WELL, THAT HAPPENED: HBO vs. George R.R. Martin

By on May 13, 2015
Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Littlefinger (Aiden Gillan) discuss Sansa’s future in season five of ‘Game of Thrones.’ PHOTO: HBO

Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Littlefinger (Aiden Gillan) discuss Sansa’s future in season five of ‘Game of Thrones.’ PHOTO: HBO

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The HBO original series Game of Thrones is easily one of the most popular and hotly debated television shows since ABC’s Lost ended back in 2010. Mixing high-concept fantasy elements with more family drama than The Sopranos and Parenthood combined, GOT has managed to captivate audiences and defy expectations. The bloody tale of the Stark/Lannister/Targaryen power struggle is paving a path for epic fantasy television, and winning various Emmys and Golden Globes along the way.

Based on a series of seven books (five of which have been published) called A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones takes its title from the first book, on which the first season was based. Season two covered the events of A Clash of Kings, but season three only covered the first half of the third book, A Storm of Swords. As with any book adaptation, changes must be made to successfully tell the story through a new medium. For example, some important tasks that extraneous characters executed in the books have been absorbed by main characters on the show to avoid confusion and propel the story.

Fans of George R.R. Martin’s books have expressed concerns over the creative choices made by showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, but that comes as no shock. Personally, since both the show and the books are such high quality, I see the Game of Thrones saga as something of legend, on par with the story of King Arthur. Each medium offers its own version of that legend.

“You have to recognize there are going to be some differences,” Martin acknowledged. “I’m very pleased with how faithful the show is to the books, but it’s never gonna be exactly the same … Hopefully each [medium] will stand on its own.”

The current season (the fifth) has ventured somewhere between adapting the fourth and fifth books, A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons, and the divergences from the books have been greater than ever. One of the focus characters, Sansa Stark, has recently deviated dramatically from her book equivalent, both in characterization and geography. A Dance with Dragons ended with an uncertain fate for Sansa, but the show has given her plenty more to work with. The show has also killed off a handful of characters that are still alive in the books.

Before shooting the first season, the showrunners required Martin to outline the remainder of the story for them. As readers await the sixth and seventh books, HBO has a good idea where their show is going, which makes speculation from book fans run rampant. If the showrunners kill off a character in the show, does that mean they aren’t relevant for the endgame in the books?

“I’ve told [the showrunners] certain things,” Martin said. “So they have some knowledge but the devil is in the details. I can give them broad strokes of what I intend to write, but the details aren’t there yet.”

There is speculation that the HBO show will end with seven seasons, meaning they will finish the story before Martin’s final book A Dream of Spring publishes. His sixth book, The Winds of Winter, is expected sometime in 2016. However, Martin seems to have a few tricks up his sleeve.

Last month, Martin said he has devised a “great twist” that will shock readers.

“It’s nothing they can do in the show because the show has already — on this particular character — made a couple decisions that will preclude it, where in my case I have not made those decisions,” he said.

Whether you’re loyal to the books or loyal to the show (or somewhere in the spectrum in-between), there is something refreshing about being in spoiler-free territory. Once the show adapts what’s left of Martin’s published material, speculation will finally be free game and book aficionados will be on the same level as fans of the show. Whichever direction this story goes, it’s clear that Martin has managed, in a very Lannister way, to gain the upper hand.


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