Thank you, Song of Ice and Fire book readers. Although lately you've been a bit on edge with all the ways that HBO show Game of Thrones has been changing George R. R. Martin's source material, you managed to keep what happened in the Season 5 finale of Game of Thrones quiet. Yes, based on the talk that surrounded "Cersei's big nude scene" from the book, I figured something as completely awful as the walk of shame that happened in "Mother's Mercy" was inevitable. But, much more occurred in the season finale on June 14 than I ever expected. As I woke up twice in the middle of the night filled with panic and dread at flashbacks of the horrifying death scene of Jon Snow, I was amazed that Jon Snow's death in the books hadn't been spoiled for me. Jon Snow died in Martin's fifth — and most recently published — book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga, A Dance with Dragons, released in 2011. So, I am filled with gratitude toward you, book readers, for keeping this super-spoilerific news about a favorite character to yourself for the last four years. But, while I must thank Martin readers, I also must given them a gentle reminder that not all of us viewers of the TV show care about the exact details of the books.
Season 5 of Game of Thrones has received a lot of flack for diverging from the book series, and I'm here to say that for the people who only watch the TV show (and don't read the books): The differences between Game of Thrones and the books don't necessarily matter. Game of Thrones as a TV series is its own entertainment entity — and as the Season 5 finale demonstrated, it's a damn good entity. While I'm a book lover and do think literature is the purest form of storytelling, the success of Game of Thrones on HBO does not depend solely on the book its inspired by. The show has officially proven it does not need to be a slave to its original source material to be one of the best television series of all-time.
I respect that Martin is the creator of the world of Westeros and will not act like he isn't responsible for giving showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss the material they are adapting. Yet, I decided that after watching Season 1 of Game of Thrones, I would not read Martin's books until the TV series was over. Why? Because the HBO TV show is so well done and so full of WTF moments on its own, that I don't want the books to take away from the version of the story HBO is telling. I can't imagine knowing about the Red Wedding, Tyrion murdering Tywin, Dany's dragons, and Jon Snow's death before they played out for me onscreen. I get overly emotionally invested in fictional characters, and I've decided the version of Martin's characters that I want to cry and cheer for (and be continually haunted by) are the ones on TV.
Normally, I am of the mind-set that the source material is the ultimate version of the story, but I've been opening my mind to TV and movie adaptations over the years. (With age comes wisdom.) For example, after spending years writing college papers analyzing the Harry Potter franchise, I learned to accept the movies of J.K. Rowling's fantastic book series as just a version of her story. I no longer need to expend energy getting enraged at all of the errors the movies made. Obviously, I think the Harry Potter books are tremendously better than the films, but I learned to accept that the filmmakers had to change some plot points to make the films flow better.
Yet, this Harry Potter comparison fails to capture the fact that the HBO series Game of Thrones is so excellently executed as a whole (unlike the hodgepodge of the Harry Potter movies with their ever-changing directors), that it's even more acceptable as its own form of art. The characters are fully realized on the TV series, and I don't need to know the books to understand their motives, wants, and desires. While the Game of Thrones changes from a Song of Fire and Ice have been more controversial than any change in Harry Potter (female characters being violently raped is much more problematic than a house elf being eliminated from a scene), I think the HBO show is staying true to the version of Martin's characters that they have created.
I'm not saying that the abuse some of our beloved female characters have been going through on the TV show is acceptable. Specifically, Sansa's storyline with Ramsay, that was not in the books, is the most troubling. Game of Thrones could handle female nudity and sexual violence with more sensitivity, but what has happened to Sansa with Ramsay is a story arc the TV show is now bringing full circle. Sansa being raped by her husband finally brought Theon back from being Reek with Theon and Sansa escaping Winterfell in the Season 5 finale. This makes sense from the show's perspective and the story that Benioff and Weiss are trying to tell. (Even though it's problematic for a rape to serve just to further a male character's storyline, I understand where they were coming from.)
Same goes with the disturbing death of Stannis's daughter Shireen that wasn't in the books. Stannis sacrificing Shireen lead to half his army abandoning Stannis, and most likely, to Stannis's death by Brienne. As long as Game of Thrones stays true to the story its telling — and the story makes sense — I can accept changes, even the unsettling ones, from the books. I mean, the show also provided us with Tyrion and Daenerys meeting face-to-face, a giant plot point not in the books, so the mythology of the TV show isn't all bad.
The potential body count for the Season 5 finale was high with Jon, Myrcella, (potentially) Stannis, Arya's vision, and Cersei's dignity (by that aforementioned disgusting walk of atonement) all going away. And, I am trying my best not to learn whether all of these events that went down on TV were featured in the book series. Because, whether or not Martin wrote those events for the book, that shouldn't distract from the power that those scenes had on television.
And, considering that we may get Season 6 before Martin releases his sixth book of the series, book-fans and TV-fans should unite in the fact that we're all in this crazy, unknown Game of Thrones world together.
Images: Helen Sloan/HBO; Giphy (4)