(Warning: I tried to eliminate any direct spoilers but links and comments may tell more then casual fans who are following the show's pace want to know. Fans who want to remain surprised can bookmark this post and come back after they have read the books or finished the show.)
The fourth season of HBO's critically acclaimed fantasy series Game of Thrones returned on Sunday (or Monday for HBO Go users) and with it we are thrust back into the fantastically brutal world of Westeros. The television series has done an amazing job of bringing George RR Martin's world to life, while diehards and even Martin himself may have issues with small things, up to this point it is hard for any fan of the books (or even the author himself) to argue the cable network's telling of the adventure hasn't been a rousing success, to this point.
The show started by faithfully following the series first book A Game of Thrones while the second season stuck primarily to the series second book, A Clash of Kings, expanding the cast and deepening the intrigue. It is during the show's third season where things started to change slightly.
There are countless mysteries, conspiracies, questions and theories surrounding Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, but one thing that is universally agreed upon by fans is that the 3rd book, A Storm of Swords (ASOS) is the series clear high point (so far). Knowing this, the television series is stretching the third book out to include (at least) 2 seasons: the most recently completed 3rd and newly premiered 4th.
Three moments of premium, jaw-hitting-the-floor level, high shock value are left from ASOS that HBO has not addressed yet and with multiple battles, betrayals and lesser surprises to also attend to, this season is shaping up to be the most exciting yet. An issue arises however when the television series looks ahead to books 4 and 5 in the series, A Feast For Crows (AFFC)and A Dance With Dragons (ADWD), respectively.
Both books were written to tell stories happening at the same time in different regions of Westeros by various narrators (some still not yet introduced to the television audience). Notable characters went missing for thousands of pages, an arguable misstep by Martin, but unarguably a storytelling device the cable channel can't afford.
If a few of the show's favorite characters just disappeared for a full year fans would be justifiably angry; I know people who still feel betrayed by the Red Wedding um, removing, characters they loved. Thus the show has to try to weave in various threads. keeping actors on screen and the story moving while balancing a narrative timeline. This was started last season with Theon Greyjoy's, let's say uncomfortable, tale making its way into the proceedings earlier then in the books (his sad existence returns in ADWD).
Already in this seasons first episode we have the time line being altered, as characters arrivals, speeches and adventures are changing up from the books' order (Jamie in King's Landing, Janos Slynt already at Castle Black?!) As a fan of Martin's series I am most excited for this season where HBO can truly make decisions on how and when to move things along in a better fashion, they have earned my trust.
I for one was underwhelmed with AFFC and ADWD, feeling Martin spread things out too much, losing the central thread, especially in comparison to ASOS. Now the show has a chance to tighten the narrative and increase the tension while still remaining true to the overall story. The introduction of Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne was amazingly impressive, introducing/describing/capturing his character perfectly in only a few minutes of screen time. On the flip side, things like a casting change for Daario Naharis, a possible love story for Grey Worm and a shifting of Shae's character give pause but the show has proved it has the books' main themes squarely in its sights.
Certain adjustments are clearly made for TV as the elongated Hound/Arya Stark storyline is craved. Both fantastic actors (Rory McCann and Maisie Williams) work so well with each other more screen time is too tasty a proposition to pass up (like pigs feet or whole chickens).
The television series as a whole has been top class, arguably more direct and clear then the books, certainly bringing fans who would never enter the fantasy section of a library into Martin's universe. While readers know there is a huge sprawling tale out there viewers can be confident they are getting great bang for their buck with first rate actors and expansive sets.
Recently when asked by a colleague which I enjoyed more, I said the HBO series—as a life long reader (and library employee) I surprised myself, but it could simply be the fact that the television tale is still unfolding and on the novel side of things I already know the story (so far). The TV journey is still new and exciting, the best we have until The Winds Of Winter.
How did you like the season 4 premiere? Book to TV Show comparisons? Feel free to post in your thoughts in the comments.