Game of Thrones Griping 10: The Lindeloffian Method

By Bob Case Posted Friday Jun 16, 2017

Filed under: Game of Thrones 117 comments

This series analyzes the show, but sometimes references the books as well. If you read it, expect spoilers for both.

Everyone’s favoriteshut up Game of Thrones gripe-a-thon is back! I won’t even have time to complain about everything I wanted to complain about between now and July 16th, when the new season is scheduled to start. But all I can do is try. Never let it be said that common sense limited my can-do spirit.

In keeping with what I’ve done so far, I’m going to pick a single season six storyline – in this case, Arya’s – and stick with it. And hoo boy, did I pick a doozy.

It would be going too far to say that Arya’s storyline was the season’s worst – that particular trophy was retained by the season five defending champions, Dorne. But it was the one I found the most obnoxious. The Dorne plotline was inept and scatterbrained, sure, but I didn’t personally see any malice in it. The Arya plotline, on the other hand, continuously manipulates the audience in a way that I find familiar enough to breed contempt.

I’ll sound smarter if I give this phenomenon a name, so I’ll call it the “Lindeloffian Method.” Damon Lindelof is the often-talented-but-even-more-often-infuriating auteur who gave us Lost and Prometheus, among other things. He’s not the only writer who practices the Lindeloffian Method, but he is the most noteworthy, so I’ve named it after him.

The Lindeloffian method is this: have something happen that makes no sense, hint at a promised explanation later, and then never deliver. Simple, but effective, because it gives the audience something that’s initially indistinguishable from actual suspense. When they start to get antsy, you replace the old mystery with another, bigger mystery, and carry on as before.

It’s essentially the Ponzi scheme of fiction writing. In a Ponzi scheme, the grifter gets people to invest in some plausible-sounding company, and makes payments to the first group of investors with the money from the second group, then the second with the third, and so on. Once you run out of suckers the scheme collapses, of course, but by then a smart operator will have already skipped town with what’s left of everyone’s money.

It helps if the stakes go up with each successive cycle, which is why so many Lindeloffian stories end up in the realm of half-baked metaphysical noodling, abstracted miles past the point of comprehensibility. In fact, I suspect that the popularity of Lindeloffian narratives contributed at least in part to the character of Mass Effect 3’s ending.

But enough about non-Game of Thrones stuff. Let’s talk about where we are in Arya’s storyline.

In Braavosi, the temple is known as 'Varathuli Dosi Anounen,' which translates as 'The place so dark you can't hardly see anything.'
In Braavosi, the temple is known as 'Varathuli Dosi Anounen,' which translates as 'The place so dark you can't hardly see anything.'

Arya arrived in Braavos in season five and spent most of the season with the “Faceless Men,” a secretive order of assassins led by fan favorite Jaqen H’ghar, also known as “Sexy Jesus.” The Faceless Men (which are not necessarily men) are not just criminals motivated by money. They have some sort of religion or code they follow, which we’re given tantalizing glimpses of. Perhaps we’ll learn what it is?Spoiler alert: We won’t.

After assisting for a time with the day-to-day duties of the temple – which range from embalming the dead to assisted suicide – Arya is allowed admittance to its inner sanctum. Perhaps we’ll learn the mysteries of the order here?Spoiler alert: Nope. She’s eventually assigned to kill someone called the “thin man,” an underwriter for risky merchant ventures, who Sexy Jesus confusingly describes as a “gambler.” This underwriter refuses to pay out claims he finds inconvenient, leaving behind the orphaned children of ship captains, who have gone to the Faceless Men for justice.

How are a bunch of penniless orphans able to afford the world’s most expensive assassins? Perhaps the Faceless Men aren’t interested in money. “Only death can pay for life,” says Jaqen, echoing similar statements by the Red Priestess Melisandre. Perhaps they’re paid in a different way? Perhaps we’ll learn how?Spoiler alert: The show will never even attempt to explain how all of this works.

The temple's inner sanctum is called 'Morgholo Esetirri,' or 'You can't see shit, even moreso than the last place.'
The temple's inner sanctum is called 'Morgholo Esetirri,' or 'You can't see shit, even moreso than the last place.'

Arya, however, doesn’t kill the thin man. Instead she’s distracted when she sees Ser Meryn Trant, a member of the Kingsguard who’s in Braavos to accompany Lord Mace Tyrell in his negotiations with the Iron Bank. Ser Meryn is, conveniently, an abusive pedophile shithead, which gives Arya the excuse she needs to kill him in an almost comically gruesome manner. I think I was supposed to cheer at the sight of him getting his comeuppance, but honestly his character was so on the nose that the whole exercise just felt tacky to me.

But now Arya is in trouble. She killed the wrong man – she stole from the Many-Faced God that the order worships. Only death can pay for life, so in her final episode Jaqen holds up a vial of what must be poison for Arya to drink. Then he drinks it himself. Arya is distraught, but she pulls disguise after disguise off of the corpse, only to find out that the final one is (gasp!) her own face! And then she goes blind.

So somehow he actually killed her, or something? Metaphorically, maybe? This could symbolize her failure to become “No One,” which seems to be her goal. And her blindness is because… you know what, I’m not even gonna try. It’s clearly just a cliffhanger for season six, where all of this will definitely get cleared up.Spoiler alert: It won’t.

Jaqen H'ghar. What were you expecting, a well-lit picture? HAHAHAHAHAHA
Jaqen H'ghar. What were you expecting, a well-lit picture? HAHAHAHAHAHA

So, now you’re caught up with the beginning of season six, assuming you weren’t already. Breaking my ample complaints into bite-size chunks isn’t always easy, so this week’s episode is a bit on the short side. But in the next two weeks we’ll discuss both Lady Crane and Arya’s pointless stickfighting. Stay tuned!



[1] shut up

[2] Spoiler alert: We won’t.

[3] Spoiler alert: Nope.

[4] Spoiler alert: The show will never even attempt to explain how all of this works.

[5] Spoiler alert: It won’t.

From The Archives:

117 thoughts on “Game of Thrones Griping 10: The Lindeloffian Method

  1. galacticplumber says:

    Why tell us to shut up? this is legitimately a good complain-fest. Incidentally I think I agree with both you and Cracked on this point. Mystery Box storytelling is clown-shit. The literal shit of clowns.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Why tell us to shut up?

      Because he dared to not use U in favourite.

      1. Mousazz says:


        1. Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

          You keep referencing that word. I do not think it memes what you think it memes.

          1. Agammamon says:

            Really very short of charm.

          2. Droid says:

            Wow, that was … beautiful!

          3. Mistwraithe says:

            I click [Like]

  2. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    Too short! And just as it was getting good, too.

    Is that exclusively from the show, then? Because I don’t remember that from the books (but then again, the whole ASoIaF is getting really hazy in my head). I remember her being blinded to enter the order, but that’s about it.

    1. Droid says:

      Afair, Arya has to do that embalming stuff, has to train lying convincingly and going unnoticed, getting information (tell Jaqen or the waif three new things every day, I forget) and similar stuff. Then she also goes blind, but I forgot to what end. She also overhears a lot of the stuff going on in the temple, like the assassins “recusing” themselves from an assassination when they know the target.

      1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

        Ah, yes, the bit about her telling them 3 new things she learnt every day is coming back.

        I think the blindness was to make her more aware of everything around her and/or not focus on herself as much, to shed her identity for real. Pretty sure it was not to punish her for a failed assassination, though.

        1. guy says:

          Given how it goes, I got the impression that blinding her was just a stage of the training; she needs to learn how to operate effectively when she can’t see. They have someone test her reactions every day and ask her who he is, and when she uses her warg powers to correctly identify him they praise her and remove the blindness.

          1. Joshua says:

            IIRC correctly, she goes blind after murdering one of the Night’s Watch that came to Braavos with Sam and Gilly. I don’t quite recall why she kills him, although the readers know that the guy has screwed over Sam and the Night’s Watch by forsaking his oaths and duty to be a drunken bard instead. It wasn’t necessarily the murder that caused their ire, but the fact that the murder was because of her still holding onto her Arya Stark identity, when she’s supposed to be embracing becoming anonymous.

            Edit -Whoops, saw Grudgeal filled in this explanation below.

    2. Grudgeal says:

      In the book, Arya, or should I say nobody, goes through a lot of different training that involves learning assassin skills and understanding the nature of life and death. She also gets told repeatedly by the Kindly Man (the person who Jaquen fills the role of in the show) that she can quit any time, become a regular acolyte at the temple or get any other kind of life if she asks for it, but Arya insists on staying and serving the Many-Faced God. I didn’t see the last season on GoT, but in the book the philosophy of the order and the meaning behind the training did get expounded upon.

      Anyway, she’s given the blindness tonic after she ends up breaking character and murdering a deserter from the Night’s Watch and steals his boots. Whether it was punishment, training, or both, is never made entirely clear.

      1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

        Thanks for the refresher.

    3. Wraith says:


      A big problem with the show’s version of Arya’s arc is that it is missing the core of her character arc – her very literal inability to shed every vestige of her old identity. It has the trappings of it – her revenge obsession (Ser Meryn) and her strong sense of karmic justice (Lady Crane and her rival) – but misses the forest for the trees.

      * Arya’s first false identity during her training is “Cat of the Canals”. The name choice is a deliberate invocation of her mother’s name
      * Arya breaks character one night as Cat to make an unsanctioned murder – the singer Dareon, who is a deserter from the Night’s Watch. She does this because deserters from the Watch are punished with death in her homeland, and in the Northern tradition the (wo)man who passes the sentence must swing the sword. Arya has a very pronounced and personal sense of justice in the books and this is another instance of her core personality subverting her best efforts to suppress it as part of her training.
      * In the books all the Stark children are wargs, which the show cuts save for with Bran. Throughout the series Arya continuously has strange “dreams” where she assumes the form of a huge she-wolf and hunts down humans in the night. These are actually warg episodes where she is possessing her wolf Nymeria, who has grown enormous and feral in the Riverlands and leads a huge pack of feral wolves. The tragedy of Arya’s arc with the Faceless men is that she literally can’t become “No One” because a literal part of herself – Nymeria – is still in Westeros and cannot simply be suppressed.
      * As part of her training, Arya is given a potion that renders her blind for a period of time. Her “trainer”, who is known as the Kindly Man, tests her ability to lie and even beats her at random times while she is in this state. At one point she makes it clear to the Kindly Man that she knows he is responsible for these beatings despite being blind, which puzzles him. The truth is that she is warging into a cat in the rafters while she sleeps and sees him beating her through the cat’s eyes.
      * In a TWOW preview chapter it becomes increasingly clear that her identity as Arya is reasserting itself, as she commits another unsanctioned murder against Polliver, a Lannister soldier on her revenge list. She assumes the guise of a teenage prostitute named Mercy, lures him into a dark alley, and murders him.

      The show’s version is a lot more shallow. Her struggle with her warging is totally cut, which is arguably the key element of her failure to properly become a Faceless Man. Her sense of justice is arguably present in the show, but it as the key element of her personal conflict takes a back seat to her personal affection toward Lady Crane. Her blinding is pretty much entirely a punishment rather than a deliberate part of the training process. A pointless grudge match with the Waif is added probably because the writers of the show thought the audience would be bored by a Man Vs Self conflict driving the plotline. And of course, Arya’s murder of Meryn is gore-ified and glorified because in the show revenge is the greatest thing ever; while in the books her murders of Dareon and Polliver are intended to show how her inherent sense of justice has combined with her experienced trauma to form a disturbing level of detachment regarding committing violence.

      1. Droid says:

        Very well-written summary of what makes Arya’s story work in the books. I have not seen the show since season 3 or 4 or so, but I will take your and Bob’s word for it that it sucks now.

        I just really hope GRRM gets to finish his work, it would really be a shame if all we got for an ending was the terrible bastardization of the story that GoT has given us.

        1. stratigo says:

          Only season 5 really sucked (in about half). The rest is still fairly solid. It’s about as divergent from the books as it has ever been, and that will only continue.

      2. Syal says:

        I’d replace “justice” with “vengeance” (the impression I got was that she killed Dareon because she couldn’t stand to see a deserter be happy), and throw in I don’t think Arya ever intended to actually become “no one”, she’s there to learn how to kill people.

        …the show cut all the warging? Why would they do that? It can’t be for budget reasons, all it would just would be a night-vision filter in the woods.

      3. Grudgeal says:

        I fully agree with this.

  3. Oliver Edleston says:

    I think that’s my favourite shut up use of a numbered note on this site.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ahhh,rollover text on pictures…All the anxiety Ive gotten from nan-o-war has left my body.

    Also YAY!The GoTG is back!

    1. Droid says:

      It was so debilitating! How could Rutskarn do this to us? After we made him play this wonde…

      Actually, it makes a lot of sense now!

      1. MichaelGC says:

        I think a good rule of thumb is that if Rutskarn includes text with a screenshot, it’ll show up as a caption as well as in a mouseover pop-up.

        Although knowing that doesn’t stop me from doublechecking every single time, too! :D

        1. stratigo says:

          If rutskarn was evil he would, on rare occasion, simply add rollover text to a single picture every few posts.

          You better make sure he isn’t.


          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Id be ok with that.

            1. MichaelGC says:

              It’s probably only the depth of Rutskarn’s essentially good nature which prevents him from achieving world domination. Although … I’d be ok with that, too.

    2. Reed says:

      Guardians Of The Galaxy?!? ;)

      1. Veylon says:

        No, that would be GotG. It’s completely different.

    3. Niriel says:

      I’m on a phone so I can’t read them in their entirety; hover text isn’t really mobile-friendly. Oh well, I predict they’re all about how dark everything is. That’s what the last one says, that one I can see entirely, I think.

  5. Nick says:

    “Only death can pay for life” refers to his sense of obligation for Arya saving his life and the life of his fellow captives. You’re conflating the reverse of that for some reason, unless I’m missing something

    1. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

      Arya already paid that back when she asked for the deaths of the 3 people at Harrenhal, so this is a different case of “only death can pay for life”

  6. Shen says:

    Isn’t the Lindeloffian method the Chris Carter Effect? Keep building a mystery up so you don’t have to explain it until you run out of time and let everyone down?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      You forgot the link.

      1. Lachlan the Sane says:

        Based on Daemian’s TVTropes link, the Chris Carter Effect sounds more like the way that fans react to a series that relies too much on the Lindeloffian Method — stack mystery on top of mystery for too long, and the fans will give up on resolution. Hell, you could say that Bob’s analyses of Game of Thrones are an example of the Chris Carter Effect.

        1. Kylroy says:

          I cut Chris Carter some slack (only *some*, mind you) because he was trying to weave a metaplot into a weekly TV show before DVDs allowed folks to catch up whenever they wanted. (Yes, I know his contemporaries at Babylon 5 did it better, but they had a plan from the beginning.) Modern series are far more serialized than X-Files ever was, and have to know that cancellation is the only thing saving them from needing to explain themselves.

          1. Bloodsquirrel says:

            Carter was also on the forefront of serialized TV. He might not have know what kind of phenomenon he was looking at or what expectations would grow into.

            It’s also clear from his subsequent efforts that he was very lucky to hit exactly the right elements in pulling the X-Files together, and messing with the formula too much was probably a bad idea.

            1. Kylroy says:

              Bingo. Folks forget that X Files episodes were 2/3 metaplot-free “Monster of the Week” for most of the show’s run.

              I remain impressed by the X Files movie as a singular effort of marketing. It was a movie meant to fulfill a purpose no other film will ever need to: bring people up to speed on an existing serial TV show.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Folks forget that X Files episodes were 2/3 metaplot-free “Monster of the Week” for most of the show's run.

                I dont.Those were the best episodes,and I watched the show for them,not for the silly ZOMG SPACE ALIENS IN OIL.

                1. Kylroy says:

                  Those episodes could indeed be great, but without the metaplot X Files would occupy the same obscure cultural niche as Psi Factor.

                  1. Ivellius says:

                    Hey, someone else remembers Psi Factor.

                    1. Michael says:

                      Psi Factor had one thing going for it, Matt Frewer. It may not be great TV, but he was usually pretty entertaining.

  7. Bloodsquirrel says:

    The Lindeloffian method is this: have something happen that makes no sense, hint at a promised explanation later, and then never deliver. Simple, but effective, because it gives the audience something that's initially indistinguishable from actual suspense. When they start to get antsy, you replace the old mystery with another, bigger mystery, and carry on as before.

    Huh. I didn’t realize that Damon Lindelof was responsible for the last six seasons of Doctor Who.

    1. Kylroy says:

      Or, y’know, the original ASoIaF novels…

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        What big mysteries have gone unexplained in ASoIaF? Pretty much all of the initial mystery from AGoT has been explained by now.

      2. Joshua says:

        Well, a lot of the first three books are filled in or explained later. Rereading the books shows how detailed the world is, and how there’s a lot of foreshadowing going on.* The 4th and 5th tend to go more off track, but we’ll see what happens once Book 6 comes out……whenever.

        *I think there’s still some ret-con crap, like the later explanation for why an assassin tried to kill Bran.

        1. Kylroy says:

          I will admit, I think GRRM has an underlying explanation for most everything in his world, but I don’t know that he’ll either A) find the time and energy to commit it to the page, or B) *admit* that he doesn’t have the time or energy to write it and just spit out a summary.

          It’s the fact that he’s introducing more story threads and more major characters past the halfway point in his (for the moment) septology, while his overall speed of production slows to a crawl, that makes me despair of this ever getting completed.

          1. Bloodsquirrel says:

            That’s more of a kudzu plot issue, where what’s going on isn’t unexplained, but it’s constantly growing in complexity instead of heading toward a resolution.

            I’ve given up hope on GRRM actually getting the end of the series out. We’ll probably see Winds of Winter in the next three or so years, but I doubt he’ll get through A Dream of Spring. Hopefully somebody else finished the series, no matter what GRRM says he wants. If it was that sacred to him, he should have finished it instead of pissing around on 1,000 other projects.

          2. Cubic says:

            Brandon Sanderson, you are our only hope. We have here, smuggled at great cost, a scan of GRRMs notes.

            1. houser2112 says:

              Obligatory link for when people wonder if Sanderson will fill in for a late GRRM like he did for the late Robert Jordan.

              1. Cubic says:

                Welp, no hope then. When you think about it, that works too.

              2. Cubic says:

                Though to be precise I’d like someone to fill in before GRRM dies just so I can finish it before I have grandchildren from children born after GoT was published.

                Actually I’m not sure I really care anymore. Will anyone care once the TV series is done? Maybe that’s what GRRM figured out.

        2. guy says:

          I think the Bran one was planned at the beginning to at least some extent. Even in the first book Tyrion points out that a) sending an assassin with a highly recognizable knife he owns would have been incredibly stupid, and b) Littlefinger’s story for how Tyrion got the knife is not plausible.

          1. Syal says:

            I thought the first book revealed that Joffrey sent the assassin because Joffrey is Just The Worst. Did that get retconned, or was that later than I thought it was?

            1. Grudgeal says:

              It’s revealed in book three, though even in book one it’s made clear that Tyrion wasn’t behind it. Joffrey ‘confesses’ to it during his wedding and Tyrion puts it all together. The dagger came from Robert’s personal armoury; Robert made a comment that it would almost be better to put Bran out of his misery than having him lie in a coma (“will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?”) so Joffrey stole the dagger from the armoury and gave it to a camp follower.

              Like most everything else Joffrey did, it seems to have been a mixture of a lack of empathy, cruelty, and craving for approval involved.

              1. Joshua says:

                But this is the part that felt like a retcon to me. It smacks so much of trying belatedly fill in a plothole and seemed out of character for Joffrey to me. Joffrey is more impulsive evil, not methodical planning evil. While he definitely craved approval, this plan wouldn’t have gained him any, and a psychopath like Joffrey wouldn’t likely to be thinking in subtleties like my father would approve of me for this thing I’ve done even though he can’t find out.

                Of course, I also dislike the little subplot with this dagger because it seems like a reckless gambit on Littlefinger’s part, especially with Varys being right there when he lies about Tyrion owning the dagger.

                1. Droid says:

                  That was very much not methodical planning, it was half-assed planning, because even an idiot like Joffrey knew he could not do it himself, therefore taking what was easiest available (a camp follower and a dagger from the armoury) and combining them to try and get what he wants in the most lazy way possible.

                  For the motivation, Joffrey has this drive to punish everyone who ruined his day, or slightly inconvenienced his day (Arya and Nymeria, the singer who mocks him in song, etc.), so he might have extended that to his father (as in, his father must be really pissed at Bran), and doing his father (what must have looked like) a favor that he liked to do might have been enough motivation.

        3. Rodyle says:

          Rereading the books shows how detailed the world is

          Yeah, it’s quite detailed, but that makes many of the inconsistencies much more noticeable. Like how there was this tournament where 40K dragons was given to the winner, which, given that a full set or armor has been mentioned to cost 4 dragons, is such an insane amount of money that it must be a mistake. Especially since the winner managed to blow all on booze and hookers in quite a host time. As a side note: the maidenhead of a young girl was being sold for 1 dragon around that time, so do the math there (please don’t…).

          Also fun: the wall is 700 foot (about 230 metres for us non-Americans) tall, which is plainly ridiculous, because ice cannot hold under that kind of pressure, which means you’d have to build a triangular prism with a width about 28000 foot (and a height of 700). At this point, it would no longer be a wall, but a huge slip-and slide for the wildlings to have fun with. Another fun fact: the wall isn’t even the highest structure in Westeros.

          1. ehlijen says:

            Wasn’t it pretty firmly established that the wall is held up, and in fact only works at all against the white walkers, because of magic woven into it?

            1. General Karthos says:

              This is my recollection as well. Bran the Builder built a lot of things with magic woven into them.

    2. Mousazz says:

      He’s also not responsible for Sherlock. Heck, you could even name this trope the ‘Moffat Method’. Hbomberguy has an hour and a half long video detailing the failings of that show, but the gist of it is the same – pile mystery on top of mystery, foreshadowing on foreshadowing, until you can’t keep it up anymore. Moriarty died by killing himself? No problem, just hint that he might be returning at the finale of season 3! And then complain in interviews that fans actually think that Moriarty might be alive. Have the special between season 3 and season 4 confirm that Sherlock knows exactly what Moriarty’s plan is – and then have Sherlock’s season 4 plan to be ‘let’s wait and see what Moriarty will do.’ By season 4 the audience caught up to the trick, and when the last episode hinted at Sherlock having a long lost super-genius baby brother Sherlock simply forgot about, the final straw broke the camel’s back.

      1. Ivan says:

        To be fair, he does have a super-genius brother. Mycroft. He’s not long lost, though, and I am not sure if he was older or younger.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          They meant sister.But frankly,it doesnt make a difference at all.

          1. MichaelGC says:

            I think Ivan means that the Conan Doyle books do mention Sherlock’s cleverer brother Mycroft; not that this makes a big difference either.

            1. Bloodsquirrel says:

              They don’t just mention him. He actually shows up in a few stories.

              1. General Karthos says:

                He’s older.

                And he IS more clever than Sherlock. Just lazier. (No, seriously, he says that at one point.)

                1. Cubic says:

                  Young sassy super genius Mycroftine appears!

        2. Syal says:

          Mycroft was in the first episode of the BC Sherlock series and a recurring character ever since. If they’re hinting at a long-lost sibling it’s someone that Mycroft and Sherlock’s parents never bothered to mention in three seasons.

      2. Thomas says:

        I think the Moffat Method is different. The Moffat Method is to pick a situation and a series of situations that don’t make sense. This makes them ‘Cool’ or even ‘Zany’. And then you build even more of these situations into a convoluted chain until you’ve kind of arrived at a reason for the first situation if you stretch your belief a bit.

        Then Moffat can sit back and write himself some more weirdly sexualised female sidekick dialogue, after being proud of having done something both ‘Zany’ and ‘Clever’.

    3. Kylroy says:

      LOST was the first major pop culture event that presented itself as a having a brilliant underlying master plan when it *really* didn’t. Lindeloff being the point man on LOST, I think he’s the best choice for a namesake.

      1. Mistwraithe says:

        Agreed. Lost was unforgivable, he deserves to spawn a meme for it.

      2. Boobah says:

        The show that jumps out at me in this context is the newer Battlestar Galactica. Mostly because the first season or so the opening ended with a line about how the Cylons ‘had a plan.’ A plan that was never completed or explained but was sidetracked by magic hybrid blood and guessing games about whether or not x was a secret one-of-a-kind Cylon.

        1. Kylroy says:

          Probably a worse infraction for the alleged “plan” being text rather than subtext, but it was A) later (if only by a few months), and B) nowhere near as popular.

    4. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:


      David Lynch predates this by a while -even the GRRM books.

      Twin Peaks, 1990. Unless you want to include Dune, 1984.

      1. Agammamon says:

        I don’t understand why you would include Dune – most everything in there is explained in some way.

        If it has a weakness, its because its pretty hard to compress a novel of that size and density into 140 minutes so there’s a lot of background material that isn’t strictly necessary to understanding the main plot that’s cut out.

        1. ehlijen says:

          The movie also chose to add a few things, mostly visuals, that confused rather than explained.

          But yes, simply on the grounds that Lynch didn’t write Dune, it shouldn’t qualify him for any writing trope name. That either belongs to the author or a different work altogether.

  8. Grudgeal says:

    Also, thank goodness I’m not the only one who couldn’t see anything inside that temple. It really helped wreck the storyline for me.

  9. drmickhead says:

    Coincidentally, The Leftovers, Lindelof’s follow-up series to Lost just wrapped up its third and final season on HBO less than two weeks from the date of this post. The central conceit of The Leftovers is that 2% of the world’s population immediately and mysteriously disappeared at one moment, without any clear reason or order.

    In what was clearly a response to the criticism he received from people like Bob for practicing the “Lindeloffian Method,” Lindelof announced at the onset of the show that there would be no answers surrounding the disappearance – instead the show focuses on those who were left behind and broken by the tragedy.

    Without giving anything away, after a slow first season, the show really kicked it into gear for the next two, and it ended up becoming a critical darling (and probably one of my top five of all time). I feel Lindelof has since mastered the art of the mystery – it’s not worth giving people crappy answers to great questions; instead it’s much more interesting to give people wonderful stories arising out of those great questions.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Wait,he made left behind:The tv show?Did Kirk Cameron and Nicolas Cage have cameos in it?

      1. Kylroy says:

        It shares a similar plot hook with Left Behind, but the vanished people aren’t in any way connected or similar, so any attempt to ascribe meaning to this event (religious or otherwise) is grasping at straws.

        1. drmickhead says:

          That’s sort of what makes it so interesting and relevant to Lindelof’s career – everyone keeps trying to find a meaning behind the ‘mystery box,’ but the show refuses to provide any answers.

          1. Kylroy says:

            And more to the point, Lindeloff is explicitly stating he won’t provide any.

            1. Cubic says:

              “Behold, God is great, and we know him not, neither can the number of his years be searched out.”

  10. Joshua says:

    It’s way too easy to write mysterious plot-threads that pique curiosity. It’s much harder to go back and explain them all later. This writing-style infuriates me to no end. The writer *knows* he’s hooking the audience with the allure of mystery, and then refusing to pay up once they’ve given the writer their attention.

    I’d also say David Lynch was doing this long before Lindelof.

    1. Kylroy says:

      So much this. In a world with competing fan theories and constant discussion, even the best endings will disappoint people simply because they, by necessity, collapse a wide range of possibilities into one outcome. And because there’s almost certainly some fan idea out there (amongst the dozens to millions presented) that would have been better received, you get second-guessed to hell and back.

      Without getting into spoilers, an example: the ending of Breaking Bad is solid. Not amazing, not the high point of the series, but effectively closes the narrative. And I think people fail to realize just *how hard* it is to even tack a “C+” ending onto an “A” series.

      (And yes, Lynch was absolutely doing this first, but he was sufficiently weird that he got an auteur’s pass – his failures to explain were chalked up alongside all the other weird stuff his works do.)

      1. Ingo says:

        I suspect that this sort of stuff is why (among a bunch of other reasons) why we are not seeing a Half Life 3.

        The expected storyline payoff grows as a story takes longer to resolve itself. It eventually reaches the point where any ending, no matter how great, can live up to the expectations of the audience.

        1. ehlijen says:

          Half Life is a slightly different case, I think. It was never meant to have a great or deep story. It was just meant to hit the right notes to create an atmosphere to enhance the gaming experience, at least not until the episodes.

          We’re not seeing HL3 because no one at Valve has any solid ideas as to how to make a fresh shooter right now, be it with story, technology or gameplay.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Also,half life was never about the mystery.The story was there always in support of the gameplay,not the other way around.So the fact that it didnt make sense some of the time is excusable.

          2. Joshua says:

            Well, the official excuse is also that Valve’s management structure is so odd because people work on whatever they want to work on, and no one felt like working on another HL game. As others have pointed out though, they don’t seem to be working on *any* games. They just tinker around with Steam, VR, their console system? (I haven’t read much about them lately, so not sure what they are doing now days.

            It seems very odd to me that the company is surviving despite no overarching management structure to direct their focus. How they got so good at quality control is beyond me.

            1. Bloodsquirrel says:

              I think it’s a thing that worked better back when

              A) They didn’t have steam propping themselves up, and thus had to actually do something,
              B) When game development was done with fewer people, and everyone could be less of a tiny cog in a giant machine that had to be well-coordinated.

            2. ehlijen says:

              It would strike me as odd though that with episode 2 ending on a really nasty cliff hanger, no one at valve wanted to make episode 3 at the very least. Who writes a story up to a cliff hanger, releases it, and then walks away?

              Or was it a matter of not getting enough of a team together or the result not passing muster to justify polishing expenses?

              Not that it matters anymore.

      2. Cubic says:

        With Twin Peaks, you sort of knew the explanation would be as weird as what came before it.

    2. Bloodsquirrel says:

      Lynch isn’t so much a mystery guy as he is a surrealist. His stuff is meant to be interpreted, not explained. Somebody had a really good video (it might have been RedLetterMedia) about Twin Peaks and the troubled production behind the second season).

      On a literal level, something like Lost Highway makes no sense, but it’s not supposed to. It doesn’t promise to. The movie makes sense thematically and symbolically, and is clearly about the state of fugue.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        Right – for example the murder of Laura was never meant to be solved. Then the studio execs or whoever – y’know, them – decided that it had to be, and so Lynch returned to the show essentially at the last moment to try & stop the wheels flying off. (With extraordinary success, in my view, given where things had got to by that stage!)

        It’s still a matter of mystery in both cases, but Lindelofian promises a resolution which never comes, whilst Lynchian makes zero promises at all and expects you to just deal with it. Lindelofian pretends it’s going to give to you whilst Lynchian just steals from you! Run away!! It’s too late for me but save yourselves!!!

        *a-hem* Sorry. Got a little carried away, there. It’s powerful stuff, David Lynch’s work, is all I mean.

        1. Bloodsquirrel says:

          It's still a matter of mystery in both cases, but Lindelofian promises a resolution which never comes, whilst Lynchian makes zero promises at all and expects you to just deal with it.

          I think the key here is that Lynch isn’t providing resolution, but that he’s tying the resolution to something other than the answer to a question that’s been dramatically beaten over the audience’s heads for three years. The resolution to Eraserhead is that the main character finally escapes from his anxiety. We weren’t pestered with questions about WHAT IS THE BABY? WHERE DID MARY GO?; that stuff is just presented as-is, while the movie focuses on making sure that the character arc is coherent and ends appropriately.

        2. Kylroy says:

          This is why I think the unsung hero of Twin Peaks is Mark Frost. (Frost *did* want to reveal Laura’s killer…at the end of the series, when it would make some logical sense.) Taking all the genius Lynch provides and turning it into something other than film criticism fodder – being Paul to his John, to make the Beatles comparison – is the reason Twin Peaks is the most remembered of Lynch’s work.

        3. Joshua says:

          But there were a lot of implied promises with Twin Peaks. The show literally begins with finding her body and trying to discover her murderer. This isn’t just a framing device that opens the audience to the other stories of the townsfolk, the Laura murder plot is repeatedly brought up in every episode with new developments and insights, and is the most important story going on. With the show’s universe, as well, there has to be constant progression on the murder case or Agent Cooper has no legal reason to be there. That’s something they struggled with explaining after the network forced the plot to be resolved.

          I dislike Lynch’s explanation of there never intending to be a resolution to the murder case. Firefly has a partial framing device of River Tam’s being on the ship to escape apprehension by the authorities. A couple of episodes deal directly with this plotline. Now, imagine that *every* episode detailed aspects of why she was being chased and what was wrong with her (like Ariel ) and then never giving the audience any closure or real explanations because Joss Whedon never intended to have an ending to this story. It would be a cop-out.

          1. Syal says:

            I could see the plan being the murder tying in to other plots indefinitely. The first season had a lot of leads in the case that ended up being about other crimes. Season 2 could have been about Laura’s time hanging out at the lumber mill, Season 3 could have been Detective Evil showing up ostensibly to help but really to summon hell, Season 4 could have been about how Laura’s favorite shampoo keeps showing up at crime scenes.

  11. BlueHorus says:

    The worst thing about Arya’s plot in the TV show is that the version of the events in the books that is just…infinitely better. All they had to do was copy/adapt the plot from the books more-or-less verbatim…

    …and instead they went FULL RETARD.

    To me that makes it worse than the Dorne plot. While both plots are terrible blatherskate, Dorne at least completely replaces the (slightly boring) section in the books (with something shit).
    Meanwhile, Arya and the Faceless Men follows broadly the same beats as the book, but the characters are idiots, events don’t make sense and nothing is explained properly.

    I found myself shouting “Why have you…WHY?!” at the screen, several times.

    1. Grudgeal says:

      …Am I the only one who actually LIKED Arianne’s story? It felt like reading a Greek Tragedy and made a great foil for Cersei getting POV story in the same book and their relationships to their respective fathers.

      1. Blue Horus says:

        It’s certainly a lot better than the Dorne plot the show went with (which…isn’t exactly hard), and it fits the story much better. But…’slightly boring’ sums it up fairly well to me.
        Particularly since it came in the book with a lot of new characters and we barely heard from other, much more established characters – AKA the “Who are these clowns and why am I reading this instead of about Tyrion or Arya!?” problem.

        I can also see that what there was would worry the showrunners: Arianne Martell enacts a half-baked plan to steal Myrcella away and crown her Queen…and it barely gets off the ground, Mycella gets hurt/killed becaues Arianne was bad at picking allies, and the whole thing ends with her father tiredly explaining how she didn’t know nearly enough about the situation (no shit, guess who didn’t bother to tell her anything?) and should have done nothing.

        To film that would be lots of dull talking about a bad plan, followed by a short fight scene and then an old man telling a woman she’s stupid. Imagine what would happen if the more ‘fervent’ feminists on the internet saw that. The comparison with Cersei would be bungled and/or completely lost in the furore.

  12. Duoae says:

    Thanks for coming back to this! Really looking forward to the rest of this dissection. :)

  13. Grampy_bone says:

    Welcome back Mr. BTongue, good for you for being a good sport. You’re completely correct about Arya’s story line and I agree entirely with your Damon Lindelof critique. I look forward to reading more.

  14. Darren says:

    Wait, what? The Faceless Men are explained pretty well. They were founded by slaves, since as slaves their founders had only death as an escape and as a means of revenge/justice. They worship death by killing people. They kill the desperate and sick who come to their temple for that purpose in a gentle way, and then treat their bodies with respect even as they convert their faces into tools for future use. They accept payment from people to assassinate targets, which is a different way of delivering death (mostly “deserved” in the sense that most contractors will have legitimate grievance with the target) while funding the organization. It’s all explained in both the books and the show. You could argue that it’s just a thin scheme for ruthless assassins, but it’s not inconsistent. As for how much it costs to hire them: do you really expect the narrative to go into precise details about how it works? These are fantasy assassins who can literally change their faces and kill for religious purposes. I assume they have a sliding scale based on the target and the client.

    There’s plenty to criticize with this narrative, but the basic setup is pretty much just stock fantasy material, and it’s really bizarre to see you hung up on it as if it some grave sin.

    1. Syal says:

      Of course it’s fun to do so anyway.

      So; the orphans take care of each other, so at least one of them would have died without the others. By the old Book 2 logic, they can ask the Faceless Men to kill one person for every orphan they’ve saved.

  15. Paul Spooner says:

    The metaphorical equation of the Lindeloffian Method to a Ponzi scheme sounds just right.
    I don’t watch GoT (or any television really), but it’s still good to hear the analysis.

  16. Alex Broadhead says:

    True fact: there are not enough fora in the known universe to contain the amount of complaining that Lost deserves.

  17. Jokerman says:

    :O this was a nice surprise, welcome back Bob.

  18. Mr Compassionate says:

    Yaaay it’s back! Anyways…

    That scene were Jaquen seemingly poisons himself could have been very clever if they had continued with that theme. I thought the lesson they were teaching her was that Arya was being incredibly close minded in assuming that there was a wise old Jesus man named Jaquen and a mean girl with a stick when really it was just a deliberate good cop bad cop routine.

    In actuality these concepts of identity have no place in the house of many faces where every assassin is nothing but an empty vessel for identities. There wasn’t really any mean girl or wise old man, only two or possibly more empty vessels assuming those forms like actors. Arya could have been talking to a different member of the order every time she spoke with Jaquen, or the two of them could have been switching faces every minute. The scary thing about being a faceless man is that you literally become a nobody without pride or glory or identity.

    Sadly they never did explore this and it turns out that mean stick girl really was a mean girl with a stick and Jaquen really is a calm old man because we see the two of them talking in private and Mean Girl is like ‘grr I wanna kill that Arya so bad!’. It’s the dumbest cop out I’ve seen in ages.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Agreed, I thought they were going that direction as well. Instead, it really is that the stick girl has some high school stuck up attitude and wants to murder Arya for fun. Which means… she wasn’t following the creed of the Nobody thing either!

      1. Mr Compassionate says:

        Exactly! Both of them having distinct personalities contradicts and ruins the entire multi-season plotline.
        Of course we all know (and have known since she got on the boat to Bravos) that this whole plotline was only to transform Aria (or Arya or whatever) into a giant badass for a revenge quest.

  19. Mistwraithe says:

    That was a great read, I look forward to many more!

  20. General Karthos says:

    The problem I have had with this series is that when Shamus nitpicks a game, it’s fun, lighthearted, and if he does get angry at (usually the really stupid) stuff, you really feel it. This series just feels angry and mean-spirited in general. Shamus also manages to mention more than one time where the game does something right. Even Mass Effect 3 (probably his most brutal review, though possibly Mass Effect 2) has points where he feels the game did something right.

    This series no longer has any effect on my enjoyment of the series, because the author does nothing but complain; so none of his complaints have any weight with me. Since he clearly can’t recognize (or acknowledge) what the show does WELL….

    I’ve complained in the past about Shamus’ seemingly relentless (but it isn’t) negativity about some games I very much enjoyed. But after reading this…. I think Shamus is the (far) superior writer, and if I’m going to read someone’s analysis of the show, I wish I could read his. (But I don’t think he watches the show, IIRC, so no dice.)

    And maybe he is funny and it’s just not my style. It just feels just plain mean to me, that’s all.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      I belong to the group of people that side with Bob, in that GoT feels like it has fallen quite far from its’ early glory days of being the best that a TV show had to offer. The difference between GoT and most games that Shamus complain about is that Bob complains about the core conceit of GoT: its’ ailing plot. We watch shows for the plots it allows ut to follow, whether that is personal storylines, sweeping political schemes or dudes hitting dudes for reasons and GoT seems to have lost its’ ability to provide us with compelling, coherent plots. Hence, the things GoT do right, like top notch production values, stellar casting etc. all fade far into the background, because all those things are only supports for the plot.

      Shamus complaining about games is different. Look at his Arkham series, it nitpicks Arkham City to death, yet he turns around and says it is a great game. Why? Because the plot of AC is only a support for its’ central conceit: the gameplay. Games can get away with bad plot because it is not our core motivation for playing games, which is that we enjoy the gameplay. It even goes so far that several of the most popular games around has literally no plot at all and are all gameplay (CS, Battlegrounds, DotA, Minecraft etc.), because that’s the important part of games.

      I am not saying that you are wrong, taste being taste and all, but I think it is unfair to compare Bob criticizing the plot of a TV show with Shamus criticizing the writing of video games. Shows absolutely needs their plots or they tank, games can quite literally go without them and still be great fun.

      1. General Karthos says:

        That’s a good point, you’re not wrong, and the show has definitely fallen off to a certain extent. I still feel that in order to make effective negative points there needs to be a positive to point at. One thing the show does right (scenery, costuming, I don’t know) that you can point at to make your negative opinion more effective.

        Right now it’s just a guy complaining about a show he doesn’t like, and that doesn’t lend itself to persuasion. If indeed his point is persuasion. If his point is just to complain, then he’s doing that just fine. I just wish he could be funny about it.

    2. Mr Compassionate says:

      There are still good scenes and good things about the show but by this point they’re so vastly overshadowed by massive overarching problems and plotlines that are dumb or go nowhere that it’s hard to give praise. Kinda like how Prometheus has one or two decent scenes in their own right but when fitted into the larger context their quality is hard to appreciate.

      1. Transitory says:

        The books also have fallen off quite steeply in quality. A Game of Thrones was a very good book. A Feast for Crows was a slog, and A Dance with Dragons was jumping the scaled lizard. After the last two mediocrities I genuinely don’t care about whether Martin finishes the series or not. There are many genuinely superior books to read, whether it’s what I want out of genre fiction or what I want out of genuine literature.

  21. SPCTRE says:

    So glad to see your series return, Bob! And just in time to get ready for more GoT.

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