Game of Thrones (GOT) will soon air its sixth season and here are some key plot points that occur. Nothing, followed by hours of nothing, before finally ending with an event that moves the plot along an inch at a time. As a reluctant fan of the show I have finally had enough. I will no longer be watching a show that just keeps stringing me along for 10 hours at a time just to watch one badass scene. This, and several other reasons are just some of the problems in the television series of Game of Thrones and I feel it’s time that someone put apologist fans in their place.
Note that I aim my criticism specifically at the show for two related reasons. The first is that I have not read the books, which doesn’t mean I am somehow unqualified to express my opinion on the show (see below). The second reason is because my criticism is directed at the show as a medium to express the story of George R.R. Martin’s books. The fact that the series has now caught up to the books and the stories now divergent from one another is a clear example of how the two entities are distinct from one another.
My greatest criticism with GOT is that nothing happens. Each season can be summed up in a few simple phrases. Season 1: Ned no head. Season 2: dragons burn some peeps. Season 3: red wedding. Season 4: wall fight. Season 5: Jon dead. These are the major plot points of GOT and it takes 50 hours to see them all. Because of the medium in which the plot plays out, GOT is not a good story for television. Television, cinema and to a similar extent, theatre, all share distinct similarities that distinguish them from other forms of media, such as literature or music. As mediums for narrative they are ill suited to the incredible depth of the GOT thrones universe.
All works are limited in their scope and length and some mediums are better suited to long and convoluted plots. This is one reason why many people will say “the books are better than the movie”. Books allow authors to construct narratives at a much slower pace, and the details and significant themes of the plot are revealed through one means of exchange – written words. That the books are almost always better I can believe to be true (one could take exception to Twilight which in any medium is utter trash). For the fantasy genre, this is certainly true. One only has to compare the books of the Lord of Rings, the Hobbit, or Harry Potter with the films to make this point clear. This is not to say those films are bad however. It is generally agreed that Peter Jackson did a phenomenal job with Lord the Rings in its scope and depth as films. Even he would be quick to agree though that they are fundamentally different from the books. Books are a far better medium in which to express convoluted plots.
Movies and television on the other hand are completely different.Movies can be the most challenging because of the collaboration between the producer, director, and writer can make or break a film. Films are limited in their scope because they are a very visceral experience. Film multiple senses at once and the great films are ones that stimulate multiple senses, in just the right way,while giving the audience the story.
Star Wars is a perfect example of good and bad cinema. According to Rotten Tomatoes, The Empire Strikes Back is considered the best of the 6 (original and prequel trilogies) films created . Probably because it combines the best elements of cinematography and storytelling to create a cohesive story. In cinema it is not just what the characters say but the camera angles and visual metaphors that play a larger role in the storytelling. The scene when Luke confronts Darth Vader/himself on Dagobah is a perfect example of this. The sequence makes use of the elements of cinema to tell the audience what is happening without the need for a character to be explaining what is happening.
The prequels on the other hand, do not make any use of this sort of storytelling. The prequels are dialogue heavy with fight scenes thrown into the mix. This is a reason why they are bad storytelling in a cinema context. Indeed, on paper the prequels might have looked better than they did when it came time for George Lucas to bring them to life on the silver screen.
Television is similar to movies, except that it is both restricted in some aspects and at liberty in other elements. Story arcs can typically play out over several hours which constitute an entire season. Each episode needs to move the plot along however; otherwise audiences will become disinterested. There is less of an emphasis on visual metaphors or symbolism for the most part. A series like season one of True Detective is a fine example of television at its best. Each episode plays an integral role in the season, and the season ends with a definitive ending. True Detective is perhaps not analogous to GOT because it was intended as an anthology. Nevertheless, the same principles should apply in any good television show. Audiences need to experience catharsis and closure.
With this is mind, my main criticism of GOT is that there are too many characters with very little plot going into each season. The amount of characters in GOT is a common criticism, and fan apologists claim that:
“The fabric of George R.R. Martin’s world is so intertwined and rich in background detail that even removing a character of little significance could snowball and cause a problem later…”
This is a poor excuse, and instead of defending GOT, in reality it proves my point that the expansive work of GOT is not suitable material for a television series. In each episode characters get 10 maybe 15 mins of air time. Some characters are wholly absent for long stretches of time. The audience is forced to remember back to what happened to them in a previous episode or season fast forward to the scene at hand, and before anything meaningful happens in terms of plot, the scene cuts away to follow another character. This makes the pacing of the plot akin to that of a snail. My criticism here is not that we have trouble remembering what happened in the past, but that it takes two or three weeks for just one plot element to play out on the screen in front of us. This kind of pacing is fine in books because as I noted above, books are a different medium and are better suited to long complex plot points.
An example that I hope illustrates my point are the seven episodes Jaime Lannister spends in a cage (2.1-2.8) before taking a trip with Brienne of Tarth to return Jaime to King’s Landing for 13 episodes (2.8-4.1). It takes an entire season. 13 hours! 13 hours to watch Jaime Lannister travel from Rob Stark’s army in the north south to King’s Landing. Now, you could say there is are a lot of other events playing out, but this doesn’t rebut the essential point that the pacing of the show is slow due to the amount of characters in the story. I shall reiterate that this does not make GOT a bad story. In terms of story for television however, it is far too large for the small screen.
True Detective by comparison centers around two main characters. The attempt to expand this to three in the second season failed miserably. Two seems to be perfect number for the genre of crime television. GOT has upwards of 40 main characters with supporting cast. Seasons last ten episodes, each episode one hour long, and fans a strung along hour after hour, season after season just watching a series of minor plot points play out. The number of characters is problem that I feel is beginning to effect other series hoping to ride off the wave of GOT’s success with a mass audience.
My first example is Arrow which airs on the CW. This series has always had two plots running simultaneously which was never really a problem because it largely involved the same character in each storyline. The main cast was also limited to four or five people in the first season before expanding in subsequent seasons to include, the tech girl, his sister, the second sidekick, the ex-gf turned ninja, the other ex-gf turned screeching person. The current season has been the weakest by far.
Another series, Vikings, has also been effected in this way. In the first season Ragnar was able to sail to England, twice, and become earl of Kattegat. In the last season all he managed to do was attack Paris after some events in England. This season we are five episodes in and we are subjected to three concurrent plot lines in Wessex, Paris, and Norway (Kattegat and Hedeby) and although the plot continues to advance in good step I fear the continued influence of GOT will drive the show to a point where nothing happens and we have to watch multiple seasons just to see the plot move along.
One final point. A reason for slower pacing of a plot can make events seem more monumental. This might be the case, but the Battle of Blackwater, while a spectacular sequence, is nothing in comparison to the Helm’s Deep sequence in LOTR: The Two Towers. My point here is that slower pacing leading to a monumental event might work once, maybe twice, but when your show revolves around this single premise, the formula becomes tired quickly.
I’m calling bullshit on GOT this year. I won’t be watching it until I have watched this new coat of paint dry in my lounge, and after that ten more coats. That’s what I would rather be doing than continue to watch the giant cock tease that it GOT. To all those watching this year I say good luck. Maybe you’ll 30 more seconds of a White Walker. Maybe you’ll get a glimpse of a dragon. Shit, Daenerys might actually make it Westeros. In the meantime, as you sit there week after week waiting, praying, pleading for something to happen just stop for one minute and question whether anything meaningful has actually happened in the episode.
I think its number 3, the other reasons are non criticisms just put there for click-bait.