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
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
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 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.
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.
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I think this discussion kind of mushes together a few different things.
With Berric as with some other characters (Rorge, Jaqen, and Biter; Karstark), what happened wasn’t really recasting- The show had an extra represent them as a “placeholder” and then they cast them with a “real actor” when needed. I guess someone sufficiently uncharitable could blame the show for not initially casting the “real actor”, but (for example) it’s hard for me to say that Jaqen was recast when the original Jaqen was an extra with a bag over his head.
I’d consider the various Gregors, Tommen, Myrcella, and Daario to be genuine recastings in that the audience would have more reason to expect the initial person cast to be there for the duration. I would say that Tommen and Myrcella were closer to “placeholders” given their limited (but important) lines during their initial appearances and then long disappearance afterward.
With the Gregors and Daario, there was definitely behind-the-scenes drama going on that lead to the original being replaced and I’d assume that the actors are to blame here since shows don’t replace actors at a whim. With Daario, it is weird how different the new one is, which does show some lack of foresight since it seems like in addition to those behind-the-scenes-circumstances, D&D took advantage of the opportunity to reimagine Daario.
And then you have the issue of characters dropping out for a significant period of time. Most of the time, it’s not bad and seems a weird thing to blame the show for since characters also drop out of the book for sufficient periods. Where it is worrying is cases like the Blackfish and the BWB where their disappearing seems to be tied to their storyarc being dropped.
And finally, there’s the issue (already much discussed) of the show not casting certain characters at all/not doing those arcs.
One last thing I’d say is that I think one of the biggest weaknesses/lack of foresight by the show is the lack of development of the Northern plot. It didn’t seem that much of a problem initially, but it ended up as a situation where Roose was Robb’s only bannerman and there seems to be a lack of room to retroactively introduce more people. I think to some extent this problem stretches back to the Greatjon’s actor not being available for the second season and then not being asked back afterward.
I loved the Daario recast personally. Neither one of them fit the books anyway but I like Michiel Huisman. He is a much better and more likable Daario. The re-casting of The Mountain was kinda ridiculous. They should have stuck with the first one or something. He was big enough to have pulled off the fight scene. The second one was horrible.
I honestly thought they’d end up having to recast Bran because he’s grown up so much/so quickly. Sophie wasn’t as noticeable on the show because she was already a tall girl but there’s no way she looks 14. Maisie has matured a lot but hasn’t really grown in height so I think they can get away with it a bit more with her. I didn’t really care about Tommen being re-cast but it was weird to see a kid get killed in one season and be the king in the next lol There were some strange choices on who they left out because the actors weren’t available. Like The GreatJon. They didn’t recast him (which I loved the original) and just cut him out of the show totally which I thought was a huge mistake. The North was horribly under-represented and they continue to be so.
There are some characters that just disappeared completely which should be at least mentioned occasionally IMO – Lancel, Gendry, Dany’s khalasar (they haven’t been seen since S3 when they were throwing up on the decks), her remaining kos (there was at least one left), etc. But then they choose to include Yara/Asha in S3-S4 for short scenes. The scene from S4 was a totally stupid addition IMO. I don’t know why they couldn’t have Bran have 1 or 2 scenes in S5 learning from Bloodraven but I guess it was mostly budgetary. I don’t know that the throw-away scenes just to show us the character again are worth it (like Yara/Asha…or Yarasha) or just wasted screen time. Supposedly Rickon & Osha weren’t gone for good but yet they haven’t even mentioned them.
Personally I haven’t minded any of the recasting so far. As for the issue of running out of source material I blame Martin for that.
Now some changes made by the show I disagree with like T alisa but others were excellent like the White Walker reveal and the hound/Brienne battle so I’m willing to reserve judgement until we actually see it play out.
“… are the show’s numerous recastings the prime example of this?”
Shouldn’t read ‘the show’s recasting ….”, I don’t see the > numerous < part.
Conan Stevens is a story I would like to hear, someday.
For Stevens might blame Peter Jackson! Apparently Stevens had to decide between contract obligations to the Hobbit or GOT.
Stevens apparently wanted back. The story from , gee three years ago, was that talks for that happened. Apparently The Hobbit nullified the possibility of him being in Season 2.
But! He didn't really need to be in season 2, or an extra could have appeared non speaking and closed visor. As it turned out Ian Whyte , a great stuntman, was a total bust as the Gregor in S2, the worst miscasting the show has done.
Who burned the bridges? , we don't know, the showrunners or HBO? Hafthor Julius Bjornsson looked the part for season 4 , but I think, if they wanted Conan Stevens could have been brought back he would have been the best and even handled the stunt work better. The whole Mountain deal is fustercluck.
Greatjon … Clive Mantle … ok so he had a conflict with another TV series … but that one is a total stone wall mystery. Was that another contract hoo-ha? or was it Mantle? No one has ever asked him about it, and no intel about the whole deal.
Ed Skrein, well I didn't live him as Daario anyway, tho I could have lived with it.
Seems in his case , he jumped contract lightning fast, so that one was not the show runners fault, I like Michiel Huisman a lot. The fact that the show disposed of GRRM's circus clown makeup for Essosi is just fine with me.
As far Tommen , I don't think Callum Wharry was an actor, so using Dean-Charles Chapman has worked out fine.
Aimee Richardson , that one's a mystery seems she and Nell Tiger Free are the same age?
Don't know about Richardson's contract, maybe Nell is a better actress?
Beric Dondarrion that's an incredible nit , probably 99.9% of the viewers , even readers, didn't realize he was in season 1.
Heck D&D probably didn't know if they would get to season 3!
Looks one can lay this at GRRM's footstep, and I think George knew this going in.
You can't take a 1000 pound bag of prose narrative and pound it into a 10 pound bag of visual narrative.
Bran and Hodor gone for a season is a piffle , consider Rickon and Osha have been off page , forever! That's George.
And D&D and George liked Natalia Tena , and I do too! In season5 , for for a little bit?
The show is cursed from the beginning by HBO going to 10 episodes seasons from 12.
I still don't buy that 12 could not be done, it would just cost more in resources, but seems that's the hammerlock , due to contracts and scheduling, that can't be broken now.
This has caused all kind of influence on atmosphere, Dany's , now, missing Dothraki handmaidens and even Blood Riders steals the aura of her Dothraki connection.
(I might note , if you look fast, in season 4, in the Meereen throne room there is a Dothraki guard , once, actually there are background one in E1 and E2.)
I have not been the least bothered by Arya and Brienne's rearranged and streamlined stories. In fact S4E1 Arya-Hound-Tavern brawl trumps the one in SoS , in my book!
So a whole boat load of book minor characters got eliminated there.
One thing about season 5, it's still not dead sure some characters gone, things have been Black-World silent for filming in Belfast in November. We know Wall stuff, and vague countryside filming, must have done the the interiors of The House of Black and White, KL, Meereen, The Vale, Winterfell , man some main actors were not spotted 'on the town'.
Here here! We both touched on some of the same things
And The Blackfish must still be finding a tree to take a pee on
“Who burned the bridges, we don’t know, the showrunners or HBO?”
I think Conan Stevens quite clearly burnt the bridges, choosing to leave to do the Hobbit and then badmouthing the show.
RE Nell Tiger Free, I saw her in this tv movie “Mr. Stink” as well as one of the episodes of “Endeavour”, so I’d think she was cast for her acting ability.
I agree with Bex. Although they have done flower colors, mish-mashed phrases, inserted some imagery, and hung (and unhung) some proverbial “guns on the wall”, I wish the show had more “Easter eggs” to taunt the Sullied and enable further symbolic/metaphorical discussion.
One could also debate that the depiction of the HotU in S2 was due to a lack of showrunner vision post-RW. So many symbols and metaphors could have been carried forth from that point on….but that is only for the books, I guess.
Do I need to control or fundamentaly think about casting?
Considering the first four seasons were laid at my feet?
When did Conan Stevens bad mouth the show? Reference.
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