Game of Thrones, the HBO TV series adapted from George R. R. Martin’s bestselling book series A Song of Ice and Fire, is about to be back on air, and for the fifth time the confrontation between purist fans of the books and hardcore fans of the TV show is taking place overall the internet. It is more of a quarrel, actually, and a bad one.
I am what some would define as a “smug” book reader of A Song of Ice and Fire; this is because I have things to say against the TV show and because, ultimately I have been boycotting it from the beginning of the third season.
Most of us readers are very reasonable, no matter what people might think or say. I would have very much liked to watch a good show matching – or at the least getting near – its exceptional literary counterpart. The reason I do not watch it anymore is not related with the consistency of the storyline between books and TV series. It has to do, primarily, with the overall quality of the show. I do not like it: I think it is overrated because of the quality of Martin’s plot and characters. But as a series itself it lacks style, most of the episodes I watched had a very unbalanced and discontinous pacing (too slow and boring or too fast and messy); sometimes, I dare say, badly written. Many times, very badly acted. That’s why I dislike the TV show, and have been avoiding it. I have no problems with the concept of adaptation. Actually, to me it is the opposite: a good adaptation thrives in discrepancies. As David Mitchell stated in its foreword to the paperback edition of Cloud Atlas that got out along with its theatrical adaptation written by The Wackowskys, “Film adaptations of novels are sometimes prone to failure not because they are too faithless but too faithful”. Every media has different narrative necessities, that have to be accounted for when adapting a content from one media to another. So, I would not care if HBO would only change or rearrange the plot, kill characters alive in the books, derange romances, or whatever else, if for mere narrative reasons; I would even watch the show with pleasure, if not for its over mentioned downsides.
But. Many of the changes in the TV adaptation of the books appear not as narrative necessities, but as deliberate choices to alter the story and characters taken with a regard to target audience and ratings (“Let’s show Petyr Baelish talking in its brothel while an orgy takes place behind him, even if he never dares to conspire behind closed doors”; “Why don’t we show off Renly and Loras homoerotic relationship to the public not caring a dime for the secretive ambiguity the relationship has in the books”, “Let’s make a True Blood out of Game of Thrones, yeah!”, and so on…). Even for this reason I would still have no real quarrel with Benioff and Weiss, the showrunners and head writers; all in all, TV is a business of a capitalist society – the entertainment sector has kept and increased its incomes even during the crisis – and as such it is ultimately driven by sheer profit. But these are not my main problems, in this case; it is not why I complain and, thus, place myself among the category of “smug” readers.
The problem is that, by some alteration of the storyline, spoilers of books yet to be published are being anticipated in the storyline of the upcoming and past seasons, which should in theory be based only on the books already published. So, if I watch the upcoming fifth season – or even merely hear of it on the social networks – I will be spoiled parts of the story that Martin’s has not even finished to write, yet. It was the same with the fourth season, and partly, with the third as well. Now, I do not care if someone thinks this is a “narrative” necessity: it should be stopped.
Why anticipate facts, or even images, of books yet to come?
Why should I be exposed to the risk of learning from the derived TV show about the storylines of the original books not yet published? I have been reading A Song of Ice and Fire since 1999: and now its TV adaptation risks ruining all these years of expectations, and waiting? Why should I watch it exactly, even had it been a good show? Am I a “smug” reader for this?
I know very well that this is in part Martin’s own doing, since it was him that ultimately signed the contract that allows HBO to use the story however they like; it is Martin himself that made Benioff and company at least two (p)recaps of books-yet-to-come for use in the upcoming seasons of the show. Let us not get into the author’s compromises for trying to bring his work on the screen. I am almost certain Martin didn’t exactly like the idea of spoiling even tiny bits of his storyline, but who knows what goes behind closed doors, when corporate producers come into play? I realize that there are commercial considerations involved here: given A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the most read book series of the century as of now, HBO probably considered that altering the plot noticeably enough would bring back to the TV show all those book readers that were bored away during the first season. By fueling their curiosity with games of “spotting the differences” and provocations of things yet to come, HBO wanted to tell fans of the book series, “Hey, there’s stuff in here that not even you geeks have seen! Come join!” And, apparently, there were enough readers ready to say, “Yeah, cool! Why not? This way Martin will learn to write faster”. Well, maybe these are the real “smug” readers. I for one do not want to be provoked-with-things-yet-unseen, since I still call it spoiling. And all of you who are now saying, “Well, just don’t watch the show and shut the f*** up!”; you know very well that to really avoid spoilers I should also completely disconnect from the web. It is not fair.
By Giorgio Grasso