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Rolling Stone magazine made a list recently of "the Top Ten Biggest Changes" between the Game of Thrones TV series season 2, and book 2 of the A Song of Ice and Fire series.
Much like executive producers Benioff & Weiss, I don't consider moving scenes around chronologically or from different books to even be a "change" at all; i.e. in the books, Jaime was only released and sent along with Brienne at the start of book 3. They moved this into season 2 just because it would have been bizarre for such a major character to not appear all season.
They also graded each of these changes, from whether they were Bad, Good, or Mixed.
The Rolling Stone list:
1 - Stannis actually having sex with Melisandre. As RS points out, this was implied in the books it just wasn't overtly stated. Frankly, I don't even consider it a "change" when something which happened outside of the POV characters is actually depicted in the TV version. They rated it "Good" and so do I. (brilliant quote from RS I need to work into fanart, from when they have sex on the Painted Table: "Gentlemen you can't f*** in here, this is the War Room!"
2 - Theon Greyjoy and the Fall of Winterfell. Not one big change so much as many tiny condensations here and there. The Reeds don't show up yet but we've been promised them in season 3 so I honestly don't care about that specifically. The entire Ramsay Snow subplot was cut out. Not that I'm blindly complaining...we'll see him in season 3, its not like he's been expunged from the universe (which some online commentators act like)...but the *setup* of Ramsay Snow's plotline was largely removed. RS thought it still held up well and this is just the price of condensing things into ten episode seasons, and I agree. Rodrik Cassel didn't die like this in the books, though Theon's first kill of a northerner *was* also a beheading for insolence, and Rodrik *does* die in the fall of Winterfell. I seriously think his book death was better.
3 - Jon Snow and the Wildlings - this has annoyed some commentators already. In the TV version, Jon Snow seemed like a bungling idiot in season 2. He never discovered Craster handing over his baby in the books thus it wasn't his "fault" they got kicked out. Jon simply lets Ygritte go in the novel, then rejoins Qhorin's band. Rattleshirt's group attack them later but it isn't particularly Jon's fault. I understand that they want to make it more of a "Hero's Journey" and not just have Jon be amazingly great at everything all the time. RS hated it. I think its...mildly annoying, but nothing we can't put past us as we move on to season 3 (it shouldn't have long-term repercussions, or at least, all is dwarfed emotionally now by the fact that Qhorin made Jon kill him so the wildlings will trust Jon and he can find out what they're up to.
4 - Numerous small changes - I agree with RS: as they put it, its not that we're nitpicky fans obsessing over small details...its that these small details were so easy to achieve, that its baffling why they didn't do them. Its *because* these changes were so small that we don't understand why they were even changed:
- Renaming Asha Greyjoy to "Yara Greyjoy" so audiences wouldn't confuse her with Osha the Wildling. The most baffling part of this is that Asha is a more important character than Osha the Wildling. Didn't *anyone* have the foresight to think, "maybe we should rename the *wildling girl* "Yara", and leave "Asha Greyjoy"? Its not so much that I hate the change....as it seemed *ridiculously avoidable*. What? Didn't they think they'd get a second season? Or did some vampire from HBO marketing send them a note saying that "Asha" sounds too much like "Osha"? Should have thought of that in season 1!
- Renly doesn't taunt Stannis in their confrontation by eating a peach...why?! I sure hope the season 2 DVD commentary gives us some form of explanation.
5 - Massive changes to the Arya in Harrenhal subplot -- Admittedly, there was no way to fit the Harrenhal subplot in without condensing *a lot* of material. The Arya and Tywin scenes actually worked as a way to get exposition for Tywin (you need to make your villains more rounded characters; people mention Tywin's backstory but its largely off-screen in the books).
What really annoyed me though was that they killed off The Tickler. Basically, The Tickler is the kind of sick bastard who made necklaces out of children's ears in 'Nam, My Lai Massacre kind of stuff. He isn't torturing people because he hates them or even to achieve any "rational objective". Even Tywin points out how wasteful he's being, even from the pragmatic view that they're fighting a war and need laborers. The Tickler tortures people because he honestly enjoys torturing children to death. He doesn't even care that there's a war on, he tortures people he knows to be poor peasants from neutral villages, the war is just an excuse to go torturing. And he just pervasively does this across three novels, without any excuse or explanation: he's here to torture.
Secondly, I agree with RS that the scene with Arya and Littlefinger was terrible. "Arya's less-than-effective cat-and-mouse stuff with Littlefinger" as they put it. First....if you're going to INVENT that Littlefinger runs into Arya at Harrenhal, and give the hint that he recognizes her....*follow through on it*. Don't just invent it and drop it. Moreover, the scene's direction was so focused on the tomfoolery of Arya trying to hide her face from Littlefinger as she moved around, that a large number of viewers weren't even paying attention to the plot-important exposition dialogue between Littlefinger and Tywin, setting up the Lannister-Tyrell alliance. Well, I am actually glad they didn't follow through on it because that would have been too much of an invention....but they really shouldn't have over-sold it as much as they did. On paper, I can see why, but it was too annoying seeing TV-first viewers who were led to think this was going somewhere.
...Generally I agree that the Arya in Harrenhal subplot was too long to accurately portray in a ten episode season, it needed to be condensed...but what about the Tickler?
6 - Actually showing things from Margaery Tyrell's point of view -- I'm in full agreement with RS on this: this was great stuff, and really, it reflects things that were *inferred* in the books but "off screen" because Margaery wasn't a POV character. So I don't even consider this a "change" so much as "showing stuff from off-screen". But while Robb's romance subplot felt a bit generic (though I'm happy they gave him screentime which he didn't have at all in the books, and it was at least serviceable) Margaery Tyrell felt spot-on from how I imagined her "off screen" in the books.
7 - The Madness of King Joffrey -- RS points out the "beating up prostitutes" scene with Ros, and the killing of Robert's other bastards (which apparently Cersei did in the books), as a sign that the TV show Joffrey is "more violent" or "more evil". Generally they liked it. My complaint is that they actually drastically toned down Joffrey's violence from the books. As for the Cersei switchup, well at least the TV show sort of presents it that Cersei knew but didn't try to stop it, which sort of fits what's been going on.
But Joffrey's "punishment" of Sansa was severely truncated, and its that more than beating prostitutes that defines him. I do not mean this misogynistically....but how many other series have had a "bad leader", like a mafia leader on The Sopranos, viciously beating up a prostitute in private?
Joffrey is a uniquely crazed villain, that's why the books are so popular. Joffrey has his own *knights*, sworn to protect women, beat Sansa to a bloody pulp in a beating that lasts well over ten minutes. The length was crucial to the significance; no one tried to do anything to stop it. She lost count of the blows. And he did it in front of his *ENTIRE COURT IN THE THRONE ROOM*. That's all new kinds of crazy. Well, I understand that for legal reasons probably to do with Sofie Turner's age they probably couldn't show that kind of thing.
But...and this, is a big "but"....I have no idea why they didn't cut out the one point that encapsulates the ENTIRE CHARACTER of Joffrey to me:
- ...Joffery said, “but I killed your father. I wish I’d done it myself. I killed a man last night who was bigger than your father. They came to the gate shouting my name and calling for bread like I was some baker, but I taught them better. I shot the loudest one right through the throat.” “And he died?” With the ugly iron head of the quarrel staring her in the face, it was hard to think what else to say. “Of course he died, he had my quarrel in his throat. There was a woman throwing rocks, I got her as well, but only in the arm.”
- “Fear is better than love, Mother says.” Joffrey pointed at Sansa. “She fears me.” The Imp sighed. “Yes, I see. A pity Stannis and Renly aren’t twelve-year-old girls as well".
That he's this insane boy-king, who in broad daylight and in front of a crowd of a hundred witnesses, shoots starving refugees with a crossbow for daring to beg for bread from their own ruler.
Rolling Stone says they made Joffrey more violent in the books, but I say they didn't make him violent enough.
8 - Littlefinger gets more screentime and exposition - I'm surprised that RS had a "mixed" reaction to this. Littlefinger's motivations are only really given out in books 3 an 4, so I welcomed that they were making it easier to understand by explaining it now for the TV first viewers. Particularly, the concept of him actually going in person to the Stormlands and then Harrenhal to talk face to face with Renly and Tywin, gives a much more human face to what was otherwise negotiation conducted via messenger-Raven in the books. (I do think the "oh no, he might recognize Arya!" insertion was a bit over the top in execution, but I can see how it was okay on paper). Yes, if we're having political machinations, its best to "invent" meetings between actual characters instead of just discussing letters. Lots of movie adaptations do this: a letter a character in a book received and read is turned into a dialogue scene.
9 - Robb Stark's Romance Subplot -- As I said before, this was "in the books" but off-screen, so they had to invent the specific dialogue and characterization. Generally, I was quite happy with it. Similar to RS, I feel it wasn't particularly standout, but it was serviceable and you can kind of get into it (depends on how much you like Robb Stark). So while not as amazing as the Margaery Tyrell additions to show "off-screen" book material, I was fine with this.
....except for the Talisa Maegyr/Jeyne Westerling antics. I imagine they're going to start next episode by going, "surprise, it turns out that I'm a Lannister bannerman and my name is really Jeyne". Look, I understand that they needed to have some kind of padding for this, and they need to retain the "surprise" element in the book; Catelyn returns and finds that Robb is married to some girl she doesn't know. Given that we've "met" her in the TV show, we need to retain some sort of surprise. Of course, as Jeyne Westerling's grandmother was indeed from Volantis, I can see a handy kernel for her lie as a sly book reference ("you look like a Volentene", "well, my grandmother was from Volantis" etc.) On the whole, so long as this turns out to actually be Jeyne Westerling, I don't have a problem with this.
10 - Daenerys drops out and bums around
India Qarth for a season. - I'm a Daenerys Targaryen fanatic, and even I say her appearance in book 2 was backburnered. I largely agree with RS's position; the TV show sort of had to invent *something* for her to do in Qarth this whole season. Losing Irri was an unfortunate but unavoidable problem stemming from actor scheduling more than creative choice. I'm wary of it, but then again, they sort of had to make up something. Well, either way, we're off to Slaver's Bay, and glory!
So in summary, the changes which I feel really had problems were
1 - Theon and the Fall of Winterfell had to be condensed for time and generally worked out well, but they need to find a similar way of establishing Ramsay Snow's character.
2 - Arya and Harrenhal had a lot of condensations, though I generally agree that it was so long that this was the best condensation we could get. However....what prompted their decision to kill the Tickler now? Didn't GRRM say something when they were writing that episode? How will they fill in for this moment later?
2A - Part of the "truncated Harrenhal plot" which will be important later, is that they completely removed the eastern theater of the war, with Roose Bolton leading half the Northern army on the Green Fork of the Trident. This resulted in absurd changes in Lannister army numbers to maintain that they still outnumbered Robb at Whispering Wood (60,000? That's impossible.)
3 - Robb's romance subplot was decent enough, but they need to get it over with and say "it turns out she's really Jeyne Westerling" sooner instead of later.
4 - Joffrey wasn't nearly as violent and despicable as he was in the books; though admittedly your mileage may vary, and some felt he changed to be more violent. Either way, Jack Gleeson is amazing ("You're talking to a king!" "And now I've struck a king! Did my hand fall from my wrist?!")
5 - The Daenerys in Qarth subplot was inherently going to have problems this season, but now that they've changed it, what sort of fallout will it have? Rakharo wasn't a huge character in the books but I liked the actor so I didn't want him to go. Irri had to leave through no fault of their own, Jhiqui wasn't really used beyond a cameo, and now Doreah's off of Team Daenerys (though of course she was dead at this point anyway). Well, the Slaver's Bay Storyarc is about to start up, and I hope that will be a return to form, once they have better material to work with.
6 - Numerous small changes...not because they were changed, but because its baffling that such easy tiny details would even be ignored. Why not have Renly taunt Stannis with a peach? Why didn't anyone think far ahead enough to realize that if you're going to rename someone, it should be the Wildling character who barely appears after book 2, relative to the major storyarcs that Asha Greyjoy gets?