I haven’t read fantasy (aside from a Terry Pratchet book or two) for over two decades… but I really enjoyed the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. I was so shocked by the penultimate episode… that I decided to read the series. I thoroughly enjoyed this first book and have moved onto the second. Excellent plotting and development of characters. Solid prose too. Loads of fun… although I do have to say that the lives of every single character completely suck. The entire universe of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic is in dire need of an age of enlightenment (as perhaps is our own dark era). The story leans toward the grim… but I tend to like grim, especially in fiction, where lack of conflict means death of story.

I’m going to spill story beans after this sentence. Stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens. The death of a major character is pretty shocking for a television show. I can’t think of many (or any) major character deaths that enhance televised stories. So, when Ned Stark was beheaded, I was shocked. Until the sword came down, I was saying, to myself, “Something will happen… this won’t happen…they can’t kill Ned…” and after the sword came down, my immediate reaction was negative. He was the cornerstone of the series; its solid, moral core. Without him, how could the show continue? It is perhaps the riskiest death of a television character that I’ve ever seen. I had such a negative reaction that I thought perhaps I’d skip the final episode. I voiced my concerns on twitter and the kind folks at the #Baelor hashtag talked me off the cliff.

In the book, Stark is but one of many major point of view characters. Not to diminish his importance, but while his death is shocking in the book, it is tempered by the ongoing narrative, by the other characters points of view and their reactions. The thrust of the story, in Martin’s capable and well-plotted execution, immediately shifts to other characters and the story moves forward.

Although it made for exciting television, the more powerful telling of the story remains in the prose. Never has the difference between the written story and the televised (or filmed) story been so apparent to me. Stark’s death, near the end of the HBO series, provided a punch to the gut. Stark’s death in the book was the a catalyst toward an even larger epic–the boundaries of the entire endeavor increased with Ned’s death, the epic’s canvas grew even larger.

Now I’ve moved into the second book, A Clash of Kings, and I’m impressed with Martin’s vast vision of this strange, dark, violent world. At least when season two of HBO’s adaptation rolls around, I’ll won’t be surprised by who Martin kills off next.

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