Warning: spoiler alert.
With the seventh season of Game of Thrones nearly finished, and now well beyond the source material, the show is a distinctly different beast from the books. For the first couple of seasons, the show adapted the books fairly faithfully, but then began introducing more and more off-book scenes, until deciding to completely change things.
At this point, it’s important to say that George R. R. Martin is an incredible writer and his work has changed fantasy as we know it. However, for Game of Thrones, I think that the change of medium from books to screen has actually resulted in a better, more streamlined story that is a more dramatic work of fiction. It’s also worth mentioning that George R. R. Martin has been very active in the development of the show, so this isn’t an attack on him but a discussion of one seminal work’s stunningly skillful transition from page to screen.
The show well and truly surpasses the books with season six, and is now far beyond the final published book. While a television series naturally lacks the level of depth and world-building of a series of fantasy doorstoppers, the small-screen version of Game of Thrones has simply become a better dramatic story than the source books for the following reasons.
Fine, I’ll admit it. I was once one of the people who lorded the fact that they had read the books over viewers who jumped on the bandwagon. I smirked as people gasped at Ned’s execution, and grinned with glee as they cried out at the Red Wedding. I relished the fact that I knew all of the random side-characters and locations, and the way various threads were meant to interweave.
But then, as the show progressed and (to my horror!) moved on from the books and changed my beloved source material, I couldn’t help but to enjoy myself. The first three books are amazing, but A Feast for Crows (book four) doesn’t even include most of the characters we love like Jon or Daenerys and, instead, introduces random people and plotlines that go nowhere.
A Dance with Dragons (book five) is better. We actually see the characters we care about but it also still introduces superfluous plot threads and new characters. George R. R. Martin’s books are all huge, but the content we care about is actually quite a small fraction of the latter books. The show, however, retains focus on the characters we love, and introduces new plot elements or location by focusing on connections to established characters. If the books are a floodlight, then the show is a laser beam.
In the books, things just take so long to actually happen. It feels as if the wheels are spinning in place for hundreds and hundreds of pages. Unlike the show, Sansa and Jon have yet to meet back up, Arya is still training, and Tyrion is enslaved and being carted around. Tyrion’s capture by Jorah in the show lasts a few episodes, whereas in the book it still hasn’t ended and he still hasn’t met Daenerys. Things just take so long that it’s hard to keep caring, not to mention how long the books take to come out. The first book came out when I was one year old, and now I’m old enough to half-competently write an article. While some may claim that the show can be slow at times, it’s still a big improvement on the books.
I don’t think that George R. R. Martin should rush his work at the expense of quality, but it’s undeniably frustrating to wait years between books and it hurts the flow of the story. The show releases episodes on a regular basis and that enables us to stay invested.