WELL, THAT HAPPENED: HBO vs. George R.R. Martin

By on May 13, 2015
Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Littlefinger (Aiden Gillan) discuss Sansa’s future in season five of ‘Game of Thrones.’ PHOTO: HBO

Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Littlefinger (Aiden Gillan) discuss Sansa’s future in season five of ‘Game of Thrones.’ PHOTO: HBO

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The HBO original series Game of Thrones is easily one of the most popular and hotly debated television shows since ABC’s Lost ended back in 2010. Mixing high-concept fantasy elements with more family drama than The Sopranos and Parenthood combined, GOT has managed to captivate audiences and defy expectations. The bloody tale of the Stark/Lannister/Targaryen power struggle is paving a path for epic fantasy television, and winning various Emmys and Golden Globes along the way.

Based on a series of seven books (five of which have been published) called A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones takes its title from the first book, on which the first season was based. Season two covered the events of A Clash of Kings, but season three only covered the first half of the third book, A Storm of Swords. As with any book adaptation, changes must be made to successfully tell the story through a new medium. For example, some important tasks that extraneous characters executed in the books have been absorbed by main characters on the show to avoid confusion and propel the story.

Fans of George R.R. Martin’s books have expressed concerns over the creative choices made by showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, but that comes as no shock. Personally, since both the show and the books are such high quality, I see the Game of Thrones saga as something of legend, on par with the story of King Arthur. Each medium offers its own version of that legend.

“You have to recognize there are going to be some differences,” Martin acknowledged. “I’m very pleased with how faithful the show is to the books, but it’s never gonna be exactly the same … Hopefully each [medium] will stand on its own.”

The current season (the fifth) has ventured somewhere between adapting the fourth and fifth books, A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons, and the divergences from the books have been greater than ever. One of the focus characters, Sansa Stark, has recently deviated dramatically from her book equivalent, both in characterization and geography. A Dance with Dragons ended with an uncertain fate for Sansa, but the show has given her plenty more to work with. The show has also killed off a handful of characters that are still alive in the books.

Before shooting the first season, the showrunners required Martin to outline the remainder of the story for them. As readers await the sixth and seventh books, HBO has a good idea where their show is going, which makes speculation from book fans run rampant. If the showrunners kill off a character in the show, does that mean they aren’t relevant for the endgame in the books?

“I’ve told [the showrunners] certain things,” Martin said. “So they have some knowledge but the devil is in the details. I can give them broad strokes of what I intend to write, but the details aren’t there yet.”

There is speculation that the HBO show will end with seven seasons, meaning they will finish the story before Martin’s final book A Dream of Spring publishes. His sixth book, The Winds of Winter, is expected sometime in 2016. However, Martin seems to have a few tricks up his sleeve.

Last month, Martin said he has devised a “great twist” that will shock readers.

“It’s nothing they can do in the show because the show has already — on this particular character — made a couple decisions that will preclude it, where in my case I have not made those decisions,” he said.

Whether you’re loyal to the books or loyal to the show (or somewhere in the spectrum in-between), there is something refreshing about being in spoiler-free territory. Once the show adapts what’s left of Martin’s published material, speculation will finally be free game and book aficionados will be on the same level as fans of the show. Whichever direction this story goes, it’s clear that Martin has managed, in a very Lannister way, to gain the upper hand.

About Andrew Munz


  1. Nathan

    May 13, 2015 at 8:44 am

    “Whichever direction this story goes, it’s clear that Martin has managed, in a very Lannister way, to gain the upper hand.”

    Huh? How did he do that, exactly? It looks to me like he’s somehow made himself irrelevant to his own story and he’s trying desperately to make the books he has left to write meaningful. Over the past couple of years, there have been many reports about George trying to slow the TV show down, get it extended, have it spend a season covering some of the backstory, etc. so that the television show didn’t get out ahead of his books. It didn’t work, and now he’s stuck with HBO telling his story before he can. How does that give him the upper hand?

  2. Tony H

    May 13, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    I’m a bit bothered by the show’s seemingly disdain for magic recently. LSH was the best twist ever.

    The Children of the Forest as well as Coldhands absence have been disappointing. I feel like the showrunners are merely above-average fans who came to a cliff when the show caught up and now they’re lashing out randomly. It would be like letting Martin write The Return of the King taking whatever direction he wante, before Tolkien did.

    Because the show has wonderful child actors, they can hardly take a timeout but all parties should have considered that snd waited til this slow old man finished his books.

  3. Tony Moore

    May 13, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    After three strong seasons, the HBO series jumped the shark and gets worse by the episode. They’ve succeeded in their edits and combinations of characters about 30% of the time (e.g. Arya, Brienne, jury out on Sansa) but the absurd mistakes they’ve made the other 70% of the time are fatal, and worse yet, they’ve utterly ruined the three best characters (Jaime, Tyrion, Varys) by altering them and forth to make their B- and C-plots work short-term, and leaving out key parts of their essential character motivation (Tysha, et al). But the ultimate reason that Benioff and Weiss will be scoffed at by TV history is their inexplicably stupid refusal to take the 10-plus seasons offered by HBO. They’re not only failing catastrophically to rise to the quality of Martin’s books – they’re also well below the high standards set by HBO shows like The Wire. I hope they’re saving the money they make from the current popularity of the show because Weiss and Benioff are doomed to be ridiculed, ostracized and unemployable when the full scope of their folly becomes clear.

  4. A. H.

    May 13, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    As a fan who started reading this series back in 1996. I originally had very mixed feelings about the show over taking the books. But since it’s very likely that GRRM will never finish his books, I’m glad we get at least some form of closure to this story. He has known since 2006 (when he gave the ok to do the show) that he needed to finish this series before the show over took his books (that’s 9 years people), and there has only been one book published in the past ten years. So after nearly 20 years of waiting I’m glad I’m getting some kind of end. And hey, if he does finish the books, great I’ll get two different ends. If not, at least I get something.

  5. Gerri du Toit

    May 14, 2015 at 5:35 am

    Yes, I have to agree almost completely with A.H . As someone who started the series in 1998 , I can almost feel Robert Jordan’s ghost stirring next to me . His slow writing is inexcusable and I feel that the TV series will start to dictate how he finishes the tale.I hope im wrong about this …

  6. PMMP

    May 14, 2015 at 7:18 am

    Perfectly said, A.H. This is how I’ve also come to view things. At first I held incredibly mixed feelings, but I’m also of the opinion now that the series will never be finished (in book form). I’m not taking cheap shots at GRRM’s health here — it’s simply history dictating the truth of the matter.

    I think Martin’s really regretting his decision to let his story be told in both mediums. He obviously grossly overestimated his capacity to write and publish the books in time with the show. I remember reading years ago that if he did happen to die before finishing the books, then so be it. He wouldn’t have a Sanderson on hand to finish the tale. He said something to the likes of “It’s my story and I don’t want anyone else telling it.” Well, HBO now is, and while he’s very much alive. I wonder how this might hamper his motivation to continue. I know a lot of people in recent years have read the books either because A) They liked the show so much, or B) They wanted to read ahead of the show, and that this group of people, once they have their ending, most likely will not buy the seventh book once it’s out. Readership levels will meet a steep declination of interest. Surely that’s on the back of his mind…

  7. Doug

    May 14, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    The showrunners heads have exploded. They went from obscurity to famous and rich and now think they’re more important than they are. Their disdain for the 4th and 5th book, and their arrogant attitude towards some of the cast who questioned their decisions is a symptom of too much too soon for them. And it’s beginning to show in the quality. Quite simply, they are NOT as talented as Martin, and their changes that border on boring, and pointless show this. The declining ratings reflect this. The declining social media activity when the show is live reflect this. The show has gone from a licensed adaptation to poor fan fiction masquerading as a licensed adaptation.

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