Appraising the adapted Red Wedding’s fidelity to emotional impact

Curator's Note

The GoT third season episode ‘The Rains of Castamere’, was hotly anticipated by ASoIaF fans because they expected it to include the Red Wedding. Before it aired I asked fans to describe 1) their reactions when they first read the scene, and 2) what they expected of its adaptation. Most respondents expected certain emotional triggers, particularly Catelyn’s breakdown, the massacre of Robb’s men and the murder of his wolf. Some expected the emotional impact of the adapted scene to be less than that of reading it for the first time; some expected it to have no impact at all. The reason for this was, of course, that the adaptation would lack the original shock.

Several of the emotional triggers that fans expected didn’t happen in the episode, yet it still achieved a high rating among ASoIaF fans. In a fandom where a key concern is fidelity to source material, why did these absences not negatively impact the fans’ rating? I suggest that the inclusion of Talisa Maegyr in the scene significantly contributed to fans’ positive appraisals of the episode, despite many fans’ dislike of her. Talisa was an original character in GoT; she replaced Jeyne Westerling, Robb Stark’s wife from the novels, fulfilling similar (though not identical) plot functions. I suggest that her most significant function was to be a ‘spark of the unknown’ to trigger emotions. In the midst of a scene familiar to book fans, Talisa’s fate was not known beforehand.

She was pregnant, and her pregnancy had fuelled some fans’ hopes that Jeyne (still alive in the novels) is pregnant with Robb’s heir. Talisa was killed during the Red Wedding; stabbed in the stomach. Her horrific death, in Robb’s arms, was a moment of shock and horror amidst otherwise expected events. Despite deviations from the novels, fans favourably appraised the scene, citing how well it triggered their emotions; watching it felt authentic.

Had the adaptation exactly duplicated the book, the same emotional impact is not likely to have been felt because the necessary shock would have been missing. The fans involved in my research evaluated the scene not on its fidelity to the imagery and events in the novels, but on its fidelity to the original emotional impact of the scene.

Comments

Sarah Hanks's picture

Dead or Undead?

Interesting, Andrea. I have often wondered how fans received the adaptation of the Jeyne/Talisa narrative particularly with regard to her and the unborn baby’s murder at The Red Wedding. I suppose the magical land of not only TV but also the genre of Fantasy could still bring the baby back into the narrative just as Cat gets brought back, albeit transformed into Lady Stoneheart. I found the scene in which the white walkers transform the baby into a fellow white walker interesting in this regard as that scene was also not in ASoIaF and may be foreshadowing to the adapted narrative of HBO’s GoT. But this is speculation, which we are left to do until Martin releases further texts.

However, the undead element can lend itself to the HBO adaptation in interesting ways. If an adaptation can take liberties with the original text, what all can HBO do with the characters? (b/c I really don’t want The Hound to die).

As a side note, I, for one, do not get hung up on fidelity. Adaptation of a text can make a it more dynamic and I thought the Red Wedding scene, and all its textual changes, was just that. I half-expected Talisa to escape. I wasn’t prepared to see her womb being stabbed. As viewer, I thought I was prepared for that scene but HBO’s changes made it so those who thought they knew what was going to happen still got to have a surprise.

Andrea Nevitt's picture

Thinking about fidelity

Hi Sarah, thanks for the comment.

I hadn’t thought about the degree of flexibility that the genre gives to the narrative, as you say, the way in which the ‘undead element’ has been used so far has added an interesting dimension to the show.

I have found that, even for those fans for whom the changes in the adaptation are not a major concern with regards to their enjoyment of the texts, comparisons between the texts comprise the majority of topics of discussion. So even though academic discussions about adaptation try to steer away from the subject of fidelity, I think it’s important to keep in mind that it is still a concern for the fans of those adaptations or their source material. Considering an adaptation’s fidelity to other things than plot, imagery or dialogue, gives us a way to think about fidelity that allows for the subjective experiences of the audience.

Garret Castleberry's picture

Every [Person] Has a Code

Andrea, thank you for your contribution. What a dynamic way to kick off our Game of Thrones week with your examination of a key **SPOILER** which is one of several that arguably helped catapult GoT into the pop culture zeitgeist. The translation of source material is always hotly contested between fans-as-readers and those new to a text, and I am struck by your pre-disposition to know and gauge the reactions of those watching ‘Rains of Castamere’.

It appears you present a theoretical extension through naming the ‘spark of the unknown’ that I estimate may play a larger role in your research. Would you say that it is ‘necessary’ for viewers familiar with the source material to be offered such unknown sparks in an effort to re-present the “newness” of the text? The phenomenon you describe reminds me of what genre theorists identify as the tensions between imitation and innovation that underlies a genre text. In this case the episode and artifact are of the same genre source and instead must undergo a process of translation from one medium to another. Yet just as every word on a page cannot translate fully onto the screen, GoT writers and producers therefore capture the “emotion” of a chapter in ways that sometimes require playing with narrative anticipation.

Sarah also raises important points as to the role of adaptation as a creative process. In terms of fandom, Benioff and Weiss are starting to demonstrate a kind of fan-fic through their savvier interpretive moments. Indeed, some of the TV series’ strongest character scenes and interactions were creative interpretations original to the show and not represented in the source material (notably, Arya and Tywin’s exchanges in season two or the climactic encounter between Brienne and The Hound in season four). It is clear the showrunners will continue to make such adjustments perhaps as insurance in the event that they may (well likely) surpass George R. R. Marin’s production schedule. Thus, we may see a bizarre reversal of fortune by series’ end where the TV property establishes one ending only for the literary finale to re-usurp expectations among readers and audiences alike.

Thomas J. West III's picture

The Dagger in the Womb

Great post, Andrea! While I’m not particularly invested in fidelity between text and adaptation (though I do admit to some amount of skepticism regarding some decisions made by Benioff and Weiss), what strikes me about this particular change is the fact that the episode makes a point of showing Talisa being stabbed in the womb. To me, this heightens my awareness of the extreme violence against women in the television adaptation of the novels, as well as to the ways in which their physical biology renders them all the more susceptible to male violence.

Admittedly, both Martin’s work and HBO series clearly suggest that this is a world that is not in the least friendly to women and that this is a problem that should, by implication, be addressed in our own world. However, it also seems to me that sometimes the latter errs on the side of excess, preferring to titillate or shock audiences with violence against women, rather than condemning it or prompting further critical reflection. The fact that the incident is so dramatically different from the novels—in which Jeyne Westerling, as of the most recent novels, remains a prisoner—calls for interrogation of not only why the change was made, but how this reflects the series’ own investments and politics.

Andrea Nevitt's picture

Re: Every person has a code

Thank you, Garret,

The idea to study fans’ reactions to the adaptation of the Red Wedding in particular came fairly on in the development of the research strategy for my thesis. I needed to identify a scene that was both highly memorable and guaranteed to appear in the adaptation so I could engage fans in discussions both before and after.

Yes, the ‘spark of the unknown’, and the idea of adapting with the purpose of triggering a similar emotional experience to that of reading the source material, are things that I have been thinking through over the past year or so as part of my thesis. I haven’t thought about the ‘spark’ as related to the “newness” of the text as a whole though – since there are also things within GoT that mark it as a part of the pre-existing text. That’s what makes adaptation such an interesting area for me – the intensely subjective nature of every reading experience across every inter-related text. But yes, I think that newness was necessary in ‘Rains of Castamere’ in order to trigger those emotional responses that rely on shock and horror, and thereby replicating the ‘original’ emotional experience.

You raise an interesting point about the usurpation of one property over the other with regards to the expectations of fans. As a fan of both texts I’m actually interested in how that is going to play out, rather than concerned about the impact of one over the other.

Andrea Nevitt's picture

Re: The dagger in the womb

Thank you, Thomas, I am enjoying the opportunity to kick off this week’s exciting topic!

The violence of Talisa’s murder was commented on widely amongst the group of fans I am researching, and indeed amongst the wider GoT audience. As you say, there are problems with the ways women in both the novels and the show are portrayed as susceptible to male violence, but I think it’s equally important to acknowledge that the audience’s interpretations, particularly as expressed in fan videos, can and do see the “strength” of the female characters in the show as well.

With regards to how different Talisa’s death in the show is to Jeyne’s current position in the novels, remember that in the novel version of the Red Wedding, Dacey Mormont is killed by a longaxe in the belly. Perhaps the most significant thing here, when we are thinking about violence against women, is that Talisa is killed as a vulnerable and passive bystander, rather than while fighting as Dacey does.

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