The Game of Thrones dilemma

Which is the “true” version of a story?

I wanna start by saying, as TV aficionado, that I’m completely in love with the CW’s Jane the Virgin. I heard about the show a few times in some sites I follow and decided to risk it (I take commitment to TV shows very seriously) and it completely paid off. What a delightful series! I suppose I enjoy it more because I’m Latin American, and the nanny would get me to obey by letting me watch episodes of Thalia’s telenovelas (slaps and people falling down the stairs were guaranteed). But, regardless of my personal history, the show is very cleverly written and excellently cast — and won the CW it’s first Golden Globe, by way of Gina Rodriguez’s excellent acting. So, kudos, CW!

Another thing about Jane the Virgin?

It’s an adaptation of a Venezuelan telenovela called Juana, la virgen. The adaptation norm has hit television hard, though still not as hard as it hit the movies (very sad to hear there’s an American version of The Secret in their Eyes. I’m not saying it cant be good — I was horribly wrong about NBC’s Hannibal — but the original was perfect). More and more of the season’s picks are remakes, prequels, or small-screen adaptations of books, because betting in an old idea is safer than creating something new, right? Some adaptations, even as unlikely as Hannibal and Fargo, can be awesome and I’m glad they exist. Yet I’ve always defended original storytelling, if only because it means taking a bigger risk, which can create a classic and bring a new great story into the world.

TV’s most roaring successful adaptation is without a doubt HBO’s Game of Thrones, which conquered ratings, pop culture and the public forum, creating heated discussions about gender equality and sexuality. The show’s most controversial aspect, however, is that as an adaptation, it’s supposed to follow the original material.

As of the 14th of June (the fifth season’s finale), Game of Thrones finds itself in the peculiar situation of having an incomplete story and no original material to adapt.

As I’ve discussed before, heavily serialized shows need to get from a point A to a point B in their run to justify that story being a series and not, say, a movie. In Game of Thrones, point A (different families across a continent fight for control) and point B (one of said families wins — or, alternatively, everyone dies) are the same in both the book and the series (or so we assume). While the show does diverge in many things from the book series, the the macro picture of the story has mostly been kept the same. How are showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss expected to tell the story for seasons to come if writer J. R. R. Martin hasn’t written it yet?

More important to me than the tricks HBO is going to pull is the discussion from the fanbase around whether the series would “spoil” the book. This discussions usually tend to refer to the books as the “real” story, and the TV series as a simplified retelling for the masses (who were spared from reading every single detail of, say, Bran’s boring journey to become a tree). “The series, that watered down, easily digestible soup, mustn’t spoil the greatness of Martin’s prose!”.

Which got me thinking (cue Carry Bradshaw):

When it comes to adaptations, is there a “true” version of the story?

I remember my surprise when I heard writer Alan Moore had hated the movie version of V for Vendetta, which I love. His main reason was that the message of the story had been changed: he was talking about anarchy in the U.K., and the movie talked about democracy in the U.S.A. I disagree with his reasons, because I think both the comic and the movie were attuned to the political tone of the period they were written in (I read the comic and it was bo-ring), and thus were very effective for their intended audiences. Both are good in their own time.

Why should we consider the source material as being the “true” one? Adaptations are always judged first by how they compare to their origins, and I get if: if you’re going to retell something, retell it at least as good as the original. But an adaption can be better! It can be a completely new story, in fact. That doesn’t mean it’s less “true”. Any version of any story is a different story — let go of what’s “cannon” and who spoils who. We need to enjoy each movie, book and series on its own (but we can enjoy it more if it references its source material and we don’t act like assholes about it).

That said: less adaptations, people. Let’s put our thinking caps on. And wouldn’t it be great if some years from now I find myself the showrunner of an adapted show — and someone dug up this piece?

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