On the one hand, Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series has given TV producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss a rich world, juicy storylines, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of amazing characters. It’s hard to believe, for instance, watching the new season – it begins on Sunday night at 9 – that Gwendoline Christie’s amazonian Brienne of Tarth hasn’t been around since day one, so indelible has she become. Again and again, Benioff and Weiss seem to find the perfect actor for each role, this year adding, among others, Dame Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna Redwyne (sort of the Dowager Countess from “Downton Abbey” if she were a wartime consiglieri) and Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder (pragmatic king of the wild people who live north of the show”s fictional kingdom of Westeros).
On the other, there is just so much going on in the books(*), and that”s necessary to telling the story coherently on television, that Benioff and Weiss at times seem like Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up with the chocolates on the conveyer belt. We bounce from locale to locale, character to character, just trying to keep the story moving: five minutes with clever imp Tyrion Lanister (Peter Dinklage) angling to secure his position in a family that despises him, then five minutes with naïve soldier Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) as he embeds himself in Mance”s camp, then five across the sea where Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is amassing an army to take back the throne of Westeros that once belonged to her family.
(*) It’s at this point that I should include my usual disclaimer about this series: I have not read Martin’s books, nor do I intend to at least until “Game of Thrones” is over. If I’d already read them before the show began, that’d be fine. But since I hadn’t, I want to see if the show can make sense and work for a viewer who’s never turned a single page of Martin’s prose. If knowledge of the books is a prerequisite for fully appreciating the TV show, then Benioff and Weiss have failed as storytellers.
NOTE: As discussed above, this isn’t a place for talking about things in the books that have yet to be part of the TV show. The usual disclaimer applies: we’re going to keep the book/spoiler issue as simple as possible. We are here to discuss “Game of Thrones” AS A TV SHOW, NOT AS AN ENDLESS SERIES OF COMPARISONS TO THE BOOKS. I talked about the books in this review primarily to illustrate the structural problem they create for the TV show, but if you start discussing – or even strongly alluding to – plot points, character motivations, etc., from the books that have yet to be part of the TV show, your comment will be deleted. If you see something that I haven’t already removed, please feel free to email me.