Tonight is the night for Game of Thrones fans around the world. We wait for the beginning of the new season the way football fans pine for the opening of the next season.
Or - at least - I hope tonight is the night. Since we'll be streaming the show via HBO Now, it's a bit of a mixed bag. The app itself says that HBO Now subscribers will have new episodes “every Sunday”, but the company hasn't always been super reliable at turning these types of things around. I'm a huge fan of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which also comes out every Sunday, but the folks who post it to HBO Now are often several days behind in getting new episodes up. But I digress - one suspects they will be more vigilant with a property as popular as Game of Thrones.
Season six is something extra special. GoT is, of course, a television adaptation of a series of books - A Song of Ice and Fire - by George RR Martin. While modifications have been made to the storyline to make it work better on the screen, the TV series has been largely faithful to the ultimate focus and intent of the storyline found in those books.
But: The end of season five reached the end of the storyline in the books.
This is, of course, not news to anyone who has slogged their way through all of the existing books. Those of us who have spent that time - whether reading words on paper or screen, or listening to it via audiobook as was the case for me - have been well aware for some time that the pace of the TV Series was such that it was going to reach the end of the books before Martin had an opportunity to put out the next installment in the series.
I, for one, am very excited by this prospect. In part this is because this will be the first time since season two that I have no idea what to expect (I started listening to the books after watching the first couple of seasons). Like many, perhaps most, I have ideas about where things might be going, but I don't actually know where they will end up now. This, in and of itself, is exhilarating.
But there's something more. Frankly, I think the TV writing team does a better job with the series than Martin does himself. I described the books as a slog and, in many ways, they are. While they are ultimately entertaining as a whole, Martin gets lost in details and secondary (and tertiary, and perhaps quaternary) storylines that spend pages and chapters often, it seems, to little effect. It often seems as if he has been given a book contract without being assigned an editor.
The show writers, given the limitations of time to tell their story, has chosen to eliminate several of those components. They have consolidated characters, choosing instead to focus on a relatively limited set of primary and secondary players (yes - all of those people you are keeping track of in the TV Series really is a much shorter list than you'd need to manage if you were reading the books), and removing entire sections of storyline. There is a seemingly endless period of river flooding that seems it will never end in the middle of the series, for example, taking place during the time Arya is traveling with The Hound. Their travels end much the same in the show, but there is no flood, it doesn't take nearly as long, and Brienne and The Hound do not face off in the book. The TV writers are able to communicate the key components of the relationships and lessons learned much more succinctly, and in a more satisfying fashion.
To be clear, I do realize that the show runners are following the outline provided by George RR Martin. I'm happy to acknowledge that the show is his creation. But the originator of an idea isn't always it's best caretaker (I'm looking at you, George Lucas), nor it's most skillful operator. And sometimes the application of limitations leads to better outcome than having the world at your hands. The constraint of a fixed number of hours to tell a story, a fixed budget for cast, crew, and sets versus the seemingly unlimited space of a book makes a difference here in the decisions that are made.
So I'm excited to see what they do with the remaining story, and I'm excited to let them resolve it for me. I find, for now at least, I prefer that to waiting to see how Martin chooses to portray it on the page. It's questionable, in fact, whether I will choose to read (listen to) the remaining books after I've finished the TV series.