the show has heard, “Oh, you want it darker?” And gone all Zac Snyder, amplifying the element of sexual violence already pretty obvious and impactful in the OG novels.
But it makes sense the show has become more event-driven than the books ever were or will ever be. And there’s a reason the show has had to skimp on Northern and Dornish intrigue that develops late in the game. The novels can put you in the skin of its characters. The show can give you Battles of the Blackwater and the Wall, Hardhome and Battle of the Bastards. Sure, along the way D&D are going to torture and kill Ros, make a eunuch out of Alfie Allen, burn Shireen at the stake (the show’s second prolific reader, I’ll add), leach Gendry at particularly heightened moment, marry Sansa to Ramsay Bolton, and I haven’t given myself the word count to keep this list going.
These are characters making difficult choices in a brutal world, in our world. That’s the party line. I don’t buy it.
Remember the first episode? All the kids get their pups. Look at Bran skipping and climbing around. And at the end of GOT’s pilot, Drogo rapes Dany. We knew what this show was from the jump. And I think, to see that scene in any other way one has to be wearing some serious blinders or lack … what do they call it, ah empathy.
Here’s GRRM in a recent Time interview:
I should point out, and you probably know this if you’ve read the books and watched the show, Daenerys’ wedding night is quite different than it was portrayed in the books. Again, indeed, we had an original pilot where the part of Daenerys was recast, and what we filmed the first time, when Tamzin Merchant was playing the role, it was much more true to the books. It was the scene as written in the books. So that got changed between the original pilot and the later pilot. You’d have to talk to David and Dan about that.
You want the party line again? In those times, this sort of thing was expected. This was their norm. We have to keep that in mind. Hi, Westeros isn’t real. You make up your own world, and you can make it as real as you want. This isn’t The Iliad. This is a story told in our time about our time.
[Sidebar: When Dany get slogged down in administering an eastern country, doing her best, but none the less, combating insurgent guerrilla fighters who kind of just want their country back seems like a pretty simple allusion to … hmm ….]
Dany isn’t sexually assaulted in Game of Thrones (the book). I’ll spare you the soft-core detail of Dany’s first chapter. Martin went out of his way to make this consensual. Dany literally says “yes.” In the books, Sansa isn’t married to and raped by Ramsey Bolton.
Now, here’s a question I’ve been asking for a while. Why did D&D choose to take the element of sexual violence in the original story and make it one of the central themes of their television show? What about television makes this shit make sense? What does that mean about us, its fans? I’m open to answers.
All I can say is that an adaption is more enjoyable when you can trust the adapters, when you can trust that they know the story. It’s this escalation of sexual violence that has routinely fractured my (imagined) relationship with D&D. As brilliant as “Winds of Winter” and their reveal of R+L=J was, I think D&D are prone to harmful misinterpretations.