Guest Blog: Winter is Coming. So?

Personally, my thoughts on Game of Thrones is that it’s a Lord of the Rings parody that got turned into a snuff film by mistake.


Dave’s opinion is more nuanced.


~Declan

David Morris

June 12, 2018
Winter is Coming. So?
My Problems With Game
of Thrones
For
Declan’s Blog Exclusively
Greetings. My name
is David Morris. I have known Declan Finn personally for well over a
decade, since he helped me edit some 24-Alias novels. We don’t
always agree politically (I’m a centrist libertarian) or on
television, but we have mutual respect for our abilities as writers.
For that reason, he has gracious allowed me to guest post this piece
at his site.
A basic
introduction. While I have written a formidable amount of fanfiction
for the last two decades, the majority of my writing over that period
has been based in television criticism. In that sense, Declan was
instrumental in getting me my first professional piece at the now
(mostly) defunct Examiner.com. Since that website stopped publishing
television reviews, I have posted at two website – medium.com under
my pen name David B Morris., and at my own personal blog
davidbmorristvbonaza.blogspot.com (Yes, I know its misspelled; I
didn’t do a spellcheck, and by the time I registered it was too late.
C’est la vie.)
The article you’re
currently reading represents my five hundredth post at the latter. In
recognition of this, Declan has graciously allowed me to do a special
guest post at his website, commemorating a series that I am sure
everybody at this blog has a reason to despise: Game of Thrones. I
appreciate his generosity at allowing me to make this posting
on his website. It is my fondest wish that, having read my article,
you will go to both my websites and start following me. I can’t
always promise that my choices in television will be entirely to your
liking, but that’s the job of a critic.
This piece will
also probably be fairly longer than the majority of the pieces I
usually write. Considering the length and breadth the series takes
up, there’s a certain logic to that, too. That said, most of what I
know about Game of Thrones comes second-hand, so if I get any
names or plot points wrong, they’re my mistakes, and I hope you don’t
hold that against me.
As I have mentioned
in my column and blog many times, all of my criticism takes a narrow
view. The shows that I recommend are only series that I have time to
watch. At my most active, I can watch maybe ten percent of all the
series currently on the air, and as a result, many, many good series
have fallen by the wayside. I never got into Downton Abbey, I
only sporadically watch NCIS, and there are so many streaming
services that I barely can watch a few key ones on Netflix and
Amazon.
But there are some
very popular series that, even given the fullness of opportunity,
that not only would I never watch, when I hear what they are about
and what happens on them, I am frankly appalled that these are the
series that my fellow viewers have chosen to embrace. Even worse, I
wonder what it says for the public that so many of them worship these
series. Today, I’m going to discuss one such series that has already
infected its network, the audience, and frankly the world for reasons
that I can’t comprehend: Game of Thrones.
Now, I’ll be
honest. Initially, I chose not to watch Game of Thrones out of
any political or artistic reasons. When it premiered, Sundays at 9, I
would, usually and faithfully be watching The Good Wife with
my mother. Political points of view aside, it was a truly brilliant
written, acted and often extremely funny, courtroom drama that
absolutely represented the best of what network TV could do. In fact,
I would spend many articles raging why the Emmys would choose to
overindulge one series and practically ignore the other. (End of
digression)
I know, that’s a
weak excuse. Even though streaming was still in its infancy at the
time, HBO makes a habit of repeating its original series so many
times after the premiere that I could’ve chosen to watch the initial
episode of Thrones at any time after the initial premiere. The
major reasons I chose not to watch it were even simpler. I didn’t
know anything about the books they were based on, I had major
problems with any television series based on fantasy, and it sounded
too much like a mix of period piece and swords and sorcery for me to
even consider quality TV.
A couple of words
about George R.R. Martin. At the time, I didn’t know what a
polarizing figure he was among the sci-fi community. I only knew him
through his work on the 1980s incarnations of The Twilight Zone
and Beauty and the Beast, and the odd sci-fi story I’d
read, none of which I’d found particular impressive. Furthermore, as
much as it’s easy to blame him for a lot, at least some of the blame
must go to showrunners and head-writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
Indeed, a good argument can be made that much of what happens on the
series is more their fault then it is Martin’s, particularly in the
later seasons where (presumably) they have begun to depart rather
largely from the published books. This doesn’t absolve Martin,
particularly as Benioff and Weiss stuck pretty close to the spirit
and text of the novels, but let’s at least to be willing to put some
of the blame where it belongs.
But even if I
didn’t have all the baggage that pertains to Martin and the world of
Westeros that many people, the fact is, most of my problems with the
series would still be there. How much of this you want to blame on
Martin or the show’s writing staff is open to debate, but the fact
the problems are there, and frankly, I think they would’ve been
insurmountable. Let me state them for the record, and explain my
problems with them purely as a television critic.
1. The cast is
too large.
Now, almost immediately I must quantify this. I don’t
have a problem with series with large casts. The New Golden Age of
Television works as well as it does, because of large, multi-talented
casts. It would take an entire article to go through these great
series, so I’m going to limit it solely to HBO dramas.
OZ, the
prison drama that basically started the revolution, began its run
with more than a dozen regular members and nine semi-regulars, and
would expand with each successive season. Deadwood had nearly
twenty lead actors to start show and managed to do a fairly good job
expanding all of them in its (unfortunately) too limited run. And of
course, the gold standard for great television, The Wire, had
one of the most sprawling cast in the history of the medium, starting
with two dozen lead actors, and often putting in a whole new group of
regulars with each new season.
But the difference
seems to be, each series was run by a genius, who knew how to keep
things from spiraling out. Oz was in a claustrophobic setting,
and there was a fairly high death rate. Deadwood was limited
almost entirely to the breadth of the town, and made its missteps
when I tried to give too much room to new characters. And as Simon
and his co-writers constantly said, The Wire was the Great
American Novel with the central character being Baltimore.
Game of Thrones,
in the meantime, seems to deal entirely with so large a realm
that it needs a map over the credits to tell you where everything is.
And it keeps jumping about from location to location so frequently
that its nearly impossible to figure out where the hell you are.
There’s also the fact that each season so far has been ten episodes a
year, as opposed to the usual thirteen for HBO, so that even this
close to the series end, its hard to tell who exactly the main
characters are. (I read one article a couple years back saying
that even the biggest characters on Thrones are often limited
to no more than forty minutes of screen time per season.)
Again, I have no problems with ensemble shows in general, but even in
previous ensemble shows, at least the major characters would interact
occasionally. In many cases, most of the major characters didn’t
start interacting until Season 5, and that’s mainly because Benioff
and Weiss diverted from the text. I know sometimes you need a chart
to keep characters clear; Game of Thrones would seem to
require a wall.
That’s a huge
burden for any series, and that wouldn’t bother me so much, if not
for the second point:
2. Characters
keep dying, and they keep dying horribly.
Again, I don’t have a
problem with series where characters are killed. A fairly solid
argument could be made that’s part of what makes the New Golden Age
so special: no one is safe. (Declan may have problems with this, but
even he admits it works at times: his favorite season of 24 was
Day 5, and that’s the day which by far had the highest body count.)
And indeed, so many of the great shows of this era – in addition to
the ones I’ve mentioned, I’ll add Breaking Bad and Lost –
work so well because when the death comes, it stings a lot.
What I have problem
with our series where the characters seem to die arbitrarily or for
the sole purpose of shock value. This isn’t the sole property of
Thrones, either: Shonda Rhimes seems to be even bloodier, and
I’ve had major issues with series like Sons of Anarchy that
seem to delight in killing people unpleasantly. What makes Game of
Thrones
particularly unpleasant is that it seems to revel in
killing off its very large cast in particularly unpleasant way often
before we even get to know them. It was one thing when Ned Stark got
killed, the series had built so much around him in the first season,
you almost forgot what was in the book. But from this point, the
butcheries just seem to come constantly and using all the gore that
HBO can get away with. Indeed, they seem to delight in following
characters for an entire season, and have you get attached them, and
then mindlessly slaughter them in as public a way as possible. (It
probably goes without saying, but if you get a wedding invitation in
Westeros, don’t RSVP.)
All of this has a
level of reaching the kind of detachment you need to get through your
typical teenage slasher movie, which would be fine. Sometimes you
need that to get through some dark series. Except it now seems that
the whole point of the series – the battle for the Iron Throne – is
solely go to depend on which character is still alive after all the
slaughter. Now, I know battles for thrones can be bloody, but this is
ludicrous. Frankly, I’m amazed so many people are still taking it
seriously. Or maybe that’s not why they watch. Which brings me to my
final problem:
3. The copious,
ridiculous sex.
Declan and I had a running gag about a similarly
blood and sex soaked HBO series. We said that the real difference
between True Blood and porn is that porn has less nudity. You
could substitute Game of Thrones and not have much a debate.
Of course, the major difference between Thrones and Blood
is that in Thrones, the majority of the sex is incest,
half the time known, half the time it is unknown, and all if it
pretty violent. Hell, the pilot opened with a scene where the
Lannister twins were spotted having sex, and the more onlooker was
thrown out a castle window! It’s gotten a lot worse from there,
And even when the
people who are having sex aren’t related (which is the other half of
the sex) it can get pretty darn perverse. If there’s a field for this
kind of sex (and given the mass popularity of the novels and the
series, its probably a lot bigger than we’d like to believe), at
least, its not doing anything radically new, even on the levels of TV
series. (There’ve been two series on the Borgias that came around the
same time, and I think True Blood as well had a fair amount,
though again, that’s just rumor.) What is the most horrifying part of
the sex is the brutalization of women. Now, you wouldthink in this
new era of female abuse there’d be some mass outcry for the way that
female characters on this series have been debased and often
brutalized. There was a fair amount on controversy when one of the
surviving Stark children, barely in her teen, was essentially raped
on her wedding night. But it didn’t last very long, mainly because
not that long afterward all everybody cared about was whether or not
Jon Snow was alive or dead.
One could make the
argument that this shaming of women is part of time and place, but
since we don’t know when or even where this series is taking place,
that holds very little water with me. It doesn’t seem to bother
millions of other fans, and that troubles me even more. Not quite as
much as the untold millions who worship Shonda Rhimes or The
Walking Dead,
but it is very troubling.
However, I will be
honest. There is one thing about Game of Thrones that I
admire. It is simultaneously the biggest and smallest thing about. I
speak, of course, about the magnificent Peter Dinklage and his work
as Tyrion Lannister.
Unlike the majority
of viewers, I had actually heard of Dinklage before his work on this
show. He is a formidable and charismatic actor who, but for his
stature, would have been a superstar actor in a field. As it is, he
had already managed quite a remarkable career in the independent film
industry, most memorably in The Station Agent and Find Me
Guilty.
The matching of him with this kind of fantasy role
should’ve been a no-brainer, but Dinklage, prior to this series,
avoided these roles because he didn’t want to be typecast. Indeed, he
made it very clear when he was cast in the role of Tyrion that he
didn’t want to have to grow the conventional beard associated with so
many fairy tales. When he finally had to grow one, he made it clear
it was going to be that of desperate fugitive, not a cuddly dwarf.
Dinklage is by far
the best thing about this series. He plays Tyrion like Richard III
melded with Frank Urquhart/Underwood, with the drinking and whoring
of Falstaff thrown in. From the beginning of the series, he has been
one of the more magnificent schemers – he’s literally the red-headed
stepchild of the family, and he knows the only way he’s going to get
power is by manipulation. For that reason, he is generally loathed
everyone, and the feeling is mutual He is probably the only
character on the series one feels even the remotest amount of
sympathy for, even though he would probably disdain the viewer for
doing so.
And of course, he
is responsible for the one truly glorious moment of the show. In
season 4, after months of being suspected of the murder of his
nephew, he goes before the court, and yells out: “I did not kill
Tyrell Lannister, but I wish to God I had! His death brought be more
pleasure than a thousand whores!” You could hear the ping of
brilliance in that moment, mainly because it was surrounded in the
filth and noise and bloodshed of hundreds of other beastly acts. Now,
I’m not saying that Dinklage deserved the Emmys he’s gotten for Game
of Thrones,
but he deserves to get awards for something, and if
this the only way to get them, I can’t begrudge them that.
But for all that,
Game of Thrones is almost entirely a bloody, disgusting orgy
of violence that even for HBO represents the worst elements of pay
cable with little of the benefits. I’m inclined to give the network
some credit because I know its because of popular shows like Thrones
and True Blood, HBO has been given the latitude to
experiment with less showy dramas and comedies. We probably wouldn’t
have gotten The Deuce or Big Little Lies or Insecure
or any of HBO’s other brilliant experimental series without these
monstrosities.
What bothers me is
that HBO seems to be its future is Game of Thrones. The series
is scheduled to come to an end in the summer of 2019. But there are
at least four other prequel or sequel based series being planned, and
one is already in production. Is this going to be what HBO looks like
in the 2020s, with half of its schedule devoted to Westeros?
The world of
television has been expanding exponentially in the new millennium.
For the most part, I consider this a good thing, as it has allowed
for truly magnificent programming. And HBO must be given credit – a
lot of it -for leading the charge. But HBO lost its place at the top
of the pyramid when it expanded its reach beyond its grasp ten years.
Could winter really be coming, not only to Westeros, but to HBO?
There are plenty of other services more than willing to take the
crown. Indeed, AMC, Showtime, and Netflix have spent most of the past
ten years showing they have the imagination and the will to do so. I
really hope that the network that showed the realism of Sopranos
and Six Feet Under and so many other great series hasn’t
decided its future lies with dragons and Wind Walkers. That would be
a fate I’m not even sure Jon Snow would want to come back for.

The Dragons are coming.
If you don’t have your ballot filled out already (either IRL or in your head,) here’s my list. It includes the lists of other people, so there are options.
Just remember to vote.
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