SR Films: Game Of Thrones & The Failure of Success
The first time I attempted to watch Game Of Thrones I remember sitting in a smoky room with my college friends talking, jeering and laughing over the stern, brooding dialogue of Ned Stark and failing to truly process any of Tyrion’s wit. I half-watched the entire season and it wasn’t until the final scene of season 1, when Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, emerged from her late husband’s funeral pyre with three infant dragons, that I realized Game Of Thrones wasn’t actually a period piece based on the historical struggles of noble families in medieval England. That scene captivated me and my group of friends. The very next day we fired up the season 1 again and dove once more into the wicked world of Westeros giving it the attention it truly deserved.
What ensued was a wondrous eight-year journey full of viewing parties, themed-dinner soirees complete with authentic dishes prepared from the Game Of Thrones Cookbook, hours of debate, and weeks of reading the original text. Game Of Thrones and a Song Of Ice and Fire became something personal and communal all at once. It was yet another binding element amongst my group of friends and even opened doors in my professional life.
The great tragedies and twists of the story became badges of honor and moments in time that would inextricably link a global fanbase the likes of which the world had never seen before. During a time in which the real world seemed hell-bent on destroying itself, the onscreen hardships of our heroes became the mighty milestones of modern television. When past generations had the moon landing and the demolition of the Berlin wall, millennials were forced to find common ground in the exploits of a fictional world.
How did you feel when Ned died? Where were you for the Red Wedding? Could you believe they killed Ygritte like that? When will Dany cross the Narrow Sea? Over the years a collective consciousness formed and together GOT fans the world over revelled in the commonality of enjoying a truly sublime piece of art and entertainment.
But like all love affairs, the honeymoon period came to an end eventually. Here in lies the intrinsic issue of making something that means so much to so many people. When the entire world feels as though they have a personal claim to a story, it becomes plainly impossible to please everyone. Game Of Thrones was a show predicated on character development, dialogue and formation of situations that were both exciting and high stakes. The three elements worked in conjunction to create an immersive viewing experience.
The cutting wit of Varys and Patyr Bealish’s verbal sparring, the delicious vitriol shared between siblings Tyrion and Cersei Lannister, Danaerys’ systematic growth from human makeweight to conquering monarch which was mirrored by Jon Snow’s begrudging path towards the same destination, created a world in which we as viewers felt a wholly invested in and to an extent active participants. Game Of Thrones was a world that set its own rules and while it played by no one else’ it never seemed to commit heresy upon itself, until the showrunners broke into uncharted territory.
Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been turned into the pantomime villains of this tragedy. Much will be made of their inability to guide the show to harbor in the final seasons and what they were able to muster onscreen without George RR Martin’s books to guide them. However, if it were not for the duo’s masterful handling of the first 4-5 seasons, we wouldn’t even be here to have something to whine about in the first place.
That being said, D&D’s decision to limit the series to 8 seasons and most alarmingly 13 episodes rather than 20 in the last two, will always be viewed as a major misstep in the legacy of one of the most successful shows in television history. The shortened timeline robbed the series of its greatest quality: patience.
From the onset of the story, viewers knew there was a greater plan at work. The very first scene of Game Of Thrones teased the sinister origins and motivations of the shows enigmatic, supernatural villains The Whitewalkers. Seeds for a major pay off were constantly planted and cultivated. A grand and inexorable culmination to a decade’s worth of foreshadowing was promised. Yet, somewhere along the way the show seemed to lose sight of its own grandeur.
Like the caffeine-addled mind of a college student on the 12th hour of essay writing, the latter seasons of GOT became cursory shades of its greatest successes. In an attempt to bring about a finale the likes of which the world had never seen, the show lost the nuance and deft approach that made it the behemoth that it is. The haste at which the final episodes rattled off in the last season meant that we missed so much of the gravitas that went into each decision and once brilliant characters made inexplicable decision after inexplicable decision.
How different would it have been to witness Dany’s descent into madness over 4 or 5 or even 6 episodes? Jon seemed to have only two go-to lines of dialouge in season 8 making him a shallow charicature of the deeply troubled and compelling character we grew to root for.
The fans didn’t help either. How many bingers came to the party late, only looking to ride the wave of a cultural phenomenon? How many jumped on the bandwagon just so they could get the invite to the office viewing party or had a snappy meme to throw into a group chat? The microwave nature of modern television certainly didn’t help to temper expectations and when the show decided to take an entire year off to stick the ending perfectly, I wasn’t the only longtime viewer who was clutched by a sense of impending dread.
Game Of Thrones turned into one of those open world video games, where you spend the first 5 or 6 hours exploring the map and discovering each nook and cranny on foot. Then once every section of the game is mapped out you simply fast travel from hither and yon, skipping over the needless trekking and getting straight to the oh so juicy action. However, what made GOT so relatable was those journeys we took with the characters we loved. The conversations had on horseback, aboard a ship or in a quiet room. It was those scenes that exposed the inner machinations of our heroes and our villains and made the story so incredibly human and oddly relatable.
That isn’t to say the final season was a complete miss. The cinematography and testimonial performances from the shows biggest actors like Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke gave the last six episodes life and a lingering reminder of what was.
So what’s the moral? Is this one of those be happy that it happened situations or maybe a lesson that the journey is often better than the destination? Maybe and maybe not. Perhaps, Game Of Thrones would have always been flawed in its ending no matter how many episodes and seasons there were. In the end, we were inspired for a time and that can’t be denied or trivialized no matter how many 21st century beverages sneak their way on camera. Like many of the prophecies and questions from the show itself that went unanswered, its hard to tell if any of this mattered at all, but one thing that will persist is the lasting impression this spectacle had on all of us.