Greetings, Twenty-Sidians!Twenty-Sidites? Twenty-Siderians? I’m Bob, also known as MrBtongue, and I’m the blog’s newest shiny object. You may know me from such Youtube smash hits as MrBtongue complains about the Mass Effect 3 ending, MrBtongue complains about EA, and MrBtongue complains about Bethesda.
Today I’m here to complain about Game of Thrones. I’ve complained about Game of Thrones beforeHere’s the video., but that was a broader criticism of the spirit of the show. In this series I’ll be getting into the nitty-gritty. In fact, the way I pitched this to Shamus was that I planned to do for Game of Thrones something like what he did for the Skyrim Thieves’ Guild questline.
It’s the sort of thing I hadn’t entirely realized there was an audience for â€" but if Shamus’ own reader polls are any indicationThis one indicates an encouraging appetite for “bloviating on a game for months.”, there is, and I now see an opportunity to pick every nit the show has to offer for a crowd that will cheer me on the whole way, or hopefully at least not throw virtual tomatoes at me.
Because I should make one thing clear from the outset: I come to bury Game of Thrones, not to praise it. In my opinion, the show – and in particular the show’s writing – is now bad. Not average, or mixed, or inconsistent, but just plain bad.
It wasn’t always bad. In fact, for the first three seasons I think the writing was good, if not quite great. It was a competent adaption of a very difficult-to-adapt series of novels. Since then it has been (in my opinion) on a steady downward slope into its current state, where virtually no individual thing that happens onscreen makes any damn sense to me anymore. Game of Thrones is quite popular, so I imagine many of you reading this right now might read the last few sentences as harsh to the point of being unreasonable. Well, part of why I’m writing this is that I’m worried you might be right.
When I said that Mass Effect 3’s ending was bad (see above), I’d like to think I was in good company. At the very least I was in numerous company. Lots of people shared that opinion â€" some of them made me look downright indulgent by comparison. By contrast, the online existence of the full-bore Game of Thrones hater is a lonely one. Sure, it has its hatedom, but said hatedom is squirreled away in relatively remote corners of the internet. The dominant consensus is that the show is good. Review aggregators are not always unblemished founts of truth, but both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic show positive reviews nearly across the board â€" and that’s not even taking into account that it’s gobbling up Emmy Awards like candy, including writing awards.
So when I look at the latest season and see nothing but a hot mess of contrivances, poor pacing, bizarre characterization, and general nonsense, I can’t help but doubt my own critical faculties. “Am I really this much of a drag?” I ask myself. “Why can’t I just enjoy the show, like everyone else?” Well, I have a hypothesis that explains why. That hypothesis takes some explaining, but it starts like this: people are not enjoying Game of Thrones as much as they think they are.
Let me explain: if you’re a regular at this blog, you may already be familiar with the term “story collapse.”If not, you could try reading this series of posts by Shamus. The short version is that “story collapse” occurs when narrative problems pile on top of each other to the point that the audience simply gives up, assumes that the authors plain don’t know what they’re doing, and loses interest in the proceedings. It’s not any one inconsistency or poor choice that does it; it’s an accumulation of them. I consider Game of Thrones in its current state to be an intriguing live test subject of a story whose collapse is imminent with many viewers. To make a concrete prediction: I believe that, between now and the end of the show (two more seasons, probably), story collapse will have come in force to Game of Thrones to the point where its reputation will be permanently damaged, even with those who currently enjoy it.
Of course, I could be wrong, and if so I’ll have to come up with some explanation for why you can’t say you told me so. But until then I want to give you a glimpse of what the future might look like.
The Canary in the Coal Mine: The Rape of Sansa Stark
Like I said above, Game of Thrones receives almost universally positive reviews from critics. It’s HBO’s current flagship program, which is the most prestigious rank a TV show can have. But there have been cracks in its reputation’s armor, and those cracks were most evident during season five â€" particularly the plotline that saw Sansa Stark brutally raped by her husband Ramsay.
Feminist-leaning critics objected to yet another example of sexual violence being used as a plot device. But even critics that you wouldn’t ordinarily put in the “feminist” column were put off by the hamfistedness on display. This came as a surprise to me, to be honest. I had already begun to dislike the show by this point, but I was surprised at how swiftly the backlash came, and the number of directions it came from. This type of content was hardly a new thing: the very first episode in the very first season had a rape scene, and it’s used female corpses as set decoration many times since. Why did this particular straw break the camel’s back? For those of you already bracing yourself for trouble, know that I don’t mean to either condemn or endorse the criticism here. But whatever else you may think of it, it got HBO’s attention.
For once the writers felt obliged to defend their work, and their defense went like this (paraphrased): “Sansa is now the wife of a violent sadist in a Medieval-European style setting where women had very little in the way of rights or recourse. This is exactly what you should expect to happen in such a situation. To depict such an act is not necessarily to endorse it, and can in fact be a way of condemning it. We could not pretend that this is not how events would have played out within the universe we’re depicting.”
Taken on its own, outside of any context, that might have been a good defense. But it landed with a thud among the suddenly unfriendly critics. What was the context that gave it the lie? What was the original sin, for lack of a better term, of season five’s Winterfell storyline?
To answer that question, it’s useful to compare it to the events in the books. At that point I should note that while I am a book snob (meaning I like the books much more than the show), I don’t think that any deviation from them is automatically bad. There have been some show-only scenes and character interpretations that I’ve very much enjoyed. However, in this particular case the comparison between the two is useful. So what happened in the books when Sansa went to Winterfell?
The answer is nothing. In the books, Sansa and Littlefinger both stayed in the Eyrie, and events in both the Vale and the North played out so differently that they only vaguely resemble their show counterparts. This difference between the original and the adaptation is not a problem in and of itself, but it does create problems. Whatever else you may think of the Song of Ice and Fire novels, I think anyone who’s read them would at least agree that they’re complex. They feature multiple interconnected plots and character motivations. In the midst of such complexity, you can’t expect to be able to just yank two major characters out of one storyline and drop them unceremoniously into another without creating a host of narrative problems. And when the show’s writers shuffle Sansa and Littlefinger from the Vale to the North, they… well, create a host of narrative problems.
We’ll examine those problems, and in doing so get to the good stuffThe nitpicking., next week.
 Twenty-Sidites? Twenty-Siderians?
 This one indicates an encouraging appetite for “bloviating on a game for months.”
 If not, you could try reading this series of posts by Shamus.
 The nitpicking.
Even allegedly smart people can make life-changing blunders that seem very, very obvious in retrospect.
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