Yes, I know, I know, feed the heretic to the baby dragons. Calling out George R.R. Martin’s classic fantasy series for not being as good as an “adaptation”, even one as great as “Game of Thrones”, is nerd heresy. But it’s really past time we, as nerds, admitted something, and that something is:
The show’s better. Quite a bit better, actually.
This isn’t to say the books are big piles of flaming dog turds, because they’re not. But a TV series offers certain advantages that the books can’t match. Advantages like…
#5) Getting To The Goddamn Point
Look, these books are doorstops, and frankly, a lot of it is absolutely unnecessary unless you’re putting together a D&D campaign based on the books. Which, yes, many of the readers are doing, but even so, Good Lord. There’s a reason Martin offed that character you like: otherwise you’d have stopped paying attention three books ago.
Fantasy series in particular love doing this; turning out lengthy series with high page counts per book. The all time champion is probably Robert Jordan, but Martin’s no slouch: “A Dance With Dragons” was a thousand freaking pages, and it’s the fifth book. In a series that has at least two books to go. Because he felt the need to fill in a time skip.
#4) The Dialogue Is Better Spoken
This is entirely personal preference, and partially due to the cast they’ve assembled, but Martin’s dialogue sounds better read aloud than it does on the page. True, it’s not like the series is taking chunks of dialogue wholesale, but there are definitely moments where what plods a bit on the page takes off on the screen.
#3) The Actors Bring Out More Nuance in the Characters
Part of the reason it’s hard to get into “Game of Thrones” as a series of novels is the fact that within the first hundred pages, you’ve got it firmly established who the bad guys and the good guys are, and…well…that’s it. One of the more frustrating things about the novels is as much time is spent on the world and characters, some of them remain pretty flat. Thankfully, whoever doesn’t get trimmed gets a bit more dimension on the screen.
#2) It Brings Out The Merits of Fantasy Fiction
Look, at root, the problem with fantasy is that if you don’t grow up reading it, you think it’s about squishy wizards and midgets who live in badger dens. And fans do very, very little to dispel this stereotype. I love fantasy, but fantasy as a genre does not put its best foot forward. Look at Tolkien through the eyes of somebody who didn’t grow up with it: it’s a profoundly self-serious novel trilogy, and it’s really hard for people who don’t have a lot of time to get into it, even if they have the movies as crib notes.
Which brings us to the key point…
#1) The Novels Are Written For Hardcore Fantasy Fans; the TV Show Is Written For Everybody
At root, “A Song of Ice and Fire”, the novels, are not written for the man off the street. They’re for nerds, and not just any nerd, but hardcore fantasy nerds, people who don’t blink at reading long series of novels with high page counts because they’ve been doing it since middle school.
This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but it gets frustrating, fast, and it’s endemic in the genre to lock out new readers. “Eff you, noob, start with Tolkien and then maybe we’ll talk” is not how you get people to start reading fantasy.
Compare this to the show: it doesn’t sacrifice much of the books, but it’s set up to grab your attention right from the start. If you don’t think you like fantasy, you can still enjoy this series: there’s a reason HBO picked it up.
And that’s a great thing, not just for Martin’s royalty checks, but for fantasy fans.
Now we just need to see more of it.
Image courtesy HBO