Over the last couple of days Sean Bean has come out saying he would be glad to reprise his role as Ned Stark in Game of Thrones citing the unfinished business surrounding Jon Snow’s parents as a perfect reason for a return. A few weeks before this, book readers were dismayed to learn of the removal of Lady Stoneheart (or, as most knew her, the newly living Catelyn Stark minus a few vocal chords) from the TV show. These artistic choices and opinions are completely understandable in a show that has to juggle a huge variety of characters and plots whilst maintaining a sense of narrative intrigue, but this leads to far more unsettling conclusions for those who are following the Song of Ice and Fire series.
After watching the first couple of seasons of the show, I myself read all six books in a blaze of literary fanaticism, as countless others did when the show dragged itself into the cult, global phenomenon that it is today. The experience of reading the books was perhaps even enhanced by the show – adding extra nuances to scenes on the screen, solving certain questions left hanging after the second season whilst creating new and exciting events to look forwards to (no matter what shade of wedding). The visual and textual experiences worked hand in hand to provide bold and alternative interpretations of an expansive world. As I closed A Dance with Dragons and eagerly began the long, cold wait for The Winds of Winter, a myriad of questions floated around my mind, ones I did not expect to be solved until the release of the new book, whenever that occurs.
However, the TV series had other ideas, and of late there is the increased concern that many of the artistic choices made for Game of Thrones are ruining the experience for readers. Take the removal of Lady Stoneheart as an example. If she has really been cut from the show, does that mean her role in the books is therefore irrelevant (beyond what we have already seen)? If Benioff and Weiss felt comfortable enough to axe her from the show, it may well mean Martin simply does not feel the need to have the character around anymore.
The same can be said for Jojen Reed. True, the character was, when we last saw him in the books, on his last legs, but to have him murdered by the skeletons and then incinerated by a Child of the Forest implies that even within the books his character may have less time remaining – something that quickly removes any semblance of suspense.
Returning back to the questions over Jon Snow and his dubious heritage, I have to admit I was one of the R + L = J sceptics. I just hoped it was all some red herring that Martin had conjured up to antagonise his readers; something he is not unaccustomed to. To suggest your bastard child was actually the son of a Targaryen prince born through forbidden love just seemed too romanticised to fit within Martin’s brutal world. But Sean Bean’s statements appear to be a huge spoiler for readers, many of whom have been following this series far longer than myself and may well react to the news with a certain amount of disdain. It seems that Martin’s grand reveal has slipped out through an offhand remark.
So where does that leave the relationship between books and the show? The tone of this article may well have been negative, but what needs to be remembered is that, at the end of the day, a degree of autonomy has to be respected. There is no way the show can ever please everyone and, there is perhaps a compromise amidst potential disappointment. If certain characters, like Lady Stoneheart, are cut, what does that mean for the characters that are directly affected by these figures? Where, for example, will it leave Podrick and Brienne? Questions like this are why, come next spring, I’ll still be ready to watch Game of Thrones, though perhaps for different reasons than I anticipated.