15.5.13

Game of Fwones: Should I Read the Novels?

Let's say you're loving the third season of Game of Thrones, and you don't know how you're going to go another year plus without all these characters you know and love (assuming they survive the next three episodes). You're considering cracking open the books.

I know how you feel. This was how I felt after Season 1, and I devoured the series (or at least the five books that currently comprise the series) before Season 2 aired the following year.

I've been asked whether the books are worth reading a number of times, and I'm not convinced one way or the other. The best I can do is present a list of pros and cons, and you make the call.
PROS

- You will watch the HBO series in a different light. As I mentioned in my other Game of Fwones piece this week, the small screen adaptation of George R.R. Martin's novels is beyond impeccable. It's even better than the books. There might've been a few things I've missed from the page to the screen, but not many. You'll know characters better through their inner thoughts, but, honestly, the vast majority of characters are portrayed better on screen.

- You'll have fun watching with the uninitiated. I love watching my wife, who hasn't read the books despite being 100x faster at reading, react to the show. And if she has questions, or if I think providing some context will help her enjoy the show more, I'll pause the action and talk things through. YOU HAVE TO BE CAREFUL WITH WHAT YOU GIVE AWAY.

- You'll understand the show's context better. All of the events in the series take place many years after Robert's Rebellion, a civil war during which Robert Baratheon usurped Aerys Targaryen as King of Westeros. Some of that context is provided in the show, but the book spends much more time in the past. Nearly everything happening now is the direct result of what happened then, and knowing the history can provide hints to what's ahead.

- You'll be able to read A Wiki of Ice and Fire without fear of spoilers. A big enough GoT nerd can spend hours perusing this insanely extensive library of every known bit of lore in the Song of Ice and Fire universe. I've found this site enormously helpful in refreshing my memory about plot points and characters. I've also developed a number of theories about where the show is headed, which is fun, but it's also something you can do simply watching the shows. You'll be far less informed, though, which brings me to my next pro...

- You can be a smug and talk to new viewers like they are children who will never understand Westeros the way you do. I like to start any GoT discussion off with a faint smirk and, "Well, in the books..." People will hate you for this, but you can feel superior to them for a short time. This post is basically an extended version of that smugness.

CONS

- The show tells the story better anyway. As I mentioned in my last post, plot twists on the show are more vivid and powerful than they are in the book. Partly, this is due to the medium. You read alone, but shows like Game of Thrones are properly watched communally. Even watched alone, though, the show has been consistently better at showing major events and, impressively, character depth. I am glad I read the series, but I would LOVE to experience the show with fresh eyes.

- The books can be a slog, especially if you've already watched the accompanying season. I picked up the books after viewing the show's first season. Since the adaptations are so faithful to the book (especially the first one), I found myself sighing and wishing I could get to the new stuff faster.

The second and third books, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, moved much, much faster, because they are arguably the best books in the series. After that, the action slows a bit with A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons, which have overlapping time frames and follow different POV characters. With each book, the scope of the world widens and new characters are introduced. This can be a bit annoying, as satirized on The Onion.

- The wait is worse for the books than it is for the show. Game of Thrones was published in August 1996, and the sequels have trickled out slowly since. A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons (the most recent release) were published nearly six years apart, despite the fact their stories cover the same chronological span. There are two more entries due, and no one has any idea when those will happen. When you factor in that George R.R. Martin is 64 years old and not in especially good shape, there's a very real possibility the show will be finished before the novels, if the novels are even finished at all. Benioff and Weiss, the show's creators, will reportedly carry out the story in the event of Martin's passing, though, in case you were wondering.

FINAL VERDICT: If you're a completist, pick up the books. If you like to read, pick up the books. But, look, if you don't feel like reading the books, you'll be perfectly fine, and the show might even be more enjoyable.

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