I know nothing, Jon Snow, about why people think this show is so awesome

I was directed to the above fun video by The New York Times‘ recap of the “Game of Thrones” season finale, which I watched almost in real time, having binge-watched, off and on, all the way from the first season, starting when HBO NOW came available in April.

Here’s that recap, and here’s the one from The Washington Post. Between the two, the NYT one is better, if “better” is defined as “more obsessive and exhaustive.” Although you may be interested that the Post also provides a second recap by someone who has actually read the books. (Must be nice to work at a paper that can afford to pay two writers to watch a TV show and go on and on about it. For that matter, it must be nice to still work at a paper.)

Now, SPOILER ALERT, in case any of y’all still haven’t gotten to that episode.

Some observations based on the latest, and for that matter the whole series:

  • As the NYT observes, no more awkward dinner parties for Jon Snow. Which brings me to the key point about all this to me: From Ned Stark to his bastard son, this is not a series that I can ever love, because it will capriciously and sadistically kill anyone I am capable of having any admiration for at all. Although Brienne is still around. I think.
  • And speaking of Brienne, why didn’t we get to see her kill Stannis, who so richly deserves it? This series now ranks in my mind as the most obscene in history. The very fact that anyone could even conceive of what happened to Stannis’ precious daughter, and then go ahead and depict it, sends my mind careening off into the darkness. Why, when we are “treated” to all kinds of graphic violence committed against far more admirable characters, are we cheated of the satisfaction of knowing for sure that this pretentious monster is dead?
  • And speaking of pretension: Where are we supposed to grab ahold of this series politically (seeing as how what it is about is people maneuvering for political power)? Where are we supposed to stand? We know that, under the monarchical rules of succession, Stannis was indeed the rightful heir — but who ever rooted for him for even a moment in the course of this series? So who are we supposed to want to win the game?
  • This season was at least a tad less adolescent than others, with fewer shots of gorgeous young female nudity. As though to make up for that, in the final episode Cersei is stripped naked and made to walk through the streets of King’s Landing for about a week and a half of screen time — although it’s fake, because they used a body double. And sorry, Beavis and Butthead, but there’s really nothing sexual about the scene. You remember when Jerry Seinfeld explained the difference between “good naked” and “bad naked”? Well, this was bad naked.
  • Whatever happened to Bran Stark? You know, the kid we thought we were supposed to care so much about ever since the Kingslayer tossed him from the battlements in the very first episode of the series? I mean, he reached the end of his quest, had a mind-expanding experience (I think, but it’s been awhile), and then, nothing. He was last seen north of the Wall, where a good bit of this season’s action takes place, but no Bran. I looked it up and got an explanation, but it’s still weird.
  • When, pray tell, does winter get here? For five seasons, we’ve been told it’s coming; it’s coming. Characters in the vicinity of The Wall always make like their running just half a step ahead of it. And we’re also led to believe that in this alternative universe, when it comes it will last for years. Well, it’s been five years since we were told to bundle up; where is it?
  • How long does it take a Khaleesi to gather up her dragons, cross over to Westeros and start sorting these clowns out? Hasn’t that been the plan since the first season? She seemed to be doing well there for awhile, gathering up resources and gaining power on her way to the sea, but then she takes yet another city, and stops there and gets all bogged down in local politics. Here she had this awesome fighting force, advancing with Tarquin’s ravishing strides, and then… she takes up residence in a pyramid and lets the Unsullied wear themselves out rumbling with the local hoodlums. What’s the plan here, Mother of Dragons? What does policing Meereen have to do with taking back the Seven Kingdoms? Talk about mission creep…

That’s enough for now; I’m sure y’all have plenty of other stuff to say.

Bottom line: I watched this to find out what everybody was on about, and it was intriguing enough to keep me going to the present point. But it’s not as compelling as many people seem to think it is, and in many ways is quite flawed. It’s no “Breaking Bad,” or even a “Mad Men” or “Walking Dead.” It doesn’t come close to “The Wire,” and no way does it measure up to “The Sopranos,” HBO’s proudest achievement in fictional drama to date.

That’s my verdict, anyway.

13 thoughts on “I know nothing, Jon Snow, about why people think this show is so awesome

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Seems like awhile back, when I wanted to talk about some other TV show, a bunch of y’all wanted to talk about Game of Thrones.

    So… where are y’all today?

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Yo, there was legal work to be done, my man. No need to go into details, boring stuff – I promise.

      I like Game of Thrones because it’s a little…different that most shows on television. With most shows, you have at least a few characters that you knew weren’t going to be killed off. For instance, in Justified, you knew that Raylan wasn’t going to die.

      In Game of Thrones, it’s kind of more like reality; no one is protected by virtue of simply being the “main character”, and I really like that aspect of the story.

      There’s also the scope. Game of Thrones has what…six or seven story-lines to follow. You’ve got the intrigue in King’s Landing, Daenerys and her dragons in Mereen, Arya and the assassins in Braavos, the Watchers on the Wall and the zombie-walkers, and the Old Valyrians lurking in the past. The scope is really amazing when you sit back and go over it all. It’s no wonder the books are so long, and there are so many of them.

      I know lots of people complain about the brutality in the story. But you know, it’s fiction. It’s a story. I really don’t understand why people got so bent out of shape over a fictional rape scene. Also, everyone got upset when Stannis scarified his daughter. Well, duh, Stannis is a coldly calculating dude. It’s within his character to do that.

      Remember his main assistant, the “Onion Knight”? He was knighted for smuggling food into Stannis during a siege AND then Stannis cut off his fingers at the knuckles for being a smuggler. He did both. He’s a cruel man who has no compassion or flexibilty. Stannis thinks that he’s supposed to be the king, so he’s going to do what he thinks is necessary for that to happen – including killing his own daughter. So, while horrible…it fits him.

      I think Bran will be back next season. Part of the problem with having a large scope is you can’t tell everyone’s story each season. Personally, I’m also getting tired of Daenerys just hanging out in Mereen. She does kind of need to get on with the show.

      I don’t know why we didn’t get to see Brienne kill Stannis. Seems like there’s plenty of death. Maybe it’s because we know that she would have done it in a swift way that didn’t involve suffering. Just a simple light going out.

      On a final note, I think the writing is pretty good. I especially like Tyrion’s lines. His line of “There’s always been enough death in the world for my taste: I can do without it in my leisure time.” is great.

      Anyway, I’ve been enjoying the show almost enough to motivate me to read the books. Almost.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        This response contains multiple SPOILERS about things other than “Game of Thrones.”

        I appreciate what you say about main characters being killed. And I suppose technically, in a sense, it’s good story-telling. Keeps the viewer-reader-listener on his toes.

        This was done VERY effectively in “The Hurt Locker.” In the opening scene, you see Guy Pearce suiting up to go disarm a bomb. Guy Pearce is a familiar face. So far, he’s the only familiar face in the film. You sort of figure this story’s going to be ABOUT Guy Pearce, and you’re looking forward to it because he’s a pretty cool actor. He creates interesting characters.

        And then, BOOM! No more Guy Pearce. And the movie turns out to be about his replacement, Jeremy Renner, who is now a star but was unknown (to me) when this film came out.

        I HATED being tricked like that, but at least it was for a good cause, which was this: If they blew up Guy Pearce in the opening scene, you knew this film wasn’t fooling around, and ANYONE could blow up at any time. So each bomb-detonation scene is charged with all the suspense of real life — something less likely to be the case without sacrificing Guy Pearce.

        It made it a better movie.

        By contrast, these shocking deaths in GOT feel like they just happen to mess with the audience’s heads. They don’t occur with the kind of plain random chance of real life — they occur after deliberate misdirection. We had reason to believe, before we really knew how twisted Joffrey was, that Ned Stark would receive actual mercy if he capitulated. There was every reason for that to happen.

        As for Jon Snow… this was deliberately staged to shock. And again, we had been misdirected. The last time we saw Alliser Thorne, he was saying to Jon that he had a good heart, but that he was likely to get them all killed bringing in these wildlings. OK, obviously he still has a big problem with Jon’s leadership, but that’s hardly the last thing you say to a guy before you trick him to his death. Up until this time, we’ve been led to believe that Thorne resents losing the election to Jon, but he’s a professional who will go along and obey orders, while making his disagreements known in a straightforward manner.

        There were lots of ways to kill Jon Snow, this way was absurdly shocking and theatrical.

        Finally… and here’s where I get all old-fashioned and stuff. I like a story with a moral (which makes me just HOPELESS, right?), or a hero, or at the very least someone that one can identify with and say, here’s the center of my narrative. Someone who points the way to narrative coherence. Fiction should introduce some order to life, make some sense of it, not try to outdo it in apparent purposelessness. Otherwise, what’s the point? If the story can’t make me somehow wiser about life, better able to cope with it, and just continually jerks me around, why should I watch? To paraphrase your Tyrion quote, there’s enough of that in real life.

        Main characters can die. They do so in good literature all the time. But they die at the END, because death is a true ending.

        Take “For Whom the Bell Tolls” — the hero dies in the end. OK, that’s like real life. But the story didn’t screw around with me. It told a complete story, with a real, complete ending. It even telegraphed the ending with the title of the book. Hemingway didn’t kill Robert Jordan in chapter two and then spin off in another direction with Pablo or Pilar or Maria or Anselmo as the main character. It didn’t jerk me around.

        It didn’t do me like the happy season ending of “Downton Abbey” a couple of years back with the little postscript of Matthew being suddenly and without warning killed — which, I assure you, was the last episode I watched…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And yes, I’ll acknowledge that in hindsight, what Thorne said to Jon in the previous episode — that he had a good heart, but that he was likely to get them all killed — could be seen as a prologue to mutiny, to assassination with the words “For the Watch.” (An update of “Sic semper tyrannis,” with Thorne in the Brutus role.)

          But that’s not the way the scene played at the time. It was actually probably the most positive thing Thorne had ever said about Jon, and therefore did NOT come across as a prelude to murder.

          So, misdirection….

          1. Bryan Caskey

            I thought the scene of Jon Snow’s death at the hands of many different men, all waiting their turn to stab him, was very reminiscent of the murder of Julius Caesar – all the men stabbing him, turning on him in a deep betrayal of their oath to follow him, but doing it because they thought they had to…it had all the same flavor – with the exception that Snow was no Caesar.

            I don’t feel like it’s misdirection so much as it’s me not being able to predict what’s going to happen, because it’s not formulaic. However, I also want a central narrative that ties the whole thing together. There does have to be a larger purpose to the story. It can’t just be: The world is death and chaos with no meaning.

            But I don’t think we’re far enough into the story to feel the arc, yet. Remember, we haven’t really even begun the winter, and the White-Walkers are still north of the wall. Perhaps we’re heading towards a point where the people stop squabbling over the Iron Throne and unite to fight the existential threat of the evil White Walkers. Or maybe not.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Note that if Thorne wanted to stop Jon Snow for the good of the watch, he should have just refused to open the gate when Jon returned with all those wildlings. Problem solved.

            By going along and letting the wildlings in, he’s made himself an accomplice in the awful thing he thinks Jon is doing.

            Once the wildlings are IN, there’s no point to killing Jon…


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