In case you didn’t guess as much from the title, here’s a fair warning. This post is full of geekery. It also contains some spoilers if you haven’t watched the series or read the books.
You have been warned.
One of the things that really grabbed me about Season 1 of the HBO “Game of Thrones” series is how very closely it followed the book. Actually, I guess I sort of discovered that in reverse. The series led me to the books. But after I finished the first book in George R. R. Martin’s epic series and compared it to what I had seen on the first season of the TV show, I really couldn’t find many discrepancies.
Oh sure, some things were omitted. These books are ginormous. The TV series would go on endlessly if every scene was portrayed. But all of the major players and events were as I’d expect them to be if I’d read the book first. I can only recall one difference I felt was pretty major. In the books, Catelyn Stark pushes her husband Ned to accept good old Drunken King Robert’s offer of the “Hand of the King” position. Ned would really rather stay in Winterfell. Cat sees her family going to King’s Landing as an opportunity for Sansa to hit it off with the ever-smackable Joffrey. Well, and she also figures Ned’s honorable brain is needed down there in the south to figure out who the hell offed her sister’s husband.
In the TV series, Ned still didn’t “want” to go to King’s Landing. But he felt like it was his only choice. Cat, on the other hand, wanted him to keep is butt (and ultimately, as we all know, his head) in Winterfell. After I read the book, I thought this was a bit of an odd switchup, but just chalked it up to them trying to make Cat a more sympathetic character. After all, what happens to Ned in King’s Landing pretty much sucks, and a wife who pushed him into it isn’t exactly the most likeable of women.
Season 2 is a very different story. We’re only 3 episodes in, and I’ve already been stunned quite a few times by differences between Season 2 of the series and the second book. The show seems to be standing up and taking some of its own twists and turns. Here are four that took me off guard.
1. Cersei and Littlefinger mixing it up
That scene in the TV show where Cersei and Littlefinger have a veiled discussion about incest and power, and then she tells her guards to kill him but then changes her mind and just messes with his head a little bit?
In the books, that shit never happened. Sure, you know as you’re reading that Cersei and Littlefinger aren’t exactly on the same team. He doesn’t have a team. He does her bidding when it serves his purposes, and we still aren’t exactly clear what his purposes are.
That, I think, is the reason for that scene. As a reader, you sort of get into wondering what Littlefinger will do next. As a TV viewer, the way he seems to be all over the board, screwing everyone sideways, might just be confusing. This scene provides some context for those who watch the series but don’t read the books for some of the backstabbing Cersei is in for down the road courtesy of her friend Littlefinger.
2. Selyse and Shireen as non-factors
We’ve gotten a pretty good picture of Stannis Baratheon in the first 3 episodes of season 2. He sees things in black and white, with no shades of grey. He’s something of a badass even though of all the proclaimed kings he’s the one with the least support. He’s also got the best claim to the throne as far as descendancy goes, since Joff is literally a little bastard and Stannis is Robert’s oldest living brother. He’s petulant about the fact that people loved Robert, and still love his baby brother Renly, while everyone but his own small band of followers seems to think he’s kind of a douche. He’s willing to go along with Melisandre and her “Lord of Light” if a flaming sword and the title of “promised one” will land him a kingship. He’s so damn practical that he doesn’t even really care if he believes her religious visions or not.
That all jives perfectly with the book. What’s completely missing from the series so far is his wife Selyse and his daughter Shireen. Selyse is mentioned in the show, but basically as a sickly, nameless wife who never leaves her bedroom. You haven’t seen her, but if you think of her at all it is with something like pity. She’s this ailing, invisible thing locked off in some room of the castel. Meanwhile her hubby is hanging out with the smokin’ hot charismatic redhead priestess Melisandre, sneaking in a boink now and then in hopes of making little Lord of Light babies.
In the books, I can’t think of one reason why a reader would pity Selyse. She’s an ugly (inside and out) little shrew. She’s the one who converts to Melisandre’s Lord of Light religion to the point of fanatacism, and shoves it down her husband’s throat. She helps convince him to ignore the beliefs of his people in favor of this new “one god” trend. In the books, you get the sense that she’d bring Melisandre and Stannis cheese and grapes to refresh them while they were boinking, if that’s what it took to make her man an uber-power. She’s way more into Melisandre and her religion than she is her husband.
And as for Shireen, the deformed daughter of Stannis and Selyse? There’s been no mention of her at all in the show. In fact, Stannis tells Melisandre that all his children have been stillborn.
To me, Selyse was an important part of the books, although a minor character so far. Her deformity is due to a bout of a disease called Greyscale that she has as a child. Greyscale plays a big part in future developments. Her fool, who follows her around singing songs about what happens under the sea (oh! oh!) is a prophet of sorts, if Stannis would stop playing with his sword long enough to listen. And the fact that Stannis really doesn’t spare much time or attention for his unfortunate daughter at all is one of the best indicators in the book of his priorities and character.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe Shireen has been absent from the Stannis storyline because his lack of involvement with his daughter is a big neon sign that says “He may be the one with the most ‘right’ to the throne. And Joff sucks. But don’t think this would be a good trade. Stannis is a butthole too.” At this point in the series, perhaps they still want you to be guessing about him. I still can’t figure out a reason for the total avoidance of Selyse, though. Either they’re saving her for later or figured that with all that is yet to come, there just isn’t room in a short TV season to get into her.
3. Craster whacking Jon Snow upside the head
Unless you think the people who appear on Jerry Springer are normal, Craster makes you want to throw up in your mouth a little bit, whether you know him from the show, the books, or both. He marries his daughters to make more daughters and then marries them too. When one of them has the audacity to pop out a son, the infant mysteriously disappears.
OK, I take it back. Even if you DO relate to the Jerry Springer crowd, Craster freaks you out.
In the books, you know from conversations and speculations amongst the other characters that Craster sacrifices his boy-children to something – and you assume that it is the White Walkers. Or maybe some special White Walker leader who will make the others not go all cold hungry zombie on him and his daughter-wives as long as Craster feeds him baby-meat now and then.
But in the books, you don’t actually see him strolling through the night and handing off an infant to some otherworldly thing, because Jon Snow doesn’t follow him off into the woods. So of course, Jon Snow also doesn’t get whacked with the blunt end of an axe by Craster when he gets caught spying.
So, what was that scene all about in the show? Are they just making sure that there’s no room for doubt that Craster is evil? You know, in case all the sex with his daughters wasn’t bad enough? Or are they trying to play up the tension between Jon Snow and Craster himself, or between Jon and Jeor Mormont since now that he’s actually seen the whole baby donation things there’s no way Jon can possibly understand his Lord Commander putting up with Craster’s bullshit?
4. Rakharo Minus a Head
Ummm …wow. That was my reaction when that horse came running up to Dany and her crew sans rider, and she reached down in that sack and pulled out Rakharo’s head.
That’s because the TV show is only on the book 2 plotline. I’ve read all five books, and in them, Rakharo is still walking around with his head very much attached to his shoulders. He’s still one of the “blood riders” who supports Dany and all that she does, and guards her and her dragons with his every breath.
So yeah, the fact that they made him stop breathing altogether on the show took me by surprise. I guess he’s not a major character. She’s got several blood riders and they all just sort of exist to guard her. But why off him when he’s still alive and kicking in the books?
My only guess is that once again, the show is trying to set the stage for future happenings. They wanted us to see Cersei being a total douche to Littlefinger so that you can better understand things to come. They want us to see Dany grieving over the fact that some as-yet unknown someone whacked off her blood rider’s head, so that down the line when she sacks a few cities you can better understand her actions. I don’t really think that’s needed, when you know what’s going on in the cities she attacks. But I guess throwing in a reason for vengeance can’t hurt.
So, for those of you who watch the series and have read the books, what do you think of the change-ups this season? Are there some I’ve missed? Personally, with the exception of wondering about the Selyse/Shireen decision, they haven’t bothered me much, because they seem to be designed to support major plotlines rather than change them. And these little twists and turns definitely keep me on my toes. I know longer assume I know exactly what will go down each Sunday night just because I’ve read the books.
To me, that keeps things fun. So much fun that I can geek about them in a very long blog post, it would seem.