A Game of Cliffhangers: A Song of Book and Show

Last night HBO completed its fifth season of the hit show, Game of Thrones. This season marked arguably the most controversial of the series as, in addition to its usual highly discussed content, season five marked the largest breakaway from the book series by George R. R. Martin. For most of the season, fans appeared split on the issue. While some (like myself) welcomed the changes that preserved the impending doom and focus of the main plot, others had a different reaction:

Many reactions from fans of the book to the show's changes.
Many reactions from fans of the book to the show’s changes.

Many characters were omitted and most of the plot threads included in the fifth season were truncated versions of their literary counterparts. Yet the show justified this by taking many plot lines beyond where the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, left them. Yet as the old saying goes, “never leave a job halfway done.”

So let’s talk about this season, in particular last night’s finale. Warning: spoilers.

When season five was announced, one notable absence was announced shortly thereafter: Bran Stark. The show’s head writers sited that the character’s ” immediate future didn’t seem to provide as compelling material.” Fair enough, kind of a dig at Martin’s writing (which covers Bran’s training) but okay – lose a lackluster plot to help preserve the pace….

But what about Arya?

Why watch someone train in magic when you can watch a little girl sweep?
Why watch someone train in magic when you can watch a little girl sweep?

For those out there who missed it, let me some up what Arya does for ALL of season five: washes dead people, watches people, gets told she is not ready, sweeps. Sure, she kills someone in the season finale… but this was compelling? This is what Bran Stark needed to be sacrificed for? Watching an Arya scene in season five felt like watching paint dry… while being told it is not ready to dry. The main story ground to a halt and the same dull message was repeated over and over again (sort of like the Red Skull’s scenes in Captain America).

Hypocritical to call one plot boring and the other riveting. For those wondering, Arya is still following the book’s plot (for the most part). That said, why? In making changes to the show’s content – head writers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have challenged George R. R. Martin. They know how it ends… and they have reacted by losing characters that Martin called important and making substantial changes to the plot… while still following it.

Lady Stoneheart, the resurrected Catelyn Stark, is one of the most noticeable absences from the show. The show creators essentially saying that the one character George R. R. Martin has brought back to life (so far) is irrelevant.
Lady Stoneheart, the resurrected Catelyn Stark, is one of the most noticeable absences from the show. The show creators essentially saying that the one character George R. R. Martin has brought back to life (so far) is irrelevant… or less interesting than sweeping.

This is what I mean by don’t leave a job half-done. If Benioff and Weiss have problems with Martin’s work, they are not bound to follow it. Yet they for the most part did, and the end result was a finale final hook that fans of the book have known about for a while… and that the author has already essentially debunked.

Yes, John Snow is dead… but don’t count on him to stay that way.

Really Kit? You're going to write and go into movies? Really?
Really Kit? You’re going to write and go into movies? Really?

It is a cliffhanger, and a cheap one. One that hinges on the audience abandoning all reason to believe it is true. Oh if only there was someone… a witch (who conveniently just rode in) maybe, around who could control life and death. Oh drat, all well, on to the next main character driving the Wall/White Walker plot line… oh there isn’t one? That’s odd.

The point is, this is the hook that A Dance with Dragons ended with, but the show is not in the same place. That epic White Walker attack never happened in the books (or if it did we didn’t read about it) so the threat is still far off. In the show, they seem to be like… a day behind John Snow in reaching the Wall. The tension is ratcheted up already, we didn’t need a PSYCHE moment to end the season.

"We already did one thing this season, what more do you want?"
“We already did one thing this season, what more do you want?”

And we didn’t need cliffhangers… oh god the sheer amount of cliffhangers in that last episode was staggering. Forget adapting and source material, that was bad writing.

Is Stannis really dead? What about Sansa and Theon? What’s going to happen in Dorne? What’s Jaime going to do? What’s going to happen to Aria? What’s going to happen to Daenerys? What’s going to happen with Tyrion? What’s Cersei going to do next? Is John Snow dead? Do we even still care?

There was no content in that season finale that served the current season. It was all hook… with no bait. As anyone who watched Lost will tell you, you can’t just ask questions. When the show was winning me over, it was because it wasn’t waiting. Martin’s last two books have entered a holding pattern on the main plot… and it appears that the show ultimately has done the same. At least this time fans know the wait will be finite, but after so much build up – can we still hope for a satisfying payoff?

To call Stannis Baratheon's resolution anti-climactic would be to call Ned Stark's beheading slightly sad.
To call Stannis Baratheon’s resolution anti-climactic would be to call Ned Stark’s beheading slightly sad.

The final episode reminded me a lot of the last two books – something big is going to happen… eventually. But for now enjoy more death and nudity, if that still affects anyone watching the show at all.

Reading A Song of Ice and Fire feels like reading five books stretched into seven, and unfortunately for all its big “changes”, watching Game of Thrones is feeling the same way.

"Hmmm, okay I'm going to abandon Sansa to go walk a battlefield and hope I can find Stannis, hope he's still alive, hope there's no Boltons around and hope I can kill him. Brienne, you are a genius."
“Hmmm, okay I’m going to abandon Sansa during a battle to go walk a battlefield and hope I can find Stannis, hope he’s still alive, hope there’s no Boltons around and hope I can kill him. Brienne, you are a genius.”

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