Game of Thrones: Going From Book to TV
Warning: This is my first post from France. What does this mean? It means I’m highly jet-lagged and that what seems very clear to me as I am writing it, can be even more confusing than usual. Sincere apologies in advance.
As I am halfway through Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin first book from the cycle A Song of Ice and Fire, I cannot help but finally writing an article about the show and the book, as promised long time ago.
I first watched GoT without knowing a thing about the books, the author or the show. It took me some time to get into it, but I managed to finish the first season the night before the Comic Con panel and at that point, I was hooked and impressed.
For those of you who don’t know much about the HBO show, the first season is an adaptation of the 700 pages first book that originally follows 8 characters viewpoint (each character narrates a chapter) in a fantasy medieval-ish world: the Seven Kingdoms. So this is some ambitious tale, with many characters, in a foreign land and with foreign codes. (Nothing too crazy though, imagination wise)
Watch the beginning of the Pilot below:
It was Martin who moderated the panel at Comic-Con, and to my great surprise, I learned that two of my favorite scenes in the show were not in the book: Queen Cersei and King Robert heart-to-heart conversation, and Khal Drogo throat ripping fight. These are two strong scenes that showcase the actors talent all the while giving a great deal of information about the characters.
Needless to say that I was very curious to read the book and see how co-creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss dealt with the transition from paper to screen. I am a fervent book lover and, but for two cases: Slumdog Millionaire and Never Let Me Go, I never preferred an adaptation to the original book.
Luckily, HBO (well ahead of all its competitors goodies-wise) was giving away the first book to those who attended the panel, so I recently started reading Martin’s first opus, and it turned out to be a very humbling lesson, and a fascinating experience.
The book is great, and there’s a lot of details that are not in the show that add to the experience (nothing unusual so far). I am a huge fan of characters viewpoint, especially in epic tales, and it is a pleasure to dig them more. (Although I wish Cersei was one of them.) It’s the first time that I go backward, starting with an adaptation and going back to the original book afterwards, and reading with the characters, the set-design, and the cuts in mind is one of the best experience I have had recently.
I’m sure we all have a book or a series of books we’d love to adapt for TV (I confess that I do) and Game of Thrones couldn’t be a better exercise to understand how to condense massive material, how to give it justice and how to add to it your own touch, making it a creation that stands on its own and complement its original material. (Which is what Neil Gaiman hopes to do for the HBO adaptation of American Gods and seems to be the wisest way to go.)
It is also fascinating to see how actors bring their own touch to their character and amusing to realize who are those who have read the books and tried to give it justice, and who haven’t and built from the script, bringing new characteristics to them.
What about the scripts then? How close are they from the book and how far from the script did they depart while shooting? I just have the Pilot, but it’s already an interesting exercise.
Below is the first scene and half of the script:
Notice that the script starts in media res while the first scene of the tv show (as seen in the video above) has a slower start, with an establishing sequence. (And that the corpses are frozen naked, while they’re described as dressed in the script and in the book. A lot of nudity has been added to the show, and one could argue that but for the white male viewer, it isn’t always justified*.)
So how does the book start you might wonder? Here is the very fist sentence of the book:
“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”
Thank you to those who read until the end. This was not the most reader-friendly post but hopefully it picked your curiosity and you’ll give a shot to the experience of watching and reading this tale, or another one that has a high-quality execution.
I certainly think it’s a great exercise for aspiring writers, and especially tv writers.
*I actually read a great article about the matter, but cannot find it again. Which is sad.