Is Straying From the Books Good for ‘Game of Thrones’?

Oberyn Martell - Game of Thrones, HBO
Source: HBO

In just a few short years, Game of Thrones has turned itself into HBO’s most-watched show, building an audience of rabid fans, split down the middle between those who read the novels the show is based on, and the people who haven’t. For the readers, it’s a demographic that’s hyper-aware of every discrepancy between the show and the book, noting every detail, however small or large. But for the non-readers, everything is a first-time affair, from the events of the Red Wedding to the conclusion of the latest season.

For the most part in its first four seasons, the show has largely remained true to its source material, save for a few small changes here and there to account for the different medium. But recently, reports have flooded in about Season 5 taking a huge left turn from the books in a number of ways. These have been confirmed in both photos from the set and in the new 2-minute trailer, showing us a Game of Thrones that may very well be separating itself from the books in some huge ways moving forward.

Before diving into these changes though, it’s important to understand the reasoning behind doing so. Firstly, George R.R. Martin is nothing if not slow when it comes to his writing. There’s currently no set release date for Book 6, The Winds of Winter, leaving showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss to face the very real possibility that the series will end up getting ahead of the novels. Book 3 was already divided between Seasons 3 and 4 to buy some time, but doing the same for Books 4 and 5 may prove to be difficult given the way they were written.

This brings us to our next big issue: Books 4 and 5 themselves. Both were written as parallel timelines, focusing on different characters and events taking place in the same period of time. Having the series do the same could make for some awkward TV storytelling, giving audiences the impression of the show spinning its wheels for two years rather than moving forward. More than likely HBO will opt to follow a more linear story structure, combining elements of both books into Seasons 5 and 6.

So what will we end up seeing as the major differences this season? Early photos back in January reported by Comic Book Movies revealed one key change, showing Tyrion sitting alongside Daenerys, something that in the books still hasn’t happened yet. It could make for an interesting dynamic, with the Lannister fugitive now allied with the exiled Queen. Additionally, the trailer featured a voiceover from the Khaleesi herself that used some strong language hinting at an invasion of Westeros, something that would take the show in an entirely separate direction.

We’ll know for sure beginning with the premiere on April 12, but so far it looks like HBO’s Game of Thrones may begin its march toward becoming its own creative entity, far exceeding the scope of novels that tend to drag plotwise (seriously, winter is still coming). An accelerated, more proactive story may very well serve the series well, forever striking a divide between the show and the novels.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest

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