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Should we view GRRM-written show material as canonical - for use in discussions in this forum section?


Sandy Clegg
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I came across a subreddit called pureASOIAF recently where they delete any post that dares mention material from the show, which I do find somewhat odd. After all, George wrote many scenes and dialogue which are exclusively found in the show. Surely if they come from George that means they have relevance to the story as a whole? Surely the possibility, no matter how small, that George is adding to the book lore rather than providing 'show-only' extras means that these show inclusions have to be an exception?

Considering the wealth of subsidiary material around ASOIAF, the world book, app, Dunk and Egg, Fire and Blood, graphic novels, etc - surely it's time we accepted that this story is no longer bound to the novels alone? George is writing his magnum opus and has clearly decided to embrace a form of storytelling that encompasses different formats, with the world book etc. providing many tidbits which illuminate  the core story. 

What does our esteemed overlord @Ran think about this? Is there room for flexibility? Should we keep an open mind here? Or are these forum's waters so crystal clear that we dare not muddy them?

 

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No episode that George wrote is 100% his, and without knowing what details he specifically acknowledges is (A) from him and (B) is canon to the books, I don't believe anything in the show should be considered canon just because he's listed as writer of an episode.

Is there some specific information you'd like to discuss?

Edited by Ran
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48 minutes ago, Ran said:

Is there some specific information you'd like to discuss?

In future, very much so. But if people tend towards the feeling that we need to be 100% sure it's GRRM, then obviously therein lies the problem. I personally don't think a George script is likely to have much outside influence in it, but perhaps we'll never know. At best it's a grey area, though, so it would be nice to see some leeway given.

EDIT: perhaps there are cases where it was confirmed to be 100% from George, in which case I see no problem with including them. Unless the issue is people not wanting to be spoiled, but since when have we ever worried about that! :D

Edited by Sandy Clegg
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6 minutes ago, Sandy Clegg said:

. I personally don't think a George script is likely to have much outside influence in it, but perhaps we'll never know.

If you listen to the commentaries, they definitely did. His season 3 script was hacked together with a D&D script and he literally says that there are entire scenes he did not write, as one example.

The commentaries are actually probably the best source you'll find for his confirming something came from him or not. But bear in mind, he stopped writing scripts after season 4, so... what information is really worth discussing from those four episodes that he did write? 

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25 minutes ago, Ran said:

His season 3 script was hacked together with a D&D script and he literally says that there are entire scenes he did not write, as one example.

Hmm ok. I would hazard a guess that these were the Theon scenes but you never can tell I suppose. I’m going to go back to the commentaries then, as there is some specific material which I do find very interesting if it came from GRRM. Of course, there’s the flip side to this which is - what material did George write which was spliced  elsewhere in the show? It would be nice to get a concise breakdown of all these one day. You know - for nerd purposes and such :)

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My instinctive response was "no, absolutely not, and even more absolutely not when it comes to anything past season 4". My more considered response is a little more nuanced but is still, effectively, "no".

First off I think we need to determine what we mean by "canon", by which I mean conceptually, not physically. The idea of "canon" essentially comes to us originally from religious texts where you have, say, the Biblical canon. 

But it's worth noting what this canon is not:

  • Universally agreed: pretty much every major denomination has its own version of the canon
  • Internally consistent: there are lots of contradictions and inconsistencies
  • All equally important: parts of the canon explicitly say to if not ignore then at least treat as less important other parts of the canon
  • The complete frame of reference for any discussion: there are extensive non-canonical writings which are taken seriously in most serious discussions
  • Recognised as official by the creator/author of the texts in question: none of the authors of the books in the canon had a say in the final composition of the canon

But when we talk about canon in a pop-culture context, we tend to fall into the trap of expecting it to be all these things.

I think the real definition we should be looking at is "the stuff which is automatically and non-negotiably a valid reference point in every discussion". I think therefore there is a case for saying that only the novels are canon, or the novels plus D&E, and exclude the WoIaF book, Fire and Blood, etc.

Or we could conversely expand it to include all the stuff that's noted as semi-canonical on the wiki: the SSMs, some of the heraldry, etc. (which certainly has a better claim to inclusion in book discussions than anything from the show!) We could include the "Art of Ice and Fire" books too.

Or even a global "Things of Ice and Fire" canon which includes the shows and the books on the understanding that they are closely related and officially endorsed but operate in different continuites. 

Indeed I think often when people say "canon" what they really mean is "continuity". The books and the show have a different continuity but both could be considered part of the "canon" depending on what we mean by "canon"!

 

But, and to answer the question as intended, I think the answer is no, both for the reasons given above (we don't know how much of even the GRRM-credited episodes was actually his work), the second obvious reason (it's unreasonable to expect book-only-readers to be familiar with the show to the point where it affects their reading) and for another reason on which I'm going to spend the remainder of this post: what's the point?

The show tends to flatten, streamline, condense or outright cut story points, so it's very rare that the show gives us more detail on a certain point than the book does. Occasionally the show will make something explicit that is offpage or only very heavily implied in the books (e.g. Theon's mutilation, the Hound's rescue of Sansa) but I don't think most of those points are contentious on the whole among book readers anyway.

There are a handful of original characters on the show: most notably Ros, Talisa, and Olly. Worth noting that I think all three are widely despised. Do these characters exist in the books? It's not implausible that a noble Talisa lives in Volantis, or that there was a Mole's Town boy Olly who fled to the Watch and joined in the defence of Castle Black, even that he shot Ygritte. But Talisa is demonstrably not Robb's wife, nor is Olly Jon's squire who betrays him. The characters, if they exist in the world of the novels, are fundamentally irrelevant to it, and are resultingly so different from their show counterparts that functionally that character doesn't exist even if a character somewhere exists with the same name. 

That leaves only the visuals, and the occasional detail dropped in conversation. The visuals, I think, we can safely disregard almost altogether. The showrunners did a good job on some things, a bad job on others, and at other times a good job that was nevertheless completely at odds with what's on the page. I don't think there's anything of value to be gleaned from them.

Conversation details, such as that Jaime is dyslexic (Tywin tells Arya this in S2, not of course in so many words), are to my mind the only elements even worth considering for inclusion. These points are, to my recollection, vanishingly rare, but they do exist. In each case I think we need to ask: Does it fit with what we see in the books? Is that something worth considering for the books? Does it really change anything about Jaime's (or Tywin's) character or give us any more insight into it? 

So it is at best something to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, and in any case the category of "Things from the show that GRRM may have written", as against "all the other stuff from the show" is both so broad and so uncertain that it can't be feasibly treated as "canonical" for our purposes anyway.

 

And to return to my original gut-feel answer, anything past season 4 that covers areas of the plot that haven't happened yet in the books absolutely shouldn't be considered canonical, either in terms of what they might reveal or that certain things definitely will happen. GRRM can and often does change his mind so even where he's said that he gave the writers a plot point, it doesn't mean it will actually play out like that on the page.

There is one qualified exception. The show, in its later seasons, addressed a popular fan theory in terms which provided a definitive answer to that question within the context of the show. This question was also one that GRRM asked D&D before he approved their going ahead with the show on the basis of their answer. I think we can safely say that this answer will be correct in the books too, because it seems highly unlikely that D&D got it wrong under the circumstances, and the importance and antiquity of the question to the characters is such that I think it's a foundational point of the novels that GRRM won't change his mind on.

That doesn't mean we should treat it as "canonical", but I do think it is essentially confirmed. That doesn't mean we can't boot around alternative theories for laughs, but (unless you have somehow managed to avoid this show spoiler altogether) we have to accept that they are even more unlikely than they were previously.

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I think I've made my view on this clear in that, like, 5 page thread that wouldn't stop, but there are many things in HotD and the future show universe, and scenes from GoT, that are going to exist in this weird realm off "maybe???" and we should probably address those things. If George PREFERS show Viserys to book Viserys, to dismiss that as entirely non-canonical is sticking to a book puritanism that ignores some truly incredible work set in an ASOIAF universe. 

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26 minutes ago, Alester Florent said:

Conversation details, such as that Jaime is dyslexic (Tywin tells Arya this in S2, not of course in so many words), are to my mind the only elements even worth considering for inclusion. These points are, to my recollection, vanishingly rare, but they do exist. In each case I think we need to ask: Does it fit with what we see in the books? Is that something worth considering for the books?

I maybe should have expressed myself more carefully in the OP but yes, it’s these areas where I think George has added some valuable information to book and show readers alike. I’m certainly not interested in plot details as the show-runners clearly had their own goals in mind. 

But there’s gold hidden in the muck. George likes to embed ideas and hints in the most unlikely of places, in dialogue one might dismiss as ‘colourful flavour’ etc. And so it’s here that I think we might find something of value in his scripted episodes, as it’s more likely these well-written elements were unchanged by producers. Gotta respect the master’s ear for dialogue etc etc. 

Ultimately, I guess I want to have a more frank and involved discussion about authorial intent, the scope of George’s ambition and to what extent he sees alternate ASOIAF media (principally the shows but also the graphic novels) as a means to support the books. By support I mean nudging us towards different ways of analysing and thinking about the texts. 

As an example, let’s look at Tywin’s conversation with Joffrey in GRRM’s season 3 episode. It doesn’t add any plot details so nothing spoilery it would seem. But to me this smells like an instance where GRRM seems to almost break the fourth wall in the way Tywin tells Joffrey (and, I think, the viewers) - “You are being counselled at this very moment”.

This is not something George is able to do in the written medium. But the way Tywin delivers the line almost to camera is exceedingly ominous and is just the sort of thing George might sneak in if he wanted to subtly send a message, especially to readers. With such a large gap between books is it unreasonable to suppose that George might use the TV show to lay down some meta-textual hints for us clod-headed fans?

Again, this needs to be part of a bigger debate about authorial intent and, well, George’s scheming little brain frankly! He has said that the books are the books and the show is the show. Plot-wise, sure. But what is that wily old man up to in the cracks in between?

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51 minutes ago, GZ Bloodraven said:

If George PREFERS show Viserys to book Viserys

He preferred the Moon Door being built into the floor on GoT, but he hasn't gone and changed the Moon Door retroactively in the books. Ditto with Viserys, who has already been canonically depicted in F&B.

You can talk about that stuff as "roads not travelled" maybe, but it's not suddenly "canon".

 

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We have enough trouble keeping track of what's in the books vs what's in the show as it is.  For example, I've lost track of how many times I've seen people complain about Ned ignoring the deserter's warning about the Others.  Which, as we all should know, happened only on the show.  Best just to keep them separate.

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1 hour ago, Nevets said:

I've lost track of how many times I've seen people complain about Ned ignoring the deserter's warning about the Others. 

What I don't get is people complaining Ned executing him was unreasonable because Ned should have given him the insanity defence. What are people even expecting? 'Oh, I can tell Gared has PTSD and isn't just saying mad things, let me send him to the nearest psychiatric hospital where he can be well cared for'.

???

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3 hours ago, Craving Peaches said:

They are also just wrong about some things.

Ha. While that of course goes without saying, I don't count it a productive day of ASOIAF research unless I've had at least 3 wrong ideas before breakfast. I just don't plonk them on the interwebs for everyone to chuckle over. 

Mostly  ... ^_^

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