I am a bit of a freak for Game Of Thrones, which makes its return for a third season tonight on HBO. During the quote-unquote “off” time after last season, I got to see just how freaky I could get by turning to the books to fill the void, and I got more than I bargained for.
For the record, when it debuted back in 2010, I did not initially jump on the GOT bandwagon because I’m not a big consumer of what I thought was “the genre.” I never read The Hobbit, and I still haven’t watched even a single minute of any of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
But midway through that first season when so many people said so many good things, I gave it a chance, and I was hooked. Somewhere during the second season I swallowed the hook. I was every bit as invested as I was during my infatuation phases with previous HBO faves Deadwood and The Wire (probably my two favorite long-form dramas of all time).
Like any good addict who’s never really satisfied, I decided to forego the offseason wait and picked up the story in the George R.R. Martin books upon which the HBO series is based. Normal people, presumably, can just enjoy the afterglow of a complete season and bask in the anticipation of a new season come Spring.
But not me. I had to dive into the deep and gobble up the whole flippin’ story in a matter of weeks (17, actually, to get to the end of all the story Martin has published).
Hours after the season two finale was in the books, I began reading A Storm Of Swords, the longest of the five novels, and which the next two seasons of the HBO series are mostly deriving from. And immediately, it was a frustrating endeavor.
Remember, I hadn’t read the novels upon which the first two seasons were based (A Game Of Thrones and A Clash Of Kings), so Storm was instantly confusing. There’s about 60 hours of story in each book versus 10 hours of TV so an awful lot is left out and changed to accommodate the demands of television).
And in the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t actually “reading” the books as much as I was listening to them. The audiobooks are pretty spectacular and great fodder for airports and treadmills alike. And I was constantly finding myself in narrative dead-ends or attempting to get the rhythm of what I had missed from the first two books.
But never fear, Wiki’s always near. And when it comes to wikis, A Wiki Of Ice And Fire is itself a body of work nearly as impressive as the fictional worlds they document. Can’t figure out what’s going on? There’s a thorough recap of every chapter of every book. And hyperlinked character profiles, and maps and everything you could possibly want. Score, right?
But the problem with the wiki is that it’s really easy to catapult yourself further in the story than you want. As I delved deeper into Westeros, I ended up spoiling my own efforts more than once, going to a character profile to fill in the blanks and unwittingly finding out they were about to die (or not). And then also, you could turn to reader hypotheses on the nuances of what was left out…or hinted at.
I guess the point of it all for me was that I was no longer consuming anything approaching a linear story on one or even two platforms. This is like the archetypical “book becoming movie,” but actually multiple stories and story-forms unfolding and being reinvented in real time, further suspect by the way I was consuming them, particularly by the time I got to the homestretch of A Dance With Dragons.
Even further complicating matters was the fact that the fourth and fifth book actually cover the same point in time, mostly, scattered across different continents in this fictional realm of Westeros. Somewhere in that fifth novel we get our first blizzard south of the wall, and when it finally got there, I was fully aware of how much story I was struggling to digest. (I mean really, the promise from the git was “winter’s coming,” and 7,000 pages later, we’re just barely getting there).
I will say that the epilogue of the fifth book is the best chapter of them all, so ultimately I left with a good feeling about it all…excited to read the sixth book, whenever it arrives. And of course, I’m fully geeked for tonight.
Would I do it again? Well, I’d like to say “no.” I’d like to say that I’d just patiently wait it out…just like I had with The Wire and Deadwood and The Sopranos, when mp3ing and wiki-ing my way to finish line wasn’t an option.
But knowing myself, and that “one is too many and a thousand never enough”…I’d probably do it all over again, for better or worse.
(btw, that’s me on the Iron Throne–or at least a promotional version thereof that appeared at SXSW this year).