Last week I watched the first season of Game of Thrones on HBO with H. I had been avoiding it for months because I was sure I would be disappointed. But it turned out to be a surprisingly good book adaptation. H even liked it. GoT is a long book, and they managed to fit it neatly into 10 hours.
For the most part, the writers followed Mike’s First Rule of Book Adaptations, which for the unfamiliar is simple: Don’t add anything, but cut as necessary. The reason for this is that great long books work because they are more than the sum of their parts – disrupt the pattern too much and you destroy what made the book great in the first place. Insertions hurt far more than clippings, as any book has fat to trim.
I reread the book this weekend to see exactly what additions/subtractions had been made. I approve of the bulk of the subtractions, but some of the additions are questionable.
I didn’t mind the additional sex scenes, most of which are at least suggested in the novel, but a few scenes fell flat because of their added nature. In particular, there’s one late in the season where Cersei and Robert discuss their marriage that felt both forced and useless. I can see the desire to make Cersei seem less one-dimensional, but events later in the series will do this. Ditto for Theon.
The confirmation of an affair between the Knight of Flowers and Rely worked better, providing an explicit reason for the brief scene where Rely asks Ned for help. Less impressive, I’m not sure why the confrontation between Ned and Jaime was turned into a duel. Was getting his leg crushed by a horse not heroic enough?
Other minor changes actually worked. Most of them involve Tyrion, The trial by combat that allows Tyrion to escape the Eyrie, for example, was originally two separate chapters. The series combined them into one and it worked dramatically (not to mention saving money from having to construct another lavish set for a single scene!). Also, in another clever cost-saving measure, the battle that Tyrion takes part in within the book happens off-screen, as Tyrion gets knocked cold before it even begins.This reminded me of how the destruction of Anthony’s fleet in the Rome miniseries was handled – we only see the end.
Other changes I can’t explain. The origin for Khal Drogo’s mortal wound, for example, or why Littlefinger tells Sansa the tale about the Hound’s scars rather than the Hound himself.
Some parts that I thought were particular respectful of the book were the fate of Arya’s fencing-master, the killing of Bran’s would-be assassin, and the closing scene with the dragons (though I could be nitpicky and point out that her hair didn’t burn off).
Back to the good. Casting was mostly excellent. Tyrion, Jaime, Jon Snow, Arya, Sansa, Cersei, Joffrey are spot on. The only ones that might be miscast are the actors for Ned and Cat, who are clearly older than their mid-thirties characters, but they make up for the difference in skill and gravitas as the characters act older than their age in any case. A few other characters are at liberties with appearance – Mormont’s son, for example, and possibly Tywin.