Monday, October 15, 2012

There are Things Even HBO Can't Do

In the spring of 2011, I waited with trepidation for the premiere of Game of Thrones, having signed up for HBO Canada specifically so I could watch the series as it aired. Those who have read the George R.R. Martin books know that Games of Thrones is only the title of the first one, that the series itself is actually called "A Song of Ice and Fire", and that Talisa is a cheap and stupid replacement for Jeyne Westerling who has ruined Robb Stark's character irreparably (whew, sorry, that just needed stating). Semantics (and vitriol aside), the anticipation for the show built steadily from its initial announcement in 2007 to its premiere and the question (among fans, not GRRM) was whether HBO would be up to the task. 

Season One was a solid adaptation of the (very filmable) first novel. Cinemaspy gave me the chance to review the first four episodes and I did so with great relief and appreciation. The arcs were so perfectly spaced in the literature that I was able to call the final shot for every one of the ten episodes. Yes, even episode nine and especially the premiere and the finale. There were a few forgivable (in my mind anyways) changes from the source material in Season One because, as stated in the title today, there are things even HBO can't do. Like mate a thirteen year old to a horse lord. Aging Dany to seventeen made a lot of sense in light of sparing most viewers' sensibilities. Turning Drogo initially into a stereotyped barbarian who drunkenly rapes her, on the other hand, was done for more sensationalist reasons or maybe to reflect Dany's outsider status among the tribe she had been sold to (maybe). Apparently, HBO is also unable to let a girl have a positive first sexual experience. Unless it's with her brother. Season Two (based on the second novel in the series, A Clash of Kings) was a harder narrative to adapt and diverged from the source material more (see above Talisa rant and Dany's storyline is almost unrecognizable) but the show maintains its watchability for lovers of the literature (unlike True Blood). 

Today's shirt was yet another gift from Mitch and J, this time a birthday/engagement prezzie. (They got Jeff a "Winter is Coming" House Stark shirt as balance. :) Chapters bookstore had a nice little display of Game of Thrones merchandising set up - mugs, bookmarks, t-shirts, notebooks - mostly focussed on House Stark and House Targaryen. Understandable as wolves and dragons are just that much sexier than deer or squiddy-looking things. Even lions don't get the same props as having a dragon on your house sigil.

I am consciously trying NOT to spoil anything for my readers who only watch the series (*waves*) and I'll ask commenters today to avoid giving away anything that happens in Storm, Feast, or Dance. What I'd like people who have read and watched the series to think about is the parallelism of Sansa and Dany. 

This only occurred to me this morning as I decided on my shirt. These characters began at the same age in the books - thirteen - and, in the television series, were aged up approximately the same number of years. So far in the television series, they have taken inverse paths. Sansa began with a large loving and supportive family and a pet direwolf and had it all stripped away from her, piece by piece. Dany began with only an abusive and crazy brother to call kin and (to gloss the series of events) gained a husband, had a child, won a tribal family and birthed three dragons. Both young women have become central to the machinations of the politics around them. Furthermore, there is the fact that in both the books and the television series, Sansa is designed to be disliked at the beginning - superficial, privileged, soft, a traitor to her family - while Dany is presented as the heir to the Dragon legacy - powerful, magical, resilient and responsible. Their storylines in the books and the show have never intersected but they are the only two characters of truly comparable age and station.  

At the end of Season 2, Sansa is still a virgin, still a maiden by the standards of Westeros, still living with fear and uncertainty on a daily basis while Dany has been made wife, widow, mother and matriarch and taken control of a city. There is a deep intelligence in painting these two in such contrasting light which makes me wonder at why they are not juxtaposed more obviously. Martin has been a subtle genius at crafting his female characters. In spite of his reputation for killing off his best-loved characters without sentiment (not naming them so I'm not spoiling it), his women survive. So far.

So, again, without giving away plot points beyond the end of Season 2 (and I understand that this hobbles the discussion a bit), can we discuss the women of Westeros, Essos, the Free Cities, etc? Beyond Sansa and Dany, can we compare Catelyn and Cersei as mothers? Brienne versus Yara as warriors? Margaery versus Shae for political savvy? Arya doesn't really have a comparable foil (which I'm starting to think is on purpose) but her subterfuge as a boy echoes Brienne's wish to be a son to her father. HBO has done some wonderful things with the female portrayals of the literary characters but also some great disservices in the name of sensationalism. It is, however, pretty great to see the women getting just as much screen-time as the men. It's pretty doubtful that they'll be wearing a lot more clothing (ie. less nakedness) as the seasons progress, even if Winter IS Coming...