(WARNING: Here Be Spoilers. I talk about plot lines from all five ASOIAF books and the four existing seasons of GoT, as well as some spoilers for the next season that have gotten out via interviews and set photos. If you have read all that stuff, you’re in the clear. I really don’t talk about the novellas or the World book. If you haven’t read all that stuff or watched all that stuff but don’t care and want to read semi-comprehensible nerd ramblings, you are also in the clear.)
This year I finally managed to finish all the books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. And by “all the books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series,” I mean “including all the prequel novellas, the new World of Ice and Fire pseudo-encyclopedia, tons of Tumblr meta and message boards and maybe just a few terrible Arya/Gendry alternate-universe fanfics,” because if you’re going to go fan, you might as well go hard.
The reason there was so much internet ephemera available for me to consume is that the fandom is starving. Author George R.R. Martin has them (I mean US, I guess…ugh) in the palm of his hand, and that hand should really be typing faster. The fifth novel in the series came out in 2011 and landed with a similar critical thud to the fourth novel — the two were originally meant to be a single book but GRRM’s editor seems powerless to reign in his worst indulgences so they had to be split or they would have been unreadable. As it is they are so dense that various fans on the net have suggested different orders in which the chapters of the two books can be read to make them less of a slog. Myself, I just decided to to read all the chapters of each character in a row to get through the fifth book faster. Many of the plots don’t even come close to intersecting, and I adjusted for the few that do — reading the Theon and Asha chapters together, for instance, or the various things that happen in Essos save for Arya.
I suppose the question is, why do people keep reading, then, if both the books published in the last decade have been terrible from an editorial perspective and intermittently engaging from a plot perspective? Because we are taking him at his word that he’s going somewhere with all of this, that the world building is essential, that things may have gotten a bit labyrinthine along the way but he’s got an endgame in mind and he HAS A PLAN.
Hm. You know who else supposedly had a plan? The Cylons. How did that work out for Galactica fans? Yes, those of us with an unyielding and unhealthy love for serialized scifi/fantasy have been burned before. How much time did I waste ruminating on the mysteries of Lost? Too much. How many times during the last season of Buffy did I mentally reassure myself that Joss wasn’t just spinning his wheels with the potentials plotline? Too many. It’s a sickness, it really is.
The TV show Game of Thrones, as a result, is about to turn an interesting corner. It is transitioning from a filmed adaptation to a televised fanfic. I’m not sure this has ever happened before, that someone has started making a movie or a show out of unfinished source material, presumably with authorial assurances that of COURSE he’d have finished the books by the time they’d caught up, or at least one of them, no way would it take him another five years…and the author then went “ehhhhh, you know what, it’s more fun writing all the backstory that the actual story; I think I’ll just do that now,” and left the producers high and dry.
Like any adaptation, Game of Thrones has already made its fair share of changes along the way. First of all, they aged up all the kids so it wouldn’t be so creepy to see, for instance, Daenerys getting married to Khal Drogo (although they undermined that by somehow managing to make their wedding night way rapier that in the book) or Littlefinger lusting after Sansa (whoops, still creepy).
They made Tyrion a lot more cuddly and handsome than in the book because, y’know, Dinklage.
They made various plot tweaks that overall served the narrative well and managed to trim GRRM’s sprawl down to a level that at least avoids the necessity of having a character flow chart mailed to every HBO subscriber. (“The coat of arms for House Waxley is three candles on a field of…” WHY DO WE NEED TO KNOW THIS GEORGE.) As an adaptation, it has been generally quite successful.
Things started to go off the rails a little last year in season 4, though. The reaction to making a particular Jaime/Cersei sex scene extra rapey was far more heated than the reaction to the aforementioned Dany/Drogo extra rapey scene, mainly because you’re supposed to put rape at the BEGINNING of a redemption arc, not smack in the middle. Didn’t these guys watch Luke and Laura in the late ‘70s?
They ran through Bran’s entire plot to the end of the fifth book even though everyone else is still back in the third book — and it appears to have been inadvertent, given that producers Benioff and Weiss basically went “uhhhh, I guess Bran’s not going to be in the fifth season, oh well!” This leads to a further complication in that the character of Bran is supposed to be around 10 and is lugged around in a glorified Ergo carrier on a large man’s back, whereas the actor who plays Bran is now approximately 37 years old and weighs 180 pounds. (Also puberty made his nose grow faster than all this other body parts, which isn’t a problem from a narrative standpoint but is just kinda unfortunate. Maybe they’re giving him a year off in hopes his face will catch up to his nose?)
(OK, this next paragraph is about to get even more inside-baseball. You have been warned.)
The biggest shock of the season came when the much anticipated final scene of the final episode turned out to be just Arya sailing away into a computer generated Narrow Sea rather than the epilogue scene from the third book where a previously brutally murdered character is revealed to have been resurrected by the one damn god in this whole theologically overpopulated series that seems to have any capacity for miracles at all. (I still hold out some hope for the Old Gods; the Seven are clearly bullshit.) Fans went absolutely apeshit when said previously brutally murdered character didn’t show up. They did backflips on the forums trying to think up how the show could sneak the character in during season 5. But Benioff and Weiss pretty much said, “Nah, we’re just going to cut that. Oh, and by the way, next season we’re going to cut all that Iron Islands shizz. And those new and seemingly important characters Tyrion hangs out with for a while. Forget that, too. We’ll have him meet up with Dany instead, because why not. That Prince of Dorne who goes looking for Dany? Let’s scrap him too. The immolation scene would use up too much of our CGI budget. In fact, let’s scrap two thirds of the Dornish royals. Let’s just send Jaime down to Dorne instead.”
Lord knows what the crap Brienne will be doing in the Riverlands with Jaime now down in Dorne and Stoneheart eliminated entirely. It would be difficult to make that plotline more meandering and pointless than it is in the book, but maybe Benioff and Weiss are up to the challenge. How they’re gonna string out “Sam and Gilly bone on a boat” and “Davos hangs out with webbed-fingered Northerners we’ve never heard of before” plotlines over 10 episodes, I do not know. “Sansa walks down a mountain with random ladies and dying epileptic kid” is obviously going to get some heavy revisions as well. Really, the only characters who have enough plot to make it through 10 episodes are Jon, Theon, Tyrion (although they’ve apparently excised a big chunk), Cersei, and maaaaaybe Dany (even though everyone hates the Meereen shit), Arya (I fully accept that I’m the only one who hates the Arya-in-Braavos shit), and Asha once she runs into Stannis, because all the Kingsmoot stuff is gone.
So looking at all of that, it’s impossible to think of the final three seasons as anything that super high profile fanfic. By the end of season 5, if Winds of Winter isn’t out, they will be flying almost entirely blind other than the intel GRRM provided them on the “R+L=J” situation that everyone who’s read the books and isn’t in some boredom-induced headcanon idiocy spiral (“Hey, what if Jon Snow is actually Cersei’s first baby with Robert, and Dany is Ashara Dayne’s illegitimate child with Benjen!”) accepted ages ago. Oh, and some people are going to fly on dragons and presumably fry up some White Walkers. And Littlefinger will die horribly. (It is known.) But whatever ends up on screen, it’s going to bear about as much resemblance to the actual denoument of the books as any random fic written by a nineteen year old on a LiveJournal with a URL that includes a portmanteau of some unlikely coupling like SanSan or DanOrah.
Oh well. As long as GendRya live happily ever after, I’ll take whatever else we get.
And Davos gets to retire with his wife on the Summer Islands. Then I will be well and truly sated.