Game of Thrones' book reading fans were given a bit of a shock yesterday when set pictures from the TV show's upcoming season revealed another huge change from the source material - but amid the concern, there was some hope. Sometimes, change can do us all some good when it comes to adapting our favourite works.
(Warning: There are some spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 4 and spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier in this post. Proceed with caution if you're not caught up yet!)
I won't discuss the actual spoilers for Series 5 here, but suffice to say they represent a pretty extensive change from the A Song of Ice and Fire books - and I can see why people would be worried, especially as fans of the source material. Change is something often met with consternation, and we've been burned in the past by adaptations that stray too far off the beaten path and lose what made the material beloved in the first place. When an adaptation is bad, it can hurt us even more than an original work being bad, because it's not what we expected of it. But even with all the worries we can have going into an adaptation, sometimes changing it up can give us something even better than the originals.
Sometimes something new is just what we need, especially as fans of the source material. It's nice that we don't know everything an adaptation is going to do in advance, and lets us enjoy it on the same level as people coming to it completely fresh - Game of Thrones so far has proved a pretty good example of that so far, staying true enough that Book fans can still see where everything is going (sometimes to the point of trollish annoyance, unfortunately), but there's been enough subtle and un-subtle changes that at times it can still surprise us. While it's nice to feel the satisfaction of seeing a favourite moment come to life in a different adaptation, it can be just as nice to get that rush of newness, of unfamiliarity - why did they change that, where are they going with this, holy crap that wasn't what I expected! - great drama can defy our expectations in profoundly enjoyable ways, and sometimes to do that for the most diehard of fans it requires changing things up from the original in some pretty big ways. Without changing things in Game of Thrones, we would never have had as much of Jerome Flynn's delightful Bronn as we have, or Brienne's awesome, ear-chewing encounter with The Hound and Arya at the climax of the last season.
Another great example of adaptations changing things up has been Marvel's approach to Comic book arcs for their Cinematic Universe - adaptations that become so loose that allow completely new, sometimes even better stories to emerge out of them. Marvel's always picked and chosen select snippets of Comic details to weave into their films original stories, but I don't think it's been quite so intensive or as well done so far as their movie output this year. The Winter Soldier borrowed big elements from the comic story of the same name, most importantly the character himself, but despite his presence in the film's title, he was arguably not the most important aspect of the film's story, it was the sucker-punch twist that the sinister Hydra had been playing an infiltration long game through SHIELD, and all the fallout for that. I'm sure Marvel could've had just as much success sticking a bit closer to The Winter Soldier story and given us an exciting and entertaining movie, but what we got instead was just as good, if not better - and we got that by their willingness to incorporate elements from the comics, instead of adapting wholesale. Guardians of the Galaxy was about as loose as you could get of an adaptation of the books - it borrowed the team composition from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's 2008 revival (not even all of them, with Quasar and Adam Warlock MIA from the movie team) and pretty much nothing else, letting it forge its own path and give us something that might not resemble the Guardians of the comics, but a new entity with its own distinct style and identity - one that was received incredibly well. It's an approach that's benefited Marvel and its fans incredibly well, allowing them to make something new with these familiar characters and story elements, but still reward their long-time comic fans.
This might be a bit of a controversial one, but sometimes accepting change, even if we don't like what it's done with the source material, can allow us to see adaptations in a different, and potentially less critical light.
It's been something I've found myself doing with The Hobbit Trilogy, and to a certain extent retroactively with the Lord of the Rings movies too - even as someone who enjoyed An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug quite a bit, I've only really done that by accepting that they're so different to the original novel they're born from that I've started seeing them less as an adaptation of The Hobbit and more for what they really are - prequels to Peter Jackson's own take on The Lord of The Rings. By accepting the change, even if I don't really think it's a wholly good one, I've seen them in a different light - and I'm not as critical of them as I was looking through them through the lens of being an adaptation. It's not something you can always do - and arguably shouldn't, people who love the source material have every right to get upset at radical changes like the ones seen in The Hobbit - but sometimes it can save you from being burned by adaptations. It's a last line of defence, but in employing it sometimes it lets you appreciate changes a lot more than you would have otherwise.
Ultimately, we can really judge if the changes adaptations make will be a good or a bad thing - the gift of hindsight and all that. But at some point, we also should accept that change is going to be an inevitable aspect of adaptations to come, because the freshness they can offer is something many creators can't resist. The next time you start wringing your hands at talk of big changes for an adaptation of something you love, maybe try to be optimistic - after all, a little change doesn't always have to be bad.
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