OK, so I'm a noob to the HBO threads and I just bought the DVD's and watched them all within the last 24 hours. I want to jump in and discuss but I'm a year too late. Be that as it may, these are some of the things I'm thinking about on first viewing.
The lift cage at the Wall: I like that they put it on a track rather than a hanging, swaying contraption like in the books. I'm a little skeptical about the manpower of the lift though. That fricken thing would be heavy and they just show one poor bastard walking a wheel to lift it.
At the very least, it should be counterweighted with a load equal to the weight of the lift, leaving the operator to hoist the weight of the cargo only. I will admit that this is the sort of thing that would only interest engineering geeks so I won't belabor the point.
...except to add that I'm missing the switchback stair. It will be important later and I'm curious what they will do when the time comes. Also, a lift on a track can't swing over to deliver Jon Snow on the North side of the wall for his fateful meeting with Mance.
The flipflop of Catelyn's approval for Ned accepting the Hand job: I'm guessing that they chose to make the TV character argue against it in order to make the Cat more likeable to the viewing audience and I don't necessarily fault them for that but someone who is deeply familiar with the book version, it's a major departure for the whole motivations and essence of the character.
Ditto on Tywin gutting an animal: I get it that they needed to communicate an air of menace immediately as the foundation of that character. In the books George has the liberty of developing that menace without Tywin speaking a word but even for a great actor, that would be hard to pull off in a 2-3 minute scene. Nevertheless, I have that fangirl, kneejerk reaction that Lord Tywin would never do that--he would command a servant. That detail would be entirely appropriate to the introduction of Randyl Tarly but not Lord Tywin.
The First Ride: In the commentary they delicately indicate that the actors didn't feel capable of communicating that switch of tone from brutal to romantic but it doesn't quite scan for me. In the books, Drogo has his game face on during the public portion--seeming warlike and hard--but once he gets Dany alone he is all gentleness (albeit with the unstated fatalism that she is gonna get fucked one way or the other.)
He is patient with her fears and her timid modesty. He gives her time to transition through her emotions, come to acceptance and ultimately desire. In real time, I'm guessing that this evolution would take at least an hour. Realistically, that could only be done on screen with a montage
and I can't blame them for not going that route.
The real shift is from the first ride to the second. Drogo is all sensitivity and consideration at first but in the books he quickly settles in to the sort of sexual dynamic with which he is more familiar and that has always seemed to me to be the disorienting and troubling part.
Because the HBO version starts with rape, it throws the whole dynamic off because why is she reminding him of it in an effort to assert that intimacy and bring him back from living death? Bah, it's interesting to discuss the differences but I can't really fault the production too much. It's a complicated thing to communicate on screen.
I'm surprised to see so much commentary on the snakes. I easily rationalized it like this: a bunch of allies/suck-ups are trying to out do each other giving exotic and expensive gifts; the snakes produce some precious venom and therefore make a terrific wedding present.
This post is way too long so I'll just cut off there and see if anyone wants to talk to me.