Tag Archives: george r.r. martin

Humour In Epic Fantasy: A Look at Game of Thrones



With Season 3 of Game of Thrones just begun, I took advantage of my maternity leave to sit down and watch the whole of Season 2 over the last few days. As I did, I had cause to ask myself a question.

Why am I watching this?

Let’s face it, Game of Thrones is marvellously well done, but the story is downright depressing. I’ve read the books as well as watched the TV series, and I remember being desperately angry when I discovered I had to wait for Dance of Dragons. I bought it as soon as it was released, and 18 months later I’ve not read it.

Why not?

I remember almost nothing of the books, except that everyone dies. It’s as bad as a Shakespeare tragedy. Most of the characters are rotten, and there’s slim pickings when it comes to admirable characters. Every time you actually do decide whose side you should be on, that person gets the sword. I’m reduced to rooting for Tyrion Lannister who, despite being a Lannister, appears to be one of the nicer characters. He’s been hard done by as a child, unloved by his family, not to mention unvalued for the skills he actually does have, and appears to have a decent stab at being a good Hand of the King. He’s not perfect, he’s definitely self-interested, and he plays politics for the sake of it, but he has the basic decency to be revolted by the notion of killing babies.

And on top of that, he’s funny.

In fact, without the humour injected by Tyrion, I wonder would I watch the series? Without him, there is precious little uplifting about the story. A throne under contention. Good men, like Ned Stark, dying. Monsters like Joffrey in command. Babes torn from their mothers’ arms and murdered. Rape, and pillage, and greed, and dead men walking south from the Wall, and there’s no one I can point to who can save the day. No hero.

Epic fantasy does tend to run to grim, with worlds under threat, and lives in the balance. Most aren’t as grim as Game of Thrones. More usually the hopes of everyone, including the reader, are pinned on the likes of Rand al’Thor or Richard Rahl. With heroes to light the way, to give hope, there’s something to keep us reading past all the horror and fear. In fact, it’s the assurance that someone will save the day that entices many readers of fantasy; an assurance not present in the real world.

Even then, I sometimes find myself taking a break from the doom and gloom of a world under threat to read another genre, or to lose myself in the light-hearted comic relief of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Humour can be important in epic fantasy. A moment of levity can be used to highlight the horrors or to offer the reader relief from them. It’s not a necessary element of every fantasy, and Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth has been successful without much in the way of humour, but it can be a useful part of the fantasy writer’s toolkit to avoid depressing the reader to the point where they don’t see the point in reading on.

When writing a story as depressing as Game of Thrones, I’d argue it may be downright critical.

Do you watch Game of Thrones? Do you like Tyrion? How many of the other characters did you like – and how many of them are now dead?

How important do you think the humour is in Game of Thrones?

Arya Stark – one of the few other likeable characters

What Game of Thrones Got Right But Legend of the Seeker Got Horribly Wrong


In the last few years, two epic fantasy series have been adapted for TV – The Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, screening under the name of the first book, Game of Thrones, and Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth, screening under the name Legend of the Seeker.

Of the two sets of books, I love The Sword of Truth more. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, don’t hate me, I do like A Song of Ice and Fire, but consider checking out The Sword of Truth if you haven’t already (except book 5 and 7, in my humble opinion…). Same goes if you like Legend of the Seeker – I really cannot emphasise how much better the books are than the TV series. 

Why are the books better than the TV series? Although the books are good I wouldn’t describe them as brilliant, but in my opinion Legend of the Seeker was as much an unmitigated disaster as Game of Thrones is a success. 

One has to wonder why? I have two theories, the second of which feeds out of the first:
  1. Legend of the Seeker was significantly adapted from the books, until it only bore a passing resemblance to the original story. Now I know changes may be necessary to adapt a book for screen, but these changes were so extreme they almost wrote a whole new story – in fact, for season two, it’s arguable they did, because Darken Rahl bit the dust in Wizard’s First Rule (the first book in The Sword of Truth) and that was pretty much endgame for him.

    By contrast,
    Game of Thrones has been very true to the books. In fact, you could almost go so far as to say they’ve essentially made a movie out of the book, and then chopped it into TV show length bites and screened it in succession. Legend of the Seeker instead made an effort to have individualised episodes with a connecting theme or story arc.

    Legend of the Seeker
    failed, but Game of Thrones has been a raging success – at least, Legend of the Seeker was axed after two seasons, and I’ll be very surprised if the same happens to Game of Thrones – and I think deviations from the main plot is a large part of the reason.  There is nothing wrong with the story in Wizard’s First Rule or Stone of Tears (the second book in The Sword of Truth) and either could have been done in the same way as Game of Thrones, instead of mangling the story beyond recognition to try and turn it into 22 connected short stories.
  2. As a result of the significant rewriting that occurred in order to film Legend of the Seeker, the violence and dark themes of The Sword of Truth series were significantly dialled back, and it screened as suitable for children with parental guidance (PG rating in Australia). If it had been filmed true to the books, it would have been suitable only for a mature audience – virtually the same audience currently watching Game of Thrones.

    On the other hand, Game of Thrones
    has been more or less true to the violence and sexual themes of the books. OK, maybe toned down a fraction, but it’s still clearly an adult themed show. I’m not suggesting so much that viewers want graphic violence and sex (I don’t know – maybe they do!) but changing this can very much change the nature of the setting. Would Game of Thrones be the same ugly, real world it is without the violence and sex? Probably not. To some degree you can control the way in which you portray it, but it must still be present.

    It wasn’t present in
    Legend of the Seeker, depriving that world of much of the true atmosphere of fear, horror and danger permeating the books, and without that backdrop the effect of the story on the viewer is significantly diluted.
I am enjoying Game of Thrones immensely, but almost the only thing I can think of that was right about Legend of the Seeker is the casting! Definitely no arguments about Craig Horner as Richard…

Have you seen both Game of Thrones and Legend of the Seeker? Which do you prefer, and why? Have you read the books? And if so, which do you prefer and why? Did you find Legend of the Seeker disappointing as compared to Game of Thrones or The Sword of Truth?

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