Perhaps the end of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ series last week is the most important thing to happen on the TV-year that shall come to pass. Few series had such an impact in the medium as GoT, and after its eight years and equal amount of seasons, it was expected to be the subject of intense debates and views from its many millions of fans around the world. The whole month that preceded the last six episodes until the end of the series, was of great interest to me, both in watching the show itself, as was the public’s mass reactions on the internet. At the same time, I was trying to set in retrospect, all the seasons that preceded. This is why I do not intend to spend time on details.
From day one, there was an impression that GoT enjoyed an attention of quality on the production side. HBO managed to convey to a disregarded genre as ‘medieval fantasy’ (usually portrayed carelessly on television), a solid ambience and boldness to the extent of its narrative world that could convince the average viewer. At the same time, remained faithful to the basic outline of George R. R. Martin’s books, presenting a multitude of characters that flounder into a storm of political intrigue, corruption of power and blood-stained ‘Byzantine’ plots, as history has taught, an important part of the writer’s inspiration. On the fantasy side, the show also introduced the metaphysical existential threat ala ‘Walking Dead’ approaching from the north and how it gradually influenced all of the above.
On a directorial level, as the series progressed, the show was holding a high bar, and it could be percieved that with ever greater success, it gained the ability to provide all the more impressive scenes. Such was the megalithic wall in the North, or several medieval cities that each one was special in ‘color’ and its people had a unique, cultural fleck. The same held true of the epic battles that were increasingly erupting, especially in later phases where the fantasy element instilled the series with dragons, giants, undead and exploding alchemical fire. Indeed, the final eighth season offered us shots and effects of cinematographic quality, that we had hardly ever seen on television. All of the above has been elevated by the music of Ramin Djawadi, which may well be the hallmark of the series, since such a great number of people can recognize it, while never having themselves be concerned with the show.
And from here, on with the script, which is probably the part that ‘hurts’ most fans, not even mentioning the preceding book fans. Perhaps Martin himself has never admitted that his books have such a success because they try to combine two separate narrative schools. The sociological (which we see, among other things, in science fiction) and the moral / psychological (mainly in classical fantasy, gothic horror, etc.). I am not referring to other literary genres with more realism, because in them the separation is more subtle, if any. On the contrary, fantasy and sci-fi being obviously allegorical, are an ideal field of such narrative issues, mainly through observing characters interacting with the story’s environment. On a sociological level, we see how the worldbuilding molds the evolution of characters, offering us a panoramic sense of them. On the contrary, on a psychological level, we focus on the characters and their emotional microcosm, which is a more widespread aspect in the narrative of television as it is a much easier field for the development of plot.
In GoT, those who keep us invested emotionally are the characters and their journey through the psychological narrative. The (mostly unknown up ’till then) actors who were summoned to cope with the above expectations, performed well enough. On the other hand, what stimulates our thinking is the social extent of the narrative. A classic tool for “Game of Thrones” to stimulate us was a ‘reality check’, the shocking death of a central (as we believe) character. So we are restored to the panoramic view, and how the fact shifts us to an alternative development of the story as a whole. At the same time, we are played on our wishes and patience as spectators at the level of masochism, exciting us even further. Given that the script has to balance so much between these two narrative views, it makes it a complication to properly manage it. So it’s not a reason to be surprised if Martin takes so many years to complete each of his books.
On the other hand, Benioff and Weiss, the main screenwriters of the series, seem to have tried to remain faithful to this pattern, but were forced to deviate all the more, since their narrative was supposed to pass the books by, the ‘character pool’ was getting depleted due to ‘premature death’ and the series had to be concluded at some point. At the same time, they had been facing an increasingly fervent and demanding audience which in the age of media and information, they are obliged to take heed of. The ending of most characters (probably in agreement with Martin) was predetermined and in itself was not bad. But the end whatever it is, it’s worth because of the ‘journey’ and this, they were called to deliver on their own.
So, as it seems, they had to gradually return to the basic television storytelling mode with a focus on the psychological part rather than the sociological, something that became more prominent in the last two seasons. This created “holes” directly in the plot, with many themes being abandoned and characters shifting abruptly to a second degree of concern. At the same time, many events that were ‘built’ in the series to be immense in their outcome, seemed hurried and disappointing in the larger scope of the fantasy world. Finally, even with the turning point in the narrative towards the psychological part, the dialogues were simplified and the view points of many characters had lost in substance, lacking the ‘structure’ that had supported their roles in the majority of the story. All that Benioff and Weiss were left to do at the end was a failed fan service, as it is impossible to please millions of different views, about how so many different conflicts and characters should end up.
I wonder if with one or two more episodes like the previous seasons, they would have the opportunity to alleviate all the above missteps.
I stand by the fact that while the show’s script declined in quality over the last episodes, this was reasonable based to the circumstances, and only an overly charismatic ‘quill’ could lift the ‘weight’ of the task. But in the world of entertainment and especially television, these ‘quills’ are measured by the fingers. However, given that we are talking about television, “Game of Thrones” is an impressive achievement on every aspect of its genre and it is going to undeniably stand the test of time. It is no coincidence that five prequels have already been unnounced. Also we are going to have new fantasy series, promising similar production care, such as “Witcher” by Netflix, Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings” and “Wheel of Time” by Amazon and Sony.
So let’s not degrade ourselves in mindless ‘fan reactions’ and burn it all with a single “Dracarys”, ’tis a pity.