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We’re gonna do something a little different today. We’re gonna talk about Game of Thrones and how to receive it at the end of its run, which we’re rapidly approaching now. The title of this post implies I’m going to be negative about the show, but it’s quite the opposite and so the title is kind of sarcastic as I watch people get really over the top about what they think the problems with the show are now that it’s “off book”. I usually only write movie reviews on this blog. I don’t know why that is. I have a lot of blogging ideas, but maybe not enough energy? I often think “hey, I’m gonna write something” and then I don’t. A time or two, I’ve had more ambitious writing projects for this blog and they just kind of petered out. Speaking of which, the biggest one was my Season 2 recaps which I was writing like five years ago and never finished. Remember those? I got to the sixth episode, way further than I remembered before checking.

Anyway, this is not that. I’m not looking to recap this latest season. I’m more looking to defend it, I guess. To explain it. To process it alongside all the people trying to do the same, but with an emphasis on addressing some criticisms it consistently gets that I think are more or less invalid. But I will also talk about the criticisms that are completely valid and perhaps even stumble across a few that you haven’t already heard or thought of. So this, in some ways, will be a sketchy overview of the entire show but using examples specifically drawn from this latest season and probably a little from last season as well. Keen eyed readers will notice the connection here is that these are the so-called “off book” seasons and there are plenty of reasons for that. So let’s start with there, eh?

But before we do, a little disclaimer. In some ways, this post may seem confrontational but I’d argue that it’s no more so than any of the negative reviews I write where I make you feel bad for liking shitty movies. You should feel bad. I’m not sorry. In this case, I am really just going after the laziest criticisms of an exceedingly good show while also making room for what I see as real problems with it. It will be easy to accuse me of erecting strawmen to make my arguments, but Game of Thrones is so water cooler at this point that we might as well be drinking Dornish wine out of the fucker. This means that it’s pretty easy to find the discussions where people are saying the things I refer to. You’ve likely thought them or said them a time or two yourself. I know I have. If you don’t want to give me the benefit of the doubt, check out reddit or Facebook (any social media platform really), the comments sections on sites that recap/review individual episodes, etc. Go ahead, this can wait.

It goes without saying, or should, that what follows are my opinions based on my observations and reasoning. I may get some details wrong, or I might miss something or fail to anticipate a solid counter-argument. Please let me know by commenting below. It would be fun to have a higher level discussion about this show than comparing it to Dungeons and Dragons. Also, don’t get the idea that I just love this show and everything they do. I have my beefs with it (Tyrion, for example), but this first part of what is planned to be a series of essays is going to be more in the form of apologia and will contain less direct criticisms. They’re coming, though, I promise.

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Part 1: Adaptation Ain’t Just a Nic Cage Movie

A common criticism for what are viewed as writing mistakes, inconsistent characterization, etc is that the main writers and creators of this show, D.B Weiss and David Benioff, are engaging in the deplorable practice of fan fiction. First of all, there ain’t nothing wrong with fan fiction. I learned that the hard way. Second of all, all adaptations that aren’t completely faithful (which I know is what some people really want anyway) are to some extent going to be assailable with this complaint. But the thing about calling it fan fiction is that it’s meant to dig into the quality of the writing on legitimacy grounds. “That’s just fan fiction!” is not a slam that I think is often used by people who read and enjoy fan fiction. You can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s coming from people who probably dislike fan fiction or consider it illegitimate fiction, preferring instead that a novel or what have you remain contained in original authorial intent. I have some sympathy for that view –like I said, I learned to appreciate fan fiction the hard way– but ultimately, it’s not fair since this is an adaptation. Calling it fan fiction as a negative seems misguided to me since it’s a statement without content, except that you don’t like the adaptation.

And honestly, if you don’t want to read what promises to be ten thousand or more words on this stuff, you can pretty much consider my main thesis to be that a lot of people are, as people do, overextending their dislike for things that are happening in the show (ie: adaptation choices) into being about writing quality or even the motivations of the show’s creators. D.B Weiss and David Benioff get a lot of flack and blame over this, evenaso far as people saying they are trying to sabotage this show so they can quickly move on to their next one. At the end of the day, it’ll be impossible for them to please everyone as there are literally decades of anticipation built into the ending of this story (almost a decade for just the show) and this shit always happens when a long story starts coming to an end. All the theories, anticipation, and energy can be volatile when thwarted. The idea that many of the complaints I’m addressing really boil down to people just not liking what they’re getting because it doesn’t blow their hair back, or because they’d do x or y differently, is kind of depressing. So I’ll forget it for now.

That said, I want to reiterate that people sometimes just don’t like things in a story! Which is fair! I’m not here to argue that everybody needs to like Game of Thrones or even share my opinions about what is and isn’t wrong with it. I’m trying to address what I think are bad (being lazy or invalid) criticisms and I think figuring that shit out can maybe help people enjoy the show more, especially if they are starting to notice things that bug them (perhaps undeservedly) or if they are being affected by the howling internet discourse, characterized mostly by nitpicking and discontent, and need a counter-argument or five. Context matters and being able to recontextualize something can often benefit one’s appreciation of it.

So again, to me, what this boils down to is really a complaint about how D&D are adapting the story and characters, many of whom are beloved to someone (even Ramsay has fans for some fucked up reason) and I totally understand how frustrating it can be when a character you know closely ends up being someone completely different in the TV or movie versions. I endured The Dark Tower so this is a pain I understand. In an effort to understand and address what people are saying, let’s split this idea of “fan fiction” into three separate categories: fan service, consistent characterization, and overall vision.

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1A: Fan Service – The Good, the Bad, and the Ed Sheeran

Let’s remember that fan service is broadly defined and not necessarily a negative thing. To classify whether fan service is negative or positive, I’d say the important distinction is whether the element in question is pandering or not. Most of us would actually consider that distinction to be a matter of whether the fan service is distracting or not. So putting it more simply, an easter egg is fan service but it’s not bad fan service. There’s also a subjective element, where some fans don’t care about stuff that others do a lot (a good example of which is “shipping”). A less charitable way of saying this is that it’s only fan service (as a criticism) if it’s something that happens that you didn’t want to happen or vice versa. Otherwise, it’s a payoff.

There is a “bad” kind of fan service, though, and it’s often brought up in discussions about Game of Thrones. This bad kind falls roughly into two types of phenomenon that people refer to negatively which I would like to specifically address, one which I think is misapplied (because it’s not actually bad) and another because I think it’s an actual issue:

The first is a possible outcome of dialogue between authors/creators and their audience. The fan service here refers to things in the created work that reflect that dialogue and refer specifically to aspects of it, such as an in-joke or popular theory. For example, when Davos mentions what he thinks Gendry has been up to during his “missing time” these last few seasons, it’s a direct reference to the “Gendry rowing” meme that arose out of fans wondering what happened to him after he escaped Dragonstone, a plot thread that the show left hanging until now. This type of fan service isn’t so bad. It’s not just trying to please fans gratuitously but rather winking at them and showing a recognition of their involvement and desires. It’s usually funny or can work as a broad wink or subtle confirmation/refutation of things going on in the discussions around a thing. Some of it is happening, or appears to be happening, because this show is coming to an end and is in the process of tying up loose plot threads by the bunches. There’s going to be a natural intersection between long-standing theories about the show coming more or less true and a sense of “this is what we wanted/expected to happen!”. That usually happens at the climax of a story, by the way, but this is a whole other category of criticism of the show so there will be more on this later. I also think that Game of Thrones has always commented on itself and its context in pop culture. When people complained about the budgets leading to poorly executed scenes in Season 1, the first scene of Season 2 had a lavish sense of scale. It was a statement to the fans and it was certainly representative of the show trying to give people more of what they want.

The second type is an outcome of creators pandering directly and self-consciously to an audience, trying to get a cheap thrill out of them by providing them with some meaningless tidbit that they may like, but usually these things take you out of the experience and refer to something in pop culture beyond the media itself. This can be done, by Game of Thrones at least, very subtly, such as having the band Sigur Ros in an episode but drawing no attention to them, or it can be done very obnoxiously, such as Ed Sheeran’s distracting cameo earlier this season. To reach beyond Game of Thrones to another beloved nerd franchise: there was a lot more of this type of fan service in Rogue One (the ridiculous parade of cameos and callbacks that had no bearing on the story being told) than in The Force Awakens. There’s a fine line to walk with easter eggs and cameos, so the times where Game of Thrones has really offered bad fan service is when it has made those things incredibly prominent and therefore obnoxious. It was easy to miss Sigur Ros, but Ed Sheeran might as well have been shooting t-shirt guns into the rabble of King’s Landing.

Another example of this more pandering, “bad” type might be “shipping” romances, like Tormund and Brienne, but I think most of those examples will be invalid based on the fact that creating connections and romances between characters is obligatory in an adaptation that is streamlining a much bigger, more diversely cast story. Stuff like having Tormund and Brienne “flirting” is enjoyable to most, but certainly one of the bits cited as evidence that there is fan fiction going on now. I think this specific example is easy to address, though, since both of these characters are in very different circumstances than they are in the books, which leaves a bit of a vacuum. Brienne is with Jaime, the real object of her affection, in the book (though they aren’t as yet romantically involved). Tormund, if I remember right, is with if not “with” one of the Wildling women from Mance Rayder’s retinue. Still, I wouldn’t really argue that Brienne and Tormund is the result of a function. It’s a fun diversion that I honestly don’t think is going to culminate into anything more than pining. It will be distracting for some, but it would be far more so if Jaime was in the North too and the Brienne and Tormund thing was being force-fed by writers who simply preferred their version. Usually you can see when this is happening because things that were built up or mentioned before in a story don’t organically transition to the new situation, they are instead forgotten or even retconned out of existence. For an example of how this plays out and can disrupt an otherwise good story, see Spike vs. Angel in the later seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Spike becoming a more prominent character meant serious retooling of series lore about Angel). By the way, I’m not saying that Game of Thrones doesn’t have instances of forced forgetting or retconning, it probably does, but it may not have these in service to a romance manufactured just to appease a chunk of the fanbase. Don’t think it’s really that type of show.

This brings me nicely to the next point:

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1B: Consistent Characters – Why Your Confusion About Arya is Weird or Why Your Admiration for Stannis is Weird

One of the things that makes the “it’s fan fiction now” argument so misapplied half the time is that it’s often used to describe changes to characters that the audience, often the ones who’ve read the books, roundly disagree with. Characters not consistent with their book versions is not the same as characters being inconsistent within the context of the show. There have definitely been times where characters in the show have done surprising things, but I can’t think of a really good example where a character just behaves wildly inconsistently. Can you?

The two usual arguments about character inconsistency mentioned above can be nicely summarized and addressed by discussing two particular characters, each one representing an argument.

Argument 1: Character Inconsistency in the Show

Arya is really the best way to address this. Many, many times people have complained about Arya being an inconsistent character but that has especially been a big thing as this latest season has progressed her storyline where she is reunited with some of her siblings at Winterfell and we can, at long last, see how she deals with being home. So far, there’s been a slowly building conflict with Sansa about their divergent values and perspectives on the events happening around them. In the show, these debates are centered on broad concepts of loyalty to family, political maneuvering, and the deeply personal stuff each Stark sister is choosing to reveal or not reveal. The complaints about this storyline fucking baffle me. I get that people don’t want Stark infighting, I don’t like the idea either and the stuff they hinted at with Sansa and Jon (and nicely sidestepped) made me uneasy. But I wouldn’t say it’s bad writing or storytelling and there’s nothing especially contradictory or lazy or inconsistent about it, it’s just hard to imagine a dramatically satisfying resolution to everything that’s happened (to Sansa especially) if the Starks bicker, feud, and maybe get each other killed. For what it’s worth, I think this is a misdirect and the Starks will join forces and probably target Littlefinger. Fan service, eh?

Anyway the complaint that bothers me the most, though, is that Arya’s behavior toward Sansa is somehow “dumb” or “not in character”. What show have you guys been watching? There’s always been a following around Arya because everyone loves a revenge story and a girl is resourceful, cunning, and badass in her own right. I get the appeal, but not to the extent where we forget that she’s got some pretty extreme anti-social tendencies and the show has more than laid groundwork over the years to show that Arya’s morality is… troubled. It probably started with that bit when she stabbed that stable boy and then watched him die, the ghost of a thrill evident in her expression. Since then, she’s been obsessed by murder as an act of justice, and she’s seen and done some pretty dark shit. She’s not Jon Snow with longer hair and a skinnier sword. She’s not particularly honorable and she’s mostly out for herself.

The way she treats others is jarring because we want her and Sansa to unite and take on the world. But it’s a mistake to expect this to happen just because we’d like that much better. After all, it’s fan service as negative until it’s something you actually want to see happen. If you’ve long expected some event, like say Cleganebowl, and it doesn’t happen, you might understandably feel robbed or let down. But that’s more fan service, isn’t it? We have to be more comfortable with stories going in directions we don’t expect or much like, especially if the story isn’t done and we can’t see what it’s in service to.

Let’s consider a personal example: I really disliked when Theon fled Euron’s attack on the Ironborn loyalists, but I would never argue that it was inconsistent. Being reminded that it’s totally consistent with his struggle to overcome his trauma, and the ups and downs of that, helped me understand it as a story element and let go of my dislike. Again, it feels dramatically unsatisfying for now (we want to see people overcome) but I don’t yet know what is in store for Theon so it may contribute to the most dramatically satisfying outcome for him later on.

What I am taking issue with here is this idea that Arya, who has some issues with Sansa, is being “dumb” or “inconsistent” because she isn’t the wide-eyed, likable and innocent little sister she was in Season 1 (though never with Sansa). Arya is a schemer who thinks she’s smarter than she actually is. Remember her cocky attempts to swagger her way out of Braavos. People thought there was some misdirection happening but it turned out she was just being dumb and immature. She’s capable of that.

Argument 2: Character Inconsistency between Show and Books

I’d love to just dismiss this as being the same issue as many of the other complaints about fan service and consistency for Game of Thrones, as a problem with the adaptation and not a valid critique of the show in itself. However, that would deprive me of the chance to talk about my most and least favorite character to talk about from both: Stannis Baratheon.

For fun, this is what I wrote about Stannis a while after Season 2 aired, about five years ago now:

In the book, he’s a hateful self-righteous prig and no fun at all. In the show, he’s all that except the no fun part. They got a guy who just sinks his teeth into every bit of this character, from the arrogance of his principled self-righteousness to the (more developed in the show) assurance he draws from Melisandre’s messianic B.S. to support it all. This is a painfully sensitive chap, a man who needs the intangible endorsement of a distant alien god to justify his inherent entitlement. It’s marvelous how much they get this across in just 2 scenes.

Stannis was one of the first characters in the show that people who read the books loudly complained about. He was considered to be inconsistent with the paragon of moral virtue and pedantic rigidity that he was in the books, virtues the appeal of which say more about the admirers than about the character. However, he’s also these things in the show except that Stephen Dillane’s performance captures what a guy like this would really seem like in three dimensions and the result is… off-putting and delicious. Plus there’s the whole thing where he cheats on his wife and breaks his own rules. But he does this in the book, to some extent, as well. He may not fuck Melisandre up on a map of the kingdoms he plans to rule so justly, but he definitely uses black magic and betrays his own values. Stannis is lauded as the most “honorable” and “just” character in all of Westeros and these qualities alone are appealing enough for some fans to continue to act like he’s the real hero of the story, though to stay chugging on the Stannis train they have to forget the fact that Stannis is a criticism both in the show and books of moral rigidity and its seeming susceptibility to the decaying effects of compromising one’s rigidly held values. In for a penny, in for a pound. Fall halfway down the stairs? Fuck it, throwing myself the rest of the way down. That’s Stannis. He’s a case study in what happens when what one wants is in conflict with one’s values, or better that the attaining of what one wants is in conflict with one’s values. He’s the ultimate “ends justify the means” character. In both versions of the story.

So what am I even talking about? Kind of slipped into just a separate debate about Stannis’s role and meaning as a character there didn’t I? Well, you can see why he’s my most and least favorite character to talk about. I really hate the “Mannis” fandom around him, because I think it’s based on literal-minded judgmentalism and a rigid definition of justice that runs rampant especially in a certain type of young male nerd. Frank Miller type shit. But I love what he represents as a character. I think the inconsistency between books and show is pointed, if it’s there at all (and I’d argue it’s overstated), to make the thematic work he is part of more dramatic and apparent to the audience with much more limited time and presentation vs. a novel. So while it isn’t really a valid criticism that Stannis is a slightly different character in the show (and likely meets a very different end), we can learn something from talking about it and how it affects the thematic underpinnings of the work in either medium.

This, too, brings me nicely to my next point:

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1C: Gulpin’ Down Themes All the Way to the Bottom

Earlier I mentioned that part of the nature of the show’s more rapid-fire pacing these past two seasons (though it’s really gotten going this season) had to do with the fact that this is the climax of the story. A typical story structure looks like this:

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Now, there are a bunch of different versions of this basic structure. There are also alternative story structures, but this is the one that is most commonly used for film and television. Most episodes of a show may roughly fit into this arc, because it’s well-established as satisfying for the audience of a story. If your story more or less fits onto this and each part is arrived at without inconsistencies, self-contradictions, etc then you at least have a solid story on a structural level. Many shows may not use this structure on a per episode basis but it is certainly close to what is used when planning out seasons. So you know where I’m going with this? Good. You see that little point there where it says climax and has a playful little exclamation mark? Awesome.

Because that’s where we’re at with Game of Thrones.

One of the reasons the show is moving faster through plot is because we are at the climax of the overall story of the series. In most contemporary fiction, denouement (a fancy way of saying “things get wrapped up and settled”) is a short phase and it almost certainly won’t even comprise a book length installment of A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s usually the shortest section of a story, but that wasn’t always the case and it may not be for the A Song of Ice and Fire novels. Tolkien’s denouements were quite long, including a whole crazy section called “The Scouring of the Shire” where the hobbits fight Saruman and Grima back in the Shire. Peter Jackson and his co-writers drastically shortened the denouement of The Lord of the Rings for their film adaptation. This just has to do with perceptions and realities about how audiences receive stories nowadays, especially in film and television, which probably has a lot to do with being trained to expect shorter endings for things due to Hollywood’s very sticky love affair with a front-heavy three act structure. Anyway, that’s a whole other fucking thing.

I don’t think anyone is really going to argue that Game of Thrones isn’t now hurtling toward its ultimate resolution as series. This is important because when the “rising action” gets around the climax stage, all the important exposition is pretty much over and all the pieces are more or less in place for the little kid in all of us to pick them up and start banging them together. This is why we no longer get long scenes of exposition, which Game of Thrones always tried to do in ways that were entertaining if not always particularly respectable. It is also why we aren’t pausing to dwell on things, even huge things like two key characters meeting for the first time in years or maybe ever. There’s just no time and even these important meetings and mini-events, which a few years ago would have been keystone events in their respective seasons, are drops in a very steady stream. The scale has increased, the stakes have gone up, and yet the show still finds time for small moments between characters like Jon and Gendry, or Tormund and The Hound (and still people complain as if none of these types of scenes happen anymore).

The pace has the unfortunate side effect of supporting a perception that payoffs aren’t happening at the same rate any more either. And this is true, because the payoffs are bigger and more frequent but the climactic nature of this section of the story requires that they are quickly moved on from, which is where that perception comes from. It’s also true of setup. A lot of people were confused when the Lannisters so easily crushed the Tyrells, because they missed the quick scene of Jaime convincing Randyll Tarly to join them (and they maybe forgot that he’s this great general and asskicker) which turned the tide. That’s a development that may have taken several scenes a few years ago and would have been a much bigger deal, because the stakes were as small as a war between kings. Now, it’s nothing compared to an alliance between the South, the North, and the Last Targaryen against an army of undead. That’s why there’s been way more time dedicated to the idea of an armistice and alliance.

My argument here isn’t that the pace of the show is perfect or that it’s not jarring, especially when it’s characters and events that are important to you that are being cut away from early to go see what someone else is doing and who with. I think there’s probably another article this length that could be written just about the pacing of the show. I also think that they deserve a lot of benefit of the doubt because, in many ways, Game of Thrones is uncharted waters and they have to make it up as they go. What I am arguing is that the pacing is not a product of “fan fiction” level writing as the writers have “run out of ideas”, or some imagined rush to move on. I firmly believe it’s because the story is at its zenith and by the midpoint of next season, we’ll probably have a pretty good idea of where everyone’s going to be at the end. In some cases we’ll know even earlier. My expectation is that they will do their usual move of shaking things up one last time at the penultimate episode and dedicate the very last one to dust settling and final endings. But if that expectation doesn’t bear out, I don’t think it will be because the showrunners are dumb and I’m smart. Keep that shit in mind.

But Evan, you say, what does this have to do with the overall vision and addressing the “fan fiction” claims? Well, I’m glad you asked. The above is a potentially roundabout and overwrought stage-setting for the idea that this rapid pace naturally affects the rate at which people process the events as they happen, especially when they affect characters (or don’t affect them) in ways that we might expect. When a story gets going like this, characters suddenly have more thrown at them in an episode than they maybe did for an entire season. Some of the seeming inconsistencies or, perhaps, unrealized expectations we perceive are down to that quickened pace. The story just doesn’t have a full season of several scenes per episode to explore a relationship between Jon and Dany. Not like it did back when things were less dire in the context of the story, and back when we didn’t really yet know who these people were. My thinking is that complaining about not enough time being dedicated to relationships, payoffs, big events, or connective tissue (I’ll talk at length about the “teleporting” issue later on, so leave that for now) like how Arya infiltrated the Freys is a misunderstanding not only of the kinds of problems writers of a show like Game of Thrones are trying to solve (problems I can only begin to imagine, it must be a mindset unto itself) but especially of the fact that this is a story at its climax but playing out in the unexpected format of a multi-year television show.

Let me expand on that a little more. Do you know why a show like Agents of Shield or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or whatever follows the exact same plot structure I demonstrated above only to rinse/repeat every season? It’s because those stories are serial and had no definite end point in mind. Each season had to have a full satisfying story arc with the potential for another one with the same structure but ever greater stakes and character development, and there might be an ending in mind but there’s seldom a set length for the story and therefore a predetermined way for it to map to a story structure in its entirety. Game of Thrones is one example of a TV series that doesn’t have that issue, but it doesn’t mean we’re used to seeing the usual story structure playing out on such a large scale and in such a long timeline. Another way our expectations have been messed with in similar fashion is with the MCU films, which are very much going bigger and longer (in terms of time taken to hit beats) than anything else we’re used to, while still telling a story that falls into conventional patterns overall.

I think in both cases the universal understanding of story structure fails people who only understand it implicitly and not formally. Where that formal knowledge can help us is in understanding why Game of Thrones seems “careless” or “rushed”, opening it up to misguided criticisms about the showrunners working off “George’s notes” revealing their fundamental inferiority as writers, and other such shit. Look, I don’t think D&D are infallible and I think I’ve said it enough. But I do think that this notion that’s gripping the discourse is pretty stupid, this idea that they have always been hacks and only Father George’s writing saved them up to this point. It’s all about choosing which God to worship, isn’t it? I remember in the early days of the show, people were just happy to not have four page descriptions of Lamprey Pie and blood puddings. Nowadays, though, a scapegoat must be found for everything we find uncomfortable or unexpected. It’s the kind of thinking that permeates the times we live in. Everything has to be a conspiracy, everything has to be generated by the worst of motivations, and everybody has to feel smarter than the people who create the media we consume.

And there’s another side to this, too. The part about what Game of Thrones (and by extension A Song of Ice and Fire) is even about. Everybody kinda knows by now that these books began as a project that married deconstruction of conventional fantasy tropes with fictionalized history and a sense of historical realism, or at least grittiness, that was usually lacking in so-called “high fantasy”. The full real-world consequences of such things as magic and dragons are explored in a way that is somewhat more familiar to the way we think now, as if these forces were dropped on top of us just as we are, more or less. The characters in these books, less than in the show, react in fairly familiar ways and their psychology is very recognizable to us. The use of conventional profanity and concepts is a big part of how this is communicated. This stuff is nothing new to people who’ve spent a bit of time within the A Song of Ice and Fire fan communities and the endless discussions they have. There have also been tons of think-pieces, hot takes, and even real articles written about what Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire are doing with all this deconstruction. My argument, which by no means is unique to me, is that George RR Martin did what many deconstructionists do: he broke it all down so he could build the fucker back up again, in his own way. The best deconstruction is affectionate, becoming what it purports to critique (but never condemn) by shedding layers of unthinking, unexamined tropes and affectations in favor of something purer. That is the baseline from which the real purpose, the real project can begin. That project is usually reconstruction. Taking that old tired shit and making it new again, half by lovingly restoring and half by ruthlessly discarding. Don’t believe me? The best deconstruction of genre occur in examples like Cabin in the Woods, Watchmen (more the book though), and hell, even stuff like Hesher. It’s important to note that all of these things become what they are critiquing. Even Watchmen, which is brilliant and subtle of course, ends with Laurie and Don returning to the costumed hero life. It is no accident that the path to confronting Ozymandias is laden with the exact superhero comic book antics that the work is interrogating all throughout.

Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire are reconstructive. Martin loves fantasy, and he’s trying to fill a hole in the genre as he perceives it. He’s putting his stamp on it, embracing the parts that he likes and avoiding what he doesn’t. In many ways, D&D are doing the same thing (with an added meta layer, potentially, of doing the same work with Martin’s novels themselves). So what I’m saying is that this is a show that was always going to have heroes and dragons fighting the forces of a supernatural evil with a combination of wits, magic, and feats of arms.We should not be surprised when that shit happens, and yet many people are. They criticize it as fan service, as if it’s a simplified version of “what’s really going to happen” or what they think should happen. Daring rescues by dragon-back are too conventional in this reading, which over-emphasizes the deconstruction or re-positions it as destruction, a nihilistic act of denying that which attracts us to fantasy in the first place.

Game of Thrones has never lost sight of loving fantasy. There have always been dragons, magic, swords with names, and meaty redemption arcs. Characters who used to be assholes are rising to heroism. Cool artifacts or knowledge are being drawn from the ashes of forgotten history. The story’s shades of gray are being defined more starkly (no pun intended) and more cosmic, metaphorical battle lines than “I serve this queen and you serve that queen” are being drawn. That is a product both of it being part of a storytelling climax and part of the overall vision of the work to be as reconstructive as it is deconstructive. It is not a product of the writers of Game of Thrones focusing only on stuff they think is cool, though they almost certainly have to focus more on the broader strokes due to the very nature of being an adaptation. Plus, who is actually unhappy that the really big fantasy shit is happening now? I think it’s more people who are unhappy about how it is happening and I think those complaints aren’t always valid and should be thought through a bit more carefully. Hence this whole essay. May it prepare you for the essays to come.

Like I may have said, this is just Part 1 of what will be a much longer piece of work on these topics. I anticipate two more parts:

Part 2 will be about streamlining specifically and will include a lot of discussion of the “teleportation” issue and how my suspicion is that the real problem with the show’s cohesion is an editing problem. Part 3 is still just clouds in my head, but I know I’ll be talking about the tendency toward shock value as a device, tropes and why they aren’t bad, the bloodthirst of fans, and concepts of”plot armor” and “plot holes” as they apply to this show.

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