Over at Vanity Fair, Joanna Robinson is doing the lord’s work by digging through old Game of Thrones scripts archived Writers Guild of America West’s library and telling us what changed in the transition from page to screen. Now, she’s gone through an early version of George R.R. Martin’s script for “The Lion and the Rose” — the final script he wrote for the show — and it is all kinds of fascinating.
Let’s go through some of the biggest changes HBO made to Martin’s work, and see if we can figure out why. And I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but it’s true: there may be SPOILERS for The Winds of Winter in here, so beware.
But don’t worry; we’ll leave that one for last and warn you ahead of time. Let’s start with something simpler, such as…
BRAN’S VERY COMPLICATED VISION
“The Lion and the Rose” is rightly remembered as the episode where the awful King Joffrey Baratheon chokes to death at his own wedding reception, and thank god for that. But there were a couple other storylines running, including Bran and company’s continued quest to find the Three-Eyed Raven north of the Wall. At one point, Bran touches a weirwood tree and has a vision of things that were, things that are, and some things that had not yet come to pass:
There’s a lot of evocative imagery in there, but apart from the shot of a dragon’s shadow over King’s Landing (a shot we may see in the upcoming season 8), it’s all old footage. Martin had something a more elaborate in mind:
Images flash by, one after another; distant places and different times, familiar faces and faces of strangers.
Ned Stark cleans Ice beneath Winterfell’s heart tree (from the original pilot).
The Mad Kings Aerys Targaryen a gaunt man with silver-gold hair and foot-long fingernails, CACKLES as he watches Ned’s father and brother burn.
Jon Snow with Ghost. Unawares.
Two children, a boy and a girl, fight with wooden swords in Winterfell’s godswood. (Benjen and Lyanna as kids).
Robb sits drenched in blood amidst the carnage of the Red Wedding, surrounded by the dead. His dead face slowly transforms into Grey Wind’s wolfish features.
Jaime and Cersei embrace in Winterfell’s old keep (the last thing Bran saw before he fell, from the pilot).
A black direwolf with green eyes (SHAGGYDOG) looks up suddenly from a bloody kill, as if he sense Bran.
Hints of strange small children with very dark eyes.
The shadow of a dragon passes across the rooftops of a great city (King’s Landing, where Bran has never been).
Arya with Needle in hand. Her face MELTS and CHANGES.
The visions end with a distinctive quartet of northern hills (per Chris Newman’s location photograph), serving as the backdrop to the LARGEST WEIRWOOD we’ve ever seen.
Why was it cut?
Robinson points out that some of these ideas, particularly the ones involving Robb and Arya, seem a little too fanciful for the more stripped-down style of Game of Thrones, which doesn’t indulge in dream sequences and visions nearly as often as Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. As for the direwolf stuff, the direwolves are famously expensive to render onscreen. While Game of Thrones was a successful show by this point, it still had limited funds, and remember they had a very expensive battle at Castle Black to stage later in the season. Finally, casting child actors to play Lyanna and Benjen Stark would have made it difficult to use the same actors in season 6, when Bran returned to the Winterfell of his father’s youth.
I’d add that it’s also very expensive to hire, say, a guy to play Aerys Targaryen just for a few seconds of footage, although showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss did eventually use that idea in another one of Bran’s visions, again in season 6.
This extended sequence reminds me of something else Martin wrote for his first Game of Thrones script, season 1’s “The Pointy End.” It was the scene where Robb Stark calls the Northern banners to come to his aid. It’s pretty simple on the show; Robb makes the difficult decision to call the banners, and we see ravens leaving Winterfell. But Martin has said that in his original draft, he wanted a montage of eight different castles receiving the letters and their armies riding out. Game of Thrones had even less money then, and the scenes was deemed way too expensive. Bran’s extended vision would probably be easier to pull off, but the same principle applies. What’s easy to write can be prohibitively hard to film.