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April 30, 2019

Was Game of Thrones Disappointing, or a Disaster?

I actually thought it was all right, but then, 1, I haven't really cared very much about the show since it got bad during season 5, or the books since they got bad in books 4 and 5, and 2, I've had time to prepare for GOT's no-win scenario.

Spoilers below.

The no-win scenario I mean is the no-win scenario the books and the show set up for themselves:

The books, and the show, introduced themselves a hybrid of fantasy and a sort of "realistic" alt-history. The fantasy elements included dragons, prophecies, magic, a Chosen One (or several Chosen Ones), and a world-threatening supernatural threat.

The "realistic" alt-history elements involved barely-disguised fantasy analogues of real-world historical wars and massacres -- the York-Lancaster Wars of the Roses become the Stark-Lannister wars, the Black Dinner becomes the Red Wedding, etc. -- and lots of political intrigues. The main threats here are human, and I do mean completely human -- not human wizards, for example, but human schemers and plotters and murderers.

The show was both of those things, but it never really established if it was more of one than the other, leaving readers and viewers to imagine it was mostly their preferred type of story.

Some people thought it was really a fantasy story with some bloody, gritty real-world historical analogues bolted on to add a veneer of realism.

Other people thought it was really a dark, morally gray story about people plotting and killing each other for political power, with some fantasy elements thrown in to give the story some genre commercial appeal and to give the heroes something to fight when they were delaying the ultimate conflict by not fighting each other directly for seven years.

Even the saga's titles get at this dilemma -- the show calls itself by the name of the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, suggesting the real, ultimate, important conflict is just over the struggle for political domination of the continent.

The book series, however, is called "A Song of Ice and Fire," which references the prophecy of the Chosen One who will bring the dawn and overcome the forces of the Long Night.

So which is it-- I, Claudius with dragons and blood magic, or Lord of the Rings with incest and rape?

Which story is it in its essence, at its heart?

After seven years of the show, and eighteen years of the books, not deciding on what kind of story it was at its heart, the story eventually had to choose by picking which conflict would be the first conflict resolved -- thus indicating it's the secondary, unimportant conflict -- and which would be the last and most important conflict resolved.

Well, the show decided this Sunday, and a lot of people are very disappointed to find out that it's always been a show about political jockeying and pointless cruelty in pursuit of power, and that the magic and supernatural threat elements were just window-dressing around that central plot.

I have a somewhat odd position on this -- I started as someone who really favored the political intrigue and mystery and geneology stuff and really did not care about the supernatural stuff. I saw the dragons and magic as nice enough fluff for world-building and brand identity, but I really didn't care about them, and wanted them to be cleared off the board for the final fight against the hated Lannisters and their allies.

But over time, I've shifted. The White Walkers were a metaphor for death itself, and specifically, death in war. The point of them was always that while humans scheme for power and send men to die in wars, or pursue vengeance over previous killings, they're always adding to the Army of the Dead.

That ultimately, if a war goes on long enough, people start to forget why they are even motivated to die and kill in great numbers in the first place. That if a war goes on long enough, the real enemy becomes war itself.

I feel the show actually succeeded in making that point -- to the extent that I don't care at all who wins the Iron Throne. To the extent that I don't care if anyone gets vengeance on Cersei -- I mean, my God, there have been dozens of major characters killed since that first episode, and millions (probably) of people on this fictitious planet.

Who really cares that Cersei is a despicable woman, with this huge pile of bodies stacked up all around?

From the beginning of the show, I just wanted the Starks to conquer the Lannisters and kill them.

But with so many people dead since then, and with the story taking great pains to show that even very evil men (like Jaime Lannister) are redeemable, and that the difference between "evil" and merely "opposed" is often a slight one -- I don't really care about the vengeance plot any longer.

On top of that, the story really killed most of the vilest and/or most formidable Lannisters and Lannister allies already, some years ago.

Who's left among the Lannisters and their allies? Tywin, a cruel man but very formidable as an opponent, was murdered by his son in season 4.

Walder Frey, a vile old man and assassin, got his throat slit in season 6 or 7.

Jaime Lannister, the wickedest of the wicked clan, has gone through hell and as come out the other side as a changed man. Or rather: He's changed a bit, and our perceptions of him have changed even more, as we found out he was never the complete monster we originally assumed.

Balon Greyjoy was barely a character but if you didn't like him, he died in the beginning of season 4.

Roose Bolton? Killed by his son in season 5, I think. Randal Snow, done away with in season 6.

The only real villain left is Cersei Lannister, who, while a nasty person, is also incompetent when it comes to anything except cruelty and betrayal. She has a very limited skill-set -- she's a danger to you if you're in bed with her, but not much of a danger if she's on the other side of a battlefield.

They've added in Euron Greyjoy as someone who's supposed to be some kind of major new villain, but he's goofy on the tv show. (People say he's more interesting in the books but no Greyjoys interest me in the books or tv show, and I skimmed all his chapters, so I have no idea if he's interesting or not. He seemed to me like a very late addition to the plot to really matter, and I just skimmed anything having to do with him.)

So who really is left to beat in battle, or get vengeance on?

I suppose Cersei will manage to kill one or two fan favorite characters through skullduggery and assassination, and then we'll be all angry at her again.

Maybe Bronn really will attempt to assassinate Jaime on Cersie's orders, and Brienne will step in front of the bolt to save him, and she'll die in his arms.

And we'll say, "Oh, that Cersei is so mean."

But... eh. I think a lot more people should have died in episode 3, so a lot of characters seem to me now to already be walking dead men (and women).

At some point I stopped thinking Jon was a putz to only care about the threat posed to all of humanity by the white walkers, and came to agree with him -- who cares about the Iron Throne, which, the story has reminded us countless times, is ugly, uncomfortable to sit on, and brings death to most who sit on it?

But that's now the big remaining plot-line to be resolved. That, and who gets the Final Deathblow on Cersei Lannister, a somewhat pathetic woman whose evil can be partly excused by the fact that much of the evil she's done has been in service of protecting her children and also, the fact that she is clearly mentally ill and emotionally unstable.


I think this was a no-win situation because whatever plot-line wound up being the real, central plot-line of the series, half the viewers/readers were going to be disappointed.

I suppose some credit is due to George R. R. Martin and the producers of the show -- the central point has always been that war is a horrible thing to endure, and that anyone who participates in it wishes it to end.

And after eight and a half years of war in Westeros (I picked up the books after watching the first season), really, all I want at this point is for it to end.

I actually thought the last episode was okay, except for the fact that now fighting ability in Westeros is determined by how many YASSS KWEEN SLAYs a particular character picks up from feminist fangirls Twitter (I'm thinking partly about the Stark girl, and even more about the Little Bear girl). Disappointing because the show did not shift to caring more about the supernatural threat, as I had done, but stuck to its original focus of vengeance and conquest.

But that's sort of what I thought it would do. I think it might have been better to have the supernatural threat win in one episode, and then have the armies of the living regather and repair themselves to win it in the rematch -- thus at least making this threat seem like more of a bona-fide threat, rather than a plot contrivance to reduce Dany's army down to something that Cersei might actually be able to defeat -- but for some reason they really wanted to be done with this season in as few as episodes as possible.

But I knew that, going in, too. Last season was ridiculously rushed -- just one Plot Point being dropped, hurriedly, to get the pieces in place for the endgame -- and I knew this season would be rushed as well.

The producers of the show are as sick of the war in Westeros as anyone living in Westeros.

So I was mostly prepared to be somewhat disappointed. And so I thought the show was... okay. Not great, but I stopped expecting great a long time ago.

What did you guys think?

Did it jump the zombie dire shark for you? And if so, when?

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posted by Ace of Spades at 05:00 PM

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