The Wheel of Time showrunner, of all people, was upset by Game of Thrones book changes

The Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Judkins has made plenty of changes to the books by Robert Jordan, but he was still upset by the changes Game of Thrones made to George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books.
Dónal Finn (Mat Cauthon) and the Heroes of the Horn.
Dónal Finn (Mat Cauthon) and the Heroes of the Horn. /

The Game of Thrones series finale aired five years ago last weekend, and Polygon has a wonderful article where they interview television producers about what made the show such a phenomenon for so many years, and how it's affected TV made since.

One of the interviewees is Rafe Judkins, who's currently adapting Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time book series for Amazon Prime Video. Like Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time is a sprawling fantasy series with tons of characters and plotlines, although the tone is a good deal gentler and more optimistic than it was on Game of Thrones. Still, because of the story's complexity, Judkins and his team have had to change a lot about the story, from centering the sorceress Moiraine to fronting the villainous Forsaken to changing the mystery of the Dragon Reborn and more. Some Wheel of Time fans have been put off by how different the show is from the books, although it's also found an appreciative audience, including here at WiC.

But given how much of the source material he's changed, I was surprised to hear Judkins express some misgivings about the changes Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss made in adapting George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books for TV. "I...was a huge, huge fan of the books before the series was ever made," he said. "So it was interesting to see the moments in the show where even I was like, Oh my God, this I wish it was the same as it was in the books. Because you begin to realize that I think that there’s a part of you, if you do love a book series, that no matter how it’s being adapted, and no matter who it’s being adapted by, there is a small death involved, the death of how you read it and how you saw it in your mind, and how you experienced it and who was the star of the books when you read it."

I know the feeling that Judkins is talking about; when I'm a fan of a book, I'm always a little upset if they change something for the screen. I can only hope the change is as good or better than what was in the text originally. And again, clearly Judkins is okay changing things, because The Wheel of Time show definitely deviates more from its source material than Game of Thrones did, at least in its early seasons.

The Wheel of Time showrunner also wanted Lady Stoneheart to show up on Game of Thrones

But the heart wants what the heart wants. Judkins brought up Lady Stoneheart, a memorable character from Martin's books that was cut from Game of Thrones. However difficult it might have been to include her, Judkins was upset that she never showed up:

"There’s this character Lady Stoneheart, when Catelyn Stark comes back from the dead. And I was obsessed with this character, couldn’t wait to see her on TV, just live and die, step on my throat Lady Stoneheart," Judkins explained. "And then when she wasn’t in the show I was like, [Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman!!] How could you not do Lady Stoneheart? And he explained it, and it is the correct decision that they made to not do it — because if they’re going to bring back one character from the dead it has to be the one that matters the most to the overall story of the series. And for me there was still like a small death in it, and sadness in it, and anger in it because I — even though I know it’s the right choice for the show — I’m still upset about it."

"So, watching the show was a very good experience for me, and understanding the fundamentals of how people who love the source material are going to react to it. And the fact that no matter what you do, you can’t actually make everyone happy. So what you have to do the most is treat the story with respect and do everything you can to bring it to the screen in the best way possible that honors what was there."

The "one character" they were going to bring back from the dead was likely Jon Snow. The implication is that the Game of Thrones showrunners thought that bringing back Catelyn Stark from the dead as well would have reduced the impact of Jon's resurrection, and I tend to agree. Then as now, mileage may vary.

Can "the next Game of Thrones" even exist?

Judkins also contemplated the legacy of Game of Thrones when it comes to fantasy TV shows and TV in general, noting that people at large seem much more willing to engage with fantasy and sci-fi after Game of Thrones made it approachable.

That said, Judkins suspects that the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle success enjoyed by Game of Thrones can't be easily replicated, despite how many studios have tried. "I always said, even when pitching it, Game of Thrones was something that appealed to the whole world, and broke across genre lines. And the next show that does that won’t be another big fantasy show, necessarily. It’ll be something else that generates that visceral, emotional reaction in people. And that’s the thing that kind of lets you cross these lines and become more of an international pop cultural phenomenon, than just a television show."

It's true that other big fantasy shows that have followed Game of Thrones — including The Witcher, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and Judkins' own The Wheel of Time — haven't become proper phenomena, even as they've found audiences. I think that's to be expected. I'm just happy to have so much great TV to choose from these days.

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