On the Difficulty Between Showing and Telling
May 23, 2011 § 3 Comments
I watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones today, (disclaimer: read and loved the books) and I have to say the show is pretty damn good. I feel that they’ve captured the important elements of each character and where they did not, they modified or created new elements that work as well. I’m tempted to say “and some work better”, but it’s been years since I’ve read the books, so I can’t say that in good faith.
But one thing tickled me watching the latest episode. Well, two things, but I’m not going to whine about the fight between Bronn and Ser Vardis Egen. I know stage fighting is overly dramatic for a reason, but I’m not interested in having a bunch of Fetch students on here screaming about proper use of the longsword. I’ll just say: people use shields for a reason, and you don’t swing a sword around like a baseball bat. Unless you want to die, then by all means, go ahead.
No, what I wanted to talk about was the hunting scene. For those who haven’t seen it, the King, notoriously fat and quick to anger, decides to go hunting. You’ll have to use your imagination and see the bright hunting clothes and shining boar spears, smell the damp scent of a forest at dawn and the smell of horse and sweat, hear the barking of the hunting hounds and the conversation of all the hunte…oh wait, no you won’t.
You’ll have to imagine 4 men walking through the forest. Oh. Two of them have spears. Yeah.
It’s a little disappointing, to say the least.
I know that Westeros, the continent that A Game of Thrones takes place on isn’t Europe, but amuse me for a moment and tell me what is similar about these three photos:
All three, which come from different parts of the world, different eras in times and with different painting styles, have hunting dogs. They have large groups of people with spears and bows and hunting paraphernalia. They have horses! Horses! People go hunting in those days, not individuals. The king should have an entourage! Oh wait, he does! They had a scene early in the series (Ep.2) where they have a proper entourage with horses and spears and whatnot, which makes the lack of such things all the more conspicuous.
I know why the director decided to do this because there is a huge cost difference between having 4 people on the screen and about 20, but I’m interested from the story teller’s perspective. While the show may have flubbed the scene a little, the book didn’t. You do have to imagine all those traditional hunting scenes in your head and your head alone…but it works a little better on paper, doesn’t it?
The big thing is that the writer of a story has to introduce those things so that the reader has them in mind, but 9 times out of ten you don’t carry them further. It’s a classic promise to the reader: I won’t talk about them any more so that you, the reader, know they aren’t important to the story. Plus, I’m free to introduce all these crazy images and scenes because the reader is using their imagination anyway. George R. R. Martin just mentions a few things like spears, horses, hunting greens, and so on, and that allows the reader to fill the rest in with what they think they look like.
TV doesn’t exactly get to do that unless they want to spend infinite money and take infinite time, something I suppose they can’t do. That’s one reason why I love watching books made into movies and TV shows, because what they include and how they include it is suddenly so charged and difficult. I’m frustrated with Game because the hunting scene was done so poorly that it took away both immersion and a level of seriousness. I don’t believe that those 4 guys took down a couple-hundred pound boar in their court clothes. I don’t believe that and suddenly I’m reminded it’s a TV show.
And the bloody funniest part of it all? The scene isn’t even in the book. It’s just described obliquely and it still comes across better than in the TV show.
Oh, and final disclaimer: the show is freaking amazing. My criticism is minor at best. Watch it! Lord Snow commands it.