The Plot to End All Plots…

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.

Plato’s Republic and Star Wars

At the heart of the Star Wars Universe is the Force. That mystical energy that “surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together.” In Star Wars the Force is most commonly manifested by either the Jedi or the Sith.  The Sith and Jedi are sworn enemies, duelling it out over millennia in an attempt to eradicate one another from the galaxy. This dualism has many parallels with Plato’s Republic in which Socrates attempts to defend morality from immorality. The problem is posed by Adeimantus to Socrates at 367b, “why does one of them, in and of itself, make anyone who possesses it bad, while the other one, in and of itself, make him good?” In other words, without reference to the consequences of either morality or immorality, i.e. the reputation that follows from each, what it is about each that makes it good or bad. This problem reflects in many ways the struggle between the Sith and Jedi in the Star Wars Universe.

The Jedi use the force for good. They have a greater appreciation for the subtitles of the force and what it has to offer. They value wisdom and courage; peace over war. They only fight when it is necessary. They are at peace with themselves, and they seek to bring balance to the universe. Why they do this is not always evident. However, at their core, the Jedi are in many ways akin to Socrates in the Republic. They are defenders of morality for morality’s sake. They believe that by doing good, not for the intendent consequences, but for the act in and of itself is worthwhile. It is what the force is calling them to do. This is what identifies them as a force for good. It also shrouds them is an air of mystery. Meanwhile, due to this air mystery sometimes the actions of the Jedi are frustrating. We don’t connect fully with their ideals. We see that what they aim for is noble and good, but we do not think that their means of doing so are the most efficient. Here is where another parallel exists between Plato and Star Wars. In the Republic, Plato gives a long analogy describing the life of a philosopher as one who ascends from a cave to find the truth and the light, only to descend once again to free his comrades and be ridiculed and even punished. The Jedi are much the same. We do not fully understand their methods and intentions and so they are ridiculed, in the same way that those in the cave are ignorant of what the philosopher has learned outside in the light. What he speaks of seems silly, even crazy. Ultimately, this is what enables the dark side of the Force to manifest itself.

The Sith are the opposite of the Jedi. The see the force as a tool in which to better themselves. They are selfish and self-centred. They think only of themselves. They seek power in the manner of 1984, just for the sake of power. In the Star Wars films they rise to power through cunning and deceit, in the same way that that Thrasymachus and Adeimantus describe the unjust man using deceit and cunning to trick everyone around him into thinking that he is a moral man and deserving of praise and reward. For the audience it is easy for us to identify the Sith as evil but in reality we are more like the Galactic Senate at the end of episode III giving away our freedom to the Emperor. Everyone is at times a little selfish, and we can even be greedy. Moreover, we can identify with Anakin’s struggle. He wants to have the power to save the lives of those he cares about most just as many of would in reality. On closer inspection then, many of us are actually closer to the Sith than we are to the Jedi, even though we can recognise the Jedi as a force for good generally in the galaxy our personal habits and society indicate that we are in fact closer to the opposite.

Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of the parallels between the Republic and Star Wars is the inverse in the methods by which Plato would create a just society. His image of the just society looks nothing like that of the Jedi. Instead it is closer to what the Sith aim for. One supreme figure resting a top the rest who is the source of all wisdom and authority within the society. This is exactly what Palpatine accomplishes at the end of episode III. This inversion can tell us much about ourselves. The Sith and the Empire in the Star Wars universe are a reflection of the 20th century’s scariest political movement, fascism. The very fact that fascism was so popular in Europe during the earlier part of the 20th century tells us something scary about ourselves. Point for point, many people would actually prefer to live in a fascist society. The Empire is a gross exaggeration of this, but we can see how Plato’s image of the ideal city would be attractive to many people. At this point is probably necessary to note that Plato did not intend for someone like Hitler to take control of society. His idea was far more benevolent and came from a good place where he thought it was the best for society overall. Fast forward to our own times, and he can see that the same problems still exist. People wish for security from perceived threats in exchange for their rights and freedoms. They see the alternative of Plato’s ideal city as one that they would like to live in without realising that those they are giving up their freedoms to are not the philosopher kings that as Plato described.

We should also consider on the other hand however, that the Republic is not a serious attempt at formulating a political science. Plato’s ideal city is merely a metaphor for identifying justice in the soul of an individual. Socrates is far more concerned with the individual than society at large, although society is still important. In this area, perhaps Plato is correct and is in this respect closer to the Jedi. The Jedi are trained to be masters of themselves just as the Philosopher king in the master of soul. He lets wisdom dictate his actions and suppresses his emotions and baser instincts.

These parallels between Star Wars and Plato’s Republic also suggest how the struggle will ultimately end. By the end of the Republic after the long exposition of justice by Socrates, it is left unclear and ambiguous. Socrates has certainly made a good effort at defending morality from immorality but in doing so he has had to use myth and analogy to defend his position. A reader might be left thinking that indeed, yes, Socrates has successfully defended morality from the attacks of Thrasymachus. The situation is like that at the end of the sixth film where the audience is left wondering what will the fate be of the Jedi order now that the Sith are destroyed and Luke is left as the only surviving Jedi. We have seen the redemption of Vader and the death of the Emperor, the people are rejoicing as if final victory has been achieved. Nevertheless, that feeling lingers in the back of one’s mind as to whether the galaxy is truly rid of this struggle. On closer inspection of Plato’s Republic one might also be left wondering if Socrates has really defended morality in the terms set out to him at 376b. In the course of the long dialogue, Socrates has made many cogent arguments, and the reader is drawn further and further into Plato’s way of thinking. But like many of Plato’s other dialogues it ends in aporia, and we are left to ponder for ourselves as an exercise whether Socrates has really defended morality.

What are the conclusion from all this. The first is that everyone should go out right now and purchase a copy of the Republic for themselves to read. It is probably the most important book ever written and is an almost endless stream of insight upon every reading. The second and more important one is this. We don’t need to be either like the Sith or the Jedi. We should accept that there are parts of our human nature which can be a force for evil. On the other hand we shouldn’t punish ourselves as the Jedi seem to do in Star Wars. We could try however to be more like them in conquering the fears and anxieties that can lead us toward wrongdoing. Like Plato we should try to allow wisdom to guide our actions, recognise good actions in and of themselves as meaningful and worthwhile. In essence we could imagine an ending to episode VI in which neither the Jedi nor the Sith win, but instead humanity.


Review – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

The latest Star Wars is perhaps the greatest thing since Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Hands down no contest. Whether it is better than V I think only time will tell. Nevertheless, there are no way near enough superlatives, nor positive adjectives to describe this film. Perhaps it’s best summed up as perfect.

This film is more than just the sum of its parts. It goes beyond it. It bridges multiple generations. Everyone leaving that theatre, whether young or old feel a real sense of connection with each other…with ‘the Force’ even. Where the original trilogy created a wonderful mythology for the audience to become lost in, the latest film picks up this rusty mantle and takes us right back into that world. At the same time, J.J Abrams’ first shot at this series also righted many of the wrongs that were done in the George Lucas prequels. It’s a sad reminder of what could have been in the prequels, the opportunity lost to immerse an audience in a world of their own collective consciousness’ making, as this series is shaping up to be.

The plot of episode VII is essentially the same as the original Star Wars, episode IV, which is exactly what we needed. A return to simpler times. It has the added meta-effect of using ring compositions and multiple leitmotifs to link this film with the greater Star Wars universe. The difference between the old and the new is of course 40 years of history and social change. So much so, in fact, that the main ‘Luke Skywalker jedi’ figure is a female (reflecting the feminist critique of traditional Hollywood storytelling), Han Solo is replaced by an African-American (following decades of racial debate). These are good changes, perfectly fused into the convincing story. In short they go unnoticed unless you are looking for them. The essential pieces of the original Star Wars are still there though in all their wonderful glory. The giant technological marvel. A droid companion, a mentor figure (Han Solo – and a replacement for Yoda in Luke at the end), millions of souls lost in an instant, a ruthless villain, and an odyssey from one side of the galaxy to the other.

The fact that Abrams was able to so faithfully restore the original is the crowning achievement of episode VII. It was the original Star Wars that launched all of this, and it will be episode VII that will do so again for the next generation. The attention to detail is so close that the appearance and use of light-sabres is sparse when compared to the prequels. The final confrontation between Kylo Ren, Finn and Rey was reminiscent of the crude battle between Vader and old Ben Ken-Obi on the Death Star. Instead of limited special effects technology defining the outcome as in IV, the fight between the three reflects three characters who are still new to this whole adventure, light vs dark good vs evil thing. They are vunerable. Rey has only just discovered the force, Finn is exploring who he is (he only just got a name), and Kylo Ren is still trying to put Ben Solo to bed (he hasn’t even finished his training). With technology these days Abrams could have easily made the fight every bit better than any sabre fight in the prequels, but obviously chose not to.

The use of the old and new cast is the perfect transition from the old trilogy to new one. Han Solo’s death is the symbolic handing of the torch to the new bunch of adventurers – the saddest moment in the film becomes then the most pertinent. The new companion, droid BB-8 is a hit with fans. He is cute and provides the sort of comic relief without being over the top and intrusive to the situation at hand (Jar-Jar). The Millennium Falcon ties it all together. It serves to link the old with the new as the vessel that took our heroes across the galaxy in the originals, and will in the sequels. By the end we see Rey, Chewie and R2 leave in the Falcon on their own new adventure in search of Luke Skywalker, providing the springboard from which the VIIIth can follow.

The success of this film though is built upon its simplicity of story whilst using ring-composition, repeated motifs and stock phrases to recall our collective past experiences with Star Wars. The story itself however is simple in its makeup. As humans we like things to be simple. This has multiple effects on us as an audience. The first is to make it consumable for a wide variety of people. The prequels were convoluted and bloated with story and plot points. This turned most in the theatre off and left them waiting for a scene where they can see some laser swords being swung around. The result was a disengagement from the universe and a lapsing of the audience’s suspended disbelief. Once this has happened it is difficult to being the audience back into the world, and attempts at grand spectacles look cheap and tacky. When the audience is engaged properly, as in VII, no one cares that the laws of physics are freely played with.

Another effect of simplicity, perhaps the most important, is that it leaves much for the audience to fill in gaps for themselves in imaginative ways. This is a technique that writers have known for millennia. In ancient Athenian drama for example, a lot of the action was done off stage, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks for themselves. Abrams achieves this by giving us enough information to move the story along at a roaring pace, but with enough sporadic back-story material that we can construct for ourselves, for example, how Rey was left alone on Jukka, how Ben fell out with Han and Leia, and why Luke has gone seemingly into exile. There is enough mystery behind the story without it being forced down our throats leaving a bad taste that allows the audience to passively augment the story in their imaginations, with the result of drawing them further into the universe.

Simplicity is important because there are literally a restricted amount of ways one can tell a story. Better to choose a couple of those ways and do them well, to make the story compelling, than choose all of them and do them atrociously. Movies are a particularly difficult medium because you have a short amount of time to tell your story, but a plethora of means to bombard your audience with information (audio, visual, textual). The old saying of keep it simple stupid holds true in this case as is the saying if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

There is much to be said for the villains as well. This is perhaps where Abrams changes the dynamic from episode IV. In the original our antagonists have simple motives: to control the galaxy using their grand super-weapon. Darth Vader is rather one dimensional, a strong-man (admittedly with perhaps the most badass voice ever), and the only back story we learn of him is that he killed Luke’s father during the Clone Wars as he was seduced by the dark side of the force. From the get go Kylo Ren has the same presence of power as Vader had in the original. But Abrams gives him a much more coherent back story that links him with our protagonists, giving us reasons to care about his story as much as we care about the protagonists’.

The looming figure in the background of events in the original series was the emperor (although he is absent from episode IV), and in episode VII he has been replaced by Andy Serkis’ character, Supreme Leader Snoke. We know very little about this character just as we knew very little of the emperor in the original trilogy. He embodies the absolute epitome of evil, as Palpatine did the originals. Making his subordinates that little bit more humane, suggests the future redemption of Ben/Kylo Ren, whom we see on multiple occasions battling his inner turmoil leading to the eventual murder of his father.

This inner struggle of Kylo leaves much for the audience to wonder about and wanting more in the future. The story of redemption is quintessentially Star Wars, and the appearance of Vader’s mangled mask is a foreshadowing of the redemption that Ben will undergo in the course of the next two films. Introducing this early into the mix of the trilogy will make for a far more compelling redemption story than did Vader’s in the first trilogy (given that it was only written into the story later). In the mind battle between Kylo and Rey, Rey reveals that Kylo is afraid of not living up to the power of his grand-father, Darth Vader. If all goes to plan, his story of redemption shall go far beyond his grand-father and surpass him. Kylo Ren has nothing to fear in that department.

There it is, the good, the bad, the awesome. It has only been twelve hours since I first laid my eyes on Star Wars Episode VII. In time, after repeated viewings, I am sure more will be revealed that truly places the Force Awakens into the annals of Star Wars legend. For now all there is to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. An amazing film with a perfectly executed presentation: simple, gripping, fast-paced and nostalgic to say the least.