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Weighing in at just over 800 pages, A Game of Thrones is full of plots and sub-plots, primary and secondary (and tertiary and ancillary) characters, major and minor leitmotifs, and foreshadowing of foreshadowing – to say it is a dense narrative is an understatement in the extreme, particularly considering its status as only the inaugural chapter of a much larger tale. This column (It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones) will act as a companion piece to both series, novel and television, analyzing each installment’s character beats and plot points as well as scrutinizing the transition from page to script. What it will not do is spoil the story; the hope and intent is elucidation, not ruination.
With a second year already in production (and the much-anticipated and oft-delayed fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, due to release in two weeks), such illumination will be needed.
It is known.
Episode 10: “Fire and Blood”
A Game of Thrones’s ending is among the most memorable of any fantasy novel’s, and it certainly is the most famous of all the Song of Ice and Fire installments. Its handling in the television adaptation is strong and, for the most part, solidly executed, particularly the final shot with the scream of the newborn dragons taking the audience out.
But it also feels a bit… off. The sequence where Daenerys Targaryen decides that she is going to waltz into the funeral pyre happens all too quickly, without much time to see the decision play out across her face or for what is happening to truly sink in for the viewer – this is, after all, where he thinks he is saying goodbye to the khaleesi, after having already done so to Khal Drogo and Eddard Stark in short succession. It’s not like the producers lacked the time to do so – at 53 minutes, “Fire and Blood” is the shortest episode of the entire season – and it’s not as if they were incapable of drawing the moment out, given the cinematic majesty of Ned’s beheading the week before. (And how is it that Dany’s clothes all get burned off by the fire, but her hair isn’t even the slightest bit singed? On the page, she is as bald as a newly born babe, an image which, of course, is meant to parallel the just-hatched dragons. [Not having the creatures breastfeeding off of her is entirely understandable and permissible, however.])
There is another key moment that also falls a bit short, particularly when compared to its handling in the book. When Jon Snow’s sworn brothers encircle him and convince him to come back to Castle Black, reciting the Night’s Watch oath to him as a means of persuasion, none of Jon’s inner dynamics come through on the screen at all, leaving behind an external shell that looks and feels remarkably cliché, perhaps even jingoistic. It is not one of the series’s finest performances.
The Differences Between the Novel and the Episode
All of Game of Thrones’s installments, it goes without saying, have had their share of divergences from the source material, but it seems that none have had quite so many as the finale: the scene of Catelyn Stark going to visit an incarcerated Jaime Lannister is lifted from the end of the second book, A Clash of Kings (minus its cliffhanger ending, of course); the Battle of Riverrun is removed wholesale; Grand Maester Pycelle is seen cavorting with the whore Ros, including the revelation that his old man act is, indeed, an act (a character flourish, it should be noted, not witnessed in the novels); Littlefinger and Varys verbally spar in front of the Iron Throne once more; the first Arya sequence from Kings, in which she meets Hot Pie and the ‘prentice smith Gendry, is inserted at the end of this episode; and, finally, the crowning of King Renly Baratheon – a major plot point on the page that will, as one can easily imagine, play a huge role in next year’s storyline – is only passingly mentioned. Audiences would be completely forgiven if they didn’t even pick up on the rather significant development at all.
While the last item is the most glaring difference, the second-to-last is, perhaps, the most telling. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been engaged in a season-long reshuffling project, moving bits of scenes, dialogue, and exposition from all three subsequent books up to the first ten episodes. Surprisingly enough, this generally results in a far better narrative flow, as Arya’s final sequence easily suggests; it’s far more satisfying, in terms of both plot and theme, to end on her leaving the city with the Night’s Watch recruits rather than abruptly ending on Yoren (who is easily more frightening on the page than he is realized on-screen) violently hacking her hair off in an alley. The writers’ including Unsullied slaves as Magister Illyrio’s household guard in the pilot is another example of how their flexible approach to translating George R.R. Martin’s work reinforces the overall story as opposed to diluting or belittling it, as so egregiously happened with Peter Jackson (given the rather prominent role the Unsullied play in book three, their existence had to be retrofitted into the previous novels by Martin).
There are already some reasons to be cautious going into Clash of Kings, particularly given how much new material the showrunners are planning to incorporate into a season that already has to have much more material cut out of it than Thrones ever did, but such deft narrative footwork is heartening, to say the least. The end result should be something at least as good as the first year.
Yes, sir – bring on the Kings, indeed.
Previous “It Is Known” Installments:
Episode 1: “Winter Is Coming”
Episode 2: “The Kingsroad”
Episode 3: “Lord Snow”
Episode 4: “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”
Episode 5: “The Wolf and the Lion”
Episode 6: “A Golden Crown”
Episode 7: “You Win or You Die”
Episode 8: “The Pointy End”
Episode 9: “Baelor”
[Marc N. Kleinhenz is a freelance writer and videographer who will be reviewing HBO’s Game of Thrones for us. His latest short story, “All the Pantheon,” is free to read for the month of June.]