Adapting Game Of Thrones For The Small Screen

When writing for a television show, there are many guidelines and rules you have to follow. This proves quite difficult when the program is based on a best selling novel–especially one that features explicit violence and sex. Although most television programs would opt to change the story completely,with HBO’s hit program Game Of Thrones did the opposite–they chose to keep the graphic and somewhat upsetting scenes in order to stay true to the story. Using my interview with Indian Springs graduate, Dave Hill ‘02 who is a writer for the HBO program, I wanted to explore how the books were adapted into the show and what they chose to leave in and what they ultimately decided to leave out of the story on the small screen.  

One very obvious thing that would be left out of the show, but is seen all throughout the book, is the interior monologue of the characters– it’s what everyone knows and relates to almost immediately. Each book features multiple character points of view, and If the show were to copy the interiority exclusively from the book, then the episodes would be hours long. “The books are all first-person so the reader is privy to a character’s innermost thoughts and emotions. We obviously don’t have that. We have to tell our story in the third-person, and figure out to communicate that inner life through dialogue, action, and – most importantly – great actors who often can do more with one look than we can with many lines.”Mr. Hill helps to explain the major obstacle in adaptation between written and visual texts and the process of doing so in my interview with him for The Mire. .

Other than this major structural change, the HBO program follows the books very closely, just from its first scene, in which we see some men traveling beyond a very large structure. We soon learn is the wall. In the books, we know the character’s names because of the interiority: these men are named Royce, Will, and Gared— however they are left unnamed in the show. Why is this? Could it be because they are just side character we don’t need to know, or are they the main characters? These are the questions that the viewers of the show ask themselves as they watch, and almost act as a hook to first time viewers. A struggle the creators of the show seemed to deal with, according to Mr. Hill, was how to create exciting and emotionally driven actions on the screen— this seemed difficult when adapting a book that revolves around speaking and storytelling. But Hill describes it best here: “In every scene, we had to figure out exactly what background mythology was needed for the scene to make sense to an audience and figure out how to get it out emotionally through character and conflict instead of droning lectures and exposition.” While in books we watch characters think, on screen we see their pain.  The book does not have this same effect as getting to see characters struggle or act, getting an idea of who these people seem to be. But this would not be possible without what the books do very well:that’s creating a massive and immersive world full of fantastic places and people. We only really see just a glimpse of a much larger world in the show. This is a good contrast though— if the creators were to include the huge world, most viewers would feel overwhelmed and probably turned off by the idea of starting a new show.

It’s no easy job to adapt a television program from a book, most of the time they fail to capture what makes the book great, however in the case of Game Of Thrones and A Song Of Ice And Fire the show became a household name and the books became just as successful as the show. The things the creators had to drop for the show were mainly minor plots or just pieces of the story that viewers couldn’t relate to or understand. The changes they made were in service of the medium of TV. The actors are the ones who bring the characters to life from the broody Jon Snow to the vile Cersei Lannister, and we relate these characters back to the actors that play them. The actors have become a part of the characters. No book can be taken straight from the pages and put on the screen, things have to be adjusted not just to suit viewers,  but rather for the show to follow an understandable story arc while also keeping the viewer emotionally involved.

–Riley Berry ‘19