"Winter is Coming"
(Note: This is an alternate viewpoint from one of the writers who saw the show before reading the show.)
The television show Game of Thrones has effectively swept the nation by storm. First, it's on HBO, which makes it both exclusive (to audiences who are lucky enough to get cable). Secondly, it's special inasmuch as HBO has certain abilities that non-cable shows would never be able to get away with. Even the credits are awesome, because they change each time, based on what kingdoms will be most represented in the episode, and then the cast members have symbols reflecting their households in the series.
Thankfully to the credit of the book series, it was not turned into a movie. Instead, it was picked up by HBO. Two exceptional things that this television show has accomplished is that it has gotten people who aren't into the Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin to start reading it, and it further drives followers of the series to get excited about something on tv.
Jokingly referred to as “the Sopranos of Middle Earth,” this show is filmed in Ireland (another plus for the HBO—larger budget!). The filming schedule is hectic, and Martin is a co-creator on the show which helps do the book series justice instead of just taking the name and using it as a license to do what the creators wanted.
The writers even mentioned at Comic Con that the special features for the show would not include deleted scenes, because on account of the hurried filming, there really weren't any.
Another tidbit? The series hired a language specialist to develop a language for one of the nomadic groups, the Dothraki, represented in the series.
“You Can't Just Walk into Mordor!”
Watching this television show without reading the first book, or at least the first half, is a little bit like going to your first day of swim class and being expected to hold your head under water or swim the entire pool. Not only is it overwhelming, but it's ridiculously confusing. I luckily had someone next to me who has read four out of five of the series. That's like the same amount of dentists that recommend Trident, so I had an accomplice on hand who I could use as my personal questions guide as we were watching the series.
It's the characters you have to worry about. I'm not saying it's impossible to watch the show without reading the books, but I'm merely stating that it will be troublesome to follow. I am almost finished with the first book, and even after watching the show, I had to have my husband clarify some of the characters. With names and titles are so similar it's not difficult to become befuddled.
“The Book is Sooooooo Much Better”
This elicits an eye roll when people say this to me. My conclusion is that watching before I read not only piques my interest but rarely leaves me dissappointed. I'm not ashamed to admit the fact that although I enjoy books, I could watch tv before I could read, and (as one can guess by looking at my posts from this blog) at heart I'm a “television” person. Don't get me wrong, I love reading, but I enjoy more tv than I do books.
Yet when it comes to picking a medium for this series, it's similar to picking which of your identical twin children you love more. On the outside they look the same, and they are eerily similar. Yet, each one offers wonderful variant qualities. Each has its strengths.
The book has more time to reveal the characters—their strengths, weaknesses, dreams, rivalries, etc. This makes you feel more involved in the characters and more sympathetic to each. Although I have a hard time picking favorite characters in the book—I can easily assess my least favorites although not for their lack of rich interior. The show makes the divide in favorites a little easier—who doesn't love Sean Bean, right?
The show is more intense and enthralling than the book, but as far as books go, it is a an easy and enjoyable read. I have had a hard time putting it down since I started reading it, but I had an even harder time going even short periods of time without watching the television show. The show has all the best moments crammed into it, although it gives less time to explain the why despite the fact that each episode is an hour long. The show also is a crash course in the novel, letting you know which parts you can skip over, but the novel is better at introducing the characters and getting you accustomed to them in their own unique ways.
What they both do equally well is set the stage as act 2, introducing both the past, the current state of affairs, and the future of Westeros. In the tv show, the Lord and King's children act haughty and worthy, often lashing out at those around them because of status. At first, I was bothered by this, especially in the case of the tv show, but when I read the book, it made me see that any children of status and wealth would in fact, view themselves as better than those around them and capable, even if they weren't.
If you've watched the show first, you might be riddled with questions if you haven't read the book.
Characters vs. Actors
(My disclaimer is that I've only read one book so this opinion may flucuate in the future.)
Tyrion is one of the characters who I feel is almost identically represented in each, but that is partially because he has some of the most superior lines. Peter Dinklage is finally in something mainstream where he can get credit for without it being a bit role, and I love that.
Ned Stark is another, perhaps because he carries such hero status by being relatable as the begrudged man—heavy with responsibility. Sean Bean only takes on stoic or villanous roles, and it's very poetic that he plays Lord Stark who is even mentioned in the book by being over-the-top somber.
Robert Baratheon is that loud drunk who is always yelling at people, although in the book his character is much more multi-faceted and heartbreaking. In the book, you can see more of the man he used to be, whereas in the show, he's mostly just the reluctant king. Mark Addy, most famous for his show Still Standing, gets to play King Robert.
Lena Headley literally brings chills down the backs of her audience as Cersei Lannister, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau could not look or act more like Prince Charming (Shrek) while in his role of Jaime Lannister. Maisie Williams shows us all the defiant and innocence of Arya, and Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, is as cunning as he is clever.
I don't think I can criticize any of the actors of being unable to adequately portray their parts, and I could probably write a whole review of acculades for all the actors in the series. As for whether or not their casting accurately reflects and does their book self justice? That's probably more of a question for our head writer of The Inquisitive Loon.
In the tv show, there are clear favorites. Since time is limited as is budget, the main characters are the ones who get all the face time (see Tyrian). On account of the fact that a lot of the lines are taken directly from the novels, it is even more cramped for space as opposed to the head writers who just dole out episodes to certain writers on staff.
When we're lucky, the squires and non-royalty get their moments as well. Ser Barristan, one of the knights of King Robert's court has an excellent cameo that occurs late in season one. A good example of someone I love not getting enough face time is Hodor, one of the servants of Lord Stark's residence. I am hoping that they will come out with a medieval sitcom on the BBC called Hodor! and that part of my new life reading the series can be satiated.
He Said What?
There are also some scenes in the first year of the series that didn't occur in the book. While the book creates and sets the tone and gives one the feel for the kingdoms, some dialogue is added (Varys and Littlefinger come to mind) to the episodes to give the audience better building of characters, their relationships, and their history.
99 Problems, but...
I've discussed this in other reviews as well. Sometimes the reasons behind certain people taking stances or opinions on something has little background to explain why. For example, in the show, Catelyn Stark is unhappy that Ned Stark is going south to King's Landing, and that's it. We're never really told why. In the book, she goes back and forth on the matter before she comes to the conclusion that he shouldn't go, and her reasons are explained. Because he has a son out of wedlock, because she doesn't trust the Lannisters, because she loves him and wants him where he belongs. In the show, we're led to believe...that she just really loves her husband? That it's dangerous? She doesn't say. Even the reasons why Jon leaves to take the black on The Wall aren't really apparent. We're just led to believe that it's something he's decided.
Show Girls Goes Medieval on Your Tube
One annoyance I've had is the galore of nudity. Yes, we get it, you're on HBO. While I'm in no way opposed to the human form (I do have my particular grimaces to certain types), the females literally come out on top. Scenes that would involve nudity in the first book typically don't, and vice versa. The nudity is so rampant that it distracts from the story itself.
The content speaks for itself, and I understand how audiences might be more drawn to a show on cable if there's frequent flesh. The majority of the time, I feel that if it had ¾ less sex than it does, the audience would enjoy it just as much if not more. Those that don't could feel free to watch porn, because they probably do anyway.
Whether you're reading the series or watching the show, you should hopefully have a fantastic time doing so. There's a lot of exciting moments whether you're into the specifics of diplomacy or time pieces or tv drama at its best.
If Game of Thrones peaks your fancy, you might try reading the books before you step into the show. If you have no interest in reading the book before you jump into the show, then please have a consultant on hand or read some breakdown of who's who before you watch the show and maybe take notes as you go. I know that sounds very fourth grade, but you'll thank me. I wouldn't want anyone to lose interest in either the book or the show, but especially not both. Hodor.