YOU SHOULD REALLY READ THE BOOKS: Game Of Thrones

You Should Really Read The Books is a Finickal feature that examines a particular adaptation and compares it with the source material. Get to reading!

Oh, spoilers. Obviously.

We do not mean to be patronizing when we say this. Nor do we mean to imply that you care any less about the fates of our heroes than we do. Yes, knowing about the Red Wedding before it happened did justify the annoying holier-than-thou attitude. However, the blessing that George Martin gave to David Benioff and DB Weiss over at HBO to do as they need to get the characters from A to Z has given book readers a cause for concern.

Dare we continue watching? There is nothing in the world like spending hours inside these characters’ challenging lives to see them finally succeed - do I need a bunch of sex and blood and easy-on-the-ears dialogue to see it happen in a 50 minute episode? The books are so good that it might be worth holding out and waiting like an asshole for George Martin to finally finish writing the series.

Here is a way of describing how fulfilling the books are. My brother wrote this, on the topic:

It’s like trying to understand the streets of NY through the tower viewer in the Empire State Building. You may get an idea of what is going on but you haven’t a clue for the sounds and smells and action that goes on in the streets, alleys, and shops. The imagination of the reader is all powerful in comparison to the budget of HBO and no matter how hard they try they can’t come close.
— My Smart Brother

They can’t, and neither can I. This is not meant to be a compare and contrast piece, although it is bound to happen. Instead I’ll bring the streets, alleys and shops to you in the form of little book nuggets that will hopefully stir your imagination, psych you up for the next season and give credit to characters who were simply not given their due.

Today’s topic is Arya, whose storyline in the last season ties for the Butchery award with Dorne. A moment of silence for Dorne while we're here, please.

Arya's big payoff of slaying Walder Frey was pretty gosh damn anticlimactic. This girl has been to hell and back, and now her plot could be called "Escape From Mop".

On the book side, let’s start with in A Clash of Kings. Her journey is utterly terrifying. In Season 2 of the show, you see Yoren and Lommy’s death, but in no way does it capture what went down. Truly, Arya and her friends were hiding in a tower and Lorch set it to torch, which is standard practice in war. Here’s an excerpt from the end of her escape: 

The fire beat at her back with hot red wings as she fled the burning barn. It felt blessedly cool outside, but men were dying all around her. She saw Koss throw down his blade to yield, and she saw them kill him where he stood. Smoke was everywhere. There was no sign of Yoren, but the axe was where Gendry had left it, by the woodpile outside the haven. As she wrenched it free, a mailed hand grabbed her arm. Spinning, Arya drove the head of the axe between his legs. She never saw his face, only the dark blood seeping between the links of his hauberk. Going back into that barn was the hardest thing she ever did. Smoke was pouring out the open door like a writhing black snake, and she could hear the screams of the poor animals inside, donkeys and horses and men. She chewed her lip, and darted through the doors, crouched low where the smoke wasn’t quite so thick.

A donkey was caught in a ring of fire, shrieking in terror and pain. She could smell the stench of burning hair. The roof was gone up too, and the things were falling down, pieces of flaming wood and bits of straw and hay. Arya put a hand over her mouth and nose. She couldn’t see the wagon for the smoke, but she could hear Biter screaming. She crawled toward the sound.

And then a wheel was looming over her. The wagon jumped and moved a half foot when Biter threw himself against his chains again. Jaqen saw her, but it was too hard to breathe, let alone talk. She threw an axe into the wagon. Rorge caught it and lifted it over his head, rivers of sooty sweat pouring down his noseless face. Arya was running, coughing. She heard the steel crash through the old wood, and again, again. An instant later came a crack as loud as thunder, and the bottom of the wagon came ripping loose in an explosion of splinters.

Arya rolled headfirst into the tunnel and dropped five feet. She got dirt in her mouth but she didn’t care, the taste was fine, the taste was mud and water and worms and life. Under the earth the air was cool and dark. Above was nothing but blood and roaring red and choking smoke and the screams of dying horses. She moved her belt around so Needle would not be in her way, and began to crawl. A dozen feet down the tunnel she heard the sound, like the roar of some monstrous beast, and a cloud of hot smoke and black dust came billowing up behind her, smelling of hell. Arya held her breath and kissed the mud on the floor of the tunnel and cried. For whom, she could not say.

I mean...shit, right? In the third episode of the second season, we see Yoren stabbed and Arya hiding in the bushes before tossing an axe to Jaqen. Not quite the depth of the real horror. This horror - this complete disregard and abuse of power over the smallfolk is seen rarely in the show, but maintains a thematic thread throughout the books.

Here's Ser Jorah with some of that in A Game Of Thrones:

The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends,” Ser Jorah told her. ‘It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.’ He gave a shrug. ‘They never are.’

And here, from Tyrion in A Clash of Kings:

That was the way of war. The smallfolk were slaughtered, while the highborn were held for ransom.

 

One of the most defining traits of ASoIaF and even GoT is the reader/viewer’s allegiance to the major Players. Who do we hate, then love? When you keep getting reminded that people, children, animals and crops are killed off as war currency you tend to hate them all. Especially the ones initiating the war for their gain: Illyrio, Varys, Littlefinger, et al.

Back to Arya: Here’s an unseen character for you: the Ghost of High Heart. She is a woods witch, and likely a descendant of the children of the forest.

Arya meets this crone in Storm of Swords while she is with Dondarrion and the Brotherhood Without Banners. They have bought her prophetic services with a wineskin and a song. After spelling out her dreams which included the Red and Purple weddings, she notices Arya:


She turned her head sharply and smiled through the gloom, right at Arya. “You cannot hide from me, child. Come closer, now.”

Cold fingers walked down Arya’s neck. Fear cuts deeper than swords, she reminded herself. She stood and approached the dire warily, light on the balls of her feet, poised to flee.

The dwarf woman studied her with dim red eyes. “I see you,” she whispered. “I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death…” She began to sob, her little body shaking. “You are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!”

There was such fear in her voice that Arya took a step backward, wondering if the woman was mad.

Meanwhile, when Arya dreams, she slips inside Nymeria and tastes human flesh. I think most of us book fans are pumped (or at least I am, however naive it might be) for an Arya/ Nymeria reunion. Maybe nothing good will never happen to a Stark again, but one can dream.

Moving on. I want to touch - literally, just touch on the Lannisters. The show has definitely given them time and development (not referring to Tyrion in the last season) but there are moments for each character that simply stand out to me as unique to the books and individual.

First,  the books give us a wonderful device that film can only recreate in dramatic closeups and good acting: italics. Peppered throughout the books and heavy in Tyrion and Cersei’s perspectives are thought-italics that show us what our characters are really thinking. Here’s an example that leads to a lovely little nugget of Cersei’s past, and a connection to another scene of the past. From A Feast For Crows, as she plots to get the High Septon on her side:

His high holiness made no move to rise when his prayers were done. It would seem they must confer upon their knees. A small man’s ploy, she thought, amused. “High Holiness,” she said, “these sparrows are frightening the city. I want them gone.”

“Where should they go, Your Grace?”

There are seven hells, any one of them will serve. “Back where they came from, I imagine.”

“They come from everywhere As the sparrow is the humblest and most common of the birds, they are the humblest and most common of men.”

They are common, we agree on that much. “Have you seen what they have done to Blessed Baelor’s statue? They befoul the plaza with their pigs and goats and night soil.”

“Night soil can be washed away more easily than blood, Your Grace. If the plaza is befouled, it was befouled by the execution that was done here.”

He dares throw Ned Stark in my face? “We all regret that. Joffrey was young, and not as wise as he might have been. Lord Stark should have been beheaded elsewhere, out of respect for Blessed Baelor...but the man was a traitor, let us not forget.”

“King Baelor forgave those who conspired against him”.

King Baelor imprisoned his own sisters, whose only crime was being beautiful. The first time Cersei heard that tale, she had gone to Tyrion’s nursery and pinched the little monster till he cried. I should have pinched his nose and stuffed my sock into his mouth. She forced herself to smile.

Makes you think about when Oberyn tells Tyrion about the time he saw Cersei twist his penis. Hmm….

Anyway, this is just a taste - a teensy taste, of the depth of the books. They are infectious. If this was a full time job I would be writing a daily analysis of something unseen and delicious for you, but it isn’t. I am simply a Super Book Fan. The show deserves credit for doing the damn thing, but my smart brother, again, says it well:

They say ‘money talks’, and sadly HBO will never have enough of it to do right by the story. Not that it’s their fault, for the sheer magnitude of the castles, walls, and cities alone would be impossible to replicate on the screen. I will say that they do well with what they have but for the viewers to never see the God’s Eye, or the Neck, or any of the other grand and unique places in the World of Ice and Fire is a disappointment. How can the show portray the doom of Valyria, the enormity of the Rhoyne, or the mystery of Asshai without exhausting the entire budget? The world that Martin created was to be so vast that it could never be translated to the screen, and it turns out that he succeeded.
— My Smart Brother, Again

The show's great, but it doesn’t touch the books. It’s a cute interpretation. We can’t be mad at it. We can be mad at GRRM for making us fiend for the good shit after five years of waiting, but alas. He's our dealer.

Katie's major fandoms are Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire and Legend of Zelda. She stands out as the only basic girl in her HEMA: German Longsword class.