I’m done! Not with Game of Thrones, though I suspect yet a few more “fans” will be throwing their hats into the ring after even more heroes bite the dust in the fifth season’s finale. But I’m done with my weekly recaps, and you can read the last one over at Slant Magazine. (Not to worry, I’ll be back next week with recaps of True Detective.)
Since my recaps are episodic, let me take the time here to focus instead on the season as a whole. The epic moments of wonder are enough to justify the dull and stretching filler that the showrunners have been using to buy George R. R. Martin more time to finish his books. But the pacing is particularly worrisome, especially if the producers genuinely intend to stick with their seven-season structure; we don’t need to be rushing toward this inevitable confrontation between dragons and White Walkers. If anything, we need better narrative threads to link these disparate characters together. More than anything, we need everything to feel critical to the story: Tyrion and Jorah being captured by slavers and then sold to an entirely different group of slavers, none of whom were the least bit noteworthy, was a bit of a waste and demonstrated nothing about Daenerys’s distaste for the trade. Jamie’s covert mission to Dorne was ill-conceived and a failure, with Prince Doran even pointing out the fact that all that needless mucking about in the dunes could have been avoided with a basic level of diplomacy. Cersei’s imprisonment and atonement were critical to the story, but did they have to be at the expense of Margaery and Tommen’s development? And how exactly did her final walk–which is not really one of repentance, at least if Qyburn and the Mountain have anything to say about it–tie in to her initial flashback? Was that nothing more than a narrative flourish?
As plots get crammed into shorter and shorter blocks, the writers begin to lean on telling rather than showing, as with Sansa’s last words to Myranda, and because other stories are stretched thin over an entire season, repetition is required (with Arya in particular, but also scenes between Stannis and anybody else) in order to remind us of what they’re even actually doing.
Don’t mistake this, however, for me seeking efficiency and perfection in the storytelling. The show is more to-the-point if it excises Jorah and has Tyrion and Varys proceed directly to Meereen: that’s where they end up, anyway. But there’s something heartbreakingly human about the way Tyrion is unnecessarily kidnapped; that’s how the real world works, especially in terms of bureaucracy and war. Multiple people want the same thing, and all work toward it, but not necessarily in tandem, and while the history books are filled with glosses that reduce everything to the big moments, I think it’s equally valuable here to notice all the small moments. The Siege of the Wall and battle at Hardhome are terrific set-pieces, but without Jon’s personal development between them, without the increasing distrust of his own men at his familiarity with Wildlings, we’d just be watching an action movie. We wouldn’t care when Jon’s undone by righteous distrust, and we wouldn’t be able to note the uncanny way in which both Jon and his star-crossed lover, Ygritte, are killed by the same person (for the same reason).
That, above all else, is what I’ve enjoyed about Game of Thrones: it’s willingness to document failure. My father had a valid complaint about Breaking Bad, and that’s that the show was almost too perfect. Walter White was almost always able to wing his way out of situations that could have easily gone the other way; probability-wise, he shouldn’t have lasted in that world as long as he did, especially with a name like Heisenberg. (Uncertainty, remember?) And from a television perspective, that makes sense: the moment that Walt fails is the moment the show ends. He’s the narrator. Game of Thrones, on the other hand, doesn’t have that weakness: the war is the narrator. No man is safe; life and death go on without any given character, and I’m far more interested in the possibilities of that unmooring world, in seeing how things continue, and who picks up the banner and manages (or fails) to hold back the White Walker army. Heroes don’t exist in the moment–that’s simply the name we give to the most prominent survivors, or those who made the biggest impact in retrospect, once it’s all said and done. I think back to a favorite comic of mine, X-Statix, and recall how the entire team was basically killed in the first issue–the point was more to do the commercialization of mutants, any mutants, and that satirical point of view, freed from the constraints of having to preserve every character, allowed the narrative to grow in a way that the original X-Force, for instance, had always felt confined.
Cersei got Margaery thrown in jail this season (success), but also wound up there herself (failure), and yet she somehow soldiered on, and that’s far more interesting than if she simply continues to float above it all. Much as we may want the hero to win, it’s a lot more interesting to watch when we don’t know the outcome–as with the match between the Mountain and the Viper. And so I remain excited about Game of Thrones, because I have no idea what will next happen.