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Game of Thrones and a question of adaptation

First aired seven years ago, Game of Thrones has created a debate between purists and fans over whether a TV series can be adapted from a book that has not yet been written

editorials Updated: Apr 21, 2018 13:32 IST
Hindustan Times
Game of Thrones,Television,Books
A still from Game of Thrones. The TV show is based on a much beloved series of books called A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin.(File)

Seven years ago to the week, the first episode of TV show Game of Thrones aired on American television. Since then, it has become a worldwide phenomenon like no other, earning, along the way, the distinction of being the world’s most pirated TV show for several years running. It will not achieve that distinction this year, because there will be no season in 2018, leaving its legions of fans waiting for the final season in 2019. During its highly successful run, the show has opened the door to more such massive-budget TV shows set in fantastical situations – from Vikings and Outlander to Westworld. But it has changed something else as well, the very meaning of what an ‘adaptation’ is.

The TV show is based on a beloved series of books called A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin. The first book in the series called A Game of Thrones was first published in 1996, and a portion of it , the Daenerys Targaryen chapters, won the Hugo Award that year for best novella. When the TV series began in 2011, the fifth novel of the series, A Dance With Dragons, had not yet been released. It is expected that there will be two more books to wrap up the series, but they have not yet been published. This creates a unique conundrum for a TV show based on a book series. While the TV show does mostly stick to the story of the books, the scale and scope of the books is so vast and spread over so many different times and places that it was well nigh impossible to present them on screen. The TV show soon became a beast of its own, diverging from the books in important ways — some of the characters that have been killed in the TV show are still alive in the books, and some vital characters from the books aren’t even there in the TV series.

For all this, the first seasons were still technically adapted from the books. But what of these final two seasons, in the middle of which the fandom impatiently sits? Can a TV series be adapted from a book that has not yet been written? If the final two books come out after the TV show, will they, then, have been adapted from the show? Purists have insisted that the books, being older, and richer in terms of just the sheer amount of plot and history, must be the formal canon. But the characters portrayed so wonderfully, and loved so universally, in the TV show cannot be relegated to secondary status simply because of the medium. Theorists of literature and film must ponder this one carefully.

First Published: Apr 20, 2018 18:38 IST