I have friends who hate Game of Thrones because it has been going so far off-book this season. I love that about it. One of George RR Martin's problems as a writer is that he sticks so intensely to single-character POVs that entire swaths of the story get left out. Robb has no POV chapters in A Clash Of Kings, and so everything that happens to him in this part of the story happens off-page. I much prefer the way the show has handled it, giving us a good look at why we should be behind this young King in the North, and what separates him from Stannis and Joffrey and Balon Greyjoy. Robb is decent, Robb is smart, Robb is just (he arrests his own mom!) and most of all Robb gets really moony-eyed at Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter.
The show has kept Joffrey offscreen most of the season, only trotting him out to remind us what a hideous shit he is - which it did briefly this week, contrasting him with the good and brave Robb Stark, who wants nothing more than to send his soldiers home. The stuff at King's Landing seems oddly flaccid, although I like the back and forth scheming between Tyrion and Cersei, culminating in the Wrong Whore Scenario.
The flaccid quality might come from Game of Thrones' strange inability to get across distance and time. How much time passes between episodes? I'd say hours, but every now and again someone will drop a line about having been engaged in a task for days or weeks. Similarly, the distances between places feels shrunk - Catelyn gets from Storm's End to Robb's camp in... how long? And what distance did she travel? The show makes no effort to make us feel this, which leads to everything feeling both rushed and relaxed at the same time. This is especially strange as the show opens every week with a map showing us exacly where everybody is in relation to one another.
Speaking of relationships, I really like the way Theon's relationship with his sister is being played out. There's love under all that disappointment. But Theon remains an incredible fuck-up, a guy who just can't do anything right - not even deal with a couple of kids. Alfie Allen has brought a real wounded sense of foolishness to the character that makes him almost likable. He's trying, he's really trying.
As Arya escapes Harrenhal it's worth examining how much nicer the place was on TV than in the book. In A Clash of Kings Harrenhal was like a medieval Dachau, and Arya's chapters ended up being incredibly unpleasant stretches of brutality. I'm happy that was changed, because making Harrenhal so awful gives Arya's future adventures a flatness; without spoiling anything I will say that Martin wrote himself into a brutality corner, and all future nastiness occuring to and around Arya has no impact in the books. Now the show can build up a sense of ugliness around the girl as she travels.
Next week is the big episode, with the Battle of Blackwater promising to be the biggest action extravaganza of the series to date. I'm interested in seeing if the show can pull it off, or if there will be a continuing sense of smallness that has permeated this season.