By Arré Bench Aug. 19, 2017
Despite sprawling set-pieces and CGI-fuelled dragon fire, GoT has failed on three fronts that made the show a success: writing, suspense, and logic.
Seven years ago, a TV show came along and parked itself smack dab in our popular consciousness. The reasons why Game of Thrones became a landmark are manifold. The show was operating at a visual scale unlike anything else in the world, let alone TV. It created a multiverse of charming, interesting, and incestuous characters like Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, fricking Littlefinger, etc in a span of time shorter than Marvel execs could utter the world, “sequels.”
Thrones had magic and mystique, but its characters seemed oddly believable because the world they inhabited, helmed by George RR Martin, was rooted in conflict, strategy, and ideological differences, much like ours. Back then, Game of Thrones was a show for people who loved playing in the logistical minefield of Monopoly, but with the added thrill of unexpected death and the majesty of dragons.
The seventh season of GoT saw many fans, this writer included, get turned off as the show barrelled toward its final conclusion. But even as longtime fans switched off, it seemed like the Television Academy were tuning in and at the 2018 Emmy Awards, GoT picked up two awards for Best Drama Series and Best Supporting Actor. It’s hard to find fault with Peter Dinklage, but the show winning Best Drama Series was a disappointment, especially considering the competition in its category.
The Handmaid’s Tale has redefined the dystopian TV show with its portrayal of Gilead in the post-#MeToo world. The Americans, a criminally underrated show, that earned Matthew Rhys his first Best Actor (Drama) award, capped off a terrific fifth season. This Is Us tugged on heartstrings, and even Westworld featured riveting performances that orbit a philosophical quandary that is central to the plot. These shows push the envelope and feel important, like GoT did when it premiered. Today, while its contemporaries continue to innovate, GoT is falling into a state of entropy.
The show’s penultimate and seventh season, easily it’s most epic yet in terms of scale with sprawling set-pieces and CGI-fuelled dragon fire has failed on three fronts that originally made the show what it is: superlative writing, suspense over your emotional investment in its characters, and logic.
The show’s logistics had been swaying between not-that-believable and wait-what-how, with Euron’s fast ship-building and Christopher Columbus-esque understanding of the seas, but we saw those fallacies taken to their illogical extremes over eight episodes.
Jaime and Brienne took a full season to reach King’s Landing, but Davos goes from Dragonstone to King’s Landing, back to Dragonstone, and then to Eastwatch in one episode. Ravens are flying everywhere as if Reliance 5G suddenly acquired ownership of communications networks in Westeros, destroying one of Thrones’ core plot devices: flow of information. Who captured Tyrion? Who knows where Arya is? Who killed Ned? These are questions which fuelled episode after episode, and were the very source of power for characters who held the answers. Now all information is flowing freely, except for the most crucial bit: Jon’s parentage. It’s being kept from us, probably for the season finale since it’s such a big reveal, because the altered motion of flow of information is serving as a cheap plot device to manipulate the audience.
The direct victim of the weird pacing has been this character exposition, and when we don’t have time to get to know people, they inevitably can’t be painted in the grey.
Game of Thrones though, as stated above, wasn’t always like this. It was always plot-driven but it was slow, plodding, and it probed at every emotion of every character. We had side quests which were illuminating and showed us different facets of all characters; Jaime and Brienne, Tyrion and Bronn, Jon and Sam, taking long walks, talking life, and being human; the equivalent of us taking a long walk in the rains with our best friend after a drink too many.
The direct victim of the weird pacing has been this character exposition, and when we don’t have time to get to know people, they inevitably can’t be painted in the grey. So to create rooting interests, Season 7 has committed a sin Thrones always always fought against – depicting simple black and white, good and evil characters. Everyone is good, heck even Cersei is good now, because we have to fight the Night King, and to convince everyone that he exists, we will send the show’s favourite characters on a supposed suicide mission even though half of them are protected by plot armour. Jon is the hero, The Prince That Was Promised, the Hound has to fight The Mountain, and Gendry couldn’t have been rowing for three seasons to come back and die in one episode.
Why is a show so masterful suddenly showing signs of regular TV trope fatigue?
Probably because the makers, David Benioff and DB Weiss aren’t into it anymore. The Double D’s recently announced their new show Confederate, which will, in the bare minimum, release in 2020. They have completely distanced themselves from the upcoming Thrones spin-offs and are doing minimal press.
These dudes seem bored, and have written the last two seasons as just checking points off a plot list. Jon’s parentage? Check. Jon and Dany will fuck? Check. Arya will kill Littlefinger? Check. No matter how contrived and inauthentic the Jon and Dany romance or the Arya and Sansa infighting might seem, it doesn’t really matter as the janta is happy cheering for loads of CGI fire.
George RR Martin, who many thought would be miffed that the TV show went past his books must be chuckling somewhere, as there is obviously much work to be done to flesh out characters and basic logistics properly. The downward spiral that we’ve been witness to this season is the best argument in favour of the superiority of the books to the series. When the show began, its best moments were crafted from the wealth of source material the books offered. Dialogue seemed more authentic, motivations were clearer, and the show had a ring of authenticity that it lacks today. Now that there’s no source material to draw from, Game of Thrones has gone from being a superb literary adaptation to a generic parody of itself.
The only hope the fans have is that Martin finishes the book series in our lifetime. Dear George, we need a less bastardised version of a story which will end up as the definitive cultural equaliser for a decade. Please help.