HBO’s Game of Thrones brandishes a consistent and high degree of fidelity to the nearly 5,000-page-long source material of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, but there still, of course, are differences. While most of these gaps from the page to the screen are small and detail-oriented, it is nonetheless the case that the most subtle discrepancies often hold the biggest insight into the adaptation process, into the demands of filmmaking, and into the rigors of the literary narrative.
This, then, is the anatomy of a key scene of Thrones – not because of its dramatic importance or visual effects whizbangery, but because of the telling nature of its realization.
Episode: “The Children” (410)
Scene: Tyrion’s rescue
In A Storm of Swords, Tyrion Lannister’s escape has an urgent, emotionally charged quality to it that is wholly absent from Game of Thrones’s rendition. This is partially due, of course, to the fact that this is the first time the Imp has been reunited with his brother, Ser Jaime, since the first novel – meaning that all of the various conversations that have been expanded and allowed to breath over the past nine weeks in the HBO series are combined together in one super-condensed exchange.
But it’s also largely due to the actual contents of the loaded conversation. This fateful exchange turns out to be the last straw for Tyrion, serving as fuel on a long-smoldering fire and as motivation for him to commit murder – twice. It easily becomes the centerpiece of the chapter, specifically, and Tyrion’s character arc from the first three books, generally.
And the show cut it.
Spoiling for a Fight
Although the dialogue that is held between Tyrion and Jaime doesn’t provide much, if any, spoilers for future developments (up until the end of book five, at least – the gods only know what awaits in volumes six and seven), and although it is extremely unlikely that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss will end up tackling the information in a future episode (much like the prophecies from the House of the Undying [“Valar Morghulis,” episode 210] or Tyrion’s revelation at King Joffrey’s wedding feast [“The Lion and the Rose,” 402], it would seem that this will be the latest casualty in the adaptation process), we are still going to put a spoiler warning up for all those Unsullied readers who wish to remain well and truly unspoiled. Worry not, however – we will continue with the “spoiler”-free article in the very next section.
When Tyrion thanks his now-disabled brother for saving his life, Jaime is strangely emotionally distant, talking only of debts owed. Tyrion, sensing that something is terribly amiss, presses him to confess the source of his discomfort:
Jaime is afraid. “Tell me,” Tyrion said again.
His brother looked away. “Tysha,” he said softly.
“Tysha?” His stomach tightened. “What of her?”
“She was no whore. I never bought her for you. That was a lie that Father commanded me to tell. Tysha was… she was what she seemed to be. A croft’s daughter, chance met on the road.”
Viewers would be especially forgiven if they don’t immediately recall Tysha Lannister, Tyrion’s first wife from his very impressionable youth – she’s been mentioned only two or three times across four years, and the original explanation of his marriage and almost immediate divorce happened a staggering 31 episodes ago (“Baelor,” 109). (And, even here, in this first instance, Tysha’s story is watered down: in the series, Tyrion says that he was forced to watch as a whole garrison of Lannister guardsmen had sex with her, paying her a silver coin each; in the books, Tyrion himself is forced to go last, paying a gold coin, for a Lannister is worth more than an average man.) It is perhaps because of this that the showrunners were tempted to excise it altogether from “The Children.”
Tyrion angrily leaves Jaime, the only member of his family that he ever had any love for, behind in the dungeons, but not before getting his vengeance: he tells his sweet brother of all of Cersei’s sexual indiscretions (which, in the show, is reduced to only their cousin, Lancel Lannister [“Fire and Blood,” 110]) and “admits” to being the one who poisoned Joffrey, Jaime’s firstborn son. The siblings depart, then, on the worst possible grounds, with Jaime believing that he has helped free a murderer and Tyrion concluding that there is no one in the world who truly cares for him.
The Spider Factor
Note: all potential spoilers have now come to an end.
Beyond shortchanging the scene’s characterization, Weiss and Benioff’s changes also undercut its logistics and, therefore, its believability.
On the page, Lord Varys, the Master of Whisperers, is an active participant in the Imp’s escape: he doses the turnkeys’ wine with sweetsleep, is disguised as an impoverished septon, and personally escorts him through the miles and miles of twists and turns and locked doors. When they reach a particular chamber that Tyrion has heard about before – thanks, ironically enough, to Shae, who was smuggled in this way to secretly meet with Tyrion in his very own bedchambers during his days as Hand of the King – the Imp realizes that he has the opportunity to pay his lord father a visit and to thank him for the betrayal that Ser Jaime had just informed him of. Varys tries to talk him out of it, but there is no stopping a dwarf who is freshly filled with righteous anger; the Spider is bid to wait there instead, which he dutifully does.
Without the presence of the eunuch, Tyrion’s masterful navigating of the Red Keep’s labyrinth of secret passageways is nonsensical, at the least, and comical, at the best. How was he informed of their existence? How did he know one would actually lead to the Hand’s suite, particularly since, unlike in the novels, it was never utilized on-screen before?
And, most perplexing of all, how precisely did he know how to make his way from the dungeons to the Tower of the Hand?
Rhyme and Reason
The only likely explanation for the series’s alterations resides with that ever-present and incessantly pesky thorn in the producers’ side known as production concerns, which tends to go hand-in-hand with its faithful companion, screen time. Either finding a suitable location or constructing a series of sets for Tyrion and Varys’s flight through the depths of the castle quite simply would cost too much money, particularly considering the amount of time that the footage would occupy in the finished episode. Simply having Varys show up at the very tag of the sequence was simpler to shoot, simpler to write, and, perhaps most importantly of all, simpler for the audience at home to understand – or so the executive producers thought.
The reality is that it wouldn’t have necessarily been any more time- or resource-consuming to include Varys in the dungeon below instead of just having him in his chambers. Utilizing the streamlined storytelling methodology that Game of Thrones prefers, Tyrion could have paused and asked the Spider which direction the Tower of the Hand is in. Varys could point out the way, ask him to reconsider what he was about to do, and then be summarily ignored. Once the Imp’s killing spree was concluded, he could come right back to the spot where he left his eunuch companion, and then we could have cut to the same exact footage of Varys boxing him up. Although still not the most logical depiction, it would have been on the same level as, say, having Tyrion and the sellsword Bronn walking on foot – as opposed to riding on horseback – from the Vale to the Riverlands (“You Win or You Die,” 107).
Strangely enough, the significant change in motivation for Lord Tywin Lannister’s and, more especially, Shae’s deaths is nowhere near as impactful, even though it does result in the unfortunate impression for the average viewer that Tyrion is something of a cold-blooded murderer (the fact that Tywin had it coming notwithstanding, of course); there is, after all, two further seasons with which to explore the depths of the dwarf’s feelings and rationale on this front. But the amount of backtracking it would take to retconn Tyrion’s sudden master knowledge of King’s Landing, unfortunately, would be too forced, too immense, and too expository for Benioff and Weiss to tackle.
My Future Work
I’ve enjoyed my time here at the site and would like to whole-heartedly thank each and every one of you for the warm reception that Anatomy of a Throne has received each and every week. It is precisely because of this that both the column and I will be back next season.
In the meantime, if you’d like to keep up with my various literary escapades and nerd shenanigans, I have just been named the co-editor-in-chief of FanSided’s newest site, Dork Side of the Force. Our grand ambition there is to change the name of Star Wars coverage, and though implementing that will be a slow, steady, and, more than likely, painful process, it should be an exciting journey to take with us. I hope to see you all there.
Additionally, my oft-delayed ebook covering Game of Thrones’s third season – which will contain some exclusive Anatomy of a Throne articles – should be up at Amazon within the next few weeks. It’s called It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones, Vol. III, and I expect it to be a nerdfest and a half.
Furthermore, a number of us from Tower of the Hand are already talking about doing a special season four release, also set within the It Is Known series, to help dull the pain of Game of Thrones withdrawal. If it materializes, look for it sometime next month – and, yes, we’ll have an announcement/excerpt of some kind here at WIC.
Finally, I’m not quite done with Winter Is Coming – not just yet. Zack Luye and I have been kicking around certain feature ideas, some of which I hope can be implemented within the next month and some which will have to wait ‘til the fall. Either way, they should be a blast, and I hope they’ll help push the envelope of Winter Is Coming’s Game of Thrones coverage and analysis.
Until then, valar morghulis.
Episode 201: “The North Remembers”
Episode 203: “What Is Dead May Never Die”
Episode 207: “A Man without Honor”
Episode 209: “Blackwater”
Episode 210: “Valar Morghulis”
Episode 304: “And Now His Watch Is Ended”
Episode 305: “Kissed by Fire”
Episode 309: “The Rains of Castamere”
Episode 401: “Two Swords”
Episode 402: “The Lion and the Rose”
Episode 403: “Breaker of Chains”
Episode 404: “Oathkeeper”
Episode 405: “First of His Name”
Episode 406: “The Laws of Gods and Men”
Episode 407: “Mockingbird”
Episode 408: “The Mountain and the Viper”
Marc N. Kleinhenz is the features editor for Tower of the Hand and a freelancer who has written for a total of 24 sites. Some of his non-Game of Thrones work includes theme park analysis and interviews with Batman writers and artists.