winter is whatever

My Personal GoT Arc Finally Got Resolved

A few years ago, I met my 20-something son for brunch. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he had recently been swept up in a series of books.

“They’re fantasy,” he explained, “And I’m not usually into fantasy — but these are different. These are excellent.” One of the distinguishing features of the books was their sudden, brutal and completely unexpected plot twists. “You’re reading,” he said, “And then you stop, and say to yourself — did that just happen? — and you read the passage again, and, yes, it did. Sometimes I have to put the book down, and go away, and just think for awhile…” He highly recommended I read them.

My son is an intelligent, somewhat spiritual, and deeply thoughtful young man. He is not easily impressed, so I took this testimony very seriously.

“What’s the name of the book?” I asked.

“Game of Thrones,” he replied.

Not long after, I was perusing the books table at a yard sale and there — as if by fate — was a mint set of the first three volumes of the series. I snapped them up, and was soon engrossed in Volume 1.

I soon discovered that all of my son’s enthusiasm was completely justified. Yes, it was fantasy fiction, but it was beautifully and evocatively written, with intricate plotting, complex characters, and a richly imagined world that was part medieval realism, part fantasy. I was hooked.

Around the time my son was first telling me about GoT, the first installment of the televised version was debuting on HBO. Not being an HBO — or for that matter TV — watcher, I was pretty much unaware of this until I was about halfway through the first book, at which time I saw a promo online for ‘Season 2 of Game of Thrones’. Intrigued to see how the book’s rich world was translated to television, I clicked the link and found myself on HBO’s site, watching a ‘preview trailer’ of Season 2.

In which it was quickly and without forewarning revealed that Ned Stark died in Season 1.

Ned Stark, you must understand, was the James Bond of GoT. Virtually the titular character. Certainly the hero.

I exhaled deeply. This must be one of those abrupt twists my son was talking about.

(I mentioned this to him next time we spoke. “That’s nothing. Wait till the next one,” he said, foreshadowing the infamous ‘Red Wedding’.)

I resolved not to read or watch anything else about GoT online, and got back to my reading of volume one, now thoroughly alerted to the book’s central plot point, the unexpected assassination of its lead character. Once I got past that event, I felt oddly relaxed, that I could read on with the pleasure of not knowing what lay around the next page turn …

And so it went, for the next few years. I pressed on through books two, and three and four. And as I read on, every spring HBO would unspool another season of shows to an increasingly large and vocal fan base. And therein lay the problem.

In the first couple of years, the tv series did well enough, but simmered just below the penumbra of popular attention. Somewhere around the third and fourth season it blew up into a bona fide cultural phenomenon. There were parodies, and merchandise, and fan clubs and travelling prop exhibitions, and guided tours of filming locations and on and on. And endless online exposition.

For the growing legions of GoT fans, the airing of each new episode became the pinnacle of the week: breathlessly awaited days in advance, endlessly debated for days after. So popular had the show become, that it was almost impossible to open a news site on Monday morning without seeing some spoiler-laden reference to ‘Can You Believe What Happened on GoT Last Night?’ Indeed, it became one of the show’s signature moves to conclude each installment with some audience-jarring action or revelation, planted like pots of wildfire to ignite the Monday morning ritual of online fan feedback.

By then, GoT chatter had spread into virtually every nook and cranny of the internet and the narrative of the tv series overtook where I was in the printed version. It became increasingly difficult to keep myself shielded from spoilers. It took real, conscious effort not to be aware of what was happening in the tv version as I waited for the next book to drop …

But a reckoning was coming.

George R.R. Martin, the author, was taking longer and longer to produce new chapters in the saga. The first three books appeared a regular two year intervals. The fourth book took five years to appear. The fifth, six. By that formula, the sixth book will show up sometime in 2018, and the seventh (and last) in (gasp) 2026.

But personally, I’m kinda done.

I finished the fifth book three summers ago, and have kind of given up waiting for the next one. To be honest, the cast and storyline of GoT is so multilayered and complex, I doubt very much that I could pull all the various threads together after so much time. I’d need a ‘our story so far’ summary before resuming the narrative, just to bring me back up to speed. Much as I love the books and admire the author, absence has made the heart indifferent.

Meantime, the tv show has used up all the material from the published books, and is now pressing forward on its own — following the author’s blueprint, if not his exact plotlines. The producers, after all, have their own obligations.

For myself, I have given up trying to insulate myself from online news of What’s Happening in Westeros. I have come to realise that it may be the only channel I have to learn the fates of Tyrion, Dany and all the rest. Like George R.R., I’m not getting any younger either.

So yeah, I know that Cersei came roaring back with a vengeance and blew the brotherhood and the sept to kingdom come. Jon Snow didn’t die after all … and — I knew it — he may be a bastard but his blood is royal through and through.

I tried for a pure, literary experience of the saga; in the end, I’m reduced to a drip feed of online summaries and video clips. Like all the rest of the show’s addicts, I’m now reduced to getting my GoT fix in weekly installments for a few short weeks of the year.

I’m pretty confident that in the end, Jon and Dany will get together and run the show, with Tyrion as their right hand man.

But who knows when that end is coming…

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