Season 6 spoilers abound!
TV shows and movies that are based on books are always compared to their original source. That is nothing new. Seeing what the movie gets right from the original, and more pertinently, what it gets wrong, will always be a point of huge discussion, especially for those who read the book before engaging in the mass media version of its story. It’s incredibly rare that the new incarnation surpasses the original in quality, and even when a film or series does incredibly well, critically and financially, it is often still plagued with the caveat of “but it is not as good as the book.”
I’ll leave how much of that is fair, and how much of it is “I was there first” up to you, but one of the most fascinating examples of this relationship between a book reborn into a new medium is Game of Thrones. The series has become one of, perhaps even the biggest force in the pop culture lexicon. It is absolutely everywhere in a way few TV series have ever been. This means the show’s relationship with the books has always been a hot topic. The series hasn’t been afraid to emphasize, de-emphasise to outright change portions of the book to fit the new form, often to outright anger of the book fans. Sometimes the changes make sense, and sometimes they are strange and problematic (I’m looking at you Ramsay’s rape of Sansa and the forceful sex Jaime Lannister had with Cersei on the body of their child.)
All told, the series, especially in the last season or two, has been moving further and further away from the books as the show hurtled towards Season 6. It was the first to not have direct source material to work with, simply because the books are massive undertakings and take George R.R. Martin years to write. As stated, that idea of change has been brewing in the last few seasons but ‘broadly’ the show has remained, if not outright faithful, at least respectful of the books.
However, now with the chains off and a week since the season concluded, I have to say I think Season 6, across its entire run was utterly fantastic.
The last few seasons have unsurprisingly played out a lot like their counterpart books. While there is some brilliant character and relationship work done, even the most ardent A Song Of Ice and Fire fans will tell you that things slow down in terms of meaningful plot progression and political manuevering that is so apparent in the first few books. That is all fine in that form, but despite still being good, the TV show has felt like it is spinning its wheels somewhat. That was so apparent in Season 5, where at times, it just felt like we were going through the motions. With Season 6 no longer tied down by fan expectation though, it’s been fast paced, with major changes in more or less every episode. It’s a throw back to what hooked us in the first place; the utter political chaos. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have clearly been having fun with their new found freedom, wasting no time in rearranging the world to their whims and just knocking out meaningful story threads. They have been cutting off characters left right and centre, with utter ruthlessness. Lord Bolton. Dead. Osha. Dead. Hodor. Dead. Balon Greyjoy. Dead. Shaggy Dog. Dead. Margery. Dead. Tommen. Dead. Rickon. Dead. Hell, even my favorite House from the books, Martell, was been utterly altered for the show. The Sand Snakes killed Prince Doran, usurping the position for themselves. It is a massive change, transforming the role of Dorne into something they weren’t in the book, but I am willing to let it go, because it is clearly serving a purpose. On top of the sadness, we also had long promised moments of happiness, like Daenerys crossing to Westeros, two Starks finally meeting again, the Starks taking back Winterfell, Waldur Frey finally getting his comeuppance, the Hound came back. Cersei finally being released of everything that kept her somewhat rational and given the throne. This season was just a lot of gratification, so much so it is even hard to go through everything that happened. It was break neck stuff and I thought it was an absolute joy to witness after having been with these characters for years now. The showrunners are clearly trying to shape this world to their own whims, and the results were fantastic.
Just looking at how the season finished off, with the Battle of the Bastards and the utterly fantastic season finale, the end game is finally in sight. We are no longer treading water and everything feels like it has been imbued with a sense of forward momentum in a very tangible way. With a only a reported 13 episodes left, proceedings have been beautifully alley-ooped with all the pieces in exciting places. All we need is for the dunk to be applied.
While some will complain about how fast and loose the the showrunners are using the lore of Game of Thrones, for me the show has turned into something different. This isn’t at the future expense of the books either, which I think will plough forward with their own narrative that will differ from the show’s. I think that Game of Thrones is absolutely fantastic right now though, because it is no longer a ‘TV show based on the books’. It is just a TV show, a TV show ruthlessly out to reclaim what made it such compelling viewing to begin with.