Allow me to jump straight in, no need to stand on ceremony… This comes unsurprisingly after the recent events in Season 4 Ep 8 – I shall reserve a special section which will render spoilers for later. However, this piece is provisionally targeting the story as a whole. And this is not about whether reading the books or watching the show is better or worse. I’m tackling the nagging feeling which has been felt by quite a few viewers and critics alike, that there’s something wrong with Game of Thrones. Speaking of Season 4 though, one journalist asked if GoT has gone too far, but my personal view is that this is simply a symptom of a deeper problem. Although one could argue that since that question is being aired and debated,means that the show has at the very least pushed the boundaries of ‘acceptable’ entertainment – in this case in a bad way…
The flaw: the lack of HOPE.
We’ve been dealt many shockers and sucker punches in previous seasons as our hopes were first eroded then smashed completely, only for GRRM to rebuild it ever so tentatively, only to tear it all down again, and sometimes grind it into the ground and mash it with blood.
Story: We’ve watched, engrossed in the personal battles, sideshows and interweaving storylines, all whilst keeping an eye on the bigger picture developing. That bigger picture though, may also be an issue. But in any event, most good stories invariably encompass the age old good-vs-evil, with the most memorable tales overwhelmingly relating to good overcoming evil, through very trying and dangerous odds of course. But in GoT, things turn sour very quickly, but in general we’re not really given enough small victories. Even the good elements have eroded, innocence will inevitably be lost as everyone falls into a big pit that’s this vast grey area because the shadow of the darker elements falls on everyone at some point, and we simply distinguish between them via their varying shades. As a writer, story is essential, writing and reading a passion of mine, and added to that my empathetic nature, and you have someone who takes these things rather seriously because they all lie so close to my heart. In addition to this, there are my beliefs. I don’t know about you, but I believe in heaven and hell.
All men must die – a very apt motto, because it applies to life. This life, but… could this seemingly cool statement be an underlying weakness. Death is man’s unsolvable conundrum and endless fascination because it’s a problem we, within our own strength, cannot solve or escape from. So ask youself; what has Game of Thrones taught us about death that we didn’t already know? It’s no wonder that in films like Gladiator or Braveheart, the afterlife was always an overriding theme, instilling otherwise tragic stories with a true sense of hope, that there’s something more than this…
Between George R.R. Martin’s writing and the actors doing such sterling jobs, GoT does very accurately portray the depravity of man. Many of these period fantasy tales however borrow inspiration from books such as the Bible… looking for Leviathans, Giants, Demons, Angels, talking animals, spirits and Dragons (first mentioned in the Book of Job, believed to be written somewhere between 1500 – 900 BC – which also coincidentally happens to be a great and relevant poetic parallel in that its overriding theme is: “why do good/righteous men suffer?”) … all set in times (we believe) were way more brutal than the age we live in now.
Job 14, he questions God:
“7 “At least there is hope for a tree:
If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
and its new shoots will not fail.
… man dies and lies prostrate; Man expires, and where is he?“
18 “But as a mountain erodes and crumbles
and as a rock is moved from its place,
19 as water wears away stones
and torrents wash away the soil,
so you destroy a person’s hope.
20 You overpower them once for all, and they are gone;
you change their countenance and send them away.
21 If their children are honored, they do not know it;”
“Tomorrow, if all literature was to be destroyed and it was left to
me to retain one work only, I should save Job.” — Victor Hugo
“…the greatest poem, whether of ancient or modern literature.”
— Alfred Lord Tennyson on The Book of Job
- Oswald Chambers’ summary of the book: “Job – How to suffer”
I mentioned small victories earlier because it leads us to another old adage, that of ‘does the end justify the means?’ Or, would you trade one life for a thousand or vice versa? What do you sacrifice within yourself when you compromise – when you sully your own good nature?
Game of Thrones is a work of fiction, yes, but then why do we get so invested in it, why does it ensnare us so? Art imitates life, and a writer paints a picture with his words to portray a message; sometimes, as CS Lewis once said (I’m paraphrasing) you write and your work inherits a greater meaning and a deeper message or moral, which you may not have originally intended. Some say us writers have a god-complex with the worlds and characters we create, not simply in manipulating these stories to our will, but also the impression we leave with readers, shaping and bending imaginations, and thence sowing the seeds for our minds to court a deeper meaning via this thing humanity has been so drawn to since the beginning of time – a story.
Lets look at the latest developments and what it tells us.
“Any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under the cover of fiction without their knowing it.” — C. S. Lewis
SPOILERS —- Season 4, (EP 8) — SPOILERS AHEAD
I’ll say this; Referring to The Mountain-vs-The Viper, I believe the TV series made it worse than the book. Of course it’ll be so automatically because you have that visual stimulus, but even the book’s description tells it slightly differently – to my knowledge it does not say The Mountain crushes Red Viper’s head… (which is medically practically impossible for a human to do – and the subtle difference from the books means it was an addition from the screenwriters – so ask yourself: why?) Even those who read the books said they didn’t expect THAT. Having seen the characters on screen you identify with them more because, in this case especially, the character was played so delectably by Pedro Pascal, deviously likeable and charming – adding more dimension to the role, which made his demise harder to palette. In fact there’s an overwhelming consensus from fans that Pascal’s Oberyn was the coolest character on the show (of all 4 seasons) – and there’s no substitute for cool. In the books I hear he’s introduced a lot earlier, so here its almost just to build up to the shocker. But in The Viper we had the perfect foil for the rest of the despicable characters; he was not a saint, was morally a little ambiguous but was endearing because of his noble search for justice to an act of pure evil. And what do we get, yet another case of justice Lost – I don’t care that Gregor “confessed”, actually it wasn’t a confession, it was bragging about how he’s killing Oberyn in the same way he killed his sister. Having your eyes gouged and head compressed whilst hearing it (if he heard it at all over his own screams and dying pain); that would not have given Oberyn any peace as he passed from that world.
To his story then, his quest: akin to Robb Stark, who’s strand is cut short from fulfilling its noble intent. It was perhaps one of the ugliest (and evil) deaths ever captured on film, and that is an injustice even in itself – to die so horribly. The fact that he laced his Spears blade with poison is little comfort. It’s a question of principle. (I, in fact most of the audience watching, would’ve written it differently – and not for the sake of a happy ending either). It’s not the fact that The Viper died (well, not entirely), it’s just the way his death was used. Was this brutality unnecessary? In their quest to upstage themselves, they relied on an evil act that felt, looked and simply is, wrong. In the books he pummeled his face with a couple of blows until it ‘collapsed’ so they are similar in theory, I just think we’re familiar with the ‘boxing’ death, just not the ‘squeeze-my-skull’ death. The only show that shocked me and actually put me off from watching because it was so bleak was that infamous (also HBO production) Oz. References have been made to another piece of celluloid called ‘Irreversible’, a brutal film which I haven’t seen (not sure that I want to), but the difference here is, that GoT has a waaay bigger and wider viewership (partnered with a bestselling book series), so the effects are felt a lot more. Also, we sympathized with the Viper, his motivation, his conviction – we believed in him because he believed in himself, and then… we get the most shocking scene in ‘mainstream’ television, and that after shows like Sopranos, Spartacus and Hannibal. This actually reminded me of Brad Pitt’s character and his death in The Counselor for some reason; I think its because of the effect an inescapable crushing death has – that feeling or idea of being overwhelmed. Together with all else it leaves a feeling of pointlessness.
So I’ve tried looking at things objectively; yes its mainstream TV, but then again its HBO – are we to expect anything else? People reference other shows and the gore therein,or the beheading’s in GoT but I believe they lack context. The overriding factor remains, the GOOD characters of this show, seem to suffer the most, and not just suffer; they die humiliating, inhumane and barbaric deaths, and in Oberyn’s case, they leaned on horror elements. But in the end we’re mostly left deflated… and queezy.
THE ANSWER is simply: Shock value (every season has delivered those moments, usually at a similar stage: 1. Ned Stark’s beheading, 2. ‘The Battle of the Blackwater’ where Tyrion received an axe to the face, and then last season’s infamous 3. ‘The Red Wedding’.)
Too many losses. Still with this infamous episode 8 and why it is one of the worst episodes of GoT (at least in terms of character developments) – We simply saw too much degradation. Here’s a rundown of the negatives:
- Arya’s near maniacal laughing – illustrating how much she’s been corrupted.
- Sansa’s manipulation – she’s crossed a line she cannot come back from. She was a picture of damaged but still pure innocence – that is now lost.
- Varys betraying Tyrion – a character that was a general favourite, especially after last season’s antics, where his coolness factor was on the rise, and hence likeability, but now, I can say that feel less invested in him now.
- Lord Bolton ruling the North – along with his evil bastard son. Yeah it’s a natural story progression, but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.
- Bronn – ‘downgraded’, not so much as Varys because this was actually a nice tie-up and a development that’s true to his character (and no one wanted to see him fight and die to The Mnt.), but that doesn’t halt the fact that his character has effectively been written out of the greater story, whereas previously it felt like he was slightly underused in the hopes that he’d have his time to shine.
- Jorah’s banishment – another cool character. He represented many of us audience members in our love/admiration for Daenarys. A disgraced Knight is now disgraced again and effectively it fractures and then polarises an element in the narrative that we firmly favoured. Khaleesi’s story strand, by my reckoning, is lesser for his departure.
As you can see, that’s practically the whole episode, minus the one glimmer of light that was our time with Brienne & Podrick, Oh, and Gilly & the baby surviving, the whole episode was a downer, subtracting more from the good, and ending with a stomach churning shocker.
And we’re left with what?
The unbalanced good (all good) – are we not always searching for balance. However, in our morbid curiosity we will continue to watch the show, due to that and the fact that it’s still rich with great characters (those left anyway) and an intriguing storyline – Personally Brienne and Jon Snow are like the only pure and noble people left, of note, with the latter’s about to go to war – perhaps that’s reason enough to continue watching. It has been mentioned that we the audience have collectively become, or are represented by, the character of ‘Reek’ – perhaps that’s GRRM’s inside joke.
Victory in defeat, and defeat in victory – the former applies to Oberyn sort of , whilst the latter I believe applies to the Song of Ice and Fire in general – good may triumph… but in the end, when we count the losses, it seems inevitable in this instance that it will ultimately add up to a hollow victory… amounting to a hollow story – and that’s NOT a good story…
I will say that I have an idea about who’s story Game of Thrones actually is, as in which specific character’s story is being told here, because we need a protagonist, but at this rate, even if I’m right, it feels rather superfluous in context of the greater elements at play. If you numb the audience to the extent that they don’t care about the character’s – because what’s the point if you’ll lose them anyway – then you betray the story.
“Classical story design charts the vast interconnectedness of life from the obvious to the impenetrable, from the intimate to the epic, from individual identity to the international infosphere. It lays bare the network of chain-linked causalities that when understood, give life meaning.”
Robert McKee, Story
These are my thoughts perhaps vented as a cathartic exercise in the aftermath of recent events, but what say you? Do I have a leg to stand on; Yay or nay? In S 1, the main character was Ned Stark, in S 2 arguably Robb Stark, & in S 3 Tyrion — they drove the central plot, so what of S 4,who’s driving this season?
FYI – GoT is HBO’s most watched show – with all the nudity, sex, violence and gore, in medieval fantasy times; its kind of the perfect show for this network!