After a few weeks of busy busy business, I’m…still busy, but most of my regular shows are now in hiatus until the summer, which means I finally caught up on the last three episodes of Game of Thrones (AND caught episode seven a little early, but I won’t talk about that one yet).
I have some issues with the storytelling choices the writers are making in adapting the book to screen. I’m not a book purist by any stretch of the imagination. I not only expect, but want, some changes in the screen adaptation of a book because they are two different media with two different requirements and strengths. Unfortunately, I feel like the show is spending way too much time on providing exposition about past events and alluding to the future with heavy-handed foreshadowing, and not spending nearly enough time in the moment.
There are deft ways to weave in exposition to the story without making it the center of the scene. Maester Luwin’s conversation with Bran in the fifth episode was a nice example of this; it appeared to be a drill session as he quizzed Bran about the different houses of the realm, but the meat of the scene was Bran’s resentment towards his mother for leaving him, and the ray of hope in his eyes when he learns he might be able to shoot an arrow after all. But too many of the scenes seem to be of the, “Hi, [Character Name], I’m going to tell you all about yourself now so the audience can know who you are!” variety. Just once, I would like a character to say, “You’re Theon Greyjoy, the son of Balon and the Starks’ ward,” and for Theon to reply, “Yeah? No shit.” (Seriously, I think at least three characters at this point have told Theon who he is.)
Anyway, I was thinking about two characters in particular who seem very different from their book incarnations: Cersei Lannister and Sansa Stark. The writers are making some odd storytelling choices that don’t quite make sense to me. In short, one is becoming more sympathetic, and the other far less so. In the book, Cersei Lannister never loved Robert Baratheon. In fact, we learn in A Feast for Crows that Cersei had wanted to marry Rhaegar Targaryen once her father put the idea into her head, and Cersei never quite forgave him for it. She was angry and resentful towards Robert for always being hung up on Lyanna Stark. The idea of being a good and dutiful wife never occurred to her because she despised him that much from the very beginning.
On the show, we’re getting a very different version of Cersei. This Cersei is sad and wistful over her lack of connection with Robert. This Cersei did feel somewhat of a connection to him that was lost when their child died. This Cersei comforts Catelyn after Bran’s fall and relates to her through her story of losing one of Robert’s children.
Cersei is a difficult character to like, to say the least. Fortunately, I’ve never felt the need to like her. I don’t have to find a character sympathetic in order to find her interesting. After I finished the first book, I thought, “Cersei is awful but I hope she doesn’t die until the end of the series because she’s too entertaining to read about!”
Still, I understand why the writers feel the need to soften her up a little. I know some readers think that George R.R. Martin made her too villainous at one point. On a show, where we won’t see all of Cersei’s innermost thoughts, her awfulness can easily overshadow the fact that she does, sometimes, have a point.
And that’s exactly why I’m scratching my head, wondering what the hell the writers are trying to do with Sansa.
Sansa Stark is one of my favorite characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, but she wasn’t when I first read the book. In A Game of Thrones, she’s easily the least likable of the eight POV characters. She’s not honorable and virtuous like Ned, devoted to her family and children like Catelyn, caught in an impossible situation like Daenerys, fierce and rebellious like Arya, adventurous and damaged like Bran, shunned and searching like Jon Snow, or sarcastic and funny like Tyrion. She’s the vapid rich girl who does everything a good little highborn lady should do, has very little imagination, and takes Joffrey’s side over Arya’s. In some ways, she’s much more frustrating than even Cersei. Cersei gets Villain License; she’s supposed to be awful. But Sansa is one of the good guys, yet she still kind of sucks.
I grow to like and even love Sansa, a lot, over the three subsequent books, but she doesn’t have much going for her in book one. There are two things, though, that make me care for her anyway:
1) She watches the Hand’s Tourney with interest and a level of detachment fitting for a highborn lady. She was established as being a bit of a whiner before this scene and I expected her to be calling for the vapors and smelling salts, but she stayed calm through scenes of brutality that would’ve made me vomit. I thought, “Hmm, maybe there’s more to this girl than meets the eye.”
2) The Hound scares the everloving crap out of her by showing her his scarred face and tells her the horrific story of how his older brother held his face to the coals and burned his flesh. When Sansa hears this story, she’s scared out of her wits, trembling in fear, petrified of this beast of a man…and yet, even though she’s never been more terrified in her life, she gently touches him and says, “[Your brother] was no true knight.” Despite her terror, her kindness and compassion wins out in the end.
The relationship between Sansa and the Hound is one of the most intriguing relationships in the book.
So, naturally, the show decided to depict Sansa cling to her daddy because she was ascared during the tourney. And apparently, they thought that Littlefinger dumping all of the Hound’s backstory in an exposition bomb was more dramatically interesting than the Hound telling Sansa himself.
Not only that, but in episode six, we have Sansa act like an insufferable little brat to Septa Mordane for no good reason. “Where are you from? Oh, wait, I don’t care.” Um, what? Am I watching Game of Thrones or Gossip Girl?
Sure, I can easily buy that teenage girls in the medieval era could be as bitchy as modern girls, but come on, writers. Sansa’s difficult enough to like as it is. Please don’t make the viewers completely write her off before the end of the season. She really should not be less sympathetic than Cersei.