I remember being so excited about getting ‘A Dance With Dragons’ that, when my pre-order was maybe a day late, so not on the EXACT DAY EVERYONE ELSE WAS READING OMG, I actually wrote to Amazon so some sad CSR that did the job my husband used to do actually had to reply to another nerd about that fucking book. I knew how bad that job was and I still wrote my pissy email about my book omg!!!
If I had known, I wouldn’t have bothered. I wouldn’t have been in much of a rush, given what I’d find in the thousand-plus pages.
‘A Dance With Dragons’ was well-reviewed, particularly for a fantasy book, which is weird because amongst A Song of Ice and Fire fans, the book is considered one of the weakest, overly long and stuffed with the worst of George RR Martin’s excesses. Some, like myself, also found it particularly ickily rapey in a way that the other books hadn’t been – certainly, they’d been free with the rape in the past, but ADWD seemed to kick it up a notch and add the delights of the Ramsay Bolton plotline, which has some of the grossest scenes in the series to date. It also had one of the main characters, the author’s favourite, the audience’s favourite, going on at length about how he was going to rape his sister in revenge – something that made me seriously wonder about the supposed heroism of the character. Hopefully that won’t make it into Season 6.
Despite the long wait for the book, it was unpleasant to read, and no amount of plot movement or small victories scattered through the text could move me to feel all that great about the experience. Though I almost quit the series after the Red Wedding in the frustration at seeing more Stark bloodshed, this time, at the end of ADWD, I almost quit because I wasn’t terribly interested in all the awful of Westeros with the ick and misogyny turned up to 12. The other book that figures large in this season, ‘A Feast For Crows’, is probably the most reviled book of the series, primarily because it was dull, again very long and meandering (sensing a theme here?), and focused on characters to which readers had far less attachment while ignoring the three characters that had obviously become the main ones: Daenerys, Jon Snow, and Tyrion. This is also the book where Cersei Lannister’s competence seems to completely evaporate into thin air, without the same sort of explanation that the show provides in Jamie and Cersei’s estrangement — for all that it’s problematic.
Given this, is it that much of a surprise that, when Game of Thrones began to integrate the material from the weakest books, questions should come up about that content, or that people might consider quitting the show the same way readers considered giving up on the series? The books make the seasons, and those of us that are book-readers might have anticipated how this would go.
While the show certainly improves on the book by eliminating some of the length, it leaves out little of the violence, or the worst of the plots. The problems reviewers and viewers have are with many of the same plots that seemed weak or terrible in the books: Ramsay the Evilest Grossest Evil that Ever Eviled, Daenerys’ extended and dreary attempt to govern Meereen, and Dorne, which worked for me, but didn’t work for some people, and definitely doesn’t work without the kingdom’s most dynamic character, heir to the throne Arianne Martell. Even though the worst or most aimless parts of ADWD and AFFC have been shortened or excised altogether, each book’s flaws mark even the best of what comes from them.
That’s part of the reason why, in the early Game of Thrones seasons, it was easy to praise the showrunners for their adaptation job – the show really was, in many ways, better than the books. It took the best parts of the best three books and improved upon them. Though there were missteps and questionable choices, the overall adaptation was strong – but that was helped by having strong material to work with. Moving into the later seasons, the material got weaker, therefore the show followed. It’s not a coincidence that some of the greatest divergences from the books in the past two seasons – particularly Jon Snow and the Wilding’s recent brutal battle versus the White Walkers and the Night’s King and Tyrion and Daenerys actually FUCKING MEETING – are some of the strongest scenes of late.
As the season wraps up tonight, Game of Thrones will finish with GRRM’s material and move forward into the unknown. Will that make it a stronger show in its final seasons? Signs seem to point to yes, despite the adaptation debate and the showrunners’ disturbing tendency to centre violence against women in the story. Will that affect book sales of ‘Winds of Winter’? Probably not.