Monday, May 13, 2019


Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey, everybody! Hope you're doing well.

Since Mary and Karissa covered "Avengers: Endgame" last month in this post, I figured I should take a minute to examine the other great pop culture event of our time, before the discussion suddenly turns colder than a White Walker's heart next week.

I'll preface this by saying I don't intend to reveal any spoilers, but odds are I will, just by accident, and even if I don't I guarantee you someone in the comments will, so don't read on if you're not caught up on "Game of Thrones."  But, that being said, I intend to focus a bit on "Game of Thrones" as a template for writing, so this is not so much going to be a spoilery nerdklatsch as the sort of writing-related essay you've come to expect from this blog.

So, my first experience with "Game of Thrones" was the TV show.  My best friend's girlfriend at the time turned the show on and told me that if I could watch for ten minutes without wanting to keep watching, I could go home.  And if I couldn't I'd have to stay and watch for the rest of the afternoon.  So, naturally, I stayed and watched for the rest of the afternoon.

I didn't have HBO at the time, but I was very intrigued by the show.  I began discussing it with friends who were readers, which naturally led into the whole A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is better than the TV show debate.  It's funny, I guess that debate's kind of been settled this season, though probably not in the way any of us would have liked.

And so, for my birthday that year I received the first three books in the series.  I quickly read the entire extant series and then for the first five years of the TV show I was one of those people.  Honestly, I understand there's a visceral thrill in seeing something on the screen, but the books were just so, so much better.  Whole plot threads and a barrel of characters had to be excised just to make the damn thing watchable.  The show is great, but the books are so much broader and deeper, and if I may say, damn readable.  It's rare that I find myself hurrying through a book like that, just desperate to find out what happens next.  Say what you will about George R.R. Martin's writing process - and we're about to say quite a bit - but the man knows never to leave you bored, not even for a page.

So, time passes, the show not only catches up to the books, but then, something unexpected happens: chronologically the show bypasses the books.  Suddenly, somebody like me, who had always had his intimate knowledge of the characters I had hundreds of pages to get to know, had nothing to fall back on.  In the first few seasons, if the show's producers used a narrative shortcut, and somebody acted like a dummy or some deus ex machina solved a problem, I, as a reader, at least knew what had "really happened."  And so I couldn't rage at the show very much.  

For instance, one of my greatest regrets is that in the first season the show entirely skipped Tyrion's battle with the wild men.  He gets conked in the head and passes out and the battle just happens offscreen.  I didn't like that, because it was a really cool battle that showed off Tyrion's cleverness both as a strategist and as a manipulator of people.  But as a writer, I get it.  There's really nothing new you learn in that battle.  We already know Tyrion's a clever strategist and manipulator.  And they didn't, in those early days, have the budget to stage a battle so extraneous to the larger plot.

And so into the rubbish bin went that scene.  But as a reader, I knew what had happened and whatever plot holes it had caused in the show, I could easily fill in with my meta-knowledge.

Fast forward to season 6 and things are starting to get wobbly.  I remember the big complaint everyone had when the show took off on its own was that no travel ever seemed to take any amount of time.  Call it a fault if you like, but in the books - and consequently in the first few seasons of the show - it took for-goddamned-ever for anyone to get anywhere.  Westeros was understood to be a place with vast regional differences, and the reason for the differences between the seven kingdoms was geographical.  You couldn't just ride from the Wall to Dorne in one day.  I mean, hell, the whole reason the conspirators sent Dany and Viserys to Essos was because it was a continent away.  Nobody from Westeros could reach out and touch them there, at least, not without a lot of effort.

Then, suddenly in season 6, people are running from the Wall to Winterfell in an hour.  Everything became very compressed.  I mean, it was annoying, because it seemed to shrink the world, and we had just spent five years learning how lavish it was.  But, you know, sacrifices must be made for TV.  You use narrative shorthand, and sometimes that means relying on someone's suspension of disbelief to allow your story to function.  Jon Snow needs to be here for the episode to work, so Jon Snow's here, regardless of how long it should have taken him to reach there by horseback or whatever.  Okay.  Fair enough.

Three years later and I think it's fair to say the show is off the rails.  Little narrative tricks that I was willing to forgive last year, and that I absolutely didn't mind eight years ago because I had the books, have now all but swallowed up the show.  Characters we've watched grow up, known and loved (or hated) are suddenly just plot gremlins, doing whatever they need to do to speed towards a finish line that in the earlier seasons we weren't sure existed, and at worst were ambling towards at a leisurely pace.

Now all of a sudden it's: deal with walkers, quick quick quick, now deal with Cersei, quick quick quick.

It's enough to make you wonder if something is going on behind the scenes.  And ding ding ding, for that, dear reader, you win a cupie doll.  HBO, unsurprisingly, would've been happy to let "Game of Thrones" go on for eternity.  I'm not sure how that would have panned out, considering we've seen what happens in your average "Walking Dead" or "Grey's Anatomy" when something once beloved is allowed to just become a shadow of its former self.  But I think, assuming the producers didn't take it to an extreme, a more leisurely pace for the final seasons of "Game of Thrones" would've been much better.  It is a leisurely show, after all, with an army of characters, and you hate to see any of them given short shrift.

The audience, too, wanted more "Thrones."  I'm by no means an expert on Hollywood wheelings and dealings, but this might be the first instance I'm aware of where the producers were actually the ones who wanted to end the show.  Benioff and Weiss were offered essentially an infinite budget and near complete creative control to go on making one of (maybe the?) most popular television shows of all time.  And they said..."Nah, we're good."

It's upsetting, but not really surprising.  These guys have instant cachet now, and will probably be given insane budgets and creative control to go on to other things they actually still want to make.  I just wish if they had been so bored with the show they were working on that they would have handed it over to someone else who wasn't.  Because I'm not liking what I'm seeing this season.

I could point to any number of things.  And I'm pretty sure I already broke my mild "no-spoilers" promise so I could probably go into specifics now.  But I don't really need to.  If you're a fan, you've probably already read (and written) a hundred thinkpieces on everything from The Hound's latest haircut to Drogon's roar not being 100% accurate to real-life dragons.

You can pick and pry and prod ad nauseum, as much as you like, but for me what it boils down to is that this season the show feels hollow.  I don't know why anyone's doing anything.  They don't seem to be acting like the characters I've come to know.  They seem to be puppets acting out a particular set of behaviors in order to get to an already agreed-upon conclusion.  And in a sense, as writers, that's what we often do, but good writers make it so that the audience never notices.  With "Game of Thrones" this year I'm certainly noticing.

So, next week we bid our great national obsession adieu.  And I'm in the weird position of hoping that now that that's over, Martin can fix everything in the books.  Maybe once we have those in hand, we can go back to plastering over the plot holes of season 8 with our meta-knowledge.  Then maybe it'll all seem hunky dory again.  Here's hoping, I suppose.

1 comment:

Karissa Laurel said...

The more I read/hear about GoT, the more I'm glad I decided to pass on it. But I am a little sad I can't join the hate bandwagon. I'm not excited about the show runners getting cashet, because it sounds like they're moving on to Star Wars and I can't say I feel too good about that.

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