Given the current situation in the world, there really isn’t a better time in which to fill that Game of Thrones void with the books. For me personally, the choice to switch to the books came after the disappointing conclusion to the hit television series.
The television series took millions on a whirlwind ride that left us breathless and exasperated. It was a cultural phenomenon that will take years to replicate and one in which I am glad that I was present for. Whilst it disappointed in its conclusion, I can still look back and realise that three-quarters of the show was addictive. I have never felt the need to shout at the television as John charged in to save Rickon or whoop for Joy when Joffrey met his well-deserved end. It was a cultural phenomenon that left a void in my life.
The books are not even finished and still, they weigh in at more than 5,000 pages in total, split across seven books. Two of these books are split in two as they are so large and so we all wait for the elusive Winds of Winter that has taken longer than the elusive Green Paper to arrive. It is more sought-after than the one ring and something that we all hope George RR Martin completes whilst he can as he is not the sprightliest of chickens. Isolation potentially proving to be beneficial for him.
I have now finished the first five (seven) and now find myself amongst the thousands across the world ready to kidnap Martin unless he releases the Winds of Winter. The books are gripping and in many cases tell a very different story to the show, with additional characters being seen around every novel. I was slightly trepidatious about picking them up after watching the show but, and this is one of the times when I am very happy to be wrong, they were brilliant.
I always like to where possible read the books first as I find that the relevant television series or film can influence your perceptions of the characters. I have not read Harry Potter since I have seen the films, as all I see in my mind’s eye when I read Hermione’s character is Emma Watson when my original perception was completely different.
I was, therefore, a little nervous when I opened the first page and delved into Game of Thrones and the rich tapestry that it creates around it. What I found was that the main characters, whilst they were as they are positioned in the show, were younger, much younger in many cases. This changed my perception and allowed me to free myself from the constraints of Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage. It was liberating and made me re-asses my rule about not reading the book if I had seen the film or show.
What I had in my head was initially a sense of revulsion, which was especially relevant considering the ages and the sexual practices but I got over it. This is, after all, a fictional world and one that is arguably based on Tudor history. With this in mind, people having their limbs sawn off and daughters used at an age that would be grounds for prison here was not so off the chain. It is deplorable but you get used to the descriptions after a while and they are there purely to evoke emotion and so by that token they are acceptable.
The journey throughout the books is memorable and held within a specially reserved part of my brain. This part is responsible for remembering the absolute best of literally, videogame and television experiences. It is a hall of fame of sorts and even though the books are not complete, I have faith that when they are they will still deserve their place there. It will still be there alongside the first Metal Gear Solid game, the Hunger Games books and Star Trek the Next Generation.
I was a little intimidated by the size of each novel, like a mini mountain to climb but I soon found that this was one climb that I would enjoy, from start to finish. I’ll admit that there are parts in the first two novels that don’t seem to fly by as quickly but this is easily forgiven once you reach the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Here the descriptions are so vivid that you could almost reach out and touch them. The characters go from timid underlings to fully grown adults in front of your eyes. From a fourteen-year-old boy to a 16-year old man leading an army.
It’s a journey that adds many more twists than what you see on screen. I liken the difference between the two to watching Match of the Day. The television show is like watching Match of the Day, whilst the books are like being there, tasting the push for victory and scoring first. It’s the progression of the stories that whilst on the surface seem rather small, make for a bigger picture push, one that is un-putdownable.
Moving Arya from Winterfell to King’s Landing and up towards the Wall, only to have her lost and wandering the woods, to be picked up by the Hound and later trained in Bravos is enough for one novel alone. Martin, however, stretches this across seven books and five novels and seems easily able to boil it down to the salient points that still manage to convince the reader that the character has progressed greatly along her story arc.
The lost characters
Lady Stoneheart, Quentyn Martell, Penny the Dwarf and Strong Belwas are but a few of the characters dropped from the television story and I can see why. A television show has limited time across the course of the series to tell the story and so by this token needs to prioritise based on the finale. As Quentyn Martell dies and his only real plotline is to attempt to romance Daernys and then later, release her dragons, he can easily be written out. Now in the books, I imagine that his death will have an effect on his Dad which will then be played out but for the highlighted narrative that the show needs to provide, you can work around his absence.
The point of bringing up these lost characters is that the books add an extra dimension. It is like reading the uncut version of the television show. It’s great. Learning how no characters are left behind and there are no continuity issues emphasises the fact that he is in control of the direction. It’s not like the last couple of seasons where you feel as though the wheels came off the train.
These additional characters change the direction of some of the characters such as Brianne and Jamie. They don’t meet up at Riverrun. Brienne is captured by Lady Stoneheart who commands her to fetch Jamie back to her. This is the last that we see of both characters. As Jamie is accepting the surrender of the lords around the area, Brienne catches up to him and takes him into the woods, none of which happens in the show. These additional plot threads are potentially minor but add enough intrigue to add an extra dimension that makes the purchasing of the books and reading worthwhile.
The Winds of Winter
Beyond the reading of the books that are out there, there is the promise of more to come and so really, there’s never been a better time to read them. As the excitement of Christmas being around the corner, the Winds of Winter are on their way to blow the cobwebs out. Something that is urgently required with the situation in the world right now. Sales of which will increase tenfold I would guess as people are stuck behind closed doors.
In my opinion, his long-awaited sixth novel will not be split in two as the previous was because people have waited ten years for this book. They will not want to wait another ten years for the next one, as by which time Martin will be in his 80’s with an additional novel to come. The final novel would be the one that will be split into two because:
- You have a lot of plot lines to finalise
- People will be more accepting of a split book for the last, as long as this one meets expectations
- He will want to get it right and to give himself enough scope in which to do so.
I myself am eagerly anticipating this release as it continues a story that may not be as pre-determined as we believe. The final threads from the show are known but with the outcry of how the TV series ended, Martin may have another plan in mind and this is intriguing at a point in which we are reaching for books and other forms of entertainment.
If you were a fan of the television show then I imagine that you were not overly enamoured with the finale. If so, then you were not alone, the ending for me felt rushed and over the last two seasons I found only two decent episodes. The series finale is something that I do not relish going back to watch but at the rate I am getting through content, we may need to.
The books whilst looking intimidating on the outside will help you get through the next few months when you are trapped at home. We all need to look at what we can do to keep busy and the books by George Martin are expertly crafted in order to draw you in. They took me six months to finish but this was through reading at spare moments. If you are home for weeks then you should be able to power through and add a new dimension to your Game of Thrones experience.
I adored the books from start to finish and can wholeheartedly recommend them as a great example of something to while away the hours. The additional characters that you find will jump off the page to draw you in and you will find hidden motivations that were dropped from the show. The books are a page-turner throughout. There is a certain level of scene and character creation but nothing is perfect and the books are perfectly addictive.