Yup, we finally did it, we finally wrote about Game of Thrones. Spoilers below for episodes as recent as last night’s.
Game of Thrones is probably the piece of media I’ve consumed in the most haphazard fashion. Right around the time that the show premiered I read books 1-4. Then I think I watched Season 1 of the show, then skipped to the Battle of Blackwater, then read half of A Dance With Dragons before losing steam. Then I waited for a few years for the show to eclipse the books and read the AVClub’s synopsis of each episode of seasons 5, 6, and 7. By the time Season 8 came around I had become very ON Twitter and watched as spoilers and complaints and hype rolled out. After the same thing happened for episode 2 I made a decision to just go ahead and watch the final season. Literally, why not?
Game of Thrones is only comparable, as far as I can tell, to LOST. It’s a massive sprawling show that has infused itself wholly, wholly into our culture. I recall watching the final season of Lost and walking through my high school the next day hearing snippets of conversations about the various plot elements and theories about where things were headed. GoTs is the exact same. Everywhere I go I hear little bits of people furiously discussing their pet predictions, their most personal disappointments, and their hopes for the conclusion. Half of the fun of GoTs is watching it as it plays out. It’s why I continued to read the spoilers for a show I didn’t particularly want to watch. It’s why I finally got on board. You can rewatch a show whenever, but a pop-cultural moment is impossible to recreate, and as little as I care for GoTs in particular I still wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to offer thoughts in real time and hear thoughts in real time and frankly, if I start to dissect GoTs in ten years, no one else in the world will be willing to engage, because it just won’t be the same. Just look at Nina’s attempts to weather LOST alone.
I have to be honest: I love it. Every episode so far (including or maybe especially episode 4 and 5, which are pretty reviled by everyone I know who has watched all the seasons) has been just a blast. I’m glad I didn’t watch the previous seasons, glad that I went into it with low expectations. I think it’s important to critique media, honestly, especially media that is this far reaching, and I’ll get to that in a second, but in some ways it’s nice to just turn off and let it soak over me. I can’t be disappointed because I simply don’t care what happens. The way to beat dragons is enormous crossbows and Dany forgetting about the Iron Fleet! Great! Why not? One episode later the way to beat the Iron Fleet and the giant crossbows are a dragon? Sure! Who cares? Not me. I straight up do not give an “f” about what the ending is. This show was marketed to me (because I allowed it to be) as a show where there is a dragon, and people fight, and people tell secrets, and give sad looks across the fire at each other. Whatever.
It doesn’t mean I’m blind to the mistakes that are being made. I’m not invested in the show, per say, but I am invested in the story. GRRM’s books are good. Their prose is… fine, but his characters are complex, cool and ugly, heroic and flawed, smart and stupid. He allows them to grow (allowing you don’t think growth is always a “become better/more moral”) in a way that makes sense. The final season of the show, with it’s truncated run, does not (why oh why did they not do a full season? HBO would have let them do this forever). A lot of the characters are getting the short end of the stick (Cersei, Dany). For example: if I’m having a nice conversation with someone, and they suddenly slap me, it’s not shocking because I thought they were incapable of slapping me but because there was no build up. I’m a big believer that characters can do anything and become anyone, but as a writer or director it’s your job to lead them there in a manner that’s convincing to both the character and audience. There’s been a lot of “foreshadowing” of some of the big turns… I guess… but foreshadowing isn’t anything if it’s not built to. If in Season 2 you say “A is going to kill B” the audience is like “hm, I don’t think that’s likely! What does it mean?”. Your job is to then slowly maneuver the characters into a situation where it becomes increasingly likely, so that when it happens the audience says “it didn’t used to make sense, but now it does,” not: “that seemed unlikely and still seems unlikely but it happened so guess that foreshadowing worked out.” It’s a simple case of GRRM being a good writer and D&D apparently not be. I’m sorry, I wish they were, but they just aren’t. They’re all flash and no substance. It’s hard to not imagine GoTs will be looked back on as a terrific story with show runners who didn’t understand it even a little. It’s never a good sign when an audience have to fill in for the show runner’s mistakes. Trusting your audience is one thing. Making them jump through hoops to justify the story choices you’ve made is another.
There’s lots of good things to discuss too, from a critical level. It’s worthwhile to hold your art to a standard you find acceptable, especially as I said earlier if it’s so far reaching. GoTs proves time and again that it’s sexist and is woefully unable to deal with its legacy of sexual violence. On the regular violence front, I thought episode 5 did a good job of showing people outraged at the carnage, but a friend said on Twitter that they felt the camera lingered too long, and in that I can’t disagree. As BoJack argues, showing something may not be promoting it but it certainly can normalize it. These are things that are worth debating, and when I speak flippantly it’s for stupid things like giant crossbows that people are up in arms about, not about the moral messages the show sends. These should be scrutinized and dissected.
Then, if people want to complain about giant crossbows, go for it! I’m not going to stop you from critiquing a show you put years into. To be clear: I’m not rooting for it to be stupid. I’d have loved for… Cersei to have lines, or to continue to be a complex character. For Dany’s heel turn to make a lick of sense. For the crossbows to behave similarly one episode to another. For the Hound to decide earlier than the middle of the fucking city that Arya should go home (what did they talk about while they rode down to King’s Landing? How did he only remember THEN that she was there for revenge?). I’d have love for Euron and Jamie to fight for a better reason than… Euron feels like it? He literally walks out of the fucking ocean to say “okay then, fight time!” And tearing apart stuff is fun, and so is putting it back together. Cersei could have had a great episode, where she has a final middle finger to Dany and makes the choice to not surrender because she knows if Dany has to burn the city, the people will never love her (it’s a lesson Cersei has certainly learned and could use as revenge). Similarly, Dany could have had an episode or two of rejection instead of twenty minutes of short scenes. It’s not that I don’t hope for better. It’s that I don’t have much to lose when I don’t get better.
It’s something I said after the middling Dumbo remake. I’m not rooting against any of this. If anything I’m rooting harder for these properties, because I expect them to be bad and I’d absolutely love to be pleasantly surprised. But I’m also personally free of investment, and coming to the table expecting just flash and awe with little substance, I’m not disappointed.
Much like LOST, what’s more important to me than the ending is the fact that it’s ending. Next week everyone will be pissed, and elated, and shouting furiously about what happened, what should have happened, what didn’t happen, but everyone will be shouting together, and that’s fun for me. It just is.