TIME Television

“The Book Was Better”: Why Readers of TV Adaptations Need to Let Go

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, transported from 1945 Scotland to 1743 Scotland in Outlander. Starz

When your favorite read becomes a series, it no longer belongs to you alone. And that's fine.

The battle between books and TV used to be fought by bibliophiles proclaiming that they didn’t even own televisions. Today, the terms of battle have changed, as prestige TV has gotten enough cultural status that there is probably some counter-snob bragging, at a cocktail party somewhere, “Why, I don’t even own a book!”

But the latest point of contention is between readers and watchers of the same story, when an acclaimed, popular work of fiction (e.g., A Song of Ice and Fire) becomes an acclaimed, popular TV drama (e.g., Game of Thrones). If you read a franchise before it was adapted for the tube, is your fandom more true than a newcomer viewer? Does the TV series owe you a faithfulness to the original story? And do you suddenly have to clam up about “spoilers” you read a decade ago?

Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones recently weighed in on that last issue with a directness that would do her character Arya Stark proud, sticking book purists with the pointy end: “I’m so sick of going on the Internet and seeing all the book readers being snobby, spoiling it for other people, then saying, ‘Well, it’s not a spoiler. The books have been out for years.’ Like, couldn’t you just stop being mad for a second and let other people enjoy the show?”

Speaking as a reader of the books, she’s right–up to a point. If anyone that desperately wants to know what’s coming up in the books, nothing’s stopping them from reading ahead, so I’m not taking a vow of silence. On the other hand, I don’t have to be a jerk about it: in my reviews of GoT–which at this point has started diverging from the books in key ways anyway–I pointedly avoid book spoilage, at least without warning anyone. There are plenty of big forums for book readers to discuss the series with other readers–the AV Club has gone as far as publishing separate “newbies” and “experts” reviews.

There’s a similar dynamic going on with The Walking Dead (which has diverged even father from the source graphic novels, or so I’m told). And pretty soon we’ll have a new book fandom entering the TV-space: Outlander, based on a massively popular fantasy-romance-history series by Diana Gabaldon–involving war, sex, time travel and 18th-century Scotland–debuts on Starz August 9. And as with Game of Thrones, its loyal readers will be watching closely. Very closely.

Writing for Vanity Fair online, Joanna Robinson angered some of these Outlanderphiles Tuesday when she posted a critique of the credits sequence that Starz has put online, arguing that the misty-highlands music and the “Ren-meets-Lilith-Fair” visuals suggested that Starz was positioning and marketing the series as a genre romance in a way that might turn off a larger audience, especially men. It was hardly an in-depth review, but it was a legitimate enough subject for a short post about the marketing of a TV series–from a writer who has been an astute critic of series like Game of Thrones. (I’ve seen six episodes of Outlander, which I’ll review later. I think it has crossover potential, and I didn’t exactly think I needed to turn in my Man Card for watching it. But, to Robinson’s concern, the series itself is a good bit less gauzy than those credits and Bear McCreary theme song suggest.)

A slew of commenters, though, took Robinson’s critique of Starz’s marketing of the TV series specifically as an attack on the books, and their genre at large–on them. (Starz, she suggested, was making Outlander look like “Fifty Shades of Plaid,” in a way that might appeal only to “your dear old mum.”) What especially struck me, though, was a repeated refrain in the angry replies from fans: “If you have read Outlander, which I don’t believe you did, you would never make those silly comments.”

Robinson pointed out on Twitter that she actually has read Outlander. But suppose she hadn’t. So what? What’s really going on here is a larger, recurrent argument here about fandom and ownership.

Outlander the TV series is an adaptation, which Starz–like HBO or AMC or any other adapter–is making for an audience that, ideally, will be far larger than the readership alone. Can you not have a legitimate opinion on them unless you have read the source books–and unless you love the source books and are invested in a series you haven’t yet seen? Are the old fans the true fans, the authentic fans, the authoritative fans? Can you truly appreciate and understand an adaption without reading the source–or is it actually a handicap?

HBO’s Game of Thrones. HELEN SLOAN

I’ve been on both sides of this, and my strict rule about reading the source material is: there is no rule. I’ve read the A Song of Ice and Fire books and I love them–not without reservation–but there are times I wish I could watch Game of Thrones without knowing what’s coming or being tempted to compare. Knowing the general story lets me focus on Thrones‘ themes and characters without getting bogged down in plot speculation. On the other hand, I can never un-read the books and know what it would be like to watch the series from that perspective.

So when I heard HBO was adapting The Leftovers, I decided not to read the book, even though I’m a fan of Tom Perrotta’s other novels. I’ve never read The Walking Dead graphic novels, not because I care about being spoiled but because I don’t have enough interest. Outlander—that’s a lot of books to read in a little time, and I’d just as soon go in without preconceptions. On the other hand, I eagerly read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, long before the BBC announced its upcoming adaption of the fantasy novel, and I can’t wait to see it.

In other words, I’ve been a reader and a non-reader. One experience is not better, purer or more authoritative than the other. Neither experience makes judgment of the visual version of the story more or less legitimate. They are qualitatively different experiences–but they are just that, different, and it’s impossible to have both experiences at once. That’s why I’m glad, for instance, that I can read Game of Thrones reviews both by critics who have read the source and ones who haven’t–I find things in both that I can’t expect to get from the other.

People who came to Game of Thrones years after I read the books are not fandom gentrifiers. Our perspectives aren’t inherently better or worse than the other. And the same goes for books vs. their adaptations. As a reader of ASOIAF, HBO owes me precisely nothing–except in the sense that it “owes” me as a subscriber to make any TV series a good TV series. It doesn’t owe me a reproduction of my favorite scenes and storylines. Our default adjective for adaptations is “faithful,” but there’s no breach of faith inherent in changing a story for the screen. There are things I miss in Game of Thrones, but in many ways the streamlining of the vast, digressive story has been an improvement–and in any case, it’s better suited for TV.

But beyond that, HBO could have turned ASOIAF into a laugh-track family sitcom–That’s My Lannister!–with a wacky space-alien neighbor living next door to the Red Keep, and it would not diminish my reading experience one bit. It would change the larger world’s perception of the story, yes. Any TV or film adaptation is likely to have a much broader cultural reach than the novels it was based on–and there’s another reason for readers to feel anxious about adaptations. But in the end, what other people think of a story you love doesn’t matter. What matters is the individual, and inalienable, bond the story makes with you.

I don’t know how true Outlander will ultimately be to the books, but one way or another Outlander‘s literary fans will soon have to deal with all of this just as ASOIAF‘s have. (If my friend and colleague Lev Grossman’s The Magicians ends up becoming a series at Syfy, so will its readers.) And I recognize that this tension is especially strong among readers of genre fiction, who have learned to expect their favorites to be dismissed as silly stories for Dorito-stained fanboys or doily-clutching old ladies. That may be, for instance, why you don’t hear the same kind of outcry or policing among Perrotta fans over HBO’s Leftovers–literary-fiction readers just don’t have to deal with the same kind of insults. As a genre fan, you become protective. You are The Watcher–or rather, The Reader–on The Wall.

But in the end, the book is the book. The show is the show. I’m glad to accept that I’m going to get different things from one than from the other–and if one of them ends up sucking, it doesn’t diminish the other. It’s just one more reason that it’s a good thing to own both a TV set and a bookcase.

TIME Television

Game of Thrones: Maisie Williams Proves Herself an Expert Troll

Maisie Williams at Comic Con 2014
Maisie Williams attends the Entertainment Weekly: Women Who Kick Ass panel and presentation and presentation during Comic-Con International 2014 on July 26 in San Diego, California. Albert L. Ortega—Getty Images

The 17-year-old actress who plays Arya Stark on the popular HBO drama called out the "snobby" readers of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire

It’s rather well-established that Maisie Williams is the best, but now she’s gone a step further, championing the cause of Game of Thrones television fans who have had just about enough of book readers’ condescension. For as long as GoT has been on the air, A Song of Ice and Fire experts have been criticizing and spoiling the HBO show, and Williams simply won’t take it anymore.

During an interview the TVLine, Williams was asked about Lady Stoneheart — a popular character from George R.R. Martin’s novels not slated to appear in the television show — and she used it as an opportunity to expertly troll book readers:

That was a massive deal, but honestly, I really like it. I’m so sick of going on the internet and seeing all the book readers being snobby, spoiling it for other people, then saying, “Well, it’s not a spoiler. The books have been out for years.” Like, couldn’t you just stop being mad for a second and let other people enjoy the show? They feel they have a claim on the series because they read the books first, and I understand that, but they don’t need to be mean about it. That’s why I liked moments like this, because book readers think they know what’s coming, then we change it and it’s really funny to watch their reactions. They’re always like, “That’s not what happened in the books, so the show’s really bad now.” But really, they just feel insecure because they’re used to knowing what’s coming next.

Never change, Arya Stark.

[TVLine]

TIME Television

#DontKillSeanBean Campaign Aims to Save Actor From Yet Another Onscreen Death

Will he survive his latest role in TNT's Legends?

Sean Bean is the actor who’s died a thousand deaths. From Lord of the Rings to Black Death to Game of Thrones, Sean Bean has been shot, drawn and quartered, beheaded, you name it. This FHM infographic counts 16 on-screen deaths for the actor, which has provoked a campaign to save the actor in his latest endeavor, TNT’s Legends.

“I’ve died a lot of different deaths. Maybe it’s the quality of my death people are fascinated by. I liked Lord of the Rings. Big death,” the actor told The Daily Telegraph. So when TNT producers launched a #DontKillSeanBean marketing campaign over the weekend at San Diego Comic-Con, the hashtag quickly went viral.

No word yet on whether Sean Bean will survive his latest role, but here’s a reel of all his deaths for your viewing pleasure:

TIME celebrities

Arya Stark Dons Spider-Man Mask at Comic-Con

And no one seemed to notice

Arya Stark’s covert wandering in HBO’s Game of Thrones may be rubbing off on 17-year-old actress Maisie Williams, who took to the floors of this year’s Comic-Con convention in San Diego while wearing a Spider-Man mask in order to go unnoticed.

Williams posted an Instagram picture of her incognito stroll on Sunday.

TIME Television

Game of Thrones Geeks Spooked by Missing Character

Game of Thrones Helen Sloan—HBO

Arianne Martell is missing in latest announcement for the cast of the fifth season

HBO unveiled several new Game of Thrones cast members at Comic-Con on Friday, but fans of the hit adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s book series are already upset about the exclusion of one character.

In the books, Arianne Martell is the heiress to the capital city of Dorne, a kingdom in the Game of Thrones universe that’s set to be an important location in the upcoming fifth season of the wildly popular HBO series. But while other members of Arianne’s family have been cast, including father Doran Martell (played by Alexander Siddig) and brother Trystane Martell (Toby Sebastian), Arianne herself hasn’t made the jump to television.

It’s possible Arianne could appear in future seasons, but as Kotaku notes, the official character bio of Trystane describes him as the heir to Dorne, while Ariane’s love interest, Aerys Oakheart, has also not been cast. The exclusion comes as a surprise to fans, not just because Arianne is a major player in the fantasy novels’ numerous plot twists, but also because she was a strong, complex female character in a fictional universe that doesn’t have too many of those.

TIME Television

Game of Thrones Confirms New Season 5 Cast Members

+ READ ARTICLE

Game of Thrones has been adding new cast members every season even faster than it’s been killing them off (which is saying something), and Season 5 is no exception. On Friday, HBO released the names of a slew of new actors who will be featured in Season 5, many of them playing members of the Martell family. (Viewers will definitely remember the gruesome death of Oberyn Martell at the end of Season 4.)

Here’s a full list of the nine new cast members:

Alexander Siddig as Doran Martell, the older brother of Prince Oberyn

Toby Sebastian as Trystane Martell, Doran’s son

Nell Tiger Free as Myrcella Baratheon, Cersei and Jaime Lannister’s eldest child

DeObia Oparei as Areo Hotah, the captain of Doran Martell’s palace guard

Enzo Cilenti as Yezzan, a former slave trader

Jessica Henwick as Nymeria Sand, second eldest of Oberyn Martell’s bastard daughters

Rosabell Laurenti Sellers as Tyene Sand, another daughter of Oberyn

Keisha Castle-Hughes as Obara Sand, Oberyn’s eldest daughter of

Jonathan Pryce as the High Sparrow, a religious leader in King’s Landing

Watch the video introducing the new castmates up top.

TIME Television

You’ve Never Seen the “Game of Thrones” Cast Like This Before

The Game of Thrones set appears to be much more fun than Westeros

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Game of Thrones is not a very funny show — it’s hard to smile when your favorite characters are betrayed and a hero’s head explodes like a cantaloupe.

But that’s not to say that the actors on Game of Thrones aren’t funny. Game of Thrones‘ Season 4 bloopers are a fun window into some of the more lighthearted moments on set — and Peter Dinklage does not disappoint.

TIME Television

Andy Samberg and Kit Harington to Team Up In HBO’s Wimbledon Mockumentary

Spike TV's "Guys Choice" Awards - Arrivals
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07: Actor Andy Samberg attends Spike TV's "Guys Choice" Awards at Sony Studios on June 7, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic) Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic

Tennis, anyone?

Andy Roddick and Andy Murray are about to be joined by a new tennis-playing Andy: Andy Samberg. The comedian will not be playing at the U.S. Open any time soon, but he will be honing his backhand to play a tennis bad boy opposite Game of Thrones star Kit Harington (a.k.a. Jon Snow) in an upcoming HBO mockumentary called 7 Days in Hell.

Samberg will play “tennis’ superstar bad boy” Aaron Williams, who is up against Harington’s Charles Poole, “a tennis prodigy and certified truck driver,” facing off during a legendary seven-day match at Wimbledon, according to Deadline. While the story sounds far-fetched, it has roots in reality. Back in 2010, Wimbledon hosted an epic match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, who battled it out for 11 hours over three days, with Isner eventually winning, 70-68 in the fifth set.

Rounding out the cast of the mockumentary will be Fred Armisen, Lena Dunham, Karen Gillan (as a supermodel and Charles’s childhood best friend), Howie Mandel, Soledad O’Brien (as herself), Michael Sheen and Mary Steenburgen (as Charles’s crazed mother). Nebraska stars Will Forte and June Squibb will reunite on screen as well, with Forte playing a tennis historian.

The HBO original was written by Girls and American Dad! writer Murray Miller and is based on a concept by Miller and Samberg. SNL and Funny or Die’s Jake Szymanski will direct.

MORE: A Conversation with Andy Samberg: Cops, Cuckoos and Comedy

MORE: The Best Theory About Jon Snow’s Mother

TIME Television

Game of Thrones Is Using Almost All New Directors for Season 5

Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) in Season 4 of "Game of Thrones"
Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) in Season 4 of "Game of Thrones" Helen Sloan—HBO

Familiar faces — including Neil Marshall and Michelle MacLaren — won't be directing new episodes of the popular HBO show, with only one Thrones veteran returning

Over the course of its five seasons, Game of Thrones has become known nearly as much for its epic visuals as it has for its sprawling storytelling. Naturally, talented directors like Neil Marshall (responsible for Season Two’s “Blackwater” and Season Four’s “Watchers on the Wall”), Michelle MacLaren (four episodes of Thrones and a pair of Emmy nominations for her work on Breaking Bad) and Alan Taylor (six episodes, as well as 2013’s Thor: The Dark World) play a substantial role in creating that style.

So when it was announced on EW.com that many of the directors responsible for creating some of the series’ most iconic episodes were not returning, it was a bit of a surprise. That said, HBO is bringing an impressive group of newcomers to Westeros (alongside David Nutter, who has helmed four past episodes of Thrones).

Here’s the full list:

Episodes 501 and 502: Michael Slovis (episodes of AMC’s Breaking Bad and NBC’s Law & Order: SVU)

Episodes 503 and 504: Mark Mylod (episodes of Showtime’s Shameless and HBO’s Entourage)

Episodes 505 and 506: Jeremy Podeswa (episodes of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Showtime’s The Tudors)

Episodes 507 and 508: Miguel Sapochnik (episodes of Fox’s House and Fringe)

Episodes 509 and 510: David Nutter (known as “the pilot whisperer” for his track record in getting pilots picked up to series; Nutter directed four epiosdes of Thrones, plus many other shows)

And, of course, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are returning as showrunners (though not behind the camera for any episodes in 2015), so it’s unlikely Game of Thrones will look all that different from how you remember it.

TIME Music

Hodor From Game of Thrones Launches Thrones-Themed DJ Tour

Opening of the Moscow International Film Festival
Kristian Nairn attends the Moscow International Film Festival at Pushkinsky Cinema on June 19, 2014 in Moscow, Russia. Kommersant Photo--Kommersant via Getty Images

Tour has inevitably been dubbed "Rave of Thrones"

Australians looking to show off their love of Game of Thrones on the dancefloor are in luck.

Kristian Nairn, the actor who plays Hodor on the HBO show, is gearing up for a DJ-tour around Australia, which has been appropriately dubbed “Rave of Thrones.”

The tour — which will see Nairn playing gigs in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne, Darwin and Adelaide — sounds like it will be exactly what fans of the HBO series are looking for in between seasons.

The Guardian reports that the gig venues will be transformed with Westeros-like decor and, like most GOT festivities, there will be plenty of surprise guests. What’s more, audience members are expected to show up in full GOT regalia.

The audience can also expect a good show from Nairn, as the Northern Irish actor spent more than a decade as a resident DJ in Belfast’s Kremlin club before being cast on the world-famous show. As the tour’s website promises that, “Unlike the Red Wedding, these soirees will be remembered for seasons to come for all the right reasons.”

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