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Game of Thrones is good, but tough TV

Posted: June 11, 2013 2:01 p.m.
Updated: June 17, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Back in March 2012, I wrote about my newfound love of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. I mentioned -- almost as a side note -- the brilliant HBO television series based on the books (and named after the first novel) Game of Thrones.

As I said then, GoT (as some refer to it online) is not for everyone. It is, almost simply by virtue of being on HBO, a very mature TV series. There’s foul language, nudity, simulated sex and gory violence. In fact, GRRM (as many refer to the author) has admitted that the series is sexier and perhaps even more violent than his books.

Keep in mind, television is a visual medium and shows on screen what authors allow readers to imagine in their heads. I believe most of my fellow GoT fans would agree: we don’t watch it for the language, sexuality and violence -- we watch it for the characters.

In some ways, GoT has done a better job of fleshing out certain characters on screen than GRRM did in the books. One of the prime examples is Robb Snow. Indeed, he is an excellent example to bring up because of fans’ reactions to what is commonly known as “The Red Wedding.”

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Spoilers abound from here on out, so if you’ve missed the last two episodes of the season, or haven’t read through at least GRRM’s third book, A Storm of Swords, you might want to skip through the middle of my missive. Better yet, put aside this column for a while, go read the books, watch the series and then come back here. I’ll wait for you.

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A lot of people reacted very, very strongly to The Red Wedding as depicted on this season’s penultimate episode. There were pictures of viewers’ facial reactions on the Internet to perhaps one of the most shocking scenes of betrayal ever shown on television.

Those of us who have read the books were shocked, too. For one, as producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss -- as they have often done with the show -- changed a few things from A Storm of Swords.

Robb is trying to get revenge for his father, Ned’s beheading at the end of the first book/season. He gathers up an army, has some stunning victories, but realizes he must get across a certain river at a point known as The Twins, home to Lord Walder Frey. Robb’s mother, Catelyn, goes to Frey and negotiates passage for the army -- on the condition that Robb marry one of Frey’s many daughters.

Unfortunately, Robb falls in love with and marries someone else. In the books, it’s a fairly minor (so far) character named Jeyne Westerling. On TV, it’s a character named Talisa. As you can imagine, this upsets Frey. He demands that one of Robb’s uncles marry the daughter meant for Robb, the wedding to take place as soon as possible.

Everything seems to be fine until after most of the food has been eaten, most of the wine drunk, most of the music played.

An important point about GRRM’s world: hospitality is sacred -- you’re not supposed to kill someone if you’ve offered them to put them up for the night.

So, when the music stops and the players turn out to be assassins, killing the entire Stark wedding party, and a supposed supporter stabs Robb to death, and a Frey cuts his mother’s throat -- the reader is left dumbfounded that people you were rooting for are dead, killed in the most vicious way.

What made my jaw drop at the TV depiction is Talisa’s inclusion among the dead. In the books, Robb’s wife, Jeyne, never goes to The Twins. In fact, up-to-date readers aren’t sure what her fate is. Talisa, on the other hand, is actually the first person attacked by the Freys, repeatedly stabbed in the abdomen, killing her ... and Robb’s unborn child.

Talisa’s death added to the shock of what was already going to be a shocking scene.

Meanwhile, nearly every Stark supporter is massacred outside The Twins’ walls.

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As shocking as The Red Wedding is, it actually does not come out of left field. Robb made certain choices, most notably to marry someone other than a Frey. In GRRM’s world, good people who make wonderful, but politically bad choices can meet gruesome ends. The good guys don’t necessarily get happy endings.

The gruesomeness is balanced by the incredible characters, both as depicted by GRRM in the books and by the various actors on GoT. Last year, I mentioned my favorites, Tyrion Lannister, played by the incredible Peter Dinklage; and Arya Stark, Ned’s youngest daughter, played perfectly by Maisie Williams.

This year, I’m adding Tyrion’s older brother, Jamie Lannister, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. If there is one transformative character -- one that changes from what he was to what he should be -- it’s Jamie.

The elder Lannister starts off as an incestuous, would-be child murdering creep of a man. And he appears to stay that way for most of the series’ narrative. Until, that is, he meets a lady knight named Brienne (another favorite), gets maimed by some Stark supporters and fights his way to the capital of King’s Landing. Even before most of his transformation takes place, you find yourself strangely rooting for him. Coster-Waldau makes this even easier, an actor I’ve enjoyed watching in other productions.

Game of Thrones has been renewed for a fourth 10-episode season. I plan to watch not because of the violence or sex but to continue seeing GRRM’s wonderful characters come to life. It’s the characters that make the show, not the sex and violence they’re a part of.

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