Pretty Obvious, as Gifts Go: “Game of Thrones” Recap

Once again, you can find the full recap of “The Gift” (Season 5, Episode 7) over at Slant Magazine. No point in repeating those arguments and synopses here, although you’re welcome to comment here or there, or both. I obviously love talking about this show.

But that does bring me to the issue I have with this episode, namely: there isn’t that much to really talk about, is there? I mean, we can conjure up false arguments again about how poorly (or normally) Sansa is being treated as a character in a dramatic work, totally ignoring the fact that television shows have certain needs, one of which being that if Sansa’s arc resolves itself in a single episode, there will be nothing left for her to do, to say nothing of the implausibility of her triumphing single-handedly against a castle full of Boltons. (Moreover, we want to see how she manages Stannis’s pending siege of Winterfell.) But that, too, gets us nowhere.

And that’s the problem. “The Gift” hits its symbolism and title pretty squarely on the head, and it just doesn’t stop. Granted, this is another thing that television does, taking disparate plots and uniting them for some universal thematic cause. In this case, we get a chance to see how gifts are used in the game of thrones. But because it’s so obviously done in this episode–most of them are literally spelled out for you, whether it’s Littlefinger explaining his “gifts” to Lady Olenna, or Tyrion presenting himself on Jorah’s behalf to Daenerys–once I’ve pointed them out, there’s nothing left for interpretation. That makes for dry television, and this sort of paint-by-numbers adaptation of source material is better handled when you can’t see those writerly strings connecting everything together. In our age of plot-heavy, twist-driven narratives, synopses are king: rare are the shows like Breaking Bad that manage to weave mysteries and character into the proceedings, let alone to sustain them over seasons at a time. On Game of Thrones, meanwhile, Cersei has landed exactly where you would have expected (threats aside), and it’s unclear what exactly Jamie and Bronn are doing in Dorne, save for killing time. The twists are surprising, but earlier in the show’s run, there seemed to be more to watch for than mere twists. (See also: Homeland.)

So that’s the point to consider, the next time you kick back to relax with your chosen piece of entertainment. Ask yourself just what it’s doing for you, and question whether it’d be nice for it to do more. There’s nothing wrong with a fresh slice of, say, iZombie–snappy dialogue is great, after all. But if that’s all we’re getting, time and again–smart as opposed to substantive–then I have to wonder if this is the “golden age” of television after all, and not just one that’s savvier than ever.

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