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Firsts in Fantasy: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

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You’ve watched the last episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and you’re staring at the screen with your jaw on the floor as the final scene cuts to black. And your first thought is: “I want more! When’s the next season?!” But the next season isn’t starting until Spring 2012, the almighty web search tells you. What to do? You could rewatch the show, sure. Or you could try and find something that hits the same sweet spot — The Lord of the Rings films, maybe, or perhaps or perhaps Deadwood for its gritty-bygone-era feel. Or maybe, just maybe, you decide… how about the book that the series adapted? Crazy idea, sure. Didn’t you just watch the story? Maybe the book will be a let down, maybe it’ll just feel like the same thing all over again, maybe—

No. Just… no.

Let’s be frank: George R.R. Martin has repeatedly stated that after years of wrestling with television budgets and deadlines as a screenwriter in Hollywood, the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series was going to be completely and deliberately unfettered from such constraints. He wanted a big wall? Sure. REALLY big? Sure. Of ICE? Yep. As an effect, the Wall might cost tens of thousands of dollars to realize on the screen, but on the page, there’s not much difference between writing down twenty feet and seven hundred, or stone instead of ice. The series was deliberately created to be, for all practicle purposes, unfilmable in relation to its massive scale.

David Benioff, Dan Weiss, and everyone else in the production have done an excellent job of capturing something of the core essence of the series, of Westeros and Essos, of the Starks and Lannisters and Baratheons… but it’s just something of it, not the whole, because cuts had to be made, budgets had to be attended to, schedules had to be kept. When you read the novel, every detail is as the author intended it, limited only by his imagination and his ability to pour his imagination onto the page. If you love Westeros as a place, if you want to know more about its history and its marvels, the novel’s certainly the way to go.

The budget impacted in another area: large-scale set pieces. Remember how Tyrion gives the clansmen a rousing speech and then runs along with them into the fight… only to be knocked unconscious by one of his own? Funny, right? But in the book, that doesn’t happen — instead, Tyrion’s in the front lines of a gripping battle, and the ugliness of war is brought vividly to life. Or the Hand’s tourney, which involved three people in the show, as opposed to dozens in the novel, brought to life with all the colorful, chivalric pageantry that Martin could muster.

“That’s it?” you might ask, incredulous, thinking that, really, that’s not so much difference. But there’s more to it than that, because the setting is more than just the sprawling castles and giant edifices, the jousts and the banners. It’s the history as well, and the history is something that’s deeply important to this story. The producers again did pretty well… but Martin does more than “pretty well.” In particular, there’s one area of history where the show has opted to diverge from the novels, opted more as a matter of simplifying: the way that there’s a romanticized mystery about much of it, an aspect of the story that for many readers is absolutely integral to their appreciation of the series.

You went through a whole season, right? Think you’ve got a good grasp of what happened to make Ned and Robert and Jaime who they are? But you don’t know who Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning is, or what his fair sister Ashara Dayne meant to Eddard Stark, do you?

The White Bull? Prince Lewyn of Dorne? Meaningless. The details of the Battle of the Trident, the reason why the ruby ford has its name? The great tourney at Harrenhal, and the importance of the crown of winter roses? Or who was named the Queen of Love and Beauty there, and by whom, and why it mattered?

You know little and less, as Martin might write. The show covered a lot of the book, but some of the heart of it had to be cut out to make room for the present day story and characters. Understandable, and handled as well as anyone could have hoped. But still….

Take all the things you loved about Game of Thrones. Add more layers and nuance, a richer pallete if you will, and a bigger, bolder vision that outstrips even an impressive budget such as only HBO can afford, and what you get is A Game of Thrones. So, what are you waiting for?


Having met on a game (yes, on the internet), Elio crossed an ocean to join Linda in her native Sweden. Establishing their “A Song of Ice and Fire” fan page, Westeros, in 1998, they now host the largest fan forum and oversee sub-sites covering all facets of George R.R. Martin’s works, including a wiki. Westeros.org can also be found on Twitter and Facebook, where they provide official syndication of George R.R. Martin’s blog updates. They are co-authors, with Martin, of the in-progress The World of Ice and Fire, an official guide to the setting.

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