Unabashed Book Snobbery: GoT's 10 Worst Adaptational Decisions
Spoilers only through GoT S4.
I recently discover your blog and I’m in love with it, I’m in full reading of all your posts! But at the risk of repeating something that someone you have already ask for you… I cannot resist the curiosity! Especially after your magnificent poll, cause I like how critical you are with Game of Thrones so… What would you say are the 10 worst decisions committed so far? Scenes, plots or characters. (btw, sorry, my english sucks)
Well, anon, at first when I saw this I smiled, jotted down a knee-jerk bulleted list, and sent it over to a friend of mine who also happens to be critical of the show. Then she and I began talking about it further, and suddenly it became a Google Doc with mini essays. The following is a collaboration between myself and the wonderfully talented Dornish enthusiast theculturalvacuum?.
To quickly preface, we are not the types of people who will criticize every minor change when a book is being adapted to the visual medium. Even with GoT, there are times we even kind of like changes. But the fact is, with this series, we have very good reasons for our book snobbery. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) have, over time, demonstrated to us that they have a very limited understanding of the characterizations and themes at play in a series that is about so much more than twists and gasps. In the case of LOTR, it was clear that Peter Jackson, despite his changes, understood Tolkien’s vision. From our perspective, while D&D may know plot-wise where ASOIAF will end up, what they are giving us is a story that relies on overused tropes and trite interpretations, which ultimately misses “the point.”
So without further ado, the 10 worst adaptational changes, from least awful to most:
10. Masturbatory original dialogues:
Back when Season 1 was in production, D&D found themselves short in terms of run-time. It was a low-budget operation back then, so they added a lot of scenes of just two or three characters talking in one room as a way to pad their show. Originally, these scenes were thought of as the shining stars of the series (Varys vs. Littlefinger being almost like a spy vs. spy). Then they turned into…
Varys: I did what I did for the good of the realm.
Yes, good. This is in keeping with what we know of Varys’s characterizations in the book. Except for the part where he’s confronting Littlefinger (LF) but w/e.
Baelish: The realm. Do you know what the realm is? It’s the thousand blades of Aegon’s enemies- a story we agree to tell each other over and over, until we forget that it’s a lie.
What? LF has always kind of worked within the system and played the political game for his own long-term strategy. Is more opportunistic than nihilistic, but maybe okay, it’s just his way of being like “I’m so above the game the high lords play.” Let’s see where this goes:
Varys: But what do we have left, once we abandon the lie? Chaos? A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.
Well Varys and Illyrio are actively working to create chaos within the realm so that it is ripe for the taking, but because they have a plan in mind Varys might be inclined to view chaos in and of itself as a negative? Maybe?
Baelish: Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.
Yes, that’s what we just said–both Varys and LF need the realm fucked up
“Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again.”
Um. Because they die trying to turn political strife into opportunity? Okay, we guess that’s a thing.
“The fall breaks them.”
Oh they’re not dead? Or they’re just done trying to make sense of it? Only some can handle “the climb” aka political machinations that thrive on chaos and despair?
“And some, given a chance to climb, they refuse.”
Sure. Some people don’t like to be opportunistic dicks or in politics at all (see Aemon). Boy it would be great if we had some imagery of people climbing. Is anyone CLIMBING something this episode? Let’s pan to them. It’d be so thematically awesome and not ham-fisted.
“They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions.”
Tricks are something a whore does for money. No seriously, people who don’t want to have chaos in the realm because of suffering of others are clinging to illusions? Love is an illusion to LF despite the fact that it’s still blinding him to true “success” in his plot? Actually isn’t that the one thing that we can say for a certainty about LF: his love for Cat?
“Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”
But that’s only if you abandon the “lie” of the realm, which you haven’t, and no. Seriously what the fuck is this supposed to be saying? Isn’t the idea that you’re trying to end up on the top of all of this in the end??
We don’t understand why anyone likes this speech. In our opinion, it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But compared to what’s coming…it’s practically understated:
Ableist humor from Tyrion!
Tyrion: “I was curious. Why was he smashing all those beetles? What did he get out of it? First thing I did was ask him. “Orson, why are you smashing all those beetles?” He gave me an answer. “Smash the beetles. Smash ‘em.” (grunting) I wasn’t deterred. I was the smartest person I knew. Certainly I had the wherewithal to unravel the mysteries that lay at the heart of a moron. So I went to Maester Volarik’s library. Volarik. Tried to touch me once. Turns out, far too much has been written about great men and not nearly enough about morons. Doesn’t seem right. In any case, I found nothing that illuminated the nature of Orson’s affliction or the reason behind his relentless beetle slaughter.”
Neither did we, but do continue because we’re oh so captivated.
“So I went back to the source. I may not have been able to speak with Orson, but I could observe him, watch him the way men watch animals to come to a deeper understanding of their behavior. And as I watched, I became more and more sure of it. There was something happening there. His face was like the page of a book written in a language I didn’t understand. But he wasn’t mindless. He had his reasons. And I became possessed with knowing what they were. I began to spend inordinate amounts of time watching him. I would eat my lunch in the garden, chewing my mutton to the music of… (grunting) And when I wasn’t watching him, I was thinking about him. Father droned on about the family legacy and I thought about Orson’s beetles. I read the histories of Targaryen conquests. Did I hear dragon wings? No. I heard… (grunting) And I still couldn’t figure out why he was doing it. And I had to know, because it was horrible that all these beetles should be dying for no reason. Every day around the world, men, women, and children are murdered by the score.”
Jaime: “Who gives a dusty f*ck about a bunch of beetles?” No shut up Jaime, don’t interrupt Peter Dinklage’s audition tape (which btw he is fantastic here; it’s not his fault he has to work with hacktacular content).
“Piles and piles of them, years and years of them. How many countless living crawling things smashed and dried out and returned to the dirt? In my dreams I found myself standing on a beach made of beetle husks stretching as far as the eye could see. I woke up crying, weeping for their shattered little bodies. I tried to stop Orson once. He was twice your size. He just pushed me aside with a “kuuh” and kept on smashing. Every day until that mule kicked him in the chest and killed him. So what do you think? Why did he do it? What was it all about?”
OH MY GOD IS THIS ABOUT THE FUTILITY OF MAN OR SOME SHIT? THIS IS SO FUCKING DEEP. THERE’S NO WAY MARTIN’S ACTUAL WORDS OR THEMES IN THE BOOK COULD BE BETTER THAN THIS. ESPECIALLY BECAUSE IT SHOWS LANNISTER BRO-BONDING WHICH IS TOTALLY THEIR RELATIONSHIP. LET’S MOCK THE HANDICAPPED TOGETHER, MY DWARF BROTHER. THIS IS GREAT AND CLASSY.
Sorry… We’re quite upset about this. This is bullshit even when you consider that they spend these four minutes NOT talking about something else. Like, I don’t know, the formative experience of Tyrion’s life, for example.
9. General Sloppiness
This is going to sound nit-picky, but the devil is in the details, especially when the alterations to the details do not add a single thing to the experience.
For instance: Oberyn doesn’t live in a brothel, doesn’t view himself as a second son (he is THIRD BORN! The Septons are grateful for it. ELLLLLIIIAAAAAA), and it sure as hell wasn’t his dad or step-dad’s idea to go to Casterly Rock. These seem like tiny nitpicks, but they really added up. In particular in the case of establishing Dorne in the fourth season, it seems. It was to the extent that we mostly just assumed that they were dropping Dornish Absolute Primogeniture, but apparently, no they’re not: the Season 4 History and Lore discusses it in some detail. So what was going on? WHAT JUSTIFICATION?
And did you know the dude who met Tyrion when the Dornish party arrived at King’s Landing was “Lord Blackmont”? Look people. The head of House Blackmont is Lady Larra Blackmont, a woman. We found that out in about three seconds by looking at the appendix to A Storm of Swords. Her heir, Jynessa, is also a woman. So what gives, did they just not check? Like, are you telling us that they implied that Oberyn’s father ruled Dorne because NO ONE CHECKED!?
^Get this fuckboy out of here.
He’s not even hot.
Okay, okay, we might seem nuts. Confession: we like Dorne. A lot. But even taking us away from our bias, there are a thousand little things like this. How did Yara get from the Iron Islands to the Dreadfort? Look at a map of Westeros and tell us how. The Dreadfort isn’t even on the coast. Does Littlefinger have a teleporter or a glass candle, that lets him go from King’s Landing to Harrenhal to Bitterbridge at the speed of the plot? We’re aware that Martin occasionally makes a muddle of distance and travel time, but nothing even remotely close to this bad.
And it’s these micro-decisions that really add up. These changes with no justification that we can think of. Take the scene where Daario brings the heads of the other captains to Dany. She’s naked in a tub when this happens. In the books, she’s got clothes on. Did her nakedness add anything to the scene? Did it affect Dany or Daario’s characterizations? No. It needs to be pointed out that there was a moment in the writer’s room where one of them said “you know what, let’s make her naked in this scene.” We’re not ranting because they changed the name of Daario’s sellsword group from “Stormcrows” to the “Second Sons.” We can understand that in adaptations, not everything can be exactly the same. But what is changed should be changed with a reason. And if it’s not enhancing the experience, then what the hell is it doing?
8. Being enamoured of their own original characters
^Nah but really who the hell is Cersei because that’s not the character I’ve been reading (see #3).
D&D actually thought it was subtle and clever to have Olly kill Ygritte. Like. They actually thought no one saw it coming. Listen to their interviews about it, it’s full of smug. So given that THIS is what they think is nuance, suddenly it’s not shocking that their conception of characterization is painfully limited.
Olyvar, everyone’s favorite male-prostitute. Isn’t he great? Isn’t he brimming with personality? Don’t we love how he’s used in such creative ways? He shows up in multiple plot lines. Like Forrest Gump! We’re so clever we can barely stand it. And that ass is so filmable.
Why was Ramsay Bolton in a consensual and somewhat happy looking relationship with anyone at all? Why is Myranda still around? Why did they steal her name from one of our favorite buxom minor characters?
Ros, there’s only one prostitute in all of Westeros and she’s so important to the plot that she got to travel LF-warp speed down from Winterfell to King’s Landing. Ah yes, Ros, who somehow ended up being LF’s accountant for a time? And when the actor didn’t want to show her titties anymore they killed her off. Classy.
7. The Wall storyline in season 4
The Wall plotline in Season 4 was pushed and pulled so that the assaults on The Wall by both Wildling camps (Ygritte/Thenns and Mance/giants) could occur simultaneously for a big Episode 9 spectacular spectacular! While we’re not trying to argue that “holy shit” penultimate episodes are necessarily a bad thing, we do think their desire to create a Blackwater 2.0 constrained them.
So what did they do to fill the space until the battle? They gave us Craster’s. They gave us the most flippant and casual depiction of rape in the goddamn series. They gave us Locke, a character who thematically should have perished at the hands (or teeth) of Brienne, but instead had his neck broken by Hodor (and seriously, the moral ambiguity of Bran warging Hodor could have been successfully highlighted with the murder of any mutineer…it didn’t matter that it was Locke in this case). As the season was airing, we tried to justify Craster’s by saying it created tension in a plotline that was sorely in want of it (Bran’s). But when every single chess piece reset, it was hard to view that forray as anything particularly captivating. They wanted to show Jon slowly stepping up into a leadership role too, but that could have also been accomplished by using his actual arc. Shouldn’t that always be their ideal option? Or do they really purport to think they know what is best for the character over Martin?
A lot of people loved the battle episode, and we guess it looked cool. But part of the beauty of Jon’s ASOS storyline was the constant barrage on The Wall. The threat never went away, but because attacks came in waves, character moments jumped out. Ygritte’s death in the episode barely had time to breathe. In the books, Jon is affected by it and mourns her while also still having to figure out ways to stop the giants.
And by dragging it out, they handicapped the progression of Jon’s arc. He’s actually behind in book material, and we felt his S4 arc ended on a whimper. This means the pacing of his arc for S5 is going to probably be a bit rushed. And all of this was completely avoidable.
So yeah, maybe stuff like the scythe looked cool. But this episode made it so clear that the excuse “it’s okay, they know what they’re doing in the long-run!” just isn’t true. They messed up pacing that is going to have consequences into next season, they did it purely because they wanted E09 gasps, and in the process they inserted their own creation that was more than a bit problematic, because they’re running under the assumption that they know better than Martin. Themes were simplified (if even present at all), the context was stripped of its nuances, and characterizations were just kind of shunted aside (Sam looking for sex loopholes in the vows! Jon offering to kill himself!). They don’t know better, and it was clear that these changes were not made because of any deep understanding of Jon’s arc.
And can we talk about Olly more here? In A Storm of Sword the fact that Jon never knows which of his brothers killed Ygritte adds to the tragedy, and to Jon’s guilt. (“You were wrong to love her, and wrong to leave her.”) Please, explain to us why it’s better to have a child kill her in front of the man who loves her and then just have them nod at each other? Like, we guess it’s not completely meaningless because he knows he can’t blame Olly for it and all that, but no, it’s not the same as Jon having to talking himself into believing that he didn’t do it himself. Because, like, he could have done it, and that’s important, damn it.
6. Dropping threads like a hot potato
It’s pretty obvious that D&D didn’t like the Brotherhood without Banners very much, because, like, where did they go? In fact, where are the Riverlands at all?
The Red Wedding: Arya stabbed a dude and Sansa looked vaguely sad and wouldn’t eat lemon cakes for a whole episode. It’s almost as if there was something in the books that was a DIRECT ANSWER to this that got cut or glossed over or some shit. We don’t know obviously…
The tag line for the fourth season was “The North Remember” but do they? Because it seems like the Boltons are pretty secure.
It’s okay, Tyrion, she was only mentioned 4 times in the show beforehand. Who could remember that.
Who’s dagger did Bran’s would-be assassin use? Cat doesn’t give any shits anymore apparently, and the audience is left to assume it was… who? Like, a Lannister or something, right? They’re all the same.
Yara’s “eh fuck this” moment leaving Theon behind. She circumnavigated the continent in less than one season, ffs, she could have at least tried to kick a dog before fleeing or something.
You know what thread DIDN’T get dropped though?
5. Using tropes for comic relief without giving a shit about their implications
At first we were quite pleased with the Loras/Renly relationship in the show. It was something that wasn’t really explored in the novels because neither character was a point of view and there weren’t really any POV characters around them. And they were really into each other and it was sweet. But then. But then, you add a little Marg in there and all of a sudden their relationship becomes a big joke.
First, there was this:
Margaery: “Do you want my brother in come in and help?”
Renly: Confused denials and sputtering
Margaery: No, I’m totally okay with that, because I’m so sexually liberated.
Renly: Confused denials and sputtering
Do you get it? He’s gay. He doesn’t like to have sex with women. And she knows it. That’s the joke.
And then…. the third season….
Loras likes to dream about women’s fashion design! And a big, fabulous wedding! BECAUSE HE’S GAY! Laugh! What are you a homophobe or something? Laugh! Laugh at the freak!
“Sword swallower through and through!” Olenna is so fantastically snappy! AND LORAS IS GAY!
Hey speaking of Loras’s gayness, in the books, though only mentioned in allusions, Loras mourns Renly’s death quite heavily. He joins the Kingsguard to protect his sister, including the oath of chastity. When Tyrion questions him about this choice at so young an age, Loras replies “When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.” So yeah, the dude is gay in the books. But if you’re going to boil his character down to that, at least do it in a way that’s respectful to the actual character. Letting family secrets slip to Olyvar because he’s soooo gay isn’t the way to go about it.
And guys, have you heard? Oberyn and Ellaria are both bisexual and they have a non-monogamous relationship. Maybe they should like…live in a brothel. And only talk about that. It’s not like they have any other common interests or, like, four kids together that they both adore.
Brienne and Cersei getting catty at the wedding! (And yes before you bitch at us, we know George wrote the episode…but he wasn’t the one who put Brienne there). Does it even make sense for Brienne to have been invited? She and Cersei are going to totes fight over Jaime even though neither one would ever admit anything of that magnitude??
Not to mention Jaime and Brienne were back while Sansa was still in King’s Landing and neither of them seemed to give a dusty fuck about the vow they had sworn.
But don’t bother thinking about silly things like continuity or characterizations though because….
^Real talk: this was funny. But this series is not The Office.
4. Saint Tyrion
Tyrion is a fan-favorite for the show audience. And even for the book audience. But the Tyrion you’re seeing on your screen is NOT Tyrion Lannister. In the books he’s a far more nuanced character…we would call him a “dark grey.” He always both has a point, and is wrong.
He’s right that people look down on him because he has dwarfism, but he also burns people’s homes and has them murdered. He’s right that women aren’t falling at his feet because he’s not conventionally physically attractive, but he also has some VERY problematic view on women in general, sex workers in particular, and has creepy ideas about being owed affection by prostitutes that he’s hired to pretend to be in love with him and twelve-year-olds who were forced to marry him. “Why wouldn’t Sansa confide in me? It’s almost as though she thinks I might rape her at any moment and she would have no recourse to stop me because no one would care. But actually I’M the one suffering because I don’t sleep naked anymore.”
Tyrion is Martin’s favourite character, but that doesn’t mean he’s a saint. Martin very consciously scripts Tyrion as a morally questionable character, though with his wit and potential it’s not difficult to see why a writer would be so drawn to him. Show!Tyrion is D&D’s favourite character aaaand…. yeah, he’s pure as the driven snow. There are a thousand little details from the books that show us that Tyrion is in touch with the asshole side of the force, like when he break Marillion’s fingers just cause he doesn’t like him, when he threatens to rape and murder Tommen in retaliation for Cersei harming a prostitute that helped him, or when he bitch-slaps Shae for questioning his manliness…all omitted.
The even bigger problem is that this need to keep Tyrion pure and good impacts other characters.
In the novels, Tywin is a horrible father who treats Tyrion horribly, but he totally gives him credit for the chain, and the Dornish alliance, and the general keeping of Cersei-crazy in check. He certainly doesn’t accuse him of spending all his time whoring, because even two Tyrion, um, detractors like us have to admit he did a better job in A Clash of Kings than 95% of people would have, for all his mistakes. (Mistakes they omitted. Did you know there was a botched plot to rescue Jaime? True story). But having Tywin give him credit would imply that he might have a point about Tyrion’s need for adulation, so it’s out.
Sansa, OMG. Where do we begin? Sansa happily kneeling for Tyrion at their wedding and then bonding with him over sheep shit is one of those things that SEEMS like a nitpick, but no, it’s major. Sansa’s entire characterization is based on subtle acts of resistance. She DID NOT kneel for Tyrion at their wedding and it was huge. She never bonded with him or thought she had to be nice to him, and that was huge. And that whole “I will NOT rape her!” thing? Yeah, Tyrion totally wants to diddle Sansa in the novels. And he wants her huge…. tracts of land, even more. All dropped, and all to make Tyrion look better.
Show!Sansa is perfectly content to joke around with her gaolers. And while it might be adorable, it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the complexity of her arc, all done for the sake of our golden boy.
And Shae. Oh course, it’s not one sided! That would make Tyrion look delusional. And of course she attacked him first, or else that might imply he was wrong to strangle her to death for not… being a loyal prostitute?
And speaking of D&D’s Lannister fanboyism…
3. The whitewashing of Cersei
This relates very much to #8 and to #1. For some reason, D&D don’t like the character of Cersei Lannister that Martin wrote. Like, maybe they thought that if they had a female antagonist people would think they were sexist, or something, because feminist = all women are perfect. So they whitewash her. This lady has more whitewash on her than that fence in Tom Sawyer. That’s not to say a lot of viewers don’t think of Cersei as a villain: she is pitted against the Starks (the “good guys,”
Michael), and often opposes Tyrion. But compared to her book counterpart, Show!Cersei can just be thought of as “misunderstood.”
Look, Cersei in the novels is complex. And, like Tyrion, it’s not like she doesn’t have a point: she IS shut out of power because she is a woman, she DID get used as breeding stock. But she is also just not a good person. She is a villain. An asshole, even. She is as misogynistic as any male character. She has zero sympathy for other women and delights in imagining some of them getting raped. She wanted to have Arya’s hand amputated because she hit Joffrey. Are you seeing how Show!Cersei could be considered nothing short of a delight in comparison?
This problem was that this whitewashing has been present since Season 1. There were two scenes in particular that gave us pause, even back then. Firstly, Show!Cersei (let’s call her “Carol”) did have a child with Robert who died in infancy (as opposed to her being so disgusted at the idea of having a Robert!Spawn that she had an abortion, which is what happened in the books, and fair enough we guess, Robert was gross and she took the only recourse she had in controlling the conditions of her reproduction). Still, why this show child exists, we have no idea. None. Then secondly, we watched the scene where Ned tells Carol he knows her dirty little secret and were, like, “Huh, something is wrong. Apart from the weird editing, that is. Where was the part where she offers Ned sex? That part was rather important, and telling about her characterization.”
So despite their obsession with sexualizing everyone else, like Margaery, they actually desexualize Carol. I mean, she sleeps with Lancel, but even that they drop as soon as they possibly can. But Cersei’s cynical and hamfisted way of using sex to manipulate men is just dropped. Totally dropped. Fuck, Olenna even says Carol is “too old” for sexytimes with Loras the sword-swallower.
Carol is more empathetic as well, and has far less blood on her hands. Lena Headey plays all of her conversations with Sansa as very sad and sympathetic, rather than dripping with scorn (and does a good job of it too…we love Headey as Carol). Cersei does two rather horrible things in A Clash of Kings, like having all her husband’s illegitimate children murdered (not for the first time) and trying to have Tyrion killed in the middle of the battle. Both of these things are given to Joffrey in the show. Because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to tell he was a little shit, we guess.
In the past two seasons especially, the showrunners seem to have been going out of their way to mold the entire GoT universe to make Carol seem sympathetic and her actions more understandable. The Lannisters have run out of gold (this is stupid for so many reasons), so it’s not her fault she can’t pay back the Iron Bank! She tried so hard to control Joffrey, his behaviour is killing her! She would never dismiss it and essentially say “boys will be boys”!
We’re quite sure that one of the main reasons they aged up Margaery and turn her so explicitly into a scheming sexual manipulator (other than the fact that they were fans of Natalie Dormer’s performance as Anne Boleyn) is to give Carol an actual worthy adversary, rather than have her persecute a sixteen-year-old girl because she’s jealous that her son has a girlfriend.
In the novels, Cersei is constantly telling herself that she’s “Tywin with teats” and “her father’s true son”, but it’s clear she’s kidding herself. And I guess D&D were fooled too, because *insert fanboy voice*: “Carol goes up against Twyin and WINSSS.” Yes with the most shit argument that’s ever existed ever. Because Tywin Lannister definitely doesn’t have a history of call people’s ridiculous bluffs, and because telling everyone about the twincest wouldn’t at all result in Lannister beheadings all around.
But what really bugs us is the 180 they pulled at the end of the season regarding her relationship with Jaime, because it ruined his character, as well as hers. If you haven’t read the books, it is impossible for us to explain to you how WRONG it is that 1. Jaime would be okay with fucking Cersei in the White Sword Tower, 2. Cersei would be the one to be all, “let’s be together for realzies” and 3. Cersei would KISS HIS GOLDEN HAND. Like, fuck us with a bloody spear, Cersei would rather take Margaery bra shopping than kiss Jaime’s golden hand. It’s just. so. wrong. Jaime is no longer perfect, so now she hates him. That’s the kind of person Cersei is.
What kind of person will Carol be in the future? ¯\_?_?_/¯
2. No flashbacks or dream sequences or prophecies
This is a change that is mostly just constraining to themselves. D&D made this rule, and in doing so handicapped and undercut a lot of important themes and characterizations in the process. They’re also breaking this rule for Cersei (what a shock) this year, which makes their lack of foresight that much more frustrating, as it would have definitely enhanced the past seasons.
A lot of the poignancy of Ned’s story is the guilt over his sister’s death. And aside from us telling you, there’s really no way anyone could get that from what we were shown. The Tower of Joy dream sequence is probably the most discussed passage in the entire novel series. It is absolutely crucial to understanding Ned’s characterization, his motivations, his marriage, his friendship with Robert, everything. Like, literally, this sequence is everything. And they just skipped it? With nothing to really replace it? What? And that’s without discussing its plot significance.
In the novels, all six of the Stark children are wargs. Arya and Jon have wolf-dreams on an almost nightly basis, and it’s strongly implied that Rickon and Robb do too. Sansa constantly thinks about Lady, even years after she dies. The connection between these kids and the direwolves is an extremely important part of the mythology of the series. The only dream sequences included in the show were Bran’s, which weren’t really done very well. The dream in the novels is lovely, by the way. And also, the Three-Eyed-Crow (it’s a CROW!) talks. And he’s a bit of a jerk. But in the series, there’s no warging or wolf-dreams for anyone BUT Bran. This is especially egregious in Arya and Jon’s case. They’re being wargs is just, super important guys, trust us.
Even when the narrative presented a clear opportunity for D&D to make include prophecies, they chose to skip them. For instance, in Season 2 Dany enters the House of the Undying. While you could argue that some of the imagery we see was heavy foreshadowing, what was not included from the books is more telling. In the Books, Dany sees about 15 different visions, one of which includes an important conversation with her dead brother Rhaegar, and hears the following prophecy: “three fires must you light… one for life and one for death and one to love… three mounts must you ride… one to bed and one to dread and one to love… three treasons will you know… once for blood and once for gold and once for love…”
We think it’s going to be important. We also think the visions are going to be important. Book!Dany sure as hell thinks they’re important. Oh, there’s also the prophecy about The Prince who was Promised who may or may not be a prince and who may or may not also be Azor Ahai, and that prince is destined to save the world from the force of pure evil. We could go on about it but we wouldn’t want to bore you.
In general, we should have seen their exclusion of these matters coming by the title they picked. Because the title is a symptom of the problem, which is that D&D view the “game of thrones” as the most fundamental part of the narrative. In ASOIAF, however, the prophecies and overarching threads (that often begin in flashbacks) are the “important threat,” and what ultimately will become the focus (we assume, unless we’re really being trolled). Martin’s first book was named “A Game of Thrones” to poetically highlight the narrow focus of the High Lords when there’s something much bigger going on: a song of ice and fire. A phrase that you would have heard in the show had Dany encountered her brother in the House of the Undying. We’re over it. Really, we are.
1. Absolutely no idea how to write women or what Martin’s going for thematically
The ASOIAF universe is not one that’s very friendly to women, and there are many women who, for that reason, take a large issue with consuming the series. We both feel very strongly (as women, as feminists, as nerds) that GRRM is not, in any way, shape, or form, endorsing such atrocities, and that the depiction of them actually allows us to really dig deeply into these issues. Martin is a 21st century man with rather progressive sensibilities, and instead, we would argue that the violence against, and mistreatment/relegation of women, is a major theme explored in his novels. The female POVs are among the best, and what’s truly amazing is that you can totally see the way in which the Westerosi patriarchy informs their thoughts. They embrace it to varying degrees, but the tension this “patriarchy brain” causes is incredibly relevant to their stories. Seeing how much Cersei hates her own womanhood, or how Catelyn completely buys into the whole “I will bear him many sons” thing, is the point.
Or how about that part where Roslin Frey was weeping through her entire wedding feast and no one thought it was especially strange? Not even her new husband as he proceed to have sex with her? Do you think that had a point or did Martin just feel like throwing in another rape to make it more edgey?
D&D on the other hand…don’t seem to get this. Or see these themes. They see the violence alright, and they’ll throw in some casual rapes in the background of Craster’s Keep to remind us what a terrible place Westeros can be (”FUCK THEM TIL THEY’RE DEAD”). That’s nuance.
But it’s beyond rape. It’s their treatment of every. single. woman. character.
We thought about this long and hard, and we think we see what they’re trying to do: they’re trying to be “progressive”. Brienne can’t be an innocent little girl in a grown up body with idealized notions of honour and knighthood and no self-esteem who agonizes about whether she really has to stomach for war and feels like a failure as a woman, but also doesn’t regret her choice to be herself. She has to be “strong”. Look at her kill three men in cold blood while Jaime is oddly turned on!
Margaery can’t be a sixteen-year-old girl who, yeah, is a little snarky and not above scheming, but who essentially is a walking hymen that people trade around, while she gets to sit in a place heavily associated with three women who were literally locked up for ten years so people wouldn’t be tempted by the sight of them, while she makes a performance of idealized maidenhood. No, that’s not empowering, she needs to be “sexually liberated”. Because “possibly not a virgin” and “slut” are basically the same thing. But let’s make sure Cersei calls her a whore as much as possible, because that shows we’re not into slut shaming.
Talisa may be the worst example of this. She’s an original character, so, like, is this what they think female characters should be like? She’s a “strong independent woman”, not a completely passive non-entity like Jeyne Westerling. So what if the idea of a woman walking around a battlefield without a chaperone and sass-talking a king is beyond ridiculous? She’s so badass that she still always has dirt on her face, and she still dresses like a washerwoman even after she becomes a queen. She ain’t gonna conform, yo.
Sansa’s an interesting case, because while they didn’t replace her sewing needles for double daggers (*coughs*), they did completely strip her story of the thematic significance. Book!Sansa is a character that lives very much in her head, with her strength being her empathetic intuition and read of people, which she uses as a survival mechanism (and eventually a weapon it would seem…Darth!Sansa at the end of Season 4 was definitely going in that direction). For that reason, she can be a difficult character to adapt, because what is unspoken carries so much weight.
But D&D seemed to just look at her arc’s trajectory in terms of discrete plot points. They moved through the right “notes”: she is a prisoner in King’s Landing, she thinks she’s going to marry a Tyrell, she marries Tyrion, she is somewhat implicated in the Red Wedding, she is spirited away by Dontos who is in the employ of Littlefinger, she is taken to the Eyrie…etc. But in the process they just blithely change her characterization without any thought to her actual development. The entire theme of Sansa’s arc is subtle acts of resistance all while keeping up the guise of “courtesy” as a form of “armor.” Sansa flies under the radar of everyone, but also lets no one in. Even her friendship with Margaery in the books turns quickly south, as the opportunistic Tyrells abandon giving any shits about Sansa once she is to marry Tyrion. And Sansa sure as hell never let Tyrion be privy to any of her thoughts. She was not unkind by any means, but she was never forthcoming.
Throughout the books, Sansa was also taking risks. She proactively meets Dontos on numerous occasions as he promises a way out of King’s Landing. She has supplies ready to go and knows she is about to leave during the entirety of the Purple Wedding, rather than Dontos just popping up by her table.
So Show!Sansa’s characterization is a bit of a head-scratcher. They made her more docile (kneeling for Tyrion), passive (Dontos finds her), and naive (sheep-shift, the uncynical friendship with Margaery), but then once getting her to the Eyrie, sprinted ahead to a Sansa that was fully in understanding of her strengths and poised to use them against Littlefinger by the end of Season 4. It’s like D&D had no use for her until she was in a situation where she had some agency. And to just gloss over the very important steps that got her there isn’t an empowering message–it’s one that seriously undermines the qualities that makes Sansa such a rich and unique character.
And Catelyn. God, Catelyn. Did you know she had fewer lines than Shae in the third season? It’s true not everyone can be a funny whore. Still, In the novels, Catelyn is the voice for reason and conciliation. She’s very much the moral heart of the story in many ways. And she’s a fascinating character in her own right, we made up the term “patriarchy brain” to describe the way she thinks. She exercises power and influence within a patriarchal system, without ever actually challenging or questioning it. In the show, she is quite literally silenced. Like, they give her lines and her ideas to other people. And she just sits there. Because, like, they thought people didn’t want to see her nag Robb by giving him the best advice she can, or, like, be sad about how most of the people she loves are dead? Not badass enough, it would seem.
So there’s our list. Thoughts?