by Brian Clarey
I didn’t know anything about A Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin’s series of fantasy novels, when I started watching the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” built on the epic plotline.
Honestly, I just started watching it because it was on HBO, and with very few exceptions — “Arilss” comes immediately to mind — HBO has never done me wrong.
It was so good, that during the lull between the second and third seasons I developed a jones for it. On a whim I picked up a copy of the first book, Game of Thrones, at an airport — a fat monster of a book at nearly 1,000 pages — and tore through it in a couple days.
I’m not entirely proud of what followed: I binge-read the entire series in a couple months, sneaking moments in the morning, hiding out in the garage and in my car. I ran out in the middle of the night to buy the fourth book, A Feast for Crows, and when I finished it I did something I almost never do: I bought a brand-new, hardcover copy of A Dance with Dragons because it hadn’t yet come out in paperback. The book junkies out there will understand.
So I’m way ahead of the storyline as it stands in the HBO series, but I still need to watch it within a day or so of its Sunday night airing because this “Game of Thrones” is starting to bear little resemblance to the one in the book series.
In this week’s episode, it’s starting to look like Littlefinger poisoned King Joffrey, which is news to me, and Joffrey has been dead for like three books. And Arya Stark has been traipsing around the woods with the King’s Hound for way too long — she should totally be in Braavos by now, learning the secrets of the Faceless Men.
The old me would have been deeply disturbed by this, but I have become enlightened in the last few months regarding films based on books I have read. The screenwriter Gary Hawkins explained to me that his treatment of Larry Brown’s novel Joe was just an iteration of the initial story, and that the film was yet another one. I’m okay with it now.
And the TV version of “Game of Thrones” delivers. They maybe cut out an entire arc in the saga of Jon Snow and are dragging their feet on the Tyrion Lannister storyline, but some of the new moments are magnificent, in particular Tywin Lannister’s lessons for the new king and a dungeon scene between Tyrion and his squire Podrick with enormous depth.
But one piece left on the editing floor still has me bothered. In the book, Strong Belwas was a massive eunuch warrior, his blubbery chest criss-crossed with blade scars barely covered by a tiny vest. He pledged his services to Daenerys Targaryan while traveling across the Narrow Sea with Barristan the Bold.
In A Clash of Kings, he spoke, “I let each man cut me once, before I kill him. Count the cuts and you will know how many Strong Belwas has slain.”
Perhaps the best scene in A Storm of Swords, the third book, was the telling of the siege of Mereen, when Strong Belwas confronted a lone warrior on a white horse outside the gated city, took his head — after letting the guy cut him, of course — and defecated on the ground.
But this week I watched Daario Naharis, the Tyroshi sellsword, defend his queen in the sands of Mereen. He killed the lone, horseback warrior more quickly than Belwas did in the book, and then he peed on the ground, which was almost as satisfying and, in some ways, even better.