Monday, May 13, 2019
Thoughts on "A Game of Thrones" Versus the First Five Books in "A Song of Ice and Fire"
For quite some time now, I have been so angry at Dan Weiss and David Benioff's "interpretation" of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire that I have often refused to watch episodes or in one case a significant fraction of a season. I would read recaps in the NY Times and shake my head. You see, I've read the first five books in A Song of Ice and Fire. I found them so well-written, with such amazing character development and world-building that I had to read non-fiction for six months after I finished A Dance with Dragons because just about everything fictional seemed pale, wan, poorly fleshed out, in comparison. After the fiasco that aired last night, there are several things I'd like to share, regarding my problems with the show. They center primarily on the destructive writing of the show's female characters and destroying the most incredible redemption arc I've read in fiction. I hope the discussion will pique the interest of those of you who haven't read the books to pick them up, even with the oft-discussed risk that GRRM may never finish the final two books in the series. I still want you to read those first five books and then contemplate Dan and Dave and the whole Hollywood machine that seems, for the most part, to find the idea of strong women unpalatable.
Let's begin with the whole Daenerys and Khal Drogo business. I was already shocked that the TV show changed the wedding night dynamic between these two. Khal Drogo is a grown man. Dany is a fourteen-year-old bride. It's a bad scenario, but Dan and Dave had to make it even worse because the audience isn't smart enough to get that she's a child bride. Drogo speaks neither Valyrian or much of the Common Tongue, but he knows the difference between "yes" and "no." He may not be suave, but when he takes Dany away from the khalazar for their wedding night, he doesn't want a crying bride. She is afraid of him, and he tells her "no." He then proceeds to affectionately stroke her, asking her "no?" as a question as he becomes more sexual. He wants her to be willing and in the books, be it because Daenerys realizes she has to make this guy happy, or Viserys is going to be horrible to her, or whether she starts to find him genuinely attractive, Dany says "yes." SHE SAYS YES. Instead, Dan and Dave want to give us a sobbing TV bride who is pretty much raped on her wedding night. Bad start? Oh, they were just getting going.
But other elements grow more disturbing. For instance, after Joffrey's death, a mourning Cersei and Jaime engage in life-affirming naughty place consensual sex in a church (the Great Sept) near their dead son's body. There's no need to have Jaime rape Cersei. They were already "being bad," and there is no need to strip Cersei of her agency in consenting to "be bad." But Dan and Dave felt it was just better to have her say "No, no, no, no" as Jaime raped her. The show wronged Cersei's character there. (And they wronged Jaime Lannister's character as well, which I'll discuss later.) Why? She's already grieving the loss of her child (who was legitimately a monster, but hey, Cersei really loves her children, you have to give her that...) So why add rape on top of it?
And then there is the whole rape-y subplot with Sansa. Show watchers who have never read the book are often amazed to find out that Sansa was never "married" to Ramsay Bolton. Sure she knows who the whacko is but Sansa is safe in the Eyrie (the Arryn stronghold where Petyr Baelish took her to her cray cray maternal aunt, Lysa Arryn, for safe-keeping and subsequent possible entrapment into a marriage to him though she's hiding under the name Alayne Stone, as his "natural" daughter. Yeah, that's right, Sansa is safe in an impregnable stronghold, surrounded by bannerman loyal to the Starks. Who's married to Ramsey the Flayer, then? Sansa and Arya had a childhood companion by the name of Jeyne Poole, who was Sansa's best friend. After the Starks fell from favor and the various events of A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, the Lannisters force poor Jeyne Poole to marry Ramsay Bolton but they pass her off as Arya Stark (since they think the only remaining Starks are Sansa, married to Tyrion but up in the Eyrie, and that pesky Jon Snow, a no good bastard who gave up his rights to everything up on the Wall) in order to give the Boltons the right to Winterfell. While there was an uncredited extra who played Jeyne Poole in the first season of the TV show AGOT, evidently Dan and Dave thought it would be too hard for the watchers of the show to hew to this idea of Real Arya and Fake Arya.* So they had brutal Ramsay marry Sansa instead, even though she was married (legally married) to Tyrion Lannister. (BTW, make no mistake, this character of Ramsay is vile and brutal in the books, too.). This changes two things in the overall story. First, Theon rescues Jeyne, in spite of his great fear of Ramsay after horrible disfigurement and torture at Ramsay's hands, and even though he has nothing to gain from this rescue. He's known Jeyne since childhood, and if he's escaping Ramsay, he's taking her with him. He is not rescuing a Lady of Winterfell. He's rescuing a dead minor lord's brutalized daughter, at considerable personal risk, and risk he knows full well. He doesn't care because it's the right thing to do and Theon is finally in a place where he wants to do right. (I can still be angry over using poor Jeyne Poole's horrible abuse as a plot device to show how much Theon has changed, though.) All of this becomes even more of a problem when we have TV Sansa later explaining to Theon How rape and domestic violence made her who she is today! Stronger! Wiser! Cautious! Scheming! It was the rape and brutality that made me everything I am now- Lady of Winterfell! This is an immensely offensive piece of writing. Meanwhile, what's book Sansa up to? Well, actually, it's looking a lot like she might make her little brat of a cousin the Sweet Robin fly right through that infamous Moon Door and take the Eyrie for herself. Sansa may still be a teenager, but she's grown a pragmatic brain and a very healthy survival instinct. Book readers have been anticipating that the Sweet Robin (vile and annoying child, though he is) is likely a goner in Book 6, The Winds of Winter, either by Sansa's hands or Petyr's.
So I mentioned character redemption arcs and have shown how the showrunners diminished the evolution of Theon Greyjoy's character. But that is nothing in comparison to what they did to Jaime Lannister's character's redemption. When we first meet Jaime he is defined by two things- he's a Kingslayer (having killed Aerys Targaryen, who he was sworn to protect) and he pushes little Bran Stark out a window, to his likely death, to prevent anyone from knowing that he and Cersei have an incestuous relationship. It's really hard to conceive of Jaime not being a flat, one-dimensional villain at first because of these two things. And yet, over the course of five books, GRRM shows us a Jaime Lannister we could never have predicted. A man who saw that his king was going to blow up an entire city rather than lose a battle and who saved tens of thousands by killing that king before he could give the orders to blow up King's Landing with wildfire. Then we learn that the only woman that Jaime has ever been with sexually is Cersei (who both due to her marriage and her predilections for young relatives and courtiers cannot quite claim the same degree of fidelity) and that Tywin Lannister is a cold, demanding father who has always belittled Jaime in a million different ways. We learn that the closest bond Jaime has, other than the illicit one with Cersei, is with his brother, Tyrion, who he appears to love genuinely. (This, since he can't show open affection for his children with Cersei...) And we see his great admiration for Brienne of Tarth and his rescuing her several times from potential rape and from being mauled to death by a bear. Jaime Lannister is a powerful man who was raised to do anything to keep his family safe. His morality is deeply flawed when it comes to family. But his eyes are opened wider and wider over five long books. Dan and Dave's decision to have him compound his incestuous relationship with Cersei with raping her ultimately destroys the redemption arc that GRRM built over those five books. Readers of his "Not a Blog" may remember GRRM's comment about that choice and that he was not happy with it. Well if that made him unhappy, I wonder what he thinks about what Dan and Dave have done to Daenerys Targaryen?
Over the course of five books, GRRM gave us a Daenerys who grew in wisdom and boldness, who appeared to be the famous gender-neutral-in-Valyrian "prince who was promised," along with, possibly, that "knows nothing yet" nephew of hers, Jon Snow.† The whole "white savior" thing that has been so in our face in the TV show has been downplayed in the books. (You don't want to get me started about sacrificing the sole female character of color, Missandei, as little more than a plot device to drive Daenerys mad like her father.) No, Book Dany is wiser than TV Dany. In fact, there's been a lot of comparison to the artful, good-hearted Rhaegar, her elder brother, rather than her despotic father Aerys or her crass and cruel brother Viserys. But for seven seasons, they made sure there was always a man around to keep TV Dany from being too crazy cruel like her papí. Lately though, in season 8 of the TV show, it seems like Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, and Varys the Whisperer just haven't been able to rein in the crazy. Yep, Dany just snapped and in the worst kind of way. If she can't take the Iron Throne the way she wanted she will burn it all down. It's a good thing there are still plenty of Menz around to fix this Dany problem, no doubt by just killing her. Prophecies be damned. Let's just all agree that women leaders, unless they've been raped into proper shape, aren't a good thing. They go all postal and unless you need one of these crazy women to kill a Night King or something, you should really only support male leadership, just like Varys told Tyrion before he was crisped by Crazy Power Mad Daenerys. It would be impossible for Daenerys to say, broker a deal with Jon/Aegon to divide or just co-rule in Westeros if they can take down Cersei together. It would be impossible to suggest using that awesome cool assassin sister of his to walk in, trick Cersei and off her, thereby saving thousands of civilian lives. Nope. No deal. They've all gotta burn! Because that all makes so much sense. (As does a Whisperer committing treason out in the open. Or Tyrion, Hand to the Queen, suddenly making stupid decisions ALL THE TIME.)
So here's the thing. GRRM has often said that while Tyrion is his favorite character, the real driving forces in A Song of Ice and Fire are the female characters. Whether it's Cersei eagerly serving as Regent for child king Tommen when her husband Robert Baratheon, her son Joffrey, and her controlling father Tywin, are killed off in short succession, or Daenerys taking control of khalazars and the Unsullied, or Sansa making the most of her secure situation in the Eyrie, or Asha Greyjoy trying to take control of the Greyjoy fleet, or Arya training as a Faceless Man, or her aunt, Lyanna Stark, turning the eye of a married Prince Rhaegar after a jousting competition in which she likely competed as the Knight of the Laughing Tree, and later running away with him and having his son, or Brienne of Tarth, a great knight in everything except the name, all these women characters rise above the perceived expectations of their sex and fight for their rights to self-determination. This is apparently something that Dan and Dave missed or couldn't wrap their heads around. It was something to be tarnished, diminished, or otherwise thwarted in great ways and small. The showrunners evidently didn't know how to handle Dany and Cersei because George hadn't written it yet. And so, they just ruined them. With lazy and bad writing, with character-assassinating tropes. And this is why you should read these books. To see what GRRM really intended, what he built toward. I may not be thrilled that GRRM has taken more than 8 years to give us The Winds of Winter. But I can still feel badly for the world and characters he built, which are being burned to the ground by Dan and Dave as surely as if they'd told Drogon "dracarys."
*This was evidently even harder than keeping Osha (a wildling woman who protected Rickon and Bran Stark) and Asha Greyjoy, the most functional member of the Iron Islands sea-faring Greyjoy family, apart in the audience's minds, necessitating changing Asha's name to Yara.
†Honestly, the fact that they're only aunt and nephew and not full siblings is refreshing when it comes to the Targaryens. Rhaegar was a really forward thinking guy by not marrying a sibling. Are Cersei and Jaime Lannister really so different from centuries of Targaryens?
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