Beware! Thar be spoilers afoot!
One day in high school, as I was about to leave math, my teacher stopped me and chatted about the fantasy book I’d been reading that week. He suggested I check out George R.R. Martin next, so after school I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of A Game of Thrones.
Even though the book was roughly a thousand pages, I devoured it and sped through the other books just as quickly. They were unlike any fantasy story I had ever read. The plot completely broke away from the overused Lord of the Rings-inspired ‘little guy goes on a big journey’ model. No character was safe from death or great tragedy, no matter how seemingly important or innocent, and most impressive of all, the story felt truly real and believable.
Game of Thrones the TV series came out while I was in college, and while I’ve gotten hooked to it just like everyone else, I still stand by my opinion that the books are better. Keep in mind I’m not claiming all books are inherently better than movies or TV. I’m saying that the way this story is told in the books is more expansive and compelling.
I’ll start with a graphic but telling example. In season one of the TV series, Daenerys Targaryen marries Khal Drogo and the two of them ride to a rocky beach where Drogo literally rapes her while she boils over in painful tears. Not only is the scene heartbreaking, but it’s also an odd way to introduce what later becomes a beautiful and loving relationship between the two of them.
In the corresponding book, Dany and Drogo ride to an open grass field after the wedding, which makes more sense than the coast given the inherent Dothraki fear of the ocean. Because the story is told from the third person limited point of view, the reader experiences Dany’s fear of this mammoth-like man firsthand. But instead of taking her against her will, he woos her beneath a star-filled night sky. In this way, their romance is born in a much more believable and endearing way.
Similarly, fans of the TV series may recall the brusque and strangely executed scene in season four when Jaime decides to take advantage of Cersei within reach of their recently dead child’s grave. After this episode the general fan reaction was, “What was that and why in the world did that happen?”
Well, in the books, the circumstances were very different. In the books, Jamie was not present during Joffrey’s death. He and Brienne were still on their way to deliver Jamie back to his family. When he finally returns he goes straight to Cersei who is standing over Joffrey’s grave. They are overcome with passion upon seeing each other and one thing leads to another. While still creepy, this turn of events is much more understandable and believable.
But the way Martin handles racy scenes like these are not what really separates the effectiveness in storytelling between the books and the show. The television series can only rely on short anecdotes or details to inform the viewer about the complicated past of Westeros. The books, on the other hand, make full use of the descriptive imagery and realistic emotional portrayals to make the past come alive and feel like a part of the present.
There is so much more detail and intrigue in the books. They are large and intimidating because these characters are complicated people living multi-layered lives that require explanation. A television series, no matter how thorough, will not be able to capture this amount of action and detail.
Undoubtedly the show is great, and more than deserving of the hype it has generated. Even so, it is only the tip of the iceberg. If you are a fan of the TV series and you haven’t read the books, you are not getting the whole experience. So read them. What else are you going to do until season five comes out?