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Worst changes made by the TV series

It took me only a few minutes to dash this off just to clear my head.

But I was trying to make a general listing/ranking of the worst changes the TV show made from the books. No, the argument that "the show is just different, like The Walking Dead" is facile and not really applicable here: The Walking Dead openly admits that it only loosely follows some general ideas from the source comics. The TV show is an adaptation and will be judged as an adaptation.

Now that being said, some find it odd that I actually play devil's advocate a lot with the TV series. My general philosophy is that we need to keep our complaints "focused" on the most egregious things....the things that cannot reasonably be defended. If you lump in the reasonable changes in there, it clouds the issue.

And a lot of changes I sympathize with: the books were intentionally written to be unfilmable (or rather, GRRM threw caution to the wind and chose to write the narrative on a grand scale without thought to how easy it would be to film). I understand that subplots need to be condensed, and they won't always follow the books exactly, or that some characters will be condensed out. I expect that kind of thing. Reasonable people might differ on those points.

And just because something is changed doesn't mean it is "bad" by any means. I'm talking about the changes which 1 - missed a major point from the books, and 2 - as a result, don't work well in the TV show.

It is difficult for me, as a book reader, to step back and say "this worked in the TV show even if it was utterly unfaithful to the books", such as Robb/Talisa and Tyrion/Shae/Tysha. MOST times, of course, I try not to be too picky about minor changes and sometimes think they work very well (focusing more on Margaery and Olenna Tyrell, who didn't have their own book POV). So on a case by case basis, I think it will be apparent that I'm focusing on things that really don't work even within the context of the TV show. If you pull one stone out of the wall, soon the whole thing falls down, that kind of thing, where it was not easy to work such a change into the "fabric" of the narrative -- because it's all interlocking and interconnected.

So again, I'm only focusing on the few things which are of the highest priority, which I think were not defensible on any level.

These problems fall into a few different categories:

  • Systemic characterization issues
    • Overall imbalance in female/male nudity thanks to "Adam Friedberg" drives away female viewers and lowers the story quality
    • General unwillingness to show female characters wielding political power (unless they can't avoid it, such as with the Tyrells)
    • Worry that complex, grey characters will come off as too dark, and worried about making them "sympathetic", ultimately don't make them dark enough.
  • Major subplot changes
    • Robb/Talisa, and Catelyn (interlinked issues)
    • Tyrion/Shae/Tysha/Tywin
  • Moderate subplot changes
    • The Craster's Keep filler arc in Season 4
    • The Jaime/Cersei sex scene in "Breaker of Chains" (not "a subplot", but a major problem)
    • Season 2's lack of focus and "filler" scenes
    • Attempting to pad out the Qarth subplot
  • In flux, might turn out better depending on how they adapt Season 5
    • Lack of ironborn leadership (Balon and Yara) in Season 4
    • Why not just include Willas Tyrell, or at least mention him?
    • Changes to House Martell in Season 5

Systemic characterization issues

  • The overall imbalance in female/male nudity thanks to "Adam Friedberg", which has long since stopped being funny after the SNL skit...such as when Neil Marshall was specifically told in Season 2 that they need to randomly put more topless women into the background. Even from a male perspective...this lacks all subtlety and isn't really some sort of "erotic" thing if it's just parading around far too many naked women, literally just walking across the screen -- there's no art to it. Stuff in the context of the brothel is pardonable enough I guess. But in "Blackwater", they just said "have a naked prostitute entertaining the guards before the battle" - just a bit much. Now all I'm asking is that they follow more or less the gender balance that True Blood did on the same network, I'm using True Blood as an example here.
    • Now that being said, they were largely better about this in Season 4, actually making gay male prostitute Olyvar (who shows full frontal and behindal nudity) a recurring character). And there was less random female nudity for no logical reason. Except for the Craster's Keep filler arc, which I consider a separate point on this list unto itself.
  • General unwillingness to show women wielding political power, removing their political agency - They seem to think that women making political decisions makes them unsympathetic. Specifically this was a major problem with Catelyn, but also to an extent Cersei.
  • Worry that complex, grey characters will come off as too dark, and worried about making them "sympathetic", ultimately don't make them dark enough.
    • Tyrion is darker and more morally complex in the books, to an extent. Particularly that they had a driving need to show his killing of Shae as anything less than straight-up murder due to her betrayal.
    • Cersei is too sympathetic. This goes back to Season1 when they invented the idea that she had a baby before Joffrey who died soon after birth. Cersei in the books is a really complex, enthralling villain - the more you know about her....the more you are simultaneously sympathetic and repulsed by her. a serial killer who you find out was sexually abused as a child, and there are "reasons" he turned out this way, but he's still unforgivable. Cersei was sent away trapped in a loveless marriage to the boorish Robert, who was unfaithful to her on top of that. Yet...Cersei uses this as justification for...starting a war in which thousands die. I mean, peasants are literally holding up their dead, malnourished babies in the streets and pointing at her carriage as she passes and shouting "brotherfucker!"...they starved because of the war she began....yet...she still thinks this is a story of the whole world ganging up on her for no reason whatsoever. When she gets her own POV chapters in book 4, you realize just how...skewed of a worldview she has. And I understand that this is complicated to show on screen: Cersei sucks you in by manipulating you into feeling sorry for her, but then does horrible and unforgivable things. But that's why the character is so brilliant! They've been unwilling to show Cersei in "full-on crazy" mode more than a few times...basically, when GRRM wrote "Blackwater", that's what Cersei's like most of the time. Drunkenly mocking and despising everyone around her...even mocking frightened handmaidens who are afraid the castle is going to be stormed and they'll all be raped and killed. Now this is in the "Salvageable" category IF AND ONLY IF my hope proves true: that they wanted a "slow burn" on this, and by Season 5, Cersei will be in "full on crazy and unrepentantly cruel" mode.
    • Worry that Catelyn would come off as too unsympathetic due to hating Jon Snow (for entirely valid reasons in her culture), so they gutted her political agency to make her constantly worried about her children, stereotyping her within the narrow role of motherhood.

Major subplots

  • Robb/Talisa, and Catelyn -- all intertwined and I've said this before elsewhere. All was fine in Season 1, more or less. Though from the start, they've had trouble showing Catelyn as sympathetic while still despising Jon their answer was to make her constantly worried about her children - i.e. NOT wanting to go south or stay with the war, just to go home to see her children at Winterfell again. If it made her sympathetic, it also gutted her political agency. She's the politician of the team, Robb the warrior. Now we have no idea what the hell was going on changing Jeyne to Talisa...and I suspect they may have changed their minds multiple times. Maybe, originally, she was supposed to be a Lannister spy but they later dropped that. It was very poorly written - no fault of the actress. Season 3 was better just because the "romance" part was out of the way. The best way to describe it was like watching the romance subplot in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Exacerbating this is...they came to lionize Robb so much that they never really treated anything as his fault....when the entire point in the books was a deconstruction of the "Young Warrior King" stereotype: Robb is an awful politician, and it ultimately loses the war, his life, and the lives of his entire army. The boy was a fool. An honorable fool, but a fool - just like his father. The writers flat out said they wanted his flaw to be "love" -- which is long as you later point out "you idiot, marrying Talisa destroyed our alliance!" ---- Intead, they blame Catelyn more for Karstark, and blame Edmure more for his strategic mishap (which was kind of Robb's fault)....then never have a scene in which someone angrily criticizes that Robb marrying Talisa needlessly antagonized the Freys and lost their support.
  • Tyrion/Shae/Tysha/Tywin -- seriously left out any mention of Tysha as the reason that Tyrion kills his father? You cut out OTHER stuff to make room for this! I suspect it was due to their massive fear that "the audience won't remember characters who haven't physically appeared in the show, only verbally" -- well by the SAME logic, they won't know who Elia Martell is! Your goal is to write a script to win Emmy awards from major critics! Not to pander to the short-attention span of the thousands of casual viewers live-Tweeting about it! It's just illogical now!
    • I understand that the writers really liked the actress so they gave Shae more to do, but fundamentally...Shae just isn't that important of a character, and she doesn't "love" Tyrion. He's so lonely that he's convinced himself that a hired prostitute really cares about him. What...I don't see any "fanart" or stuff "shipping" Tyrion and Shae. How many scenes did they even get in Seasons 2 and 3? It wasn't some grand romance...even less than Robb/Talisa, which they at least gave screentime to (even if it never worked). And to top it off, why have Shae then *go for a fruit knife*, as if to defend herself? Because they wanted to make Tyrion "more sympathetic"? Similar to Cersei...that's the whole point in having "complex, grey characters" -- sometimes they do bad things, and this was unequivocally Tyrion's darkest action in the whole book series (though at the time, kind of understandable - if not condonable - given how much of a rage he was in after learning about Tysha).

Moderate subplot changes

  • *The Craster's Keep filler arc in Season 4 - rewatching this, it wasn't that bad of an idea "on paper". Why not tie in "Bran is heading north, and hey, what happened to this mutineers?" - A major point I forgive is that in the books, the Battle of Castle Black happens almost immediately after Jon escapes the wildlings. But it HAD to be the episode 9 climax of Season 4. This was unavoidable, needed to give Jon something to do, and it WAS a loose end narratively. What was bad was the extent they pushed the instances of on-screen rape and sexual brutality. I mean, Yes, that was what the mutineers presumably were doing off-screen to Craster's wives, but for god's sake there's "tell, not show". It was gratuitous. Well, moreso in the mentality it reveals...that they actually filmed an even longer rape-montage, which was so over the top and getting carried away with it (the second unit directors, not the main one) that when D&D actually saw it, even they realized it was too much. So, in retrospect, we should have expected some filler like this and it wasn't the worst idea, but in execution...ties in with the general point above, about "insert random nudity, it means we're mature" -- what the hell sick bastard would be turned on by seeing a naked actress in a simulated rape scene? And if they meant to make it "dark and edgy"...that's tell, not show." ---- So this was the one big instance of "not really worrying about what female viewers think", and the outline of the plot wasn't that bad in retrospect, but particularly coming on the heels of the Cersei/Jaime scene, they should have been more attentive. Well, water under the bridge at this point.
    • I'm also deeply, deeply upset that they randomly killed off Locke/Vargo Hoat in this fashion. He didn't really "pay" for stupidly maiming Tywin Lannister's eldest son. When in the books, the Lannisters mockingly repay him by cutting off all of his limbs a few inches at a time, grinding them up, and force-feeding his own meat back to him. A Lannister always pays his debts.
    • I think this was the only random nudity of the season - outside of the Martells in the brothel, but hey, that's sort of character/book stuff, the Martells like sex, I don't begrudge the show that...I do begrudge them lack of real nudity on the part of Oberyn, like not even behind-al nudity. For a guy whose carnality is famous across a continent. I thought their little orgy celebrating Joffrey's death would be all-out, anything goes pounding away at Olyvar -- throw the ladies some god-damned eye-candy for a change. But you know, tastefully.
  • The Jaime/Cersei sex scene in "Breaker of Chains" (not "a subplot", but a major problem). While judging from the interviews it doesn't seem that they thought they were filming a rape scene...everyone thought they had. Any reviewer. And moreso than "a typo in the subtitles"...dear god...if "everyone" thinks you filmed a rape scene, you should race back and redub it when it re-airs to have Cersei shouting "yes!"...something! Don't just ignore the complaints and pretend they'll go away on their own! This was bad stage direction! Didn't they screen this? Did no one tell D&D "wait, are we being clear here? This looks too much like a rape scene?" -- Lucas-style, ten god-damned years from now, I will still be campaigning for this scene to be redubbed in a new video release...hey, they digitally removed the severed head-on-a-spike of George W. Bush from Season 1, why not FIX this?! I mean, it was one short scene that DERAILED an entire season. ALL discussion suddenly focused on this instead of anything else. Don't just ignore when mistakes like this happen.
  • Season 2's lack of focus and "filler" scenes - Even the writers later admitted by Season 3 that this didn't work, so I list it here but don't hold it against them. Season 1 was narratively focused enough on Ned Stark, but by Season 2 they didn't know how to manage a narrative with an ensemble cast. So they'd just "invent" scenes for Tyrion or Arya that added little to the story....while, paradoxically, cutting out subplots Tyrion and Arya had in the books. Just inventing little 2 minute vignettes that went nowhere. They weren't the worst, mind you, they just weren't that great. But even the writers said that by Season 3 they felt more confident with just letting a subplot "lay fallow" for a full episode or two, before returning to that set of characters. So that's behind us.
  • Attempting to pad out the Qarth subplot - One of the more boring book subplots, I don't blame them for wanting to pad it out, and even "on paper" the padding wasn't the worst filler I've ever seen. But dear god, "Where r muh dragons" became a god-damned internet meme. It took Daenerys stealing the Unsullied (kick. ass.) to remove that from the public consciousness. Stretched out over the course of four to five episodes? (okay, happened at the end of episode 6, she wasn't in 9, and resolved in episode 10). But the whole Qarth storyline just went nowhere, and I also think their characterization with Xaro didn't do much (he's kind of creepier in the books and more interesting, TV-Xaro was too calm). But again...water under the bridge, and behind us. Qarth was never going to be a great storyline, frankly very few of us were emotionally attached to it, and thankfully, it had LITTLE bearing on future seasons.

In flux, might turn out better depending on how they adapt Season 5

These are things we worry about which plausibly could still be fixed in Season 5.

  • Lack of ironborn leadership (Balon and Yara) in Season 4 - The ironborn "leadership" doesn't really appear in Seasons 3 to 4. Well, we do get Moat Cailin's ironborn siege, that's why I say "leadership". And in all fairness...Balon and Yara aren't really in the third novel at all either, so logically, I wouldn't expect them to have major parts in seasons 3 and 4. Season 3 I was fine with the one scene they had, which fit with what was going on. Season 4...was more of a random insert just to keep Yara on the payroll, as it were. But again, fine: the major ironborn subplot doesn't really kick off until after Tywin dies, when book 4 refocuses on Yara & Co.
    • So logically, I wouldn't be annoyed at lack of ironborn in Season 4 (though that one scene was kind of odd, sailing all the way to the Dreadfort is a long trip)....but I WILL be annoyed if they start making drastic cuts come Season 5, and if they never introduce Balon's younger brothers in any capacity (not too bad if it's in Season 6, better than nothing).
  • Why not just include Willas Tyrell, or at least mention him? -- Of the two other Tyrell brothers, I kind of expected Garlan to be cut, but cutting Willas directly affects Loras's storyline. As we saw in "The Climb", which implied but did not state that he was the only Tyrell son, if he is an only son that affects his choice of marriage prospects and alliances (in the books, it is Willas who they try to get to marry Cersei). Frankly I wouldn't mind if he's just a mentioned but unseen character.
    • What we've heard of Season 5 seems to indicate that...they will be addressing the issue in Loras's storyline which is affected by this. One way or another at least. So things will come to a head in Season 5 and we'll just have to see how they handle this. But mark my words: we all warned them about this in Season 3!
  • Changes to House Martell in Season 5 - ...what kind of madman cuts out Arianne Martell? The only non-white female POV narrator? The heir-apparent to Sunspear?! I mean, logically, wouldn't it have been better to have TWO Sand Snakes and Arianne, than THREE Sand Snakes and NO Arianne?! I don't mind cutting out middle brother Quentyn Martell and his subplots but...yikes. They even said Trystane was the youngest before! And what's this madness with Tyene?! Tyene is the only "white" Sand Snake, because she has a white mother who was a septa. So now...reports are that she's the daughter of Oberyn AND Ellaria? Why would two non-white characters suddenly have a white daughter? It's simply implausible within that context! Why not make Obara her daughter? That would make more sense than this! (though little). I hope that was just a typo in the press release, as also hopes. But what's this other madness we hear of, that they might be cutting out the ENTIRE detail that Dorne practices equal primogeniture? Just because Arianne doesn't exist doesn't mean you have to remove the entire law which made her heir ahead of her older brother! If ANYTHING, doesn't cutting out Arianne's existence entirely mean you don't need to retcon that entire law in general principle?!" Argh.
    • Little can be said about this until we actually see Season 5. Best to fight today's battles, and let tomorrow's battles happen tomorrow.


  • Systemic characterization issues
    • While overall Season 4 wasn't as bad as in the past, new questions about their concern for female viewers were raised by Craster's Keep filler arc and Jaime/Cersei sex scene -- in short, "don't they bother to have female staffers screen this stuff first, to get a basic reaction on if it is unacceptable?"
    • Unwillingness to show grey-good characters making dark decisions was a detriment to Cersei and particularly Tyrion, and to an extent how they thought Catelyn wasn't sympathetic enough so they overplayed that. REALLY need to address this with Cersei in Season 5, having "the other shoe drop" as it were, that "Cersei sucks you in with her self-pity, but she's a self-absorbed monster who blames her victims for abuse she herself inflicts".
  • Major subplot changes
    • Robb/Talisa, and Catelyn (interlinked issues) -- can't really fix at this point, wrapped up already. At least it doesn't significantly alter other long-term storylines.
    • Tyrion/Shae/Tysha/Tywin --WTF?!
  • Moderate subplot changes
    • The Craster's Keep filler arc in Season 4 - not too bad on paper, now that I think of it, and in the past, but part of the ongoing issue of "you don't seem concerned about what female viewers think".
    • The Jaime/Cersei sex scene in "Breaker of Chains" (not "a subplot", but a major problem) -- They need to address this somehow. Ten god-damned years from now I'll still be campaigning to fix it in a video re-release with dubbed-over lines.
    • Season 2's lack of focus and "filler" scenes (already addressed by the writers, fixed by Season 3 onwards)
    • Attempting to pad out the Qarth subplot (not the worst idea on paper, but not a great subplot to begin with, either way fading with time and doesn't affect future seasons so I don't really care by Season 3).
  • In flux, might turn out better depending on how they adapt Season 5 -- we'll have to see how these turn out:
    • Lack of ironborn leadership (Balon and Yara) in Season 4
    • Why not just include Willas Tyrell, or at least mention him?
    • Changes to House Martell in Season 5

What do other people think?

Not just what you think of the complaints I made here. I mean, are there other things that you would include in your personal list of "worst changes", which I personally felt were an unavoidable result of limited screentime and the adaptation process? (I.e. I think that they had to keep Willas Tyrell, but does anyone think it unforgivable that they left out Garlan Tyrell?)

--The Dragon Demands (talk) 23:10, December 10, 2014 (UTC)

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