It’s a different experience for me than for most folks, though, because I’m also in the middle of adapting Game of Thrones to a visual medium. I’m writing the comic book scripts for Bantam and Dynamite. The license they bought was for the original book, not the HBO show, so I haven’t spoken to anyone in Holywood about the decisions they made, what to cut what to keep in. I’m on my own for that, and seeing the decisions they made has been fascinating. (What about Bran’s dreams? Where’s the three-eyed crow?)
One thing that struck me particularly, though, is the wedding night of Daenerys Targaryen. It’s a wildly problematic scene in a number of ways, and the problems and solutions about how to deal with it pretty much run the gamut.
In the original book, Daenerys is a thirteen-year-old girl given by her brother to a foreign warlord. It’s a political marriage meant to cement an alliance in preparation for war, and as such, boy howdy, does it have a lot of historical precedent. We’ve seen Dany as a victim and a child, lost and powerless, through the whole book. We’ve seen the wedding – which is violent and strange and frightening. Then the time comes, and Dany is taken off from her family and the people she knows with a huge, strong man who has the acknowledged right to have sex with her whether she wants it or not.
In the book, George is setting us up. We’re expecting, essentially, child-rape. What we get is very different. Dany’s new husband takes her to a beautiful place, spends a great deal of time with her. She brushes his hair. He helps her to feel comfortable with her nakedness. There’s foreplay. There’s a lot of it. And when the marriage is finally consummated, it is explicitly with Dany’s consent.
So that’s surprising and oddly humane. At least compared with what we thought was going to happen.
Now let’s switch over to us poor adapters. Like I said, I haven’t talked to my confreres in Hollywood, so anything I say about them and their process is speculation. Mine, I can talk about.
The first problem is we’re putting up pictures of a thirteen-year-old girl having sex. You start there, and your second problem almost doesn’t matter. Let’s see . . . Child pornography. Definition. Visual depiction of a person under the age of 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Felony. Check.
For a great stretch of history and even now in many parts of the world, a thirteen-year-old girl is marriageable. Juliet Capulet was thirteen when she ran off with Romeo. We can have long conversations about human evolution and sexuality and the ways in which childhood is a recent invention, and it won’t matter a bit.
Emilia Clarke is about a decade older than Daenerys. In the comic book, Dany is at least 18 years old so that we don’t have anything professional to talk to Comic Book Legal Defense Fund guys about.
So already, and unmistakably, the folks and HBO and I have turned aside from the intent of the original. A thirteen-year-old is different than someone five or ten years older. The Dany we’re working with isn’t a lost child growing to maturity in the way that George’s was because she’ s not a child to start with. The constraint of law is upon it, and as a parent, I’m fine with that.
So the second problem. Time and foreplay.
HBO had less than a minute to cover the wedding scene. A minute is a freaking long time in television. Me? I had three pages. That’s about ten percent of an issue that had a lot of plot to cover, and if I could have given it more time and space, I would have, but it just wasn’t there.
George had the challenge of convincing the reader that Dany could give consent in a situation where, really, if she withheld it, it wasn’t going to matter. And he did it because he could take us into her mind, walk us through her experience, and take the time she needed to take the reader to an unexpected place that was both uncomfortable and humane. In the comic and the TV show, we literally didn’t have time or space to do that. I had a little more than they did, and I did my best to give Dany and her khal that moment, as imperfect as my translation might have been.
HBO? Let’s be straight. They had him rape her.
Constraint changes stories. Different media have different constraints, and some things that aren’t possible in one medium become possible in another. This is that case. What George did in that scene, we couldn’t match. Not me, not HBO. We did something else, and hopefully in ways that don’t do too much violence to the story. But my Dany and HBO’s Dany can never be George’s.
I write a lot of books myself, and I have to say, as frustrating as it is to be an adapter, it reassures me to be reminded that there are always going to be some things the book does better.