Game of Thrones – Song of Ice and Fire Adaptation


Characters and how they are conveyed on the screen. 

I’ve been making my way through the various books in the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series recently. It would have been remiss of me to not take a look at the ‘Game of Thrones’ series while I was at it, so I downloaded seasons 1, 2 and 3 on iTunes.

One thing that typically intrigues me about adaptations is the way characters are conveyed on the screen. They don’t need to be 100% authentic for an adaptation to be effective, but the adaptation must at least capture the essential qualities of each character it portrays.

So, as I have been watching and reading, I have been mentally compiling a list of which characters have been effectively conveyed in the television series, which have been less so, and which characters have failed dismally to meet the depth of characterisation in George ‘R R’ Martin’s epic fantasy work.

Well, here it is.

Firstly Peter Baelish. I think in the novel he was a minor character with some quirks and interesting motivations. He was largely a secondary character who became more important as the other main characters kept getting killed off. I feel he was one of Martin’s less effective characters and his story arc seems to go nowhere, despite the author’s obvious intent to keep promoting a man characterised by his quick wit and machiavellian scheming. The actor who plays Lord Baelish is actually quite good, but the character is nothing like he is in the novels. He lacks the sarcasm and the wit, and comes across as dour and intense. So the depiction of Baelish is one of the many weak points where the TV adaptation fails to live up to the excellent characterisation of the novels.

Another one in the category of underwhelming page to screen transformation is the so-called Lord of Flowers, Loras Tyrell. No disrespect to the actor, but the character is described as impossibly handsome (an Edward Cullen type) and an epic sword fighter. He should be oozing with charm and ruggedly handsome, more like Heath Ledger from A Knight’s Tale. The actor in this role looks to be barely a teenager, effeminate and lacking in any sort of screen presence. His role in the TV series is marginalised and he wafts in and out of a few scenes here and there. Then again, he was another character in the novel who hardly lived up to the hype and expectations of Martin’s exposition. Not sure if that was a deliberate ploy, but many of the interesting characters were hyped up in ‘Game of Thrones’ (the novel), then virtually discarded, or killed off, for the remainder of the novels.

I’ll come back to some of the other very poorly adapted characters shortly, but I wouldn’t want readers to think that I hate the series. It’s like chocolate: it may not have any nutritional value, but it sure is addictive.

In the average category, those characters which don’t quite live up to their namesakes in the book we, first of all, have Joffrey. The scriptwriters in the series must have time to fill in order to generate hour-long episodes. Joffrey is hardly quoted in the novels; he is a simpering, half-crazed, sadistic twerp. He is well and truly under the thumb of his mother, uncle and Grandfather. Whilst some of this is conveyed in the show, he has far too much dialogue, is too domineering and has actually strategic and military knowledge. This flies in the face of his character, an incompetent boy, plagued by insecurities. The actor does a passable job, but this screen Joffrey does not do justice to the original character.

The next one on the list is Robb, the so-called king of the North, though he is never an official king and his reign is so brief to hardly warrant the title. The actor in this role is a perfect casting choice, one of the best in the series. He perfectly embodies the character, who in many respects, due to the unusual point of view utilised in the novels, is essentially a minor player. His role is well fleshed out in the show and the actor brings this to life.

Jaime Lannister is a masterwork of characterisation. Martin has repeatedly avowed his love of shades of grey in characters, and Jaime is his best character in the novel (Tyrion is a close second, though becomes something of a bore by the fifth book). The actor (Costa- Waldo?) is another perfect choice, and the adaptation faithfully renders this character, despite several plot omissions from the original.

His lover and sister Cersei falls a bit flat in the TV series. She is pure evil in the novels, a scheming, merciless woman in the same vein as Lady Macbeth. I would place her in the average category: not too bad, not too good. She lacks the same fire in the show, losing too many exchanges with her son, Joffrey,  and lacking the hint of madness and cruelty she displays in the books. The actress does a passable job, but much more could have been brought out of this role.

Catelyn Stark was a major surprise. She is hands down the worst, most annoying character in the novels. Nothing she does makes any sense; she is impulsive, irrational and makes blunder after blunder, leading to the war and senseless loss of life. Somehow, the directors of ‘Game of Thrones’ have managed to make her one of the most interesting, well-rounded and pivotal characters in the whole series. The actress is perfectly cast and does a sterling job. She brings such emotional depth to a simpering, weak character. Well done!

Daenerys Targaryen. What can one say? So many other blogs have put it better than I could. Irritating, annoying character in both the film and the novels. There is almost no redeeming feature about this character and the actress brings little depth to the role – Emilia Clarke seems fretful and indecisive most of the time she is on screen. At other times she conveys arrogance, but brings no real emotional depth to the role. I have a feeling that Martin went out on a limb in creating this character and the dragons and, once he had created them, he battled for thousands of pages to make them relevant. Perhaps he will succeed by the last novel.  They just don’t fit into a supposedly medieval fantasy novel.

Tyrion was another masterful creation from Martin. His wit is legendary and he is filled with both nobility and craftiness, despite his reputation as a lecherous imp. I guess Peter Dinklage was the logical choice for this role, so there is no benchmark to compare him to. That being said, he does a sterling job and almost lives up to the status the character achieves in print. Much of his dialogue is cut and at times the transitions are messed up, leaving him awkwardly staring into space, but he does a fine job as does the director with this one.

I might as well cover Shae, Tyrion’s lover. This is where they go way off track. They have taken far too much licence with this role, and the results are disastrous. She plays too strong a role, is too influential and nowhere near as lascivious and playful as she should be. The accent and the backstory are ridiculous and the intimacy between the two is all wrong and never seems credible.

Another one in the disastrous category is the prostitute from Winterfell, a character invented by the directors and thrown into all these influential scenes. They keep trying to make this irrelevant pointless role valid and one squirms in each scene she is in. I realise that they condense characters in adaptations, but sometimes it is better to omit them, rather than create characters that don’t link to the original story. Ultimately Joffrey kills her off, probably because the director had no idea what to do with her next.

Ygritte, Jon Snow’s lover is in the average category, neither good nor bad. And what’s with all these British accents by the way? Harry Potter used English stars because the story was set in England.  This story is set in Westeros, a fictional place, so why are they trying to make it seem like medieval England?

Jon Snow is another masterful choice, the ruggedly handsome Kit Harrington. Look, he’s not as great as they are all saying; after all he just stares around in this kind of sullen way for most of the time. But he has a lot of screen presence and his story arc is faithfully rendered, despite cuts to dialogue, scenes etc.

For sake of brevity, I will summarise the rest:

Ned Stark: utterly brilliant. Well acted, almost too well.

Sansa Stark: Adequate without being compelling.

Arya Stark: This is another character Martin perhaps should have killed off; her story arc becomes less and less plausible as the events progress; the actress plays the role convincingly.

Theon Greyjoy: Very good.

Tywin Lannister: very good portrayal by Charles Dance, though the storyline is a little ridiculous. Surely a man as sagacious as that can discover the identity of Arya Stark. I guess they had to add bits for him, given he is a known actor, and must command a certain amount of screen time.

The dragons: brilliant CGI, or whatever was used to create them.

Those are probably the main ones, if I have left out anyone, please let me know.