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Prior to the release of Game of Thrones Season 3, HBO show producers Dan Weiss and David Benioff often discussed their excitement about adapting A Storm of Swords, the third novel in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Now that the curtain has fallen on Westeros for its third year and the first half of that adaptation is over, it’s easy to see why, as this season provided ten of the most gripping, tense and unpredictable hours of television in recent memory.
That’s not to say that the transition from page to screen was achieved without problem. A Storm of Swords is a densely detailed monster of a novel, separated into two paper-backs and clocking in at 992 pages in hardback. The sheer depth and breadth of its narrative necessitates an awful lot of foundations to be laid, and that showed in two slightly lethargic opening episodes to Season 3 that concentrated on exposition heavy setup.
Also, not every character’s storyline progresses far enough in the book to have it split in two and retain enough interesting television moments, despite the showriters’ attempts to increase character crossovers wherever possible.
Take the obsessive Iron Throne claimant and eternal cactus chewer, Stannis Baratheon, for example. He began Season 3 sulking on the island of Dragonstone, bitter about his failed attack on King’s Landing last year. Come the final episode of the series Stannis was still brooding away on Dragonstone, having had a few moans throughout to remind us that he is still alive. Not even the return of his best bud Davos Seaworth, played with a perfect pinch of salt and honesty by Liam Cunningham, could brighten his mood. In fact, it soured it somewhat when Davos returned and attempted to assassinate Melisandre, Stannis’ Red Priestess advisor/manipulator.
The back-seating of some storylines is an unavoidable consequence of Martin’s writing style, which keeps track of roughly one million characters, is heavy on minute details like clothing and food (anyone who has read the books will be all too familiar with woollen doublets, boiled leathers and salted meats and fish) and often lighter on actual plot progressing events.
That works perfectly on paper, as you can mull over lusciously detailed scenes and conversations for hours on end, but in a ten hour television show, there’s no such luxury. Ultimately this left a few characters’ storylines, such as Brandon Stark’s journey north to The Wall, feeling a bit stretched and thin this season, as not much really happened.
The lack of time spent with some major characters isn’t not necessarily a positive point, but it did make way for the amount of focus needed for many other, more densely detailed arcs, and those characters that were at the forefront of this season put on a storming good show.