I wish I’d never read the Game of Thrones books. There. I’ve said it. Partly because it was a lot of hours from my life that could have been better spent, but mostly because they’ve slightly spoiled the show for me. And let’s be clear about one thing: the show is INFINITELY better.

To be fair, I’m not one of those people who always prefers the book. There are films I love that have no resemblance to the books they’re supposedly adapted from (Blade RunnerDie Hard). There are films based on books that are awful (No Country For Old Men — Sorry, but Cormac McCarthy is an overrated hack). And then there are films where both the book and the film seem to serve their own purpose, and have equal merit (Catch 22The World According to Garp).

But, buy and large, the book is usually better. By a wide margin. A Song of Ice and Fire is very much the opposite situation. The simple fact is, those books are a mess.

I think there are a lot of reasons. George R. R. Martin has been writing these things forever. The first book came out in 1991, and as we all know, he doesn’t exactly write quickly. Over the decades it’s pretty obvious that the plot has simply gotten away from him. I honestly don’t believe he knows where he wants the story to go, and it shows. In the later books, the characters become unfocused, and be the end of the most recent book, there’s virtually no one left in Westeros actually fighting the war that was supposed to be the whole damned point in the first place. In fact, most of the characters aren’t in Westeros at all.

If ever there was a central storyline to this series it, like the history of the First Men, has been lost to the mists of time. By the time I finished A Dance With Dragons, I felt like I was reading a fantasy soap opera. Nothing was relevant to the story I signed on for anymore. Now, I was just reading about a handful of “perspective” characters, all of whom seem to have completely lost interest in the main story themselves. There are dozens of loose ends and unresolved storylines in every book, and when you becomes an experienced Martin reader, you learn to just let it go. George might have planned for that little plot thread to go somewhere, but he’s forgotten it now. Best for us all to just move on and pretend it never happened.

In addition to the pointless narrative tangle, the books are a structural disaster as well. You can tell, as a reader, that Martin couldn’t be bothered to go back and re-read what he’d written before continuing a particular storyline. He reiterates the same information, sometimes in slightly different ways, over and over again. He gives you details presented as new information four, five, six times. Occasionally, with slightly different specifics. It’s maddening.

Then there are the damned characters. I’m not the first person to mock his use of a thousand characters to tell a story, but I’m hopping on the bandwagon. It truly is ridiculous. SO MANY characters, and the vast majority of them are simply irrelevant. Places in the narrative that could, and often SHOULD, be served by characters we’ve met before, but no, we get some cousin of a retainer of a bannerman who once shook Eddard’s hand a tournament in… After a while, it all degenerates into noise.

Finally, I really got tired of being the butt of Martin’s obvious food & clothes fetishes. We get only the slightest sense of what people or places look like; primarily notes about hair color or weight. But we are treated to a full and ample description of EVERY dish served at EVERY meal, and what EVERY GODDAMNED PERSON was wearing when they ATE IT. It’s fucking exhausting. At Joffrey’s purple wedding, there are literal pages of description just for the food.

The writers of the show seem to have made smart work pruning Martin’s meandering story into something like a cohesive narrative, and I’m grateful for every extraneous character and unsatisfying subplot they’ve excised. Unfortunately, having now read the damned books, I can’t stop myself from analyzing the differences as I watch it, which is distracting. I also suspect that the major beats of the story will probably not change much, and I regret knowing what happens so far into the future of the show (because god only knows how much ground they’ll be able to cover this season).

If you’re a fan of the show, do yourself a favor: stay far away from those massive doorstop novels. They will only serve to spoil one of the best shows on television.

Whatcha think?

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