Mark Terry

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Game of Thrones - Strangled by Your POV Choices

March 21, 2013
I recently finished reading the 2nd book in George RR Martin's SONG OF FIRE AND ICE series, better known as A GAME OF THRONES. The book, in case that wasn't confusing enough, was A CLASH OF KINGS. Unlike the first book (A GAME OF THRONES), where I watched the first season of the HBO TV series, this time I read the book first before jumping in last night on the first episode of season 2, which mostly lines up with A CLASH OF KINGS.

I mentioned before that Martin's got a lot of points of view. Within those chapters, labeled with the POV character's name, he doesn't wander from that character's POV. I applaud that, actually. It's a series that already has about 15 main characters and seemingly a literal cast of thousands. I'll be reading some passage that lists 20 characters and their family histories and think, "I hope I'm not supposed to be tracking all of these names."

Anyway, an interesting thing happens in the book that rather fiercely becomes obvious in the TV series. Sometimes having limited POVs can cause dramatic problems.

Case in point. In the book, Tyrion, the dwarf and, in this book at least, the Hand of the King (sort of chief of staff, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security and head of the FBI all rolled into one), is questioning some people about a knight who broke into a brothel, found a specific whore and her baby, and stabbed the baby to death right then and there.

Tyrion has questions, but we never see this scene. The reason we never see this scene, the way Martin structures this book, is no one in that scene is a POV character. As horrible as it is, we never actually see it. (And to me it lacks a certain power because of what exactly is going on there - the Queen Regent and her psycho son King Joffrey, are having all of the former king's bastard children hunted down and killed - is more alluded to rather than overt).

So in the first episode of season 2, we get King Joffrey (who in the book is 13 and in the show probably 15 or 16 going on a Terrible 2) talking to his mother, the Queen Regent (Cersei), about the rumor going around that his actual parents are her and her twin brother (Jaimie), which is actually true. (And neither of them are POV characters in A CLASH OF KINGS, although Cersei was in A GAME OF THRONES, the book). And it's him that sends the knights and King's Guard out hunting down the now-dead King Baratheon's bastards and having them killed. And in the TV show we get the scene in the brothel, and we also get scenes of several other bastards being killed (none of which were in the book), leading up to them basically torturing a metalsmith about the location of one of them, who, if not a major character, is in the company of a major POV character, Arya Stark.

This happens a number of times in just the first episode of the TV show. Where things that were talked about in the book are actually SHOWN. Which is good, because in a visual medium like TV or movies, having characters talk about dramatic things that happened doesn't work very well. And honestly, I'm not sure it works that well in books, either.

On the other hand, there's plenty, plenty, and more a-plenty of dramatic things going on in A CLASH OF KINGS, and since it's already 969 pages long, not counting appendices, I wouldn't ever encourage George RR Martin to ADD to what he's writing.

But I think it's a great example of problems writers face when choosing their POV characters.


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