Or, Where Did All the Fantasy Writers on the Staff Go?
The first time I picked up George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones was in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom II, sometime around 2004. I had a sergeant who knew I was a big reader, and he’d heard that the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) tent in camp was being cleaned out, the donated books kept within being shipped off to other bases. He got me on the detail to help with the effort so I could go through what they had and take my pick before the books took their next journey.
I read the first one, and ordered the rest of the books available at the time. I had to wait a long time for them to get there. I was so invested in that story that I carried it home with me, in all its vast paperback weight–which matters on a deployment, believe me. It has influenced my writing a good bit. Before I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire, my own work was much more jaunty and heroic.
(More?!–I can almost hear you saying it.)
Say what you will about Martin’s release frequency, his writing is subtle, interesting, and makes sense. The man knows his history–after all, he’s a historian–and he has created a deep and interesting world. For those of you who may have read some of his Thousand Worlds stories, you know there’s even more to the world of Ice and Fire than others might realize. Martin is infamous amongst his readers for killing your darlings. Just when you’re invested, just when you think you know what’s going to happen, how the good guys are finally going to win through, Martin stabs a big old ice spear through your heart. I remember laughing with glee when my mother called me after the Red Wedding aired on the show, and telling her this:
“That’s Game of Thrones, mom–it breaks your fucking heart.”
What I should have said was: It breaks your fucking heart in the most beautiful way. There’s another reason I love Martin’s stories more than other hard-hitters in the Fantasy genre–his writing holds a greater suspension of disbelief for me. His world feels real because anyone who has read any history knows that the ancient world was a brutal place. Hell, the modern world is a brutal place. A lot of Fantasy stories take place in settings where the heroes always win, noble knights marry chaste ladies, and the good-hearted stableboy is always a secret prince. That stuff is fine, too. I love the Belgariads and Harry Potters for what they are. In Martin’s world, though, heroic behavior is often rewarded with a brutal end, and things don’t just magically happen because everyone has been hoping for it since the first Christmas.
Television shows are rife with plot contrivances. It’s almost an understandable thing, given the visual nature of television. People have scenes they want to see, and any serialized story is in danger of falling victim to pandering. Can we not just have Dany and Jon Snow sexing it up because everybody has been hoping for that for, like, oh my god, like totally YEARS??? Television has to react to the audience by the season; it’s almost forced to alter itself and evolve in order to stay relevant.
This is a tendency to which HBO’s Game of Thrones has been slowly surrendering. Since the show has outgrown the source material, it’s been deteriorating. The show is beautiful, and I’ve been fine with it through season five, and most of season six. This past one, however, has really disappointed me. The sad thing is that I don’t see how such a story can be completed in another season, much less a six episode season.
Let’s just list out what has gotten under my skin. I’m including a map to help make my points.
First of all, where the hell do the Ironborn get enough wood to build Euron Greyjoy another thousand ships, and how the hell did they do it so fast? Even in the 1700’s it took at least a year to build a ship close to the type we see in Game of Thrones. Somehow Euron finds three forests of wood in good enough shape to build one thousand fuck-you ships, and enough men to crew them, all on these tiny fucking islands that don’t seem to have enough room to build a castle that won’t fall into the sea sometime soon. Right. And they do it all quickly enough to attack Yara’s (Asha’s) fleet. If you’re going to counter me with something like “time passes differently in Westeros”–well, obviously, but ask yourself the following question: Why do the Ironborn subsist on raiding in the first place?
Tyrion’s plan of attack makes no sense. So Dany lands on Dragonstone with a huge force of Dothraki cavalry, and thousands of Unsullied. She’s got three full-grown dragons. She has allies in the Reach, and in Dorne. Dany owns the southern third of Westeros, and has a distinct advantage in food, given that the Reach is the breadbasket of Westeros. She’s also got the strongest castle of all three monarchs. She’s got a dream team of advisors.
Yet, Tyrion decides to ruin it all somehow by giving the worst military advice ever given in the history of bad military advice. He says, basically, “let’s split our forces for no goddamn reason and send the Unsullied all the way across the continent to take a castle that hasn’t been relevant since the gold mines ran dry.” Why? Um…to win hearts and minds? Shouldn’t someone have pointed out that the Tyrells own all that land next to the Lannister holdings, and wouldn’t it be a better idea to use the fucking armies they already have on scene? I guess not. You’re going to tell me that Olenna Tyrell, who had time to plot war with the Sand Snakes and Varys, forgot to prepare for the coming war with Cersei?
You never split your forces if you don’t have to, and Dany sure as hell didn’t have to. Why take Casterly Rock? Even if you wanted to attack it, a siege and blockade would suffice to nullify whatever made-up advantage they wanted to contrive in order to justify even putting it in the storyline. And sure, they’re rewarded with failure, but you’re going to tell me that Tyrion, who has supposedly read all these great books on military tactics–as in the Battle of Blackwater Bay–suddenly becomes stupid?
Also, Euron’s magical fuck-you ships seem to be able to traverse the whole of the continent in no time at all, and be in two places at once. Dany had a pretty strong fleet, remember. You might say, “Yeah, but he could have split his fleet, too.” Sure, but how did he know where to send his detachment in advance? Can ravens find ships on the sea?
There are a million ideas that would have worked better. March to King’s Landing, put the city under siege. You’ve got the only aerial scouts south of Winterfell, and the biggest guns on the battlefield. Cersei has one zombie and a few ballistae. The Lannister armies are pretty much worthless in the face of all that, and dragons will probably scare enough lesser lords into swearing fealty, which would make Cersei’s reign as impotent as Dany’s infantry.
What happened at the battle between Jaime and Dany?
That spear line is way too thin. A single horse could break through that spear line, and why aren’t the people in the second rank wearing any helmets? Formations were strong because they were closely packed. That’s the only way to stand down a cavalry charge–in a strong block of men with a hedgerow of long spears. Why doesn’t a Westerosi army–a land famous for mounted knights–have any sort of heavy cavalry to counter the Dothraki? For such well-trained and well-funded soldiers, the Lannister boys are really eating boogers on this one. Guess they don’t have enough of that freedom and love that Tyrion was going on about in the last episode.
And–what were Jaime’s forces doing there? They said the gold’s already through the gates of King’s Landing, so what are they doing? Chilling out? Carting in the rest of the food? Which Dany decides to burn because, hey, burning wagons full of possibly useful things your armies might need is good fun.
Also, you will never be able to convince me that a horse, even a trained warhorse, could be goaded into charging a fucking huge dragon. Nope. Also, somehow Bronn drags Jaime a long damn way under water, while Jaime is apparently just flopping around with his golden hand in full plate armor. Right. He also doesn’t clean himself up before stomping into Cersei’s private office. What a dick. Honestly, though, Cersei deserves it.
Hey, let’s go north and grab a single wight, because that’s a good fucking idea. It would be quicker to stomp Cersei’s neck, grab up all the forces in the south, and then march north. But no, we’re not going to learn the lessons of the past…well, always…and we’re going to trust in the general goodwill and steadfast logic of Cersei fucking Lannister. Good plan. It’s not like everything north of the wall has been dead and animated for the past two years, or anything. We probably won’t get swarmed by murderous zombies. Can somebody give Jon a few lines that don’t involve “I’ve seen the Night King, I’ve looked into his eyes, I’m the only one that’s fought them,” and on and on and on. I don’t remember book Jon being so damned insufferable.
So they decide to send the most unlikely group of characters ever into the north on a heroic mission to capture a single zombie. Like there are just going to be stragglers hanging out, playing cards, or something. Maybe they meant to catch one pooping, I don’t know. Of course, useless Gendry (who just happens to have the dumbest looking warhammer ever made because nostalgia) comes along. Since he’s apparently the most useless, he’s also the one they decide to send running back the way they came, all the way to the wall, in an unfamiliar land, in a climate he’s not used to, because…reasons.
And, of course, Jon has another great idea–the only one that can save them after running onto this totally convenient rock in the middle of a frozen lake is Dany. Who is on Dragonstone. What was it that Jon said to Sansa earlier in the season? There’s a thousand miles between here and King’s Landing? Something like that? But she’s the one that they need to call. Why? Because the Night King needs a dragon, of course. Nobody saw that coming for the past twenty years.
Also, Dany flies north of the wall wearing nothing but a beautiful piece by the most famous designer in Westeros. Ser Gucci, Lord of Fabricton, apparently forgot to give her any warm clothes for the high altitudes. And why doesn’t she have some kind of saddle? She just holds on while that huge dragon flies really fast through the air? Right.
Jon is immune to hypothermia as well as sound planning.
Rhaegar and Lyanna’s secret marriage means nothing. I could understand Rhaegar and Lyanna being in love and having a child together–that part is believable for me. It’s even a good story. Jon being the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar has long been a fan theory. But you’re going to tell me that some random High Septon annulled the marriage between Rhaegar and Elia Martel–a political marriage that bore legitimate children–and just never told anyone? That information never came out during the course of Robert’s rebellion?
Sure, if he had gotten a bastard on her out of love (in the books his reasoning is a bit different, his character a bit more mysterious) I could see that. But now you’re adding the High Septon to the conspiracy, and the information was only written in some random diary? Also, Rhaegar’s children by Elia Martel were named Rhaenys and fucking Aegon. “Hi, I’m Rhaenys, this is my brother Aegon and this is my other brother Aegon.” Give me a break.
Also, how the hell do the Unsullied march all the way across the continent through enemy territory with no food to show up at King’s Landing? I guess we’re going to set up this plot line, then just pretend like it never happened. It must be all that love and freedom the Unsullied have that gives them their superpowers. Maybe they’re more aerodynamic without penises. We will never truly know.
Also, these guys are supposed to be the most badass fighting force in all of the world, but they’re dressed in useless half-leather (or whatever that is) armor, and all of them have tiny round shields instead of something that would make their phalanx worth a shit. We see the Unsullied stand in formation, kill some people individually, but it looks to me like their weapons and armor are quite inferior to those of Westerosi soldiers. Also, how come Varys gets all effeminate and fat when he gets his jewels cut off–which is sort of accurate–but the Unsullied are all prime slices of man-meat? Slices…hehe.
Grey Worm and Missandei have nub-to-clit sex, I guess. The most uninteresting romance in the history of television, ladies and gentlemen. Good thing we get that story line where Grey Worm is trapped in enemy territory with no food and has to march across…wait. Shit.
Littlefinger’s death was really anti-climactic. First of all, Sansa reveals some things that she had previously lied about in front of Lord Royce, who was supposed to be a staunchly honorable man. Yet, he’s quiet throughout this entire exchange. She seems very concerned with retaining his loyalty when she’s arguing with her sister, yet she forgets all this during the big trial. I know Royce has a problem with Littlefinger and probably wants him dead, but does it really make sense for such a man to compromise his personal sense of justice? Does he not have a duty as a Lord of Westeros to see justice is done?
Also, Littlefinger doesn’t have a right to a trial by combat? Suddenly in the north, we’re passing sentences and not swinging swords? They’re just going to cut his throat and let him bleed out on the floor? Really honoring the memory of their father, whom Arya and Sansa so lovingly cite in the last scene they have together. The guy who supposedly started this whole thing (even though there were some holes in the way they presented it) just dies, sobbing on the floor? He didn’t have a way out planned? He’s just hanging around Winterfell, waiting to be killed. Seeing the looks that Arya gives him, the weird shit Bran says to him, and the open threats from Jon. Yeah, seems like a good idea for someone who has been cunning enough to maneuver his way to such great power.
So if regular weapons don’t kill wights, then how was the dream team chopping them to pieces north of the Wall? In the books Martin is more consistent on this–fire for wights, obsidian for Walkers. In the show? Fire, dragonglass, sometimes a burning sword like Berric wields, sometimes Valyrian steel, sometimes regular old swords. Consistency, yay!
The writers needed things to happen, and it’s clear. They wanted on-screen reunions that served no real purpose other than to stroke the wishes of people in the audience. The plot lines weren’t well thought out, and as a result, this season kind of sucked for me. I love Game of Thrones, but since they’ve departed from the source material, their weaknesses have been slowly revealing themselves. There are only six episodes left, and I have no idea how they’re going to finish this up without it becoming a total shit show.
There were some good things. Lena Headey was amazing. I’ve been a big fan of hers for a long time. Peter Dinklage was awesome, even with the shit writing they gave him. The dragons looked incredible, but honestly I could have done with less CGI flying lizard, and more thorough writing. At this point I think I’m rooting for the Night King. He’s been shambling toward the Wall for seven years, between turning Crastor babies into inbred White Walkers. He’s been waiting on his 100,000 buddies to pick up the pace since season two. And he’s the only one who has yet to do something monumentally, story-ruining, fuck-you stupid.
The Night King for the Iron Throne!