Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade or so, you’re at least passingly familiar with the HBO series Game of Thrones and its novelized source material, A Song of Ice and Fire. Even though the first book of this media-spanning franchise came out in the mid-nineties, it wasn’t until the TV adaptation took off in 2011 that it went from a niche nerd property to one of the most dominant and popular narratives of the twenty-first century.
Admittedly, it’s been somewhat of a rocky road for the franchise with the red-hot focus of mainstream popularity on it 24/7. The first season was pretty much perfect, and near-perfectly adapted its source material onto the small screen (although it amusingly did play into the “kill Sean Bean” trope of film and television). The second season was actually, to my mind, a major improvement on the source material, in that it was much more focused than the more frayed narratives of the novel and it gave certain characters (I’m looking at you, Arya) far more interesting things to do than they were given in print. And things carried on more-or-less in that fashion for the next couple of seasons: mostly adapting the source material faithfully, with a few stereotypically “TV” changes thrown in to little more than some collective eye-rolling (I’m looking at you, Pretty-Boy Tyrion).
However, as one often does when adapting an ongoing series from another medium, the TV series eventually caught up with the novels. There came a point when there was simply no more new stuff to turn into HBO episodes, and so the showrunners had a hard choice to make. Do they keep going forward, and simply churn out filler episodes / seasons until series author George R. R. Martin finally publishes the sixth novel of the series, The Winds of Winter, something which doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon? Do they put the entire production on hold until they eventually have another book to adapt? Or do they simply keep the story (and the production) moving forward regardless of Martin’s belabored publication schedule?
As it turns out, it was this last option that the showrunners exercised when looking ahead to the future of this series. Armed with some additional content that had yet to be filmed for the series, a rough outline provided by Martin himself and HBO’s own ideas when it comes to what makes for good TV, the showrunners pushed ahead into virgin territory, making things up as they went along and invariably drifting further and further away from Martin’s original, intended and ultimate vision for the series as they strayed further and further from the published material. It was like a middle school game of telephone, with every episode getting warped by the countless reinterpretations of HBO’s monolithic production crew.
Criticisms about the series naturally spiked at this time, and have grown increasingly fervent in the seasons since, with a number of major twists – particularly concerning some heel-turning mischaracterizations in recent episodes – drawing particular ire from a sizable portion of the fanbase. The always borderline sexual violence from the novels got vastly out of hand. Character arcs were ignored or rewritten to better suit the needs of television. And whatever good intentions the series may have started out with, it is increasingly obvious that Martin’s eventual conclusion to the novels will be a marked break from the direction that the showrunners themselves went.
After the revelations of the last two episodes in particular, there is very little doubt that the spark that ignited the fanbase nearly a decade ago has long since vanished – from right around the time that they wrapped on adapting A Dance with Dragons – and that even if they drew liberally from what Martin intends to do with his long-running story, the execution is far from what his more measured hand would deliver. Whatever it was looking like even at the start of this season, the popular legacy A Song of Ice and Fire will invariably remain with the nerd-friendlier books, rather than the mega-production HBO series. And it is going to be up to Martin now to learn from the mistakes of the HBO showrunners, to deliver a course-correction via the story’s original medium, and deliver to us the kind of story that he always intended to give us.