This April 14th will begin the 8th and final season of the HBO television adaptation of a dragon laden fantasy saga from an author who has sometimes been called the American Tolkein, George R.R. Martin.
A notoriously slow scribe Martin’s epic tale began with the title that the TV show adopted as its own ‘A Game of Thrones’ which hit the book stands in 1996. Planned as a 7-part saga in book form, to this day the series remains unfinished. Martin has thus far completed only 5 with the most recent instalment, ‘A Dance of Dragons’ taking 6 years alone to complete.
This measured and unhurried approach didn’t prevent Martin from selling the rights back in 2007 to adapt his series, referred to overall as ‘A Song of Ice & Fire’, to the US network for a reported $65m.
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Knowing of his preferred writing speed, both HBO and the author himself must have been well aware back then that very likely the day would come when the source narrative would be exhausted by the TV production and without an ending available.
That day arrived at the end of season 5 of the show on June 14th 2015, and with the impending series being the 8th and final one producers have striven since then, with Martin’s input and based upon material from the upcoming novels, to build towards a satisfying conclusion.
Like any adaptation for the screen of original written works, and with only 6 episodes to go, there exist differences of opinion on how successful the results have been.
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Nowadays, and perhaps since the overwhelming success of the hugely prolific Stephen King, and how so many of his books have been used as source material for all manner of films and TV shows, and certainly since the massive financial incentive provided by the fortune amassed in relatively short time by J.K. Rowling for the Harry Potter stories, the modern author makes adaptation a strong consideration before they ever put pen to paper, or more likely put forefingers to keyboard.
And indeed, this is what production companies look for. Writers of screenplays will more likely make sale of their ideas if they have sufficient stored up not just for successful box office on a movie or for a single season of a TV series, but for multiple seasons, for prequels, sequels, spin-offs, merchandise, and video games.
The preference for this depth of possibility in the material, the reason in fact for the current and decade long deluge of comic book and superhero adaptations, is precisely because of the entire universes that have been constructed to support the characters and stories, providing endless possible narratives for further commercial development.
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That being the case it is the literary author who is able to create worlds with the most such potential, given the opportunity that the written form provides imbuing a depth of detail, information and description to immerse the mind of the reader. So it is no surprise that they have been for some time the go to guys to attempt to affect viewers in similar fashion.
Returning then to the conundrum of ‘Game of Thrones’, and what happens when the source material you are adapting is unfinished, and the medium in which you are working lacks the possibility to render the same level of detail. Is it inevitable that you are going to conjure only disappointment?
Those who have read all of George R. R. Martin’s original novels in the series, might elect that the screen version in its entirety lacks the requisite depth, detail and context that the original offers and so is by its very nature inferior and was always going to be. An accusation common for all adaptations of original literary material. That being said, you might expect those who have been viewers of the TV series alone to not be too concerned for the pedantry of the literary consumer.
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However, critics and fans alike seem to corroborate the sentiment, at least in part, citing a marked change in seasons six and seven.
Co-creator of the HBO series David Benioff has a career resplendent with adaptations for the screen from written sources including The Kite Runner (2007), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Dirty White Boys (in Production), as well as 25th Hour (2002) adapted from his own novel ‘The 25th Hour’, so he and colleague D.B. Weiss ought to have the finale in good hands.
Yet, notable has been a drastic reduction in the nudity offered in previous seasons as the production began to turn its focus toward the need to be wound up rather than for audiences to be turned on, and while continuing the bloody elimination of characters that the series has become famous for, no additional replacements have been added further streamlining the narrative.
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The finale season, which has taken almost 9 months to film between October of 2017 and July of 2018 and a further 9 in post-production before its April 14th premiere, consists of only a half dozen episodes, compared to seven in season 7, and 10 for all those prior to that.
The distillation process of such a huge and sprawling world can’t be an easy one and should it be in the end that the naysayers continue it will be resolve for Martin, Benioff and Weiss that in show business as in life, and as the poet and monk John Lydgate of Bury, a man who lived in England at the very end of the medieval period said;
“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”