As a Game of Thrones fan, I’ve long treasured experiencing iconic moments first in the pages of its books.
I remember my first experience with the Red Wedding in extreme detail. It was well past midnight on a weekday, and I had been reading Storm of Swords in bed for the last three hours. The chapters had started alternating between Arya and Catelyn's perspectives; Arya was making her way toward the Twins with the Hound, while Catelyn and Robb were celebrating a Frey wedding inside the castle. I knew that I should put down the book and get some sleep, but I decided to keep reading so that I could finally read about Arya reuniting with her mother.
[SPOILER WARNING AHEAD FOR BOOKS AND SHOW]
I remember my first experience with the Red Wedding in extreme detail
And then everybody died.
Very few book moments have hit me emotionally like that. After the chapter was over, I just laid down the book and stared up at the ceiling, feeling helpless and alone. It wasn't just the gruesomeness of the scene that affected me, but how unexpected it was. I tried to wake up my boyfriend, Chris, to see if he could talk to me about it. "A really bad thing just happened in Game of Thrones, and I'm not okay," I told him. "Stop talking," he shouted. "I don't want to know."
That's because Chris is an avid non-book reader when it comes to Game of Thrones. Whereas I've devoured every single entry in the series twice, Chris has remained completely ignorant of the text during the past five years of the show. It makes for an interesting dynamic when we watch episodes together, because I act as his own personal Wiki of Ice and Fire. Any time he can't remember a complicated plot point or the backstory of a side character, I fill him in without getting too spoilery.
I've enjoyed watching the show this way for years. As an obsessive reader, I like having that background knowledge to enhance my viewing experience. I look forward to watching the show adapt my favorite scenes, and I also enjoy being righteously indignant when the show diverges from the books in ways I don't approve.
Which is why I was really stressed in December when it became clear that The Winds of Winter wasn't going to be done before season six started. The Winds of Winter will be the sixth book in the series and serve as the backbone of the upcoming sixth season of television, but I have yet to read what that backbone actually is. Sure, the new episodes will draw on plot points that have already played out in previous books (kingsmoot, Jaime in the Riverlands), but mostly I have no idea what's going to happen this year. And for a while, I was incredibly distraught by this fact — so much so that I thought about avoiding season six altogether until The Winds of Winter finally came out.
"I'd rather be ignorant of what I'm missing out on."
When I told Chris how I felt, he was confused. He maintained that not reading the books is way more fun for him. "I like not knowing what's going to happen," he said. "The books are always going to be better than the movie or TV show. I'd rather be ignorant of what I'm missing out on. That way I'm not disappointed."
For months, I've chewed on his mindset, and have come to accept that he has a point. I have been disappointed a lot while watching the show, and I think it's mostly because I've read the books beforehand. The feeling was most poignant for my second experience of the Red Wedding.
I was excited about the show's adaptation of the scene even before the third season went into production. I followed fan sites like Winteriscoming.net and Westeros.org so I could get some ideas of how the bloody events would be filmed. Everything indicated that the wedding would be included in the ninth episode of the third season, so I started counting down the days until that particular show would air. I couldn't wait to see it, as well as witness Chris get completely blindsided by the Frey's betrayal.
Then that night arrived, and the episode left me with mixed emotion. It was hilarious for me to watch Chris perk up during the initial slaughter. ("Oh my god, this just got interesting!" he yelled.) But ultimately, I didn't find the scene to be as fulfilling as I had hoped it would be. That's not to say it wasn't a great scene. I think the showrunners made it even more violent and heartbreaking than the books (RIP little baby Ned). I just didn't feel that same shock and dismay that I felt when I read about the wedding for the first time. The dark betrayal lost some of its darkness for me when I finally saw the events portrayed on screen. I've felt this way many other times while watching the show, too — where the scenes just don't live up to my own imagination of how I pictured them to be. How could they? How can a visualization match — let alone better — the perfect mental image my brain conjured just for me?
How can a visualization match — let alone better — the perfect mental image my brain conjured just for me?
And then there's always that utter disappointment I feel when a major character or plot point is cut from the show entirely. I remember waiting with utter glee for the end of the season four finale, so I could see the look on Chris's face when Catelyn Stark came back from the dead as Lady Stoneheart to command the Brotherhood Without Banners. But when the show faded to black on Arya sailing toward the horizon, I just sat on the couch paralyzed, wondering if maybe Lady Stoneheart would show up after the credits or something. Two years later, and it's clear zombie Catelyn isn't going to make an appearance, meaning one of my favorite characters will be left in her home in the books.
At this point, it's clear that Game of Thrones, the show, is a very different entity than Game of Thrones, the book series. Not only are the plots becoming more concise on screen, but many have diverged wildly. Sansa in the show has stepped into Jeyne Poole's role in the books, for instance, and poor Jorah has the greyscale that was meant to go to Jon Connington. The format of the television show just doesn't allow for the same complexity that thousands of pages of text can hold, making it impossible for the show to do the type of adaptive justice I long for. And I shouldn't let myself be disappointed by that, just because I've read the books first.
So it took a while, but I'm finally at peace with not knowing what's going to happen next season. I'll get to experience the show like Chris and thousands of others do every Sunday: surprised. Sure, the show may make some poor choices with its adaptations, but at least I won't know if a choice is bad upon first viewing. I'll just have to wait for the books to find that out. Now, rather than be disappointed by how the show condenses the book, I can look forward to how the books expand upon the show.