On the Game of Thrones Facebook page this morning, I responded to someone who wanted to know if they should read the books. My response was short, but I implied they should not read the series.
George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series is brilliant, loaded with wonderful, rich characters. Its plots are dense, its stories interesting. The details he puts into his descriptions of armor and setting and food, the dialogue, and character histories are amazing. While some of the installments are much stronger than others, his worst is still better than most fantasy novels on the market.
So why, you might wonder, would I recommend not reading the books?
For starters, when I first learned the series was going to be adapted by HBO, I immediately started to wonder how they would portray certain scenes; I already had expectations. In my head, I had already decided how each character should look, how they would talk, and what I would see, and when they didn't match my vision, I got a little grumpy. I hated the choice of Carice van Houten as Melisandre up until her first appearance on the show. Despite not being fond of the Reeds, I wondered why they were left out of season 2, and I struggled to accept their absence.
A problem us readers have is the fusing of multiple characters or cuts from the show. This week I argued with a reader about the exclusion of Strong Belwas. His take was Belwas was absolutely essential to a particular scene, whereas I argued the scene and action Belwas performs could be fulfilled by any number of nameless characters. We are partial to Martin's creations, having spent hours upon hours living with them in our heads, and because of our fanhood, we tend to overreact to such situations. Even if we understand the changes, whether they are due to time or budget restraints or are altered to simplify the story (many nonreaders are already confused by the extensive cast), there's a voice inside the reader that screams, "These changes are a travesty!"
The changes aren't a travesty. In most cases, the changes aren't even a bump in the road, but many readers get hung up on them. Eventually, it becomes all they can think about, and those thoughts turn into complaints, which turn into public tirades. That same reader that couldn't accept Belwas' absence, also knocked Game of Thrones' spectacular writers for shifting the Reeds from season 2 to season 3; it's a decision I not only support, after my initial resistance, but think was done well and for good reason--there was a whole lot of character introductions season 2 and an added storyline might have made things cluttered more than it already was. Yes, what's happening with Brann and the Reeds should have happened sooner in a slightly different way, yet it's happening; the writers understood it needed to happen, and since it's a separate tale pushing back the "when" had no effect on the rest of the show.
And I'm not just writing about the changes in reference to what has been taken out or multiple characters fused into one character (The Bloody Mummers basically represented as Roose Bolton's Locke), I'm also writing about the added stuff: Dany's dragons being stolen, Loras' love life, Margaery's rise to power, Stannis' affair with Melisandre, Joffrey's twisted nature. Many of the things I listed were insinuated within the dialogue of the books, yet readers either didn't take note or felt the show should have spent its time elsewhere. As for Dany's missing dragons, Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen is a fan favorite on and off the show, and in the second book, she does almost nothing. I was glad to have a new story which added a bit of flair to her character. It's not often HBO is going to surprise me as a reader, but when they do, I feel they've done so without taking away from what happened in the books. The chapters in the books follow a single character, whereas the show can follow multiple characters and explore tales that were merely hinted at secondhand.
Ultimately, the reason I would not recommend the books being read before viewing the show is my lack of surprise. I was jealous when I read about and saw the outrage after what happened to Ned Stark. There will be similar shock value by the end of season 3 as well, and in a way, I wish I didn't know what was coming, because it's epic and non-readers will never see it until it happens...unless, of course, they've had it spoiled. At least my having read the books makes me immune to spoilers. Then again, had I never read them, I would steer clear of all sites related to the show.
I feel if a person began reading A Storm of Swords now and finished before the big event that's looming it will end up being a spoiler. It will lessen the blow, take away the astonishment, and it will last unto season 4, when the show completes the third book. My suggestion would be to read each book after its correlating seasons are finished. Otherwise, you're spoiling your own fun.