Thanks to HBO's wizardry, Game of Thrones has become one of the most successful (and most pirated!) TV shows in recent memory. Given the ponderous source material, this is a bit surprising as one wouldn't think a glacial story about political intrigue and Machiavellian scheming would hook all that many viewers.
But that's where the HBO's wizardry comes in. Part - if not most - of the show's appeal is pure lowest common denominator. To attract a larger audience, an emphasis towards sex and violence (mostly sex) has been placed on George R.R. Martin's seminal fantasy series. And it turns out that HBO executives are the ones responsible for this decision.
Episode director Neil Marshall - who has only directed the penultimate episode of Season II, Blackwater - recently spoke out about HBO's tendency to request further nudity from what the script calls for:
"The weirdest part [of directing Game of Thrones] was when you have one of the exec producers leaning over your shoulder, going, ‘You can go full frontal, you know. This is television, you can do whatever you want! And do it! I urge you to do it!’ So I was like, ‘Okay, well, you’re the boss."
I like the girl... but she's not quite naked enough. Can we lose the dragon?
What makes this decision more blatant is that sex is given the short shrift in the books. If anything, George R.R. Martin downplays the importance of sex to a non-issue and puts a heavier emphasis on food and feasting... presumably, in an attempt to reinforce geek and gamer stereotypes.
In Storm of Swords, for example, a typical sex scene (one of the few that is actually mentioned) is given 76 words in a chapter whereas an elaborate feast is given approximately 1765 words to describe each course in exhaustive detail. The feast scene actually goes on for much longer than those 1765 words, but there's a break for some violence and intrigue before an important noble is poisoned... while eating a delicious and particularly flaky piece of pie.
Let's take a quick excerpt of each, starting with sex:
"...Dany took Irri into bed with her, for the first time since the ship. But even as she shuddered in release and wound her fingers through her handmaid's thick black hair, she pretended it was Drogo holding her."
And now, food:
"He called for more wine. By the time he got it, the second course was being served, a pastry coffyn filled with pork, pine nuts, and eggs. Sansa ate no more than a bit of hers, as the heralds were summoning the first of the seven singers.
...Their feats were accompanied by crabs boiled in fiery eastern spices, trenchers filled with chunks of chopped mutton stewed in almond milk with carrots, raisins, and onions, and fish tarts from from the ovens, served so hot they burned the fingers."
George R.R. Martin relegates a steamy lesbian sex scene to barely more than a sentence and spends two full chapters detailing a wedding feast, while HBO creates a prostitute character for the first season of the show who exists only to flash her boobs around.
Clearly, George R.R. Martin and HBO have their priorities in order. It's just a pity that they're not the same.