The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ (aka Bastardbowl) was aired a few days ago, and last night I got around to watching it. Episode nine was this season’s equivalent to ‘Hardhome’ from season four and ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ from season three (a pattern emerges) – the big budget battle sequence designed to make viewers gasp and squeal with excited delight.
But, I wasn’t so keen. Again, the script was rife with plotholes, and the battle itself was a shambles. It would’ve been far more interesting to watch a tactically thought-out battle unfold on the outskirts of Winterfell, with Jon using cunning to make up for his inferior forces. Nope, that was too much to ask.
What I wonder is: when will Sansa realise that she is responsible for the death of her brother Rickon and thousands of men from both forces? Why did she keep the Vale army a secret? It makes no sense. Instead of trying to negotiate Rickon’s return and/or advising Jon to hold back and wait for reinforcements, she says nothing, leaving both bastards to believe that Ramsay has the superior force. So Rickon dies, Jon leads thousands of men to slaughter, and the Vale army arrives half an hour after the fight has begun but just in time to save the surrounded remnants of Jon’s shattered army… was this planned? Those still searching for depth in Game of Thrones might speculate that Littlefinger held back, allowing both forces to suffer heavy casualties, swooping in at the last minute to save the day and therefore winning Jon’s gratitude with minimum risk. But, if I’ve learnt anything from the last two seasons it is this – nothing happens for a reason.
Seasons five and six have been an absolute mess. Of course, there were issues with the first four seasons – some wooden acting, bad casting decisions and poor screenwriting & directing – but the source material is so good and the show followed the books so closely that these things seemed petty to pick up on. In other words, Game of Thrones had to be good – it was based on A Song of Ice and Fire.
Since Game of Thrones veered away from the source material, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have shown a complete disregard for storytelling, right down to the barebones. Plot, narrative and character are overlooked as secondary to dick jokes, violence, tits and feeble attempts at humour. All the scheming and tension and complexity that courses through the books –and the early seasons – has ceased, and the series stumbles on, dead, like a decaying wight, the reanimated corpse of A Song of Ice and Fire, a skeleton with some vague similarities to its former living self, corrupted and stinking, sans soul.
Season five was all plot no story – each scene purely a plot point, there to push planned events forward in a forced and unentertaining way. The characters were puppets and we could all see the strings. Season six is even worse. The plot has ground to a halt, presumably waiting for The Winds of Winter, and now for every scene that actually has some bearing on the ‘story’ there a four or five irrelevant, throwaway filler scenes, like discussing who would fuck Brienne, putting fingers in bumholes, and telling terrible jokes (a dwarf, a eunuch and a translator walk into a bar). Game of Thrones has become trash TV.
Take Jon Snow’s death and resurrection, for instance. Without the books to guide them, D & D turn Jon Snow’s stabbing into a cheap trick. After a cliffhanger season finale, which is rather lacklustre compared to the scene in the book, Jon returns from the dead after two episodes and nothing changes. Jon stays the same, no one seems to care, and after a few episodes it’s as if he never died. Compare this to Lord Beric Dondarrion’s resurrection, which results in the Brotherhood Without Banners converting to the religion of R’hllor and following Beric as a kind of Jesus figure. Or Catelyn turning into Lady Stoneheart, a violent and vengeful monster. Or the wights coming back as mindless zombies. Death changes people.
‘It’s easy to do things that are shocking or unexpected, but they have to grow out of characters. They have to grow out of situations. Otherwise, it’s just being shocking for being shocking’, said George RR Martin, and I would add they would have to not only grow out of situations but create situations as well. In stories, as in life, events happen which produce effects which cause other events to happen, and so on. This is storytelling 101, yet D & D seem to either have forgotten this or are willingly ignoring it. Furthermore, almost everything that happens this season is mechanical, nothing occurs organically. D & D are neither gardeners nor architects – they don’t let things grow naturally and they certainly don’t plan meticulously – one has to wonder if they are even ‘writers’.
Jon Snow is just one example. I could go on and on about everything that’s wrong with the current series – the glaring inconsistencies, the sloppy writing, the ruined plot lines, the lack of depth – but I’d pretty much have to recount the entirety of the last two series word for word, and if you’ve watched them, you’ve probably identified all the problems yourself. Also, a youtuber by the name of Preston Jacobs does a far more detailed and entertaining analysis of why season six is so bad, as well as plenty of videos illustrating and arguing his own intricate fan theories about the books, so check out his channel.
What I want to move onto is: Why? Why do I, and millions of others, still watch Game of Thrones? Perhaps because we’re so invested that we can’t just cut our losses: all those hours of viewing would be for nothing, we might as well stick it out until the end. Or perhaps we see more in the series than there actually is – the world of Ice and Fire is so rich, and so is the original story, that perhaps we gobble up the shit they shovel us with eyes shut tight imagining, and therefore tricking ourselves into tasting, some of the flavours of the first few seasons. Or maybe (exclusively us book readers) we’re simply trying to get our Game of Thrones fix while we’re waiting for The Winds of Winter, but over time the series has been diluted, and watered-down rotgut is no substitute for a fine glass of Arbor gold.
Whatever the reason, I still tune in week after week, to watch what has quickly become the TV version of Star Wars episodes I, II & III or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
To end on an up, seasons six is nearly over, and the sixth instalment in A Song of Ice and Fire, the Winds of Winter, is on its way. One thing to look forward to is that the books are almost back. Hopefully TWoW will be published in time to shape the script of season seven, and maybe George RR Martin will be more involved in the making of Game of Thrones once the sixth book is finished, returning it to its former (relative) glory. Perhaps our patience will pay off, and after sticking with it for two bum seasons we’ll be rewarded with a smashing seventh. Who knows? We can only hope.