All That Matters is the Ending: Game of Thrones

Well, here we are again. I keep saying I’m going to stop writing these articles, and yet stories keep screwing up their most crucial element, pulling me right back in again.

I want to make it absolutely clear who I’m laying the blame on. It’s not the actors, nor the production team, nor any of the support staff who put in a mindboggling amount of work into this show. No, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Weiss and Benioff. Had HBO come to them and said “this show is too expensive, wrap it up in 13 episodes,” I would have understood this season. Under such tight time constraints, this is perhaps the best we could have hoped for. That’s not what happened.

HBO would have loved to have kept this show going. This wasn’t going to be a case of a show going longer than it should have, there was still story to be told. But the showrunners Weiss and Benioff told HBO they wanted to end their show in 13 episodes. And as we’ve just seen, that was a woefully inadequate time frame to tell this story. So much went so wrong, so quickly, and the question that will be asked for years to come is this:

What was the rush?

All That Matters is the Ending:

Game of Thrones

As I rewatched this season of Game of Thrones, four things struck me as having gone wrong. First and most strikingly, there was absolutely no consistency in the writing. Then there was the fact that characters began acting completely contrary to their established character. Piled on top of that was the dialogue this season, which was almost nonexistent when compared to earlier seasons, and what little there was mostly expository. And finally, most critically, the finale failed to emotionally resonate with the audience because in the end, there was no point to this story.

Any one of these faults the show could have overcome by the sheer quality of its pedigree, but all four together managed to destroy one of the greatest TV shows ever made.

Inconsistent Storytelling Led to a Lack of Drama

I still can’t believe that somehow, in this scene, there are tens of thousands of soldiers still alive and in fighting condition.

Game of Thrones spent the last 8 years building one of the most elaborately detailed fantasy worlds ever seen in a TV show. From the rich history of Westeros to the brutally realistic political system that controlled it, everything felt real. It felt realistic, even though it featured dragons and zombies, because it paid such close attention to detail. Distance, time, and most importantly, the consequences of character’s actions, were treated with respect. Nothing was treated with respect this season. People and armies appeared where they needed to with no explanation, and the story would contradict itself in the course of single episode. It completely shattered the audience’s suspension of disbelief, the very foundation of a good story.

And the thing is, I can forgive a lot. I can forgive inconsistent writing if it’s accidental, attention to detail in in world-building is a learned skill like any other and inexperienced writers can make mistakes; hell, even the most experienced writers will occasionally slip and contradict themselves.

But that’s not what happened this season.

These were not simple mistakes like forgetting a coffee cup on a table or a water bottle on the ground, these were conscious decisions. Weiss and Benioff made a choice to have Daenerys’ army respawn like video game characters after the Battle of Winterfell. They chose to make the scorpions supersonic, laser-guided super weapons and then immediately render them useless the following episode. They wanted their story to have certain scenes and hit specific plot points, but didn’t want to take the time to get there properly. They wanted to get to the end as quickly as possible and the story suffered for it. Was even destroyed by it.

“No time to finish telling the story, we want to make Star Wars!”

Thing is, the characters overcoming these challenges would have made for a great story. With most of Daenerys’ army dead, how would she fight Cersei? We could have had an episode or two of Daenerys forging alliances with the kingdom of Dorne, while Sansa rallied the armies of The Vale. We could have Yara return with troops from the Iron Islands, and had a great scene of her mourning her brother while also celebrating his glorious death and redemption. Finally Daenerys could march on King’s Landing at the head of a true coaltion, united in their single aim of destroying Cersei.

When the battle came, instead of Drogon managing to destroy all the scorpions due to convenient scene cuts and a fundamental shift in how they operated for no reason, let the scorpions continue to be a threat. Give us a daring siege where the first objective of the battle are disabling the scorpions on the walls. Show us Greyworm and Jon fighting on the walls, and after hours of intense fighting, lighting fire to the scorpions. Show us their retreat from the wall as dusk falls, and Drogon swoops in to light the walls, and its defenders, on fire. Then cut to that night with a scene of Davos Seaworth smuggling in a handful of Daenerys’ best warriors, led by Arya, to infiltrate the city and eliminate the remaining scorpions guarding the palace. And after they’ve succeeded, show us Arya sneaking into the Red Keep, her objective certain… and then roll credits.

Instead of any of that, the plot decided to simply hand Daenerys back her army and rendered the scorpions useless. In doing so, these scenes were robbed of the conflict that was badly needed to hit the emotional high notes they were aiming for.

How do the characters overcome the obstacles standing in their way? That’s the fundamental question a writer has to answer in a story to create conflict and drama. If the writers answer that question with “because they’re the heroes,” then the story is robbed of its emotional core. There was no emotional response (aside from anger and disappointment) to the last season precisely for this reason. There was no sense of danger, no challenge to the characters, and no opportunity for growth. Without that conflict there is no story.

I never thought I would be bored watching a dragon burn a city.

It was not only damaging to the story, it was disrespectful to the audience. Any storyteller should treat their audience with at least a modicum of respect, after all they’re investing their time and emotions in your story.

Showing an entire ceiling caving in on Jaime and Cersei, and then revealing the next episode that it was only a couple of loose bricks coming down, is not respecting your audience. That’s treating your audience like complete fucking idiots. It’s the equivalent of a magician trying to make an elephant disappear not through smoke and mirrors, but by saying “the elephant is now gone.” And then blaming the audience when it gets mad that they can see the elephant is still there.

The entire room, including most of the supporting archways, collapsing.
Tyrion unearths them by moving seven bricks. Literally, that’s not sarcasm, I counted.

Game of Thrones was the show that built itself on respecting the consequences of a character’s actions, regardless of the outcome. People talk about all the shocking and unexpected deaths: Ned, Robb, Catelyn, Tywin, etc. But in reality you could see these deaths coming from a mile away, these weren’t M Night Shyamalan-esque twists, they were the natural result of the character’s actions. The only shocking thing about their deaths was that they were allowed to die. Plot armor had become so ubiquitous in fantasy stories that suddenly experiencing one where our favorite characters were vulnerable to dying was a shock to the system.

This season the characters had plot armor so thick it shattered our suspension of disbelief. Or characters died because the plot demanded they die, rather that it being a result of their actions. How the hell did Missandei get captured when all the characters were on the same boat and the rest washed up on shore? Greyworm does tell her to “get to the skiff” but how does that lead to her capture exactly? You’d think on a boat she’d have been the only one able to escape, and everyone else gets captured.

Yet the plot demanded that Missandei die to give Daenerys’ descent into madness a veneer of credibility, and so she died. Even though Cersei, a devious plotter who tried to plan for every contingency, would likely have kept Missandei alive as a human shield and bargaining chip should she lose the battle. Which leads nicely into my next point.

The Characters Became Strangers

Tyrion end of Season 8 of Game of Thrones.
I don’t recognize Tyrion in this scene, and it’s not because of the (immaculately groomed despite weeks of captivity) beard.

The characters we met this season may have had the same names, and the same actors playing them, but they were not the characters we’d grown to love. Everyone acted completely out of character, doing things this season that they would never have done in previous ones.

There is one scene that encapsulates this problem perfectly: the negotiation with Cersei, when Tyrion is trying to convince her to surrender. This scene plays out in exact opposition to every character’s established traits.

The old, better written Tyrion would never have suggested this stupid plan. In fact if someone else had, he would have called them a fucking idiot. Based on everything he knows about Cersei, her ruthless desire for power and her obsession with her children, the old Tyrion would know that Cersei would never surrender. He would also have known that standing in front of the walls of King’s Landing would have resulted in all of them dying, Cersei doesn’t give a shit about the rules of war. She would have killed them all.

Cersei doesn’t, which is completely out of character. Cersei wants to protect her child at any cost and retain the Iron Throne she’s fought so hard to sit upon. She’s never cared about the etiquette of chivalrous warfare, she wouldn’t care that Daenerys was there under a flag of truce. Her greatest rival, her advisers, including the hated brother she’s wanted to kill for so long, and Drogon are within range of her scorpions and probably her archers as well. This was the perfect opportunity to end the war in a single blow with no risk to her own troops, and Cersei of all people, would take it.

Then there’s Daenerys, she gives people only one chance. The Masters of Meereen, the Khals of the Dothraki, the Tarlys: She offered them all one chance to surrender and serve her, and when they refused she killed them. Daenerys gave Cersei her one and only chance last season, to swear a truce until the Night King is dealt with, and Cersei broke her agreement. Even if Cersei had surrendered in this scene, Daenerys would never have accepted. So her even agreeing to this charade is out of character. And as for “let the people see I tried to stop this,” reasoning, who the hell was going to see this meeting except soldiers? It’s not like this was televised on Westeros CNN.

Seriously guys, just open fire on Drogon, and let your archers take out the others. War over.

Of course the character that was least recognizable this season was Jaime Lannister. He was easily one of the most nuanced characters in both the books and the show. I started off hating Jaime, his smug arrogant air of superiority just pissed me off. Add to that the fact that he killed the former king so that his father Tywin could take the city? He was despicable.

And then I found out the real reason he killed The Mad King. The king was about to burn the entire city to the ground rather than let his enemies take it, and Jaime did exactly what a knight is supposed to do: he picked up his sword and protected the innocent. And for this act of heroism, he was shamed. “Kingslayer” was his title now. His arrogance and aloofness was the armor he wore to protect himself from the judgement of his peers, so he could pretend it didn’t wound him to his core.

And then he was captured, and Catelyn Stark gave him the one thing he’d always wanted: a noble quest. Find two innocent girls in the middle of a war and return them safely to their mother. Brienne went with him and in her he found something he’d never found before: someone who would listen to him.

You think the “honorable” Ned Stark wanted to hear my side? He judged me guilty the moment he set eyes on me.

– Jaime Lannister to Brienne

All Jaime wanted was for someone, anyone to listen to his side of the story. To not dismiss him as a monster because he killed the man he was sworn to protect, but to listen to why he had to do it and how hard it was for him, despite everything The Mad King had done. To listen to how much it still haunted him.

It was painful going back to this incredibly powerful scene in “Kissed by Fire” in season 3, because it made me realize how truly awful season 8 is by comparison.

“Help! The Kingslayer!”

– Brienne of Tarth

“Jaime…my name is Jaime.”

Jaime Lannister

Thanks to Brienne, Jaime was able to start seeing himself for who he was, rather than how the world saw him. It was a beautiful arc of redemption and personal growth. Now that’s not to say that Jaime couldn’t have ended up back with Cersei. He loved Cersei, for better or worse, and under the right circumstances I could see him going back to her.

Maybe he would go back to convince her to surrender peacefully, as he’d tried to convince the Mad King before her. To sail away with him into exile and let Daenerys have the seven kingdoms, that nothing else mattered as long as they were together. That’s not the story the show was telling us though.

She’s hateful… and so am I.

– Jaime Lannister

That’s his whole justification for going back to her. Multiple seasons of Jaime becoming a better person, washed away by that single line. I had hoped that maybe this was a “throwing stones at a dog so it runs away” scene, that he was just saying something awful so Brienne wouldn’t follow him. But no, he seems to believe it, and it’s made even worse with this line:

When have I been able to convince Cersei of anything?

– Jaime Lannister

Try. If not for yourself, if not for her, then for any one of the million people in that city. Innocent or otherwise.

-Tyrion Lannister

To be honest, I never really cared much for them.

-Jaime Lannister

Never cared much for them? Interesting considering the core of his character’s trauma and dramatic arc has revolved around breaking his oath to protect his king, in order to protect those very people. Compare that line to episode 7 in season 3, when he tells Qyburn, with pride, how he saved the city:

And how many people have you saved?

– Qyburn

Half a million. The population of King’s Landing.

– Jaime Lannister

Now it could be that Jaime is simply reassuming his arrogant and aloof attitude to once again protect himself emotionally… but it was up to the writers to show that happening. But they didn’t give themselves time to show the degradation of his character to this extent, so none of this made sense. Though even if they’d given themselves the time, it likely wouldn’t have helped since, as you may have noticed…

The Dialogue Was Awful

My face every time a character spoke.

Even more so than the amazing world-building, Game of Thrones made its mark with the complex and riveting dialogue it created. It used the dialogue to not only give depth to its characters but also to create the conflict in the story. Most of the running time of Game of Thrones has been spent showing people talking to each other, and that story was all the richer for it.

This season the dialogue is shockingly sparse, and what little there is of it, is expository. Most of the lines of season 8 are wasted either explaining the plot or a character’s motivations to the audience. Now obviously dialogue is supposed to reveal a character’s motivations, but by showing the audience, not telling them.

Since the show tries to use Daenerys’s crucifixion of The Masters to justify her later burning of King’s Landing, let’s use that as a good example of dialogue.

Truly one of the most disturbing moments in the show.

Daenerys finds these children crucified as she marches on Meereen, as a warning from The Masters. Here’s how the scene plays out:

There’s one on every mile marker between here and Meereen.

– Ser Jorah Mormont

How many miles are there between here and Meereen.

-Daenerys Stormborn

One-hundred-and-sixty-three, your grace.

– Ser Jorah

I’ll have our men to ride ahead and bury them. You don’t need to see this.

-Ser Barristan Selmy

You will do no such thing. I will see each and every one of their faces. Remove that collar before you bury her.

-Daenerys Stormborn

This is such a short exchange, but it conveys everything we as the audience needs to know about Daenerys’ state of mind. She’s calm and controlled in this scene, there is no crying or screaming, but you can feel the seething rage. There was never any doubt about what was going to happen to The Masters when she finally took the city.

Remind me, Ser Jorah, how many children did The Masters nail to mile posts?

-Daenerys Stormborn

Daenerys asks this question already knowing the answer, it’s rhetorical, even though Jorah does answer her.

One-hundred-sixty-three, Khaleesi.

– Ser Jorah Mormont

She didn’t want to hear the answer, she wanted to revel in the schadenfreude of the justice she was about to inflict upon The Masters. She wanted to take a moment to remember the face of every single one of those 163 children, so she could fully appreciate the satisfaction of watching 163 masters suffer the same fate. And because the dialogue is so effective at conveying Daenerys’ state of mind, we find ourselves reveling in watching The Masters crucified as well. It was this kind of dialogue that foreshadowed her eventual fall.

Now let’s look at Daenery’s dialogue when she decides to burn King’s Landing.

Oh that’s right… there isn’t any.

We don’t get any insight into Daenery’s state of mind, because she doesn’t get any dialogue to convey it. Instead what we get gems like these:

I worry about her state of mind.

-Varys

She hasn’t seen anyone since we returned. Hasn’t left her chambers, hasn’t accept any food. […] We both know what she’s about to do.

-Varys

We get other characters telegraphing (not foreshadowing, that’s more a subtle art) Daenery’s fall into madness. We never get to hear from what is arguably the most important character in the entire series. The closest we get is when she confront Tyrion about Varys knowing about Jon’s true heritage, and again it’s 90% expository, simply recounting what we already know.

Someone has betrayed me.

-Daenerys

Yes.

-Tyrion Lannister

Jon Snow.

-Daenerys

You know what, I’m not even going to bother transcribing the rest; she just recounts everything that happened in the previous episode, they should have just made it a narration for the “last time on Game of Thrones” recap. It conveys nothing about her character, doesn’t give us the slightest inkling that she’s about to level an entire city. More than anything else, it’s that lack of insight into Daenerys’ thinking that made the destruction of King’s Landing feel like such a whiplash inducing twist in the narrative.

And somehow, that isn’t even the worst example. Let’s look at at Jon and Tyrion talking about what Daenery’s did to King’s Landing in episode 6.

It was vanity to think I could guide her. Our Queen’s nature is fire and blood.

– Tyrion Lannister

You think our house words are stamped on our bodies when we’re born and that’s who we are?

– Jon Snow

First of all, I just want to point out that this line of dialogue is way too long. “You think our house words are stamped on our bodies” that’s all you need here, the rest is unnecessary, but I don’t want to get into the minutiae of dialogue construction. Secondly, for the sweet love of the Old Gods and the New, Jon, she literally just took the city with fire and blood. This part of the conversation would only make sense if it happened before she set an entire city on fire. Just a few sentences before this exchange, Jon says he won’t try to justify what happened. This is him immediately trying to justify it:

Cersei left her no choice. She saw her friend beheaded. She saw her dragon shot out of the sky.

– Jon Snow

And here’s is why this whole scene is nothing but expository dialogue: the writers are trying to justify Daenery’s actions to the audience (almost as if they knew the previous episode wouldn’t be well received). It’s so badly written it almost breaks the fourth wall. Tyrion’s job in this scene is to emphasize the horror of what Daenerys did last episode, and Jon’s job is to defend her actions and make them seem reasonable. That’s it. This scene does nothing to build any kind of drama, there’s no characterization going on, in fact it once again makes Jon act out of character.

I really wish Jon had just died here, rather than having to watch the slow, fading death of his character.

Jon, like Ned, is an honorable man. Now I thought his character arc was building towards being an honorable man, while also having the pragmatism to do bad things for a greater good when it was called for (IE abandoning Sam in the battle of Winterfell.) That ultimately doesn’t go anywhere, which I’ll come to in a moment, but Jon is still an honorable man.

After Jon joins the Night’s Watch and they first visit Craster’s Keep, Jon stands up to Craster for abusing his daughter-wives, and is angry at Mormont for allowing these abuses to continue. Later when Mance Rayder is captured, he tries to convince him to surrender and bend the knee to Stannis, so that his people can live. And finally, at Hardhome, he risks everything to save an enemy he’s been taught to hate.

There’s nothing in his character that would let him look at Daenerys burning an entire city to the ground, likely killing hundreds of thousands of people, and saying “yeah, they had it coming.” The only way this could work is if Jon were so madly in love with Daenerys that he was blinded by it. Yet all we were ever shown of their romance was a single night together at the end of last season, and then some romantic dragon flights. There wasn’t enough time to devoted to their relationship to justify this kind of devotion, especially since most of the season was dedicated to Jon looking uncomfortable after finding out she was his aunt.

It’s easy to judge when you’re standing far from the battlefield.

– Jon Snow
I wonder if the entirety of Jon’s script for this scene was just a sticky note that said “look bewildered.”

Jon was looking just as horrified as Tyrion as they watched the city burn, he tried to hold back his own soldiers to stop them participating in the slaughter.

When she murdered the the slavers of Astapor, no one but the slavers complained, after all they were evil men. When she crucified hundreds of Meerenese nobles, who could argue, they were evil men. The Dothraki Khals she burned alive, they would have done worse to her. Everywhere she goes, evil men die and we cheer her for it. And she grows more powerful and more sure that she is good and right.

Tyrion Lannister

And here is the cardinal sin of this scene: it’s useless. We shouldn’t need the show to recount all the things Daenery’s has done to justify the previous episode. If this season had been better written, Daenery’s turn to madness would have made sense, and this scene would be unnecessary. As it is, it’s a pitiful attempt to explain away Daenery’s sharp and unjustified turn into a madwoman, and it fails to do even that.

Again, any one of these problems, perhaps the show could have overcome by the sheer strength of quality that had come before. Yet when you combine these things with its biggest problem, that ultimately Game of Thrones isn’t about anything, we’re truly left with an ending worse than anyone could have imagined.

In the End, Game of Thrones Wasn’t About Anything

I wasn’t expecting Game of Thrones to get a happily ever after… and yet here we are.

After the final episode aired, I was browsing twitter when I saw someone post this article, which had a rather shocking quote from Benioff and Weiss.

When I asked Benioff and Weiss if it was possible to infer any overall intentionality to the upcoming 10 episodes, they sneered. “Themes are for eighth-grade book reports,” Benioff told me.

Andy Greenwald, http://grantland.com/features/the-return-hbo-game-thrones/

No, they’re not Benioff, the theme is what makes your story mean something. It’s true that the majority of people don’t consciously think about the theme, unless they’re writing a book report, but nonetheless it’s the theme that makes a story resonate emotionally with the audience. Few people came out of reading/watching the Harry Potter series thinking “gee, I really liked the themes about family and home.” Yet it was those themes that made people bond with the story.

One of the core themes of Harry Potter is about finding home. That a home isn’t a building or a location, like Harry’s house with the Dursley’s, but that special place that we find where we truly belong. How precious it is when we truly find a home, as Harry does at Hogwarts. This theme resonated so powerfully that people still talk about which House the Sorting Hat would put them in, because whether or not they’re aware of it, Hogwarts represents the ideal of home in their minds.

I hope no one thought of King’s Landing as home because… damn.

The fact that there is apparently no theme to Game of Thrones is both shocking, and a big chunk of why the ending falls totally flat. The tragedy is that this show started off with profound themes; it unflinchingly explored the ugly parts of the human psyche. It explored how we’re so obsessed about who gets to rule the imaginary social constructs we call countries, that we ignore threats to our very existence.

The Night King was supposed to embody that existential threat, the eternal winter he was bringing was going to wipe out all life on Westeros, and quite possibly the planet. Yet in the end, despite all the buildup and power at his command, he not only failed to kill Bran but his army didn’t even inflict more than 50% casualties on Daenery’s army. If he couldn’t even defeat a conventional army on the field, he wasn’t exactly an existential threat was he? Which undermines the whole theme of the show.

Fortunately that’s not the only theme! The other strong theme that’s run throughout the show has been about family. And it was a unique take at that, while most books explore finding your chosen family, Game of Thrones explored how we survive the family we’re born into. Among the Starks, Targaryens, Lannisters, and even the Tarlys, not a single family is what I would call well adjusted. The show and books explored how do we, as people, react to a bad family situation: do we let it define us, and repeat the same mistakes, or do we learn and move beyond it.

Which is why Jaime and Tyrion were two of my favorite characters, because they were both exploring what it was to move beyond the trauma their father inflicted on them. Jaime had to learn to move past his father’s expectations that he inherit Casterly Rock, and to pursue his own path. And Tyrion had to learn how to survive a family that hated him for merely existing. And the one good scene in this whole debacle is Tyrion’s goodbye to Jaime.

“You were all I had.” Finally, a good piece of dialogue.

That’s the only emotional payoff I got out of this whole series. Whether it’s a book, TV show, movie or video game, when the audience has reached the end of the journey there needs to be some kind of emotional payoff. It can be sadness, joy, grief, or ideally a truly great story will have us feeling the full gamut of emotions. Watching Tyrion crying in his brother’s arms made me sad that Jaime was all Tyrion had, and yet overjoyed that at least he had his brother.

Now let me ask you: what did you feel when the credits rolled on the final episode of Game of Thrones?

I didn’t feel anything except a mild annoyance. In fact I was getting bored by the end, Daenerys dies 30 minutes into the episode, and then it’s just a long slog of increasingly nonsensical scenes until it finally ends. The Starks, whose whole journey has more or less focused on finding their way back to each other, go their separate ways for some reason; brutally murdering the only theme left in this show.

But let’s back up, and look at the absolute worst scene in this whole mess of an ending: choosing the new king.

Seriously? After all the plots, all the secrecy, all the backstabbing, and everyone is just cool with handing the Starks literally everything in Westeros?

All of the problems I’ve gone over, that plagued this season, merged into a perfect storm that absolutely annihilated this scene and by extension, the entire series. First of all, there’s no consistency in how this scene plays out. Tyrion is a prisoner, there as a bargaining chip to be negotiated over. More than that, he’s the the imp, the show has established repeatedly that everyone hates him because he’s a dwarf. That’s why he’s had to work behind the scenes, but now everyone is willing to just listen to him fundamentally change the system of government in Westeros?

Then there’s the fact that Greyworm is acting way out of character here, with Missandei dead, the only thing left to him was his utter devotion to Daenerys. Yet somehow we’re expected to believe that when Jon went to Greyworm and admitted his crime, he wasn’t immediately executed? And they go even further, expecting us to believe that Greyworm would agree to let whoever is elected the new ruler decide the punishment? And as if that wasn’t far enough to push our disbelief, they also expect us to believe that Greyworm would accept Jon’s half-brother handing down the verdict, as if that wasn’t a massive conflict of interest?

And Bran!? Seriously? The absolute nothing of a character, the void into which all interesting personality is sucked in and destroyed? That’s who they pick to sit on the Iron Throne?

Seriously, I feel myself becoming more boring just looking at him.

Leaving aside how he absolutely does not have the best story, this should have been a huge point of contention among the lords assembled. Again this show is called Game of Thrones and yet here, at the end, with the Throne literally at stake, all the great houses just say: “yeah, okay, Bran can have it.”

I would imagine the North’s armies are depleted, though given the lack of consistency in this area they might have the largest army in the world at this point. Bran has absolutely no ability to back up his claim with military might, which was critical during this period in history. No one in this council knows him aside from his siblings, he’s forged no alliances, made no promises. And then to compound the error that is this ending, Sansa just decides to declare independence and no one bats so much as an eyelash at it.

This should have spun the realm into yet another civil war, because why didn’t every other kingdom say “fuck this, we’re independent too” upon seeing Bran just agree to it. There’s reason some of the bloodiest, most vicious wars in history were civil wars, because there was the fear of those in power that if you let one region peacefully secede, others would follow in droves. Game of Thrones used the cutthroat politics of feudal governance as a backdrop to tell amazing stories, and in the final indignity, even that was finally abandoned.

At least Ghost finally got some chin scritches!

Then of course, to put the final nail in the coffin, was the god awful dialogue in this scene. Tyrion goes into a long, drawn out, fourth-wall breaking monologue about the importance of storytellers. It was so indulgent that I don’t even want to transcribe it here… and yet I must, because like a train wreck, it demands to be seen.

What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. And who has a better story than Bran the Broken. The boy who fell from a high tower and lived. He knew he’d never walk again, so he learned to fly. He crossed beyond the wall, a crippled boy, and became the Three-Eyed Raven. He is our memory. The keeper of all our stories; the wars, weddings, births, massacres, famines, our triumphs, our defeats… our past. Who better to lead us into the future.

-Tyrion Lannister, having totally lost his god damn mind.

The sad thing about this is… I agree with everything he says here. I think stories do have power, and I think the right stories can shape our society for the better. But why is Tyrion saying this? He’s not a storyteller, and to my knowledge has never once voiced these beliefs before. More to the point though, this whole scene comes across as Benioff and Weiss talking to us directly, as if applauding their own accomplishments. And boys… you misread the room if you thought this was a good time for a curtain call.

Meme I stole off the internet, if you know who to credit, let me know in the comments.

And then, after that awkward and painful scene… it’s over. Arya heads west because she asked what was west of Westeros that one time, Sansa becomes Queen in the North, and Jon resumes his command at the Night’s Watch… even though there’s no longer a Night King to watch against. Then Jon heads beyond the wall with the Wildlings, either to become a new King-Beyond-the-Wall like Mance, or just to escort them home. I don’t know, the story didn’t tell me.

That’s it, eight years, 80+ hours, hundreds of millions of dollars… all to tell a story that ultimately went nowhere. And the sad thing is that this ending isn’t just disappointing, if it simply failed to live up to expectations, that would be one thing. No, this is a bad ending, destructive even.

Just before the first episode of this season aired, the friends I watched this show with were talking about watching the whole thing in a giant marathon after the final season was over. We’re no longer talking about that. What would be the point, when we know there’s no pay off to that kind of time commitment?

I’m glad the show existed, because it was shared cultural phenomenon. It was cool to go to work and talk to coworkers about the latest episode, and it was great excuse to get together with my friends every Sunday. Yet people who watch this in the future, won’t have that experience… all they’ll have is this story.

If someone came up to me in five years and asked if they should watch Game of Thrones… I honestly don’t know what I’d say. I would have to ask them what they’re looking for: if you just want to see some great acting and spectacular battles, then absolutely watch it. If you want a good story that means something?

Look elsewhere, because this ending destroyed the story.

And that’s why all that matters is the ending…

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Game of Thrones: Battle of King’s Landing

Here were my responses to episode 5 of Game of Thrones season 8:

“Wait, but just last episode…”

“What? How did that happen?”

“What the hell is going on?”

And laughter, full on laughter in moments that were definitely not aiming for humor.

This is going to be quick and dirty, just sharing how horribly disappointed I am by this latest episode. Rest assured though, one of my patented All That Matters is the Ending articles is coming. In fact I’ll start working on it tomorrow because nothing that can happen in the final 80 minutes will fix the disaster that has become Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones:

The Battle of King’s Landing

What the Hell Was That!?

I barely even know where to start with this. Are David Benioff and DB Weiss doing this kind of damage to the story intentionally? I can’t imagine the sheer incompetence necessary to completely nosedive a story into the ground this quickly. Let’s take it step by step.

The Writers Aren’t Even Pretending to Care About Consistency

So last episode, Rhaegal got taken down by Qyburn’s scorpions. The fact they seemed laser guided and armor piercing was a bit ridiculous, but it’s a fantasy story so I was willing to let this play out. Obviously the writers wanted to establish what a threat the scorpions were to Drogon in the final battle. It was sloppily done, but if that’s what they need to set up a reason why Drogon couldn’t simply destroy the city’s defenses, so be it.

Then in the very next episode Drogon destroys the city’s defenses. By himself.

If you were watching episodes 4 and 5 back to back like a movie, just 40 minutes earlier you would have seen these scorpions tear through Rhaegal like butter, and then reload almost instantly to destroy Daenerys’ fleet. And now suddenly they can only get a few shots off on Drogon, the projectiles are slower, and their slow to reload. There’s absolutely no reason given for why the scorpions fundamentally change.

The scorpion bolt fired in this scene travels at about 1/10th the speed of the one in the previous episode? Why?

Game of Thrones later seasons have been plagued by inconsistent storytelling, fundamentally changing how the world works. These changes have been gradual, however, and that made it easier to swallow. I wrote about those changes at the end of last season. This season however, all pretense of consistency has been unceremoniously burned along with the rest of King’s Landing.

The whiplash inducing change of fantastical supersonic, rapid firing scorpions to a more historical model is the most egregious example, but it’s not the only one. Remember at the end of The Long Night how everyone except our main characters seemed dead? Because Game of Thrones sure doesn’t remember.

Somewhere in this picture, are thousands of Unsullied, Wildlings, Dothraki, and Northmen still alive. Somehow.

All those dead soldiers apparently respawned in time for the battle of King’s Landing. There’s not even an attempt to explain away this inconsistency. They could have had a line in episode 2 about how only part of the army had arrived, and the rest were still a couple days away. It would have been lazy, but also believable, moving gigantic medieval armies was a massive undertaking. No, the writer’s don’t even care enough to make an attempt.

Good stories rely on things being consistent in the details, without that there’s nothing to ground the audience, no context for them to understand what’s happening. As sloppy as Rhaegal’s death was, at least it would have served to give us a good reason that Drogon couldn’t do exactly what he did in this episode. And maybe then, we could have had an actual battle for King’s Landing.

The Pacing was Terrible. Again.

“Huh, I wonder if I should look behind me? Nah, it’s not like they have a dragon or anything.”

Here we have the exact opposite problem of episode 3. As I wrote before, because the Winterfell defense was so utterly screwed from the opening moments of battle, there was no way to create the rising action necessary for a good battle scene. Now, Drogon is so damn efficient at destroying the defenses of King’s Landing, that the battle is over before it even begins. There’s absolutely no tension to these battle scenes because we know there’s no conceivable way they can lose at this point. This “battle” is even worse than the battle of Winterfell because at least there, at the start, we thought our main characters might be in real danger of dying. Here, there’s absolutely no sense of danger.

Without that fear of losing our beloved characters, there’s no emotional context for the scene. The fact that Daenerys’ army wins so quickly and so overwhelmingly means there absolutely no dramatic weight to these scenes: they mean nothing. It’s purely spectacle for the sake of it.

Also, where the hell did you all come from? I could have sworn you all died in episode 3.

If this had been a real battle, and the Lannisters and Golden Company had put up an actual fight, maybe that would have led into how Daenery’s goes full mad queen. Show us vicious street to street fighting, with Dany watching her army paying in blood for every block they seize. Having some sense of loss, or frustration, or anger at how the battle was proceeding might have led more organically into Daenery’s turning into the story’s final, and most destructive, villain.

The Mad Queen

The books and the show have been foreshadowing Daenerys becoming the Mad Queen since she was first introduced. However, the way in which this plot point came to fruition was so inelegant, so forced, that it made it seem like it came out of nowhere.

Dany has done some terrible things in this show, we’ve seen her wrath before; crucifying the Masters in Meereen, and burning the Tarly’s alive for refusing to bend the knee. These were cruel acts of retribution that for Dany seemed like justice, and it was that warped sense of justice that foreshadowed her turning into the Mad Queen.

However, it’s a huge fucking leap to go from those examples, to literally killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people. There simply wasn’t enough time given to Dany’s descent into madness to make this feel real. I could almost have seen this working had, at the very least, Dany attacked the Red Keep first.

Which I thought she was doing. It’s right there Dany, why the detour?

Instead, Dany attacks King’s Landing first, leveling the city block by block and building by building. Which doesn’t make any sense given what the writer’s have shown us. Ostensibly, according to the writers, it’s Cersei’s betrayal of their truce and the execution of Missandei that drives her to this act of fury. So why attack King’s Landing? Dany knows where Cersei is, she’s staring directly at the Red Keep when she loses her mind, and Cersei should be her first target.

By destroying the city first, Dany was giving Cersei a golden opportunity to flee. Cersei probably would have had a good chance of making it too, had she not stood there like an idiot the entire time watching it happen. You can’t convince me that someone given to this kind of rage would take the risk of allowing the object of her fury to escape her wrath.

This scene would have operated much better had Dany started with destroying the Red Keep. Then show us a reaction shot of Dany surveying the wreckage, her face still twisted with rage; killing Cersei didn’t quench her thirst for revenge. Then she loses control and destroys the city entirely. It wouldn’t have been perfect but I could have suspended my disbelief for that at least.

Seriously Dany? Overreact much?

What would have been even better, would be for this massacre to happen after the battle. If the showrunners had taken HBO up on their offer and used 10 episodes instead 6, we could have had a proper battle for King’s Landing and then an episode of Dany trying to control the city.

Undoubtedly the people of King’s Landing would be afraid of Dany, but I also think they’d be angry: a foreign (at least to the peasants) queen with an army of foreigners conquered their home. Hell, the Dothraki probably started doing their rape and pillage thing when the city fell. And (since the show apparently forgot) winter has arrived, maybe there’s a food shortage as well. Egged on by Lannister loyalists still left alive, or better yet, a still alive Varys hoping to generate support for Jon, the city breaks into riots. Dany sends the Unsullied to put them down, and some lucky bastard manages to kill Greyworm (a la the same thing that happened to Barristan Selmy.)

And that’s when Dany snaps; the people she came to save don’t see her as a liberator, they hate her. They could never love her. And fueled by rumors of growing support for Jon’s claim to the throne, Dany decides that the only way to rule the seven kingdoms is through fear. And the destruction of King’s Landing is the perfect demonstration of her power.

Think of how much more chilling this scene would have been had it made sense.

This would have seemed far more oraganic and true to her character. It makes no sense that Dany would slaughter a population that had already surrendered to her. However, if the people had rejected her claim to the throne, and murdered her last remaining loyal servant, that would have fed directly into Dany’s twisted sense of justice. They won’t bend the knee, and they murdered the only man she could still trust, so now they’ll burn for it. And the rest of the Seven Kingdoms will finally know who is queen.

Unfortunately we didn’t get any of that. Instead we witnessed the death of a story, the utter destruction of everything that made this show great. Now all that’s left is to watch the final episode and see what meaning we can sift from the ashes of this disastrous finale.

The Battle of Winterfell

Since spoilers are a tricky subject on the internet these days, here be your first and last warning: 

Spoilers abound below, obviously. Read at your own risk. 

 

The Battle of Winterfell

The Battle of Winterfell has come and gone, and the White Walkers are gone not so much with a bang, but a whimper. Oh the battle was spectacular, the action intense, but the plot and character decisions that strung it all together? It was quite easily one of the worst written episodes of Game of Thrones we’ve seen.

The ridiculous plot armor, the pacing of the battle, Arya’s saving throw, and the overall plot of this season all suffered for the bad writing. Let’s take these in order and I’ll show you how: 

The Plot Armor

Plot Armor: that special armor possessed by main characters that protects them from all danger. I’ve said it before, suspension of disbelief is a magic trick; to maintain it, the writer has to distract the audience from the unbelievable parts of the narrative. Plot armor is no different. The first part of the magic trick is usually giving the character’s amazing combat abilities, magical powers, or, as in the case of Frodo, literal armor that protects them. The second part is to put the characters in danger carefully and strategically, so that it never occurs to the audience how ridiculous these moments are. Frodo’s mythril chain only comes into play once (at least in the films, it’s been year since reading the book, so don’t remember if it shows up again) and in most action films, major injuries (ex. gunshot wounds to the shoulder) are saved until the climax.

Instead of doing any of that, this episode instead chose to focus our attention on the unbelievable survival of every single character. We see Brienne get dragged down screaming, and suffer multiple wounds, in the first few minutes of the battle. And then we see it again later. And then again. And by the end, when she’s up against a wall surrounded by walkers, all the tension of the scene is lost because we know that nothing is going to happen. We saw this same thing with almost every other major character, not once, not twice, but often three, four, or even five times. Yet it was Sam that was the most egregious.

Here’s a character with almost no combat ability on the frontline of the most horrific battle of all time. Ed manages to save him once but dies doing it. Then over the course of the episode we see Sam multiple times on the verge of being overwhelmed by White Walkers. At the end of the episode we see him one last time, on the ground, bleeding from multiple wounds, crying out as White Walkers surround him. Meanwhile the Unsullied, some of the best warriors on the planet, lie dead in literal mounds around him. Yet we’re expected to believe that Sam has somehow managed to hold off the horde when the Unsullied couldn’t?

Seriously Sam? I love you man, but how are you still alive?

Not only is this ridiculous, pushing the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point, but it also robs Jon of a great character-building moment. Jon, like his (adoptive) father, always wants to do the honorable thing. Years ago when he and Qhorin Halfhand were trapped by Wildlings, Jon’s first instinct was for them both to die fighting rather than letting Qhorin sacrifice himself. The honorable thing to do, seeing Sam surrounded by white walkers, is to rush to his defense. Yet that’s not the correct thing to do, because if Jon stops to help, they all die and so Jon keeps going, leaving Sam to his fate. It could have been a powerful moment, but it was robbed of that power because Jon didn’t have to sacrifice anything, Sam didn’t end up dying.

At the end of the episode, when all seems lost, all of our major (and by no means coincidentally, fan favorite) characters are up against the wall, some of them literally. Jon, Daenerys, Brienne, Jaime, Tormund, Sam, Sansa, and Tyrion are all literally moments from death. Then Arya leaps in and kills the Night King and all the White Walkers die.

And everyone who’s not a named character seems dead. Seriously, the final scene shows us how utterly ridiculous it is as all our named characters are standing around in a sea of bodies. We could have, and should have, had far more casualties.

Three out of the five characters here are all named characters. Hell, all five of them might be named, it’s just too dark for me to identify the two on the left.

Brienne’s character arc was brought to a beautiful conclusion in episode 2, and in many ways Jaime’s was more or less complete too. And why couldn’t Sam die? Sam has served his purpose to the story, his plotlines resolved, his character arc complete. Allow them to die, let their deaths serve to give gravitas to this episode and allow it to become the apocalyptic struggle that was supposed to be.

It might have even helped give the battle a better narrative pacing.

The Pacing

Alternate title for the episode? How not to use your cavalry.

The other problem with showing our characters constantly on the verge of death, is that it destroyed the narrative arc of the battle. A good battle scene operates like a story in itself, with a beginning, rising action, and climax. The battle of Winterfell has a beginning and a climax, but there is no rising action. It’s just a long marathon of chaotic, hopeless mayhem. The problem with this is that when Jon attempts to confront the night king, and the slow, mournful music kicks in, it doesn’t feel significantly different than what we’ve already seen. The Winterfell defense has been utterly screwed from the opening moments of the battle, and because it literally couldn’t get worse, there was no way to increase the drama for the climax.

This could have been fixed by having our characters use proper battle tactics, which would have allowed for an ebb and flow to the battle. Instead of blindly charging into an enemy you haven’t even seen yet, keep the cavalry in reserve. Instead of standing in front of the stake pits, have the Unsullied arrayed behind them in tight formation, allowing them to spear any of the undead attempting to force their way through. Have the artillery constantly bombarding the rear ranks of the White Walkers while archers whittle away their front ranks. And then as they all begin funneling their way through the barricades, have John and Dany swoop in for some air support. Then call in the Dothraki to hit the flanks and trap the undead between the calvary and the barricade, leaving a huge killing field for the dragons and the artillery.

We could have had a scene with the characters on the wall watching, who turn to each other as if to say “this isn’t so bad, we can win this.” Give the audience the false hope that maybe this won’t be as terrible as they feared.

Then maybe I’d have been halfway surprised when the Giant broke down the gate.

And then rip the carpet out from under them. Have yet another wave of White Walkers charge in from the forests, outflanking the Dothraki and now they’re the ones trapped with no hope of escape. Have the Night King swoop in and destroy the front ranks of the Unsullied with his dragon, opening holes in their lines that the White Walkers begin to charge through. Have the Generals show up, cutting huge swathes through the Unsullied and leading the charge onto the walls where our heroes will have to fight them. Have Brienne and Jaime cut down one of the generals, and show his White Walkers fall to the ground, and again let us believe that maybe, just maybe, they can win.

And then have two more generals show up, and overwhelm the wounded Brienne and Jaime, because nothing can stop death. A slower escalation of the battle, starting off hopeful and then degrading to the point of hopelessness, would have provided the battle a narrative arc that would have led beautifully into the climax. Instead because the action maintained a flat trajectory the whole time, the drama necessary to properly deliver the crucial moment was never allowed to build up, and that’s why the Night King’s death feels unearned.

The Killing Blow Comes from Nowhere

First I should say that I love that it’s Arya, and not Jon, that kills the Night King. That’s the kind of unexpected twist, that makes sense in retrospect, that made Game of Thrones a cultural icon. However, the way it was shot and the decisions that brought about this shocking moment felt completely unearned.

She seemingly materializes out of thin air, somehow getting past thousands of White Walkers, the White Walker generals, and a fucking Dragon to land a killing blow on the Night King. This moment has been over a decade in the making, and it felt anticlimactic because there’s no attempt to show how Arya pulls off this incredible assassination.

What instead should have happened is to show Arya carefully getting into position, using all the skills she’d learned over the course of the show. In fact this could have been easily done by reediting the already existing scenes and maybe adding a couple new ones and some dialogue. During the battle, Arya is forced into Winterfell castle to escape the overwhelming number of White Walkers. Instead of that, have Arya choose to enter the castle because she’s knows where the best place to strike is and going through the castle is the only way to get there.

Let us see her sneaking through the shadows of the darkened halls of Winterfell, her intimate knowledge of the castle and her time as a blind person letting her navigate around the Walkers without having to see them. Then after a few successful evasions, she gets caught and we could still have that panicked dash through the castle, and the Hound and Beric arrive to save her. Now, instead of Beric being resurrected just to save Arya at some random moment, he was resurrected because he needed to be there at that precise moment to give her the time she need to reach the Night King. Then maybe add a scene of her running along rooftops to position herself for the killing blow. Have John see her sneaking along the roof, and have him intentionally distract the dragon to give Arya the window she needs to reach her target.

A moment here, with Arya on the roof and Jon making eye contact with her, would have been all that was needed.

Had all, or at least some of that, been shown it would have established the overwhelming odds that Arya was up against. It have made the moment even more amazing because we would have seen the effort she went through to be at the right place, at the right time to save the world. Instead of Arya being there because the plot demanded she needed to be there, it would instead have been her choices and actions that led her there. The moment would have felt earned then, rather than literally coming out of thin air.

And now that Arya has literally saved the world, Game of Thrones has to answer a difficult question.

Where Does the Story Go From Here?

As I covered here and again in my Star Trek: Discovery article, apocalyptic plotlines are a double-edged sword. By literally putting the world’s survival at stake, you’re sacrificing the stakes in other plotlines. If you choose to threaten the characters with a world-ending cataclysm in your story, you better be damn sure that resolving that is the last part in the story.

To bring this back to basic storytelling elements, having the Night King defeated this early is going to throw off the rising action of this final season. The Battle of Winterfell dialed the action up to 11, it put everything at stake: not only were our favorite characters nearly killed, but the very setting itself, Westeros, was on the verge of annihilation. Even with all the storytelling missteps that this episode held, I was still on the edge of my seat and it was an emotionally exhausting episode.

And now I find myself curious: where does the story go from here? Maybe the show will surprise me, but I can’t help but feel that whatever grand battle occurs between John, Dany, and Cersei just won’t be able to reach the same heights. In fact it simply cannot reach those heights because who sits on the Iron Throne feels rather trivial when compared to the extinction of all life on Westeros.

Nothing Cersei throws at the characters will ever come close to this kind of power.

Another problem I had was that the books were obviously heading in the direction of the White Walkers being the ultimate threat, but it seems the show has taken the opposite tack. By eliminating the White Walkers so easily (and yes it was easy because, despite losing their whole army, none of the main characters ever seemed in danger and Arya’s sudden appearance felt like a Deus ex Machina) the show has made it clear it wants to be done as quickly as possible and get back to who sits on the Iron Throne. Which is a shame, because the books made a great parallel to real life: that humanity worries about trivial things like power and politics, even in the face of extinction level events. One of the biggest themes that this story explores is how shortsighted humanity is; we focus on the wrong things, our ambitions and fears, which often blinds us to the larger problems we face.

My hope for the ending was that I would see the most fundamental fantasy trope turned on its head: the heroes lose and the villain wins. That they would lose the battle of Winterfell, and that perhaps Jon and Dany and a handful of others manage to escape on dragons, but the rest perish. Maybe then they to plead with Cersei to fight the dead, and Cersei ends up executing both of them to secure her throne and in doing so, dooms the world. The final episode culminating in the dead overrunning King’s Landing, and the Night King assuming the throne, the Wight versions of all of our main characters taking their place by his side. The story has told us repeatedly: fight together or die alone. Well, they didn’t fight together, Cersei betrayed them… so let them now die alone.

Though they wouldn’t have been alone for long…

Maybe the final three episodes will prove me wrong, and if so, I’ll be back here writing about what an amazing achievement they’ve made. Only time will tell.

Game of Redemption: 3 Things This Season Has Done Right

The sixth episode of Game of Thrones premiered on Sunday, putting us past the midway point and doing a lot to repair the damage that was inflicted by  some extremely questionable writing last year. The showrunners even went so far as to put an apology in the show, in the form a meta-apology from Petyr Baelish, admitting that Sansa’s wedding last year was a ridiculous misstep for both the story and the show at large.

Petyr Baelish
Little Finger continues to give the most satisfying speeches in the show.

Beyond apologies though, this season of Game of Thrones has been delivering the kind of writing that made me fall in love with the books and the show in the first place. This is quite possibly the best season we’ve had since Season 3.

They’ve been doing a hell of a lot right in this season, but there are three major steps they’ve taken to rectify and improve the quality of Game of Thrones.

 

1. Killing off Extraneous Characters

Osha
We salute your (unfortunately necessary) sacrifice.

When the first episode premiered I was disappointed by the death of Alexander Siddig’s character (a character seen so infrequently I can’t remember his name) because I’m a huge fan of the actor. It also seemed like a continuation of the sloppy writing, and sloppy everything else, that marred the entire Sand Teen storyline. However, after several remarkably murderous episodes, I can see why characters are dropping like flies.

The showrunners of Game of Thrones are doing exactly what I said they needed to do in my review of the first episode. As I pointed out, the main threat has been revealed and the writers behind Game of Thrones need to start quickly wrapping up extraneous storylines. Which means murdering the shit out of anyone who doesn’t move that story forward.  

Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like how either Roose Bolton or Osha died. The death of Roose Bolton in particular has huge ramifications for Ramsay’s storyline and deserved more attention, but Game of Thrones ran out of time. Last year, instead of Sansa’s rape and escape, it should have focused on Ramsay planning to kill his father, but it didn’t and now we just need to move on. Plus, Ramsay has always been a rabid dog who doesn’t think ahead, so just straight out stabbing his father in the gut isn’t completely out of character for him.

Ramsay Bolton Snow
And since Ramsay’s usefulness to the story has run out, I’m pretty sure the mad dog is going to be put down fairly soon.

Yes, I’m upset Osha was killed too, she was a fascinating character. However, based on the fact the actress looked like she might be pregnant, there’s a good chance that there was a limited window of availability to shoot her scene. So it make sense that she was rather quickly dispatched in a way that didn’t require a drawn out fight scene.

As much as I love stories, storytelling has to take a backseat to reality when it comes to the people who create our stories. Plus Hodor’s amazing death scene more than makes up for the fact that Osha’s and Roose’s were a bit rushed.

 

2. The Story is Moving Forward

game-of-thrones-dorne
The dead weight of this stupid storyline has been thrown off.

I feel like for the past two seasons the story has been stuck, unable to move forward. Several characters have been on a hamster-wheel, Jamie, Arya and Daenerys in particular. Jaime’s character has been absolutely static, which is tragic because his was one of the most interesting arcs in the book. Arya has been messing around with the Faceless assassins, but aside from murdering a King’s Guard, her character hasn’t grown or changed since leaving Westeros. Daenarys has been stuck in Meereen trying to battle of the Sons of the Harpy, but Meereen has always just been a pit stop on Dany’s quest to conquer Westeros, and a lot of her efforts to pacify the city has seemed like wasted effort.

Last season when Dany’s storyline ended with her once again being abducted by the Dothraki I complained that it was just a boring rehash of her first season. That was true, we didn’t see anything in the last few episodes that we didn’t see in the first season. But I have to give Game of Thrones credit, they at least wrapped this up quickly. I was afraid they were going to spend the entire season slowly building up to Dany gaining control of the Mongol Dothraki horde, but they basically wrapped up the whole thing in a single episode. Her character’s arc is also starting to look quite interesting, since she’s beginning to look less and less like the heroic savior of Westeros, and more like her insane father.

Burning the Khals.png
“Burn Them All.” – The Targaryen family creed, apparently.

I think we were all excited to see Arya turn into a peerless assassin and return to Westeros in a murderous rage to kill all the characters we hate. Then she got stuck there doing nothing for the better part of three years, and we were all ready for her to move on.  I’m glad that she’s not only moved on but also rejected the Faceless. Arya’s strong personality is the best part of her character and watching her turn into an emotionless automaton of death would have been tragic. Ultimately this storyline took way too long to reach this conclusion, this was a coming-of-age story for Arya and her learning of, and rejecting, the teachings of the Faceless shouldn’t have taken this long. But at least we’re finally past it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she escapes the Faceless, or doesn’t as the case may be.

Jaime Lannister’s storyline has been without a doubt the biggest wasted opportunity of the entire show. In the books, his storyline was one of the most interesting and redemptive arcs in the entire Song of Ice and Fire saga. Early in the show he was well on his way to achieving that arc with his budding romance with Brienne and the reveal that the infamous “kingslayer” slew an insane king to save a city. Then for some bizarre reason the show runners made Jaime rape Cersei at their son’s funeral and his entire arc went off the rails. This season though, after being cleverly outmaneuvered by the High Sparrow, he seems to be back on track. Hopefully his coming siege of Riverrun will also see him reject Cersei and become the good man that’s been struggling to get free of his sister’s grasp.

And the greatest thing of all? It seems like the stupid Dorne storyline has been completely dropped, which can do nothing but help the overall quality of the coming seasons.

Sand Snakes.jpg
If we see these characters again, I hope its only so we can watch them die horribly.

Political Intrigue and the White Walkers

Smirking High Sparrow
I’m looking forward to seeing his smirk being wiped off, preferably with a sword.

The political intrigue of Westeros is one of the defining aspects of the show. George RR Martin’s use of feudal governments to create a compelling drama is downright genius. However after Tyrion’s trial, all the intrigue and plots just disappeared, aside from the horribly constructed Dorne plot. The High Sparrow has largely just been sitting around looking innocent while taking on the role of an inquisitor. We haven’t seen any kind of political manuevering on his part or any attempts by the Lannisters to counter them, aside from sitting around complaining on how awful he is. That has all changed this season.

The High Sparrow is now showing his political acumen, skillfully manipulating the witless boy king into publicly admitting that the gods (and by proxy, High Sparrow) are on even footing with the Crown, greatly weakening the monarchy. The Lannisters and the Tyrells actually tried to counter the Sparrows growing influence, even if it did blow up in their face. And I’m pretty sure Margaery Tyrell is playing the long-con with the High Sparrow, and will probably end up usurping both the Sparrows and the Lannisters. Obviously this is another plotline that’s going to need to be resolved so we can move onto the main event, but until Dany has gotten to Westeros, the religious conflict brewing in King’s Landing looks to be an exciting diversion.

Night King and Bran
At least until the main event begins…

Undoubtedly the best part of the last two episodes has been the White Walkers finally taking center stage. For the majority of the series they’ve been lurking on the outskirts of the story, showing up to remind us of their presence and power, before sinking back into the shadows. After last season’s Hardhome episode though, that’s no longer an option, and I’m glad to see the writers are putting them front and center. Again, I was afraid the entire season would be wasted on Bran reliving past events with the Three-Eyed Raven, but Bran alerting the Night King to his presence was one of the best moments in the show.

I’ll admit I’m a little disappointed at the reveal of The White Walker’s origins, I did hope for something a bit more than Frankenstein’s monster. However, we still don’t know how the Night King came to control the White Walkers, or how their weapons are forged, or why Dragon Glass can both create and destroy them.  There are still so many questions, the answers to which I hope add more complexity and depth to them beyond weaponized monsters gone amok.

Last season was a mess, but I’m glad to see our collective patience has paid off and that we are well on our to way to finding out who finally wins the Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones: The Red Woman Review

So the first episode of Game of Throne’s sixth season aired on Sunday, and I’m sure you probably noticed that… not a lot happened. It was mostly playing catch-up and the story only advanced by inches.

This seems like a good time to talk about momentum in storytelling, because that’s one of the things Game of Thrones is struggling with. A good story is a lot like a train; starting off slow, but building up momentum until it can plow through anything, slowing down only when going uphill (building tension) or around a sharp corner (plot twists).

train
Or when it goes hurtling off the rails.

Game of Thrones‘s train has now slowed to a crawl and it has nothing but straight, flat track all the way to the ending. While it’s tempting to blame this all on the fact that Game of Thrones running out of book to use, this was actually a problem in the book series too. I even touched on this briefly years back when I read book 4, A Feast for Crows. At the time I thought maybe it was the killing of Cate Stark that made A Feast for Crows such a difficult slog to get through, but I realize now I was wrong. The real problem was the introduction of the Dorne plot, and every subsequent plot that followed.

Part of the genius of Game of Thrones, and its biggest draw, was George R. R. Martin’s use of the political stage of Westeros to create compelling drama. The first three books, and a majority of the show’s seasons, all centered around who would sit upon the Iron Throne. However, who sat on the Iron Throne was ultimately all just a subplot, a meticulously constructed distraction created to hold our attention while George R. R. Martin slowly built up the threat of the White Walkers. How humanity will stop them has always been the primary plot of the books, even though George R. R. Martin cleverly made it look like a low-key adventure subplot. Who ultimately gains the throne needs to be resolved for the audience to have satisfaction, there’s no doubt about that. Even subplots need resolution, but it’s never been the important question.

However, with the Hardhome episode, Game of Thrones needed to start quickly resolving things and ramping up the excitement for the final confrontation between the living and the dead. And so far, it’s not doing it. With the Dorne plot and the Iron Islands plot expected to be added this season, I can only see this getting worse.

ian-mchane
Though at least Ian McShane will make it one hell of a ride.

Have you noticed how most of our characters have all suffered major setbacks that pretty much reset their stories?

Daenarys is once again a slave of the Dothraki.

Arya is blind and is going to have to learn to fight again.

Sansa is once again homeless and on the run with a few allies.

Queen Cersei, and the monarchy itself, is helpless in the face of the religious extremists.

I don’t even know where Jaime’s storyline is going now, he seems to have hit a dead end.

Jon Snow is dead and we’re all waiting around to see if he’s resurrected by the Red Woman or as a White Walker general.

And Tyrion is just kind of dicking around in Meereen, waiting for Daenarys to come back.

Essentially any progress we’ve made through the series has been reversed or paused in it’s tracks, and you can feel that while watching the show… there’s no sense of urgency in any of the characters. The White Walkers are now half-a-million strong at the very least, so what are they waiting for exactly?

Well they’re waiting for the same thing we are: for all the now pointless subplots to be resolved.

The existential threat to all life on Westeros has been revealed, the Hardhome episode revealed to the audience the true extent of the danger. And with half-a-million strong White Walker army ready to attack The Wall, it’s hard to care about Daenerys being kidnapped (as if we don’t all know that she’ll be rescued eventually, probably after taking over the entire Dothraki horde) or some Cersei wannabe at the ass end of the kingdom.

Drogon Spear Wounds
And why did Drogon save her from one group of maniacs, only to let her be captured by another?

In order for the newest season to succeed it’s going to need to start consolidating everything. It should be working towards bringing Daenerys to Westeros, reintroducing us to Bran, and getting rid of the extraneous subplots like Dorne and Meereen. It has to start building the momentum and then keep that momentum going forward, instead of grinding the plot to a halt by throwing more contrived obstacles in the way of our characters.

All that said, I’m still looking forward to this season and I hope this season of Game of Thrones proves me wrong. All that said, let’s review what happened in the first episode.

Dorne: Home of the Teleporting Sand Teens

game-of-thrones-dorne
“Just like last season, I suspect nothing despite your obvious intent to kill me.”

As I pointed out last season, the Dornish plot was the worst of the bunch (which was true of the books as well) and it’s only gotten worse this time around.

The death of Prince Trystane continues the infamous legacy of everything Dorne being the single worst part of Game of Thrones, and the prince’s death takes it to a whole new low. First of all it shows us a tragic waste of Alexander Siddig’s talents by killing off his character in a way that makes absolutely no sense (not to mention lacking any dramatic value). How did she manage to convince the palace guards to betray their king? Secondly, how the hell did the Sand Teens get aboard the ship Trystane was on?

When we left them last season, Myrcella, Trystane, Jaime, and Bron (where did he vanish to, anyway?) were all sailing home for King’s Landing. The Sand Teens [I know they’re the Sand Snakes, but honestly they’re so fucking annoying that Teens is way more appropriate] and their mother were standing on the docks watching them sail away. And then suddenly they’re on Trystane’s ship and kill him. How did they manage that, exactly? I know Game of Thrones has always played fast and loose in terms of geography and time, but that sudden jump in locations was ridiculous.

I’m hoping the sloppiness of the prince’s death is a sign that the writers of Game of Thrones now realize Dorne is just a quagmire of awfulness that’s bogging down the plot, and they’re trying to resolve it as quickly as possible so they can be done with it. Otherwise I’m afraid it’s a sign that they simply have no idea what to do now that they’ve run out of book to use as a template.

Theon’s Rebirth

Theon and Sansa cross the river.

Theon’s slow transformation into Reek was one of the most powerful, and disturbing, parts of the show. However, once he became Reek, watching him continue to suffer got to be a bit redundant. Yes, we all understand that Ramsay Bolton is a monster, I think we got that message two seasons back. That’s why I had such a problem with Sansa’s Wedding, watching her and Reek continue to suffer offered nothing new to their characters or the plot at large.

However, I enjoyed watching Reek slowly regaining his sanity as Theon and his selfless ploy to try and protect Sansa. Of course the plan might have been slightly more effective had he lured the guards in a different direction several miles away rather than fifteen feet. That said, watching Podrick kick ass was one of the best parts of this episode. I’ve honestly grown a bit tired of Brienne at this point, where once she was a fascinating character (a female knight in a male dominated world), her character hasn’t really progressed or changed at all since she first took her oath to Catelyn Stark.

Also, what happened to the hounds during the battle? Must have teleported away using the same technology as the Sand Teens.

Daredevil Arya

Screen-Shot-2016-04-26-at-16.50.42

Arya has had one of the most satisfying character arcs in the entire series, going from a helpless little girl to a badass assassin in training. I think we were all looking forward to watching her return to Westeros and start killing off everyone we hated: Cersei, the Boltons, the Freys, and so on. To see the culmination of all her pain and suffering, her return to the Game of Thrones as one of the most powerful pieces on the board.

And then in the closing of last season, they made her go blind and reset her back to a helpless girl. This episode we see her begging on the steps and then get her ass kicked. So what?

I think we all know how this ends. She ends up learning to fight better blind than she ever did with sight, and whether she ends up regaining that sight or not is ultimately irrelevant. Basically she pulls a Daredevil, and while I love Netflix’s Daredevil, I ultimately find this subplot utterly stupid. We don’t need to see Arya helpless and crying again, we’ve already been through that. This sudden blindness isn’t going to result in anything other than time being wasted.

We’ve already seen Arya as a helpless street urchin trying to earn her way into the ranks of the Faceless Assassins. She’s already learned to go unnoticed, to listen to people on the street to learn vital information, and assume other identities. All of that training went into her assassination of the King’s Guard Meryn and it was awesome.

Now we all just have to wait for the training montage so Arya can get back to where she already was.

Daenerys Déjà Vu

landscape-1461576992-tv-game-of-thrones-season-6-episode-1-still-07

And speaking of taking all our powerful female characters and turning them back into helpless victims, Daenery’s was taken from Queen of Meereen and The First Men back into a Dothraki slave. So we’re apparently back in the first season again. Admittedly instead of being raped this time, she manages to get them to back down and instead send her to some spinster’s home in Dothraki territory, but really…

I honestly don’t understand why this is even in the story, what purpose does it serve other than waste everyone’s time? She still has Meereen to pacify or abandon in favor of an invasion of Westeros. There was plenty of opportunity for good stories to pass the time while we’re waiting for the other plotlines to resolve. The only good reason I can think of is that Daenery’s will need additional manpower to handle the White Walkers, but then why burn her ships? She’d need even more to take the Dothraki.

So yeah, I’m thinking this is all a colossal waste of time. The only brightside might be watching Tyrion and Varys work their magic and pacify Meereen.

tyrionvarys.0
The Bitch’in’est Duo in the East.

Castle Black: The Last Hope for Westeros

(In more ways than one)

game-of-thrones-jon-snow

The scenes at Castle Black are easily the best in the entire episode, because they’re the only ones where anything actually happens. Until Bran returns to the story, the events at Castle black are the only storyline capable of moving the plot forward. Yet these scenes are kept infuriatingly short, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens as the Night’s Watch prepares to descend into civil war. I also love the lingering shots on Jon’s body because there’s now this amazing sense of dread over seeing his dead body.

Because while on one hand Melisandre might be able to resurrect him, the longer time drags on, the more likely it becomes that Jon will rise to become one of the most powerful generals of the White Walker army.

jon-snow-kills-white-walker
To replace the one he struck down last season…

 

Game of Thrones: An Ending Too Far

So once again, I loved this season’s Game of Thrones, even though this was undoubtedly the worst season we’ve had so far, it’s a great show. Still I’m nothing if not a picker of nits, so let me highlight why this season’s finale was lacking and should have run with the much better finale they already had.

The Battle of Winterfell Was Too Short (And Was Utterly Meaningless)

Battle of Winterfell Now I understand that battle scenes are a huge drain on the budget, but the “battle” at Winterfell was utterly pointless. I understand that Stannis was never going to win and I’m not saying they needed to spend an entire episode showing him fighting a losing battle. Still, the entire battle took literally three minutes, and that’s being generous by including every scene until Ramsey’s return to Winterfell. If we just include the scenes with actual fighting it’s only about sixty seconds long. Worse than that though, it skips the actually interesting parts of the battle. Yes seeing the battle from Sansa’s point of view is visually interesting, but we also get no frame of reference as to why we should care. So far the battles in Game of Thrones have been exhilarating because they always had a tight focus on one of our beloved characters: Tyrion at the Black Water and Jon Snow at Castle Black. Showing us the characters we love dealing with the chaos of battle is what gives the battle meaning and emotional weight. Here have no real reference as to why anyone should care: remember Stannis just burned his daughter alive, asking us to care without actually seeing him fighting is a big fucking ask.

The battle begins with Stannis is the middle of a snow covered field, and ends with him in a forest. There was at least a quarter-mile between him and that forest. I want to know how Stannis fought his way there, or how that final desperate defense in the woods must have played out to leave Stannis wounded and alone. There were a lot of interesting ways to play out this battle is my point, cutting the entire thing down to sixty seconds of CGI toy soldiers and two minutes of follow up wasn’t one of them. And speaking of follow up, who here thinks Stannis is really dead? Because I sure as hell don’t.

Just hurry up and kill him or get out of my way so I can kill him.
Just hurry up and kill him or get out of my way so I can kill him.

Again, like the rape of Sansa earlier this season, this is an example of lazy storytelling that we don’t expect from Game of Thrones. Cutting away just as she swings the sword is just boring and lazy, it doesn’t build suspense at all because we all know that if he didn’t die on camera, he’s still alive. So what’s the point of leaving this as any kind of cliff hanger? The better cliff hanger would have been to see Brienne falter in her duty and then march Stannis off into the woods, because that actually has some interesting ramifications for next season. And if it turns out that Stannis really is dead next season then that makes this scene even worse because there were people out there (namely me) who were looking forward to finally seeing him die.

Personally, after this scene, I was looking forward to Ramsey flaying Stannis alive.
Personally, after this scene, I was looking forward to Ramsey giving Stannis the full Reek treatment.

Myrcella’s Murder

thronesThis was undoubtedly the dumbest scene this season and that’s quite an achievement considering that the earlier rape scene with Sansa destroyed the character arcs of four characters in twenty seconds. It was stupid for a variety of reasons, first because it makes King Julian Bashir look like a fucking idiot. He’s already foiled an assassination attempt by his sister-in-law, he knows his brother loved using poison, and the three daughters all used poison weapons. And yet this happens only feet away from him:

Look at that death grip on her face? No one finds that suspicious?
Look at that death grip on her face! No one finds that suspicious?

Which brings me to my second point: it makes everyone look like an idiot, including the show’s creators. Let’s assume for the moment that everyone on that dock is suffering heat stroke and ignore the fact that each and every one of them should have found that final kiss alarming. It’s the middle ages, people were stupid, fine. But we’re not. 

Who staged this scene? I want to know and I want his resignation on my desk by end of business tomorrow because I really don’t know why this scene played out the way it did.

If they were hoping to surprise the audience with another shocking death, the possibility of surprise died when Ellaria latched onto Myrcella’s face like a fucking lamprey. If they had left it as Ellaria giving her a gentle peck on the lips and not played it up like Snow White getting that poisoned apple, there would have been some element of surprise.

Was it played out that way so the poisoning was obvious to the audience? If so, why? What possible purpose did that serve? It certainly didn’t make the melodramatic conversation between Jaime and Myrcella any more tolerable. Seriously, who came up with that scene?

I'm watching you, but not so closely that I'm going to notice you poison the girl in front me.
I’m watching you, but not so closely that I’m going to notice you poison the girl you’ve been trying to kill all season  in front me.

This was just a lazy, terrible scene in every respect. The only thing that could have saved it was if we’d seen Jaime’s reaction and end the scene with him sailing right back to Dorne to avenge his daughter. As it is, apparently Jaime is going to wait until he gets back to King’s Landing to file a formal complaint with the Dornish king who is apparently as blind as he paraplegic.

Queen of the Andals and the Idiots

Mother of Dragons Now I loved Daenerys escape last week and watching Drogon burn a bunch of people alive was well worth the wait. But this follow up scene was awful, mainly because it made Daenerys, one of the strongest female characters in the story seem like a whiny little brat.

“We have to go home.” – Daenerys says, suddenly developing a British accent.

That’s the first thing we hear her say to Drogon, not thank you for saving me from an otherwise fatal ambush or how are you feeling after taking two dozen javelin wounds. She spends the whole time sulking like a child and even tries to climb onto Drogon backwards for some reason I still don’t understand.

Drogon's mother: literally riding his ass.
Drogon’s mother: literally riding his ass.

Then she complains that Drogon is just sitting around instead of getting them supper. Oh, I’m sorry you’re hungry princess but were you not paying attention last week when Drogon took a dozen spear wounds to save your ass? Do you not see the holes torn through his wings?

You know what Drogon, just leave her.
You know what Drogon, just leave her.

Then she wanders off into the hills alone for some stupid reason and immediately gets captured. Seriously, is this the same team that gave us the past four seasons of greatness? I’m starting to suspect they’ve all been replaced by pod-people sent from NBC, ABC and FOX. If not for the amazing scene of Jon Snow’s reenactment of the Ides of March, I’d have called this finale a total disaster. Which is just infuriating considering they already had a much better finale.

The Finale That Already Was

Because THIS was finale material.
Because THIS was finale material.

Yes, the best episode this season is the one they should have ended on and not just because it was so well done, but because it would have given HBO and the writers more time to tell the stories. That was my main complaint this season, everything seemed to be moving too fast. Here’s everything that happened this season:

Tyrion goes from living in a box to being Ser Jorah’s captive to being a slaver’s captive to becoming the Queen’s adviser.

Jon Snow meets Stannis, becomes Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and tries to save the Wildlings before pulling a Caesar and “dying”.  (In quotations because you know damn well that he’s going to be coming back in some form or another.)

Daenerys struggles to maintain control over the old slaver kingdoms and fails miserably.

Jaime is sent to Dorne to retrieve Myrcella.

And worst of all, Little Finger goes from a meticulous plotter to some kind of insane gibbering idiot in the span of two episodes. He delivers Sansa, the only person who can give him a legitimate claim to the North to the crazy ass Bolton’s and then immediately returns to King’s Landing, plotting to attack the Bolton’s after literally giving them the most valuable hostage in the seven kingdoms.

How about I give you a ride in my Benz and we call it even?
You know, I’m starting to think this was a bad idea…

You’ll notice that while some of the characters have a ton of things happen, others are left in a lurch of nothing happening at all. What this season needed was more time to tell the stories in a way that didn’t undercut the storylines of several important characters and allowed the events of the show to play out more naturally. By using Hardhome as the season finale Game of Thrones would have had more time to properly tell us the stories it needed to tell, to dedicate more time to the characters.

Jaime was perhaps the most underused character, almost criminally so because his was the one storyline from a Feast for Crows I wanted to see play out since it was the book where Jaime finally realizes what a bitch his sister is and burns the letter he receives from her.Of course instead of that happening this season, what we got instead was Jaime wandering around Dorne not really doing anything. Nothing happens in Dorne at all, it’s just a giant time sink. They could have used the time in Dorne to characterize Jaime and maybe lead up to his final abandoning of Cersei, but aside from him staring wistfully at Brienne’s homeland of Tarth, we get nothing.

And speaking of Tarth, the other problem with this season’s sprinting pace is the fact that it completely screws with our perception of time and space in Westeros. I already pointed this out in my earlier post on Sansa’s Wedding,  but it goes beyond Little Finger’s teleporting himself to King’s Landing. Journeys that took other characters entire seasons to complete now have bullet trains apparently. The opening scene of Game of Thrones always gives you that little pop-up map thing, and the world seems pretty big, but everyone seems to get where they’re going a little too fast this season. Take Tyrion for example: despite being abducted by both Jorah and slavers, attacked by Stone Men, and becoming a gladiator he still makes it to Queen Daenerys’ side in time for the Harpies to ambush them. Or Jaime for that matter, whose journey to Dorne took less time than the average ferry ride here in Seattle.

Maybe all these boats just have propellers we're not seeing...
Maybe all these boats just have propellers we’re not seeing…

Ending the season at Hardhome would have given the writers much more room to extend the storylines of various other characters and actually have them make sense. First of all Sansa’s storyline could have been given a lot more time and by extension maybe Little Finger’s plan wouldn’t look completely insane. The storyline in Dorne could have been given more time, allowing more time for Jaime to actually experience change in his character. And Tyrion and Daenerys’s storylines could have met without seeming like the laws of time and space were becoming warped. And perhaps most importantly, ending at Hardhome would have given the writers a more plausible reason for the Night’s Watch to kill Jon Snow.

Because THIS was finale material.
Oh wait, you can’t… you’re dead.

Don’t get me wrong, the scene with Jon Snow was amazing, but there was a niggling little voice in the back of my mind the entire time saying “this doesn’t really make sense.” This scene worked in the book because Hardhome doesn’t actually happen in the book, so the White Walkers are kind of like the climate change of our world. Yes, everyone sort of admits it’s there and it’s a threat, but everyone is also more obsessed about their own personal ambitions to really do anything about it. So when they kill Jon Snow, it make a certain amount of sense because to the other members of the Night’s Watch, the Wildlings are the real threat.

After Hardhome though? This whole “traitor” business is a bit harder to swallow. Eyewitness testimony to the rising of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of corpses isn’t enough to vindicate Jon Snow’s decision? The other members of the Night’s Watch didn’t point out that maybe he was right? I mean I know the hundreds of crew members on Stannis’s fleet didn’t say anything, because they keep landing on the north side of The Wall for some strange reason, but there were a ton of people with Jon Snow. No one spoke up in his defense among all those Crows who stabbed him?

The kid's motivation is really the only that stands up.
The kid’s motivation is really the only one that stands up.

I mean stabbing Jon Snow at this junction would be like people denying climate change after thousands of deaths from heat waves, huge unprecedented storms, and unending droughts…

Huh… Touché, Game of Thrones, well played…

What’s Wrong with Sansa’s Wedding

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post but this new job has been hell. You know what  I have to do? I have to go into work and sit at a computer all day!

Oh God, I have to spend all day at a computer? My life is hell.
Oh God, I have to spend all day at a computer? My life is hell.

Ahhh, home at last.
Ahhh, home at last.

So I haven’t had time to play through any other games yet, though I’m currently working on Witcher 3 so you can expect a review of that soon. But I have been watching Game of Thrones, and you may have noticed everyone seems to be really mad about that last episode.

So if you haven’t seen last Sundays Game of Thrones, turn back now, because there’s about to be spoilers.

Game of Thrones:

What went wrong with Sansa’s Wedding?

Sansas wedding

Lots of people are angry over Game of Thrones latest episode, in which Sansa gets raped by Ramsey Bolton after their wedding. Other people are angry that they’re angry, because the honest truth is that we’ve seen far worse on this show. Season 1 basically starts out with Daenaerys getting raped by Khal Drogo and eventually succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome. Then there was the Red Wedding, where we literally watched a pregnant woman get stabbed in the baby.

So why are people upset by this? Why are some people saying this is where they draw the line?

I’m going to tell you why and… I can’t believe I’m saying this…

They hated it because it was badly written.

Yes you heard me. And I don’t mean it was bad dialogue or badly acted, both were great, I mean the situation itself was born of bad writing.

See people aren’t upset that there was a rape scene in the show, that’s what everyone is focusing on but that’s just the swollen red skin in their blister of anger. The hot gooey pus of the matter is that the scene added nothing to the story and derailed the character arcs of Ramses, Theon, and Sansa. And without a good story to back up this rape scene, it becomes violence for its own sake. Shock value is all that’s left.

And believe me, GoT, you already have plenty of that. You don't need to force more in.
And believe me, GoT, you already have plenty of that. You don’t need to force more in.

See the rape of Sansa does absolutely nothing for the story, and in fact hinders several important character arcs. You see we’ve watched Sansa suffer already, in fact it was getting kind of repetitive by the time she finally reached the Eyrie. But when she did get there, we finally got our reward: watching Sansa slowly begin asserting control over her life.

Little Finger is despicable and disgusting, but there’s no denying he taught Sansa how to survive. Like him, Sansa isn’t a warrior, she can’t survive on strength. What Little Finger teachers her is to play the strong against one another, and move in when both are weakened. She uses these skills beautifully and helps cover Little Finger’s ass after he kills his wife.

So now we come to the wedding, and several things happen that aren’t at all in keeping with what the story has been telling us so far. First of all, all of Little Finger’s obvious affection for the girl goes right out the window, not to mention his meticulous planning. He of all people must know about Ramsey’s sadistic insanity. Yet even though Ramsey might accidentally kill the girl he loves, he just dumps her off and goes tearing back to King’s Landing. (Where he arrives after using Westeros’s first automobile, seriously how did he get there so fast?)

How about I give you a ride in my Benz and we call it even?
How about I give you a ride in my Benz and we call it even?

Now this scene was the perfect opportunity to make Sansa’s character more than a victim. Think about it for a moment, Sansa has all the information she needs to turn this situation to her advantage. At dinner she heard about Lord Bolton’s  expecting wife and if she pays even a miniscule amount of attention to Ramsey, she would notice how much this upsets him. It wouldn’t take a genius to realize his greatest ambition is succeeding his father.

Then she’s confronted by Ramsey’s girlfriend and Sansa shows off that cool controlled poker face, showing us she’s capable of standing up for herself. She also gains another piece of valuable information, that Ramsey uses women like a five year old’s toys… he uses them and eventually breaks them. So she’s not going into this situation blind, and Little Finger has taught her how to use information to manipulate people. He straight up told her that she was the key to controlling the North, she was one of the most powerful pieces in the game.

So what could she have done? Pretty much whatever she wanted.

Really all she had to do was say something like this:

“You lay hand on me and I’ll throw myself out the window [or any other method of suicide/disfigurement]. Everyone knows you’re a monster, and they won’t believe for one moment you didn’t do it. Ramsey Bolton killing the last Stark; every banner man in the North would rise up in revolt and now that your father has a real son, he wouldn’t hesitate in flaying you alive to regain control. So here’s what gonna happen, you’ll wait in here for ten minutes and then return to your own chambers. And that’s it. From now on I’ll be your wife, but you will never touch me.”

It would have juxtaposed nicely with her last encounter with a betrothed lover...
It would have juxtaposed nicely with her last encounter with a betrothed lover…

Of course after he leaves we could see Sansa break down in tears, because obviously it’s all bluff. But it’s a bluff that Ramsey would totally have fallen for, there is nothing more important to him than the approval of his father (or perhaps more accurately, succeeding his father), it’s his Achilles heel. What’s more it would be a woman that brought him down, someone he would never have seen as a threat.

This also opens up all new realms of possibilities for stories and situations. The delicate balancing act between Sansa and Ramsey could have lead to some tense scenes as Sansa keeps a tenuous grip on Ramsey’s increasing anger at her control over him. Or maybe they would strike up an alliance of convenience, conspiring to kill Lord Bolton in order to avenge her brother and allow him to succeed him. Each plans to betray the other after Bolton’s death though, and it becomes a tense game of cat and mouse where we’re never quite sure who’s the cat.

Oh who am I kidding, we all know who the cat would be...
Oh who am I kidding, we all know who the cat would be…

But the Sansa Rape story? The only possible story that can come from this is her signaling for Brienne to rescue her. It’s boring and predictable which is precisely what we don’t expect Game of Thrones to be. It’s why we love the show, because it surprises us so much.

And while I suppose Sansa could come out of this experience stronger and able to take control of her fate, here’s the thing:

You didn’t need to rape Sansa to make that happen.

Which means it was unnecessary to the story.

And that’s why people hated it.