Last week, Ryan Condal, one of the showrunners on House of the Dragon’s freshman season mocked the idea that the series' fans knew its characters better than its creators.
While speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Condal laughed and said, “Yeah, please explain to me and George who Daemon is as a character, everybody." In the interview, he runs through all his qualifications as a fan. He’s read all the books, listened to all the audio books, speaks regularly with author George R.R. Martin, and has read the most relevant source material, Fire & Blood, several times. But, even with those badges of fandom not everyone will agree with his interpretation of key characters like Daemon.
So, what's a showrunner to do? There are millions of A Song of Ice and Fire fans. Does their fandom qualify them to run an HBO series? It's hard to imagine any reasonable person thinking that any A Wiki of Ice and Fire contributor has the acumen needed to successfully adapt Martin's work. No, what matters is that Condal, as a decision maker, has good creative instincts and the skill to separate the good decisions from the bad and put them on screen in a compelling way. That isn't unique to Westeros. What matters most, for every kind of adaptation, is having the skill to do the job, not knowing every piece of trivia.
This discussion also came up recently as The Witcher star Henry Cavill exited Netflix's fantasy series, with some suggesting it was caused by repeated clashes with the showrunners over their differing interpretations of Geralt. Cavill, as a fan of Andrzej Sapkowski’s books, wanted to play the White Wolf closer to his book counterpart than the series originally portrayed him. I only watched the first season of The Witcher because, faithful or not, it wasn’t very good. The dialogue attempted to toe the line between medieval speak and modern language and was often pretty embarrassing as a result. There was one pretty cool fight in the first episode and then the show didn’t do anything like that again for the rest of the season. Though it was attempting to grab the Game of Thrones audience in the time shortly after the show went off the air, it just didn’t have the depth or quality to do that.
Was it unfaithful to the books? In some ways, sure. But, that wasn’t my concern. I wanted a compelling story with rich characterization and The Witcher never delivered that. It had nothing to do with whether the showrunners were fans of the source material. It had to do with whether they could translate that material to the screen effectively, and they didn't.
And then there are the worst obsessives of all: Star Wars fans. Though I’ve loved George Lucas’ series since I first saw The Phantom Menace at age five, the discourse around the series has made it unbearable to engage with for the past half-decade. And the executives paying attention to the angriest fans have made some recent entries unbearable to watch. Though Tony Gilroy and co. appear to be single handedly pulling the franchise out of a tailspin with the stellar Andor, Disney has spent the five years since The Last Jedi trying to appease everyone who didn’t like a movie that grossed over a billion dollars. As a result, we got one of the worst movies (The Rise of Skywalker) and one of the worst TV shows (Obi-Wan Kenobi) I’ve ever seen. In attempting to make Star Wars stories that won’t bother anyone for their risks, Disney has produced works that are merely offensive for their lack of quality.
Good, interesting art requires a point of view. Andor, which has a razor sharp focus on the bureaucracy of the Empire and the human courage of the rebels, has that. That’s why it’s good. If it had been produced by listening to fans online, it likely would have seen all its rough and interesting edges sanded off. Design-by-committee doesn't produce good art, even if that committee has an encyclopedic knowledge of the source material. Condal knows that.
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