Can We Talk About Why HBO’s Game Of Thrones Is Now Better Than The Books?

I Never Thought I’d Say This, But I’m Going Through Some Serious Game Of Thrones Withdrawal

It feels like just yesterday that I posted a column I wrote a column explaining how I now appreciated the show more than the books. It had nothing to do with content but more that, as a fan (and a paying customer), I felt far more respected by HBO than I did by George R.R. Martin (who hasn’t published a new book in the series since the show premiered in 2011). But now that season seven is in the books, I’m realizing that, as a fan, the show offers me something the books can’t.

Surprises.

As I’ve mentioned, it took me a while to get into the show and it’s occasional narrative missteps (usually revolving around seemingly gratuitous sexual violence) convinced me that my indifference was warranted. But over the last two seasons I have realized that we’re now watching a different show. Despite a widening divergence, the first five seasons were all tethered to (and I’m going to say it, shackled by) the five existing books. They were, by and large, predictable. But since the show passed the books with season six, it has reveled in its new found independence, free to stretch its creative legs and offer plenty of tasty morsels to readers and TV fans alike.

I could always tell when there was a big game changing moment on the show, just from the reactions on social media. Ned Stark’s execution? The Red Wedding? Oberyn Martell’s ill-fated battle against the Mountain? Tywin Lannister’s death at the hands of Tyrion? Jon Snow’s murder by mutinous members of the Night’s Watch? While they may have sent TV fans screaming into the streets, none of them came as surprises to either myself or other long time readers, even if we hadn’t seen the show.

But seasons six and seven have been breaths of fresh creative air. It truly is like watching a second show, one where the book inspired seasons are mere foundation for what’s going on right now and the things yet to come.

Now I’m left wondering how the truth of Jon’s parentage will affect his relationship with Daenerys (so, are they first cousins? And if so, does that qualify as incest?). What about the secret behind Robert Baratheon’s rebellion (that his beloved was not stolen by Rhaegar Targaryen, but instead ran away to marry him in secret)? How will the forces of the living combat the army of the dead now that the Night King has crossed the Wall and has a blue fire breathing zombie dragon on his side? And speaking of coldhearted monsters, how will Daenerys and Tyrion cope with Cersei’s endless treachery?

What’s in store for Tyrion? Especially after that disapproving look he was wearing after Jon Snow paid Danny a late night visit? More importantly, will Brienne and Tormund ever get to cook up those giant babies?

The great thing is, for the first time since the show debuted, I don’t the answer to any of those questions. The show is now treading on truly virgin territory. And if you avoided the leaks and hacks, season seven had plenty of surprises in store for you. Even if you’re part of the cynical tribe that claimed to predict all the twists and turns (the same tribe that genuinely flipped out over Ed Sheeran’s cameo), you have to admit that this season was full of satisfying moments. Whether it was Danerys and Drogon bearing down on the Lannister army with righteous dragon fire or the first true battle against the Night King north of the wall, this season had plenty to offer.

And it wasn’t just the big action beats. Seeing so many characters reunite after years apart or meeting for the first time was just as entertaining. The first time Jon and Danny met sent chills through the entire Internet. Seeing Tyrion and Jamie together after all that passed between them or the venomous exchange between Tyrion and Cersei was well worth it as well. And watching Cersei continue to evolve into a more vengeful, more power hungry agent of pure chaos will make her inevitable (?) downfall even more satisfying.

Seeing the surviving Stark children reunite was a highlight and seeing Gendry again was a nice little bonus. But the bantering that went on when Jon’s party ventured beyond the Wall and when Danerys and Cersei came together to discuss a truce during the season finale were just as entertaining and amusing as anything else the show offered this year.

And I now find myself deeply conflicted about Jaime. His eventual redemption has been going on for years but has never been more profound than the last two seasons. His shift away from brutal tactics (his handling of the Tully siege), the mercy he showed Olenna Tyrell (poisoning her instead of allowing Cersei to torture her to death) and the shy tenderness he demonstrated to Myrcella before she died have all been balanced by his continued, obsessive subservience to Cersei (as well as the ambiguity of that sex scene in the Sept, the one with a possibly unwilling Cersei in front of their oldest son’s corpse?). Plus, let’s not forget that Jaime set everything in motion when he pushed Brandon Stark out of a window to keep his incestuous relationship with his sister secret.

If you really want to see how Jaime has progressed as a character, you need only compare two scenes six seasons apart. Think back to the scene in the first season, where he went out of his way to troll Jon after he joined the Night’s Watch. Jaime was essentially the high school bully crossing the hall to make life difficult for the other kids, simply because he could. Fast forward to season seven, when he goes out of his way to check on Dickon Tarly following the battle at Highgarden. Jaime is genuinely interested in how young Tarly is doing following his first major battle (one against former allies no less). The contrast is brilliant.

(On a side note, I’d love to see a spinoff show of just Jaime, Tyrion and Bronn. It would be chalk full of disapproving side eye and dry chuckles.)

And I have to admit, watching Arya open Littlefinger’s throat after he begged and plead for his greasy little life was almost as satisfying as watching her take out the entire Frey House.

So for only the second time since Game of Thrones hit the air, I find myself eagerly awaiting it’s return (whenever that is). In the meantime I’ll devour any tidbits of news and fan theories and maybe even a few spoilers while I wait to see how the Great War unfolds and how the lives of characters I’ve genuinely become invested in are resolved. Who, after all the dust and blood and dragon fire settles, will be sitting on the Iron Throne? Will we get to see an aerial dragon battle between Drogon and his undead brother? Will the Hound get his long awaited vengeance against the zombiefied Mountain?

The wait could be almost as enjoyable as the actual answers.

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