Friday, May 22, 2015

Humping The Shark





This guy, talking about the latest Game Of Thrones uproar*, is both spot on and spectacularly unfair, I think.

To a certain extent, he's right to call the show basically pornographic, in that it's filled with hilariously gratuitous sex, nudity and cartoonish violence.  The show is ludicrously over-the-top even by comparison with the famously fighty-fucky book series that it's based upon, and that's a big part of why it's popular.  If the tone is perpetually adolescent then, well, I'd say that's not always a bad thing.

This isn't to say that the show doesn't feature some cracking drama, because it really does.  It usually attracts comparisons with The Lord of the Rings but I'd say it's the closest thing to I, Claudius** that I've seen in a long time.

From the outset, it established a huge ensemble cast of intriguingly flawed characters who each have clear aims and interests, then sent them off smashing into one another, causing chaos.  For a show that features dragons and magic, it's admirable how organic some of the plot and characterisation feels, and even the bloody cull of the cast towards the end of the third season didn't feel like shock for its own sake.  It felt like it could never have turned out any other way. 

And without dorking out entirely, I'll add that the most gripping scenes in it are quiet and conversational, as characters say their piece against a placid backdrop of unchewed scenery. Consider Charles Dance's first scene, which succinctly and effectively lays out Tywin Lannister's entire character and his domineering relationship with his children.  Or the compelling moment that can be summarised as blandly as - Jaime explains how he acquired his nickname.  Everyone could see Daenerys's Crowning Moment Of Awesome on the funeral pyre coming a mile off, but we all loved it anyway as a great payoff for everything that had come before.

Much of the cast is exemplary.  Peter Dinkelage has been rightly deluged with big-money film offers off the back of his performance, and Diana Rigg quietly steals every episode that she appears in.

Nonetheless, as the show has gone on, the interpersonal drama has waned and it's now relying on shock value and viciousness to keep the punters in their seats, with diminishing returns.  I'm seeing a few people now wondering why that is, and have a couple of ideas on that score...

- The first four seasons were based upon the best of George Martin's novels, back when his writing was relatively compact and his plots comparatively opaque and straightforward.

This season however is based upon the point where the series takes a sudden and baffling nosedive into what is, unfortunately, utter navelgazing bollocks.  Where once the plot was propelled forward by its own internal logic, now it stands around like it's waiting for a bus, scratching its testicles and thinking about what it wants for dinner.

Seriously, here's a brief, non-spoilery summary of A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons:

- Cersei stands around a lot thinking about how pissed off and frustrated she is.
- Jaime wanders around a lot thinking about how pissed off and frustrated he is.
- Tyrion sails down a river getting pissed-up and thinking about how frustrated he is.
- Jon - pissed off, frustrated, wanders about.
- Sam - frightened, confused, wanders about.
- Arya - confused, frustrated, wanders about.
- Daenerys - frustrated, pissed off, wanders about.
- Boring new characters - frustrated, pissed off, wandering about.
- Most of the other interesting characters - Dead.

Etc etc.  I could go on, but you get the idea.  When all of your main characters are pissed off, frustrated and aimless, you can imagine the effect that this has on the reader.  These two books together must clock in at about three thousand pages and contain between them maybe four or five moments of actual conflict or drama.

Personally, I think this happened because Martin realised that the logic of his own premise meant he'd soon have to write massive battle scenes in which a beautiful silver-haired princess flies around on a dragon burning up ice zombies, and recoiled in horror at the prospect.  I think he decided instead that he'd have a bash at writing the Great American Novel, vastly broadening his scope and turning his entertainingly hokey swords-and-tits action series into an extended meditation on power, war and man's eternal inhumanity to man***.


And this is how we've wound up with e.g. last week's gratuitous rape scene.  Even cutting out enormous chunks of the dull source material, the writers are left with only a few dramatic moments to play with.  Rather than use their imaginations a little, it looks like they've decided to stick with what they have and milk it for shock effect.

This is pretty bad news, and doesn't bode well.

- And let's face it, the elephant in the room here is HBO, the production company.  Recall that when HBO writers were asked to depict Cleopatra in Rome, they decided that the best thing to do would be to make the famed Queen of Egypt an opium-sucking nymphomaniac, with predictable results.

All that needs to be said here is that if HBO were going to remake Every Which Way But Loose, the Clint character would definitely fuck the orangutan in the first episode.


 ---

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that, if you ever find yourself asking Why did event (x) happen in Game of Thrones, the answer is probably that the writers couldn't think of anything better to do.

I don't doubt that the show will still be entertaining and exciting in future but really, I think its best days are behind it...  Although they really were very good days, at the time. 


*The current controversy is basically the same as the last i.e. the delight that the show's writers seem to take in having their characters sadistically rape and abuse each other, and whether it's acceptable for such things to be used for shock effect in what is, ultimately, just entertainment.

As always happens in such situations, the public's response can be divided into (mainly but not entirely female) outrage;  thick lads honking on about how Bitches Be Crazy LOL, and the majority of viewers who think it's just a TV show and aren't arsed to think on it further.  

The ladies are in the right on this one as it happens, although being right won't do them much good.  A quick Google search will turn up plenty of clever people explaining why, far more concisely than I could.

**Seriously - would a scene like this look much out of place in Westeros?  Would Caligula, Livia, Tiberius or Sejanus clash with the overall tone?  And even if most of the depravity and mayhem is offpage in both the Graves book and the BBC drama, I doubt there's anyone who didn't take vicarious pleasure in Uncle Claudius executing some sense into the Roman aristocracy. 

***And, as you'll have gathered, man's inhumanity to woman.

No comments: