When you read George R.R. Martin's sprawling fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, it's hard to imagine it translating to the screen. But HBO has done the impossible and made Game of Thrones a hit series. In Time's new cover story devoted to the fantasy epic, it's revealed that Game of Thrones could have been a movie — but it only could've happened if Martin had agreed to make serious compromises to his story.
In addition to being a novelist, Martin is also a television writer, and it was his frustration with the limitations of the medium that influenced him to turn to the page in the first place. The author wanted to tell a story that was as boundless as his imagination. Books were the obvious choice. As the book series grew in popularity, Hollywood came calling, but the only way to bring Game of Thrones to the big screen would be by making major cuts.
Part of what makes the books and the show so compelling is the sheer expansiveness of the world. As Martin told Time, when he conceived the series, he remembers recalling:
"I'm going to have all the characters I want, and gigantic castles, and dragons, and dire wolves, and hundreds of years of history, and a really complex plot. And it's fine because it's a book. It's essentially unfilmable."
The only way to make it work as a series of films would've been to narrow the focus down to one or two characters. It seems most studios wanted to make Daenerys or Jon the hero of the piece, and to streamline the narrative in order to make one of them the clear protagonist. That's so not Game of Thrones though.
A series of Game of Thrones movies could have been good, but they would have been missing so much. With just a two to three hour run-time, characters like Sam and Sansa likely would likely have been lost in the shuffle. Meanwhile, there's simply no way the fight for the Iron Throne could have involved so many disparate challengers. If a movie franchise had tried to even be remotely faithful to the books, the amount of installments needed would have been mind-boggling.
The modern TV landscape is the perfect place for Martin's story to flourish. There's no need to diminish the expansive cast of characters or shrink the story down to one point of view. Thanks to HBO giving the show years to tell its tale, the once "unfilmable" book series has become one of the greatest TV shows of all time. If Martin had somehow been swayed by those movie producers way back when, Game of Thrones may have ended up lost in translation.