Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Chain of Thoughts: So I've Finally Got into Reading 'A Song of Ice and Fire' and Watching 'Game of Thrones'

I’ve been aware of Game of Thrones – probably the most talked about TV show in the past years – for quite a while now.  However, I kept on putting off getting into it myself.  I admit that I was somewhat intimidated by the sheer scope of the mythology that it has already developed.  I felt that immersing myself into it won’t be easy (it’s the same thing I felt before I got into Doctor Who), and I just felt lazy to try.  Also, ideally, I want to first read all available A Song of Ice and Fire books first before I dive into the show.

Nonetheless, Game of Thrones is such a significant show that it has been constantly referenced everywhere – interviews, blogs, social media, forums, etc.; thus, I had come to become familiar with its key characters, scenes, plot twists, plot points, and fan theories – giving me a general understanding on what’s it about and what’s going on with it.  Still, that doesn’t make me a fan.

But one of the birthday gifts I received last June was A Game of Thrones, Book One of the ASoIaF series.  Hence, obsessive geek that I am, I’m not comfortable with just reading and having that one book.  I was compelled to get all other available ASoIaF books – A Class of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons – for my collection, and so that I can finally read a series that many have considered one of the best works of fantasy of all time (heck, some even dare to sacrilegiously state that it’s better than Lord of the Rings).  And since I had finally begun reading the books, watching the show consequently followed.  After years of putting it off, I finally did it – I finally got into AsOIaF and GoT.

And now, I’ve just recently finished reading A Dance with Dragons and watching season six of Game of Thrones.  Here are some thoughts:
→ I’m now officially a fan.
→ It’s not that hard to get into after all.  Took me about two months of sporadic reading and watching to cover all the books and episodes.
→ I read the books and watched the show side-by-side.  It was fun seeing events I had recently read being played out visually on screen.
→ The show started off basically following the books’ story plot-point-by-plot-point.  However, as it went on, it begin to make more and more deviations from the book, that by the time season 4 rolled in, there were more variations than similarities between the respective storylines of the show and books.  It was like being told two versions of the same story.   It was like having Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.  It had been a fun, unique experience.
→ So if I now rewrite my list for favorite fantasy books, where will ASoIaF stand?  Number five.  I will still put The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (the first two trilogies) above it.
→ Much of the show is actually just people talking and talking and talking.  But the performances of the actors are magnetic and the dialogue riveting that I was never bored.
→ Relative to the bulk of talking scenes, the action is actually minimal.  But the set pieces, especially from the latest season’s, are epic.
→ The thing I dislike most about GoT is the gratuitous sex, nudity, and sexual violence – things that didn’t really add anything of substance to the narrative.  For such an intelligently-written show, this aspect genuinely perplexed me (probably, self-indulgence in the makers’ part).
→ My most favorite thing about ASoIaF/GoT is its handling of the characters.  It has some of the best character arcs and complex characterizations I’ve ever encountered.   The antagonists have facets that make them sympathetic, and even with the straight-up, hateful villains, you would at least have the understanding where they’re coming from.  At the same time, the protagonists have facets you would find despicable.  And it’s not uncommon for characters to walk the thin line separating protagonist and antagonist.  The characters are developed quite well; you might eventually like or appreciate a character that you have hated at first (e.g. Jaime Lannister), and vice versa.
→ However, I think GoT mishandled the character of Ser Loras Tyrell.  In the book, he’s someone that is supposed to be comparable to a young Jaime Lannister, and lies dying after invading Dragonstone.  On the other hand, the TV show literally made the character gay, and he met his demise by being so.  The poor characterization is the reason why I’m not that excited to see actor Finn Jones as Iron Fist.
→ My favorite character arcs are easily those of Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen.
→ “When he opened the door, the light from within threw his shadow clear across the yard, and for just a moment Tyrion Lannister stood tall as a king.”  When I read this passage, I was immediately drawn to the character.  Since then, I enjoyed his point-of-view chapters a lot.  My fondness for the character carried over when I started watching the show, and Peter Dinklage’s terrific portrayal sustained and enhanced it.
→ Dinklage is awesome all throughout the show.  But if I need to pick two scenes where his acting talents really shone, I would choose his bitter rant during his trial, and his facial expression when Daenerys made him her Hand of the Queen.
→ Witnessing Daenerys Targaryen’s rise from a pushover to a badass is immensely gratifying.  I enjoyed the manner she built her army and kingdom.
→ Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister reminded me a lot of the late Christopher Lee.
→ The show is already near its end (two more seasons left), but it’s amazing how it can still introduce a fantastic character late in this game with Lyanna Mormont.
→ Jon Snow is a badass, and has shown sensibility at times.  But, seriously, he didn’t do enough to warrant being King in the North.  Sure, King Robb Stark actually made Jon Snow his successor a few seasons back.  But if the Battle of the Bastards is any indication, he’s very susceptible to making dumb decisions and has no levelheadedness to be an effective tactician.
→ Daenerys is finally heading towards Westeros at the finale of season six.  She will likely gain the Iron Throne next season but I feel she won’t be the final one sitting on it when the series ends.  That would be something predictable, and this show has proven that it’s anything but.
→ So far, I think Game of Thrones is one of those rare instances wherein the screen adaptation is superior to its literary source material.  It’s not completely free of fault.  It did do some “padding up” to stretch the narrative.  But it also often provided non-book scenes for the characters to be fleshed out more (case in point: Robb Stark).  Moreover, the show did a lot of clever changes that were sensible to the context of a TV series narrative – sometimes, the show even executed arcs or plot points in a much better manner than the way the book did them.  And again, the actors of this show consistently deliver terrific performances, making the story more emphatic in live-action than that in a written page.
→ Much of the twists have been spoiled to me already.  Yet, seeing how the narrative built towards them, they still had an impact on me when they unfolded (especially the Red Wedding).  That’s simply a testament of excellent storytelling.

I still have a few more thoughts about Game of Thrones but they will be discussed in posts I plan to write in the future.  For now, these will do.

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