May 27, 2012
Purist and Proud
It appears that during the airing of the second season of Game of Thrones, “purist” has become a dirty word. Obviously, since I consider myself to be a purist—and since I am proud to be one—I am not an unbiased observer, but I still find this quite baffling.
Let’s start with the word itself. I think we can probably agree that “purist” describes someone who prefers the adaptation of, for example, a book into a TV show to be as faithful as possible. Of course, each purist out there probably has a different definition of what “as faithful as possible” means. Some purists may feel that “as faithful as possible” comes with the caveat of “budget allowing”, whereas others may insist on “perfection or nothing at all”. Similarly, those using the term in a derogatory fashion probably have different standards for when they apply it. Some may reserve the label for those who are particularly insistent on the show matching the books completely whereas some may label anyone who complains at all about the show as a purist.
For my own part, I consider myself to be a purist within reason. I lamented the size of the tourney in the first season, but I accepted that there are budget constraints. I lamented the lack of purple eyes for the Targaryens, but I accepted that coloured contacts were not a good solution for various reasons. I could give many, many examples of similar changes, cuts, etc that I accept as a necessary part of a TV adaptation. On the other hand, when changes are made that make characters or the story as a whole less challenging and less unique, I am not particularly inclined to accept explanations such as “we wanted to show more of this actor” or “we felt this sequence needed more action”. Cutting and compressing the material that is already there is one thing, adding new things because the existing storylines aren’t deemed commercial enough is something else entirely.
No doubt, this sort of purism is what some people are complaining about. But on what grounds? I see arguments put forward that its ungrateful towards the people involved in the production, as if fans are somehow so indebted to those working on the show that criticism is unacceptable. For me, that is not a point of view I can at all sympathize with. This show would not have been made at all if it wasn’t for the fans of the books. If the books had not been a success, it would never have gone into development at all. The producers have certainly recognized this in the past and thanked the fans of the books for their support.
They—or anyone else—have no right to expect that support to be unconditional. They have stated in the past that they are aiming for a faithful adaptation and that is the claim that secured the support of many fans. It is absolutely true that some fans may not care much at all about how faithful the show is to the story in the books—indeed, they may even welcome changes as “cool surprises”—but those who feel that way have no right to deny that there’s undoubtedly a significant portion of fans out there who gave their support to the show because the producers said it was going to be faithful.
Faithful is, of course, a subjective term. The producers may still feel that they are being faithful. Many fans may still feel that they are being faithful. But many other fans do feel that at this stage the show is no longer living up to the claim of being a faithful adaptation. Some of them have unreasonable demands, some entirely reasonable. Either way, for other fans to label them “purists” in a derogatory fashion is definitely quite unreasonable. Without the fans, and that certainly includes all the “purist” fans, there likely would never have been a show at all. I am not saying the team behind the show owes fans anything in particular, but this is an undeniable fact: the following of the books is what made the show a possibility. But I prefer to avoid talking in terms of debts. However, since I have seen some argue that the fans are indebted to the team behind the show for giving them the show to watch, I do think that if you insist on talking about debts you have to say that it goes both ways. The fans are certainly no more indebted to the producers or actors or anyone else working on the show than those involved in the show are indebted to those fans.
Now, I expect that even with my stated reservations about talking about debts in the first place, the above paragraph in particular might catch the attention of those trolls out there who have been attacking GRRM for years for the wait between the later books since they have tried to argue in terms of debts. My answer to this is that I am not in any way supporting or considering it reasonable for fans of the show, no matter how purist, to harass any of those involved in the show. If all that the trolls attacking GRRM had been doing was to rip the books apart, that would have been entirely within their rights. But instead they have made and continue to make personal attacks on GRRM. That is unacceptable and the same goes for anyone who is upset about the show. I expect to make a very, very unhappy post when the final episode has aired as I feel that some elements of the second season are a complete and utter travesty that has nothing to do with A Song of Ice and Fire, but I am not going to drag the personal lives or appearance of the producers and writers into the matter. Attack the product all you want, but leave the person or persons behind the product out of it.
There are certainly “purists” out there who have behaved badly by taking their grievances directly to those involved and doing so in a rude fashion, and that is unreasonable. But I am not going to apologise for—and neither should anyone else—simply posting negative opinions—even very harsh negative opinions, as long as they focus on the show itself—in public. We are disappointed, we have a right to be disappointed and we have a right to publicise that disappointment.
Posted at 12:23 CET by Linda
E & L-
As a fan of both the Books and the Show, I have to tell you why I disagree with your stance on the TV Series.
I would imagine that GRRM is the ultimate “purist”, and he personally signs off on any and all changes that occur during the course of the adaptation for Television.
So, therefore, to suggest “that some elements of the second season are a complete and utter travesty that has nothing to do with A Song of Ice and Fire”, would be to suggest that GRRM doesn’t know what his own story is about, or that he would sign off on changes that take away from the story (or have nothing to do with it.)
GRRM is a very, very smart man, obviously, and it seems that you are perfectly content portraying yourselves as smarter than him. Or thinking that you are more in tune with how to tell his story on film than he is.
That is beyond absurd to me.
You ARE smart people, so you should able to understand that Television and Literature are two very very very different storytelling mediums. They require different approaches, and different elements to make them successful. GRRM has said so himself.
People like me who enjoy the show AND the books have a hard time with your criticisms, because we can’t comprehend how someone so intelligent can be so ignorant as to assume they know what is better for the show than GRRM himself.
There is clearly some underlying reason for your constant belittling of the great work done by the show’s producers and writers. It could be jealousy, because YOU wanted to be the one who adapted ASOIAF to film and didn’t get the chance. Or it could be that you are just bitter people who look at a sunset and say “it’s too bright”.
Whatever the reason is, it’s clear that you (both) are more negative than positive about the show, and to me, it’s sad. Because there’s nothing sadder than intelligent people reveling in their own ignorance.
It’s one thing to be a “purist” and notice and even dislike some of the changes that occur in adaptation. It’s another thing entirely to publicly assume that you could do a better job, and to fuel negativity about such a remarkable product. There are filmmakers and writers and producers IN AWE over the brilliance of the show, and it has nothing to do with the faithfulness of the adaptation.
Frankly, if the Producers and Writers took YOUR approach, the show wouldn’t be nearly as successful, and MILLIONS of people would never have had this story brought into their lives.
If millions of people never got to understand and appreciate this story, THAT would be the real travesty.
I find your tone incredibly patronizing and a fine example of the ridiculous attitude that goes around towards those of us who find the adaptation less than stellar.
It is a common but entirely incorrect assumption that GRRM in any way signs off on any and all changes that occur. We have some insight into the process and this just isn’t true. Of course, GRRM would never come out in public and comment unfavourably on the show; it just isn’t done when you have signed over your rights and when you are involved to the degree that he is. Even so, he has said that there have been choices made that he would not have made, but that is likely as far as he’ll ever go.
So, your whole argument falls completely flat, I am afraid. You don’t know what GRRM thinks so you cannot in any way compare our opinions to his. But even if you did know, GRRM’s opinions on the show ultimately has nothing to do with our opinions. He could be completely laid-back and think it is cool to see a radically different take (I doubt it, given what a purist he is when it comes to other properties) and we would still feel the way we do. He doesn’t get to dictate how people watch the show no more than he gets to dictate how people read the books.
Furthermore, I did note that there are changes that are clearly needed because of the change in medium. I may not like those either, but I can accept those. Giving Robb more screentime and a completely trite relationship to a walking cliche is not a necessary change. Nor is completely rewriting Qarth to replace the storyline with a pointless, hollow sequence of events filled with largely boring, dumbed-down characters.
To then go on to suggest that we have some reason for belittling the show beyond, you know, wanting to enjoy it is completely laughable. No, we definitely don’t. We just wanted a good adaptation of a series we love and not the piece of horse shit that the second season has been in parts.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: personally, I would rather have had two faithful seasons and nothing more. If they insist on dumbing down the story for the lowest common denominator like yourself to make sure it gets good ratings I will continue to critique it every bit as harshly. Just because it is fantasy doesn’t meant it has to be crap television that gets held to a different (lower) standard by professional critics, and I feel this is currently the case.
Now, go troll someone else or watch something suitably challenging for yourself. Transformers, maybe.
First let my thank you, for your work. Now back to topic.
I agree with your article. Personally I don’t need a TV Show with actors that they named like characters from Ice and Fire. The day HBO cancel the show I’m more happy than sad. But when they produce the show I feel, that I must see it, so I can think (or talk/write) about it.
Last year I expected the worse and I was totally surprised how “faithful” the show was to “A Game of Thrones”. I even though they improved things (The way Drogo gets his wound). Yes, there were changes and cuts and so one but with few exceptions (Sansa-Septa), they took the book in an impressive show. I think season 1 was the first really good book-adaptation I ever saw.
And so I raise my expectations for season 2 to be a most “faithful” adaption like season 1. And they disappoint me. They try to “improve” Things, but no longer in the “small” way they tried it in season 1. They make massive changes and for me it seems they don’t think of the long term consequences (example: Aryas character development).
In the adaption they change Aryas wishes. For me, it’s no problem when she chooses the Tickler as first name, as long the motivation and the consequences are the same. Chiswyck was for anger (Beat her, he is not a nice person) and to prove Jaqen’s offer. In the Show it is a little bit the same: The Tickler is not a nice person, he torture people and she don’t know if she can trust Jaqen. For me as “purist” this change was ok, even when they lost the inn scene from aSoS (like Marillion, I think they make it to avoid open ends, if the actors don’t return to the show).
But the second wish is something other. In the book Aryas motivation was to get free, to change from a mouse to a wolf. In the show Amory Lorch doesn’t bother Arya a second. Only in this (and I think we agree in that) awful letter scene. Just like Arya never persuade Jaqen to make a “speed-kill”. Here the show lost all aspects of the book for their own “action”-scene. To avoid misunderstanding, in my “purist”-view I have no problem to kill Lorch as second wish, but I have a problem when they change the motivation and the consequences.
For the 3th wish I’m not sure. I will wait until ep 10 to see how the producers solve this situation.
What’s your “purist”-though of this?
I read the line “I like the changes, because I like the surprises” often. I hate this. Really, I hate this. In my View Changes are the way to solve budget, cast or consequence problems, not to add some “lame” action [And in season 2 in most case they add more problems than solve]. If you’re a purist, because you don’t like changes “we can do it like the books, but we think this action is more entertained”, I’m gladly a purist.
Now you can say “But maybe without this added action the ratings crush an HBO cancel the show”. If staying faithful to the bestselling books is a reason for low ratings, maybe it is the best thing to cancel? (Btw. I think Book-Qarth is more fascinating than „I’m the king of Qarth“. And I think they could do Qarth as a exiting, more drama a character driven place but they decided to take more action).
At last I think the show should try to tell “A Song of Ice and Fire” with impressive pictures, actors and scenes and not try to tell “An-improved Song of Water and Fire” with added action and changed characters. If this means I’m a purist than I’m a purist and proud about it.
Yes, I quite agree. The first season was largely flawless. I had issues with the rewrite of Cersei (and still do), but it really was my only major issue with what was put on screen. I did lament the lack of dreams and flashbacks, but it still seemed as if they largely grasped the essence of the story.
With this season, the essence of the story seems to have eluded them for a lot of the storylines. Theon is the exception, I think his storyline is a beautiful example of how you can do cuts, compressions and changes and still be faithful where it truly matters.
For Arya, I feel it was a huge mistake to essentially have one scene of hardship at Harrenhal and the rest just be about her and Tywin. Yes, the acting in those scenes is great from both Maisie Williams and Charles Dance, but they have completely gutted her development. How is she going to turn into the damaged, cold-blooded killer that the events of the second books turn her into? How is she going to lose her identity in preparation for being a Faceless Man? Her whole arc has been severely gutted.
And yes, when people say that they like the changes because they like surprises I get more than a little annoyed. Why watch an adaptation of a story if you want the story to be changed? I just can’t get that mindset.
When it comes to Qarth, I also see plenty of non-readers say they don’t really find it interesting anyway, so why didn’t they just trust the story in the books? I see a lot of insecurity in this season, and a lot of hedging their bets and trying to play it safe. That isn’t what HBO is known for.