This Has Always Been What GAME OF THRONES Is

This has always been what Game of Thrones is. Last night’s episode has torn the internet asunder, but I feel like it was only fulfilling the premise of the entire series; if anything last night’s episode is proof that the show has strayed too far from George RR Martin’s cynical worldview in the past season or two, lulling us into a fantasy football version of ‘who will take the throne?’ But the story has always been suspicious of anyone who wants the throne, and has always shown that those who vie for it, even for the best of reasons, are eventually monsters. 

What you have to keep in mind is that A Song Of Ice And Fire, the book series from which Game of Thrones is adapted, is George RR Martin’s answer to Lord of the Rings. Martin is a huge fan of Tolkien, but he started this series as a critique of the Manichaean good vs evil concepts that LOTR baked into pretty much all high fantasy afterwards. More than that, he took issue with the idea of ‘Happily ever after.’ Don’t just believe me on this, here is Martin himself, talking to Rolling Stone:

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GAME OF THRONES And The Perils Of Self-Betterment

This week’s Game of Thrones was one of the best of the whole series (I’d put it up there with the best of TV in the 21st century, tbh), and it was only possible because the show has lasted eight seasons. On paper the episode is a slow one, a bit of a stall before the big battle next week – billed as the biggest battle scene ever filmed for television – but in reality it was the beautiful payoff of eight seasons worth of story and character. What we got this week was an episode where almost all of our main characters showed us just how far they’ve come since the first episode (or their first appearance). 

When GOT started it seemed like it was a show that would be about deconstructing heroism and chivalry; Ned Stark’s death was the real battle cry for this, and the way that the bad guys won again and again hammered it home. The Stark children have either been killed – RIP Robb, and remember Rickon? – or become incredibly hardened to survive in this difficult world. Arya is a killer, Bran is a humorless mystic and Sansa is an iron lady who takes absolutely no shit. 

But there’s been another track happening – bad characters have, slowly but surely, been redeemed. In fact some of the show’s worst people – characters who, in the first season seemed absolutely like villains – have become some of the most honorable, decent and caring characters remaining. 

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Can GAME OF THRONES Give Us A Happy Ending?

This includes mild spoilers for the first episode of Game of Thrones season 8.

When Game of Thrones premiered – way back in the FIRST Obama term! – its season-ending refutation of heroic tropes was groundbreaking. Ned Stark being executed, despite being the hero and being noble and seemingly the only guy in Westeros who wasn’t a piece of shit, hit like a hammer. George RR Martin’s novels had eviscerated the hopefulness of heroic fantasy years earlier, but his cynicism coming to television was revolutionary, even post-Sopranos (there’s a difference between rooting for bad guys and rooting for heroes who get roundly defeated at every turn).

But the world of 2019, in which Game of Thrones is ending, is vastly different from the world of 2011. Everything has changed in the past eight years, from sexual norms to our very national character; we went from a hopeful and oblivious nation to one that has memorized the warning signs of fascist takeover. The thrills we got from seeing the good guys get kicked in the teeth are gone, and more than gone watching the good guys get kicked in the teeth feels too much like the real world outside our doors. So how can Game of Thrones end in a way that feels true to its story and themes while not leaving us in nihilistic despair?

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An Era Ends: GAME OF THRONES and The MCU As The Last Giants

Entertainment history is going to look back at this time period as an era defined by longform serialized storytelling, with instalment-based stories conquering just about every narrative medium. Eventually this will end, not because serialized longform storytelling is bad but because all things fade away and change. Charles Dickens was telling stories in an environment like this one, just before the novel conquered all. And yet now the chapter has conquered the novel.

And yet when we look back at this period it’s going to be clear that there were two true standouts, two works that loom over all the others. Entertainment historians will argue about whether or not this period began with The Sopranos or with the interconnected nature of comic books, or with the endless storylines of soap operas, but I believe there will be a moment where it all peaked and that will be obvious. The two longform stories that dominate all others, and that define this very era, are Game of Thrones and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and neither will be replicable. Enjoy this moment while it lasts, because we’re at the summit.

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Earn Your No-Prize

I would love to get back to a No-Prize fan culture.

The No-Prize was something Marvel Comics gave out starting back in the 60s. The writers and artists and editors at Marvel recognized they would make mistakes, as they were only human and often weren’t as obsessively tuned into the minutia of the books they were creating as the fans were. The No-Prize was awarded to fans who found errors in the comics – usually continuity or logic errors – and explained them away using in-universe reasoning.

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