Game of Thrones and writing the inevitable
There was a time when all stories were inevitable. Characters were locked in the process of their genre – tragedy, comedy, history.
The skill of story in this time was not in the shocking twist of the tale – but the depth and ingenuity of the characters and how it reflected themes back to us.
Othello is not great because of the plot. It’s because it uses the tragic canvas to explore the themes of jealousy, betrayal, hubris.
Similarly, I feel like the new series of Game of Thrones is slowly approaching an inevitable conclusion – but I don’t trust it to make the most of the potential there.
WARNING: From this point on, SPOILERS.
DON’T EVEN SCROLL DOWN IF YOU HAVEN’T REACHED THIS WEEK’S EPISODE.
Now, here’s the setup as I see it.
There’s a boringly good queen, with three dragons and a castle built on the only resource that can defeat the white walkers.
Nobody can beat dragons.
Nobody can beat the white walkers without the dragon glass in dragon stone.
Fire beats ice.
Her and Jon Snow are basically in a showdown to see who is the most boringly pure goody goody ruler.
But it’s not about the story
I’d give Games of Thrones about a 6-7/10 at the moment. It gets extra points for being so uniquely high budget and mad week to week.
However, it forever loses points for using outrageous and gratuitously shocking scenes that it just hasn’t earned. Most notably Sansa’s rape and burning the girl alive, with her screams more or less in real time.
For me, this is because the characters and writing just aren’t quite good enough a lot of the time.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think they are stupid or talentless (and to be honest, who would care if I did.) Pulling this off is not easy.
It’s an enormous amount of writing to produce, even with these shorter series, and without much real action for big periods of time (why was Dragon-woman on the other side of the world for so long?), the focus has to be 99% character and contrived situations to keep them busy.
It’s not easy. It’s to be applauded when they do nail it.
But the exercise I feel they should be looking at is how the history of performance has tackled inevitability. That’s the heritage I think could be playing toward.
For comparison, think about Breaking Bad.
SPOILERS FOR BREAKING BAD
GO AND WATCH IT
IT’S BETTER THAN GAME OF THRONES.
No plan, but tragedy
Breaking Bad set off without a clue where it was supposed to end up.
But before long, the dynamic became clear. Summed up best by Jesse Pinkman: Why does Mr.White/ Heisenberg keep getting away with everything?
The series pushed Walter White further and further down his Heisenberg hole. But the tension of him getting away with it forever can only be concluded and resolved one way.
It’s like a musical theme. There will be blood. The centre cannot hold.
Once you accept this as your framework, you can put all your might behind it.
But with Game of Thrones, I feel the basic and inevitable story is a bit too simplistic to give this satisfaction – and the writing can’t quite make up for it.
It’s not as exciting if you think the good guys will win – and the scenarios they have set up for the bad guys to win would be just as unsatisfying.
Who knows, maybe they’ll prove me wrong.
Perhaps it’s inevitable.