Editor’s note: I’ve deemed this article as having MINOR SPOILERS. Read at your own risk.
“Game of Thrones” is returning. Winter has come. All, it would seem, is right with the world (with Earth, not Westeros). Except the showrunners have ruined the character of Arya Stark, and I’m salty about it.
I’m an avid admirer of “A Song of Ice and Fire,” George R. R. Martin’s unfinished book series that inspired the show. Do not let what I say here discourage you from leafing through them yourself, because they’re the best example of character-driven storytelling out there.
I recognize being a book-reader can make my criticisms of the show, still one of my all-time favorites, seem extra salty. No — downright briny. Like those new fries at the Pit (which I dig). This holds especially true when those criticisms take the form of “X thing was perfect in the books, why change it?”
Let me tell you something, pal. Those books aren’t perfect any more than they’re getting finished. Those two ideas are connected — Martin has written himself into a narrative corner. How is he going to resolve all those storylines, giving proper resolution to everyone from Daenerys Targaryen to Reznak mo Reznak?
Well, Martin’s spent at least seven years finding out, and the last two novels became a bit of a trudge as he kept adding character threads that weighed down the plot progression. Not to mention how he’ll probably need two books after the next one to reach a conclusion, and he’s not getting any younger or less jolly.
Plus, some show changes are excellent, such as casting the charismatic Peter Dinklage as Tyrion, despite the book character’s description as an unseemly man that resembles a pig. (Do yourself a favor, Google image search “book Tyrion.” Then shut down your computer, cast it into the Genesee, and rinse your eyes in iodine.) Scenes entirely between Varys and Littlefinger, impossible in the books due to their POV perspectives, offer some wicked banter. Relatedly, the events of the jaw-dropping episode “Hardhome” are only mentioned in a letter in the novels.
While the books are grinding to a halt, the show has decided to take all those loose plot threads and rip them out faster than you can print “Valar Morghulis” on a Season Five character poster. Instead of a complex, molasses-like web, the show is now a compact network of characters, including geographically. (Good riddance, Essos. You were only useful for your Zorses.) But slashing some subplots while harshly redirecting others, like any change, can be painful.
Because of this, one intriguing contender for the throne from the books, who I’ll leave unnamed, never appears in the show. Other major characters are killed left-and-right in ways that seem to prioritize shock value or the need to move the plot forward over the series’ original M.O. for deaths — that all actions have consequences.
But the redirected plots are my biggest peeves, because they take carefully constructed arcs and flatten them. Take Jon Snow — something quite significant happened to him, but does it seem to leave a lasting scar? No, because the show doesn’t time have for its signature moral gray areas anymore. The same goes especially for Tyrion. The biggest casualty for me, though, has been Arya Stark.
I actually watched Season One before reading the novels, and I have fond memories of Maisie Williams’ mischievous portrayal of a small girl determined to forge her own path. Like so many others, her book storyline has fallen into a malaise, with much setup but little hope of follow-through. In the show, though, they’ve given her a full progression that we all saw coming — she’s a badass. This should be satisfying. She’s been one of my favorites from the start, and now her enemies are getting theirs.
But it just feels empty instead.
In my opinion, the quality of dialogue in the show has dropped precipitously ever since it passed Martin’s novels and their writing, so maybe that’s part of why I find a lot of her scenes cringey now. She’s just too smug in general for someone who’s seen some shit.
Yet, I think the main problem is that her progression made no sense. It was rushed and required a ton of risqué plot devices to reach its current point. That’s not going to result in the kind of payoff you get from a comprehensive character arc. For me, Arya’s situation is a microcosm of what’s happening with most of the characters and the plot.
But I think the books and the show are suffering from different strains of the same disease. It’s not hard to see why they respectively ended up where they did given their mediums. It was, like “all men,” doomed from the start. This doesn’t invalidate how great the characters and plot were earlier in the series, but it still sucks.
So, the next time you hear someone complain about how subpar the writing has gotten, you can remind them that we all still get to experience realistic-looking dragons, breathtaking cinematography, and Ramin Djawadi’s moving score.
But be sure to offer your support in their time of sorrow, because we’re all sad that it’s ending. Just be glad it happened, and that we’re getting a prequel series afterward that will probably have way more dragons.