The “Game of Thrones” Non-Scandal, and Why Copying Is No Fun.

gameofthrones14_159I don’t watch HBO’s Game of Thrones, although representatives of the generations before and after me have told me I should. And I’m sure it’s a great show – a chronicle of the lives of people with long hair and swords, all of whom, if their oddly spelled names are indication, are originally from Wales.

But as I was surfing the internets this morning, I picked up on a frisson of discontent from the legions of GoT fans concerning last night’s season finale. It seems that in the midst of all the probably very cool sword-related action, a character failed to make an appearance, and this rubbed a lot of Thronesians the wrong way.

Read that again: They were cranky because a character who had never been on the show before … continued to not be on the show. Here I grew up thinking all those rumors about not being able to prove a negative were true, and then this happens. Or rather, doesn’t happen. Has the Twitterverse ever before thrown such a tizzy over something not happening?

OK, OK, there’s more to the story. See, it turns out GoT is based on a very popular series of novels, and at the point in the books corresponding to last night’s episode, a certain character made her debut appearance. Not so in the TV version – and boy, are the book-lovers very, very, very angry about that.

I usually write about movies, not TV shows – and especially not shows featuring a bunch of Welsh characters – but there’s an issue here that comes up with film all the time. It’s fair to say that most movies adapted from popular books, plays, etc., would not have been made were it not for the popularity of the source material. In fact, it’s fair to say that studios are quite literally banking on that pre-existing popularity.

But the creators of a film (or an HBO series) are making an adaptation, not a carbon copy. They have every right – and in fact an artistic obligation – to cut, adjust, revise, and create from whole cloth. Stories on a printed page are told differently than those presented on a screen, and that difference opens the door to new challenges, new considerations – and yes, new points at which key characters do or don’t show up.

The first couple of Harry Potter films, for example, were joyless and inert precisely due to their slavish adherence to J.K. Rowling’s books. (In my 2001 review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I described this approach as “the cinematic equivalent of books on tape.”) As the series continued and director Chris Columbus blessedly moved on, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell and David Yates stepped in to pump some cinematic air into that underinflated balloon. They made choices, left some stuff out, rearranged some things. The result, ultimately, was a series worth celebrating – but if Columbus had stayed behind the camera, I’m honestly not sure we’d think of those films in the same way.

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, or a Hunger Games lover or a The Fault in Our Stars devotee, try cutting the creators of the small- and big-screen adaptations a little slack. They’re trying to make what amounts to recycled art, and put a fresh spin on something awfully familiar. It’s harder than it looks to do it well.

(IMAGE: Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones. Photo courtesy of HBO.)