PLEASE NOTE: “As an Amazon Associate, [Need Coffee] earns from qualifying purchases." You know we make money from Amazon links,
and I know you know this, but they make us say it anyway. More info, click here.

Oh, To Be Innocent of the Ways of Westeros…

Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon from Game of Thrones
Mark Addy, kicking a formidable amount of ass as King Robert

(Please note: the following was written with vague and minimal spoilers. However, if you’re an ultimate purist and want to know nothing at all, then run away. But otherwise, you should be fine.)

So we’re nearing the end of the first season of Game of Thrones, marking yet another thing that I never thought would ever happen…or at least happen properly. And by that I mean, a giant epic fantasy series of novels turned into a giant epic fantasy series on television. Oh sure, we had hopes and dreams and aspirations, but in the no-longer-naive post-Phantom Menace world which we all live in, such dreams and aspirations are fed with organic whole-grain skepticism. With distrust on the side. And some hash browns.

However: in a world where a zombie TV show can be one of the most critically acclaimed dramas of last year, all bets are off.

[ad#longpost]And I suppose that’s what I wanted to write about, in order to get it off my chest. Thrones is everything we ever wanted in an adaptation of the books…and I’m not enjoying it as much as I expected to. And I feel like an ungrateful bastard.

If you’re looking at me like I’ve just lost my mind, let me assure you: that happened years ago. Also, you probably have not read the books–that’s just my guess. I have talked to others who have read the series and so far everybody’s in some degree of agreement with me. It’s missing something for us that it obviously is not for you.

The problem is simply that there are, as the song says, no surprises.

They are following the books so closely–so wonderfully closely, don’t get me wrong–that there are no surprises coming for me and others like me. For example, the great surprise that everyone felt at the end of the first episode (“I can’t believe they just did that!”–if you’ve seen the show, you know what I mean) was tempered in my mind by “Yeah, just wait–I know where that’s going.” And as the series has progressed, it’s been a progression of amazing casting choices, incredible instances of scenes from the books being brought to life with amazing damn-near-accuracy (to the spirit and feel of the scene if not the dialogue itself), and production design that rocks the house. (Speaking of damn-near-accuracy, that was one unexpected thing–that somebody would actually show the horse at the end of the jousting sequence–I mean just damn, people.)

It’s also a progression of connecting the dots of events. I know what Event A is, Event B, and on down the line. And while I enjoy how well everything is being played out, I miss the surprises. I miss the tension of not knowing What Bad Thing Was Next.

Let me be clear: this is not the fault of the people behind the show. This is more a critique and a lament for my own perception and what I bring to the viewing of the show. I would be the first to criticize them if they strayed too far from the blueprint George R. R. Martin laid out of them. And really, seriously, how could they if they wanted to? The freaking thing is so tightly woven. The only changes I’ve caught are giving characters more interesting dimensions: Lena Headey‘s Cersei springs to mind and especially Mark Addy’s genius interp of Robert.

So the people doing Thrones cannot, in essence, pull a Walking Dead. The genius thing that “Game of Zombies” is doing is making it evident from jump that they will be deviating from the comic book, not only to expand upon what was already there in the book–but also to prevent what I’m feeling with Thrones. The very nature of how Andrew Lincoln’s Rick goes down in the first episode (a significant but telling departure from the book) and a particular memorable character who was still breathing when we last left him (when in the book he was quite dead by that point…well…mostly) told people who have been reading since the beginning–namely me–“You think you know what we’re we doing? Oh, you poor bastard. You only think you know.”

So again, let me state this for the record: I do not hold it against Thrones that I’m not getting wall-to-wall joy out of the show. Because it’s not the show’s fault. I guess I’m mostly getting off my chest for myself and others like me and also saying, well, “You Song of Ice and Fire virgins. You are some lucky bastards, so you are.” Watch the show. Then read the books to get the rest of the stuff that was lost in compression. In that order. You’ll thank me if you do.

What say you? Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.


  • I’m currently reading A Game of Thrones, and loving every second. The show is something I may dip into later, but I’m not too pushed.

  • Yeah, you’re doing it in the right order, El pHitz. For you, the show will be the icing on an awesome cupcake. Um. Made of paper and ink.

  • I understand your point Widge, which brings up the whole point of Media Continuity. People rail when this icon of so so is not represented properly. And yes sometimes its spun so that its unrecognizable and that’s horrible. However then you get those that reinvent themselves and are just as powerful, but ‘different’ than their source. GoT isn’t doing that, which as you said is neither good nor bad.

    I’d like to think the industry could come up with something epic and magical in scale all on its own, and keep me surprised… That will be the day that Fantasy will really have stepped up and demanded its place.

  • My wife and my neighbor have both tried and failed to get into the books in the past, mainly because of the things I love so much about them. The varied plots, the huge cast of characters and the multpile locales proved to be beyond their ability to juggle.
    Having now watched the first season of GoT and been able to see how the plot moves I think they’re going to give it another try.

    So I think the show could be a gateway drug into the series as a whole, and in that respect I’m very happy with it. But you’re right – I wish I found more of it surprising.

  • Ripp: I’ve told people if they can get to the scene in the inn–they’ll be hooked. That did it for me.

    The other thing you might try is the audiobook version. I can’t say enough nice things about Roy Dotrice’s performance.

  • not on GoT in particular, but on adaptations: I know the Legend of the Seeker was no great TV, but it stayed close enough to the original material to make it recognizable, but at the same time introduced enough new plot lines and twists to keep me as a viewer interested.

    (in all honesty, I came to the tv show first and sought out the books later, then discovered that there is too much torture in the books to keep reading.)

  • I started reading GoT because of the impending release of the mini-series. What I loved most was the worldbuilding and this saga is nothing like your typical high-fantasy tropes. As I put it in my own book review: Got is where epic fantasy collides with historical fiction.

  • Ted: That’s what I love about the series and what becomes apparent the further into it you read–the world feels very, very lived in. I think it’s the most successful world creation since Tolkien, personally.

  • I have not read GoT, but i will. When i am done watching this great show. I have enjoyed just about every second of every episode, however i do feel like i am being shown exactly what is coming form time to time. I will keep (happily) watching and then pick up the paper and ink and try this backwards…like most things i do!