I mentioned in My Love Affair with The Doctor that I enjoy sharing the things I love with people. I’m a fan of Game of Thrones and we tend to get excited when we spot one of our own. The first question I get is usually, “The books or the show?” My answer is both because I feel that by choosing one or the other you’re cheating yourself.
For those who only watch the show and feel hip for doing so, sorry but you’re a bit tardy to the party. The books have been around since 1996 and are wildly popular among fans of the science fiction/fantasy genre. I get that they’re long and not everyone is comfortable with investing the time to read them, but you might think about it if you want to understand why Cersei Lannister hates the Starks so much and get some idea of just where the hell Bran and Rickon Stark are. Seriously show watchers, you haven’t seen them in an entire season, Gendry has been rowing from Dragonstone since season 2, and where’s Nymeria the direworlf? Aren’t you curious? You may have also heard about the controversy over Lady Stoneheart being omitted from the show and while I get the reasoning behind that decision, it’s still a pretty badass part of the story and well worth the read.
For those who only read the books and think you know what’s going to happen on the show, sorry but nope! During the tail end of Season 2 into Season 3, the show began to take a slightly different path from the books and has reached a point where the show is starting to become its own canon. Though the larger, overarching plot of the series will remain the same per author George RR Martin and his contract with HBO, reading the books is no longer a guarantee that you’re going to know what happens next season, next episode, or even in the next five minutes. That’s Martin’s evil genius at work. The show is definitely worth the watch. It tugs heartstrings and pushes the envelope of television propriety even for HBO. The visuals are outrageously good. SPOILER ALERT: The scene where Drogon made his triumphant return was epic in the books, but seeing it in the show took it to a whole new level. The cast, direction, and the writing staff bring characters from the pages of the series to life in a way that you don’t get to experience if you only read the books.
Reading the books and watching the show will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the wonderful world of Game of Thrones. The World of Ice and Fire is great if you read the books and want to get deeper into the history of Westeros. There are also companion graphic novels and Telltale Games came out with a series of video games featuring voiceovers from the cast of the show and they’re worth the download. However, both the books and the show are an emotional roller coaster and it would be wise to know what you’re getting into. As Cersei Lannister once said to Ned Stark, “If you’re going to play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” There’s your warning label, folks. This is not for the faint of heart.
Have a favorite character at your own risk. The theme of Game of Thrones is summed up in two words: Valar Morghulis, which translated from the High Valyrian means All Men Must Die. Yes, there are entire languages that were created solely for the series just like in Tolkien’s masterpieces. Just like in any medieval fantasy universe there are the highborn rich and the lowborn poor. Regardless of your surname, the amount of gold in your pockets, the number of dragons and/or direwolves you may have, and the size and location of your castle only one thing is certain: death. No one is safe.
You will care way more about these fictional characters than can be considered reasonable or psychologically healthy. Both the books and the show present the characters in a way that draws you in and causes you to make an emotional investment. You have the heroes that you cheer with in victory and cry with in defeat and then you have villains that you love to hate so much that you laugh heartily upon reading or watching their death scenes. SPOILER ALERT: I laughed to the point of tears when I read the final phrase of Tywin Lannister’s death scene: “In the end Tywin Lannister did not shit gold.” George RR Martin is delightfully cheeky. SPOILER ALERT: When I watched the show I rewound and watched Viserys and Joffrey’s death scenes three or four times and had a minor moral crisis over how much I enjoyed watching those two asshats die.
The way Martin writes his death scenes will make you nuts. There are several scenes in the books that read as if a character has died, but then you find them still alive a couple chapters later. Finding out if a character is actually dead can be a 100-page or more endeavor and it’s absolutely maddening; maddening but brilliant. What better way to make sure people read the whole book and stay engaged while doing so than to write all death scenes or near-death scenes as cliffhangers?
Fully immersing yourself in Martin’s world is well worth the price of tissues and wine. You could argue that by guaranteeing that no one is safe and writing in a way that elicits an emotional investment the author is playing a sick game with us. (insert picture of George RR Martin. Caption: Sick, brilliant man.) Despite being a sick man, Martin is brilliant. He’s also from New Jersey which means there may be hope for me yet. Well played, George. Well played indeed.