The Mind Versus the Screen

Anytime you watch a show or a movie based on a book you’ve read, there are things that match, and others that don’t.  And what’s really fun is that it’s different for every person, so that what looks familiar to one person looks way off to someone else.  It’s the boundless possibilities of imagination, and it’s no different with Game of Thrones.  Take setting as an example.

For me, there were some settings in the HBO series that came out really close to how I pictured them in my imagination when reading the series.  Winterfell–which is filmed at Doune Castle in Scotland, Castle Ward in Northern Ireland, and in a studio–came out almost exactly as I had pictured it in my mind.

This didn’t strike me until part way through the first season, when Jamie pushes young Bran from the tower.  That scene brought back so many vivid images from reading the book that I realized they’d created nearly a replica of what I’d seen in my head.  Same thing happened in the courtyard of Winterfell last season, when Bran surrendered Winterfell to Theon Greyjoy.

The Wall also comes out almost exactly as I pictured it.  Granted, it’s a wall of ice, so there’s only so much variation you can have from book to movie, but Castle Black was very close to my mind’s picture, too.  Two scenes drove this home for me.  One was when Jon and the search party exited the wall into the Haunted Forest, and the other was during one of the sparring scenes inside.

On the other hand, King’s Landing in the HBO series looks almost nothing like I’d pictured it in my mind.  It seems dirtier, less grandiose and far less pretty than it did in the book.  That might be because in the book, much of what we see of King’s Landing comes through the wide eyes of Sansa Stark who for awhile is still stuck in visions of chivalry and knights in shining armor.  The series steps back from her initial POV pretty quickly, so perhaps that’s why it seemed drearier to me. Also, these scenes were initially filmed in Malta, then shifted to Croatia for season two, which may have clouded things.

Another setting that looks different to me is the Dothraki homelands.  In the book, Martin describes this area through the youthful, somewhat awestruck, and very frightened eyes of Danerys Targaryen.  So we see endless seas of waving grass and rolling hills, but the TV series films in Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland, which has a rugged, rocky terrain that didn’t jive with what I’d imagined.  I’d pictured Kansas, and HBO gave me South Dakota instead.

Perhaps coincidentally, the first two locations, where the TV settings matched the scenes in my imagination, where two of my favorite portions of the book to read, and involved some of my favorite characters.  Conversely, I didn’t enjoy reading about King’s Landing nearly as much.  The Dothraki chapters were very good for me, but mostly due to character traits and actions versus settings.  My upbringing in upstate New York, which shares more climatologically with Winterfell than King’s Landing, might also contribute.

So think about it.  If you’ve read the books and watched the series, what matches and what doesn’t, setting-wise?  If you haven’t read the books, give it a shot and see what stands out in your mind?

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