Spoilers for all released Game of Thrones Episodes and Books (Which are, for the first time, the same thing!)
Welcome to one of our new features, Three Things, in which several members of the Daly Planet staff briefly discuss three things they either loved or hated about various topics. The point of this series is to highlight our many differing opinions and start some great conversations. We’re kicking this thing off with Game of Thrones which as you probably know ended it’s 5th season last night. We here at The Daly Planet are all huge fans of the show and the books that they came from, so I think we’ll all have a lot to say about this season.
Scott’s Three Things
- Scott’s First Thing: The Show Is Better
If you want to know how big of a Game of Thrones fan I am, look no further than my dog:
Since I read the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones thirteen years ago, I’ve wanted my own badass direwolf pup. Four years ago on what some have called a rash, irresponsible decision, I ran out and got an all white Siberian Husky. Yes she cost a shit ton of money and yes I live in a one bedroom apartment in Dallas Hot As Balls, Texas. I never said I was smart, but I do love Ghost very much. Point being, when I tell you I love these books, I’m not messing around. I can see my copies from where I’m currently typing, stacked neatly on the bookshelf, covers worn and binding broken from numerous rereads. I can feel them judging my betrayal as I type the following: The show is better than the books.
Look, I’m not saying that the books aren’t great. They are. I think all fans of the show should read them. George RR Martin weaves a tale like few have done before him. His ability to suck you into this world and attach to you characters is unmatched. A Storm of Swords remains the only book I’ve ever read where I had to put it down for a week in sheer misery and disgust (I’ll let you guess which part that was). But books 4 and 5 are not very good. They suffer from way too much bloat. Not enough happens. There are too many new characters and too many story lines that go absolutely nowhere.
So what is normally the death knell for most book adaptations, streamlining plot, has actually become a blessing. Game of Thrones has cut out all the fat and focused on the real meat of the story and it’s made the adaptation of the last two books much more bearable. What’s more, it’s some of the best work the show has done. Season 5 had it’s problems, some of which we’ll get into below, but overall the show has gotten better and better each year, whereas the books have gotten worse since A Feast for Crows. Book purists now hate me forever.
- Scott’s Second Thing: On Misery and Sansa Stark
Why do bad things happen to good people?
This is a question that Game of Thrones has asked and answered time and time again throughout the course of the show.
Being too honorable. Pissing off the wrong people. Trying to do the right thing. Helping others. Betrayal. Pride. Desperation. Evil. So many different reasons. The truth is that sometimes shit just happens for no reason at all. And in Westeros, when shit happens it’s probably going to happen to Sansa Stark.
There’s been a lot of talk about Sansa’s arc in this season. Mostly, I think, because it’s a big departure from the books. But I think the season did a great job of advancing Sansa as a character and giving her some agency at last. Since the beginning of the show, her story has always been the prim and proper lady wanting to live in a dream world but instead being forced into a nightmare. Sansa had no innate talents and very little street smarts. She was utterly reliant on everyone around her, even as her world came tumbling down around her.
Last season Sansa latched on to her savior, Littlefinger, and experienced a brief moment of respite. But Sansa still hadn’t learned her final lesson: In Game of Thrones, you can’t trust anyone. Littlefinger led her into another horrible situation and she once again had to suffer some truly horrific acts. But the Sansa that came out of it wasn’t the same person. Did the show use rape as a tool to force character growth? Yes it did; and we can debate the merits of that strategy for years. But the point is that the Sansa we saw at the end of this season is finally taking action. She’s done trusting people. Taking a page out of Littlefinger’s book, she manipulated Theon into helping her, playing off his guilt. While Theon was not easily convinced, this gambit paid off. In the end Theon saved Sansa. But if you think for minute she will make the same mistakes again, you haven’t been paying attention.
- Scott’s Third Thing: Hardhome And The End Game
The thing about Game of Thrones is that the Wall has always been the endgame. From the start of the show it’s been very clear that the main plot of Game of Thrones has to do with the Long Night and the advancing army of White Walkers. It’s taken 5 years, but with Jon Snow’s utter defeat at Hardhome, the end is finally upon us. We were thrust into the final act of this play.
What this means of course is that everything up until this point has really just been a distraction. An entertaining distraction to be sure, but a distraction nonetheless. Why do we care about Arya and her assassin training when the White Walkers are on the verge of conquering the world? Cersei’s long walk, as horrible as it was is nothing compared to an army of zombie children crashing into the city like a wave.
The battle at Hardhome was one of the greatest moments ever captured on television. It was enormous and cinematic and terrifying. It’s hard to believe this was the same show that five years ago had Tyrion get knocked out before the start of a battle because they didn’t have enough money to film it. My fear, however, is that it was too effective. It laid the stakes out for us so clearly that everything else seems superfluous. Myrcella’s death was shocking, but like the entirety of the Dorne storyline, I don’t care anymore.
We’ve got 20 hours (at least) of Game of Thrones left. The White Walkers are coming and the only man seemingly capable of stopping them was just stabbed in the back by his own men.* Season Six is going to need to very quickly start moving our pieces towards the Wall and the White Walkers or else we’re just treading water in an icy lake; effective but ultimately useless.
*He’s not dead guys. Stop crying.
James’ Three Things
- James’ First Thing: Tyrion Untangles The Knot
By far the biggest “holy shit it finally happened!” moment that occurred for me this season was when Tyrion and Daenerys finally locked eyes (and soon brains) in what, to me, has been one of my most anticipated confrontations yet, while jumping through and dodging the numerous loops in the Meereenese Knot. What is the Meereenese Knot, you ask? To make it short, it’s basically this: too many character POVs, too many subplots, all them traveling towards the Queen of Dragons and all these paths ultimately flowing into a larger (and some would say arguably weaker) Meereen Plot in the greater picture. In fact, if people vehemently dislike the fourth and fifth books it’s mostly because of this reason.
Hats off to the showrunners for getting through the knot without having to untangle it. We skip all these other characters making a run at the Targaryen powerhouse. As Scott would say “the fat was cut out”, and I agree wholeheartedly. When Tyrion meets Dany, we automatically hit an emotional resonance that would make many book and show nerds ecstatic. Members from two of the most powerful and influential Houses in Westeros are now in each other’s presence; two smart, courageous and balanced youngsters (both the youngest of three) from their respective Houses now have the opportunity to make magic happen, and I have no doubt they will.
It was sad losing Ser Barristan the way we did. I understand why the show went that route, when you have characters with a little more invested in Dany’s story at the moment (Jorah and Daario pining over Dany for example), it’s hard not to send Barristan off with a bang; and what better way than him protecting his queen’s people and lending the show a fast-paced and close quartered action sequence. Although in my opinion he’s a character that deserved to have his noble death take place on Westeros, I accepted his untimely fate. Enter Tyrion Lannister, taking up the mantle for lead adviser and providing us with rich exposition of the Targaryen Dynasty (something Selmy was great at). Their first exchange of dialogue was magnificent. It was a total Tyrion move to turn it around on Dany and make her want his counsel and wisdom instead of the other way around. The following scene between the two conversing about their families over wine kept the momentum up. To watch the wonderful Peter Dinklage duel words masterfully with the most mysterious chess piece in the Game of Thrones was the ultimate joy for me this season, and seeing her inform him that instead of death, she is bestowing a second chance in the form of a Handship has, in one quick stroke, strengthened her arsenal for the grand push towards Westeros and the winter to come.
2) James’ Second Thing: Dorne – A Desert Of Fluff
Let’s be honest, everyone and their mothers wanted to take a field trip to Dorne this season. It was evident in forums, Twitter, etc…After that nasty ending to the Prince of Dorne last season, the cauldron was hitting a point of boiling over, and why not continue with the aftermath this season, while having two amusingly charming and edgy characters, both fan favorites, heading south for a buddy-buddy adventure to pluck the princess out of Dornishmen’s “wicked” hands and bring her home. It makes sense when planning Season 5.
Did they give the fans what they wanted? I think the fans were gifted Dorne itself, yes. The creators selected a great cast (Prince Doran, played by Alexander Siddig, was excellent) and made some interesting changes (substituted our book POV Arianne, Doran’s only daughter in the book, for a vengeful amalgamation of Ellaria and her Sand Snake step-daughters), and we finally got to see the beautiful port city of Sunspear, one of the more unique and culturally rich locations in the story, unseen in the show up to this point. We even returned to Bronn and a clumsy one-handed Jaime wielding swords again, making the best of their approach into Dorne; but in the end were the scenes in between really necessary? I thought the fight at the palace was pointless and overall the story felt a little empty. These guys somehow make their way into close quarters with a Prince of Dorne and his betrothed, but it’s only to shorten the way to the conclusion of the story, which is Jaime wanting to bring his “niece” home because…Cersei said so? She’s already in one of the safest places in the world so not sure how that didn’t get shot down quickly.
My idea would have been to leave the intro “fight on the sand dunes” scene but have them get captured early. But after that make them disappear till mid season while putting us in the saddle with a clever and scheming Doran, showing us a little more development leading up to Myrcella’s fate, instead of just fabricating a sexy and scary encounter between Bronn and the Sand Snake’s poisonous ways in order to foreshadow what happens at the end. I get it, it’s to close up another third of the subplot of Cersei’s “my kids are doomed” prophecy which was set up nicely at the start of the season, but the road to get there felt unnecessary and almost boring in comparison to the rest of the show.
I guess the positive takeaways were the fact the Bronn still lives, Jaime gets to have a moment with his daughter which was a bittersweet and tragic reveal, and Dorne remains a sleeping giant in the game for the nonce. Please give us more Doran next season, cause I’m tired of these mothafuckin’ Sand Snakes, in this mothafuckin’ game (of Thrones).
- James’ Third Thing: Bloody Snow And The Uncertain Fate Of An Arc
The Prince that was Promised, Azor Ahai, the representation of Ice (and possibly Fire): these are all names theorized and debated and connected to Jon Snow (among others); most prominently in the books, but now in the HBO series as well, now that Season 5’s fateful conclusion has aired.
One of George’s goals this season was to highlight two of our central characters ruling over their respective situations (the other being Daenarys) and focus on some of the themes and struggles they endure. With the Others and Wildings and Boltons all progressing in story and movement, Jon’s story as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch took a bloody Martinesque turn at the end of last night’s episode. After being betrayed we’re now left wondering… where do we go from here with Jon? Is he dead for real? Where is Ghost? What happens to his body? Does he warg into Ghost or will he sit this next season out (assuming he comes back)? Is Wun-Wun sad? The questions abound.
His story arc in the show has been one of the more consistent and rigorous character struggles, and we got a perfect example of that in Episode 1: The Wars to Come and Episode 8: Hardhome. The show early on dives into what I consider a brilliant character telling which has developed gradually over the last few seasons. Last night that arc took a head first dive into a waterless pool. It’s rather difficult to know what Martin and the showrunners have planned for Jon Snow, but we do know this: Jon is a good egg. He not only takes care of his own but also sees the big picture and attempts to prepare the Wall for the Long Night to come. He made a selfless decision with acute open-mindedness not only save the Night’s Watch and the common folk below the Wall, but the hated Wildlings from beyond the Wall as well. The opposition to his decision and subsequent mutiny that results in his death changes the game from here on out. We take a turn from Wall politics and survival to the supernatural and prophetic.
It’s clear his arc is incomplete, as too many hints have been given to show us Jon is special. The tension and look in their faces during his epic stare down with the Night’s King (best sequence of this season) is enough to tell me one thing… This is not the end for Jon Snow.
Matt’s Three Things
- Matt’s First Thing: Game of Thrones is Literature
Ever since these books became mega-popular rather than just popular-among-Fantasy-readers, I’ve heard the occasional criticism that the novels are essentially pulp – trashy entertainment aimed at the lowest common denominator. The implication is usually that we should be reading Proust or something instead.
This is very annoying to me because it indicates a superficial understanding of what literature is.
First, some of the primary canonical Western literature was in fact packaged as trashy entertainment aimed at the masses. For example, the works of Charles Dickens. Most writers are entertainers. Most great writers are entertainers whose craft is so deft that they package profound meaning into superficially vulgar works. The point being: how a book is packaged and advertised does not determine the intellectual content of the work.
Second, A Song of Ice and Fire is just absolutely overflowing with thematic complexity and subversiveness. A couple of seasons ago, I had to silently tolerate a firestorm surrounding the racial overtones of Daenarys’ conquest of the various slaver cities – how it seemed like the show was unironically holding her up as a White Savior. I say “tolerate” because as a book-reader I know that the text itself portrays Dany’s adventures in Essos pretty much the same way that the mainstream media portrayed G.W. Bush’s treatment of the Middle Essos. But I didn’t want to jump into an argument I knew I couldn’t win by appealing to the subtext of books that nobody involved in the discussion had read. This is just one example of the undercurrents that are flowing through these books, and how these undercurrents are easy to miss. The books are saying something. And it’s not the books’ job to spell it out for us what that something is.
- Matt’s Second Thing: The Moral Value of Moral Horrors
“I can’t believe they did that. I’m done with this show.”
How many times have you seen that sentiment expressed in social media?
Far be it from me to tell people how to consume their entertainment or what entertainment they should prefer, but there’s a difference between simply voting with your feet by ceasing to patronize something you don’t like, and implying that artists shouldn’t be making the art they’re making because it upsets you.
Let’s be very clear here. Neither the books nor the show depict anything worse than what’s actually happened in real-life Earth history. The Mongols under Genghis Khan killed about thirty-five million people. If a city resisted their invasion, the policy was that every man, woman and child in the city would be executed, after the Mongol soldiers had a chance to do whatever they wanted with those people. I am unaware of any fictional work that has depicted something as horrible as what the Mongols actually did. The Meereenese Great Masters act of nailing up children as road markers? GRRM borrowed that from the historical acts of Vlad the Impaler. And GRRM had to tone it down a lot.
So, if you’re going to stop watching something because it’s upsetting, at least admit that that’s why you’re doing it. Please don’t try to impinge on the right of the artist to depict the horrors that they’re choosing to depict, because if anything, GRRM and the GOT showrunners are doing us a big favor by reminding us, somewhat subversively, of history.
A similar criticism goes: “The show loves to show us the worst possible thing and claim that they’re just being real and showing us human nature.” Well, yes. Actually, again, the show is softening things for us. We couldn’t stomach the worst of human nature. But the show isn’t claiming that these horrors are human nature. It’s merely showing us that these horrors are contained in human nature. The story contains Ramsay, but it also contains Ned. And Jaime, for that matter. It is a warning. It provides social value. What other mass entertainment do we have that serves this function? The closest example that comes to mind is our cultural fetishization of the Holocaust, which very often transforms into an attempt to separate our modern-day enlightened selves from those atrocities, rather than to remind us that we’re perpetually inches away from savagery.
- Matt’s Third Thing: King Stannis
There are three characters who are better in the show than in the books, and those are Stannis, Cersei and Jorah. By “better” I simply mean that I saw them as relatively two-dimensional in the books but by contrast they are very well fleshed-out and sympathetic in the show. Of the three of these, I’m most interested in talking about Stannis.
In the books, Stannis is pretty much just a jerk. In the show, he’s a tragic hero. One wouldn’t be amiss comparing his character to Macbeth. He kills a king because a woman convinces him the throne is his by right.
But the show does Stannis a disservice in one particular regard. I think the fact that he’s been convinced that he is the Savior of Humanity is severely underemphasized. Burning his daughter? Obviously a horrible thing. Burning his daughter because he believes that if he fails in his quest, all humanity (including his daughter) would be destroyed by the Others? Still horrible, but at least graspable on a human-drama level. But the show didn’t remind us that this is part of Stannis’ motivation. The show doesn’t really make any effort to connect Stannis’ belief that he’s Azor Ahai with his choice to sacrifice his daughter.
Is it the show’s job to spell everything out for us? No. But it’s nice when they help us connect with the characters a little bit more than that.
So there you have it. What do you think? What are your three things? Let us know!