My thoughts on the plot differences between the book and TV versions of the second season of Game of Thrones
Well, I am current on Game of Thrones and I continued to enjoy it right up to the end. In general, I particularly enjoy the TV show’s deviations from the book series. I like them not only because they’re unexpected, but because they also usually make a bit more sense than what happened in the books.
For instance, in the books, Arya helps the Northmen capture Harrenhal and then serves as a cupbearer to Roose Bolton (who does not know her true identity). In the books, that whole thing never happens! Instead, she serves as a cupbearer to Lord Tywin Lannister. Not only is this a bit more efficient (since it lets us see both Arya and Tywin at the same time, whereas Roose Bolton is a total sidecharacter), but it also makes way more sense. I mean, Roose Bolton was on the same side as Robb Stark. I know that there’s a reason why Arya Stark didn’t reveal herself to Bolton (although I can’t quite remember what it is), but isn’t it so much cleaner and more efficient for her to never have to concoct some tortured reason in the first place? I mean, almost any narrative choice can be justified, but sometimes it makes more sense to avoid the need for a justification in the first place.
I also like the changes that help clear up troubling bits of characterization. For instance, in the books, Jon Snow chooses to let Ygritte escape instead of killing her. This is kind of a troubling move, because she’s clearly going to go back and warn the wildlings that the Night’s Watch is lurking around. In the show, he just takes her captive. That’s also doesn’t strike me as a smart choice, but at least it’s making the best of a bad situation.
Sometimes the additions add tension to stretches that were, in the books, a little narratively dull. Or there’s the part in Qarth, where Daenerys’ dragons get captured. In the books, this does not happen at all. She just chooses to go into the House of the Undying in order to gain their help. So, basically, Daenerys just faffs about in Qarth for a whole book. In the show, she’s at least got some sort of complication in her life. Also, it does sort of solve a logical difficulty that I always had with the books: given that the dragons are the most valuable creatures in the whole world, it totally makes sense that someone would try to take them from Daenerys by force. By beating back the attempt, she’ll demonstrate how she’s able to keep the dragons despite her obvious lack of wealth or strength.
The only additions that I really don’t like are the ones that are designed to make the evil people eviller. I mean, I’m not one of those people who gets off on the “moral ambiguity” of Martin’s books. I actually don’t think they’re particularly ambiguous at all. I mean, Tyrion and Daenerys and Jon and the Starks are clearly the good guys and Jaime and Cersei and Tywin and Littlefinger are clearly the bad guys. In fact, the series has one of the hallmarks of a lack of moral ambiguity: good people can do horrible things and everyone will praise them for it just because they’re the good guys. Daenerys can run around sacking cities and it’s okay, because she’s the Mother of Dragons and she has good intentions. But when the Dothraki do it, that shit is bad to the bone! Really the only person with moral ambiguity in the series is Stannis Baratheon. He does horrible things that people hate him for, but he also goes up and saves the whole North.
But two scenes that were inserted into the TV series just felt really wrong to me. The first is the scene where Joffrey forces one prostitute to beat another prostitute with an iron staff or candleholder or something. This is just such a huge escalation from anything he’d done previously. Before, he’d shouted for people to die, and his soldiers had gone ahead and done it (because he was the king). But he’d never really gotten right up close in the blood and gore. That girl was on Joffrey’s bed. She was bleeding into his sheets.
Even very callous people experience a kind of visceral, animal pity when they see someone in pain. That’s why Nazis had so much trouble getting their police battalions to execute people one by one (but comparatively little trouble when they ordered soldiers to conduct executions en masse). I just don’t buy that Joffrey would be able to bear the sight of this kind of suffering. I’m pretty desensitized to portrayals of violence, including most forms of stylized sexual violence, but even thinking about how beaten-up that girl was going to look was a little upsetting for me.
Even if you think that Joffrey derived some kind of psychosexual pleasure from the sight of suffering, the kid had also clearly never seen a naked girl before. I just don’t see him immediately jumping straight to beating a naked girl half to death.
The second interpolation that I didn’t like was when Jaime beat his cousin to death so that he could (I guess?) break open his chains and escape. That whole scene was incredibly cold. Here’s the scene:
Cousin: “Hey, I met you once before, don’t you remember? I squired for you before a tournament.”
Jaime: “Oh yeah, you were a pretty good squire.”
Cousin: “Yeah, that was the greatest moment of my life. I will never forget a single second of it, ever. Even after I forget my mother’s face I’ll still remember the color of the mud on that day.”
Jaime: “That’s cool. I totally understand. Here’s a story about how much I loved some other night back when I was sixteen.”
Cousin: “Hey, now that we’re locked up together, is there anyway that I can help you to escape.”
Jaime: “Yeah, you can die!”
I mean…what? This seems like it reflects a lack of psychological insight. Even if Jaime was a callous bastard who’d murder his cousin just to escape, it doesn’t feel like his last words would be, “Yeah, you can die!” (that wasn’t it exactly, but it was something cocky and stupid). It seems like he’d at least have a little more respect or fear or awe than that. But also, who would do that?
I mean, we’ve already seen Jaime attempt to kill another kid (Bran). But that was a spur of the moment thing, and he did it to prevent Bran from destroying Jaime’s entire life. In this case, Jaime was in no immediate danger. He just wanted to get out of prison.
I can believe that someone might be horrible enough to act the way that Jaime did. But it does make him a substantially worse person than he was in the books. And it’s going to be a little harder, from now on, to stomach him whenever he starts joking around with Tyrion or something.