Game of Thrones – The Struggle of Adaptation

Adaptation is a tricky situation. When you are shackled by a lack of material, it becomes even more difficult because you’ve only got outlines to work with. Now add on the fact that you’ve just been given a Star Wars trilogy to work on and you no longer care as much about the thing you’re adapting and…welp, things can go awry very quickly.

Let’s talk about “Game of Thrones.”

The final season has ended at last, leaving a vocal group of fans disappointed, frustrated, confused, and even enraged. There are numerous reasons for this, but one of the ultimate issues that plagued the back half of the series was its lack of material to adapt. Instead, they were forced to contend with outlines and notes from George R.R. Martin, author of the book series. We don’t know exactly how much he gave them to work with, but it seems like bullet points. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss did an admirable job with the first three seasons, and their work drew in a viciously loyal fanbase and created one of the wildest franchises ever to come from television. The turn fans took in the last season was hard, quick and mean. I don’t know if the reactions are warranted at that level, but I understand their frustration.

And why shouldn’t they be frustrated? The show was dynamite when it first aired, with numerous characters and locations that built a world. The scope was immense, with travel often being a key point and something that allowed characters room to display deeper growth and emotion. Tyrion and Bronn, The Hound and Arya, Jaime and Brienne, these characters never used to teleport. Instead, the days when D&D were adapting source material allowed for greater storytelling and a sprawling epic that was hard to even fathom at times. These characters, their odd-couple-esque pairings, were the backbone of the series and the world we came to love.

Those interactions were more important than the bombastic, epics battles and dragon action we’ve grown accustomed to the last couple of years. Even in early season battles, like that of Blackwater Bay, we only saw small chunks of that fight. They were great scenes, exciting and trotting out enough gore to delight even a Tarantino fan, but the most memorable pieces of those episodes are the interactions. Sansa talking to either Cirsei or The Hound was infinitely more important to the story than Tyrion hacking that guy’s leg off with an axe (though seriously, how badass was that?) and evolved characters much more than something aesthetically pleasing. They had so much depth, so much to reveal about who these people really were.

But it was around season 5 that things began to change. The last few years saw an increase in budget and a decrease in material to adapt. Where this first began to truly show was the dragons, their presence much more prominent and their scenes longer. Cities grew larger, shown in full instead of in part, and battles grew much larger. What began to show alongside this was a more rushed undertone, pushing for characters and events that were known to be coming popping up faster and faster. Sansa killing Ramsey Bolton with his own dogs feels fitting, but the rush to get her character to that point removed a lot of what made the earlier seasons feel incredible. That missing element is patience. What began as a show that took its time, moving at almost a snail’s pace here and there, began sprinting toward the finish line. It became a race, an attempt to get there before the audience grew too wise and realized they were low on ideas.

This finally bit them in the ass with season 8. HBO offered D&D more money and more episodes, seasons even, to finish the show with grace and dignity. They opted for a final season and only 6 episodes, condensing what felt like a lot of story and character changes into only a brief few weeks of television. The results were met with laughter and anger from fans, myself included at times. The threat of the White Walkers and the Night King was reduced to ash within a single episode, Dany went nuts within a few brief moments, and apparently Euron Greyjoy’s magic fleet developed the ability to teleport wherever it was needed for plot purposes. Even the finale, the deaths and results of them, felt tossed out instead of built to and meaningful. This was a season of endings, as many as they could jam in, and it felt hollow.

I loved this series for 6 seasons, and I even enjoyed the 7th, but season 8 was a letdown for most of it and I have to call this series out for what it became, not what it was. “Game of Thrones” was, at its start, a series that was against traditional fantasy tropes. It was a breath of fresh air for many of us that grew up with Tolkien, bored at last with the trappings of the many ripoffs and homages that followed in the wake of the books and films. At last we had something that struck back, that removed a lot of plot armour and killed its main character in the first season. I was awestruck, having binged it in a couple of days, and I remained happy with the show for a long time. By the end, however, it had become what it stood against – a traditional fantasy series. Queens, iconic heroes, dragons, and blank slate enemies to be killed in ways that looked great became the weekly regimen. Plot armour grew thick. Dragons ruled the screen. It was controlled, pandering chaos. It looked incredible, but imagery cannot substitute for good story.

I’m choosing to look at this the way I do many a Stephen King novel – the ride was great, but the ending was rushed and not wholly thought-out. I don’t think it ruined the entirety of the show, but it gave it a prominent limp that will be hard to ignore. I’m rewatching the series right now, as we speak, and even in season 1 it’s hard to feel okay with where some of these characters wound up. D&D dropped the ball, no question, but they gave me such a ride that it’s hard to be mad at them. I worry for their Star Wars films, but I’m grateful for the good years they gave me with these characters and this world.

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