The Return to Ice and Fire

It’s another glorious day at MWB, and ya girl Nikkie is here to bring you that sweet, sweet bookish babble.

If you couldn’t surmise from the title of this post, I am going to be talking about George R.R. Martin’s acclaimed fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a. the book series that Game of Thrones is based on). In the wake of season six, I decided to reread the series, and since I didn’t really blog about it the first time I read it, I figured I’d talk about it now.

Did you really think there would ever come a time when we were done with Thrones talk? You sweet summer child. That time will never come.

Now, this post is mostly just going to be some observations I made—no hard theorizing or anything. I tend not to theorize on my own about the series because there’s just too much going on; I can’t even begin to fathom what is going on in that fantastic head of GRRM’s. (I enjoy other people’s theorizing a great deal, though.) So all my ramblings here will mainly consist of questions that occurred to me while reading, comparisons to the show (of course), and some of my more random thoughts.

Ready? Then, follow me to Westeros! (Where you’ll find dwarves, magic, and SPOILERS!!!)

First off, let’s talk character appearances.

I watched the first three seasons of the show before reading the book series—I know; shame on me—so I have always had the relevant actors in mind when reading (and then just vaguely featured color blobs for all the people who aren’t in the show). As such, it is hard to reconcile their faces with how wildly different they are in-book.

The biggest example, of course, being Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister vs. Book Tyrion. BT is not an attractive man by any stretch of the imagination. He’s got a bulgy forehead, a bit of a hump, and his eyes are mismatched—one is a startling black. His legs are much more bent, producing a waddle that can’t be ignored, and his hair is a whiteish blonde as opposed to the golden tresses that top the heads of his siblings (bait for all those Targaryen-truthers). Peter Dinklage has none of these qualities. His Tyrion has even kept most of his nose post-Battle of the Blackwater whereas a horrific stump was left behind for BT. So I always stumble when coming across descriptions of how people balk at the sight of him or refer to him as a “little monkey” and all that; I can’t stop myself from thinking “But Peter Dinklage is a good-looking guy!”It can get distracting.

Were you aware that Tormund Giantsbane is supposed to be fat and bald?! Nothing like the kissed-by-fire gentleman we’ve come to know and love (and hope will hook up with Brienne). Tywin Lannister was also supposed to be bald. Why did D&D give everyone hair? Though it’s not a big deal, I will acknowledge the obvious complaint: Targaryens have purple eyes… What? They couldn’t afford colored contact lenses? I’m almost positive Emilia Clarke wears contacts in real life anyway. So what’s the deal?

Beyond that, there’s the fact that everyone has been aged up for the show. By the end of A Dance with Dragons, the most recent book in the series, Sansa Stark/Lannister is not even 14 yet! Daenerys was 13 when she married Khal Drogo and about 16(?) when she is whisked away from Meereen on Drogon’s back. Of course, did you really want to watch some barely teenagers do and have done to them the things that happen in the show? I didn’t think so, and neither did HBO.

The adults’ ages are never really stated in the books (unless they’re over 40 because then they’ve “seen half-a-hundred name days” and, I guess, a medical miracle?), but they are likely at least 5-10 years younger than portrayed in the show. So that’s weird to see. Also, people are a lot hotter in the books. Not everyone obviously (see above with Tyrion), but for the most part, everyone is keeping it tight and looking sexy and all that. As such, it’s hard to imagine Lena Headey when reading descriptions of how Cersei is the “most beautiful woman in all of Westeros” (which she is often thinking to herself). That’s not to say Lena isn’t attractive or that she isn’t doing an amazing job playing Cersei—because she is in both instances. But she is not the stone-cold fox I envisioned; nor did they let her get all wine-chubby the way she does in the book after Joffrey’s death/poisoning, which was very disappointing!
In fact, not enough people are as fat as they are in the books! I already brought up Tormund. Illyrio is supposed to be practically unable to walk on his own because he’s so fat! I don’t think Varys is supposed to be just as fat as that, but I feel like Conleth Hill isn’t big enough! Bring on the chubs!
Ultimately, I get that very few real people look the way GRRM describes his characters, but it can be quite off-putting to consolidate the book counterparts with their actors (those who have them).

Should we just go ahead and get all the book-show comparisons out of the way?

I’m just going to say it: THE BOOKS ARE SO MUCH BETTER! My God! It’s madness. I love Game of Thrones; you know this about me. But, WOW. The books are just so much better. It’s almost something that can’t be quantified… Here’s a detailed list!

  • The way Tyrion runs things in King’s Landing while he’s interim Hand of the King. He gets stuff done, but no one gives him any credit for it, and a lot of people actually blame him for things he has no control over. He puts people in high positions, and while it is often to stick it to his sister and tear power out of her hands, his picks are often well suited. He makes a lot of hard decisions, but there are moments when he is truly enjoying what he does. The whole thing is just so watered down in the show.
  • The ways Cersei totally fucks up King’s Landing after Tywin’s death. This woman is insane. She has SO MANY HORRIBLE IDEAS that it’s just a mess. She is a drunken disaster fueled by revenge, and if anything ever works out for her, it’s a complete accident. She is hellbent on the destruction of Margaery and all Tyrells, which becomes her own undoing because she thinks promising sex to some Kingsguard knights is enough to keep them lying once the torture starts. It is laughable how she is so intent on bringing down her enemies—and at some point, everyone she talks to is her enemy—that she begins believing the things she’s made up about them. By the time she is jailed for her crimes, there is barely a golden hair on that head that is existing in actual reality. And it is DELICIOUS. How dare D&D take that away from us!!
  • Wyman Manderly. Come on, guys. In-show, he’s not nearly fat enough, and he never does any cool revenge-style stuff against the Boltons and Freys. Weak sauce. Sure, we get the Frey pie alluded to in the books, but with Rickon’s death, we missed out on a cool speech about loyalty and whatnot.
  • I know it would’ve been impossible to put in the show, but the way the War of Five Kings is shown to affect the smallfolk in the series is such a treat. As various POV characters traipse up and down the kingsroad, readers get to stop in at a couple key locations (like a tavern) and see just how increasingly bad it gets out there for the common folk. Getting this perspective makes the reader (or at least me) remember that the machinations of all the players who seek the throne affect more than just their opponents. Innocent(ish) people are getting caught in the cross hairs, and it just feels like that is going to be immensely important to the conclusion of the series.
  • I miss the insight that is provided by being entrenched in each POV’s private ruminations. Thoughts don’t always translate into speech or actions; how often do you say exactly what you’re thinking? As such, this means that watchers of GoT have to infer from facial cues and context what a character might’ve been thinking before they say or do what they say and do. It’s not always enough to go on, and knowing what’s happening in a certain golden head might make me feel better about the fact that he was STILL all about Cersei for so long . . .
  • I sort of said this in my post about Yara/Asha Greyjoy’s sexuality, but I shall make more of a statement here: ASHA GREYJOY IS FLIPPIN AMAZING. Since the last time I read the books was before season four (or five…), my brain deposits on Asha had largely been replaced by the lackluster image of Yara. Asha is SO MUCH BETTER. Good lord. Even though things don’t go her way at the end there, if I had to choose to be anyone of prominence from the series, I would absolutely choose Asha. She is equal parts no nonsense and fun, she takes what she wants, and she is smart/strategic without giving up on hope. She may not have had the chance she thought she did during the kings/queens-moot, but she didn’t let that stop her from giving it her all. I respect her so much for that, and I couldn’t help but be offended as I reread the series and realized how much Yara is a disappointment.

Beyond that, I also noticed that the show tends to have a more positive feel than the books. Are you shocked?! Well, think about it. The show is rapidly headed for the end, and it’s clear that it’s trying to set up some wins for some of our favorite characters. But it’s more than that.
Ramsay Bolton in the show is a monster. In the books, he is a horrible demon that I shudder to think back on. He does things you can’t even imagine (if you haven’t read the books), and he is not at all as pleasant to look at as some people might find Iwan Rheon. He is skin-crawlingly terrible as opposed to just a disgusting creep.
In the show, characters are often set up to succeed on their own when, in the books, they had a lot of help. The biggest example? Theon deciding to shed the Reek persona. Show Theon is drawn by his need for redemption to stop being Reek and resume being Theon. He saves Sansa of his own volition, and even though he doesn’t stick around, he is Theon Greyjoy once again. Book Theon, on the other hand, is strong-armed by a disguised Mance Rayder and some spear wives into saving Jeyne Bolton neé Poole; he abandons Reek because he is sufficiently threatened. Not exactly heroic, is it?
Other examples: Book Sansa does not get Littlefinger out of hot water with the Lords (and Lady) of the Vale in the book; while she does begin to learn to play the game, her lessons all come at the explicit instruction of LF. Book Dany has to whip Drogon into submission when he comes into the Meereen fighting pit; he isn’t swooping in to save her, and she doesn’t just hop on with no problems. (He also burns all her hair off again, so back to square one on that.) Jon isn’t selected as Lord Commander of the Wall because of a short little speech delivered by Sam; it actually requires some mind-gaming on Sam’s part.
So basically, everything in the book is just a little bit harder.

This leads me to my last show vs. book thought: Is the show going to deliver us the bittersweet finale that GRRM has promised? Based on its overall trajectory toward a happy ending, I have to think no, right? How often is the ending of a show or movie not completely happy or completely sad? So it seems that the show’s ending will either completely steamroll us emotionally or it’ll give us the sweet breath of life. I know that D&D have been told by GRRM the general conclusion of this epic tale, but that doesn’t mean they have to take the same route to get there. It’s possible they’ll take the higher, shinier road to the end while GRRM does his thang, which usually takes place down in the dirt. And as much as I’m a sucker for a straight-up happy ending, I really want to know what ol’ George is gonna do; I’m too curious.

So those were my comparison thoughts.
Moving right along to my book-only thoughts/reactions, which I’m just going to rattle off based on the order in which I wrote them down lol

Wow, is Dany paranoid or what? I completely forgot about that. Her misinterpretation of Quaithe’s warnings (which are partially Quaithe’s fault because why all the riddles?) causes her to question almost everyone she comes into contact with. Considering the fact that the series is always turning prophecy on its head and teaching lessons to those who put too much stock in them, I can’t imagine that her continued belief is going to turn out well for her. She never feels 100 percent certain in her decision making, so this often makes a mess of her efforts to learn how to rule. She is a lot more insecure in the books, which is understandable because she’s like 16, and it makes for some interesting material. Some people aren’t into the slow-paced political minefield that is Meereen and the war in Slavers’ Bay, but I’m a fan of it.

In A Dance with Dragons, when Drogon descends upon the fighting pits, drawn by the smell of blood and fear, he begins gorging on a dead woman’s body. People are horrified and disgusted . . . despite the fact that the wild boar that killed that woman was already eating her body. Why was no one disturbed until Drogon showed up? Racism! Dragon racism!

I could not bring myself to reread the Red Wedding scene (I’ve actually never watched the scene in GoT either). Every Catelyn chapter just broke my heart; it was hard to watch Robb trying so hard when I knew that it wasn’t going to end well for him. Ugh! Would the world of Westeros be any better if he hadn’t been betrayed and murdered? I doubt it. Things would probably be even more complicated than it currently is because GRRM is not really one to reward us with super positive turns of event. But it still sucks! He was doing surprisingly well for himself, and I think he really had potential that would’ve taken him much further had other people not been working for their own interests (frickin Freys…). Will I ever reread that scene? Maybe! Will I ever watch it? Probably not! My little heart can’t take it.

How hungry was GRRM as he was writing these books? Because the descriptions of feasts throughout the series are INSANE. I was mostly intrigued by Dornish cuisine; spicy food for days, you guys! It all just sounds too amazing. Needless to say, I want to buy that cookbook associated with the show and throw a super amazing feast. Also, am I the only one who thinks that a capon should be a fish instead of a bird?

Cersei is so lady-racist (which is how I like to say sexist because it adds some levity to a situation that doesn’t really require the full weight of sexism). She is constantly railing against the gods for making her a woman in a world where women are inferior . . . instead of realizing that maybe she is just terrible. She curses life for her womanhood because that meant she couldn’t learn to wield a sword . . . but tell that to Arya. Tell that to Asha Greyjoy. Tell that to wildling spear wives. Tell that to the freakin’ Sand Snakes (the real ones)! During her imprisonment, Cersei refers to women as feeble-bodied. Again: tell that to the spear wives and Sand Snakes! Tell it to the female fighters across the Narrow Seas!
She just loooves to blame her circumstances on everything but herself. She complains about the position she’s been put in, the society she lives in, yet does nothing to fix it. And if she IS trying to fix it, she’s literally only doing it for herself. She doesn’t care about other little girls growing up who want to learn to fight or rule; she just wants to make the world perfect for Cersei Baratheon neé Lannister. She is a joke, and I honestly question anyone who considers her a role model! God. She is the worst! She is the Britta of this series without even having the decency to pretend to care about important social issues.

The fighting pits of Meereen are such a hard thing for me to read about. Super Hubs and I have had a very long argument about the best way Dany could have handled it, and we did not come to a consensus (it turned into at least three different arguments, as our lit-led discussions tend to). I think my problem is that I CAN see both sides to it, but I can’t get beyond my “That sounds HORRIBLE” mindset. Yes, the fighting pits are part of Meereenese culture. Its people are not disturbed by it (in fact, they might be a little TOO into it), and it is a source of great respect among pit fighters. But it’s also the worst! Why do they have to fight to the death? You wanna fight? Sure. Go ahead. Have at. But is it really, absolutely, 100 percent necessary to do so unto the death? I’m aware of the whole shaming stereotype of living past a lost fight; I remember that episode of Firefly. But maybe everyone could just stop being a dick about it? The world is what we make it; the Meereenese could just decide that it’s cool to stay alive after you lose a fight, and winners could just toss out a “Good game” post-battle. It would be a win-win situation for them and Dany. Perhaps I’m just too entrenched in today’s world, where it’s very much NOT COOL to just up and kill someone (no political agenda here), so I just can’t conceptualize any time in which that’s cool. But I also have to imagine I wouldn’t like it if I lived in Westeros/Essos.

When Stannis lets the wildlings beyond the Wall, they have to turn over any riches they have to help him pay for his war (and also give some much-needed duckets to the Night’s Watch). One of the treasures turned over? An ivory dildo. Thank you, thank you, GRRM. You know how to make a girl giggle.

Finally, some closing questions I have as I await The Winds of Winter.

  1. Where is the Harry the Heir plot going? I am so intrigued by that. For anyone who isn’t aware, in the books, Littlefinger has created a marriage pact between Sansa and the dude who will inherit the Vale when/if Sweetrobin kicks the bucket. In one of the released chapters, we see the two meet. Not exactly fireworks, but it gets better. I want to know where it leads. Will they actually get married? Is this a set up instead of a set up? How is LF going to profit from this? How is it going to be ruined for him since wrenches keep getting thrown into his plans (not that he really cares that much; he’s a creature made for adapting)? IS SANSA GOING TO MAKE IT OUT OF THIS ALIVE?!
  2. Is Stannis going to die? We see him alive in the released chapters, despite the Pink Letter being sent out during the last few chapters of DwD, but that doesn’t mean anything. Brienne isn’t anywhere near Winterfell, so if he dies, it’s just going to be a boring old battle death. So will he even die?
  3. If Jon is not discovered in time and does end up bleeding out, is Melisandre going to burn Shireen to bring him back? There is a lot of speculation that that is the purpose of leaving Melisandre, Lady Selyse, and Shireen back at the Wall. But I can’t imagine that Selyse would willingly give up her only daughter to save someone she dislikes. Sure, she would get behind it if it was going to help Stannis. But if Stannis IS dead, then I can’t see Selyse caring about anything that goes on at the Wall or in Westeros at all. OR, conversely, she will get behind Shireen as rightful heir to the Iron Throne and therefore it would not be prudent to burn her. So what’s going to happen there?
  4. On a related note, will Melisandre have a faith-shaking moment the way she does in the show? Burning Shireen did not have the effect she thought it would, leading to the death of the man she proclaimed Azor Ahai reborn; she obviously goes through some things in the wake of this. But as she’s still on the Wall in the books, she could easily just say “This wouldn’t have happened if I had been with Stannis and his men” and shrug it off. Plus, it’s kinda clear she’s beginning to move on and focusing on Jon and his importance in the grand scheme of things. So wouldn’t that mean her faith-shaking moment would have to be failing to bring Jon back from the dead (either by burning Shireen or Gilly’s baby)? And if so . . . THAT IS NOT THE WORLD I WANT TO LIVE IN! I do think she needs to have that inner debate about the worth of her faith and how it has affected her life choices, but I really don’t want it to be at Jon’s expense.
  5. If Shireen isn’t burned, will her greyscale stir from its dormancy? GRRM is not one to just say something in the story and leave it alone. Everything means something in some way, especially when it comes to characters of prominence or importance. Val (sister to Dalla, who was Mance Rayder’s wife) mentions to Jon that Shireen should’ve been killed once she contracted greyscale because it is a terminal sickness that always takes the life of those infected, even if considered dormant. Why would this come up unless it affected someone? Shireen is the only character we know whose greyscale is, more or less, in remission. Jon Connington (whose infected plot arc is picked up by Jorah in the show) actively has greyscale. He would have to get it cured first and then have it come back for this information to apply to him; that doesn’t seem likely. No one else, as far as I can remember, has the disease. So if greyscale becomes awakened in any character, it has to be Shireen. I don’t think this little girl is going to make it out of the series. Would D&D have killed her off in the show if she were ultimately important in any way to the conclusion of the overall story?

So there you have it! My thoughts as I reread A Song of Ice and Fire. It is a brilliant series, and I can’t wait for it to get finished (seriously; I can’t). Despite its obvious inferiority, I still think the show is great. It’s the best adaptation we could likely hope for, hands down, but God . . . If you haven’t read the books . . . what’s wrong with you?
Disclaimer: I know that fantasies of this dimension (is it high? is it epic? I don’t know) aren’t for everyone. So you don’t have to read the books for me to take you seriously as someone who enjoys the story . . . but it would help.

Regardless! I will see you all next month with lots of fun content, and none of it will relate to Westeros in any way! No promises for October, though. *wink*

May your TBR piles tower but never topple,

3 thoughts on “The Return to Ice and Fire

  1. Wow, you gave us a lot of words on the series.

    I’m going to bookmark this post, and come back for more reading and commenting, but I did read your post and it’s great. I appreciate the observation that the books are darker than the show, because they certainly are.

    I will leave a comment! The showrunners did have Emilia Clarke and Harry Lloyd wear purple contacts to test that out, but it just looked Super Weird. So odd that they were worried that Dany wouldn’t be taken seriously, or the series. So they opted to not go that route.

    You will hear from me again, we have a lot of time between now and the seventh season, and talking about Game of Thrones (show or books) is like therapy.

    If you’re interested, I have something like 130 posts on Game of Thrones (mostly about the show, with some small amounts of book reference.) Like I said, there’s a long time to wait until the new season.

    Best regards!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Patrick! I’m glad you enjoyed my post.
      I didn’t know they tried out purple contacts; I wonder if I could find a pic! Although I bet they went with the same color purple for both, which also would’ve been inaccurate lol
      I’ll definitely check out your GoT posts and share them with the husband as well; he spends a fair amount of his time reading what people are saying in the various subreddits and on other blogs. And please come back with more thoughts! We love to talk about it (obviously).

  2. Pingback: Backlog: What I Didn’t Talk About in 2016 – Married with Bookshelves

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