Stowing Thrones

The Arts

(No spoilers)

With the end just a stone’s throw away, it was time to stow the thrones.

Watched in 170 countries, winner of the most American awards, it wasn’t the biggest US TV show ever (that honour belongs to M*A*S*H), but Game of Thrones acquitted itself well in the audience stakes. It concluded tidily after eight seasons, the last breaking viewing records around the world. But what was it, really?

Arguably not as big as zombie-soap The Walking Dead, it became appointment viewing after a scrappy, much-ridiculed start, and will be around a long time via rewatches, streaming, and recordings, so we’ll have time to find out.

You always knew when someone wasn’t watching GoT because they would tell you. But even if you never saw a frame and may now be thinking about watching it some time in the future, there’s a mountain of snobbery to climb over before you succumb. It commits the curse of being vulgar, and that’s enough to put off the liberal intelligentsia. We discussed this before, here. I’ve always had populist genes attached to my more outré fascinations.

The show became famous for its ‘sexplanation’ scenes, those boring bits in which battles are described because they’re too big to show. GoT ploughed through the dull stuff by setting them in a brothel, so if you weren’t interested in plot you could watch nude lesbians.

Ah yes, the plot. It started as the perfect equivalent to what used to be called Sword ‘N’ Sorcery books; pulpy, trashy, revelling in S&V – you could almost smell the cheap paper, the Robert E Howard influence, the cod-Elizabethan dialogue that signified Americans were trying to do Shakespeare. I kept thinking; if they’re going to ape the Wars of the Roses why not make that instead? But I’d missed the point. This was York versus Lancaster with bloody great bells on.

As the series became confident, the rules became clearer. The emphasis was on kingdoms, succession and bloodlines, but a limited amount of fantasy was allowable. The odd giant (only a bit bigger than a human) was followed by the undead (only in one area) and dragons (only three).

George RR Martin, often a fine writer, was not adapting ideally to the small screen, so writing help arrived to add further parallels to our own history; in addition to the sophisticated clans overruling the less developed ones, societies were formed for the return of deposed kings, feudalism and a strong sense of natural selection developed with cruelties and losses,  differing religions, mistrust between the social classes, empire building, the indivisibility of church and state, slavery, a permanent underclass, courts of politically unfaithful acolytes and war seen as a way of filling coffers, all guided by a tangible remembrance of our own dusty history books.

It took a ballsy American network to risk heavy thesping from the likes of Diana Rigg, Jonathan Pryce and Charles Dance against CGI armadas. If it had been left to British TV the result would have been Downton Abbey crossed with Doctor Who (that’s unfair – we made a brilliant job of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – it’s just that nobody watched it).

And at the end? GoT was plotted with more complexity than any series before it, and so we expected a resonant payoff. If the second half of the final series failed to reach our expectations it was still an astounding achievement. New viewers could simply watch S.8 Ep.3 to see an entire feature film crammed into a single episode.

However, my main reservation remains, and it’s to do with a newly expedient style of scriptwriting which increasingly turned up in the last season:

One scene has no psychological bearing on the next. The scenes unfold like playlets entirely independent of each other. One character, devastated by a revelation in Scene A, is inexplicably happy in Scene B, then lustful in Scene C. Nothing impacts for more than a few moments. Instead, we get callbacks – scenes sentimentally recalled as memories in a later episode. As a consequence the characters remain locked in single-characteristic mode for years. It’s as if Bolingbroke had got over his usurpation of Richard II by forgetting seconds later and throwing a party.

And now we have a million signatures from viewers who feel entitled enough to ‘demand’ a different final series. I imagine the laughter at the studio; Sure thing, Bedroom Warriors, give us the money and we’ll do it. National Lampoon skewered this beautifully with a painting of Gandalf in his Darkest Hour Summoning His Most Faithful Acolytes – a bunch of terrified fat fanboys.

And yet, for all the cod-Shakespeare, the tacky oaths of allegiance, the pewter swords that looked like props from a Harry Potter spinoff and the presumably huge candle bill, it was an enormous amount of fun, if not exactly food for thought. If you crave the latter, think about this;

There are more people learning the Dothraki language at the moment than there are learning Dutch.

8 comments on “Stowing Thrones”

  1. Wayne Mook says:

    I’ve not watched it, but friends who have feel the end was rushed and a bit so what?


  2. Adam says:

    I really enjoyed it, but feel that it did suffer once they left the books behind in terms of pacing and internal logic. Martin isn’t the speediest of writers, and it has been eight years since book five (of seven) came out.

    Here’s a question for you all – does a writer owe it to his readers to crack on and finish a series, or is it the writers right to do whatever he wants when he wants? My view leans to the latter, but remembering that without readers there wouldn’t be any demand for the series (as Loudon Wainwright on sang “I’m playing, you’re paying, I’m grateful to you”)

  3. Adam says:

    * once sang (too early and fat fingers!)

  4. admin says:

    If I may direct your attention to a piece on the very subject, here –

  5. snowy says:

    To Adam’s question:

    Once the original creator, for the sake of this example ‘George’ has sold the TV rights to ‘John’ and trousered the cash. ‘John’ is able to do exactly what he wants/needs to with the ideas in the original creation to make it work as a TV production. ‘John’ may appoint a specialist screenwriter ‘Paul’ to produce a version of the story that it is possible to make into a TV show, moving from the page to the screen is horrendously difficult, the constraints are absolutely enormous. It is completely unsurprising that the versions differ wildly from each other.

    The two incarnations exist independantly of each other in two entirely separate worlds, that never touch each other. The are completely incomparable, driven by different reasons/motives/pressures. Both still have to please their seperate audiences, but they are unlinked from each other and should be enjoyed as two separate expressions of a shared idea. Anybody that thinks that they can or should be remain bound to one another is foolish, without an understanding of how complicated the process really is.

    [Meanwhile… ‘Ringo’ sits in the corner wondering why nobody want to hear him sing any of his songs.]

  6. Adam says:

    Snowy – a fantastic summary!

  7. Lauren says:

    Yes, Jonathan Norrell & Mr. Strange WAS brilliant – watched it twice. (Dare I say, better than the book, which rambled?)

    There are reputedly at least three GOT spin-offs (pre-quels, sequels, maybe parallel-quels) in development. I’m wondering whether the scripts will improve by not being fettered to a published work, and whether the producers and scriptwriters will have learned from their errors (e.g., their heavy-fisted, tone-deaf treatment of women, Sansa’s last exchange with the Hound being Exhibit 1).

  8. Helen Martin says:

    I read the books but haven’t seen the series – I think I’d have to pay more to get that channel. The story is the property of whoever owns it so “John” can do whatever he wants and “George” has been paid to allow that to happen.

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