Friday, May 24, 2024

Has ‘Game Of Thrones’ Finally Jumped The Shark?

Game of Thrones has never been a bad or boring TV show. Quite the opposite is true—throughout most of the series run, you practically forget you’re watching a TV show. Reviewers and writers have praised GoT for its novelistic characters and narrative pacing, in addition to esteeming its cinematic set pieces. It’s a sly shorthand to indicate this isn’t like any previous TV show you’ve experienced.

Because while encountering the best stories the boundaries of form melt into gas and vanish. Great storytellers aren’t confined by the rules of what it means when a story is a TV show or movie or novel or anything else. Instead, they break the rules by forgetting they exist and replacing them with their own. Through a sort of narrative osmosis, so does the audience.

You intuitively accept this when watching a Paul Thomas Anderson movie or Lena Dunham’s Girls or listening to the work of Frank Ocean or Louis C.K. Their art compels you because when engaging with it, you feel anything can happen at any time. There are no rules. None, anyways, besides the ones they create.

So it was with Game of Thrones. When a show has the balls to kill its major protagonist the episode before its first season finale, pull off something like The Red Wedding, and strand a major character like Daenerys outside the main plot—and most side quests—for six seasons, you had no choice but complying with what it gave you. Game of Thrones had no care for your expectations or demands, which is precisely why you couldn’t stop watching. This was a game played by its own operation. As an audience, so long as it never betrayed those rules, you couldn’t dismiss the show.

Thanks to George R.R. Martin’s immaculate world-building and fantasy genre subversion, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss didn’t have to invent much. They drove the train along the track laid for them. And what an exquisite train they built! Filled with a colorful acting troupe and lovely interior design, all while cutting away narrative fat and cleaning up clunky dialogue, theirs was a job well done.

But Martin’s inability to finish the books caused Benioff and Weiss to receive promotions as storytellers. Now they must lay down the train track and set course for our eventual destination while maintain the train’s general upkeep. It’s all caused a sort of creative Peter Principle, as Benioff and Weiss have responded in their new roles to reducing Game of Thrones, alas, into being a TV show.

Again, it isn’t a bad or boring TV show. But never has the show nakedly submitted to its formal confines like it has this season. Limited by a seven-episode season, character travel now occurs in 15-minute proceedings that, as many have noted, would’ve previously taken half the season. On some level this is forgivable. Because those horseback rides and brothel visits and inn stays provide two main objectives: a) fleshing out character development with rounded emotional arcs and b) establishing settings and context for this massive world.

By this season, we know Westeros and its geography. Revisiting those vistas could be seen as superfluous and impede the story as it propels into its end game. Exploring character motivations could occur multiple ways and doesn’t require walks in garden or sailing on ships. So long as our heroes’ behavior adds up, it’s an easy sacrifice.

But that’s not really happening, is it? As of late, these complex, moody characters have felt like gamebots. Why they’re proceeding down their paths is often barely explained and rarely explored, outside of twists, deaths, and soapy drama.

Take for example Jaime Lannister’s arc over the past episode “Eastwatch.” Following an emotionally loaded charge to lance Dany, Bronn saves his life. He recognizes the Lannister cause vs. Dany will result in bloodshed and heartbreak. In King’s Landing, Jaime reunites with his brother Tyrion, who he vowed to kill after Tyrion murdered their father Tywin. This is a convoluted bond between brothers, as they recognize the heart underneath each other’s veneer. They might be the only ones in this messed-up world of their who do. But Jaime, who technically already agrees with Tyrion’s position of ending the war, silences his brother when he tries to explain why he did what he did.

The plot moves forward as they instead agree to a really really stupid plan to smuggle a wight into King’s Landing so Cersei will abstain from war. Why does Cersei need this level of convincing again? Well, you audience members already know she’s cray cray so stop asking questions. Why is Jaime willing to hear out Tyrion on this, again, really really stupid plan but not the devastating murder of their father? The same father, by the way, whose harsh spirit and worldview continues to haunt the actions of each Lannister kid in interesting various ways. Well, hmm, who knows? But isn’t it SoOoOooO wild Cersei got preggers? Kind of complicates things for Jaime as he continues to love a woman who manipulates him and has no real regard for his life, which didn’t he realize that when he almost died ten seconds ago and she didn’t care? Are we suddenly to believe Jaime is an oafish, obedient servant, when he’s been portrayed as anything but?

And how did Jaime reach King’s Landing unperturbed by Daenerys exactly? She will burn alive anyone who refuses to bend the knees, like the Tarlys, but won’t capture the man who just tried to kill her? Cunning and exacting in her war of attrition against the Lannister Army, but too ignorant to wait five seconds for a one-handed man in clunky armor to surface above water? We’re supposed to instead speculate Dany assumed Jaime dead, I guess. Which wait. If that’s so, why does Dany then allow Tyrion to visit Jaime—the man who freaking tried to kill her!—and convince them of this really, really stupid plan? Wouldn’t Tyrion at least mention any of this to his brother?

The more you ask regarding narrative points and character motivations, the more questions actualize. Queries like why does Samwell Tarly, previously shown as hyper-observant and attentive to everyone, silence Gilly when discussing Rhaegar’s annulment and Davos suddenly describing M.I.A. Gendry as a “surrogate son,” despite having his own family we haven’t seen in seasons now. By now, we’ve learned answers won’t ever come. It’s become clear this season intends to service fans not the story. Benioff and Weiss will cut any narrative corner to materialize the dragon sequences and dramatic showdowns of which fans have long anticipated.

People want Jon to face the White Walkers again so Benioff and Weiss made it happen. They manifested some convoluted reasons to manufacture a Suicide Squad of troublemakers everyone loves like The Hound, Jorah (who immediately leaves Dany, his love, why?), Tormund, and Gendry. (Though we all know Suicide Squads aren’t really Suicide Squads until Will Smith literally asks, “What is this? Some kind of Suicide Squad?” and the audience can finally realize, OH, this was the Suicide Squad that was promised.) This random team-up makes about as much sense as the Suicide Squad movie—which, need I remind you, isn’t a good thing!

Game of Thrones isn’t exactly super expensive fanfic now, just lazy storytelling. The showrunners expect you to understand the confines of television episodes they have left. Though the story requires further exploration, understand these actors don’t want to reprise these roles forever. And understand that HBO needs to maintain massive popularity to justify the reported spin-offs they’re producing, so the story must appease the widest audience possible. But that’s the problem with Game of Thrones now—I don’t understand why much of anything happens. At least the dragons are cool.


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