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Rewriting ‘Game of Thrones’

Game of Thrones is about to find itself in a unique place among TV adaptions — running out of source material while there are still many more episodes left in the series. The upcoming season not only brings us to the end of Book 3 (out of five published books), but starting last season, the show had already begun to use elements from Book 4, and this season’s previews clearly show material from Book 5 will be utilized.

But this is really a lucky break for the show and potentially fans of the book — to some extent it’s going to force showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss to chart their own course.

The next two books are by far the weakest of the five, primarily weighed down by the introduction of a huge slew of new characters. So many pages are devoted to them that they squeeze out who have been the primary characters so far. Tyrion, for instance, doesn’t even appear in Book 4. After three tightly written novels, George R.R. Martin felt the need to try and tell us what else has been going in Westeros, which apparently, was quite a bit.

Despite the fact that Benioff and Weiss have been told by Martin how the book series ends, they should write a whole new narrative for the show.

Or in other words, create an alternate version of Game of Thrones.

As it is, the show currently can barely juggle all of the characters it already has.

My major criticism of last season was that it felt like each character was allotted five minutes of screen time per episode, and that was it. In a novel it’s simply easier to have multiple storylines because writers have a much larger canvass to work with — the TV show is essentially capped at being 10 hours per season. There’s much more of a zero sum game going on with who gets screen time. And further complicating matters, unlike most ensemble shows, there’s no clear primary lead character à la Tony Soprano on The Sopranos or Jack on Lost.

But even more practically, at this point in the show we’ve spent three years becoming emotionally invested in a group of characters. There’s never going to be the same level of interest and concern for a whole new group that are introduced at the midpoint. They just take away time from the people we care most about.

It’s no slight against Martin if Benioff and Weiss think they can improve upon what he’s already done.

They’ve already changed a number of characters and plotlines for the better. For example: the Season 2 storyline of Arya being Tywin’s cup-bearer was not in the book; it was a huge improvement to what Martin had her doing in Book 2, and gave us much more of Tywin who they and Charles Dance have turned into a far more compelling character than he is in the books.

I have no doubt that Benioff and Weiss feel that they have some level of obligation to fans of the books to remain loyal to the source material, but I’d argue they’d actually would be doing fans a favor by throwing some curve balls.

Since the show premiered, many people — including myself — have gone and read all of the books because we want to know what happens next. While that obviously means none of the deaths are really unexpected or shocking, more importantly, sometimes the viewing experience feels like an exercise in seeing how the books have been adapted for the screen. (And strangely, the show seems to delight in being this — the Season 4 previews seem tailored made for people who have read Book 3, showing clips related to major plot points — without even a hint to what the clip is about for non-book readers — to confirm for us, “yes, we’re going to do that big thing just like in the book”).

So why not create an experience that is original for everybody? And even for the people who haven’t read the books yet, it’s becoming much harder to avoid spoilers.

I think the case can even be made that the show was too loyal to the books in the first two seasons.

With the benefit of knowing what happens down the road, I would have introduce some characters earlier on, such as Stannis because of the large role he plays in the subsequent books, and fleshed out Renly much more. His death is supposed to be a big deal because it changes the balance of power, but in both the books and shows he just comes off as too minor of a character.

But I suppose it’s actually kind of remarkable how loyal the show has been to the books.

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