HBO’s Game of Thrones brandishes a consistent and high degree of fidelity to the nearly 5,000-page-long source material of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, but there still, of course, are differences. While most of these gaps from the page to the screen are small and detail-oriented, it is nonetheless the case that the most subtle discrepancies often hold the biggest insight into the adaptation process, into the demands of filmmaking, and into the rigors of the literary narrative.
This, then, is the anatomy of a key scene of Thrones – not because of its dramatic importance or visual effects whizbangery, but because of the telling nature of its realization.
Episode: “Kissed by Fire” (305)
Scene: Jaime’s Bathtub Confession
There is not one single scene that makes the transition from literary page to filmic episode completely untouched; if there isn’t a reduction in background extras, an omission of horses, or a change in setting, there is, at the very least, the sifting of dialogue, which is the biggest consumer of screen time.
With this said, however, there have been a preciously small handful of scenes that have managed to make it with nearly the entirety of their contents unaltered, and of this rare collection, Ser Jaime Lannister’s confession to Brienne of Tarth of why he killed King Aerys II Targaryen is, by far, the best example.
In fact, the changes are so scant and miniscule, it seems trifling to even go over them. In A Storm of Swords, Jaime is to have dinner with Lord Roose Bolton that evening and is escorted into the castle’s bathhouse, which is filled with several giant stone bathtubs that could fit six or seven people each (and not the Japanese onsen depicted in “Kissed by Fire”). The Kingslayer kicks out both his and Brienne’s servants, and the Maid of Tarth responds by covering her small “teats” with her giant hands and even turning her back on him before finally getting out of the tub completely, listening to his confession with a small towel wrapped around her powerfully muscled body. She has to stand there for a while, as Jaime regales her with a substantially larger amount of backstory – ranging from Westerosi-Dornish politics to his personal relationship with the Mad King – as part of his explanation. (And on a more pragmatic note, there’s actually bathing going on; there’s a scrub brush that Brienne drops and Jaime picks up rather clumsily, turning the water black with all the mud that was caked on him.)
It may seem counterintuitive to pick such a barely-touched scene to dissect, but what differences there are are very telling. Game of Thrones is, of course, a visual entity, and, as such, showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff chose to play up the setting – the episode’s bathhouse, while less “realistic” than its literary counterpart, is far more exotic and aesthetically intriguing than the book’s giant stone tubs, matching the intriguing nature of the scene itself – and to convey vital information visually, as Jaime’s tears do much and more to establish the character’s emotional state of mind and to provide viewers one of their first real peeks behind his cavalier, Lannister-enriched façade. As powerful as words are on the page to open up insight into a character’s inner being, it is hard to match the sheer vitality of emotion on a person’s face or the quiver in his voice. Forget about a photograph; one tear alone can be worth a thousand words.
And Brienne’s physicality is similarly utilized, to help further establish the stronger, more “heroic” version of her character that the writer-producers have opted to go for in the series. Thrones’s Maid of Tarth does not turn her back, does not retreat out of the tub, does not stoically, passively take in the torrent of Jaime’s words – she stands her ground in the tub and even literally stands up for herself, exposing herself unflinchingly to the full brunt of that Lannister stare (of course, in this regard, it helps that Benioff and Weiss casted someone who is significantly more attractive than Martin’s written creation is supposed to be). And when not confronting the Kingslayer, actress Gwendoline Christie uses every last frame of film spent on her soaking up every last bit of emotion that is to be wrung from the scene, making her a much more active participant.
The only real, albeit limited, drawback to “Kissed by Fire’s” translation is its climax. On the page, to underscore his indignation over the “wolf judging the lion” and to match Brienne’s own actions, Jaime attempts to get out of the tub himself, and that’s when the room goes spinning, he slams his stump against the tub’s rim, and he goes down for the count. Brienne catches him, and after getting ex-maester Qyburn to revive him, she alone takes over the job of getting him prepared for that evening’s supper, sitting him down on a stone bench and scrubbing, trimming, and dressing him.
It’s a quiet, understated denouement to one of the novel’s most climatic scenes – though as Game of Thrones has (perhaps inadvertently) shown us, sometimes less is more.
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