First, Martin's storytelling was not following traditional chronological order, as most books do (unless you're reading Faulkner...). Meaning, that there were several characters' story lines left hanging at the end of book 3 that would not appear at all in book 4, but in book 5. Book 4 and 5 happen pseudo-simultaneously, overlapping for a good majority of the narrative. Given that it took Martin something like 6 years to move the story from book 4 to book 5, I was in NO rush to finish book 4 with the uncertainty of the rest of the books.
Second, the story, while mostly well-conceived and written, is one of the most soul destroying tales you could ever read. If you're generally an upbeat person who is in a good mood and want all that to stop, then I suggest picking up this series. That said, there are still some great moments and very compelling characters. In fact, there are about 857690348678956732067358901 unique characters that I came across while reading books 1, 2, 3, and 1/4 of the 4th, which made the tales of the somewhat-less-interesting characters who WERE included in book 4 very much less desirable to read.
Anyway, I am far from being an expert on this series. However, after watching season 1 and some of season 2 of HBO's
1) Why is Catelyn Stark 60? I mean, really. Overall, the ages of several of the characters seem...off. I get it that you can't cast most of the 13- or 14-year-old female characters as really that age, given the the sexual nature of some of their stories. But seriously, there is no excuse for Catelyn, she's supposed to be like 38. They couldn't find ANYONE else to do that role? I call bullshit on that. Seriously.
2) Speaking of casting, here are some other major casting no-nos:
- Jon Snow. WTF? Jon Snow's description in the book: "He is slender and dark with grey eyes." Um...HBO's Jon Snow looks like any of my relatives from Italy. Super-dark eyes, short, with a mess of curly, dark hair, and NOT slender (though not overweight by any means). He would have been a better Gendry (who is cast poorly as well ---WAY too old, for one thing.)
- Margaery Tyrell. Book's description: "She is doe-eyed and pretty with long, curly brown hair." Yeah, not so much. In the show she's wall-eyed and has reddish/auburn hair. "Doe-eyed" also typically means brown-eyed. I don't know of any does with blue eyes....
- Loras Tyrell. Book's description: "He is young and handsome with a mass of brown curls." TV Show: Young, yes. Handsome enough, but blond as blond can be.
- Lysa Arryn. Book's description: "She is short, white, and puffy with long auburn hair and watery blue eyes." Not quite. Skinny as a rake and actually more olive complected.
- Theon Greyjoy. Book's description: "He is a lean dark youth." TV Show: A fucking ugly-ass GINGER.
- Asha Greyjoy. (who, for some unknown, retarded reason, is called Yara in the TV Show. WTF?) Book's description: "She is lean and long-legged with short black hair and a sharp nose in a thin face." Let's take those one at a time, shall we? Lean? Not really (average build). Long-legged? No (average). Short black hair? Definitely not (long, dirty blond). Sharp nose? No (round, doughy nose). Thin face? Nada (full face). Great job, HBO! See for yourself:
- Davos Seaworth. Book's description: "He is slight with a common face and brown eyes and hair with a beard peppered with gray." TV Show: looks older than dirt, all gray beard, almost bald, kind of stocky, light eyes.
- Renly Baratheon. Renly in the books: "He is tall and handsome, with jet-black hair to his shoulders and laughing green eyes." I seem to recall that he also prefers to be beardless. Renly in the TV show: short, dopey, whining puss with short brown hair and lifeless brown eyes; full beard; no charisma, no presence, no nothing. He's just...blah.
And who is really to blame? Certainly not the actor, despite his obvious limitations. It's the HBO screenplay "writers." Which brings me to...
3) The very bad, horrible, un-good screenwriting. Now here's were a lot of people will argue with me, I'm sure. For one thing, it's a given that nothing on screen is ever really as good as the original texts from whence it sprung. People's imaginations are far superior to anything rendered via TV. But also, many will argue that they shouldn't HAVE to read the books in order to enjoy a TV show. They are willing to take the show at face value and be happy with that. Yeah, ok. But THAT story is a confusing, goofy, crazy, wildly different bastardization of an actual really good, not-confusing, more-interesting story. So why screw with the source material? Dunno. Money? Probably. Contempt for the audience? For sure. Wait, contempt? Why contempt? Here's why, again using poor Renly.
Renly is gay. No, really, he is. Let's start with that. That is where the similarities between book and show end. The Renly in the book is a tall, strapping lad; gregarious, charming, friendly; the people of The Realm love Renly (who is/was the king's brother). Renly loves his brothers: Robert, the king (who dies fairly early in the series) and even Stannis (though stoic and strained). Renly appreciates a good hunt and enjoys a jousting tournament as much as any red-blooded male. Renly has a whole lot going for him. Being gay is really so far on the bottom of a very long list of recognizable characteristics of Renly that it's almost completely unimportant. In fact, it IS unimportant until the second book, when he marries Margaery Tyrell. (Producing heirs is pretty damn pivotal to survival in this world.) It's actually quite a good moment when you, as the reader, say, "Ohhh, a-ha! Well, damn! I wonder what will happen??!!" The good writing of the books establishes in a very quiet and unassuming way that Renly is gay. Few people really know about it, and those that do seem to have a c'est la vie attitude about it. At no point does Martin push it down your throat. And Renly's being gay is in no way a hindrance to his outstanding moral character: he's your all-around, #1, stand-up, perfect dude.
Ok so what's wrong with TV's Renly? Well, first of all, everyone in Westeros knows Renly is gay, even random foot soldiers fighting half a continent away. This is something people sneer at and try to use against him. The first appearance of Renly on screen elicited from my lips a frantic, "Wait, who's that? No...it can't be...Renly?!" Renly is a simpering, moody, eye-rolling dolt and within 14 seconds another character (Littlefinger) makes a backhanded comment about his homosexuality. Wait, what?! The very next visual we get of Renly is Loras Tyrell shaving his chest in a bathtub. Yes, they are lovers, which in theory is true to the books, but its over-the-top presentation on screen is obnoxious. It's like HEY! LOOK! RENLY'S GAY! GAY, I TELLS 'YA! Just in case the viewer is still clueless, HBO's writers treated us with the gift of gay oral-sex, complete with slurping. Thanks for that, HBO. I can honestly say that Renly, as he is written in the books, is one of the most positive representations of homosexuality that I have seen in ANY fantasy-type literature. He's pretty much awesome on toast. HBO took this awesome, likable, multifaceted man, who just happened to be gay, and turned him into nothing more than the stereotypical "gay guy," with none of his majorly fantastic qualities intact! Moreover, his "gayness" is presented with such negative connotation (I remind you of the chest-shaving, slurping scene), which is so awful and offensive to gays everywhere. I thought it was horrible and I'm only 25% gay. Heh. It's SO frustrating.
Renly dies. Well, he's murdered, kind of. In the books, this is devastating. As a reader, I was so upset by the loss. It hit almost as hard as Ned Stark's death. Knowing that the HBO Renly will die soon (probably next episode), I'm like "whatever." He has been written as completely uninteresting, uninspiring, unimportant. I wonder what viewers who haven't read the books will think when he's killed? Probably "Aw, man! No more gay sex scenes!" Oh wait, there is always...ROS.
4) This Ros person. Ros is the equivalent of dog shit. She is everywhere on screen. She's a prostitute who's had more wangs than a Chinese telephone directory. She also got her degree in whore training, with a double minor in scissoring and in spanking. I think Ros has seen the bedchamber of every other male in King's Landing, aside from Renly (WHO IS GAY, ZOMG, DID YOU KNOW?! HEAR YE! HEAR YE! SLURP! SLURP!). Come on, are we to believe she's the ONLY prostitute in King's Landing? Really? Yet...she doesn't exist in the books. At all. There's plenty-o-sex in the books; most of it actually means something with regard to the story as it unfolds. Yet HBO decided it would be a better idea to add stupid, meaningless sex from a made-up character we care nothing about, rather than keep the original, story-progressing sex. O...kay? I'm tired of Ros. Tired of her boobs. Tired of her cooter. GO away, Ros.
5) There is no such thing as large-scale, unless we're talking about Hodor's wang. If you're going to bring a story with as huge a scope as Game of Thrones to the screen, then you're going to have to do better than King Robert's hunting party of five people. Yeah, this was supposed to be like a vanguard of people. Daenerys' Dothraki? She arrived at Qarth with what looked like 12 people and a mule. Get with the program, HBO. You knew what you were signing up for. If the sacking of Winterfell or the Battle of Blackwater ends up looking like this, I'll be pissed (but not surprised):
6) In the immortal words of David Bowie: "Turn and face the stranger ch-ch-changes..." I hate things that change just for the sake of changing. There is no benefit to the story from most of the tomfuckery that HBO has done with the plot and characters. In fact, it makes it more confusing and leads viewers down really, really wrong paths. Recall that there are some 857690348678956732067358901 characters in the series. Screwing with their personalities, their names, very existence, etc. is just unacceptable. Ok so who's pissing me off now?
- Littlefinger (Petyr Baelish): In the books: He's a shrewd "master of coin" and knows how to play well at political intrigue. He has a history with Catelyn's family (The Tullys), having been raised with them as a ward. He is pretty much obsessed with Catelyn. Throughout the story (as far as we've gotten through on TV), his deep motivations and involvement in the bigger picture remain mysterious (until later) and he plays his hands very carefully. On TV: a monologuing pimp. And where is Jeyne Poole? You were supposed to kidnap her and pretend she was Arya.
- Cersei Lannister: In the books: One of the most despicable excuses for a human being in Westeros. She has absolutely no redeeming qualities at all. She cares not one iota for her children (or anyone else's), except for how they can be used help her position. Example: all of her living children are products of incest between her and her brother Jaime (all blond). Once, she was pregnant by her husband, King Robert. She hated him so much that she aborted the baby. But on TV: Cersei mentions to Catelyn that she once had a baby that looked like Robert (black hair) but that it died from a fever. You actually feel bad for Cersei. Note: YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO FEEL BAD FOR CERSEI. EVER. She is continually played as an eccentric, sad victim of circumstance.
- Jeyne Westerling and all of House Westerling. First of all, there are no "field nurses" anywhere in the series. Second, why is she now called Talisa and what is this "I am from the Free City of Volantis" shit? The Westerlings are not a bunch of random commoners and they are NOT from Volantis, as they nearly formed a marriage alliance with the Lannisters, to whom they now are loyal. They wouldn't have their daughter running around a battleground cutting off people's gangrenous legs. Also she's supposed to appear later in the story when Robb takes The Crag. This is changed or at the very least completely unclear on TV. See, also A BIG BAD THING is supposed to happen at Winterfell right about the same time... SIGH. Let's just say that the story of Jeyne Westerling's involvement with the events that are taking place (or supposed to be taking place) and WILL take place is very important. Remember how Robb is supposed to marry Walder Frey's daughter to secure the Crossings in a war strategy? Yeah...keep that thought.
- Alton Lannister. Who the fuck is this? This person does not exist in the books.
- Margaery Tyrell: In the books, she's 16. On the TV Show (quoting from HBO's profiles): "...Somewhere in her mid to late twenties, she is surprisingly canny and cunning." NO.
- Arya Stark: Mostly I like Arya in the show, but they are screwing around with her story way too much. For one thing, she never serves Tywin Lannister as his cup-bearer. He's barely even at Harrenhal. And Tywin certainly doesn't out Arya as being a girl. She works in the kitchens of Harrenhal when Tywin is there (briefly) and the two never even meet. She does become a cup-bearer to Roose Bolton, who is lord of Harrenhal (not that you'd ever know this, since HE'S TRAIPSING AROUND THE WESTERLANDS WITH ROBB FOR SOME UNKNOWN REASON). Also, if they are at the cup-bearer part of her story, which is towards the end of the second book, at episode FOUR of the TV show, then they are seriously chopping her story down to bare bones. And that sucks. Another problem: Her most famous mantra -- an ever-growing litany of all the people she wants to see dead -- is something that she came up with all on her own, not as a result of some story told to her by Yoren. Another of her famous quotes,"Fear cuts deeper than swords," is gone. All the actual character (fearless, resourceful, smart) of Arya's character is all but absent on TV. She just kind of stands around looking sad all the time. Arya in the books is BAD-ASS.
- Shireen? Patchface? Anyone? Bueller?
- Joffrey Baratheon: A nasty prick in the books. Not a nice guy, by any means. But also not a sadist who forces whores to beat each other under threat of death-by-crossbow. It's not Game of Grand Theft Auto III. Come on.
- The Hound (Sandor Clegane): Isn't nearly as badly disfigured on his face as it is described in the books. The word "hideous" is used on more than one occasion: "He has no left ear, a twisted mass of scars around his left eye and down by his jaw, bone is apparent, where the skin had burned away."
- Also? Hey, HBO? Did anyone over there even read Game of Thrones? The disfigurement should be ON HIS LEFT FUCKING SIDE, RETARDS. I mean how hard is it to get THAT right? What could possibly be the point of making a conscious decision to change the side? Oh wait, there IS no point. Arbitrary, stupid "change," which I would bet is purely a goof. But this kind of stuff is important to viewers who enjoy the books and who are interested in the character. The Hound has a big story, he's way more than a grumpy guy who stands around the Iron Throne.