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Game of Thrones Season 3 Roundtable, Part 1

Posted by msunyata on Tuesday, March 5, 2013

After compacting, contorting, and shuffling around the second novel to make it fit within HBO’s mandated 10-episode block, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been proactive to avoid the same type of scrimping this time ‘round:  season three will only be based on the first half (or so) of book three, and each episode will have roughly five additional minutes of drytime tacked on, essentially adding an 11th episode to the roster.

This may go a long way to tamping down on the vociferous responses that the second season provoked last year, but, then again, given all the hints and clues we’ve gotten thus far about what season three will have in store, it may very well not make a whit of difference.

It’s a topic best left for a panel of experts to tackle – along with questions of how best to divide the storytelling among the ever-ballooning cast of characters and how to deal with the inevitable growing impatience of (neophyte) viewers.

 

Marc N. Kleinhenz:

The last time we spoke, there was quite the split reaction to season two.  (I actually think that the second season has proven to be almost as polarizing as the Star Wars prequel trilogy, at least in terms of reactions within the fanbase.)  Will season three be any different?

 

Game of Thrones

Elio García, co-founder and editor of Westeros.org:

I don’t know, really, how this season will come out in relation to the first or second season.  I think some adaptation choices they’ve made that have been good ones may well prove undermined by this season (I would hate to find my appreciation of their adaptation of Theon Greyjoy’s story in the second season cheapened in any way), while choices that didn’t really appeal last year could perhaps payoff somehow in this season.

Mainly, I’m hopeful by the idea that by splitting A Storm of Swords across two seasons, they’ll feel more comfortable in making better use of the material they’re working with, and that they make sure to figure out how to keep together some of the key, iconic moments from the novel in the show.  The second season lost some very rich, much-loved parts of A Clash of Kings for no very obvious reason (Qhorin Halfhand, his interactions, his fate), but perhaps that won’t happen as often this season.

 

John Jasmin, co-founder of Tower of the Hand:

A Storm of Swords is considered by most fans to be the best book of the series (to date).  But much of what makes the book so great takes place in the latter half.  I think readers forget how slow the first few chapters of the book actually are, especially compared to the breakneck pace that follows, and I suspect this may be something of a letdown for TV viewers, too.  Perhaps splitting the book into two seasons will allow the show to “breathe” more than it did previously, which would be nice.  As for the iconic sequences that Elio references, the split will work fantastically for keeping all of them in the as-yet unconfirmed fourth season.  But I honestly can’t think of many scenes that I equally anticipate this upcoming year.
 
Still, I’d think that one end of the polarized response comes mostly from fans of the books, for whom alterations and omissions are merely “messing with a good thing.”  What are the biggest complaints from people who watch the show without prior knowledge of the books?
 
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Doug Cohen, author:
 
You can never please everyone, and this is doubly so (at least) with fans who started with the books.  It just comes with the territory.  For as long as the series continues, I think there will always be fans who are upset with the changes each and every season.  By season five, it will practically be tradition – fans will be as eager for the new season as they are to complain about the new season.  :)  Of course, the complaints are because they care, so it’s actually a form a flattery.  But I digress…
 
I’m sure the overall thrust of the story will remain true to the book, but I’d be surprised if more changes don’t come about.  Elio mentioned Theon in passing.  Without providing spoilers, let’s just say that it’s occurred to me more than once that I wouldn’t be surprised if Theon’s story in season three is significantly expanded on as compared to the book.  They’ve already set things in motion for Rickon’s story in season three to be expanded, though how much remains to be seen.  I hate dancing around what I’m really trying to say here, but doing otherwise means dropping spoilers.  Suffice it to say that if these two characters do, in fact, have expanded storylines, I’d imagine the producers felt this was necessary for the TV adaptation.  This could easily have readers up in arms, though if it happens, I’m going to do my best to roll with it.
 
 
James Poniewozik, writer for Time:
 
I actually suspect that by season five or so, we’ll switch places and it will be the non-readers who will be complaining more.  Where is this going?  Why so many storylines?  Is [character X] ever going to have anything to do with [character Y]?  And, God, is this depressing!
 
As for Storm of Swords in particular:  per my usual practice, I’m not going to re-read or look at the book until the season’s over, on the theory that if I don’t notice a change or omission, it was probably worth making.  To the extent that we have readers of the books complaining in season three, that’s (potentially) a good thing; it means the story is being translated to serve the strengths of a different medium.  They may not do it well, but that’s the only way to have a chance of retelling the story well.  I may be in the minority, but I’m glad season two took more liberties.
 
Without spoilers, I’m interested in how they handle Bran’s story going forward.  Thematically and mythologically, it’s very important.  But it’s not very telegenic.  I think changes will be needed.  Likewise Dany – that is, if her Storm story is to be played across two seasons.
 
I do hope, with Storm divided into two seasons, that the beyond-the-Wall material gets more room to breathe, which was an issue in season two.  The culture of the Wildlings, and their different ideas of government and personal freedom, was one of the most fascinating parts of the story for me.
 
 
Amin Javadi, co-host of A Podcast of Ice and Fire:
 
Season two had a far more of a noticeable split among the fans compared to season one, in particular between some fans of the books (readers) and TV series-only fans (viewers).  I think Johnny is right that many readers lamented the changes when they were unnecessary and detracted from the quality of the source material.  But the split was not clearly cut along reader vs. viewer lines.  There were many readers who enjoyed season two more than season one, and, like Johnny, I am interested in hearing about what part of season two disappointed some viewers.
 
While every season will have its complaints, season three does have the potential to re-energize some fans disappointed with season two.  The casting and appearance of certain characters (can I list them here since they have been cast and most people know the names?) will soothe some of the readers incensed by their absence in season two.  As mentioned, the splitting of book three into two seasons will greatly benefit season three, providing more time and flexibility for the main storylines and character interactions.
 
I said that season two would ultimately be made or broken by how the show handled the Battle of the Blackwater, and, thankfully, it was handled superbly.  There are similar win-or-die moments that I expect to see in season three, and I am comfortably optimistic that season three will rise to the occasion.
 
Game of Thrones
 
Marc N. Kleinhenz:
 
Actually, I think James hit it right on the head – I’ve already heard from some non-book TV watchers that they felt like season two didn’t have as much closure, by year’s end, as did season one.  (I’m not really sure that’s a valid point, structurally or objectively speaking, but I can certainly see how they would feel that way.)  If it’s starting to seem like the story’s just spinning its wheels after 20 episodes, I can only imagine the mind-fuck that’s going to happen to these Martin virgins by episode 60.
 
Then again, shows like The X-Files have dragged out their overarching mythologies for several seasons before giving definitive, conclusive answers, and those series were exceedingly popular (at first, at least).  I’m not certain if this is a case of the television culture changing in the intervening years or if properties like X-Files are just lightning in a bottle.
 
 
Phil Bicking, founder and editor of Winter Is Coming:
 
And let’s not forget the king of drawing out mysteries, Lost.  Also a show that was very popular, but fizzled out a bit at the end.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  I have no worry at all that people will find the show dragging over the next couple seasons (it’s the ones after that that I think could be an issue, but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it).
 
Season two, as others have said, suffered from having to cram the totality of A Clash of Kings into only 10 episodes.  Certain storylines were pared down while others were beefed up with mixed results.  Splitting A Storm of Swords over two seasons gives me hope that the upcoming season will not suffer from the same issues.  I think it will help as well that they are adapting what many consider the strongest book in the series.  I mean, they would really have to work hard to screw this one up.
 
 
Mo Ryan, writer for The Huffington Post:
 
There are so many thoughtful comments I agree with here, but how come nobody has mentioned the most salient thing about season three?  All I can think is:  it is going to break the internet!
 
I definitely want to do the spoiler-avoidance dance with all of you, so, without getting into specifics, we have to acknowledge that this season is quite probably going to send a lot of fans – especially non-book readers – into the Very Sad Place.  I’ll certainly echo what others have said here and add that this is a general trend with ASoIaF – visits to the Sad Place only increase over time.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that – the story’s ability to make me cry is a feature, not a bug – but I always tell people who found certain events in the first and second seasons too dark that, comparatively speaking, that was the Time of Puppies and Rainbows.
 
Ultimately, when it comes to the new season, I have a few big questions rather than predictions.  So here goes:
 
Game of Thrones
 
1. Will they actually follow the major events of the book and not back down from some of the things that occur, and, if so, is the creative team prepared for the reaction that’s quite likely to overtake all forms of communications for about a month?  Have they arranged accommodations in a secure location?  They may well need it.  (I truly can’t imagine what that Comic-Con panel is going to be like.) 
 
2. If they do diverge from the book, will that mean the expansion of certain characters’ roles, and, if so, will those expansions be driven by the popularity of those TV characters or by story considerations?  I’ve never been averse to the idea of changing character journeys for the screen when needed, but if fans perceive big alterations as basically pandering to the TV audience rather than serving the needs of the saga, the reaction won’t be pretty.
 
3. Will the fact that the show has two seasons to dig into this book give season three more overall coherence?  Will splitting book three into two seasons mean we’ll get more time with key characters and learn a lot about the backstories and relationships of the new characters?  One of my main concerns about the show, regardless of the projected 20 episodes it’ll have for A Storm of Swords, is that it could well continue to seem disjointed and superficial at times.  There’s just so much stuff to get to, and there are times when the strain of fitting all those pieces together starts to show.  Generally speaking, I think they’re doing a credible job with most of the characters and they’re clearly trying hard to give each of them interesting arcs, and when I think about my favorite moments on the show, they’re often conversations and encounters that are really character-based, not so plot-ty.  But when they add even more people to the mix and throw in more locations and story threads, will the whole thing start to wobble?  I just wonder if we will we end up with a lot of episodes that have that “round the horn” feeling, i.e., we check in a couple of times on half a dozen (or more) characters and we end up not really digging into many of their situations due to time constraints.  The most radical thing GoT could do at this point would be to focus on a few characters and one or two locations in a given episode – “Blackwater” certainly benefited from this approach – but I fear there just won’t be time to do that this season.
 
So those are the things I’m thinking about as the new season approaches.  I may sound as though I’m full of apprehension, but the truth is, I think this could well be the best season yet.  I think each season, the producers and directors have learned a lot, and it’s shown (the cast has been outstanding from the start and has only gotten better).  I’d definitely agree that there were some compressed arcs, ill-served characters, and strange alterations in season two that were disappointing (the Jon Snow/Quorin Halfhand/Wildlings/beyond-the-Wall thread is just one case in point).  But overall, the show grew in terms of confidence and overall mastery of this very complex world, and thematically, it seemed as though Benioff and Weiss really honed in on the ideas they want to continue to explore:  divided loyalty, unexpected power shifts, altruism vs. self-interest.  I’m really excited about the new additions to the cast – I just hope we get to spend a lot of time with both the new and old inhabitants of Martin’s world.
 
 
Marc N. Kleinhenz:
 
Which actually brings me to my second question:  certain storylines, such as making Arya Lord Tywin’s cupbearer or having the Ironborn be responsible for the ransacking of Winterfell, were significantly altered; others, like the character of Reek and his shenanigans in the North, were cut and transported to the third season.  Beyond the question of whether this either improves or degrades the quality of Martin’s original narrative, I’m curious – do you think Benioff and Weiss can make it work?
 
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Elio García, co-founder and editor of Westeros.org:
 
Taking this question to mean whether the choices they make will be able to meet some sort of minimum quality level, then... most of them will, I expect, but I fear some won’t.  Last year was troubled by the writers becoming enamored of certain characters or character pairings and providing repetitive material that didn’t advance anything but were instead pleasing but empty, and it’s entirely possible that this season will see yet more of that.
 
I absolutely agree with Mo that, in some ways, “Blackwater” served as a fine template for what the show should strive to achieve going forward:  less shoe-horning of characters into episodes, fewer storylines per episode, a willingness to just step away from a character for multiple episodes, and working to clear the table as quickly as possible to give the finale more punch by being more focused.
 
It will, of course, be difficult to achieve this given the multi-stranded narrative they’re adapting.  But, you know, if to get at the core of the story and present it well means moving things around and regularly skipping out on a story thread for two or even three episodes, and maybe cutting down overall screen time of some characters rather than giving them fluff, that’d work by me.
 
 
John Jasmin, co-founder of Tower of the Hand:
 
If “Blackwater” proved that episodes might work better with a tighter focus and fewer characters, I definitely hope that that’s the approach Benioff and Weiss take this coming season.  “Blackwater” and its tighter focus also proved that I was wrong about one thing.  At times in the past, I had argued that the show should feel free to expand upon what GRRM had written in the books, kind of like showing what might have happened in between chapters.  The second season did just that, creating several scenes to keep some characters (notably Daenerys) more involved than they would have been, had the writers adapted the book as-is.  Unfortunately, these scenes added little to what we already knew about the plot and characters.  GRRM left out parts of the story for a reason, and we don’t need to see what might have happened if it only ends up in the same place that we would have reached without a season-long detour.
 
Now, Daenerys appears in only six chapters of the third book, which is an even smaller share than what she had in the second book.  And don’t forget, those six chapters may have to be spread out over two seasons (or more).  If the show adopts the “Blackwater”/tighter focus model and keeps Dany’s appearances to a minimum, I think the narrative will be stronger for it.  If, however, the show follows what it did in the second season and gives Dany some strange side quests for no other reason than to keep her on screen for more episodes, well... I suppose there are far worse things than having to gaze upon Emilia Clarke every week or so.
 
I believe Benioff and Weiss can make most of the altered storylines work, since they require only a slight course correction to get them back to where we expect them.  For example, I can imagine a number of ways to reveal what happened during the ransack of Winterfell that neither contradicts what we’ve seen in the show nor what we know from the books.  On the other hand, I have no idea if the writers can make the Robb/Talisa storyline work.  This was, to me, the biggest deviation from the books, and I find it hard to judge or predict because of that.  But it has to lead to the same place as the books, though, right?
 
 
Amin Javadi, co-host of A Podcast of Ice and Fire:
 
Just a quick note on Marc’s question:  I am not sure if the show implied that the Ironborn sacked Winterfell.  What exactly happened at Winterfell was left unclear, and a lot of TV viewers were left perplexed.  It will definitely be interesting to see what they do with this storyline in season three.
 
I am in agreement with everything said on the Blackwater episode.  It would be great to focus on specific characters and locations in certain episodes, without the need for the token “five-minute scene of the week” for each of the show’s main characters.  To the show’s credit, the writers were willing to sidestep this TV requirement for the past two seasons, at times – I just want more of this.  What also complicates this –  I’ve been told, anyway – is that actor contracts may require a certain amount of screen time per season.  Does anyone know whether this is true?
 
That being said, there have been some good innovations with some of the new scenes; Theon’s scenes in Pyke come to mind, as Elio highlighted in the past.  Speaking of Theon, his treatment in this season will be a delicate issue:  will the writers draw the right balance in relation to screen-time and new material?
 
In terms of Robb/Talisa, I’ll join the mob in condemning the showrunners’ confusing handling of that storyline.  However, I think the worst is past us, in terms of divergence from the original story.  I mean, they are together now with Robb having broken his word.  Ideally, their relationship can progress parallel to the books, although I guess you may be referring to diplomatic subtleties that may be lost with her current family identity.
 
By the way, based off the released season three stills, I am predicting a Robb/Talisa scene similar to the Stannis/Melisandre board game scene for season three.  You heard it first here.  No matter that Robb looks sad – we know that sad stories can get him going.
 
Game of Thrones
 
Look for Part 2 of our roundtable to appear on Coming Attractions shortly. In the meantime, brush up on your Game of Thrones by reading our past coverage and commentary of the show's first two seasons:
 
 
Game of Thrones Roundtables on Coming Attractions:
 
 
Coming Attractions’s Primers and Introductions:
 
 
Season Two Reviews:
 
 
Season One Reviews:
 
 
 
[Marc N. Kleinhenz has covered Game of Thrones for Coming Attractions and Comic Related and A Song of Ice and Fire for Westeros.org and Tower of the Hand.  He’s also written some books on the subjects, too.]

 

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