For How to Fix the A Song of Ice and Fire book series, go here.
HBO’s Game of Thrones is arguably the most popular show ever, drawing millions of viewers from across the globe. When it’s on, it’s plastered across billboards, social media, even the news. When it’s not on casting rumours, fan theories, and the length of Kit Harrington’s hair take over, eaten up with the same obsessive, all-consuming hunger as the show itself. With a budget the size of some small countries’ economy, dedicated production teams dotted across Europe, and the mother of all ensemble casts, Game of Thrones is the biggest show around in it least one definition of the term. Though it is generally made with the care and skill deserving of such a huge enterprise, garnering Emmys, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs, it is not without its flaws.
SPOILER WARNING – IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN ALL OF SEASON FIVE, READ ON AT YOUR PERIL
We’re going to start in Dorne, because not only was it the most disappointing segment of the show so far, it was also probably the worst. In the books, Dorne sounded awesome, it had a culture and a feel different to any other setting, and was filled with new characters to love and hate. Most importantly, the Dorne arc in the fourth and fifth books (which is pretty much what season five is based on) very obviously built to something of crucial importance to the wider story.
In the show, Dorne is as beautiful as could be hoped (someone buy the GoT set designers a goddamn drink), but other than that, nothing of any real importance happens. There’s no brooding sense of doom to add into the melting-pot of tension that is Westeros, no game-changing masterplans are revealed. Instead, a character we barely know, and who is largely unimportant to the series as a whole, dies.
After the whirlwind of badassery that was Oberyn last season, everyone was eagerly anticipating the introduction of new Oberyn-esque Dornish characters. What we got were the Sand Snakes, who were almost comical in their lack of characterisation, were hardly well-acted, and flapped ineffectually in the show’s worst choreographed fight-scene. There was a cool looking guy with a big axe, who did exactly nothing, and there was the badass wheelchair guy (badass in the books, at least) who did slightly more. There was some pretty-boy who, again, did nothing and had less character than the Sand Snakes. And to top it off, Ellaria Sand (Oberyn’s paramour), who in the books was one of the only voices of calm and reason – showing depth and strength of character, given how her lover had just been brutally killed – suffered from an appalling character assassination and was reduced to a stupid, revenge-driven caricature.
Also, the writing was god-awful. Like, whoever worked on the Tyrion/Varys stuff needs to go to the Dorne department and fire everybody.
Fuck Olly. Seriously just fuck him. GoT is generally excellent at casting, especially children and younger/inexperienced actors (see: Sophie Turner; Maisie Williams; Jack Gleeson) but the guy who plays Olly may as well have been part of the support cast in The Room. For such an important character, with such an emotionally charged arc, a child’s drawing on a stick would have done better than Olly. And God forbid that they kept on one of Jon Snow’s friends (Grenn, Pyp) and have him be Judas – that would have been way too sensible.
N.B. – The sentence in bold here is a (minor) book spoiler, so maybe don’t read it.
In the books, Loras Tyrell is a cocksure, brilliantly skilled warrior, who gets involved in the goings on in King’s Landing, Renly’s rebellion etc. in a big way. In A Dance with Dragons (Book 5), he leads an army to a big castle, climbs the wall himself, captures the castle in a bloody battle, and is (supposedly) grievously injured doing so. He also happens to be gay, but that has about as much relevance to his story as, say, Ned Stark having a Northern accent does to season one. He is, in short, a three-dimensional LGBT character who is in no-way defined by his sexuality. This is, in pretty much all popular fiction, like finding a fucking unicorn.
In the show, Loras is gay. He has a sword, but doesn’t use it. Also, he’s gay. Did you guys know he was gay? Yeah he’s totally gay. If you don’t see the problem here then I can only say to you, “How the hell can you not see the problem?”
There is hope yet for Loras, though. Given his lack of involvement, and the fact that he has been so far resigned to a small role, his lack of characterisation can be saved. All the writer’s need to do is give him stuff to do, focus on him as a character in the same way that they focus on Alliser Thorne, or Daario Naharis (Daenerys’ squeeze), or any other fleshed-out support character.
Game of Thrones is widely regarded as a bloody, shocking show, where your favourite characters suffer terribly while you watch, enthralled. This is a good thing. The fact that people care so much that they, for example, try to break their possessions or hit their friends during the Red Wedding, or declare that life isn’t worth living after Jon Snow gets Caesar’d, is proof that the audience connect with and care deeply for the characters. The fact that major characters die with regularity, and often their deaths catch the collective audience by surprise (understatement), is one of many things that separates the show from, say The Walking Dead (just kill Darryl already, stop taking out your rage on the endless rotation of minor black characters). Similarly, with characters as deliciously evil as Joffrey and Ramsay, horrifying things happen abound in Westeros. All this is good. Except for the fact that the writers seem to be getting dragged into the mind-set that, because the show is shocking, they need to maintain some arbitrary level of shock or they’ll lose their viewers.
No, they absolutely don’t. People watch the show because they like, even love, the characters, and they want to see what happens to them, not because they enjoy watching rape and torture. Similarly (though this is minor) given the show’s bloodthirtsy reputation, fake-out deaths won’t work, and are instead kind of irritating and see-through. Theon and Sansa jumping off a wall and dying is ridiculous. We know it won’t happen, so don’t tease it.
On that note: Sansa. Fucking do something, please. In the books (and I’m sorry I keep saying that, I’m not actually one of those watchers, I love the show and the books equally), she is downtrodden and mistreated (understatement) by Joffrey. Then she is “saved” by Littlefinger, and starts to grow into a manipulative, self-assured little player of the game herself. Which is glorious to see. And we got a little bit of that last season, with the arrival of Darth Sansa.
Then Ramsay happened.
Still, though, hope remained. She started to bounce back. She bitch-slapped Myranda during their bathtub conversation, and it looked like she had turned a corner; she was starting to throw off her past-self and was preparing to stand up to Ramsay. And then Theon saves her. And yes, Theon is a brilliant character who needs his own phoenix-esque rebirth, and standing up to Myranda (and by extension Ramsay) is great for him, but my god Sansa, do something.
Given the sprawling enormity that Game of Thrones is, there really isn’t much choice for the writers/creators but to cram a bunch of characters and storylines into each episode. For the most part they get it right, building all the plots up at a decent pace, not leaving anyone out and all that, but that doesn’t avoid the fact that the opening episodes (with the exception of the fourth season, which…just…God that was good) are always a bit slower, and it all but kills any chance we may have of bonding with new characters (again, fourth season…Oberyn…why d’you have to die? Why can’t it just be Game of Oberyns or something?).
Similarly, the best episodes from a purely technical aspect – the most spectacular, the most engaging, the episodes where you forget that you’re watching a TV show, rather than a blockbuster film – are invariably at the end of the seasons, when the show starts focusing on individual storylines for the majority of an episode. Examples of this would be ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ (season four), and ‘Hardhome’ (season 5). I don’t really know how to get around this, maybe extend the seasons by one or two episodes and have more episodes focused only on one or two locations, giving the production team (episode directors, cinematographers etc.) more room to prove why Game of Thrones is the most visually stunning show on TV. It will also allow for more character building (Loras, anyone?), the inclusion of more exciting scenes/sequences that are cut due to time restraints, and the opportunity to drop a storyline for a while, only to resume it later on.
Another important thing in terms of how the Game of Thrones creators tell their story is flashbacks. Yes, they’re one of the most overused tropes in TV or film or anywhere else, but done properly they can be excellent storytelling devices. What’s more, the books are choc-full of them, and they are generally important (like, one group of them from the first book is arguably the most important part of the entire series). So far in the show we’ve had exactly one flashback, but they do really need to happen more. I’d be surprised if there were none in the next season, because there really, really should be.
Also, please, please, please, include Lady Stoneheart.