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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book Fans May Want to "Kill" GAME OF THRONES

Article originally written for Seat42F.

This week’s GAME OF THRONES on HBO is called “Kill the Boy.” The title does not refer to a person that should be murdered, though fans could be forgiven for thinking that, given the high death count in this series. Instead, it’s a phrase meaning to step up and be a man, readying yourself for whatever is coming at you next. While only directed at one character on screen, as with many episode titles, it can be applied to many.

“Kill the Boy” is the advice Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) gives to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) when Jon seeks advice about making a tough decision. Aemon doesn’t need to hear the details of the choice; he voted for Jon Snow and he trusts Snow’s leadership. What Aemon is telling Jon is that he just needs to embrace that mantle, no longer second-guessing his decisions. It’s a tough lesson for anyone to face, but especially for Jon, a very young man now leading a ragtag group who may be their realm’s only chance at survival.

Jon’s declaration is not a popular one. He tells the Night’s Watch they will be letting the Wildlings through The Wall. Wilding leader Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) isn’t happy either, refusing to serve any king or crow. But Jon’s orders are fair and just, basically instituting a diplomatic treaty that no one negotiated, not asking for fealty. It is painful for both sides, but if they don’t adopt it, they will all probably die. Tormund is wise enough to see that. The men of the Night’s Watch seem less so. Will they stage a coup, signing their own death warrant, or truly trust the man they elected?

Speaking of leadership, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is having a rough go of it herself. After the Sons of the Harpy kill Barristan Selmy (Ian McEhinney) – a change from the books I am very upset about, but that might open up a spot for Jorah (Iain Glen) to serve her again – she reacts in anger. She gathers the house leaders together and lets her dragons eat one. But after reflection, she realizes this will not solve the problem, only making the rebels more determined to fight against her. So she reopens the fighting pits, as requested, and decides to marry Hizdahr (Joel Fry), one of the leaders. 

Is this a sign of weakness from Daenerys? “Kill the Boy” has her giving in to the demands of terrorists and uniting with one of the rulers she hates. However, Hizdahr has been much more cooperative than most, and based on his actions in this episode, probably will willingly play second fiddle to the dragon queen, advising her on the best interests of his people, but scared enough of her to not try to overrule her. The question is how the rest of the people of Mereen will see her and if the thugs will be satisfied with their victory or keep pushing.

Jorah will surely find quite a different Daenerys when he gets back to her, if he gets back to her. Trying to take a short cut away from pirates, Jorah and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) are beset upon by stone men in one of the coolest settings GAME OF THRONES has shown us in awhile. The fight itself is grounded, nothing super spectacular, but by letting it happen in mist-filled ruins with a dragon flying overhead, it really adds something cool to the proceedings.

Sadly Jorah is infected by the stone men, which is again quite a bit different from the books, since he isn’t even with Tyrion on the page when Tyrion goes through that waterway. Does this mean he isn’t destined to make it back to Mereen, or even if he does, his usefulness will be short-lived?

GAME OF THRONES is now swiftly chewing through the source material, ditching the majority of it, unfortunately, and simplifying the rest. Any time a book series is translated for the screen, changes happen, and I think most fans accept that. What is frustrating in this situation is that the show used to
be very true to the books, making some changes, but mostly minor ones. This gave viewers the expectation that this trend would continue.

Season five, however, has made for some extremely different situations, with about half the main cast (or possibly more) now on different paths than they were on the page, and many, many chapters being tossed out to get to the next thing quicker. Some arcs have already moved beyond what has happened in the five published volumes, even though they could be taking their time. HBO would be willing to make ten seasons or possible even more, but those in charge of GAME OF THRONES are determined to finish in seven years, a very unwise choice if you ask me, given the story could easily fill many more without dragging.

This makes for a conundrum. I try very hard to take the show on its own, and when doing so, I think GAME OF THRONES is still a very strong, very enjoyable show. There hasn’t been any episode I didn’t enjoy, and none of the stories have stopped making sense. The problem is, there is a lot I want to see but now realize I won’t. By starting out with respect for the books and then, halfway through, hugely abandoning them, the show writers and runners are demonstrating a major lack of respect for the author and the fans and a betrayal of trust.

Sansa’s (Sophie Turner) story is one of the few places I agree with the decision to change things. Sansa does not go to Winterfell in the book, it’s an imposter the Boltons are trying to pass off, and so the stakes have been raised greatly in “Kill the Boy.” But her case is the exception, not the rule.

I think, when the series is over and done with, GAME OF THRONES will still be a show I can rewatch and enjoy. However, there will be a big sense of wasted opportunity that the series did not go anywhere near far enough in its efforts to make a good adaptation, and I’ll be longing for another attempt as soon as possible.

GAME OF THRONES airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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