Time for that challenge of challenges. I've made the decision to watch the first season of Game of Thrones and, after each episode, assess how it did from the perspective of one who has just read the original book. These 'reviews' may be long or they may be short. But I'm allowing for the possibility that they will deviate from my usual format of writing for this blog.
Winter is Coming
Now I went into this series extremely wary. I was afraid that I would either: 1. Really, really like it and then cloister myself away in my room to watch it endlessly until I ran out of episodes. 2. Be horribly disappointed, burst into tears, and then cloister myself away in my room to read the books as a sort of comfort food. Either way, I was afraid of becoming a rabid, unshaven hermit whose life would revolve around the Game of Thrones, one way or another.
Thankfully, neither scenario happened. I'm not insanely addicted to it... yet. And I'm not disappointed. So far it is embodying my own mental vision of the book rather nicely, which is extraordinarily rare for any book-to-TV/movie adaptation. I think at this point I'll go into what I like and then didn't like about this episode, in terms of its relevance to the book.
History of the World
One thing I was worried might not make it into the TV series was how powerful and prevalent the influence of the past has on the 'present day' of Westeros. In the books, much of what gives the world of Game of Thrones such power and intensity is reference to events and people of the past. The ancient majesty of the Wall and the keeps that support it are a good example; though those keeps have fallen into disrepair, it is clear that there was once a time where they stood tall and proud. The character of King Robert Baratheon often finds himself missing adventures of the past, where he and other heroes rose up to strike down a mad king. Though he is long dead, Rhaegar Targaryen becomes quite the complex man in our eyes, all supported by the musings and meanderings of other characters throughout the series, dreaming of a distant past where everything seemed grander and the enemies more clearly defined. Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. Ser Barristan the Bold. Ser Gerold Hightower, the White Bull. Through George RR Martin's writing, we come to see these characters as idealized legends. And, through reading of them, we come to fall in love ourselves with this golden era where characters were always heroic and when people weren't butchering each other over the most ridiculous reasons.
Anyways, I worried that, due to time limitations, the series would focus entirely on the present day and sweep all the other older stories under the rug. But, thankfully, this was averted. In this very first episode, we see Robert reminiscing of the past and of his long-held love for Ned's sister, Lyanna. We see Viserys psychologically prop himself up with memories of when the Targaryens ruled the world. I'm quite glad that they made sure to include these as, with Robert especially, many characters are entirely defined by what occurred in that more heroic era. And it is rewarding in growing both our love for the characters and understanding of the world of Westeros.
Why the Change?
Now most of the changes that they have made so far in the TV show have been totally fine. Some scenes exist that weren't in the book (Jaime visiting Tyrion in the whorehouse is one), but the vast majority of them thus far are great and help to add depth to characters. However, two particular instances have made me raise my eyebrow.
"But I don't want you to go!" - Catelyn
The first is Catelyn. In the book, she is an active supporter of getting Ned to accept the King's honor and become the Hand, moving to King's Landing. Through Ned's acceptance, Catelyn believed that they would secure the safety of their House and also put Ned in a prime position to figure out how Jon Arryn died. It is arguable that, without Catelyn's needling, Ned would never have left Winterfell. Thus her involvement is pretty crucial.
But in the TV series, for some reason they have changed it so that Catelyn is on the side of getting Ned to stay. She wants him to avoid going to King's Landing, for his own safety. Strangely, their roles become reversed as, when they get notice of Jon's assassination, this makes Ned actually want to go to King's Landing, in order to protect Robert.
In the end, this doesn't appear to matter, as TV Ned's decision fits with his character as well as the original version, but I wonder at Catelyn's change in motivation. When Ned dies, a significant part of book Catelyn's character is wracked with guilt over how she pushed him to go. She spends a good part of Clash of Kings dealing with that guilt and growing beyond it. Thus I wonder if this particular change might make Catelyn a less varied and interesting character later. It bears watching.
More Savage – Khal Drogo
Now this change actually irritated me. I speak specifically of the scene where Drogo and Daenarys make love for the first time. The book and TV versions have a pretty huge difference that, I believe, impacts Drogo's character quite negatively.
In the book, up to the point of this scene we are led to believe that Drogo is pretty much the epitome of barbarism and the spitting image of a dirty, Mongolian conqueror. Thus we feel for Daenarys as she is put into a situation where she is forced to marry this apparent savage who, we assume, will have no qualms in raping her if she doesn't give in. Which makes their lovemaking scene incredibly touching. We see as Drogo quietly and gently seems to ask permission every step of the way, even though they have no way of actually communicating with each other besides body language. When the act itself comes, Drogo asks permission of her before going through with it, showing us that, despite his savage exterior, Drogo is capable of compassion. It helps us to understand that maybe this arranged marriage actually has hope and that they are better matched than we thought.
By contrast, while we see a little bit of caring as TV Drogo wipes Dany's initial tears away, this swiftly changes into him 'seizing the moment' and having his way with Dany despite her obvious discomfort and crying. While future episodes might make up for this somehow, I find it hard to think of how it can considering how touching the scene was in the book, and how crucial I feel it is for Drogo's otherwise savage character. It is only through book Drogo's time alone with Dany that we see that this man is capable of good. So I'm concerned that TV's take on Drogo might have screwed that important aspect of his character up.