Game of Thrones: Learning to Hope

(Spoiler alert, level yellow! If you haven’t seen it Season 6 of Game of Thrones, the ramblings below may be mildly spoilerish.)

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All around me, people are rejoicing. On Twitter feeds, and at Monday lunch-breaks… “Go Starks!” “Yay Khaleesi!” “GoT #woohoo!”

If there’s one exclamation I never thought I would associate with Game of Thrones, ‘Woo-hoo’ might be it. What sound would I most associate with GoT? Probably a sharp intake of breath through clenched teeth. You see, up until this season, my first purview into the doings on Westerns came directly through George R.R. Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ novels.

For me and millions of other fans, those five novels—those roughly 6,000 pages—have been an exercise in train-wreck spectacle and exquisitely postponed gratification. In all of those 6,000 pages, there’s been what?—maybe three pump-your-fist moments?

But now book fans have ran out of SOIAF books to read, just as producers of the HBO series have run out of plots to follow. Has the TV show faltered, now that the show-runners have to continue the stories on their own? No. If anything TV show has tightened up, quickened its pace, and embraced a fresh, new action-oriented tone. GoT’s Season 6 has shed off some meandering and unsatisfying plot-lines like a working-girl shedding clothes in Littlefinger’s brothel. And the show-runners are killing off the series’ most despised, and most plotting-obstructing characters. Troublesome characters are dropping like… like… well, like good guys in the first five seasons of the show.

Every Sunday night I’ve been watching these new episodes with my arms crossed and a Scroogish scowl on my face. Beside me, my wife hoots and cheers. She loves this new turn in tone. My general reaction has been ‘Everything is too easy.’

Before this season, I enjoyed the HBO adaption mostly because it reminded me of other HBO classics. The Sopranos and The Wire were byzantine pot-boilers—slow-moving and meticulous. They were absolutely brilliant shows with plenty of ‘water cooler moments’ between them, but I don’t think anyone would ever call them ‘crowd-pleasers.’ So I was disgruntled that the GoT TV show had transitioned so unabashedly into crowd-pleasing mode.

Then came the Battle of the Bastards. Good grief. Has there ever been a better-directed, better-directed 60 minutes on television? Forget Emmys. That episode deserves Oscars! Then that episode was followed up by the equally excellent season finale, and I realized: Why am I not opening my heart to this new way of (literally) enjoying these great characters and the thrilling world they live in? Our heroes are actually accomplishing things. They are actually on the move. And everything is spinning up to a huge 3-or 4 front climactic confrontation of Near-Evil vs. Pure-Evil. That’s thorny enough for me. Grab the popcorn, I’m there. And then there’s always the promise that ASOIAF Book 6 book will be here (eventually) to reward the most patient and masochistic fans of the books.

My only hope is the show-runners won’t forget that the Red Wedding is still the series’ most memorable, most quintessential moment. The ‘Game’ can’t end satisfactorily, unless it breaks our hearts, at least a few more times. Here’s hoping they kill off one or two of the characters we all love. And I hope they do it in the most unexpected, most unwarranted way possible.

(And, whomever it is, I hope they keep it permanent this time).

Another one of my GoT articles: Best Actor in a Suppurating Role

 

A Note about Silicon Valley

I feel like someone pitched Mike Judge an analogy comparing penis manipulation to computer processing, and Judge liked it so much he built his season finale around it. That penultimate segment in “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” just seemed too perfect, too sublime to have come about from a brainstorming session in the writer’s room. “OK, here’s our protagonists’ problem. How do they solve it? Preferably in a way that involves jack-off jokes.” In this case it seems that the brilliant solution came first and the writers plotted a series of problems to set it up.

That happens to me occasionally (not as often as I’d like). I’ll come up with a cool idea or twist or scene, and then I imagine a whole book or short story crafted around it. For instance I wrote this short story (Under another name. Oooh mysterious!) based on a sudden idea: “Instead of a voodoo doll, what if someone created a voodoo globe?” After several rounds of revisions, the voodoo globe idea started to seem ridiculous (it seemed so awesome in the shower!), and the idea didn’t survive the story that it had helped to spark.

 

 

Best actor in a suppurating role

I’ve always felt some sympathy for the actor Jack Gleeson because he plays such a iconically unsympathetic character. King Joffrey is the most despised, most irredeemable villain in all of the Game of Thrones series—and that is obviously saying something. There’s no reader or viewer that doesn’t want to slap the shit out of that kid. Even Joffrey’s own family members can’t stop slapping him, and he could probably have all of them executed.

Because Gleeson is so good at the role, it’s disconcerting to see outside the context of the show. I feel a little disturbed by photos of him smiling at a premiere party. What’s he smiling about? Is there a prostitute bleeding to death, just off frame? Somebody sweep the area for decapitated heads!

Among the ranks of teenage actors who became (in)famous for playing towheaded terrors, it seems clear to me that Gleeson has already surpassed the kid who played Draco Malfoy. I guess only time will tell if he will become this century’s Billy Zabka.

But let’s put aside the taint of eternal, vicarious hatred that is likely to cling to Gleeson/Joffrey for decades to come—I’m still not sure that Gleeson is the actor who’s career has been most injured by GOT’s casting directors. Consider which of these would be the most insulting:

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