Another season of Game of Thrones has passed, another year of tragedy and dashed hope.
The show has absorbed George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and is presenting it to us as truly and entertainingly as it can. Sure, while HBO is the one place where this show can exist because of certain subject matters (medieval debauchery, royal incest, epic armies, and magical creatures), Game of Thrones is unquestionably successful. Each episode costs something in the range of 5 million to produce – a cost at which HBO laughs at all the way to the bank – and the production of which is relatively quick. Season 4 is already slated for a release in 2014.
So how was season 3?
I’m having some difficulty articulating my feelings about the show. I enjoy it immensely, I have a Sunday ritual of seeing it on a big screen at a friend’s place of business (more on this later), and the show led me to the books, which I devoured ravenously. On the other hand, I have some serious questions about the adaptation of the story that is going on here, especially in the wake of the season 3 finale.
BY THE BY – SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN ALL OF SEASON 3 FROM HERE ON IN
I walked away from the season 3 finale feeling yucky and despondent. I was starting to think that the show had taken a nasty turn towards The Walking Dead (sucking, in other words), but I couldn’t articulate the thing I wanted changed. In each season that came before, the really shocking or dynamic moments happened in episode 9 and then the whole story gets a bit of a wrap on episode 10. Well, you can’t get much more shocking or dynamic than the Red Wedding, so the next episode should have some calming effects on its audience, right? Bleh. I needed to figure out my frustrations and turned to many sources. I messaged my friend Craven in the UK, waiting for him to see the episode and get his feedback. Here’s how that conversation went…
Craven: All done, seen it, sound off!
Me: Didn’t like the end. It really feels like half a season. And they gave nothing, NOTHING, to the poor fools who put everything in on the Stark side and lost it last week. Too much of the Greyjoys and I don’t care for them a lick. I think I might know too much to appreciate the storycraft that this season provided, but I’m of the opinion that next season better be rip-roaring and filled to the gills with deaths and fights and Oberyn Martells. I really needed a cliff-hanger or a tease at the end of this and was really disappointed with dim-witted happy fest in Yunkai.
Craven: I was waiting on something big and juicy. I half expected a teaser of Coldhands if nothing else. But, I’m not surprised that the Bran element was a damp squib. He has been the worst part of the season. Jon/Ygritte was totally different, I hate the way they are playing Shae this season, and what the hell is Jamie doing back before Joffrey’s wedding?Me:
Yes, yes, and yes, and I have no idea. Dani had a good point while trying to talk me down – no one likes the first half of things. This season was a necessary evil if we’re to get all the goodies of the next part.
But most of it just feels like it was scenery chewing – Dany, Melisandre, Theon, most of the Rob Stark bits – lots of the show dragged this seasonCraven: She is right. Amie liked the end, but she is a massive Dany fan. Amie hasn’t read any of the books and this season has started to lose her interest a little bit. She doesn’t get why Bran is so desperate to get beyond the wall for a start, lots of things have been glossed over. She has said that without me as a running encyclopedia she wouldn’t have got most of it. Made me realise how little people just relying on the show are given. I was cussing the screen at Roose Bolton, then in discussing with Amie it occurred to me that there has been no real explanation about who he is really. She thought he was an adviser to Robb. The show hasn’t fleshed out who Roose is at all. That’s a shameMe: Yes. And I saw that starting to not unfold in season 2 and he kind of got some screen time in this season, but not like enough to really get the betrayal and cunning evil that is the Roose. My biggest fear is what happened to my friend who doesn’t read and relies on just the show. He was CRUSHED after the Red Wedding – a broken man. And he turned to dark forces: wikipedia. He ruined the rest of the series for himself.Craven: Hopefully next time we will have a tighter focus. And oh god, I hope the Red Viper is done justice. Bringing Dorne into it is going to rock the people just watching the show. For me the best parts of the season have been any scene involving Charles Dance.Me: Or the Queen of Thornes. Old Emma Peel is a godsend!
Craven: Yeah, she has been incredible. It always comes back to the same core actors in my book: Varys, Littlefinger, Tyrion, Cersei, and Tywin. They rarely drop the ball and if they do it’s never acting ability that lets them down.
I forget… when does Euron Crow’s Eye show up?
Me: Next book. But the Greyjoys are messed up anyway. They can show off the Iron Islands for a whole season getting that malarky figured – that’s such a farce.Craven: It was quite stirring stuff on screen but yeah, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Theon was lambasted for taking Winterfell with 13 odd men. Yet, “Yara” goes off to take the Dreadfort with 50. Good luck with that. Casting Euron and Victarion will need to be handled really well.Me: The casting is amazing – I actually have no qualms about anyone and trust them completely (Daario being the exception that proves the rule). Everyone added in season 3 was picture perfect: the Blackfish, Thoros, Beric, Qyborn, the frog twins, Mance, and my favorite – Tormund Giantsbane.Craven: I consider you my contemporary on all things Game of Thrones, we should unite on a season wrap up or something.
Me: We have an accord then.
We had some of the same issues – and I deleted the book spoilers of that conversation – but I think it all boiled down to this: every season before had a cliff-hanger, some tease to cling on to for more, but this season’s ending was dull. The show put their all eggs in the Red Wedding basket and didn’t do enough to bring its viewers out of that hole. Too many people believe that the bad guys are going to win – which leads to my friend who spoiled the rest of the story for himself. There’s a significant cause and effect there that disturbs me about the story-telling in the series. My friend, who is a significant dork and not new to harsh fantasy realities, could not take the shock of Robb and Catelyn’s deaths and almost vowed from seeing the show ever again. (There’s a ton of attention to this phenomenon on Twitter – go look up @RedWeddingTears)
It can either be considered unfortunate or it could be considered quirky, but I re-read a lot of the same books.
I’ve professed my love for Dan Abnett here before, but I urge you to read and then re-read the Inquisitor Eisenhorn series. Then the Ravenor books. And then Pariah. There’s a richness to these characters and an ever-rotating motion to the plot that brings me back for another read every year.
The same for his Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, some of the Horus Heresy series, the Silmarillion, and some Kurt Vonnegut. Other books get in there, too, but nothing gets repeated the same way as the others.
Then I read George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, AKA the Game of Thrones books. Yes, they’re HBO-show worthy. Yes, they’re far superior to the tv version, as any good book is of its visual self should be. I read and finished the entire series this past summer. The first book and the first season of the show fit perfectly together, it’s an impressive feat as an adaptation. The second season and second book begin to wade away from one another, but carry the main themes and events. This current third season has begun a full-fledged drift away from the source material, but that’s the price paid for quality story-telling when the novels are as deep and lengthy as these.
There are certain things the show cannot hope to achieve that the book carries within it – things like the full version of Dany’s visions within the House of the Undying in book/season 2 or Ned’s visions of the events at the Tower of Joy in the first book. Bran’s dreams and visions, particularly from within his direwolf Summer, aren’t getting the treatment they deserve yet in the show, but this could change as book 3, A Storm of Swords, is going to broken up between seasons 3 and 4 of the show.
It was while discussing all of this with my better half that I decided to do a re-read of the entire series.
George R.R. Martin is a good story-teller, but his writing isn’t as dense as it could be. Where Abnett stretches my vocabulary and writes action worthy (and honestly, better) of the best Hollywood summer film, Martin focuses on the long-view and foreshadowing. His mythos goes deep with prophesies to fulfill, secrets to uncover, and plots that stretch over many volumes. One in particular is the favorite of like-minds to examine – one that I will only refer to as “R+L=J.” If you do not know what that means, I encourage you to first ask if this is knowledge you wish to spoil for yourself, then if so, turn to r/asoiaf for your answers.
It was within this lens that I started my re-read. I searched into hidden meanings, I delved into the possibilities of each person who might know, the unsaid words, the tone and timbre of those who reveal things later in the books, and even searched for alternate meanings of “Hodor?”
As far as I can tell, no one knows anything in A Game of Thrones. The only person that does know for certain reveals very little before his demise – poor, poor Ned. The mysteries of R+L=J are wrapped in conjecture and foreshadow in this first book, nothing more.
However, I developed my own hypothesis for the entire series, something that seems to ring true in Martin’s world and within his ever-struggling power plays. My theory on the entire ASOIAF series is this: every action has an opposite and greater reaction. There are no equal reactions in the world of Westeros (or Essos), things get incrementally greater or worse. Karma is very real and it comes back three-fold.
For examples, I’ll only use situations that have arisen in the show so far (NO SPOILERS IF YOU ARE UP TO DATE WITH THE SHOW).
- Jaime Lannister pushes the 7-year old Brandon Stark out of a window, arguably starting the entire reason for the story. He loses the hand he pushed Bran with later on.
- Catelyn Tully ignores the advances of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish and watches on as Brandon Stark, Eddard’s older brother, duels Petyr for Cat’s hand in marriage. Brandon Stark humiliates Littlefinger, gifting him with a long scar. Cat convinces Eddard to trust Littlefinger years later while staying in King’s Landing and investigating the Lannisters. Should anyone have been surprised that Littlefinger, a man that had been brooding over that duel for 15 years, betrays the brother of the man that denied him Catelyn Tully?
- Sansa lies about the circumstances of Joffrey’s fight with her little sister, Arya, and the butcher’s boy, Mycah. Sansa’s lie covers up Joffrey’s cruelty and both Mycah and her dire wolf, Lady, end up dead to “resolve” the incident.
- Daenerys Targaryen is brought up in the shadow of her older brother, Viserys, and treated as dirt – as an object to be bought, sold, or traded. After achieving independence, Daenerys strives to stamp out slavery in all of its forms wherever she goes. (This is good and natural character development, I know, but it is key to understanding Daenerys and her actions.)
- This one is complex, but the reactions are incremental. Daenerys puts her faith and trust in a stranger to heal her wounded husband, Khal Drogo. This woman, Mirri Maz Duur, gives Drogo a poultice to heal the wound, but Drogo tears it off. Drogo’s wound festers, nearly killing him. Daenerys begs MMD to save him with blood magic. MMD warns Daenerys that life can only be bought with life. Drogo comes out of the ceremony in a catatonic state and Daenerys’ soon-to-be-born child dies. MMD knew the consequences of the spell, but betrayed Daenerys’ faith because of the attack his tribe had visited upon her home. Daenerys has Mirri Maz Duur burnt alive on Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre, which serves as a catalyst to the hatching of the petrified dragon eggs.
- Cersei has the captain of her sons protectors, Ser Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard, dismissed as she perceives him as being too old (more like, too honorable and stiff to go along with her every move). Ser Barristan, still vital, seeks and joins Daenerys Targaryen. He lends her sage advice, his battle acumen, and his knowledge of her deceased family that will become more important as the series progresses. Nice move, Cersei. That’s like giving up Shaq to the Miami Heat in 2004.
- Robb Stark (oh man…) breaks his oath to marry a daughter of Walder Frey. Show watchers are all caught up on the events of this, the Red Wedding, and know the evils of the Freys, Boltons, and Lannisters.
A word, real quick, about the Red Wedding’s portrayal on the show – it was too sudden. The book lays out several key warnings about what is about to happen and that the trip to the Twins was going to be a huge and colossal mistake. Book Robb doesn’t even bring his new wife to the wedding, just in case something like that happened. Show Robb gets to watch the most brutal of gut stabbings in the history of visual entertainment. I’m concerned that the show writers stuck to being brutal and didn’t lay enough hints down – like how Robb’s direwolf, Grey Wind, didn’t want to enter the Twins, or how a bunch of Freys disappear during the feast, or how Edmure’s new wife is crying and afraid during the evening, or the weapons that are affixed to the walls of the wedding hall, or how the musicians (crossbowmen) are numerous and couldn’t play their instruments very well… There were hints there and the show avoided most of them. It escalated quickly, really jumped up a notch, one might say.
George RR Martin does his homework. He plots and plots and lays down a concise and twisted plan for each character. Each action of these characters ripples out like a boulder dropped at great height into a heaving bowl of lava. I won’t mention certain events, as the show is not yet there, but the actions of Jon Snow, Tyrion, Tywin, and Jorah Mormont definitely have opposite and rising consequences. I’ve only just finished my re-read of the first book. A Clash of Kings should have some more insights into R+L=J, or if it doesn’t I’ll still comment on that. The evidence is thin, but I remain convinced of its veracity. We’ll see as the story unfolds. Again and again.