It was rich and interesting because it was so overdetermined and long-awaited, and it went so surprisingly, stupidly, irrevocably badly. Olenna’s last joust was, as always, a pleasure—as was the decisiveness with which she drank down that wine, because people being decisive is the best thing on Game of Thrones—but the most narratively satisfying piece of the show was the long, bad, frustrating meeting between Ice and Fire (Narrator: “Hey! Every scene moves the plot forward, because all those long journeys that used to drag things out and leave characters with nothing to do but walk and talk and scheme… well, let us observe that Euron continues to be able to teleport his ships around the world so as to get where he needs to go at exactly the right time, and in only three episodes, the war has completely changed its shape; when the situation changes this fast, there’s no chance to ruminate. I suspect the answer is no, that character growth and change is no longer possible in this show, bereft, as it now is, of rookies. Still being surprised by the world? Jon has to be more like the subtle Southerner he secretly half is, and she has to be more like the honorable Northerner she has never, in any way, been: no one is less suited for courtly negotiations than the bastard of the north, and no one is less suited to cultivating allies than someone who has been betrayed by basically everybody and still triumphed because of deus ex dragons. This is now how the showrunners are clearly thinking; they are maneuvering each piece into their final combinations, engineering a last run into oblivion (and thinking like the Deep Blues that they are writing Littlefinger and Bran to be). Both Jon and Dany knew exactly what they wanted from the other side, and had good reasons for thinking that their goals were well-founded and reasonable, are fan-favorites, and had plans to get what they wanted, and those plans fail completely. Cersei is omnicompetent and infallible, not so much motivated by grief for her children as liberated to an unstoppable sociopathy by the release from the fetters of family. Jaime is selfless and effective, a metal object as useful and inhuman as his hand. So they are at an impasse, with only Tyrion—a terrible Hand, but a good judge of character and intermediary—to bridge the gap. I don’t want to sound too negative. All of the narratively productive and interesting ambiguity and tension that once defined their characters—all the unresolved conflicts in a person that actions resolve or complicate, all the inherent contradictions that make free will more than a word, all of the potential to be lived up to or squandered—I feel like most of that is gone now, left behind by the necessity of resolution. But the world of the show didn’t used to be that simple and clear; when the universe was expanding, each new journey into new terrain forced our characters to broaden and expand, as they learned and added complexity (and over-wrote old patterns and habits). And talk? Neither side wanted conflict, but when both of them got it—and couldn’t see a way around it—we got to see growth and change. And Bran is… kind of a dickhead now? You only have to take a walk and meet a stranger to learn that. Just like I wanted! As for the rest of it, well… as the show hurtles towards its conclusion, we’ve seen rich and complicated characters become, suddenly, kind of one note. Rooks and Rookies
by Aaron Bady
I worry we’ve reached the point in this show where everyone is basically, now, what they are: chess pieces with prescribed moves and capabilities. Game of Thrones could have been a narrative framework within which a multitude of characters come and go and scheme and plot and improvise—ostensibly moving towards some kind of grand resolution, but manifestly in no hurry to get there—and for a long time, that’s exactly what it was. Samwell is sweet and loyal and brave; Jorah is robotically returning to his Khaleesi; Euron is magical profanity; Theon continues to be a complete bummer. To see the world that way is inhuman, because you don’t see the world as human either. Olenna’s death mirrors Joffrey’s, just as the Sand Snakes’ death mirrors Myrcella’s, nice symmetrical end-stops. The show is finally becoming the kind of high fantasy it always pretended to be, but wasn’t; a world that was supposed to be big, but actually only became smaller and smaller. And as one of the show’s now-trademark beat-you-over-the-head transition cuts has forced us to notice, Bran and Littlefinger have the same general worldview, to see the whole world of possibility as latent within itself, simultaneous and undifferentiated. I need to learn to see better,
Aaron It feels like they don’t, anymore, which is related to the fact that travel times have been effectively reduced to zero. Now that the show is contracting, as we’re removing all the excess pieces so as to create one final endgame, nothing new is being added. Here’s why Bran is now a ponderous dickhead, and why Littlefinger—who used to be a fascinating and ambiguous son of a bitch—is now just a creepy dude lean-leering on a wall: if you reduce the world to a finite set of possible moves and combinations, you’ve radically simplified the complexity of each piece, and made it much less interesting. No more: the callous efficiency with which Dorne is being disposed of speaks to the necessity that the showrunners seem to feel about cleaning up all the loose odds and ends of the plot; instead of diverging and branching narratives, everything is converging. JULY 31, 2017
This week on Dear Television:
Aaron Bady and Sarah Mesle discuss, “The Queen’s Justice,” the third episode of season seven of Game of Thrones, and doesn’t it feel like there was already an episode with this title before, is somebody writing all this down? Still learning? Sansa is problematically effective—what the show wants us to see as a kind of a self-conscious mirror of Cersei—while Littlefinger is Littlefinger, not so much a guy with desires and a plan as the embodiment of scheming manipulation. They met new people; they became new people. Their baseball cards are filled with stats and triumphs. For all the richness of the reunion scenes—after years have passed and shared experiences are stretched and warped by memory—it’s becoming a narrative device with diminishing returns, like we’re harvesting but not replanting. Remember when characters on this show used to just talk and talk and talk? They’ve all come a long way, and they have a lot of scars, metaphorical and not. That’s the name of the books!”). I enjoyed the opening and closing scenes of this week’s episode, because we saw intelligent characters struggling to improvise responses to situations they had not expected to face. Put differently: we’re seeing narrative repetitions, closed-parentheses on interesting tangents, but there aren’t any new ones opening up. Anyway, there are obviously spoilers below, so if you don’t want to read about whether Jon S. Martin is clearly incapable of finishing. Interminable wars go on and on while our protagonists struggle to survive—and when they don’t, new protagonists pop up in new places and struggle to survive in turn—and the show become less like a grand epic than a narrative ecosystem, with a changing and evolving cast, replenishing its stock of story with new story every time a narrative line went dry. gets an invitation to the Fantasy Suite, then we suggest you watch the episode already. In high fantasy, everything happens when it needs to. And maybe it had to be; the show does, after all, have to end. But you know what? Even if Cersei’s hair never seems to grow anymore, because we need to be reminded that she is Permanently Scarred By What Happened, that’s only how things work in comic book fantasy; in real life, time never stops moving and never stops standing between you and your destination. To make people into pieces, you have to make them one-note, interchangeable. But that kind of totalizing God’s-Eye gaze has serious costs: the world is, to be blunt, a lot stranger and messier and complicated and rich than that. The nice thing about the real world is that the universe never stops expanding, as long as you keep walking and talking to strangers. We know what they have all done and we know what they are all capable of; do we know too much, now, for the show to be surprising? But his incapacity to close it out is a function—I am convinced—of what it is that he created: at its core, this is a soap opera. And much is lost as this happens. R. gets sent home after his one-on-one date with Dany or if Euron G. But are any of them still on the way up? It’s still an interesting show, and I’ll keep watching, but I can’t help but feel like we’re getting an increasingly efficient, stripped-down, and streamlined version of the extremely baggy and meandering monstrosity that George R. To make the world into a chessboard, on the other hand, you have to reduce it to 64 squares. Watching well-established characters deal with a new circumstance—watching them struggle to rise above what they’ve been, in response—is a pleasure: Jon has to deal with the problem of his brooding, mopey “Jon-ness” and Daenerys has to come to terms with the limitations of being Daenerys “I AM THE QUEEN” Targaryen. Heads up for Sarah’s essay soon!