‘Game of Thrones’, the fantasy epic produced by HBO has become one of the most talked about television series of all time. Based on the ‘Song of Ice & Fire’ series of novels written by George RR Martin, the show, currently in its seventh season, has cultivated eager followers across the globe and has turned into one of the biggest pop culture phenomena of the last few decades.
Interestingly, the original source material which the series is based on has already been exhausted and the series producers have moved on to completely unchartered territories, relying on fresh writing to bring the series to a closure, with some creative inputs from George RR Martin himself. Initially, the difference in writing was hardly noticeable and the series moved on as usual; however, as the story took new twists and turns, especially in Season 7, the difference in style has become gradually starker.
For his fantasy novel, Martin invented an entire new world with a bewildering array of characters, each more interesting than the next. While there was some magic and some supernatural creatures, the story of greed, lust and power exploited the interplay of human ambitions and human limitations, within the normal laws of physics and biology. It is true that dragons and white walkers were always looming in the background, casting a menacing shadow on the proceedings, but seldom did they come out and directly affect the storylines.
Take for example the War of the Five Kings. Apart from the murder of King Renly Baratheon, there was no magic involved. Instead, it had everything to do with the zero administrative skills of Robert Baratheon, the bone headed righteousness of Ned Stark, the cunning games played by Little Finger, the juvenile cruelty of King Joffrey, the errors of judgement of Catelyn Stark, mutual suspicion and lack of trust between the Starks and the Lannisters, and so on. Despite the peace after Robert’s rebellion, the situation in Westeros was always tense, and the Seven Kingdoms were yet to fully come to terms with power vacuum created by the dislodging of the House Targaryean. It took just a small act of provocation, the murder of Lord Jon Arryn, to set in motion a complex series of events resulting in the Great War. Not very dissimilar to the Europe of early 20th Century, where a number of evenly matched and competing powers shared space uncomfortably with each other, and the assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary in Serbia upset the complicated balance, leading to the First World War.
Thus, this story, for all we know, could have been set in any place and at any period of time.
The ‘Game of Thrones’ series, however, has eschewed this approach and has instead eliminating most of the side characters, truncated a host of ancillary storylines and has set up the series as an epic confrontation between whitewalkers and dragons. From the Season 5 onward, when the series began to inch ahead of the books, this approach has become more and more apparent. The series has not introduced any new significant characters since, often killed off a bunch of characters abruptly (think about the finale of Season 6), and has often patiently waited out episodes to set up climactic battle scenes.
Till the end of Season Six, the approach worked to an extent. The battle of bastards was exquisitely shot, probably one of the best war scenes television has ever come up with. Similarly, the beginning of the season finale was a master piece in direction; the entire sequence being shot to a haunting back ground music and with only a sprinkler of dialogues. But the series also overstretched itself in the last season, leaving behind few characters and hardly any storyline to play with.
And so, in Season 7, ‘Game of Thrones’ has been reduced from a complex, morally ambiguous, unpredictable, captivating and chaotic epic to a fairly linear good v/s evil run of the mill story.
If we really wanted to watch a CGI powered battle scene between a bunch of fire breathing mythical creatures and an army of zombies, wouldn’t we better off watching one of the countless big studio summer blockbusters that assault our senses every year?
To make matters worse, the balance of power was thoroughly lopsided at the end of last season, with Daenerys having so many allies and so much of firepower that it seemed inconceivable that she could ever be defeated. So to compensate, the series writers have come up with ridiculous plot lines that lack any sort of internal consistency. Through the entire season, Tyrion Lannister keeps getting hoodwinked by his sister, committing one dumb mistake after another. To top it all, he comes with a scarce to believe, dumb as shit plan of capturing a wight and demonstrating it to Cersei to win her approval for a truce. Yes, risking the lives of some of Dany’s best allies and warriors to set up a summit with her adversary who also happens to be the most cunning and the least trustworthy woman in all of Westeros to impress her with an undead when she has one already as her bodyguard has to by far the worst plan of all time. At least till demonetization was announced.
If sacrificing the human elements and common sense rationale in favour of blockbuster battle scenes was not enough, the show has also run out of interesting characters. It has killed off most of the characters that occupied the uncomfortable space between black and white, characters like Olenna Tyrell, Tywin Lannnister, the High Sparrow, Roose Bolton, Stannis Baratheon, and suchlike. The character progression of many others have stopped or regressed – think about how the likes of Lord Varys, Littlefinger, Malissandre or even Tyrion Lannister have been treated by the script in the last two seasons. Instead, Daenerys, Jon Snow, Queen Cersei, and the whitewalkers have ended up hogging most of the screentime.
The problem with this approach is of course that both Daenereys and Jon Snow are two of the most boring characters in the show. They are the archetypal good characters in a parable, moral ideals every reader must look up to. They are also hopelessly bland. Every time Daenerys opens her mouth, you half-expect her to start yapping about her glorious ancestry, her early struggles, her dragons, and her claim to the throne. Every time Jon Snow starts speaking, you expect a barrage of self-righteous drivel to come out of his mouth, ending with a plea to take on the white walkers. Both the characters are incapable of doing anything bad, making unpredictable moves, or even some low grade cunning. The fact that Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington are not among the best actors in the show does not help either.
Another problem with the script is that Jon Snow has to be in every battle with the white walkers and Jon Snow just cannot die. No matter how dire the circumstances are, or how hopeless the situation becomes, there is a deus ex machine lurking in the script, springing out at the right moment to rescue Jon Snow. For a show known for killing characters abruptly, in this season, it has gone through a series of showdowns barely harming a single major character.
Add to that, the show has started increasingly looking like a fan fiction of the original novels. Consider the number of times fan theories have come true on screen – the confirmation of “R+L=J”, the incessant efforts and screentime dedicated to establishing a relationship between Jon Snow and Daenerys, or the way the character of Gendry, a fan favourite, was brought back on screen for just two episodes.
When your scriptwriters are too scared to disturb the expectations of fans, all it ensues is predictable mediocrity.
Having said these, ‘Game of Thrones’ is still not a bad show. Even at its worst, it provides edge of the seat entertainment and is captivating as ever. It is brilliantly shot and is as grandiose as television has possibly ever been. But George RR Martin’s ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ it is not. Instead, it looks hijacked by a Hollywood culture of writers and producers addicted to the easy moolah racked in from big bash superhero movies and the low expectations of a pop corn munching obeisant audience in thrall to it.