With the end of season one of Game of Thrones I feel like David Benioff and DB Weiss have created one of the all-time best adaptations of a novel. They smartly kept what worked and whittled away what was extraneous (which, given George RR Martin’s penchant for bloviation, was quite a bit), and they wisely cherry-picked information from future books and placed them right up front to give a richer view of the world that Martin slowly revealed over thousands of pages.
The first season was a success for HBO; ratings improved as the season went on, but more importantly the show became a cultural buzz maker. HBO’s real interest is subscribers, and a show like Game of Thrones, which became huge water cooler conversation, is exactly what drives subscribers. The second season begins filming at the end of next month, and at this point I would pretty much guarantee that there’s a third season in the cards. But what about the next four books? Will we see those?
The big question about season two is casting. Book two, A Clash of Kings, introduces a number of new major players - some of whom even survive until future books! One of the things I like about the show is that it doesn’t rely on names, and in fact killed the biggest name off. Still, it might not hurt to get someone with a little bit of headliner power into the series, and there are two characters who could fit the bill.
First there’s Stannis Baratheon; the younger brother of dead king Robert, he’s technically the next in line for the throne. Stannis is a weird character - he’s so stern and without humor that he’s kind of a drag - he makes Ned Stark look like Andy Dick. But he’s also weirdly compelling, especially as he begins to fall under the sway of the Asshai witch Melisandre. This is a role that could use a good glowerer; some friends have pitched Paddy Considine.
The other character is Quorin Halfhand. He’s a ranger of the Night’s Watch who is involved in what will be the season-long expedition beyond the Wall. Quorin is a badass, and he sort of takes Jon Snow under his wing. I like the idea of casting a name in this role because Quorin plays the Ned Stark part in book two - he gets killed off right at the end. This could truly piss off the non-book reading public, which is always funny.
There are other major roles, including Brienne, the woman who wants to be a knight, but I think most of these would be best suited to unfamiliar faces. Brienne especially; the book goes out of its way to describe her as ugly, and it would be irritating to get a pretty lady in a bad haircut and be told that she’s ugly. Hollywood Ugly will not fly on Game of Thrones.
Another important newcomer is Melisandre, and I’m excited to see how she’s cast. She’s Asshai, from the Shadowlands to the East, which means that she might be Asian - but the book describes her as having bright red hair. Of course you could always put an Asian actress in a red wig. Melisandre gets into some pretty diabolical stuff, and I’m excited to see how they handle her on the show.
Finally there are the Reeds; Jojen and Meera Reed are the children of swamp-living Stark bannerman Lord Howland Reed, who may be the only living character who knows the truth of Jon Snow’s mother. They come to Winterfell to pledge allegiance to the Starks and end up helping young Bran realize that he’s a skinchanger who can put his mind inside his wolf Summer. They’re semi-minor in the books, but I suspect they’ll be very important as the story goes on, and Benioff and Weiss understand how to pump up a character who comes into play later (see Littlefinger, who gets a lot of his Feast For Crows stuff in Game of Thrones season 1). These are younger characters, and they can be cast for maximum sex appeal despite the fact that I don’t think they ever have sex with anybody.
There are a couple of returning characters who present big question marks. What to do with Jaime Lannister? The first season did a great job of beefing him up - in the first book he’s not much of a character and it isn’t until A Storm of Swords that we really get to know the guy. But he spends the entire second season in the dungeon of Riverrun and barely appears at all. This is going to be the major challenge for Benioff and Weiss, unless they tell Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to take a year off or something. There’s a scene where Tyrion tries to have Jaime freed from the dungeon in a raid, so that could be a story that gets him into a couple of episodes, but mostly he’s just rotting down there.
And then there’s Theon Greyjoy. I’m really excited to see how the show handles his book two story; they significantly beefed the character up in the first season, so that’ll pay off in a major way in season two when he becomes a total dick. But his big question mark comes in season three, where he pulls a Jaime Lannister and is out of the action pretty much the whole time. After the events of season two viewers might be irritated at having dickish Theon sidelined for a whole year, so I wonder if Benioff and Weiss won’t figure out a way to thread his story through the next season as well.
Which, by the way, brings up some questions about book four’s adaptation and specifically the Iron Isles storyline. My Kindle tells me I’m 56% of the way through A Feast For Crows and I honestly can’t see why these hundreds of pages need to be anything more than two episodes of the show. Two kind of dull episodes, at that. The pacing of the book is disastrously bad, and given Benioff and Weiss’ talent for streamlining Martin’s work I fully expect the fourth season of the show - should we get one - to include both Feast For Crows and the upcoming A Dance With Dragons. Not for the least reason that the most popular characters in the saga are kept out of A Feast For Crows, and I can’t imagine TV audiences putting up with a whole season that’s missing Tyrion, Jon Snow and Daenerys.
And the Iron Isles stuff in general feels like bloated filler. I don’t know what Martin has in store in the future, but I imagine that Benioff and Weiss will find out and trim (or keep) the Greyjoy family drama as befits the future of the storyline. Balon Greyjoy feels like a complete non-starter, although they’ll surely keep his stuff in because it gives Theon a scene where he fucks a wench on a boat, and there’s less fucking in Clash of Kings than Thrones... although this show always seems to find a way.
The biggest question I have for season two isn’t about casting, though. And it isn’t about how they’ll handle battles (there’s only one really major battle that needs to be shown, and that’s the Battle of Blackwater, which involves a bunch of ships burning). It’s about the wolves. One of the most disappointing aspects of season one of Game of Thrones is the way the wolves were more or less disappeared for huge chunks of the show. They only appeared when the plot really, truly dictated they should be there, like when they were killing or menacing someone. I’m sure there were logistical reasons for the wolves to be sidelined, but I want the show runners to work those logistics out so we can see more wolves next year. I’m less worried about the dragons - they have dick all to do in any of the books so far, which means I’m okay with them popping up a half dozen times in the show just to remind us they exist. But those wolves! They’re vital!
I couldn’t have been happier with season one of Game of Thrones, and I hope that the show’s success means that HBO throws a bit more money at the program - some of the episodes had really dodgy production values, which were all the more evident when compared to the big feeling episodes that bookended the series. The production value question will really come into play when we get to A Storm of Swords, which sees Jon Snow meeting giants and wooly mammoths, and the dragons having a touch more to do.
Those production values will also come into play when Daeny goes to Qarth and enters the House of the Undying. It’s one of the most intriguing and unique sequences in the whole series, a highly surreal trip through some kind of magical funhouse of death. Done right it could be chilling and bizarre, done wrong it’ll be laughable.
With the right management of material - something the showrunners have already proven themselves capable of - Game of Thrones has a good chance of making it all the way to the end of Martin’s saga. Now to see who gets to the end first: HBO or the author.
And now it’s your turn: who would you cast in some of the new major roles? Do you think Benioff and Weiss will continue making big changes to the source? Do you have faith that the show will keep going strong?