The Real Iron Throne is the Writers

In which I talk about Game of Thrones, but don’t give anything away, and so you’re safe from spoilers. (Here, at any rate).

So. Game of Thrones is now officially finally over, and we know who came out on top, and who died horribly, and who was apparently completely forgotten about by the screenwriters. Unsurprisingly, the ending hasn’t satisfied everyone. And perhaps it never could — after all, it’s such an epic, sprawling story, with so many different character arcs and subplots going on in so many different locations, that it’s defeated even the ability of the original author to finish it. George RR Martin hasn’t published an instalment in his A Song of Ice and Fire series since A Dance With Dragons in 2011, and eight years and seven seasons of the TV show later, the next book in the series (not even the last one) The Winds of Winter, is apparently still nowhere near the horizon. And the fans sure aren’t happy about his lack of productivity — if you want to start a flame war online, try going on a fantasy fiction forum and asking the members what they think of him.

While book authors can suffer from writer’s block, TV production schedules wait for no man, and so The Game of Thrones TV show has continued far beyond the book series it’s based on. Many people (including me, tbh) think that the show’s quality has gone downhill as a result, especially in the eighth and final season. There’s even been a fan petition to remake the final season with more competent writers. Common complaints are that plot developments feel rushed, and that the characterisation is inconsistent. As identified elsewhere, at least part of the issue is probably because of the clash in style between the TV writers needing to reach the next set piece, and GRRM’s more organic, character-based way of writing. When the character-driven stuff runs out and the TV writers have only the most basic outline to work with, it starts feeling sketchy.

This might all sound like so much whinging on the internet, the latest in a series of complaints from fans about things not turning out the way they wanted. And it is. But I have a more positive takeaway from all this — that writers matter. The written word can often feel like the poor cousin of the entertainment family, with many more people interested in flashy special effects and handsome movie stars than in the humble scribbler. And yet, with so many people desperately wanting GRRM to finish the books, and feeling unsatisfied with the way the TV show has turned out, the importance of good writing cannot be denied. Nearly all the problems that people have identified with the final episodes of Game of Thrones are writing problems — things like character development and convincing motivations can only come from writers. The actors are good, as are the directors, but they can only do so much with what they’ve been given. The cinematography and special effects have been fantastic, as have the unsung heroes behind set dressing and costume design (although someone could have cleared away the stray coffee cups and water bottles…). Without a good script to bring everything together, it’s all just a bunch of overdressed actors, CGI dragons and extras waving swords.

So, you’re not too happy with the way Game of Thrones concluded. And you fear that either you or George RR Martin might die before A Song of Ice and Fire is finished. You’ve accepted that writing is very important, but what are you supposed to do now? The answer is simple: find some good writing, and read it. Try some great fantasy books in series which have been finished — there are loads of them out there. How about the triple-Hugo-award-winning-trilogy The Broken Earth?

Or, if the fate of Westeros is an itch that absolutely must be scratched, then don’t worry, fanfic authors have written their own conclusions (and I’m sure many more will follow in the months and years to come). You could try The North Remembers, a longform (very longform) fanfic which picks up where A Dance With Dragons leaves off, and takes the story in a different direction from the show. It’s worth noting at this point that George RR Martin has spoken out against fanfic on several occasions, and considers it lazy. I will leave you to decide whether someone who has written a 600,000-word work of epic fantasy when GRRM himself has not managed any output on his main series in nearly a decade can be rightfully called ‘lazy’. One thing I will say about fanfic is this — it’s nearly always driven by a deep appreciation of character, and so you never see the kind of under-motivated plot twists which have been an issue with the TV show.

Or if you don’t fancy any of that, you could even pick up a keyboard yourself. Or simply sit back and enjoy the endless conversations, online and offline, that writing has sparked and continues to spark. Whatever you do, remember this: writers matter, so be nice to them, or else you’ll be written into a fanfic as a character who gets eaten by Drogon the dragon.