My thoughts on "Oathkeeper" [Spoilers]

Spoilery Spoilers Within. For anyone who hasn't read through the end of A Dance With Dragons or seen through tonight's episodes. Picture above to amuse you (I'm pretty sure it's 'shopped, but it is amusing. :) ) No main-paging, either.

Okay, so I am on record as not enjoying the developments at Craster's Keep this evening. And let me be clear: this is not because I am one of those people who thinks any film/TV adaptation has to be a strict adaptation of the story. That doesn't make sense - books are books, visual media is visual, changes are going to happen because it's necessary.

Through Season 3, Weiss & Benioff had actually been doing a bang-up job - for example, I LOVED Arya as Tywin's page instead of Roose Bolton's in Season 2. Maisie Williams and Charles Dance together were fucking magic, it added an interesting tension to the story, and I think it's an absolute crime that Dance has not been nominated for an individual award for his Game of Thrones work. He is consistently compelling to watch on the show.

I also love how they've fleshed out Margaery (pun half-intended). In the book, you never really get a look in her head, and I love how they've really shown you how much of an active player she actually is. She makes me giggle with glee.

And while it has been completely uncomfortable to watch, I get why they've been showing Ramsay Snow/Bolton torturing Theon. In the books, you have Theon's internal monologue to make you understand how Ramsay has completely destroyed him. Having him just show up down the line as Reek wouldn't have made any sense unless you saw what had been done to him. And it is actually accurate as far as inserting it into the timeline of the books. (Did I want to see quite so much of it? No. But I can't say that it was badly done or completely unnecessary.) Or, if we're talking of Theon, how Dagmer Cleftjaw went from a sort-of father figure to a devil on Theon's shoulder. It worked okay - it streamlined Theon's back-story, which works for the show.

ETA - Also, Talisa vs. Jeyne Westerling. Ultimately, you lost some of Tywin's machinations, but man - killing her off by stabbing her in the unborn child was disturbing but excellent television. You cannot deny that emotional impact got ramped up by Robb's small love story, instead of him just showing up with a young girl he may or may have not knocked up as his bride.

In a series as complex of A Song of Ice and Fire, it is inevitable that any film/TV adaptation would have to drop characters, compress some story lines, or even create some new or composite characters - like Ros - so that someone can explain background or narrative. Or bring you to the right place at the right time to illustrate something that was otherwise heard as secondary in someone else's POV character.

But this Craster's Keep stuff? I'm just not digging it. For several reasons that have to do with important character development, not slavish devotion to the books.

a) Sam betrayed Bran's confidence. He does not do that in the books. Keeping that confidence is one of the things that adds to Sam's character development. He wants to tell Jon, but he knows he simply cannot. Now, this is just something else that is adding to making Sam look continually whiny, instead of someone who is beginning to understand his strengths, and that he can resist Jon if it's necessary.

b) Coldhands. Fucking Coldhands. Removing Coldhands (at least for this season - maybe they'll bring him back since I'm not sure how far north Bran & Co. will make it this season) removed one of the important elements of fantasy in Bran's storyline. Which is pretty much all about fantasy. Fleshing out some random Night Watch members to rape women to death is not a great swap, as far as I'm concerned.

c) And, oh look - in Meera, we have another female character in line to be raped! Because the show needs more of that unnecessary rapey vibe right now. (Though seriously - a hunter as careful as Meera walks away from Bran standing up and talking in a normal tone of voice so close to Craster's Keep? WTF?)

ETA 4/28 - I also realized overnight - it's not like Meera doesn't go off hunting on her own, either. Why would the four of them - with Hodor dragging Bran on a sled, and a Jojen looking less than healthy, meaning they're not stealthy - creep up on Craster's Keep? Why wouldn't Meera simply go on her own to get Summer first, and then Bran would just Warg back into Summer to keep an eye on her if she wanted to case out the Keep? As they have set it up on the TV show - let alone the books - it still doesn't make sense. Except to get all of them caught at once, and add Meera into the rape queue.

d) What is the point of sending Jon back outside the Wall? This whole "Oh, Mance and the Wildlings will find out exactly how weak the Watch is!" argument is weak. Mance was AT fucking Winterfell when King Robert visited. He routinely breaches the wall, or has his people do it. He knows exactly how weak the damn Night's Watch is, along the entire stretch of the Wall. But Jon helping organize Castle Black against both the raiders coming from the South and Mance's siege were huge reasons why people ultimately supported him as the new Lord Commander. He had shown extended leadership and tactical skills - a skirmish like this wasn't necessary. Unless they're going to make Jon Lord Commander before the battles, which doesn't make sense - this skirmish is essentially limited to his friends and Locke (more on him in a bit) - that doesn't provide the same same motivation level across the entire Night's Watch that has to select him.

e) Jon isn't supposed to know Bran is alive. And Ghost is supposed to be working his way to The Wall. These are things that lead to Jon's anger, isolation and strength - the thought all his brothers are dead and his direwolf separated from him, possibly forever. He commits himself to the Night's Watch because it's all he has - his chosen brothers, his sense of duty, and his understanding that shit is going down north of the Wall and he is supposed to defend the fucking realms of men. Is there going to be some sort of touching reunion at Craster's Keep after the inevitable bloodshed? The ONLY thing I can see coming out of that - aside from Boy Rescuing His Direwolf - is something to do with Bran discussing warging with Jon. So when the events at the end of Book 5 occur, it will show that Jon can make the attempt to warg into Ghost (as people are expecting to happen in Book 6 - Jon as Warg hasn't really been broached on the show at all at this point, which is a departure from the book). But presumably, Melisandre was probably gonna help make that happen (or she's going to just bring him back, à la Thoros), so I'm not sure that's something that needs doing.

f) Also, Bran is supposed to just slip quietly through the North with the help of Coldhands. The true threat, for Bran, is The Others, not turncoat Crows. His story is about the fantastical elements of this world - it's Bran the Powerful Greenseer against The Others.

g) Okay, I get that in the way this show is shaping up for TV, of course Roose Bolton is looking for Bran and Rickon. But the whole Locke Joins The Night's Watch to Find Bran is annoying me. As a stand-in for Vargo Hoat, Hoat wasn't devious enough for that (and was also too infamous, as I'm sure Locke should be). It's MORE unnecessary conflict. I'm guessing Locke is going to bite it - especially since Hoat doesn't survive Book 3. But is it going to be some sort of stand-in for Jon killing Bolton for killing Robb somehow? Unnecessary. (And, again, with Sam actually telling Jon he saw Bran, this whole aspect of the story is wildly unnecessary. Sam keeps his mouth shut, and Locke/Hoat wouldn't think to go to Craster's after eavesdropping.)

h) Oh look! Alliser Thorne hates Jon and calls him a Traitor's Bastard! For the gazillionth time! The more you show that, the less impactful it is. We all hate Thorne and want to run our hands through Jon's hair by now. Enough. Having Thorne there also blows the logic behind Jon taking command against the Wildlings. Thorne was at Eastwatch and showed up long after the Battle of Castle Black and well into Mance's seige. If Thorne had been there, then Jon would never have taken command - Bowen Marsh was too old and ineffectual, leaving Jon a reluctant leader. They could have made Aemon the temporary Lord Commander if they didn't want to use Bowen Marsh - it would have worked better than this constant "Jon's in danger!" conflict. Because Jon's relationship with Aemon is such you could have seen him pushing Jon into action.

I'm sure the show will get back on track, but I feel like major pieces of character development are falling by the wayside as these small changes avalanche into bigger ones. It's not about being pretentious - I mean, it's not like these books are limited to only so many people in the world, and I only started reading them when I heard about how good the show was. When people ask, I enthusiastically recommend the books, because they are just so very entertaining. I don't consider reading them an exclusivity type of thing.

It's about the storytelling - GRRM is an amazing storyteller, and with all the time and money HBO is throwing at the show, Weiss & Benioff should be more careful with it. You can rearrange some things - even GRRM has admitted after seeing the show, he should have given Robb his own POV chapters - but in a series that's known for extensive world building and detail (including some seemingly throw away lines that turn out to be major foreshadowing) getting certain details wrong can change the story for the worst. These past couple of episodes are going down the road of making the story worse.

I would hope if they were going to mess with the story-lines this severely, they should have waited for the Book 4/5 combo. I mean, Dany's storyline could do with some better editing, and hopefully we don't have to hear the million "Where do whores go?" from Tyrion. But Book 3 is one of the best in the series - I go back and forth between 1 and 3 for that title - it didn't need much in the way of rearranging.