Let me start by stating two things for the record: Game of Thrones is my favourite programme (ever), and A Song of Ice and Fire my favourite series of books. It’s been a recent infatuation, I admit; I only discovered the TV series about six months back and subsequently sought out Martin’s original works to quench my appetite for more of his sprawling, fantastical storytelling. As with all novel adaptations, there are necessary and unnecessary alterations that occur in the arduous process of conversion. Over the next indeterminate period of weeks or months, I will be analysing some of the most substantial character changes and adherences of Game of Thrones.
Edmure Tully and Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully
In Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Edmure and Brynden are introduced much earlier than in the TV series, but with the general casting constraints on HBO, this can be overlooked. What truly bothered me was Weiss and Benioff’s mishandling of the two characters.
In the original novels, Edmure is prideful to a fault, often rash, and desperate to prevent or retaliate to any affront he might suffer, be it directly to his person, or the people to whom he is liege lord (during his father’s, Lord Hoster Tully, crippling illness, and following his eventual demise). In one of Ned Stark’s chapters of A Game of Thrones, his inner monologue is spent reflecting on the Mountain’s attack on the Riverlands, and how it will inevitably prompt Edmure to act without the requisite forethought, and with probable cost.
Edmure was determined to prevent Gregor Clegane from escaping with impunity for his actions, which had laid waste to the lands and people that he presided over, and to prove himself as capable of filling Hoster Tully’s boots by launching an all-out assault on Jaime Lannister and his host, which predictably resulted in a crushing defeat and embarrassing imprisonment within his own hold.
In HBO’s Game of Thrones, despite being portrayed by Tobias Menzies – an actor more than capable of nailing his novelised counterpart’s characterisation – there are a number of things that are amiss.
For one, Edmure is interpreted as rather meek, flinching from his uncle Brynden’s provocative deprecations. Edmure, for all his faults, does not lack for strength (during A Feast for Crows, for example, he is the Frey’s captive, marched daily out of his cage to stand with a noose about his throat, and remains resolute in his contumacy all the time that this is ongoing). Only once does the TV series really capture his impetuous and defiant nature, when Robb Stark (the late King in the North) chastises Edmure for seizing Stone Mill and two Lannister youths for hostages against his explicit orders, and chasing off the Mountain as a result, which was the undoing of Robb’s plans to lure Tywin’s host across the Trident, hoping to ambush and trap them there.
Edmure’s recompense for this is to wed one of Walder Frey’s spawn – which is also to make amends for Robb’s broken vow to do the same. But, whilst he does it of his own grudging volition in the books (to repair the damage he’d caused with his ill-advised attack on the Mill; damage that wounded his cavalier pride enough for him to willingly enter a marriage he would otherwise abstain from), in the TV series he is coerced into doing so by the King in the North, whose insurgency is unravelling all around him, with this potential matrimony of Tully and Frey, and the resulting conjoint of their armies, posing his last chance at victory over the Iron Throne.
There’s also the matter of Brynden’s uncharacteristic flippancy when addressing Edmure’s refusal to take one of Frey’s daughters for his consort, who at this point is his legitimate liege lord, with Hoster having already passed away, threatening to compel Edmure’s teeth with his fist if he doesn’t agree to the Frey’s proposal.
The biggest problem with the inaccuracies of Edmure’s character in the TV series stems from the show’s discrepant portrayal of the Blackfish. He is envisioned in the books as rather more cordial and couth than his television equivalent (he certainly wouldn’t have uttered this line of dialogue in Martin’s novels: “I’ve met wet shits I like more than Walder Frey.”), and his aggressive discourtesy wouldn’t be tolerated so timidly by the Edmure of the books. The Blackfish is altogether more respectful of his nephew, and his derisions less hostile. The gruff insults and generally disparaging attitude that he has towards Edmure in the TV series is wildly at odds with the raillery of his taunts in Martin’s novels.
Game of Thrones aptly echoes their relationship in the books on one occasion, at least: at Edmure’s fateful ‘red’ wedding, where Brynden confirms to Cat that he loves his nephew, but merely thinks of him as a ‘bloody fool’. With events in the series to come following where “Mhysa” left off, about two thirds into A Storm of Swords, we will sadly not see Brynden and Edmure interact again.
Edmure is detained by Frey’s soldiers in the midst of his consummation, while Brynden evaded the slaughter and holds up in Riverrun, until such a time as it is seized by Jaime Lannister’s forces. Benioff and Weiss have foregone an opportunity to faithfully depict these two characters together, and it’s a real shame, because although their vision for the characters entailed an entertaining dynamic, Martin’s was preferable, and far more individually and conjunctively explorative of them.