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GAME OF THRONES Comic-Con Panel: You Mad, Book Readers?

Outside of the blooper reel and a few quippy bits that started out the evening, the Game of Thrones panel in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con International this year was largely all business. Mainly the business of defending the TV choices, peppered with levity from the cast. Because, man, fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novel series had heaps of questions about those myriad changes that took place between the books and the television show. Oh yeah, we should also mention that there are going to be some potential spoilers here — more book-related than show related, but still! — so if you’re afraid of that sort of thing, turn away now.

Moderated by Craig Ferguson, the audience’s energy was palpable and very nearly frenetic — even in a space as gargantuan as Hall H. Several members of the series’ seriously large cast were in attendance: John Bradley (Samwell Tarley), Rose Leslie (Ygritte), Kit Harington (that know-nothing Jon Snow), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), Rory McCann (The Hound), Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell), and creators Martin, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. All of whom were more than happy to defend the decisions made in the name of character development and story plotting.

Ferguson eased the group into the discussion — there was a particularly funny bit wherein the show’s oft-controversial subject matter became a problem for filming: “We lost a location this year,” Benioff explained, “because [the location’s owner] didn’t want to be associated with, as the owner called it, ‘Porn of Thrones'” — but after that? Despite requests to the contrary from Ferguson and Benioff/Weiss, many fans obsessed over the deviations from the books, the potential liberties yet to come, and the potential that the series may beat out the books.

Benioff, Weiss, and Martin took it all in stride all things considered. They downright refused to answer questions regarding Lady Stoneheart, the fate of Benjen Stark, and the potential that the series will surpass the books. “I just got distracted,” Harington explained, to laughter, when questioned on his lost uncle.

“Do you book fans feel superior?” Ferguson asked at one point, clearly annoyed at the obsession. There were more than a few loudly bellowed “Yes!”es that permeated the crowd. One fan even explained that there is a subsection of book readers that are going to stop watching the show for fear of having their “pure experience ruined” by details that get ahead of ASOIAF.

But for Martin — whom it felt at times the Q&Aers were needling for some sort of dissent — brought up the example of Robb Stark’s wife as a prime example. Is she Talisa or Jeyne Westerling (whom we’re going to hear from in the prologue for The Winds of Winter)? He compared it to the story of Scarlett O’Hara in her book versus movie iterations. “Does she have three children or one? The correct answer is she doesn’t have any, because she’s not a real person.”

It’s not for lack of want to be loyal to the book and its myriad details and fan favorite characters. “We’re amazed to find how much detail we cannot include,” Benioff explained. If they had their way they’d love to do 13 episodes as opposed to 10, but their production from season to season butts up against each other. “As soon as we finish post-production on one, we immediately go into pre-production on the next season,” explained Weiss. To put it simply? There’s just not enough time to have your cake, make sure it’s loyal to every single minute detail, and eat it, too.

And Martin agreed. “I wish we had 3 more episodes a season,” but for what it is, he’s very pleased. “You have to remember we originally were going to make these movies, one for each book,” Benioff said. (Imagine how much detail would’ve been lost then!) As for those scene additions that really grind certain book-readers gears (“why add those scenes when you could do something from the book?!” they oh-so often cry)? Martin gets their necessity as a storyteller. “The things I mourn are what don’t make it. The stuff that gets added, I love,” he stated. Often those scenes are put in “when there is no point of view character,” he added, or in lieu of more efficient character development. “It’s great television.”

Adding a bit of humor, Bradley added, “What the show really excels at is putting the actors in the same conditions as the character. If they’re cold we’re cold.” Ultimately, Martin explained his approval of all the changes thusly. “The common humanity [is what] unites all these characters, and that’s what I try to do.”

“The show is the show and the book is the book,” explained Martin. So there.

What’s your stance on the matter? Does the show have a responsibility to book readers? Or are they merely getting too possessive of a story that has many iterations? Sound off in the comments.

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  1. Did I blink and miss something? I was in that panel, and while there were some questions about changes between the books and the show, I don’t remember the fans being particularly hostile about it. Fans wanted to talk about the changes, not necessarily condemn them. I feel like this article is exaggerating quite a bit.
    As a book fan, I have no objection to them changing things for the show. They’ve done a remarkable job of staying true to the heart of the books, and I hope they keep doing so. However, I do like to *discuss* what’s changed. I want to speculate about the reasoning behind it and talk about whether it was a good change or a bad one. Most of the changes they’ve made have been great. They’ve given greater depth to the characters or eased us around something that would have been too difficult to include. A few changes have bugged me. The ones that seem counterintuitive, I hope will eventually make more sense in the context of the larger plan. I hope that the creators have something in mind that I’m just not aware of yet.
    I want everyone to have read the books, because I want to be able to have conversations about what’s been changed and what’s coming and how the one may affect the other. It’s frustrating having to clam up constantly so as not to spoil people. I *do* it, I don’t want to be mean, but it’s frustrating!
    TL;DR: Read the books, they’re awesome. Watch the series, it’s awesome. <3

  2. Amy says:

    I am late to both the books and the show but I decided to read the book and then watch the season it corresponds to and that has worked well so far. I have finished all 4 seasons of the show and have begun A Feast for Crows (book 4). I can understand some frustration but being a Harry Potter fan has taught me to appreciate both iterations of a world that I love. That being said, I would stop watching the show if it got ahead of the books until the book came out and I could read it but that is because I want to read the books first. I don’t care to read books for the first time already knowing what is going to happen.

  3. NerdWithKid says:

    As with any story that crosses media I think it’s important to separate the adaptations or rather iterations from one another. ASoIaF is such a thick and loaded book series that it seems implausible to expect the tv series to follow verbatim. More importantly….I enjoy being surprised while watching the show….it adds more substance to my experiencing the story as a whole. Quit whining and just enjoy that this is even allowed on television! It’s great!

  4. Doddy Bigital says:

    Ha, that’s a laugh! Yeah, of course, if nobody read the book, nobody could adapt it into a show—duh—but 99% of its audience had no idea the books existed and was a series before the show came into existence. No TV show, no widespread mainstream relevance.

    Besides, it’s irrelevant. An ant shouting at an elephant about what he’s “owed” is stupid… and THAT is the true end of the story.

  5. Charlie says:

    It’s not superiority, it’s a fact. If the reader’s had not been so passionate and forceful with their love of the books, I don’t see how it would have been made into a show. The readers don’t create the show, film it, act in it or have most any part to do with the actual day to day creation, but I cannot see how this show would have been green lit from the start if there weren’t people who read and LOVED the book and pushed for it to happen. Again, not superiority. We aren’t saying we are better or want thanks or any of that bullshit, but book readers have been fans of this series for almost 20 years. The show has been around for 4. So please, don’t say it’s superiority we feel. We’ve just been passionate for a very long time. (That being said, those that do act superior to non-book readers, should get a reality check).

  6. Doddy Bigital says:

    I’m sorry, but this is just… delusional. I’m a fan, but the following of ASOIAF was no bigger than that of Wheel of Time or some other long-running fantasy series. There’s even loads of wildly-successful historical fiction which reached numbers a fantasy book series never would have. The show represents the perfect storm of a good pitch and a gap in the market at the right time. HBO doesn’t have to care about the fans, as their business model leaves zero accountability. They don’t sell ads, they sell subscriptions, so the entire thing is incredibly low-risk for them. Yes, they’re happy to have a success on their hands, but book fans are no more responsible for its success than anything else; calling it a fact when it’s totally unquantifiable is just flawed reasoning.

  7. Luna says:

    I second this, I was there as well and I wondered why the attendees were asking so many questions relating to the books. I guess they did not know that GRRM had his own panel to talk about his writing. The attendees should have asked all their book related questions there. I felt bad that the cast barely talked at all, while Ferguson tried to steal the show. Christ should have moderated this as well.