No, for serious: Please do click the link and read it, because that’s my real review. The stuff that follows is…I don’t know what it is. A review of my own viewing experience?
Alright. BOOK SPOILERS AHEAD. Do not read unless you’ve read at least the first three volumes.
All season long I’ve tried to chart a middle ground — not just in writing the reviews for RS, but also simply as an audience member — between considering the differences between the books and the show and not letting that be my be-all-end-all. There’s a good professional reason for that: Most of the audience hasn’t read the books, and I want something I write for a big mainstream publication like Rolling Stone to be useful to as many of those people as possible. And there’s a good critical reason for it, too, I daresay: It’s just not a productive use of one’s critical faculties to perpetually weigh an adaptation against the source, across the boundaries of different media/art forms and geared toward a different audience and with different creators behind the wheel.
Unless you’re someone for whom fealty to the book is quite openly the one metric that matters to you — and I can respect that — the fact that Littlefinger behaves differently on the show than he does in the book, say, is a value-neutral proposition. Is his new behavior well written, well acted, well shot? In the end that’s all that matters. Frankly, I don’t center my criticism on “but THIS changed, and THAT changed, and and and” as a writer, because I know how little use I’ve gotten out of that sort of criticism over the course of the season as a reader.
Now, once upon a time I tried to evaluate the series based on what non-readers would think, or even what they’d simply be able to understand and comprehend; I don’t think I lasted any longer than the series premiere before realizing what a mug’s game that was. I’m not a mind-reader and I can’t speak for those people, and it’s a waste of time to try. What I described in the paragraph above is different than that, mind you: I’m not trying to guess what non-readers think, I’m trying to base my opinions solely on the text at hand without constantly turning to an outside source for justification.
That being said, nothing can change the fact that, well, I have read the books, and I do notice the differences. And it’s clear at this point that some, but not all, of what I truly love about the books isn’t a priority for Benioff & Weiss. I don’t know why the truncation and bowdlerization of the House of the Undying came as such a shock to me given that the two most directly comparable scenes from the first book, Bran’s vision of the land of always winter and Ned’s dream of the Tower of Joy, were both dropped entirely, but it did. And that’s hard to deal with, man! If I were to make a list of the most important scenes in the series so far, in terms of communicating what the series is “about,” the original House of the Undying sequence would be in the top four, behind only Jaime throwing Bran out the window, Ned’s execution, and the Red Wedding. For all intents and purposes it’s not in the show at all, not in a form that counts — a form freighted with all that prophetic information and linking Dany to a grand tapestry of past, present, and future events. And that’s a loss to me. To a lesser extent, so is turning Brienne into a fury-fueled killing machine, or making it look like Jon killed Qhorin in a rage.
I don’t feel “betrayed” like Linda does, though, because I don’t understand how art can betray anyone. All of us have it within our power to make art completely harmless in terms of its direct impact on our lives, simply by not watching or reading or listening to the stuff we don’t like. Moreover there’s still plenty of stuff going on here that I DO like, centered mostly on marvelous, powerful performances, and a tendency to nail the big images, and the same healthy, bitter anti-violence message I respond to in the books.
Ultimately what I need to do, I suppose, is stop weighing the two against each other entirely — to look at the books as an outline, if at all, and take Game of Thrones as it comes, on its own terms. That’s a tall order, not because I’m married to the text, but simply because when you’ve read the source material you can’t help but remember it. Unlike The Sopranos, Twin Peaks, Deadwood, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Wire, and even Boardwalk Empire, the element of surprise that separates those shows from the pack — when I sat down to watch an episode of any of them, I literally had no idea what I might end up seeing, and that’s different from 95% of television — simply cannot exist for me with Game of Thrones. In the end, that’s the big obstacle for me, not for the show, not if I’m giving it a proper chance to be its own thing.