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GAME OF THRONES Comic-Con Panel: You Mad, Book Readers?

Outside of the blooper reel and a few quippy bits that started out the evening, the Game of Thrones panel in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con International this year was largely all business. Mainly the business of defending the TV choices, peppered with levity from the cast. Because, man, fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novel series had heaps of questions about those myriad changes that took place between the books and the television show. Oh yeah, we should also mention that there are going to be some potential spoilers here — more book-related than show related, but still! — so if you’re afraid of that sort of thing, turn away now.

Moderated by Craig Ferguson, the audience’s energy was palpable and very nearly frenetic — even in a space as gargantuan as Hall H. Several members of the series’ seriously large cast were in attendance: John Bradley (Samwell Tarley), Rose Leslie (Ygritte), Kit Harington (that know-nothing Jon Snow), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), Rory McCann (The Hound), Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell), and creators Martin, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. All of whom were more than happy to defend the decisions made in the name of character development and story plotting.

Ferguson eased the group into the discussion — there was a particularly funny bit wherein the show’s oft-controversial subject matter became a problem for filming: “We lost a location this year,” Benioff explained, “because [the location's owner] didn’t want to be associated with, as the owner called it, ‘Porn of Thrones'” — but after that? Despite requests to the contrary from Ferguson and Benioff/Weiss, many fans obsessed over the deviations from the books, the potential liberties yet to come, and the potential that the series may beat out the books.

Benioff, Weiss, and Martin took it all in stride all things considered. They downright refused to answer questions regarding Lady Stoneheart, the fate of Benjen Stark, and the potential that the series will surpass the books. “I just got distracted,” Harington explained, to laughter, when questioned on his lost uncle.

“Do you book fans feel superior?” Ferguson asked at one point, clearly annoyed at the obsession. There were more than a few loudly bellowed “Yes!”es that permeated the crowd. One fan even explained that there is a subsection of book readers that are going to stop watching the show for fear of having their “pure experience ruined” by details that get ahead of ASOIAF.

But for Martin — whom it felt at times the Q&Aers were needling for some sort of dissent — brought up the example of Robb Stark’s wife as a prime example. Is she Talisa or Jeyne Westerling (whom we’re going to hear from in the prologue for The Winds of Winter)? He compared it to the story of Scarlett O’Hara in her book versus movie iterations. “Does she have three children or one? The correct answer is she doesn’t have any, because she’s not a real person.”

It’s not for lack of want to be loyal to the book and its myriad details and fan favorite characters. “We’re amazed to find how much detail we cannot include,” Benioff explained. If they had their way they’d love to do 13 episodes as opposed to 10, but their production from season to season butts up against each other. “As soon as we finish post-production on one, we immediately go into pre-production on the next season,” explained Weiss. To put it simply? There’s just not enough time to have your cake, make sure it’s loyal to every single minute detail, and eat it, too.

And Martin agreed. “I wish we had 3 more episodes a season,” but for what it is, he’s very pleased. “You have to remember we originally were going to make these movies, one for each book,” Benioff said. (Imagine how much detail would’ve been lost then!) As for those scene additions that really grind certain book-readers gears (“why add those scenes when you could do something from the book?!” they oh-so often cry)? Martin gets their necessity as a storyteller. “The things I mourn are what don’t make it. The stuff that gets added, I love,” he stated. Often those scenes are put in “when there is no point of view character,” he added, or in lieu of more efficient character development. “It’s great television.”

Adding a bit of humor, Bradley added, “What the show really excels at is putting the actors in the same conditions as the character. If they’re cold we’re cold.” Ultimately, Martin explained his approval of all the changes thusly. “The common humanity [is what] unites all these characters, and that’s what I try to do.”

“The show is the show and the book is the book,” explained Martin. So there.

What’s your stance on the matter? Does the show have a responsibility to book readers? Or are they merely getting too possessive of a story that has many iterations? Sound off in the comments.

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60 comments

  • Did I blink and miss something? I was in that panel, and while there were some questions about changes between the books and the show, I don’t remember the fans being particularly hostile about it. Fans wanted to talk about the changes, not necessarily condemn them. I feel like this article is exaggerating quite a bit.
    As a book fan, I have no objection to them changing things for the show. They’ve done a remarkable job of staying true to the heart of the books, and I hope they keep doing so. However, I do like to *discuss* what’s changed. I want to speculate about the reasoning behind it and talk about whether it was a good change or a bad one. Most of the changes they’ve made have been great. They’ve given greater depth to the characters or eased us around something that would have been too difficult to include. A few changes have bugged me. The ones that seem counterintuitive, I hope will eventually make more sense in the context of the larger plan. I hope that the creators have something in mind that I’m just not aware of yet.
    I want everyone to have read the books, because I want to be able to have conversations about what’s been changed and what’s coming and how the one may affect the other. It’s frustrating having to clam up constantly so as not to spoil people. I *do* it, I don’t want to be mean, but it’s frustrating!
    TL;DR: Read the books, they’re awesome. Watch the series, it’s awesome. <3

  • I am late to both the books and the show but I decided to read the book and then watch the season it corresponds to and that has worked well so far. I have finished all 4 seasons of the show and have begun A Feast for Crows (book 4). I can understand some frustration but being a Harry Potter fan has taught me to appreciate both iterations of a world that I love. That being said, I would stop watching the show if it got ahead of the books until the book came out and I could read it but that is because I want to read the books first. I don’t care to read books for the first time already knowing what is going to happen.

  • As with any story that crosses media I think it’s important to separate the adaptations or rather iterations from one another. ASoIaF is such a thick and loaded book series that it seems implausible to expect the tv series to follow verbatim. More importantly….I enjoy being surprised while watching the show….it adds more substance to my experiencing the story as a whole. Quit whining and just enjoy that this is even allowed on television! It’s great!

  • I read the books before the show.  I love the books, i love the show, i don’t mind the changes.  But i’d prefer to experience the books before the show, and various changes and omissions are causing me to think “well how important can they be, if the show isn’t using them?” Give me the books first and they could tell me dragons are aliens and jon snow is a time traveler who is his own father on the show and i’d eat it up.

  • I LOVE the books. But I also LOVE the show. They are two separate entities that need to be viewed as such. The show is an adaptation, written and designed to fit the structure of a TV series; and filter through the eyes of the creators who were given permission to make the adaptation. It was never meant to be, and is never going to be, a page by page recreation. And that is perfectly fine. If you can’t accept or deal with that, than you probably should even be watching it. 

  • I have already accepted that the books are the books and the show is the show. I’ve read tall of the books thus far and loved what I read. When it comes to the show, however, I understand that certain points and plot lines are not going to make the cut. Some elements are far better explained in book form than with the tv adaptation. It’s not the end of the world if certain elements from the book are left out of the show or certain things are added to the show justify a means. I’ll watch regardless.

  • For me I look at it as two different tellings of a long ago myth. Both stories stand on their own and draw the audience in to the GoT’s world. Many myths and legends have several versions, all similar, but adjusted by the teller and by their own interpertation. 
    So after my initial irritation at the show veering off course from book, I now just enjoy two different points of view of the same story. There are just to many other things that are messed up in the world to get my panties in a ruffle over.

  • I was at the panel, and omg, the questions were painful and at times downright rude to the panelists. It was a panel about the TV show, it was in hall H because of HBO. Get over it book-only fans, and start to comprehend the meaning of adaptation. When you adapt one thing into another, you have to restructure and refine, because books are not TV, and vice versa.
    I wanted to apologize to Dave, Dan, and George. We really do love their works separate and in collaboration! 
    Also, sorry to Craig Ferguson but he did not know enough to be a moderator. He was a bummer. Chris Hardwick did an amazing job with the previous panel (The Walking Dead!). I laughed so much, and learned more about the show from his super well crafted questions. Chris should do all the great panels!

    • I second this, I was there as well and I wondered why the attendees were asking so many questions relating to the books. I guess they did not know that GRRM had his own panel to talk about his writing. The attendees should have asked all their book related questions there. I felt bad that the cast barely talked at all, while Ferguson tried to steal the show. Christ should have moderated this as well.

  • As a book reader and a watcher of the show I think Martin is right. There are just somethings in the books that can’t translate well on to the screen or clear our understand of the character’s motives etc. And it’s people who post about the show or who are inconsiderate that spoil it. Not the show itself. Though I admit that I will be upset if Lady Stoneheart doesn’t appear. 

  • I am a book reader, and no, the changes don’t bother me. The show is the show, the books are the books. Each one has different needs and different strengths.
    I’ve also never been one who’s bothered in the least by spoilers, so I’ll keep watching the show even when it gets ahead of the books.

  • I’ve read all of the books but I intentionally do not re-read them before each season begins. I enjoy the show more if the minute book details are a little fuzzy in my memory, that way I don’t get as agitated over the changes.

  • Both are good and both are have their flaws. I think the TV series is very loyal to the books but will make some changes to fit the medium. It is also possible for the book author to make changes that he realized after publication which I appreciate as well.

  • Why are book fans getting so worked up about changes being done between the show and the books? It just means that book fans are part of the “Oh crap, what’s going to happen now” club. Let the books be the books and let the series be the series. And for one, I’m tired of people telling me what’s going to happen just because they read the books. Yeah, I’m reading the books but I just started and am not caught up yet. Plus, shouldn’t book fans be glad now because they can actually enjoy the show instead of sitting there, knowing for sure what’s going to happen?

    • Except we don’t care what happens anymore, because the show is leaving out important characters and details that, ultimately, make a more fulfilling experience. I don’t get why show watchers don’t understand that we’re upset because you also aren’t getting the story you could be getting. There’s a difference between leaving something out because of the medium, and leaving out an extremely important character or scene that is crucial to the development of a main character.

  • It’s constant and there’s a sense of superiority, and you’re not why people watched the show. HBO + fantasy series is why. Martin’s writing and the showrunners’ writing and the performances are why it’s gotten huge. If anything, at this point, people who’ve already read a book series are a reason not to watch it, with your nitpicking and your spoiler conversations. I’m happy when it turns out maybe you don’t know what’s going to happen.

  • What’s with the antagonistic tone of both this article and the comment section here? It’s a testament to how good ASOIAF is that fans are so passionate about it. Regardless, book readers are the ones that have made GOT into what it is today. Who do you think spread the word about the show in the first place? Without those fans none of this would have been possible. Changes like the lack of Tysha (and the where whores go) comment, lack of coldhands, no lady stoneheart reveal, the frankly unnecessary reveal of the night’s king, etc; there are a lot of changes that are certainly questionable and there’s absolutely no reason why a fan should get hate about questioning such decisions.

    • “Regardless, book readers are the ones that have made GOT into what it is today.” Prime example of how some of the book readers do deem themselves “superior”…

      • It’s not superiority, it’s a fact. If the reader’s had not been so passionate and forceful with their love of the books, I don’t see how it would have been made into a show. The readers don’t create the show, film it, act in it or have most any part to do with the actual day to day creation, but I cannot see how this show would have been green lit from the start if there weren’t people who read and LOVED the book and pushed for it to happen. Again, not superiority. We aren’t saying we are better or want thanks or any of that bullshit, but book readers have been fans of this series for almost 20 years. The show has been around for 4. So please, don’t say it’s superiority we feel. We’ve just been passionate for a very long time. (That being said, those that do act superior to non-book readers, should get a reality check).

        • I’m sorry, but this is just… delusional. I’m a fan, but the following of ASOIAF was no bigger than that of Wheel of Time or some other long-running fantasy series. There’s even loads of wildly-successful historical fiction which reached numbers a fantasy book series never would have. The show represents the perfect storm of a good pitch and a gap in the market at the right time. HBO doesn’t have to care about the fans, as their business model leaves zero accountability. They don’t sell ads, they sell subscriptions, so the entire thing is incredibly low-risk for them. Yes, they’re happy to have a success on their hands, but book fans are no more responsible for its success than anything else; calling it a fact when it’s totally unquantifiable is just flawed reasoning.

  • I decided to read the books after liking the first two seasons of the show. After reading the books I’ll have to look at them as two separate things. I found the book a much better story and the show a soap opera version of the books with some odd changes. I can’t think of anything in the show I like better than the books. It will be interesting to see how the show handles the next books since mmm let’s just say books 4 and 5 were slow.

  • These book fans are obviously not walking dead fans as well considering the way the comics and that show has varied. Any GOT book fan that also claims to be a walking dead fan I call hypocrite on.

  • Is the movie ever the same as the book? No!

    Martin is so fracking detailed that it is nearly impossible without Peter Jackson being on crack to replicate. True Blood went off the rails as far as the books are concerned, but you don’t hear people complaining. It leaves some mystery to what is coming. I like that I still have to pay some attention to what is happening.

    • Oh, I beg to differ.  Sookie book fans complained – vociferously – about the liberties True Blood took with the source material.  It should be held up as an example of how not to do an adaptation.

  • I don’t mind the changes at all. Matter of fact, if/when the show overtakes the books, I hope GRRM/D&D COMPLETELY change the storyline. Obviously, they don’t owe anybody anything, but it would be a real dick move to reveal major plot points in the show before the books…

  • The only change that bothered me was leaving out the Tysha thing in the finale.  I’m ok with Jeyne becoming Talisa.  Cuz I find the Talisa thing way more interesting, tbh.  Although with the Jeyne prologue, I might change my mind.  But the Tysha thing, omg when that happened in the book, I was like O M G!  I CANT WAIT TO SEE THIS ON THE FINALE!  (I finished the book like 2 days before the finale lol)  and yeah, I was disappointed.  but everything else I’m cool with, so far.

  • Why can’t the complaining parties simply celebrate the chance to see an “alternate reality” in the show – an alternate universe with slight variations? That makes it so much more fun. Maybe some just enjoy the complaining.

  • As a reader, I think that for the most part the show has stayed pretty loyal to the show.  Yes, there are changes, and with any adaptation from book to screen (TV or movie) there are changes. There are things that can be done in books (a 5 page inner monologue) that would be suicide on the screen, who wants to stare at a character just sitting quietly on the screen thinking and not talking or doing anything for 5 minutes?  And sure, there will be other changes too.  But that is what keeps it interesting.  Seriously, if the show followed the book word for word as it were, how BORING would that be for the readers who know what is coming??? This just keeps us on our toes! 

  • If the storytelling is good, which it is, and the character arcs make sense, which they do, then the choice to alter from the source material is irrelevent. And anyone who says that HBO owes it to the READERS of the books, you are wrong. They only owe loyalty to the characters and to the author. Loyalty to their character traits and to the authors intent, not to the specific content. 

  • I think GOT has done really well at being true to the books. Yeah they change some stuff but that’s fair enough all dhows differ from their source material. The walking dead sometimes hugely differs from the comics but it’s still the walking dead. The same with game of thrones. To be honest I think book readers are just annoyed that in some cases last season they couldnt taunt non book readers, by boasting their supremacy of “well I’ve read the books so I know where this is going”. Just be happy with what they do include which in the case of GOT is ALOT more than they do with many other shows.

  • TV shows and movies can never be word for word the same as the books.  I was reading books 3,4,5 when this last season came out and they were still really true to the books and the things they added I thought were great.  People need to take a chill pill and enjoy what the show does and what the books do, they eventually come to the same conclusion ( I actually like Robb Starks wife better in the show then the books, I am glad she died lol).  It would be totally boring to watch a show that is word for word from the book because you can guess what is happening every second of that episode.  Thats one thing that is great about Game of Thrones/Songs of Ice and Fire is that you can’t always predict what will happen.  As long as the major plot points and characters are there thats all I care about, I am worried they won’t have Arianne Martell in this next season :S  she is a huge part of the Dorne storyline so we will see what happens, maybe they just haven’t cast her yet.

  • Ironically, these high-and-mighty book fans are making a stupendous show of anti-intellectualism when they complain about the show “ruining” the story. The fact is, not respecting the medium and its intent to distill the essences of the characters—not just the mundane details, but who they represent in the spirit of the tale—is just as stupid as the behavior of the people who get mad at TV shows and threaten to stop watching because characters they like get killed (I’m looking at you, Walking Dead).

      • Ha, that’s a laugh! Yeah, of course, if nobody read the book, nobody could adapt it into a show—duh—but 99% of its audience had no idea the books existed and was a series before the show came into existence. No TV show, no widespread mainstream relevance.

        Besides, it’s irrelevant. An ant shouting at an elephant about what he’s “owed” is stupid… and THAT is the true end of the story.

    • “High-and-mighty book fans?” Need I remind you that some of those people got involved in 1996 when “A Game of Thrones” was first released? When it comes to fandom, nothing makes me more irritated than being insulted by idiotic fans of a TV show or movie based on the books I love.

      • Fans of other books would count themselves lucky to be graced with an HBO series. Try not to take things too for granted here, and look down on folks from too high on your pedestal. Shannara fans are getting shafted with a show produced into a teen drama for MTV. Sword of Truth fans got that terrible TV adaptation that fell flat on its face.

      • I’m not saying all book fans are high-and-mighty; I’m saying that people who have an overinflated sense of the importance of the books and buy into the idea that the series is simply there to satisfy their preconceived notions ARE high-and-mighty, self-important, and not a tenth as smart as they fancy themselves to be. You act like anyone is supposed to care that you’re “insulted.” You read some books… big deal. You’ve earned nothing.

  • Yes, there should be some loyalty to the book readers. After all, if people hadn’t read the books, hadn’t become fans, and if the books hadn’t been popular, the show would have never been made in the first place.  Now, with that being said, I also understand what makes good reading doesn’t always translate into great watching. Some deviation and change is necessary for flow and to keep the story fresh, but when it becomes something different, it is a disappointment.  I watch movies / shows based on books because I loved the plot, the characters, the story so much I want to see what I’ve only imagined and become disappointed and frustrated when it’s not the same.  Do I expect it to be exactly the same? No, but still the same story and main characters would be nice.

    • I think the point is, that frustration is a real thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s rational. The intent to lay out what the audience is or is not owed is a massive obstacle in the way of allowing something to become art.

      I say this sincerely, as it’s something I personally realized while watching: Next season, try keeping it in mind when you start to get frustrated: What’s the alternative? Having the writers consistently throw away interesting ideas because they might not line up with my preconceived notions about the series? Do I REALLY want them to avoid surprising me, or isn’t that their job? Do I just want a circle-jerk, or do I want a really good show that stands on its own?

  • I love the books and I love the HBO series. That said, I think some fans need to simmer down just a bit. Actually more than a bit. Can you not separate the two? It’s quite tiresome hearing the same old gripe about scenes or characters being changed. The angry fanboy schtick is annoying. 

  • “Does the show have a responsibility to book readers?”
    In short, no.  To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, “George RR Martin is not your bitch…He doesn’t OWE you anything.” (emphasis mine)  Neither does the show  (and I am an avid reader of the books).

    The only point of contention that I would have brought up was the Jaimie rape.  Not because it was out of character, necessarily, but because it’s a tired trope that doesn’t need to be perpetuated.

    • I would also contend with it since it seems they did it by accident, which makes it an actual mistake rather than a choice I disagree with. Their choices, from moving certain contextual scenes around and paring down the dialogue, to directing it in that specific way, led to a scene that looked like rape.