A Game of Thrones. From Novel to TV

Bachelor Thesis 2013 54 Pages

American Studies - Miscellaneous


Table of Contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Game ofThrones - From Novel to TV
1.2 Theoretical Background
1.2.1 Adaption Theory: Fidelity Debate and Adapting by Translating Narrative Functions
1.2.2 Terminology

2 Main Part
2.1 The Authors
2.1.1 Author of the Novel: George R. R. Martin
2.1.2 Authors of the TV Series: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
2.2 Setting ofA Song oflce and Fire
2.2.1 The World ofA Song oflce andFire
2.2.2 Plot Summary ofA Game ofThrones
2.3 The Structure
2.3.1 Structure of the Novel
2.3.2 Structure of the TV Series
2.4 The Characters - Alterations from the Novel
2.5 Fidelity Criticism and Game ofThrones
2.6 Why adapt A Song oflce and Fire?
2.7 Game ofThrones - a Mirror to our World?
2.8 HBO, Game ofThrones and the Illicit

3 Conclusion

4 Bibliography

5 Appendix A

6 Appendix B

1 Introduction

1.1 Game of Thrones - From Novel to TV

A Song of Ice and Fire, the monumental fantasy saga that George R. R. Martin has been working on for 20 years now, has sold more than 15 million books in over 20 different languages (G. R. R. Martin, “Conversation”). The immense success has created a dedicated fan base who eagerly await the next novel. It has also sparked the interest of the popular cable network HBO - the series A Game of Thrones was created from Martin's novels. The cost for the first season is estimated around US $ 50-60 million (Goldberg); HBO decided to create a second season right after the first episode was aired.

The series tries to expand its viewer base by being appealing to both: dedicated fans and those that have not read the novels yet (Elio). Critics have argued that the series tries to achieve that with a high level of graphic violence and nudity (Nussbaum; Bellafante). Is this really true? What makes both the novels and the series so popular, is there maybe a political statement that is appealing to the audience?

This thesis will take a closer look at the adaption process from the novel to the series. I will analyze how a successful series is created from a novel. To do so, I will introduce the author / creators, and give a brief overview of the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, as well as a plot summary of the first novel. The center piece of my thesis is a structural comparison of the novel and the series, with a focus on alterations from the novel to the series. I will then investigate a possible shift in the depiction of characters. On a more abstract level, I will consider if fidelity was an important aspect for the adaption process, possible reasons why A Song of Ice and Fire was adapted, and I will investigate the installment for political statements. Last but not least, I will take a closer look at the level of illicitness in the series, and if there is an equivalent in the novel.

1.2 Theoretical Background

1.2.1 Adaption Theory: Fidelity Debate and Adapting by Translating Narrative Functions

Critics of (novel-to-movie) adaptions have often used the following terms to describe adaptions: “infidelity, betrayal, deformation, violation, vulgarization and desecration” (Stam 54). In short, adaptions are often regarded as secondary and derivative (Hutcheon 2). “Haunted” by their source, the best they could hope to achieve is “fidelity to the original” (Hutcheon 6 f.). Linda Hutcheon identifies one possible source for the phenomenon of degrading the adaption: “It is the (post-) Romantic valuing of the original creation and of the originating genius that is clearly one source of the denigration of adapters and adaptions” (Hutcheon 3 f.). Other, more evident reasons are that critics consider the adaption lacking in regards to a feature that was vital to them in the original (Stam 54 f.).

The academic approach among adaption theorists is a different one. Moving away from the so co-called “fidelity criticism” and the “fidelity debate” connected with it, these theorists argue that an adaption should not be regarded as a replication of the original, it should not be evaluated by its fidelity. The adaptation must be viewed as an individual piece of work instead: “Adaption is repetition, but repetition without replication” (Hutcheon 7).

Each medium has, of course, its own unique features, constraints and modes of telling a story (Hutcheon 34; Stam 59). Especially when an adaption also shifts to a different medium, adjustments to the specific criteria of this medium are necessary (Hutcheon 39 f.). In regards to novel-to-screen adaptions, Robert Stam argues that a movie is a “multitrack medium” with not only the words to rely on, but also acting, “music, sound effects and moving photographic images” to transfer meaning. That is why adapters should not even seek fidelity (Stam 56).

Despite these differences, most movie adaptions still have the novel as source medium. Brian McFarlane takes a closer look at the relation between these two media. He defines narrative as a series of events involving characters, and narration as “all the means by which the narrative has been put before the reader” (McFarlane 19). He uses this definition to point out that it is in the narrative in which they are compatible, while they are “secretly hostile” in the narration (McFarlane 19). However, if fidelity to the original is desired by the adapters, the closest approximation could be achieved by following Roland Barthes' taxonomy of narrative functions: “A narrative is never made up of anything other than functions: in differing degrees, everything in it signifies” (qtd. in McFarlane 19). An adapter can then translate these functions that are compatible directly, or make adjustments to his adaption when the medium requires it; transferring atmosphere through music, light and the setting would be an example for this approach (McFarlane 19).

These are the considerations that guided me while analyzing the adaption of A Game of Thrones. Furthermore, I will also investigate if the adapters could also free themselves from the demands for fidelity; see 2.5 for considerations of this nature.

1.2.2 Terminology

The series of novels is called A Song of Ice and Fire, with the following books published so far: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Dance with Dragons. George R. R. Martin plans to conclude the series with the books The Winds of Winter and A Dream of spring. The TV series is named after the first book (without the 'a'), Game of Thrones. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the setting as to that of A Song of Ice and Fire, with the series also being part of this setting. The TV series itself will be referenced by its name, Game ofThrones.

The chapters in the novel are named only by the character in focus: Bran, Arya, and so forth. For a more simple reference to a chapter, I have numbered the chapters after the times each character was in focus. Bran's first chapter is named “Bran 1”, his second “Bran 2”, and so forth. For an overview and the exact page numbers, see Appendix A.

To compare the plot structure of the novel and the series, I made a closer analysis for the first five episodes of the first season and the corresponding chapters in the novel. My results are summarized in Appendix B. Here, I follow the structure of the series, with the scenes labeled in a similar fashion to show which part of the novel is realized in the current scene. However, as one chapter from the novel can include more than one scene, I referenced them with different parts (“Bran 1 Pt. 1”, “Bran 1 Pt. 2” etc.).

As my Appendix also has an exact time scale for each scene, I also use it as a more accurate reference, in addition with a reference to the whole episode. For example, I might comment on the music in Bran 1 Pt. 2, although my plot summary does not mention the music.

2 Main Part

2.1 The Authors

2.1.1 Authorofthe Novel: George R. R. Martin

George Richard Raymond Martin was born on September 20, 1948 in Bayonne, New Jersey (G. R. R. Martin, “Homepage”). Due to his lasting fascination with comic books into his high school years, he came upon a comic fan magazine by a mere coincidence (G. R. R. Martin, “Speech”). This initiated his career as a writer, as the stories in this magazine were so crudely written that he was convinced he could do better (G. R. R. Martin, “Speech”).

Following the path taken consequently, he studied journalism, sold his first professional story in 1970 and graduated from the Northwestern University in Illinois in 1971 (G. R. R. Martin, “Homepage”). After several Science Fiction and Fantasy books had been published, he started working as a story editor for Hollywood in 1986, namely the show Twilight Zone (G. R. R. Martin, “Homepage”). The first chapter for И Song of Ice and Fire, which is in fact the first chapter in the novel A Game of Thrones, was written in 1991 (G. R. R. Martin, “Conversation”). However, Hollywood kept him occupied for a while longer until A Game of Thrones was finally finished and published in 1996 (G. R. R. Martin, “Conversation”).

The series hit the bestseller lists from the second novel onward, with the second novel published in 1999, the third in 2000 (G. R. R. Martin, “Homepage”). After that, major restructuring delayed the release of the fourth book to 2005, and the fifth to 2011 (G. R. R. Martin, “Conversation”). At the moment, seven books are planned to complete the series (G. R. R. Martin, “Conversation”).

2.1.2 Authors of the TV Series: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

Bom 1970 in New York, David Benioff studied at Dartmouth College, wrote his thesis about Samuel Beckett and received his Master from the Trinity College in Dublin (Authortrek). His first novel, The 25th Hour, was published in 2002 while he was working as a high school teacher (Scholz, Cindy). He wrote two more novels, but he also adapted The 25th Hour for the big screen and thus got involved with Hollywood, writing the scripts for Troy, Stay and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, to name a few (Scholz, Cindy).

Originating in Chicago, D.B. Weiss studied at the Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and later also at the Trinity College in Dublin, where he met David Benioff. He wrote the novel Lucky Wander Boys before engaging into the task of bringing Game ofThrones to the screen (Scholz, Cindy).

2.2 Setting of A Song oflce and Fire

2.2.1 The World of A Song oflce and Fire

A Song of Ice and Fire takes place in a medieval world, comparable in the complexity of its creation to that of J.R.R Tolkien's Middle Earth. But unlike in Middle Earth, fantastic elements are far less evident: no dwarves, elves or similar human-like races exist, and while some do believe in magic, it is largely regarded as superstition or not existent anymore (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones 580).

A large part of the narrative is set in Westeros, a diverse continent that stretches from the cold and sparsely populated north towards the (both in resources and agriculturally) rich and more densely populated south, with the desert of Dorne at its southern tip. One of its striking features is that the summers last for infrequent years, with long winters that can also last for a few years or longer (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones 207 f.). Within it lie the Seven Kingdoms, a feudal state united a few centuries ago by a member of the Targaryen house (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones 122 f.). However, cultural and political tensions still persist between the formerly independent kingdoms. One aspect of this tension is found in religion: in the north, the religion of “The old Gods” is worshiped (which seems to have borrowed slightly from historic paganism), while the south follow “The Faith of the Seven”, a single deity with seven aspects and a clerical structure (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones 22 f.). However, while the world in A Song of Ice and Fire seems to mirror ours (or that of feudal England) during the middle ages in many aspects, faith does not seem as important a factor in the power structure as it was then.

The Seven Kingdoms are ruled by a king with the support of a council, with several noble houses backing his claim. Recently, the ruling house of the Targaryens has been overthrown by force, with the last two survivors living in exile, Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen. It was succeeded by King Robert from the house Baratheon. Other ruling houses include the Starks in the north, the Lannisters in the west, and house Tyrell in the southwest, to name a few (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones 810-835).

At the northern boundary of this kingdom lies ’’the Wall”, an ancient and gigantic wall of ice that separates civilization from wilderness (inspired by Hadrian's wall (G. R. R. Martin, “Conversation”)). This wall is guarded by the “Night's Watch”. The task of the “Night's Watch” was to protect the realm from the so-called “White Walkers”, beings of cold that used to live up north. However, like magic, these creatures have disappeared centuries ago, and the “Night's Watch” now mostly consists of criminals who can escape harsh penalties by serving in the cold north for the rest of their lives (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones 516).

While all these houses plot their intrigues for power over the throne, they are unaware of the larger threat: the winter is coming, and the “White walkers” have risen again.

2.2.2 Plot Summary of A Game of Thrones

The death of the former “Hand of the King” Jon Arryn, an adviser and ruler for day to day decisions, sets a chain of events into motion: the king Robert Baratheon travels north with his queen, Cersei, and her family from the house of the Lannisters, namely her brothers Tyrion and Jaime, and her son Joffrey (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones “Catelyn 1”). The king wants to make his old and trusted friend, Eddard 'Ned' Stark, the new “Hand of the King”, and declare ajoining of houses in the process by marrying his son to Ned's daughter Sansa (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones “Eddard 1”). Reluctantly, Eddard accepts and decides to travel to the capital with his two daughters, Arya and Sansa (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones “Catelyn 2”). However, before their departure, the young Brandon Stark observes an act of incest between the queen and her twin brother; to silence him for good, Bran is pushed out of a window (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones “Bran 2”).

Catelyn's sister had warned her that the Lannisters murdered Jon Ärryn, and Catelyn now also suspects the Lannisters behind Brandon's 'accident'. That is why she decides to follow her husband to the capital, to warn him (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones “Catelyn 3”). On her way back north, she captures the queen's youngest brother Tyrion in order to bring him to justice (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones “Catelyn 5”). This causes the hostility between the two houses to rise even more. In the capital, Eddard uncovers that Joffrey, the royal prince, might not be the son of King Robert after all, but that he is the son of the queen's twin brother instead. He confronts Cersei Lannister with his findings and recommends her to flee from the capital to escape King Robert's wrath (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones “Eddard 12”).

This forces Cersei to react in turn: as Robert takes a deadly wound on a hunting accident, Eddard tries to discredit the claim of the prince on the throne - but he fails, is branded a traitor and ultimately executed (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones “Eddard 14”, “Ärya 5”). Eddard's eldest son Robert rallies an army and declares war on the Lannisters, at first to win the freedom of his father, later to re-establish an independent kingdom in the north of the realm. As both brothers of the late Robert Baratheon also have ambitions for the throne, the realm slowly descends into war and chaos at the end of the first novel (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones “Brandon 6”, “Catelyn 10”).

Parallel to these events, but in another part of the world, across the “Narrow Sea”, Daenerys Targaryen is wed by her brother (and against her will) to a barbarian “horselord”, Khal Drogo. Her brother Viserys hopes to purchase an army and win back the throne of his ancestors that way (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones “Daenerys 1”). One of her wedding gifts is a box with three lifeless dragon eggs (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones “Daenerys 2”).

After long hardships, Daenerys eventually grows accustomed to the rough ways of the Dothraki, the tribe of her husband, and falls in love with him (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones “Daenerys 3”). She is freed from the tyranny of her brother and becomes pregnant (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones “Daenerys 5”, “Daenerys 3”).

Her luck does not last for long, as her love Drogo is at the brink of death due to an infection. The black magic she employs to save his life ultimately costs her the life of her unborn child (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones “Daenerys 9”). Daenerys then steps onto the burning funeral pyre of the mindless Drogo, carrying her three dragon eggs. She is unharmed by the fire, and dragons are reborn to the world (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones “Daenerys 10”).

2.3 The Structure

In this chapter, I give a brief analysis of the structure of the novel, then I take a much closer look at the features of the TV series. In that part, I compare the features of the series to the novel and take a closer look at different aspects of the adaptation process.

2.3.1 Structure of the Novel

The novel A Game of Thrones, and the subsequent novels, utilize figural narration. They strictly follow certain “viewpoint characters”, as Martin calls them (G. R. R. Martin, “Conversation”), they tell the story in the third person (invisible narrator). The reader is only aware of what the character in focus sees, hears, and most importantly, thinks. There never is another instance relaying information to us (and thus, all information the reader receives is shaped by “the knowledge, physical disposition and the values of that character” (V. Nünning and A. Nünning 107). So it is the task of the reader to infer events from the context that no viewpoint character was aware of.

One chapter keeps the focus on one viewpoint character, with the chapters also being named after the person they are following, i.e. Bran, Arya, and so forth. The chapters and the events in them are generally arranged in chronological order. However, in order to relay information to the reader, the character in focus occasionally remembers events of the past; sometimes about events that happened since the last time a chapter was dedicated to them, but also memories that shed light on the lore of the “Seven Kingdoms” and tell us how they view their world. One example for this would be when Daenerys remembers how she grew accustomed to the hard ways of living among the Dothraki (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones 227-230).

So we follow multiple plots that intertwine as one character's actions affect another character. Rarely, the same event is presented from the point of view of two different characters. One example for this overlap is the capture of Tyrion bannister from the point of view of Catelyn (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones 291 f.) and later Tyrion in retrospect (G. R. R. Martin, A Game ofThrones 326), when he analyzes how Catelyn captured him.

2.3.2 Structure of the TV Series

In the series, one season consists of10 episodes with 1 hour each, covering the events of one novel. As is evident from my analysis in Appendix B, almost all chapters from the novel find their equivalent in the series. If one were to attach a narrative function to a whole chapter of the novel, this function would consist of two aspects: development for the overall plot, but also how this development is achieved. With this approach, there is almost always a direct representation of this function in the series. In other words: core plot elements from the novel have been translated quite directly, there are only two chapters that have no direct equivalent.

In a fist step, I will take a closer look at how the series utilizes the abilities of the new “multi-track medium” (Stam 54). After that, I investigate how the plot structure was altered to reflect the change of medium, and how the series realizes the inner thoughts of our focal characters. Then, I will take a closer look at the dialogues and how they have been altered from the novel, and if these changes make the series more demanding. Last but not least, I consider what content has been added to or cut from the series.

Utilizing the Possibilities of a Multi-track Medium Scenes in the series often begin with a wider shot to display the landscape or scenery where the events are taking place, especially when we see this character for the first time in this episode. In the dialogues that are very common in the series, it seems like medium shots were utilized more often than other camera distances. The camera movement is fairly slow for the most part, with frequent cuts to the person talking at that moment; the series does not strive for a fast-paced or flashy camera style. Sometimes, different scenes are bridged thematically. The following scene from the ninth episode is a good example: Tyrion fears that he will die in battle the next day and decides to spend this night as if it was “the last night in this world”; in the next scene, at the other end of the world, we visit the deathbed of Khal Drogo, who is actually experiencing his last night in this world (Taylor). Artistic shifts of scenery are used from time to time: “New Scene 18” ends with a fade into the fire, while the next scene, “Tyrion 2”, begins with a close-up on a different fire.

The series also uses colors to enhance the mood and setting: in the northern lands, especially on the wall, the shots appear blue and cold, devoid of color; the scenes from the capital, in a strong contrast to that, are rich and warm (Kirk; Appendix В “Jon 3 Pt. 1”, “Eddard 4 Pt. 2”). Generally, the settings (and costumes) were created with lots of work and attention to detail. For example, the wall and the left Jon is using in “Jon 3 Pt. 2” to get on top of it do really exist (Kirk); the office of Maester Pycelle in King's Landing is filled with accessories: plants, tomes, tinctures and banners on the walls (Kirk, “S1E4”; Appendix В “Eddard 5 Pt. 1”).

Music is also used to enhance the mood of a scene. Most of the time, the music is rather subtle and in the background (Van Patten, “S1E2”; Appendix В “Jon 2 Pt. 2”). However, in the few action scenes, the music is also loud and driving (Kirk, “S1E5”; Appendix В “Eddard 9 Pt. 2”).

The acting is generally done well and comparable to that of other HBO shows. Noteworthy is certainly the outstanding performance of Peter Dinklage, who also won an Emmy for his Tyrion Lannister.

Plot Restructurings from the Novel The structure was subject to certain changes; it seems feasible to categorize them into those for dramaturgical reasons and those made for medium-specific reasons.

One example for a dramaturgical restructuring is found in the first Episode, when Eddard Stark and King Robert retreat to the Crypt (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones “Eddard 1”; Van Patten, “S1E01”). This chapter in the novel includes King Robert visiting the grave of his former love and Eddard's sister Lynna, and then King Robert discussing his political intentions with Eddard, all in one chapter and in this order. In the series, however, the scene is taken apart, the political aspects are discussed soberly first, then there is another scene intersecting these events. When we return to the King and Eddard, the mood is entirely different: we see tears in the eyes of the King, his voice is full of sorrow. The music underscores these emotions of mourning and loss (Van Patten, “S1E01”; Appendix В “Eddard 1 Pt. 2+3”). By separating these events, the series strengthens the emotional aspect; not only would the scene with these two characters be too long if all the events were covered at once, it would have been difficult to transmit this shift in tone convincingly.

Another example for a dramaturgical restructuring is caused by the use of cliffhangers in the series. Each episode, with the exception of the first one, begins with a short recount of previous events and ends with a moment of tension, a cliffhanger. However, the events in the novel are of course not structured in sixty minute serial plots with a cliffhanger at the end. Thus, events from the novel are reordered to achieve this. For example, the first episode ends with Bran falling from the tower in Winterfell (Van Patten, “S1E01”). To utilize this event as a cliffhanger, and to pace the events around Daenerys a bit faster, the chapter “Daenerys 2” is put before Brandon's fall from the tower (Van Patten, “S1E01”; Appendix B “Daenerys 2”; “Bran 2”).

A restructuring for medium-specific reasons would be due to the constraints of showing an inner monologue: the series can not depict memories and flashbacks from the novel directly. Instead, the series shows them as actual events at an earlier point in time. For example, I have mentioned how Daenerys grows accustomed to the ways of the Dothraki before (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones 227-230). In the novel, Daenerys is not in focus for about 100 pages, then tells these events in retrospect. To accommodate for this, the series picks up these memories much sooner and intersects them between other plot events; all scenes with Daenerys in the second episode fall in this category (Van Patten, “S1E2”). Another effect of this is that one of the key characters is re-visited more frequently - viewers who appreciate Daenerys as a character would welcome these changes.

Dialogues in the Series As Game of Thrones is a dramatic series, the plot is mostly driven forward in dialogues between the characters. As I have pointed out in my analysis, the dialogues from the novel are often shortened (Van Patten, “S1E01”; Appendix B “Bran 1 Pt. 2”; “Bran 1 Pt. 3”; “Eddard 1 Pt. 3” etc.). However, “[..] when plots are condensed and concentrated, they can sometimes become more powerful” (Hutcheon 36). This is often true for Game of Thrones, the dialogues are stronger, they are geared to support the mood of the scene, and sometimes they are more pointed to increase the tension between the characters. One example for this would be when Varys and Eddard discuss the death of Jon Arryn and a possible danger to the life of the king (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones 318— 323, “Eddard 7 Pt.2”; Kirk, “S1E5”). The series cuts large parts from the dialogue of the novel, restructures it and uses subtle music to increase the tension when Eddard is made aware of the intrigues that are spun.

Translation of Thoughts to the Series

As the TV series can not translate the thoughts of the characters directly, a different approach is necessary. Linda Hutcheon re-phrases David Lodge's findings:

In the move from telling to showing, a performance adaption must dramatize: description, narration, and represented thoughts must be transcoded into speech, actions, sounds, and visual images. Conflicts and ideological differences between characters must be made visible and audible. (qtd. in Hutcheon 40)

Game of Thrones can not escape these constraints. The novel generally builds up our background knowledge of the world through memories of the characters, at a slow pace. As we learn about the feelings and motivations of the characters, we also gain a deeper insight into the world and their view on it. One way to transport this across the medium change would be to include voice-overs or flashbacks, as Bronwen Thomas points out for the movie The English Patient (qtd. in Hutcheon 55). However, voice-overs are often regarded critically (Hutcheon 53 f.), they are not used in the series. Instead, the series passes this information on in dialogues and through the settings. For example, the reader of the novel is made aware about the two dominating religions of Westeros when Catelyn visits the “godswood” of “The old Gods” (G. R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones 22 f.). We learn how she feels in this strange place of worship, as well as some of the features about the “Faith of the Seven”. The series, in contrast, relates this information differently: in one of the first scenes, Jaime and Cersei Lannister talk in a cathedral of “the Seven” while observing the funeral arrangements for Jon Arryn. They do not say a single word about religion, but through the setting, the viewer can infer some information about “the Faith of the Seven”: the seven pointed star the clerics are carrying, funeral rites with braziers inside a cathedral, and so on (Van Patten, “S1E01”; Appendix B “New Scene 2”). The next scene is corresponding to the chapter mentioned above, Catelyn visits the “godswood” and talks with Eddard about her feelings:

C: “All these years and I still feel like an outsider when I come here.”

E: “You have five northern children. You're not an outsider.”



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Game of Thrones HBO TV series adaption illicit George R. R. Martin Benioff Weiss



Title: A Game of Thrones. From Novel to TV