As HBO's wonderfully intricate Game of Thrones gets further and further into the dense and expansive world that George R.R. Martin has created, it's inevitably going to become harder to follow. Much like any great HBO series can get a bit tricky and knotty — The Wire took little time for exposition, so we just had to keep up as best we could; The Sopranos asked that we be able to differentiate between hundreds of characters with very similar names — the price of Game of Thrones' satisfyingly complex storytelling is that we might get a bit lost on occasion. Of course everything's a little easier to follow if you've already read Martin's books; single mention of a character name on the show brings to mind that character's entire arc in the book series, so you've some notion of where things are heading. But now, as the second season crosses the midway point and the story grows ever bigger, even those of us who have read the books are maybe starting to feel a little asea.
Meaning, some things happened last night that really did not happen in the books! Or at least they happened out of sequence or to the wrong characters. And while this was initially a little frustrating and confusing last night — there had been some smug, nerdy satisfaction in nodding our heads knowningly as things unfolded on screen — it now seems, well, almost exciting. We don't know what will happen on the show next week! Particularly: as far as we remember, Daernerys' dragons don't get stolen in the books, so we've no idea what's going to become of that plotline. And over at Harrenhall (that's where Arya's currently hanging out) the timelines and characters have all been swapped and rearranged so much that we're totally turned around. Again, this can be frustrating in relation to our knowledge of, and love for, the books, but as simply viewers of a TV show, it's beginning to feel pretty fun.
Much like the Harry Potter movies, Game of Thrones can often feel merely supplemental to the books. Sure these adaptations hit the important, action-packed, exciting beats, but all the depth of backstory and mythology is thinned or ignored in the interest of expediency and logical filmmaking. Really, there's no way to show pages and pages of historical reflection or subtle foreshadowing in a filmed version of a story. So while the adaptations are good, they don't feel as rich, as fully realized or immersive. But then sometimes they do, just in a different way. The second-to-last Harry Potter movie, The Deathly Hallows Part 1, was nothing less than a gorgeous movie, a melancholy yet suspenseful tale of three lost kids both trying to hide from and simultaneously save the world. And it had moments that just would not or could not be in the books, bits of visual and aural nuance and detail that wouldn't play well in text but were rather beautiful on screen. (Think: Harry and Hermione sharing a quiet little dance in their tent, all those pained, longing looks from Ron.) So a filmed version of some beloved and intricately detailed book does actually have the potential to enrich and maybe even improve upon the story.
Let's hope that Game of Thrones is able to do that. So far they are pretty closely hewing to the main track of the series — season one is book one, season two book two — though with increasing frequency, changes are occurring. We guess we're just trying to psych ourselves up to appreciate those narrative differences — it's great to see so much Tywin even though we really don't in the books, who cares if Robb Stark's ladyfriend isn't exactly who she is on the page — because there are going to have to be a hell of a lot more of these changes, omissions, elisions, etc. as the series continues. Book three alone, which will likely be tackled in some fashion over the next two or so seasons, is such a complex and interconnected series of Big Events, that the show's writers are going to have to perform some very delicate surgeries — amputations and transplants and grafts — to make it all work cohesively on television. So far we're confident that they're up to the task, we just now have to resign ourselves to the fact that we might not always be able to follow the story or exactly predict the next thing even though we're such geeks for the books. In the end we're glad for it, that HBO is forcing us to let go of our previous knowledge and just enjoy the series for the series. As Ygritte, who we met last night (in a different way than in the books, sort of!), might say: We know nothing. And that's probably OK.