Now that Elio and I have seen (and commented on together) the first four episodes of Game of Thrones for the second season, I am starting to get more of a grip on what it is I am troubled by in terms of the adaptation. First of all, I don’t think I can stress enough that I am really only interested in the show as an adaptation. When I know the source material as well as I do in this case, I just cannot see it in any other way. I want to see the characters that I love (or love to hate), I wanted to see the scenes that I love (or dread). In the case of A Song of Ice and Fire, I also do not mind being shown aspects of the story that the strict PoV-structure left out of the book. But I want those additions to fit with what is established, not contradict it.
The first season was, overall, very faithful. With the second season, I think we’re seeing a focus on adapting what the writers and producers feel are the themes of the story rather than, necessarily, the events of the story or the approaches to how the story is told that GRRM uses. Now, as I have said before, some changes are inevitable. Compressions of story are an obvious example of such. Similarily, some aspects of the storytelling in the books cannot be preserved, such as the PoV-structure.
But, I do feel that there’s also a desire to rush the story and the characters, perhaps because they do not have faith in the patience of the TV audience. One major aspect of how GRRM constructs his story is that everything is not what it at first seems to be. Both situations and characters have revealed themselves as being very different from the initial perception. Look at the story of Rhaegar and Lyanna and how it has changed over time. Look at the initial impression of Jaime in the books and the image of Jaime that the reader has after A Storm of Swords.
On the show, we don’t get this. Well, Rhaegar and Lyanna are all but gone, but Jaime is a good example still, being a more complex figure right off. Perhaps it adds something right now, but you lose something in the long run. It feels like a short-term, slightly cheap gain. It also looks as if Margaery is getting a similar treatment, alongside a host of other changes to that character.
In the same vein, I find myself concerned with the desire to insert early pay-offs, such as another look at the Others. Its part of the genius of A Song of Ice and Fire that after the prologue in A Game of Thrones, you get to wait and wait for them to reappear. Similarly, we see the dragons born at the end of the first book and we think they’ll be game changers. We’re not prepared for that not providing an instant pay-off, as so often is the case in other books.
Overall, I don’t think I will enjoy the structure of the second season as much as I enjoyed the first. I know I will enjoy individual scenes where the characters and the dialogue are almost straight from the books, but as a whole I think it will be weaker than it could have been. Some parts will, I fear, be particularly painful to watch as they bear little to no resemblance to the actual story and, in some cases, the actual characters. But I am still hopeful that in terms of individual scenes, the good may come to outweigh the bad. At least, comparing episodes one and two to three and four, things were definitely looking better in the later two episodes in terms of providing more scenes straight from the books.