Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been accused of many things over the course of Game of Thrones’s four seasons, from being egomaniacal rewriters to bold television visionaries.
The one question that tends to get lost in the kerfuffle, however, just may perhaps be the one consideration that will dominate more than any other as we enter into what is undeniably the final stretch of the show’s lifespan: has the production been shortsighted from the very beginning, despite having a huge swath of pre-existent material to draw from? And are the show’s numerous recastings the prime example of this?
It’s a question so loaded with potential ramifications, only a murder of crows is capable of answering it.
(Warning: there may be some minor points of discussion that could be considered light spoilers. Please proceed at your own caution.)
Given the recent confirmation that Bran and his merry troupe of travelers won’t be making an appearance in season five next year, it strikes me that the showrunners may very well be breaking one of their very own unwritten rules of adaptation: don’t allow any character to disappear off-screen for too long. Which leads me to think of all the huge number of recastings that they’ve committed over the years, reaching as far back as season two (yes, while some of these aren’t their faults at all – I mean, what actor wouldn’t leave Game of Thrones for the pinnacle of filmmaking that is the Hobbit trilogy? – a number of them, such as Lord Beric Dondarrion and King Tommen, certainly are).
So I feel the question must be asked: is there a certain lack of foresight going on here? Or is it literally impossible to mount a television production – particularly one as large and international in scope as GOT – unless it’s taken one day at a time?
Or is this simply making a Mountain That Rides out of a molehill?
I think they hit the very same snag that George R.R. Martin hit. A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons are considered, by and large, his weakest offerings to date. And though I loved them for the ambiance and detail they provided, I can readily agree that they slowed the storytelling progression down. They’re essentially there to set the table for the endgame, and I agree that the producers were wise in chopping them into one season of (quasi) watchable television.
When some people complain about Dorne, they complain that it took them away from any of the characters they cared about. I think David and Dan are hoping to curtail those complaints in GOT by introducing Dorne via Jaime. And people are upset that it means a lack of Riverlands, but, really, how much of that is compelling television? Edmure not being hung*, and Jaime talking to Gemma. (A Gemma who we already knew would probably be cut since season two, as “Alton” Lannister purportedly had, as his mother, “the only fat Lannister” in the family.) But introduce Dorne via Jaime and Bronn, and now you have a completely different dynamic. Tension in the Riverlands: no. Tension in Dorne: assuredly.
As to whether they planned it out right from the start… I seriously doubt it. I think, as they have stated before, they were hoping to get to the Red Wedding. When they did (and knocked it out of the park), then they started sweating.
The fact that last season was as compelling as it was is a minor miracle; they have magnetic performances by Maisie, Rory, and Pedro to thank for that. There’s no way season five is as good, simply because they don’t have source material like they had in A Storm of Swords.
I mean, unless they are better writers than GRRM. Har!
As far as casting and recasting…. that’s just the business. It maybe sounds trite to say, but it’s all a part of budgeting. Extras are extras and are often grabbed at the last moment. Would David Scott have been a better Dondarrion than Richard Dormer? Hard to say, but also hard to argue with Dormer’s performance – his gravitas was perfect. Same with Tommen, who, as we knew, was not cast with an actor in season one. I have a harder time coming to grips with Myrcella being replaced, because (a) I know the girl and know she can act, and (b) we have over the years developed a personal relationship with both her and her family, and you never want to see a friend get screwed over.
But, again… that’s the business. Time will tell if the money was better spent on a young Brit with buzz, like Nell Free. She had better knock it out of the park.
*Edmure not being hanged, I should have said. The man may be stiff, but he’s no portrait!
Marc, to answer your questions directly, I think the recasting in particular is more a fault of logistics, if anything: actors become unsuitable for their parts due to age, etc., or other opportunities come along and their contracts let them out of their Game of Thrones obligation. To me, it seems like the faults of employment; things don’t work out. However, for something so large and meticulously planned, perhaps more should be expected of HBO and the series. It’s not like they lost Emilia Clarke between seasons two and three to a big movie franchise, but the lack of continuity has been established.
But looking at the commentary of fans, I have seen several items of discussion that your prompt touches on. When the Myrcella role was recast and many in the GOT fan world were upset on behalf of Aimee Richardson, there was a contingent of the commetariat that responded with confusion, as in “We barely saw her” or “Why do people care so much about a minor character’s actress?” Conversely, I see a lot of discussion about the brotherhood without banners and… related characters and if they will play a role in future seasons of the show. The readers of Watchers on the Wall and online communities may pay special note to these things, but casual fans may not care, or even notice.
So a question I would posit is if people think the show caters at all to the book series or the hardcore GOT fanbase, or if the focus of the show is to appeal to as great an audience as possible. The show seems strangely devoid of “Easter eggs,” considering how rich the world of A Song of Ice and Fire is and the dedication of its large fan base.
Axey makes some great points in his response, and I pretty much agree with him across the board. I think the gist of future seasons is that D&D will probably be playing faster and looser with the canon they possess, so whether or not one puts faith in upcoming seasons could depend entirely on his/her confidence on D&D’s ability to craft quasi-original content. If people are cool with past alterations (Ros, Talisa, sexposition, or the Others reveal, to name a few), and if the altered Dorne storyline is well-received, maybe some of us will be just fine with what’s to come.
Hmm. I wouldn’t say there is a lack of foresight, but I do somewhat think that D&D bit off more than they can chew. We all know that the world of ASOIAF is huge, especially when compared to other series, such as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. When you saw the adaptations of those books to the screen, what was changed or cut out was very minimal, especially when it came to the characters, and I think that’s what makes this series so different from the others – there are a lot of characters. Characters that GRRM made us fall in love with, and knowing that the showrunners made the decision to cut them out, it does make the sullied readers wonder if D&D had been reading the same series or if perhaps they wanted so desperately to change it to make it their own.
I know that this past season and even the news of the next has been particularly disappointing for me, but I suppose, to answer your question, the best way for me to look at it all is to know that Game of Thrones and Song of Ice and Fire are siblings, not twins. I can complain all day about what they haven’t added or what they’ve changed, but, in the end, they can’t do everything. I sure as hell don’t want to be watching this show 10 years down the road, and if they stayed truer to the books, it would take that amount of time to fit it all in.
And if they did add everything we wanted them to, what would the books mean anymore? They would just be the script to the show, really. I love that I can go back to the books and say, “Ah, there you are.” It’s almost comforting.
So, in essence, I can’t agree with all of D&Ds decisions, but I can say that perhaps they are beginning to feel the heat. There is a lot expected of them, and they are making drastic choices, especially when they are now advancing towards the most current book, where the sullied are nearly unsullied. And in regards to Bran, it does worry me that his storyline will be drifting away this season. It does feel as if the first two seasons are different shows from the past two.
Again, the readers are on the edge of unsullied here, and, in my opinion, I would rather read from GRRM what is to happen next with Bran in the books before they do it in the show. I would be sorely disappointed if it were to happen the other way around, but they have a show to make and limited time.
Was it foolish of them to take on ASOIAF? No, definitely not. But I can’t defend some of the recent decisions they have been making.
TV shows have characters that step away for a year or two all the time. Actors will work on other shows or movies, and the show writes around that. Game of Thrones is structured around the books, and so it has less freedom in how to deal with missing actors, but the writers do still have choices. The books are a guide, but only a handful of major characters are irreplaceable. Less significant characters are simply written out if the actor needs to leave to do a movie (see: Elyes Gabel being written out to do World War Z, though Rakharo is still alive in the books). They can be recast easily, too, as we’ve seen.
We hadn’t heard from Tommen in over a season when he was recast. The smoothness of the transition to Dean Charles Chapman in the role shows that there was much ado about nothing, when some parties were alarmed with a recasting of a character with only a few lines of dialogue.
I think it was more significant when we had a new Daario, and it didn’t help that the show declined to reveal the reasons behind Ed Skrein’s departure. Personally, I prefer Michiel Huisman, so it hasn’t affected me that much. I don’t think we’ll have departures of characters that notable in the future.
I suspect the show has learned their lesson and will have secured the handful of actors that they can’t afford to lose or not bring back. The lesser characters can be written around. Benioff and Weiss have proven they can adapt the novels, trimming and reassigning parts very well, so I’m not worried about this aspect.
I agree with Axey. I think they got to the Red Wedding and the show was such a huge success that they suddenly realized they really would be in it for the long haul. I mean, sure, they did some prep for the long-term story, but in their heart of hearts, they really didn’t think they would make it. Then they had to face adapting some very difficult material (adapting these two books into one coherent timeline that would retain viewers’ interest would probably kill me).
Maybe it does signal a lack of foresight, but I think it’s also a result of their humility – they didn’t think GOT was going to be such a success. They said they’d have been happy to just eke it out – if it was watched enough to stay on the air until the RW. That was a pretty low bar to set, but I can’t blame them; there’s a lot of good TV being made right now, particularly on cable. The bar for the industry is higher than ever before.
One last thing… even though Bran won’t be “in” the show, it doesn’t mean he will be forgotten, and perhaps that’s enough. They’ve made a habit of mentioning and including important characters across seasons in small ways when they couldn’t literally be on the screen. Maybe they’ll have Bran’s visions and voiceovers, even if it’s repeated imagery from past seasons. They’ll think of something.
Maybe I’m giving them too much credit, but I think it will work out fine.
Wait, Axey… how do you know the size of Edmure’s…? Oh, right. Never mind.
I agree that calling the showrunners out on the lack of foresight is harsh. As others have said, it’s all part of the game, often down to luck and beyond anyone’s control. Since we are following the production this closely as fans, we are able to list a whole bunch of recastings, but I am unsure if the average viewer noticed any at all. I agree with Susan that the only exception – and the one that actually felt jarring to me – was Daario (though, despite the importance of his role, he was at least only just introduced the previous season).
In the case of Tommen and Myrcella, we get to see the new actors only after several seasons of those characters’ absences. It’s an unfortunate situation for personal reasons to those of us who have met Aimee, and I am sad because of it, but Game of Thrones won’t suffer from it as a TV show in any way. And sorry, Marc, but Beric does not count at all, same as any featured extra with a single line that gets cast properly at some point down the line. Hiring Richard Dormer for that one word two seasons before you really need the character would not demonstrate foresight, but rather a level of insanity. 🙂
All in all, much, much worse recastings had to be endured by TV viewers as part of their experience in the past (*ehm* Rome‘s Octavian *ehm*), so I count us lucky in that respect. Knock wood.
Oh, I can’t talk about Edmure being hung, but Marko can knock wood.
I blame the patriarchy.