…Or, “HBO vs GRRM.”
Obviously, film and print are distinctly different media; what makes for good storytelling in one does not necessarily translate to the other. There were always going to be differences in the narratives between the HBO series “Game of Thrones” and George RR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. What *I* find particularly interesting is how subtle differences change the balance of a character, shifting their personalities and the audience’s reception of that character.
The most prominent example of what I’m talking about, is the Lannister twins; many small differences between the literary and television versions of Jaime and Cersei have dramatically changed both of the characters, and the dynamic between them. In the books, Cersei starts off bad and just gets worse; Jaime starts off as a bad guy, but as we see more and more of his internal monologue, we grow to like him. In A Game of Thrones, we hate both the Lannister twins, but in A Storm of Swords we start to sympathize with Jaime, and in A Feast for Crows we discover that Cersei is actually far eviller than we had previously thought. In the books, the reader grows to empathize and like Jaime, even as our revulsion for Cersei grows. As she becomes more clearly the villain, the rift between the pair grows, and Jaime earns our respect as he cuts off Cersei’s influence on his life. In the show, however, Jaime is more of a villain, Cersei more of a victim; we hate Cersei less, maybe we even like her, while Jaime is a charming monster.
This first occurred to me with the season 5 premiere. The first scene is Cersei’s flashback to her childhood encounter with Maggy the Frog. Where HBO-Cersei goes to a maegi and hears a terrible prophecy for her future, literary Cersei is revealed to be far less a victim of cruel fate. In the book, Cersei’s friend Melara also asks about her own future: will I marry Jaime Lannister? No, Maggy replies– she will die that night. Teenage Cersei is so angered by Melara’s infatuation with her brother, she throws her friend down a well to drown; adult Cersei thinks back on this memory and feels no remorse. In the show, however, Melara does not receive a prophecy of her own, and ostensibly lives through the night. This omission makes the difference between whether or not Cersei is an insanely jealous sociopathic murderer.
The rape scene. We’ve talked to death about how HBO was unfaithful to the source material, turning Jaime into a rapist. In the book, Jaime has just returned to King’s Landing from his long captivity under the northern forces; he goes to Cersei straight away, finding her in the sept with the corpse of their recently deceased son. He initiates sex, and while Cersei protests that this is not the time and not the place, Jaime persists anyway, and Cersei’s protestations give way to moans and cries of “Yes! Jaime! Yes!” In the show, however, Jaime has been back in King’s Landing for some time already; he and his sister have bickered, and the night Cersei stands vigil over Joffrey’s body, Jaime enters the sept and rapes her. We’ve already talked to death about how changing from a scene of ambiguous consent to one of undeniable rape, has turned Jaime into a villain. What we haven’t talked about is how GRRM’s original version, with its manipulative seductress who said no when she clearly meant yes, the telling of the scene through Jaime’s perspective in such a way where it never even occurred to me the first time I read it that this was nonconsensual sex– it all smacks of rape culture, victim blaming, and misogyny. When reading the books, it feels like maybe Cersei deserves it, because she’s such a horrible person. She doesn’t love Jaime; her attraction to him is a result of her own penis envy. She’s controlling and manipulative, she wields sex like a weapon, and she has never cared about anyone but her own children.
The White Book. In the books, Jaime reads through the White Book reverently. He marvels at the deeds of Ser Barristan the Bold; he feels shame at the emptiness of his own page. He resolves to dedicate himself to his position as Lord Commander, to fill his predecessor’s shoes as best he can. Literary Jaime, inspired by his time with Brienne, wants to be an honourable man, and strives for nobility and greatness. His progress becomes apparent in his dealings with the Westerlings. Television Jaime is a different matter; Cersei comes to him in the Red Keep, she initiates sex with him WHILE HE IS READING THE WHITE BOOK, while he is TURNED TO SELMY’S PAGE. HBO Jaime sweeps the book irreverently onto the floor and fucks Cersei right there on the table, in the White Sword Tower. HBO Jaime breaks his vows right in the heart of the Kingsguard, on top of the discarded symbol of his honour. He might as well have wiped himself clean on his white cloak afterwards.
In the books, Jaime becomes disillusioned with Cersei, and the further he distances himself from her, the better a man he becomes.
Diminishing Jaime’s personal growth does that character a disservice, it’s true. But diminishing his growth, while also toning down, possibly even negating, the abhorrence of Cersei’s character, dramatically changes the dynamic between the twins. A sympathetic Cersei who does the best she can to protect her children, rather than a vicious murdering psychopathic Cersei who manipulates the men who love her and uses sex for no other reason than political power. A deeply flawed Jaime who forces himself onto a woman grieving her eldest child, rather than a Jaime who is motivated by the best of intentions. When Cersei ceases to be a vicious manipulative cunt and Jaime becomes a cruel selfish prick, the tone of the TV show feels less slut-shaming, less sex negative. (And that’s saying a lot, considering HBO shows an average of 7.8 titties per episode.) In a way where, until I started thinking about the contrast between these similar-but-different stories in different media, I never realized how deeply and subtly misogynist GRRM’s Westeros really was.