Moving Past the Source Material Will Help 'Game of Thrones'

Many are concerned that the show will lap the books in Season 6, but it might actually boost the quality.


Most Game of Thrones fans are concerned that the show is venturing beyond the books in Season 6. These worries are legitimate; David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have a spotty track record with their own material. Season 5’s Dorne plotline was pure nonsense. There’s also the minor matter that, in any adaptation, the book is almost always better than the show. But although many are despairing, there’s reason to believe this could actually be the best possible thing to happen to the show. Why?

It’s a matter of efficiency

George R. R Martin did a wonderful job constructing this world and these characters, but let’s face facts: He is not an efficient writer. Being an “artist” can only take you so far. At this point in his procrastination, it’s not cute and it’s not creative. He very clearly has written himself into a corner — or several. He discusses it himself with the term Meereenese Knot. “Meereenese Knot” is a clever way of saying “writer’s block.” He’s grown tired of his own story and can no longer walk the walk.

And there’s nothing wrong with that; he’s lived with these characters for over twenty years now. Of course he’s grown sick of them. But the show must go on, and he’s not willing to push them into place.

At the end of the day, if you’re a teacher, do you want to reward the slacker students, or the motivated ones who have their shit together? The Game of Thrones showrunners are getting this narrative in gear with a concrete plan and timeline. There’s something to be said for that.

Shows exceeding their books are all the rage these days

While in most cases, the source material is better than its adaptation, in the Golden Age of TV, there are more examples than ever of television blowing the book out of the water. The Leftovers delivered one of the most beautiful seasons of recent television when it moved beyond its own book, and Outlander is doing a considerable job trimming the fat off its novels.

And A Song of Ice and Fire has a lot of fat. The books started strong, but the past two entries have increasingly meandered. Look at Tyrion. In the books, he spends hundreds of pages wandering pointlessly; Season 5 of the show shortened his journey and had him meet Daenerys in no time. This was a vast improvement. The Song of Ice and Fire books have been on the decline for some time now. Moving forward, Game of Thrones can join the ranks of shows that exceed their written counterparts.

Many Game of Thrones inventions have been great

There’s a reason the Season 5 Dorne storyline is held up as the ultimate example of the writers can’t bowl without the bumpers. That subplot was indeed a mess in Season 5. But many of Martin’s subplots are also messes, and many of the show’s own are inspired. In Season 4, The Hound vs. Brienne was the best fight to ever happen on Game of Thrones. That, too, was an invention of the show. It was gritty, visceral, and thrilling — and unanimously seen as a triumph.

It might sound like travesty to believe that the show can be better than the books, but — at this stage — it certainly has more creative juice. It’s an interesting and unprecedented development to have an adaptation become the canon — at least, until proven otherwise. Instead of looking at it with despair, let’s tuck the world of the books safely away for now, just as Arya does with Needle, and look to the future with anticipation.

Season 6 premieres on Sunday. If you haven’t had time to revisit Season 5, we’ve got you covered with our primer here.

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