I like Game of Thrones. Or, rather, I still like Game of Thrones, as in the present tense. I’m not one of those people who get tattoos of it or who call their children Khaleesi or who go on holiday to the locations it’s filmed at, but I enjoy it nonetheless.
To qualify that statement further, I’d go as far as to say that I like it even though I realise it’s daft. When I go round to visit my parents, television’s a reasonably safe topic and we recommend things to each other. I say we, but I mean the current Mrs Middlerabbit does the recommending for two main reasons. First, because she watches a lot of telly and second, I no longer have any idea at all what my parents would like to watch. Which is what happened when we started watching Game of Thrones. We didn’t start until the third season had finished and that was after the current Mrs Middlerabbit’s suggestion that we watch it fell on deaf ears for three years.
I’d heard of it but I expected it to be, basically, Xena, Warrior Princess. Not an unreasonable guess except I’d never seen that either, because it sounded crap, so I just tarred GoT with the same brush.
In the end, when I capitulated, I enjoyed it straightaway but as I later said to my Dad after the current Mrs Middlerabbit recommended it to him, I thought it was daft. And it is daft. It started off daft and, well, didn’t get much less daft as it went on.
I’m talking about it in the past tense even though it’s not actually finished yet. As I write, there’s one more episode to go and, as it stands, it’s not going down with you might call universal acclaim.
I can’t be arsed looking up numbers but Rotten Tomatoes, which I don’t know anything about but seems to be commonly cited, gave earlier seasons about 94% and this last one’s about 65% which is a fair drop, isn’t it?
I go on a few forums – mainly reading what other people think – and there seem to be more people who think it’s degenerated than think it’s still good.
There’s a petition, with 400,000 signatures to remake the last season because some people hate it.
My perspective is that I don’t see how it could be much better than it is, given the source material. Obviously, when I started watching it, I’d not read any of the books and people were raving about them so I read the first couple on holiday in Italy one year (Sorrento since you ask and, yes, it was lovely, I recommend it) and enjoyed those too. I liked the third one – both parts but the fourth and the fifth were a bit of a drag. And he’s not finished yet, has he? Maybe he won’t ever finish and if he didn’t, I wouldn’t blame him. From where I’m standing, the situation looks like a pain in the arse that I’d probably walk away from, but I’ll get to all that later.
The criticisms seem to fall into a few categories…
- Since the programme overtook George RR Martin’s source material, it’s all gone to shit: the plot, the characterisation, the dialogue, the pacing: the writing, in short.
I read the books and found most of it after the third volume to be quite hard going. That’s when The Red Wedding takes place, at the end of that. By that point I’d begun to notice a couple of his habits a bit too much. He talks about food for very long passages. The same thing goes for clothes. Some of his characters are great: Tyrion, Jaime and Cersei are all interesting and the chapters from each of their perspectives mean that they’re all unreliable narrators and lack self-awareness in various ways, which gives your brain something to be getting on with as you read. Not just those three either – a lot of the characters who narrate their own chapters have got enough going on to grab and keep your interest. The plot’s good too, at least it’s a good idea to start with.
The same thing goes for his world building, which is detailed, creative and consistent. Based loosely on a small continent sized Britain (Westeros) and a larger continent that seems to be based on Asia and the Middle East (Essos) in a roughly medieval era. Swords, horses, dragons, knights. That sort of thing. I’ve not read a lot of fantasy books but this isn’t as dreadful as I thought it might be. Parts of it are irritating: they don’t have uncles because they have nuncles. Maybe it’s to suggest some sort of parallel universe thing. Whatever, it got on my tits after not too long. The descriptions of hollowed out heels of bread and gruel go on too long and the same phrases are repeated once or twice too often to not notice. It’s a bit like the Harry Potter books in which all the heroes’ and heroine’s eyes were always described as ‘shining’ and also in the way that once they got famous, the editor wasn’t really used as much as they should have been.
Some of the dialogue’s great. Tyrion in particular is shown to be funny and wise and his eyes are a joy to look through.
After the third volume, Martin said that he got lost and, without going into depth about it, found it much harder work to get all of his characters up to the right point in time, in the positions he wanted them in and spent a lot of time trying to work it out. There were long delays. As I write, the last volume was published just short of eight years ago. The first one came out twenty three years ago.
As you’d expect, the fans of his books are dying to read the last two volumes that he’s been promising for years and hoping he won’t die before it happens because he’s quite old and a bit fat with it.
In the books, John Snow’s just been murdered, Danaerys is about to get recaptured by the Dothraki and Tyrion’s somewhere he never went on telly. If there is a Night King in the books, he’s not been in them yet.
This is the point, the critics argue, at which the programme started to fall apart. Without George RR Martin’s expert plotting, characterisation, dialogue and pacing skills, the showrunners knew where they were heading but have ballsed it up at every turn because they’re shit. In (but not restricted to) the following ways.
- Characters used to take whole seasons to get from one place to somewhere else and now it happens overnight.
It’s true. Although in earlier seasons, Littlefinger was always being accused of having a teleporter. Mainly what I think about this is that I don’t really care about it. When Arya and the Hound were taking forever on his wild goose chase, it was funny because nothing went right for him for months and because he and Arya were great together. Same thing for Brienne and Jaime’s trip to Kings Landing.
They were great ways to show the characters in a bit more depth with people whom they’d wouldn’t ordinarily associate and those languorous journeys were almost like Tarantino characters in how they made inane conversations say something more interesting about the people having them. But you couldn’t do that for everything because it’d go on forever and you have to have peaks and troughs or it gets boring.
- The pacing’s off because it’s rushed.
Especially, it appears with Danaerys. In the second to last episode (where I’m up to now), Danaerys has just torched King’s Landing including the smallfolk (as they call the ordinary people who live there). The complaint goes that to go from a person who said she’d break the wheel (of the rich oppressing the poor), it’s all happened without any signs that it might.
I can dig it to an extent. She’s locked up two of her dragons after one of them burned a child because she didn’t want innocents killed because of her and her dragons tended to do that.
Fair dos. However, I see things slightly differently and, rather than the common complaint that she’s gone from benevolent champion of the oppressed to oppressor of the meek within two episodes, I think the signs have been there all along.
Danaerys’ ‘arc’ (for fuck’s sake) doesn’t consist of a consistent, well, arc, I suppose from lovely to genocidal (pyro)maniac and that seems to irk some people. Not me, however.
Consider your average alcoholic: most alcoholics want to stop drinking but don’t. Many alcoholics quit the habit and then find themselves returning to it, especially during times of heightened stress. Most people who quit booze don’t succeed the first time they try and many don’t succeed at all.
When people want to give up drinking, they’re encouraged to get rid of all of the alcohol in their house. They are discouraged from hanging around with other people who are drinking because it’s tempting. At AA, they have a sponsor who they can talk to when they feel temptation.
Alright? So how does that equate to Danaerys immolating King’s Landing?
Danaerys isn’t addicted to alcohol, she’s addicted to people worshipping her and doing what she tells them to do. When people don’t show her sufficient reverence, she burns them. It’s what she’s always done, from season 1 onwards. The witch who turned Drogo into a zombie got burned alive because she showed her no reverence. She locked up the head of Qarth in his safe because he stole her dragons and gave them to the warlocks. She burned the owner of the Dothraki alive, who she also ripped off. She crucified the masters because they didn’t kowtow to her demands. She had one of her dragons burn another master to encourage the rest of them to pay her due respect. Jorah The Explorer wasn’t killed for betraying her, but as he had his tongue up her metaphorical bumhole for the entire time we saw him, we’ve got a good idea why not. The Dothraki who didn’t respect her right to rule were burned alive in their halls. She burned old man Tarly and his lithe son because they didn’t bend the knee (agree she was the boss) and she burned Varys because he’d realised she was the sort of person who burned people alive for not agreeing that she was the best and changed his mind about her being a very nice lady.
Burning people who don’t show her due reverence is what Danaerys Stormborn, first of her name, etc. does. That’s her alcohol.
I gather, on balance, Danaerys realises that burning everybody who doesn’t grovel in front of her might not be a very nice thing to do and, credit where it’s due, surrounded herself with people who were most likely to mitigate these pyromaniacal tendencies. Jorah told her the truth about the smallfolk, that they didn’t really give a shit about who was King or Queen as long as they could just plod along. Barriston Selmy told her about Rhaegar, her brother who loved the smallfolk and would sing for them and be nice and gentle. Tyrion, from the moment he was an advisor, counselled her against burning King’s Landing, and often. Varys did the same.
One by one, these characters who gently dissuaded her against burning anybody who didn’t prostrate themselves at her feet were killed (Jorah, and Barriston Selmy) or made decisions that cost her dearly (Tyrion and Varys).
Bearing in mind that most of the burnings that she commanded actually took place while these sponsors, you might call them, were alive and trying to persuade her not to, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she progressed to burning everybody now her gentle advisors are all dead or proved themselves to be useless or worse.
And this is the woman who has spent eight seasons stating boldly, “I shall take back what is mine with fire and blood.”
Up to arriving at Westeros, Danaerys didn’t actually have to do a lot of fighting herself. Other people did it for her. The Unsullied killed their former owners at her request. The Dothraki fought for her. The slaves of the cities she liberated actually did it for themselves, she and her armies more or less looked on and watched as they did it. And then everybody came out and called her ‘mother’ and carried her on their shoulders in reverence and she liked that.
When she landed at Westeros, she’s been at the vanguard of every battle that’s taken place and suffered as a result. She rescued Jon Snow and co from north of The Wall and lost a dragon doing it. Her Dothraki and Unsullied took massive losses at Winterfell and she was in the thick of it. Heading down to KL, she was ambushed and lost yet another dragon. And even though she’s been getting her hands dirty and suffering great losses, who does everybody pat on the back for it? Jon Snow. Whom she’s fallen in love with.
And then it turns out that she’s his aunty and that puts him off, and not only that, but he’s got a better claim to the throne than she has.
To summarise: Danaerys loves a bit of reverence directed at her. She got used to getting a lot of reverence from people who freed themselves because she told them they should. People who didn’t show her due reverence got burned. Now in Westeros, she puts herself out and suffers huge losses for ordinary people and none of them give a shit because they love Jon Snow instead, who no longer loves her – like that – because she’s his aunty. And he’s got a better claim to the throne. The people around her who advised against her tendency to want to burn everybody are all dead or proved themselves useless. And she explicitly states, that if the people don’t love her, she’ll have to make do with them fearing her.
King’s Landing. She’s worked out how to deal with the dragon killing crossbows, – learning from her mistakes – which she does. She turns the much lauded Golden Company into the Golden Brown Company (cheers) and knocks down the gates, letting what’s left of her armies in to finish the job. The bells ring in surrender and everything stops.
And then, with a look on her face that screams, “Fuck it,” she goes about burning up street after street of innocent bystanders as Cersei looks on from inside the Red Keep which she’d surrounded with human shields. Cersei craps herself, Danaerys continues immolating whatever she finds.
And that’s the problem for some people. The bells rang surrender and she suddenly decided to start burning people she promised she’d protect. All of a sudden.
Diversion – Evolution
A lot of people are under the impression that evolution takes a very long time to happen and the reality is that, most of the time, nothing much happens. Then, suddenly, there’s a mutation and the advantage that gives those born with it has a rapid and devastating effect on the ecosystem in question. Then nothing again for thousands of years.
End of Diversion.
That’s how psychosis tends to happen too. For all that people want things to unfold gradually, the descent into psychosis tends not to follow that path. Nor is it necessarily triggered by sudden, massive stressful events, such as death of loved ones. It tends to be more like death by a thousand cuts. A build-up of everyday hassles that one day just gets too much and then – boom – the person flips. We hear stories regularly about quiet, peaceful people who one day just decide to wreak havoc. “They were so quiet. There was no sign that they’d just go berserk”.
Danaerys didn’t go off on one because Missandei was executed by Cersei. Or because Jorah got killed because that’s not what set her off. Ever. What set her off was lack of reverence.
Having wiped out King’s Landing’s defences and hearing the bells of surrender, she sat and she waited. Every other place she liberated, the people overthrew their oppressors and handed them over to her. At Kings Landing, Cersei stood at her window drinking like she always does and listened to the bells.
I don’t know precisely what was going through Danaerys’ mind at that point but there are a few obvious possibilities. Why aren’t the smallfolk kissing my arse and bringing Cersei out for me to barbecue? Why isn’t Cersei bringing herself out to beg for mercy? Why doesn’t anybody love me? And there she is, Little Ms Pyromaniac, sitting on the back of a fire breathing dragon and nobody’s left alive to advise her to walk away and picture herself in her happy place.
Maybe she started burning the innocents of King’s Landing to encourage Cersei to come out and surrender properly. Maybe she did it to frighten Cersei: “I’ll kill you last!” Maybe she did it because she knew nobody was going to give her any respect and admiration in Westeros whatever she did and if she was going to rule, she’d have to do it through fear.
I suppose we’ll probably find out this weekend, but even if we don’t, there’s plenty of potential explanations for her behaviour.
But it’s not just Danaerys with whom some people have issues. There’s also Jaime, who went back to Cersei after appearing to have completed his (for fuck’s sake) redemption arc.
To which, I just offer back up the alcoholic example again. Cersei’s his alcohol and he doesn’t want to be addicted to her, but he is. “We can’t help who we fall in love with,” as he once said. Brienne was sobriety. She was his sponsor and he tried but found himself inexorably drawn back to his pissed up mate Cersei instead.
Sure, it wouldn’t happen at the end of a lot of Hollywood blockbusters in which we all learn valuable and permanent lessons about ourselves by the end of them, but this isn’t one of those stories.
- The dialogue isn’t very good. Everything’s shit since the television programme overtook the books.
Well, no, some of the dialogue has been horrific. Mainly in Dorne with Bronn and The Sand Snakes and the ‘Bad Pussy’ moment which was pretty fucking bad. Mind you, some of it’s been pretty good too. Tyrion had some great lines, as did The Hound. A lot of people have complained that it’s all gone downhill since the source material ran out and, in terms of witty dialogue, there’s certainly an argument for that. Some of it’s been pretty clunky here and there since the material ran out, fair dos.
On the other hand, I have a bit of sympathy for the showrunners, Benioff and Weiss in terms of bringing everything together for an ending.
George RR Martin began writing these books in 1991. First one published in 1996, the next in 1998, the third in 2000. So far, so good. Then a five year gap before the fourth. Then another six years for the fifth. Since then (seven years ago) nothing. There are two books to come. So? Well, since he began writing the series twenty eight years ago, he started off well and then hit a wall, didn’t he? People are concerned that he might not live long enough to complete them because he’s now 70 and has, erm, weight issues.
So George RR Martin created a rich, detailed, wide world populated with millions of people, many of whom are narrators of chapters in his series. That’s a slight exaggeration although as the series went on, yes there were surprising deaths of apparently major characters along the way, but they’ve been replaced tenfold by newer POV characters as the story spread further and further out.
George has always said that he knows pretty much where the story’s going but also that he lets the characters determine their own path as he writes them. As the plot reaches crucial points and characters have to deal with whatever happens, George’s solution is to introduce fresh characters, new places and new alliances. The net result is a bit like the old arcade game Asteroid, in which you started off with five or six big, slow moving asteroids floating around and, as you shot them, the screen filled with an increasingly number of smaller, faster moving mini-asteroids which were much harder to deal with. And that’s what’s happened in the books: everything’s super complicated, spread all over the place and everything depends on everything else.
When he began writing, he obviously got in the groove and rattled the first three volumes out and, of the people who like the books, those first three are great. After that, the complications were evident and now writing is such a complicated business, with everything having an effect on everything else, he’s bogged down.
In short, TL:DR – George RR Martin’s strength is creating a nuanced world pretty similar to ours in the medieval era but with magic and dragons. He’s created some interesting characters who aren’t straightforward, one dimensional plot devices and given them some clever, interesting and funny dialogue. What he’s less good at is working out how it’s all going to work out in the end. Hence three volumes in the first nine years (since beginning it) and two volumes in the last nineteen years, both of which were notably worse than the first three.
So, at the point at which Jon Snow gets murdered, Danaerys is about to get captured by the Dothraki, that’s where the books are up to. In the television series, that was the end of season 5 – and some of season 5 showed things that haven’t happened in the books at all yet (and might not, presumably). People seemed pretty happy with most of it up to this point.
Since the point at which the television programme has overtaken the books, people have been decreasingly happy with it and, as that’s when they no longer had the source material to work with, it’s tempting and easy to suggest that the absence of the books has lead the series to go downhill. Correlation = causation.
I think it’s more and less complicated than that. George’s tied himself up in knots with his now immensely complicated plot strands for the past twenty years. Twenty years.
The point being, if the author of the original material can’t manage it in twenty years, what hope do television executives have, with less time?
It’s a total heap, as it stands, ASOIAF (the books). A mess. I’m not convinced that there’s anything that anybody can do to fix it now that wouldn’t involve some heavy compromises at this point. Martin’s obviously struggling and the television show needs an end: which Martin has apparently told Benioff and Weiss about in terms of where he wants everybody to end up.
The point being, it’s all very well having the beginning and end worked out but to get from there to there is obviously rather more complicated than it sounds, bearing in mind George has hit the wall with it. So maybe Benioff and Weiss’s solution does seem like it lacks the smooth transitions of the first few books but, as it stands, so does Martin’s. Like Qyburn building the undead Ser Robert Strong from the corpse of The Mountain and being killed by it because he couldn’t control it, Martin’s beast has grown out of control and, probably, it can’t be fixed effectively now.
- It used to be character driven and now it’s all about big action climaxes.
There are big action climaxes now and there weren’t before, really. There were no big action scenes at all in the first series. A couple of little fights here and there, sure. Armies massed, but they never actually did anything we could witness. In the second season, it was clear that the budget wasn’t there for battles. Jaime Lannister was captured at The Battle Of Whispering Wood, which happened offscreen. Tyrion was knocked unconscious as another began, which meant we didn’t see that either. At the end of season 2, The Battle Of Blackwater took up most of one episode, although we mainly witnessed small scenes of fighting: Stannis scaling the walls, Tyrion and The Hound fighting outside the walls. It was a battle, but it was shown in vignettes. The Wildlings attack on Castle Black was hectic, but again a pretty small scale affair in comparison to what would come later. Most of the enormous set pieces (Battle Of The Bastards, Hardhome, Winterfell, King’s Landing) would happen in later seasons.
So yes, the big battles didn’t happen in the early seasons and now they do, so people who don’t like big battles can accurately say that’s what’s happened.
However, I think it’s a safe bet that there would have been big battles in the early seasons had the money been there for them. Perhaps it was to the show’s benefit that they didn’t have much money for such things early on, it depends on what you want to watch. With a series based on kings and queens in a quasi-medieval period though, I think battles are pretty much inevitable. The winner of the Game Of Thrones had always been determined by fighting wars in the past and why would the future be any different? The alliances and machinations would be manipulated by complicated characters but it was always going to end with bloodshed because it always has.
- It used to be surprising because of things like Ned Stark’s execution and The Red Wedding but now characters have plot armour.
Ned getting his head lopped off was a big surprise. Of course it was. But why? Well, that’s where things grow more complicated because it’s not just about the events of the programme, it’s about how we understand films and television programmes from our past experiences with them.
Major characters might die, yes. But only at the end and only to sacrifice themselves for noble reasons. Game Of Thrones was always going to be a longish series and when Ned Stark was executed towards the end of the first season, people were shocked even though walking spoiler Sean Bean played the part. Sean Bean always gets killed in films and television programmes, to be slightly flippant. Apart from that, Sean Bean was the biggest star attached to the programme, his was the face on the posters. We didn’t meet him in the first scenes, but it was very early on and it was his family that the audience were encouraged to get behind. He was good and noble and honourable and always tried to do the right thing. Pretty much everybody else was a scheming ratbag, but Ned was a beacon of hope in a filthy world. When the ratbags’ plans to kill Ned’s mate, the king came to fruition and when he worked out that the king’s kids weren’t the king’s kids and that they shouldn’t inherit the throne, it all went to shit and his family suffered and he was executed for being a traitor.
Big deal, huh? Well it seemed so at the time. Ned needed that to happen to him so that Robb would start the rebellion from the north, to kick off the war of the five kings. Ned didn’t have plot armour because, realistically, Ned’s execution was the plot. Ned had the opposite of plot armour. He had to die, or it would have all been over.
In short, the audience were duped into believing that Ned was the main character and their understanding of how tv and films work was used against them. It was misdirection. What we’d been watching was, really, a prologue to the main action. A bit like the first five minutes of a film in which we meet a couple of people and they die before the opening credits and we realise, “Oh, we were being set up to believe that they were going to be important characters.”
Since then, there have been a lot of deaths, especially at The Red Wedding at which Robb Stark, his wife and mother were cut down, thus ending the rebellion. Again, shocking.
And that time, it really was shocking. Lord Frey, painted as a duplicitous, self-serving coward who never, ever got his hands dirty and always turned up late for battles, thus ensuring his own survival at no cost, all of a sudden got his hands dirty and murdered a few thousand unarmed Stark soldiers too.
That was episode 9, season 3. At the height of the character driven Game Of Thrones.
Robb was murdered because he’d agreed (under duress) to marry a Frey and he’d fallen in love with another woman and married her instead. To make up for it, another Stark loyalist and Lord – Edmure Tully – was offered instead to marry a Frey, which was the wedding they were all present at.
Ned’s widow noticed her ally, Lord Bolton had armour underneath his clothes, slapped him and then it all kicked off, blood everywhere, Starks all dead.
Bolton finished Robb off with a dagger and whispered in his ear, “The Lannisters send their regards.” Meaning, the Freys, The Lannisters and The Boltons had secretly gotten together, formed an alliance and planned the slaughter of the Starks forces.
The audience weren’t let in on the machinations of this scheming. The first we heard of it was when Bolton told Robb about it and by then, it was too late.
It all seemed a bit pro-active, the Freys suddenly deciding to commit mass murder due to a broken marriage promise. They’d never done anything like it before and, we realised, they wouldn’t have done it then had The Boltons and The Lannisters not been backing them.
It was a bit like one of those Agatha Christie whodunnits in which you couldn’t possibly have worked out whodunit because during the denoument, Miss Marple tells us a load of stuff for the very first time. The Deus Ex Machina, I suppose you might call it. A bit of a con. Even so, it was exciting and here was another honourable hero, another main character biting the dust. Expectations subverted yet again. Another success for Game Of Thrones. And it was.
Except Robb wasn’t an honourable character. If Frey had been duplicitous in his dealings, so had Robb. Agreeing to marry someone in order to further his own ambition and then deciding not to when it no longer suited him.
And Robb had to die because what we didn’t know yet was that the secret hero of Game Of Thrones wasn’t Ned Stark, or Robb Stark, but Jon Snow, who was hidden away at Castle Black with the Night’s Watch. Misdirection again.
And, had we been shown the Freys and Lannisters and Boltons plotting, then the Red Wedding wouldn’t have been a surprise, would it? It had to be a shock for the viewers. And it was.
Jon Snow wasn’t a bastard. Jon Snow was the legimate heir to the throne because his father was a prince and his mother was Ned’s sister, both of whom were long dead by the time the action started in the books or on the telly. There were clues in the books but not really on the telly series.
So, character driven early seasons? Yes, certainly. Although the characters did things that we didn’t know about and we only witnessed the results, rather than the build-up on several occasions. We were given no clues about the Frey-Lannister-Bolton pact for example. That escalated quickly, as the kids might still say. Or appeared to as we watched it.
Yet, Danaerys’ much complained about descent into genocidal insanity which, as I’ve said, has been telegraphed implicitly and explicity since the very beginning is evidence of poor writing because we should have been shown a gradual decline in her sanity, despite that not being how psychosis tends to manifest itself.
I’m not having it. I was fine with The Red Wedding’s unfurling and I’m fine with Danaerys’ burgeoning brutality because, if anything, Danaerys’ path has been shown to us every step of the way and the Freys/Lannisters/Boltons wasn’t.
But yeah, the dialogue’s not what it was since Martin’s books ground to a halt. But the plotting’s fine. The character ‘arcs’ (for fuck’s sake) are fine.
- Too Much/Not Enough Fan Service.
A strange one. As a series with intrigue and devious characters, there’s plenty to talk about and the internet has provided scope for people to discuss their predictions and hopes and fears for characters. I don’t know what happens in the end but I bet somebody’s worked it out. They must have, even if only in a monkeys/typewriter/works of Shakespeare scenario.
People have favourite characters and they don’t want them to die. Not only that, they don’t want them to do bad things. They want them to achieve the things they want to achieve. They want them to grow and develop into the best versions of themselves. Of course they do.
But that’s not how life works, is it? People have good days and bad days. When they’re under stress, they don’t necessarily show their best sides. They make poor choices. They take their eyes off the ball. Sometimes they just fall off cliffs because they’re not looking where they’re going.
The Clegane brothers’ fight in the penultimate episode has been criticised as fan service. Jaime’s failed redemption ‘arc’ has disappointed people. Danaerys was a nice lady who protected innocent people and now she sets them on fire. Cersei’s (apparent) death under falling rubble has been criticised because a major character should have killed her instead (Jaime, Tyrion, Arya, etc).
In fairness, the Clegane’s fight, as shown on telly was reminiscent of some of Mortal Kombat in places – what with the burning city around them and a dragon flying over them – but it was a televisual spectacle. It was a climax. I wasn’t surprised. The fight between Brienne and The Hound wasn’t a televisual spectacular, it was a couple of people knocking the shit out of each other in a field and it was great. I can see that, but this is a different thing. That was the background wasn’t it? Danaerys burning Kings’ Landing.
Maybe it was fan service and maybe it wasn’t. On the other hand, what if it hadn’t happened? It’d be like Luke Skywalker not fighting Darth Vader. It’d be like Macduff not fighting Macbeth. It’d be like Beowolf not fighting Grendell.
I’ve already discussed Jaime and Danaerys development and I have no issue with either of them. Cersei’s death – if she is dead – is totally fine. Like the woman in One Day, who suddenly gets knocked off her bike and killed. It’s banal, like a lot of life is banal. TE Lawrence died in a motorbike crash in England. Would it have been more exciting had he perished in some battle in Arabia, or if he choked on lemonade in an officers’ mess? Yes, it probably would be, but that’s not what life’s like. Dick Hallorran’s death in the film of The Shining is ignoble and unexpected because we think he’s going to save them. And it’s great when it happens because it subverted our expectations of film and television tropes by just being another banal, futile death. Everybody’s been primed for an especially ironic and/or pertinent death for her and, when it arrived, it was a block of granite landing on her as Danaery’s battered her keep with a dragon.
People have become invested in some of these characters and desperately want them to do certain things and when they don’t, it’s bad. For other people, when they do, it’s bad.
You can’t win. If you give the people what they want, it’s fan service, if you don’t, you’re not doing it right.
The bottom line is, it’s not our story to tell. This is how it’s going. Yeah, if a spaceship appeared and turns Cersei into an occasional table with the power to make citrus fruit salient, that’d be disappointing. A totally unsurprising death, given the circumstances? What’s wrong with that?
- Lack of feminist/BAME wokeness.
There’s been criticism recently because of these things.
- Feminist issues.
Sexual violence against women (Sansa especially, also Danaerys and Cersei), The burning of Shireen, The much vaunted Sand Snakes turned out to be fairly useless, Brienne cried when Jaime left her for Cersei after being a badass up to then. Danaerys is a token powerful woman and now she’s gone mad because she’s a woman, Cersei is a bad example of women in power because she’s a brutal, cruel woman. Brienne wept when Jaime left her and she was supposed to be a strong woman. There are probably more, but these’ll do for now.
All of those things happened, no argument from me.
They also all happened in a quasi-medieval environment in which men have the power because it all comes down to physical violence with swords. Sansa had a terrible time of it with Ramsay Bolton, of course. Mind you, Ramsay chopped all sorts of bits off Theon, including his genitals which sounds quite sexually violent to me. Cersei might have been raped by Jaime in front of the corpse of their son – there was certainly a hint of it. Danaerys’ introduction to the marital bed wasn’t as gentle as it might have been. Fair dos. Medieval world, isn’t it? The Sand Snakes didn’t do much and maybe they’ll turn out better in the books, but Dorne has been a bit of a dead duck in the series, yes. Danaerys is unusual in that she’s been in charge and has been powerful, but she’s also been far more successful than any man in her conquests and rule. Yes, she’s gone mad but she’s the product of brother and sister incest – in a family in which madness appears to run through it. Cersei has been brutal in her leadership but who hasn’t? Her husband took the throne by force and sent people to murder Danaerys when she was a little child. Before him, Danaerys’ father was cruel. Medieval kings and queens. They’re not brutal because of their genders, they’re brutal because that’s how they got to be in charge.
I don’t consider myself a feminist even though I believe in a lot of the same things that feminists believe in so maybe I’m not the perfect person to discuss it – or maybe I am.
Diversion – Why I’m not a feminist.
If someone decided that, for instance, a lot of male oriented problems needed addressing and decided to form a group to deal with these issues, I’d be in favour. Problems such as the disturbing tendency for young men to kill themselves in great numbers, or about knife crime, things like that – things that it would be a good thing to help with. Then, if it was decided that this helpful and positive group would be called Masculists, would that be likely to encourage many non-males to join that group? I don’t think it would. All of the masculists could say that just because you’re a woman, you could still be a masculist. How many women are going to join a group called masculists? Practically none, I would suggest.
I want everybody to have the same rights and that’s why I can’t ally with a group called feminists because I’m not feminine. Feminism needs a better name, if you ask me – and no, I do appreciate that you didn’t.
End of Diversion.
Brienne’s tears as Jaime left her at Winterfell were seen by some as indication that she’d been changed into a weak woman who needed a man. I didn’t get that. She’s always been a sensitive, somewhat naive person. Just because she’s a great fighter and she’s good and honest and fair, it doesn’t mean that she has a heart of stone and is impervious to heartbreak. She loved Jaime and thought she’d – miraculously – won his heart. And she had. But the call of his previous relationship was too great for him to resist.
- BAME issues.
There aren’t many people of colour in Game of Thrones and those who are tend to be slaves. Ser Davos has a pirate buddy who’s black. Missandei, Danaerys’ translator, hairdresser and advisor is too, and so is Grey Worm, the leader of the (slave) unsullied army.
Most of the slaves Danaerys liberated in Essos were people of colour. The Dothraki (barbarian horse lords, a bit like Gengis Khan’s Mongol horde) are mainly dark skinned too.
The kings, queens and nobles are all white.
Bearing in mind I’m a white, western male, maybe I’m not the ideal person to comment on this but, well, in for a penny…
Westeros is based on medieval Britain which was a pretty white place. Westeros is filmed in Northern Ireland which is a pretty white place too. The main characters are all from Westeros and they would be white. The extras are mainly Northern Irish and, consequently, are also pretty white. The main character in Essos in Danaerys. Her mates are the Dothraki, the Unsullied and assorted rescued slaves from Essos. The scenes set in Essos are filmed in hot countries with high proportions of people of colour who live there. Consequently, the extras are drawn from these populations.
And the result is that she’s just another white saviour. I can dig that but I strongly suspect that practical filming considerations are as good an answer as any.
A lot of people don’t like what Game of Thrones has become. The biggest complaint is that it all seems rushed and that it’s all gone to shit since the source material ran out.
It’s picked up speed, I’ll give it that. You might call it momentum. Whether that’s at the expense of character development is up to you, isn’t it? If it doesn’t feel right, that’s fair enough. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinions.
However, as the only characters with whom people really seem to have any issue with the development of are Danaerys and Jaime, what I suggest is that some people might have rather concrete views about the psychology of real human beings. We don’t develop in inevitable ways, our ‘arcs’ (for fuck’s sake) involve learning lessons, forgetting lessons we’ve learned, trying different things and having moments of duress in which we do strange things.
I suspect that film studies as a thing has ingrained a particular set of expectations in terms of character development and when characters deviate from the traditional journey of self discovery that many films and programmes adhere to religiously, the film studies people are incensed because what they’ve learned is this: what they’re used to is good, anything else is bad. Some people have, in my estimation, failed to see the forest because of all these fucking trees everywhere.
As I wrote at the start of this post, Game of Thrones has always been daft. Its early seasons were criticised due to having tits and arses all over the place as exposition was deliverered to us. A word was coined to describe it: sexposition, which says everything about how the programme was widely seen in those days.
Recently, we might have forgotten about its early seasons being a parade of nudity and groy violence and retrospectively remembered it as being some sort of Chekov with knights and horses when it’s never been anything of the sort. Game of Thrones has been a spectacle, it’s been exciting, it’s been shocking and, above all, it’s been daft. Characters have done daft things, said daft things and died doing daft things.
If there’s a theme running through Game of Thrones, to my mind, it’s about hubris. At some point, every character has decided that they can do this amazing thing and everything’ll be alright and then it all goes to shit because their ambition and belief in their own ability was their downfall. From Lord Frey to the Night’s King, from Jaime to Brienne, from Stannis to Tywin, from Tyrion to Qyburn, every last character has over-reached themselves and suffered as a result of it. Some of them fatally, some of them not, which is how it goes, isn’t it?
The true irony, of course, is that it was hubris that lead George RR Martin to decide to write this vast, sprawling epic story that covered hundreds of years and thousands of miles. He thought it’d be alright and, in the most banal ending of everybody he’s written about, he’s just got lost because it was all too big and complicated to tie up effectively. He’s having a go at it, bless him, but it’s futile because it’s gone too far now.
Predictions: Sansa for the throne, Tyrion to have some high ranking role. Danaerys to be offed by Arya, wearing someone else’s face. If not, Jon to do it. Area either heads off to see what’s west of Westeros or she ends up Lady of Winterfell. Samwell to write the history of the whole thing and call it “A Song Of Ice & Fire” .Slightly less likely: an explanation of the messed up weather of Planetos and, even less likely, the camera pans out at the end and shows that everything really is happening within the eye of a blue eyed giant, going full circle to Old Nan’s story in season 1.
Oh, a final psychological little tidbit – it’s called A Song of Ice and Fire, the series of books. Danaerys is fire, Jon is ice. Danaerys is psychotic (fire), Jon is neurotic (ice).