HBO’s award-winning show Game of Thrones, based on George R. R. Martin’s equally magnificent 7-book series (2 of which have yet to be written), has managed to wow TV scholars, superfans of the novels, and first-time viewers alike with resounding success. No doubt a major key to the show’s success is the ingenuity of George Martin’s intricate fantasy tale of kings and queens, knights and monsters, and the nature of power which spans hundreds of years in a medieval world not unlike our own. However, it takes more than a great story to make great TV.
When any narrative makes a crossover to a different medium, there’s often constant debate concerning canon vs non-canon material, incongruity with fan expectations, and narrative quality (sometimes from lack of direction from the original author, and sometimes from lack of original content from fresh writers). People’s mental images get shattered by casting, mise-en-scene, and acting. Fans get livid when their favorite characters are culled or plotlines are merged for brevity’s sake. This sort of crossover is a treacherous undertaking as epic as the series itself, but the HBO series navigated it with skill, remaining close enough to the books to appease fanboys while still delivering original content in its own unique style.
A Song of Ice and Fire features the stories of 24 point-of-view characters (and over 100 well-developed major characters) as they quest, merry-make, scheme, kill, and generally vie for power in an alternate fantasy version of our own medieval times. With its 1000-page books, complicated history, vast cast, and countless and diverse locales, translating a.S.o.I.a.F into easily-digestible one-hour programs is a daunting task, and some changes and omissions have to be conceded in order to streamline the TV narrative. However, the changes (both additive and subtractive) to the original story are few and far between, often very well motivated, and well-within the character of the Game of Thrones universe (although I will not be defending the egregious and ribald “sexpositions” scenes G.O.T. seems so fond of whenever they need more character development).
So, in addition to Martin’s brilliant source material, Game of Throne‘s success is a result of superb casting and acting, the use of multiple, talented cinematographers who manage to bring the epic cinema look to the small screen, careful omission and editing of the source material, and very importantly, the addition of well-written new material that adds to and reimagines the Game of Thrones universe, much of which has George R. R. Martin’s consent, direction, and sometimes writing.
So, here are some of the new scenes and modifications in Season 2 that make Game of Thrones better. here be spoilers
1 – Every Scene with Lord Tywin and Arya Stark
An easy first pick and fan favorite, the interactions between the cunning patriarch of the House Lannister and an incognito Stark girl posing as a wine bearer at the haunted castle of Harrenhal really steal the show. Even though these scenes are totally non-canon, replacing Amory Lorch (a minor Lannister bannerman) with Tywin afforded the writers several opportunities for Tywin’s character development and dramatic tension. Arya hides her noble birth well, but Tywin’s shrewd eye misses nothing (although he doesn’t suspect she’s a Stark), and after he promotes her to wine bearer, she gains an exclusive glimpse into the inner workings of her enemies and their difficulties in fighting her brother (You’re too smart for your own good,” scolds Tywin).
Tywin even confides in Arya his calculating motivations and concern over legacy, his effort in combating Jaime’s dyslexia, and her brothers supposed invincebility (“No, my lord,…Anyone can be killed,” Arya states…and the crowd goes wild). There’s an extremely tense scene in which Lord Littlefinger is present, presumably recognizes Arya, yet decides to remain silent that further emphasizes the fact Lord Baelish play the game for himself only. Tywin’s gets more character development earlier than in the books, he becomes a wholly more likable and sympathetic character, and tension and dramatic irony totally ensue…everyone wins!
2 – Margaery Tyrell
Poor Margaery Tyrell…a seemingly sympathetic and passive character in the books, Margaery gets the attention she deserves from HBO as a woman just as power-hungry and calculating as any of the challengers to the throne. Her marriage to the gentle Lord Renly must be tough on her, but I don’t think her obvious acceptance of the situation is simply a testament to her dutiful nature. It’s just another reminder than almost every union in Game of Thrones is for power (except Jamie and Cersei and Robb and Talisa). Margaery is just making the lot she’s been given work with what she’s, no matter the cost. In her case, in this universe, a woman’s position is fortified by childbirth and legacy. “The best way to stop them is to put your baby in my belly,” Margaery insists to Renly, who’s having another one of his “headaches,” that only her brother can soothe. “Must be the wine,” Renly says, turning away from his totally smoking nude wife. Ever the pragmatic problem solver, Margaery asks “Do you want my brother to come in? He can get you started, I really don’t mind” she helpfully suggests, “Or I can turn over and you can pretend I’m him.” She’s not even joking.
It’s hinted at in the books, but HBO obviously doesn’t have faith in its audience’s ability to catch subtle hints and decides to out Renly and Ser Loras in scenes that leave no doubt as to the nature of their friendship. Audiences across the country were surprised with scenes featuring intimacy between her husband and her brother, but Margaery doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal and neither should you. George R. R. Martin gave more than a few hints throughout the series. Here are but a few:
- “…I got Margaery. You’ll be pleased to know she came to me a maid.” Renly says to his brother. To which Stannis replies, “In your bed, she’s like to die that way.” Zing.
- “Now sheathe your bloody sword, or I’ll take it from you and shove it up some place even Renly never found.” Jamie threatens Loras.
- Renly’s dubs his personal guard the “Rainbow Guard,” he’s well-known for being the best-dressed, and Catelyn notices he pays little attention to his comely bride.
Finally, in a great new scene after Renly’s death, Lord Littlefinger asks, “Do you want to be a queen?” “No,” Margaery responds,“I want to be the queen.” And as easily as that, she assesses her situation, abandones allegiance to her dead husband’s lost cause, and agrees to wed the monster Joffery. She’s not charging into the lion’s jaws without any help, however. The power and scheming of Highgarden support her every move towards claiming power over Westeros.
3 – Talisa of Volantis
Talisa is a great an example of simplifying a storyline to a show’s benefit and she her character serves in showing some of the courtship and strain that causes Rob Stark to forsake his vows. In the books, Robb returns dutifully and happily married to Jeyne Westerling (of one of the Lannister’s sworn houses) after a night in which she “comforted” him and healed his wounds. On the other hand, Talisa is a medic who follows Robb’s camp, impresses him with her passion for treating the injured with equality, challenges his morality with biting comments, and flirts relentlessly with him. The substitution of the relatively undeveloped Jeyne and her secret wedding with Robb by Talisa and her slowly-building romance is fine by me. Plus, she’s not hard to look at.
Good scenes with Talisa include arguments with Robb over treating friend and enemy alike, a tale of a near-death childhood experience explaining her devotion to medicine, and epic interference by mother Catelyn Stark between the two young lovebirds. This courtship and the strain of command culminates in sultry boots-on sex scene in which begins with this adorable dialogue:
“I don’t want to marry the Frey girl,” Robb admits.
“I don’t want you to either,” she blurts, obviously relieved they’re on the same page. “But you needed that bridge.”
They hastily and hungrily commence undoing all the strings, latches, buckles, etc. typical of the attire of that time which are probably designed specifically to arrest this sort of irresponsible behavior.
4 – Littlefinger
A Game of Thrones (on which season 1 is based) has 8 point of view characters, and A Clash of Kings (Season 2) has 9: five Starks (Catelyn, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Jon Snow), Tyrion Lannister, Davos Seaworth, Theon Greyjoy, and Daenerys Targaryen. Because of a heavy Stark and Tyrion viewpoint bias in the first few novels, a lot of the conniving and court intrigue of Tywin, Littlefinger, Varys, and others happen behind the scenes and are often discovered (sometimes long) after the fact. Two great non-canon Littlefingers come to mind (although my first is more of a Cersei Scene), but he’s a delight every time he’s on screen.
As Cersei and Littlefinger trade veiled threats in a courtyard, Littlefinger (with his newly created house sigil) pushes her too far by claiming his knowledge of her incest is power. Seeing fit to teach him a lesson, Cersei commands, “Seize him! Cut his throat.” The guards leap into action. “Stop,” she sneers” Oh wait…I’ve changed my mind” She’s just toying with him. “Power is power,” she sneers at a visibly shaken Littlefinger. This scene is great because it shows Littlefinger’s ambition getting the better of him, and Cersei’s ability to still cut him down to size.
A second great new scene is when Ros (an example of a 1-shot character getting developed into a minor one) is being consoled by Littlefinger about her performance at his brothel. Sshshing and consoling, Littlefinger seems sympathetic at first, but then he matter-of-factly whispers to her a story about how this one time there was a prostitute not unlike Ros who was crying and not making him money. So he sold her to some client whose needs involve more than your average amount of slap ‘n tickle. So, after this compassionate pep-talk, he gives her a quick “you’ll be happy tomorrow hmmmmm?” Yet another scene showing how ruthless Littlefinger can be to the people who get in his way.
5 – Yoren
Yoren’s given a good deal more depth than he has in the books, and is given a more interesting role as protector and tutor of Arya Stark, serving as the next step in her education after Syrio. A perfect balance of couldn’t care less badassery and surprising decency, Yoren sticks to a code of honor, defending his ragtag pack of criminals more than most knights would protect the innocent. And every moment he’s not being a badass (by saving Arya’s life, threatening a gold cloak, or Boromir-charging a platoon of Lannister men), he’s a hilariously pessimistic philosopher, in a way only spending decades without women or warmth on the wall can make a man.
His short bonding scene with Tyrion in the first season is funny (“And how do bear’s balls taste?” /”A bit chewy.”), his presence at Ned Stark’s beheading is epic (“Don’t look!”), his threat with his knife pressed against a mounted goldcloak’s thigh is very cool (“and there’s no-one nearby that can un-nick it’), and his last stand is heroic (“Get up you lazy sons of whores! There’s men out there that wants to fuck your corpses!”). However, my favorite new scene of Yoren’s is the advice he gives Arya on his last night which consists of a revenge tale from his past which inspires her to start saying the names at night. He understands her need for revenge and doesn’t dissuade her from following through, even though he knows how her thirst might be all-consuming. I like how Arya’s personality is getting shaped by a variety capable teachers– on her journey from Syrio’s Bravosii wit and zen-like water-dancing to Jaqen H’ghar’s elite assassin skills, Yoren is a pefect pitstop for her to harness her anger and hate into a fatalistic worldview.
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