Media In Transition- A Game of Thrones

Cross-platforming is, as discussed by Jenkins (2007), a media text that is distributed across a variety of different platforms using various forms of media. The core story becomes a journey that is linked across these several media types and opens up the source text to a wider audience than it would be otherwise. Cross-platforming can become an interactive experience that occurs across the media with different authors and styles – these experiences can occur across the internet, video and film, mobile devices, and even the radio. The new media aspect of cross-platforming usually involves some level of audience interaction: this could be FanFiction or forum discussions on official websites. Cross-platforming can be either to increase profits or to deepen the relations between the medium and the audience.

 

This case study will analyse the various cross-platform media for Game of Thrones. The media includes the ongoing 2011 HBO television series, the ongoing series of novels by George R.R. Martin (1996), the ongoing series of graphic novels created by Dynamite Entertainment, and several new-media platforms including the Game of Thrones Facebook page and the official HBO website. The first Game of Thrones novel was published in 1996, and the Game of Thrones branch of the HBO website (2014) is updating constantly, which allows me to discuss media that covers both historical and contemporary practise. In addition, I will discuss how Game of Thrones uses cross-platforming to deepen the relations with its audience opposed to solely increasing profit margins. I will do this by referring to the different media that Game of Thrones encompasses, with reference to the fan opinions and popularity of each media.

 

The Game of Thrones novels are an ongoing fantasy series called “A Song of Fire and Ice” (Martin, 1996- 2014) which were first published in 1996 by George R.R. Martin. Within this world we learn of the battle for the Iron throne through controversial and sometimes disreputable storylines of the many characters we encounter. Martin, who is now 65 years old, has his own specific style of high fantasy that he employs in the novels. This is a style that HBO and Daniel Abraham, the graphic novel writer, have had to try and recreate whilst still adhering to the conventions that Martin set for his fantasy world.

 

The TV show, though a depiction of the novels, is a series in its own right. It takes a high end budget and employs a very clever scriptwriting team, David Benioff and D.B Weiss, to turn the show into something completely independent from the books. The show itself has won over fifty awards including two Golden Globes and ten Saturn awards. As a result, the show has become something of a springboard towards the novels despite the fact they were written first. George R.R. Martin has not finished the series and with the fifth book taking nearly five years to be written, there has been some speculation as to whether the TV show will finish before the book series as Martin has revealed the ending of the series to a select few members of the HBO team. Although there have been rumours of HBO finishing before the books, there has been no evidence in which they will ruin the books before they are published. The success of the TV show has a direct impact on the ensuing success of the novels, encouraging more fans to get into the novels and perhaps into the comics too.

 

As previously mentioned, the graphic novels try to adhere to Martin’s pre-set conventions and atmospheres that he has created for the Game of Thrones world. Sunu (2011) discusses how the graphic novel tries to closely follow the atmosphere and plot of the novel, and also how Martin himself advises the graphic novel team on how to most successfully adapt his novels. Some may believe the comic world to be a rather niche market compared to T.V, but on 27 March 2012 it took first place on the New York Times best-seller list for graphic books the day after its publication, ahead of an awaited release of The Avengers (Gustines 2012). The growing popularity of Game of Thrones has led to a cult following on various platforms, increasing the scope in which it can be presented on, due to the high sales and demand.

 

Not only has Game of Thrones branched out from book, to TV show, to graphic novel, social media has also impaired its own version of Game of Thrones such as apps and board games. With 1,560,063 followers on Twitter (as of 27.5.14) and 11,805,380 ‘likes’ on Facebook (as of 27.5.14) it shows that Game of Thrones is widely regarded in social means, because of the growing social interest it has created sub texts and popular culture references only viewers of the show would understand. “You know nothing, John Snow” and “Hodor” have become trademark memes of the show and along with these, parodies and fan fiction have exploded onto the internet. These memes have additionally spawned fan-made merchandise on websites such as Qwertee and Etsy. This popularity however was not adhered to at first: the first instalment of the novel did not reach any position in the bestseller list. Martin in an interview unsurprised said that it was “a fool’s game to think anything is going to be successful or to count on it”. However, the book slowly won the passionate advocacy of independent booksellers and the book’s popularity grew by word-of-mouth, hence the popularity of the series so far. This small-time popularity is an aspect that allowed the novels to eventually be developed into a TV show which ironically helped boost the success of said books.

you-know-nothing-06-0313-400x300

(Gerstein 2014)

hodor

(Tickld 2014)

 

The cross-platform sections of the Game of Thrones world all tie in together while remaining vastly different. The differences in the media stem from largely audience-based changes in ideology whether this is due to the time that the medium was launched, or due to the needs of the specific context. With reference to the time changes affecting audience response, the main changes in HBO’s television series stem from the time difference between the book publishing and the TV production. The changes made for the TV show reflect how the modern audience will react. A way in which this has happened is through a change in attitude towards sex. Whereas modern audiences are more ok with female genitalia, audiences in the 90’s were still uncomfortable with said taboo. Murray (2008) discusses how deliberate infidelity of adaptations is necessary in order to make them appropriate for the new medium. She discusses how adaptations interrogate political and ideological underpinnings of their source texts. The wilful infidelity of Game of Thrones is in order to cater to the modern audience by changing the way that females, children, and sexually explicit scenes are represented, while still remaining faithful to the source text.

 

 

Miller (cited by Cardwell, 2002:31) discusses how fidelity is essentially a logical impossibility, stating: “Novels are an absolutely untranslateable art form except in the trivial and the second rate.” In addition to this, Wagner (1975) describes direct transposition as ‘puerile’. HBO strike a good balance of fidelity as far as cross-platforming goes, managing to cater to book and television audiences harmoniously in most cases, without trying to replicate the source text. Laurel Pinson states: “HBO’s biggest coup—arguably even more than the ratings—is having won over fans of the books, even having re-arranged certain plot points.” Another fan states: “I would easily give this series to both comic and non-comic fans alike. I truly loved this adaptation more than I would have thought.” (Gary Makries 2011) The publishers of the graphic novels also were required to take similar care during production. Abraham (2011) discusses how problematic Daenerys Targaryen’s character is, and that caution needed to be taken to be sure that the representation of her wedding night in which she is raped was not portrayed in a way that would violate the U.S. PROTECT Act for child pornography.

The new-media adaptations of Game of Thrones such as the HBO website and various social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) serve more as an extension to the existing cross-platforms. The HBO website branches onto the TV show, boasting of a Game of Thrones Viewers Guide (2014) that adds another level to the enjoyment of the show including character locations and plot progression. This extension is not necessary for every viewer however adds a different dimension to the modern viewer who may be watching on different technologies e.g. watching the show whilst on their laptop. Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism reinforces the concept of social media and new-media supporting the source texts and so forth:

“Every level of expression from live conversational dialog to complex cultural expression in other genres and art works is an ongoing chain or network of statements and responses, repetitions and quotations, in which new statements presuppose earlier statements and anticipate future responses.”

The HBO website is extremely interactive and more content regarding the TV show is unlocked online. The website essentially becomes its own world that the audience can find out extra information from, which aligns with Bakhtin’s idea of responses and statements presupposing earlier statements and anticipating future events. In addition, the website brings contemporary audiences into the world of Game of Thrones, including audiences that usually exclusively watch the television series online. This is with reference to the media interactivity mentioned in the introduction – audiences are able to interact with the website whilst watching the TV show.

Each media concerning Game of Thrones keeps true to the spirit of the franchise, something that MacCabe (2011) places emphasis on. Focusing on the shift from absolute fidelity, HBO have therefore changed the show according to audience context, but not without losing George R. R. Martin’s original perspective of the world of Game of Thrones. An example of this is shown in the depiction of Cersei Lannister’s character and her love for her husband Robert Baratheon. Both the book and the TV show express that Cersei was once in love with Robert, and in turn, how he destroyed what love they had through his polygamous relationships and neglect. The difference in portrayal lies in society’s tolerance towards domestic abuse and HBO’s subsequent heed to that. Jones (2012) discusses how in the novel Robert blames Cersei for provoking him to rape her, however this is omitted in the TV show because this ideal reflects modern society’s tendency to ‘victim blame.’ Although this rape scene is omitted in the T.V series, many other rape scenes have been left in and one even created for the T.V show. In the novel Jaime and Cersie meet after Jaime’s return and overwhelm with emotion they have sexual intercourse near the body of their recently deceased son. In contrast, during the TV show, we see Cersei say no to Jaime. He then ignores her and proceeds to rape her right next to the body of their son. This scene in the show caused uproar online. People spoke out about the sudden change in Jamie’s character and engaged in discussions that involved both Jamie’s character growth within the book and TV show. However, HBO have yet to give insight as to why this scene played out in the way that it did. In Hibberd’s (2014) blog post, George R.R. Martin on the other hand gave some insight into the character change, stating: “I was writing the scene from Jaime’s POV, so the reader is inside his head, hearing his thoughts. On the TV show, the camera is necessarily external. You don’t know what anyone is thinking or feeling, just what they are saying and doing.” This presents the challenge faced when adapted a book into a TV show – the lack of thoughts and feelings explicitly translated from characters. Martin also added: “That’s really all I can say on this issue. The scene was always intended to be disturbing… but I do regret if it has disturbed people for the wrong reasons.” Due to online blogs, forums and discussions some people were more inclined to read the book after such a drastic change in tone from the TV show, especially after Martin addressed the scene as ‘disturbing’ in this post.

Additionally, another way in which the TV show shifts from absolute fidelity is the ages of characters, in particular the main female characters Daenarys Targaryen, Arya Stark, and Sansa Stark. Daenarys’s age is not explicitly defined in the TV show, however Emelia Clarke is in her mid-twenties and clearly significantly older than Daenarys is in the books, so we can assume that TV show Daenarys is supposed to be represented as older. A main turning point for Daenarys’s character occurs when we see her get raped by her husband-to-be Khal Drogo. In this circumstance, and many other circumstances, if the character’s age had remained the same, the social taboo of children in compromising situations could have been a detriment to the success of the show. Furthermore, Emelia Clarke herself has become somewhat of a sex icon for the show, appearing in various magazines such as Vanity Fair in very little, if any, clothing. As a result, she has become a slight marketing ploy for the franchise – something that would have been impossible to achieve with a child.

Moreover, Ayra and Sansa’s situations throughout the show would have equally been against social taboos regarding those of Daenarys. Sansa is forced to marry a much older character at the age of eleven, and Arya is torn away from her home and put into a situation that requires her to murder people and travel the baron lands with a bedraggled ex-knight. HBO were careful not to eliminate large chunks of their audience, keeping the scope as wide as possible by not including fewer controversial plot lines or scenes than the original novels.

Another crucial aspect of cross-platforming is the fan base, according to Harper (2012), the definition of a fan is “a person who is enthusiastically devoted to something.” I would call myself a fan of Game of Thrones to the extent of which I stay up on a Sunday to watch it in real time. However, after exploring the many different media platforms that span over the series throughout this essay, I have come to realise I might not be as much of a fan as I originally thought. To start with I have not read all the books so cannot comment on the differences between the books and the TV show. I have heard of the differences due to the amount of Game of Thrones social media I follow and partake in, but I have always known Daenarys Targareyn to be played and portrayed by an older actress.

Furthermore, my research into Game of Thrones has lead me to the deduction that Emelia Clarke is one of the main selling points of the series, and a very sexual one at that. For this reason I am glad that the TV show took its own route and did not maintain absolute fidelity to the books. This may lead one to consider whether HBO altered the age of Daenarys as a marketing ploy due to the fact storylines of child molestation, although not many, still remain in the show occasionally. In addition, there are other ways to address child abuse and molestation in a less severe and graphic way – this is, again, something that one should consider when discussing the age change of Emilia Clarke’s character.

My essay has also lead me to consider the reasons why Game of Thrones has branched out across so many platforms. For instance, it is interesting that the creators of the series chose to adapt the show into a graphic novel when the comic book audience is generally quite niche compared to that of shows and novels. The sales of graphic novels are slowly depleting due to the rise in technology and the access to content online, so this suggests that both George R.R Martin and HBO are reaching towards success and wide audiences rather than high profits. This point is further supported in an interview with Game of Thrones director, David Petrarca:

“HBO alone had 26 million subscribers in the US and 60 million worldwide, which meant there was plenty of money filtering in and allowing the channel to produce high quality content despite any illegal downloading.” (Geigner 2013)

This comment implies that HBO are more concerned with their high quality content and the number of people actually enjoying and sharing their TV show, rather than how much money they are making. Another take on the release of graphic novels could also be to do with having something physical from a visual medium. By one estimate, one out of every three Americans collects something (O’Brien 1981). The Game of Thrones Instagram page supports this theory due to the nature of their posts. Some pictures are of filming and the actors, however what seems to be the main point is presenting their collectible figurines ‘Funko’ designed and distributed by Pop!. The somewhat awkward and staged pictures posted boasts an obvious direction towards the product, which, due to the celebrities promoting them, have created a collectors craze. One which I am ashamed to admit have become part of. Researching this essay has made me realise I’m not such an avid fan as I thought I was, I didn’t know about the graphic novel nor do I follow the website, in future if I enjoy a series I need to broaden my scope if it is on different platforms to see peoples own individual take on the subject. This broad cross platform is becoming more apparent with newer shows due to the technological age, shows such as The Walking Dead which are now games, comics, programme and merchandise

Game of Thrones has a very broad scope across many different platforms, the most interesting part of this is due to the fact the books were written so long ago but it was the success in the T.V show which created ripples in George R.R. Martin’s life. Due to the nature of these original novels characters and events had to change something which is recurrent with cross platform media such as The Walking Dead which similarly had to filter down controversial scenes from its source text. The Walking Dead has become its own brand of games, TV, and merchandise. The study has shown me how the survival of a medium relies on its ability to cross platform. Even niche media such as comic books need to be addressed to reach a wider audience as possible and subsequently ensure the success of a franchise. Even though some sacrifices must be made to be able to move from different platforms Game of Thrones has showed that even though some aspects of the story may change but the core ‘being’ of Game of Thrones still fits the mold created by George R. R. Martin. I have concluded that the cross-media aspect of Game of Thrones aids to broaden the reach of the audience in order to share George R.R. Martin’s story and allow it to branch out into new media.

Word count: 3,188

 

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