One of the marvels of television the past few seasons has been HBO’s fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” based on “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin. Season 2, which follows the second book in the series, “A Clash of Kings,” comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday. I reviewed the book before the season premiere last year. So how does the adaptation stack up?
Season 1 of the series was remarkable not only for the acting, sets, graphics and story, but for how closely it stuck to the source material. Season 2 veered a little from this path, but not always for the worse. New characters were created, some were combined for simple convenience’s sake, and others were dropped altogether because 10 hourlong episodes aren’t enough to contain every single plot line in the nearly thousand-page book.
The most important elements are all there, as is to be expected from this series. The action in King’s Landing surrounding Tyrion Lannister, played by Emmy-winning Peter Dinklage, is almost straight from the book, as is that of Stannis Baratheon, one of the many vying for the Iron Throne. The red priestess Melisandre is just as terrifying and mystifying as she was in the book, and Davos Seaworth, Stannis’ right-hand man, is well portrayed, as well. The major battle episode, the battle of Blackwater Bay, is a classic.
The most notable addition to the cast is Talisa, a foreigner who Robb Stark meets meets treating the wounded after a battle. Talisa takes the place of Jeyne Westerling, whom Robb brings back as his queen in the third book. The readers never see how Robb and Jeyne met and came to wed in the book, so this addition is welcome and provides for some decent character development. Her character has an interesting past, as well, whereas Jeyne was a simple woman without many complications.
Among the characters missing from the series are the Reed siblings, though they will be a part of Season 3, which premieres March 31. The series widens Bran’s abilities to see into the future, letting him foresee the siege on Winterfell instead of Jojen Reed. The wildling captive Osha does her role and that of Meera Reed, while also taking some of Jojen’s part by possessing some knowledge of mysticism. The changes don’t really affect anything in terms of Bran’s story, but it will be interesting to see how the Reeds are acclimated in Season 3.
Theon Greyjoy’s tale takes a slightly different tone on the show. In the book, he comes off as arrogant and self-important, and the end of his part in the story is no less than fitting for what he had done. The show does more to make him more sympathetic, in part by making his sister (Yara in the show, Asha in the book; her name change probably came to clearly differentiate her from Osha) colder and less entertaining. Alfie Allen’s acting makes this change pay off.
Maybe the best of the changes to the source material comes in Arya’s storyline. The fiesty tomboy has one of the most intriguing stories in the book, and that carries through in the show, though in different ways. The book shows her constantly sneaking around the ruinous castle of Harrenhal, serving a multitude of captors as they file in and out of the castle, plotting the deaths of just about all of them. In the show, she serves only one, Tywin Lannister, as cupbearer to the richest man in Westeros and one of her family’s greatest enemies. Arya never actually speaks to Lord Tywin in the book, but the two match wits throughout the show in captivating ways. The deaths Arya brings about with the aid of the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar are different, as well, but the show’s actually make more sense. In the book, Arya regrets just about all of them for not being important enough, and with as many characters as the book throws at readers, it’s hard to argue that. The show narrows the field of characters, so the deaths are a little more meaningful.
Up to this point, the changes the series made have mostly been for the better. But of course, with popular TV shows, there are some tropes that must be followed, for better or worse. It’s important to keep a focus on all of the major characters throughout the series, even the ones whose roles are diminished in the original story. Littlefinger disappears for most of “A Clash of Kings,” but he pops up in just about every episode in Season 2, brokering deals and negotiating around the Seven Kingdoms. His appearances seem more awkward than anything, especially his encounter with his former flame, the now-widowed Catelyn Stark. Jaime Lannister doesn’t appear in the book until the last act of the book, and for only one interrogation scene, where he finally confesses to pushing young Bran out the window so long ago. But the Kingslayer appears throughout the series, as well, and King Robb starts the season already apparently knowing what Jaime did.
There also have to be action scenes just about every episode. Certainly, these exist aplenty in the book, but more of it is scheming, building up to the big fight on the Blackwater. But that won’t always do for television. Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow and wildling Ygritte get involved in a chase through the cold wilderness. This separates Jon from the rest of the Night’s Watch, and though it provides some excellent moments between the two, the resolution in the season finale comes off as forced and hurried.
The biggest example of stretching the plot to serve a main character is one of the series’ best characters, Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons. She is given a grand total of four chapters in the book: Her wandering through the desert and the Qartheen coming out to find her, her introduction to Qarth, her venture through the House of the Undying and her coming upon ships to move on. The show embellishes all of these events in order to keep some emphasis on her character. It changes the nature of Qarth and the characters of Xaro Xhoan Daxos and the abilities of the warlock Pyat Pree. Dany’s key motivation, the stealing of her dragons, never happens in the book. Her experiences in the House of the Undying is entirely different; the book’s is nothing short of horror. All of these changes seem out of place in the show, and though Emilia Clarke continues to do a remarkable job, Dany’s scenes are easily the least interesting parts of the series as a result.
I’m excited to see what comes of Season 3 and “A Storm of Swords.” But I do hope it keeps closer to the source than Season 2 did, especially considering the events about to unfold.