Forget the winds of winter, a wind of change is blowing. The balance of power between A Song Of Ice And Fire readers and Game Of Thrones-only viewers (referred to neatly in some quarters as the Sullied and the Unsullied) is shifting.
As the HBO show’s fifth season promises to depict events from the most recently released book, and with no imminent sign of the next tome (we’ve been told not to expect The Winds Of Winter until 2016), the TV timeline is due to overtake that of A Song Of Ice And Fire. The crown of smugness is being melted down. Book readers will no longer know when to brace themselves for bloody shocks, or when to smile knowingly while events unfurl on-screen. Soon, we will all be equal.
That leaves book and show fans with a choice. Keep watching the TV series knowing it will alter your experience of reading The Winds Of Winter, or hightail it away from HBO and dig in for the long wait? Allow the remaining books become novelisations of the show, or spend the next few years turning Joffrey-purple and screaming “Spoilers!” every time someone mentions Game of Thrones?
It all boils down to where you’d rather hear it first; on the page or the screen. Like the privileged lot we are, we can now choose the delivery system for our Westerosi gossip – a TV show as expansive as it is expensive, or a book as thick as a loaf of bread and every bit as sustaining.
Book readers need to ask themselves where their loyalty lies, with their 4000-page relationship, or their 40-hour one.
And they need to decide now, if recent comments by George R.R. Martin are anything to go by. Speaking at the Writers Guild West Awards, Martin told the crowd that in the forthcoming fifth season of the HBO show, “people are going to die who don’t die in the books.”
The question here is whether Martin is talking about published or unpublished material. If he’s simply describing changes to what we’ve already read, then that’s nothing new. David Benioff and Dan Weiss’ TV show has already taken entirely understandable diversions from its wealth of source material, to varying levels of protest from purists (pass a note containing the words ‘Lady Stoneheart’ to a Sullied, and observe what happens to the vein on their forehead).
If on the other hand, Martin is referring to deaths from as-yet-unpublished material because season five is leapfrogging much of book four to reach the events of book five (as major players Jon, Tyrion and Daenerys weren’t in number four, the show has had to skip ahead to avoid chronological weirdness and quite possibly, international riots), then now is the time to jump ship if you want to keep your book-reading jollies intact.
Admittedly, the risk of major book spoilers arriving in season five is low. There’s every chance that Martin’s tease relates to a minor character whose death wouldn’t create too many ripples. He could be talking about Ser Pounce, for instance, or Hot Pie (not Hot Pie, George!). If you want to know, my money’s on either Greyworm or Missandei buying the farm in season five. Those characters have had Damoclean shadows cast on them ever since they were given a non-book love story far too innocent and pure to survive in the wicked world of the Seven Kingdoms.
If you’re going to go eventually though, there’s an argument that you might as well go now. Say The Winds Of Winter isn’t arriving until 2016, then season six of the TV show will be in the can – and possibly on air – before it’s published (HBO usually shoots between July and December, and broadcasts in early April).
Miracles notwithstanding, if HBO sticks to its seven-season plan then there’s scant chance that the final novel of the series, A Dream Of Spring, will arrive before the TV finale does. Season six will really be the point of no return for book purists, but who knows what’s being seeded and shored up in the forthcoming run?
You could even say – and many have – that the TV show has already overtaken the novels in one particular case. A non-book scene included at the end of season four’s fourth season, “Oathkeeper,” showed a baby from Craster’s Keep being collected by a White Walker and transformed into an Other by a character some are calling The Night’s King (that name, which does feature in the books, was reportedly used in some HBO GO listings then quickly removed. IMDb currently has the character listed as “White Walkers’ Master”). While none of this stuff has been explicitly shown in A Song Of Ice And Fire, it’s not much of a leap to imagine that Craster’s sacrifices are being converted by the Others rather than say, skinned for their tiny pelts, or lovingly raised into the biggest softball team the North has ever seen. It was more of a book explainer than a book spoiler, that one.
One solution for ASoIaF readers is to Ctrl F delete the ‘s’ word from our vocabularies and just go with it. Spoilers are the boogeymen of modern-day fandom. Grown adults shriek at them, leaping up onto figurative chairs and pulling our collective skirts over our knees at the merest sniff. It’s time we got over this pathological fear. So what if we see what happens on the show before we read it in the books? If it was only the information we were after, we’d simply Google it instead of investing time and effort into thousands of pages of story.
And by the time A Song Of Ice And Fire and Game Of Thrones reach their end, who’s to say they’ll even be the same story? You only have to do The Walking Dead double to know how far TV adaptations can wander from their source without endangering either. Are the novels automatically the purest and preferable form of the story simply because they came first?
Martin answered that question himself at SDCC 2014:
“The question of ‘so you can experience the story in its true form,’ it’s kind of a loaded one. I’ve said a couple of times in posts, the riddle ‘how many children does Scarlett O’Hara have?’ Scarlett O’Hara has three children in Margaret Mitchell’s novel. Scarlett O’Hara has one child in the classic movie of Gone With The Wind. How many children does Scarlett O’Hara have? What’s the true story? Of course the true story is Scarlett O’Hara has no children because she never existed. She’s a fictional character and there are two wonderful, classic ways of telling the story.
The show is the show and the book is the book. Who did Robb Stark marry? Did he marry a noblewoman from Volantis named Talisa, who died at the Red Wedding? Or did he marry a woman named Jeyne Westerling who’s still alive and will be seen in the prologue of ‘Winds of Winter’? Is one true? Is one not true? Well, how many children did Scarlett O’Hara have?”
Good point, well made.
So the choice is yours, but with just weeks left until season five arrives, you’d better make it quickly. The clock is ticking.
For what it’s worth, my bookshelf is bowing under the weight of decades of great fantasy novels, but there’s only one fantasy drama on air with those production values, that writing, and that cast. We Sullied don’t have to choose between the books and the TV show, but if we did, I’d choose Game Of Thrones every time. What about you?
Game Of Thrones season five starts on HBO on Sunday, April 12th.