Game of Thrones – 66

I don’t know whether to be pissed about how Game of Thrones has became a parade of absurdities, or jazzed about how goddam cool some of them are.  Fortunately, I guess I’m allowed to be both.

Let me be clear up front: as far as I’m concerned, Game of Thrones has pretty much become pure A Song of Ice and Fire fanfiction at this point.  Really good fanfiction for the most part, but fanfic nonetheless.  This series is all about payoffs now, as if the milestones and cliffhanger endings are written first and the rest of the material is filled in later.  And as anyone who writes fiction can tell you, that’s a dangerous method of creation.  When what’s important is where you need to get to, characters (and the laws of physics) tend to be twisted in whatever means necessary to get you there.

I think suspension of disbelief has never been more important with GoT than it is right now, but that’s obvious.  But more than that, to enjoy the TV series I think one has to finally let go of the ghost of George R.R. Martin – to accept that his guiding hand is no longer, well- guiding.  For me, this show stopped being an adaptation after that door finally gave out and those wights fell upon poor old Hodor.  Logic no longer rules here, and characters are no longer required to behave in a manner true to their nature.  It’s all about making cool stuff happen now.

In a way, I think that’s been easier this season than last, because we’re far enough removed that the pain when we see something Martin would never do isn’s so acute.  If one can let go of what this show once was and appreciate it for what it now is, I think they can enjoy it immensely because Game of Thrones is still pretty frequently great television.  And “Beyond the Wall” is a perfect litmus test because frankly, it’s built around a series of constructs that make an absolute mockery of the source material (and those darn laws of physics).  But it’s also some of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring and exciting TV you’ll ever see.

There are two main pillars to the current narrative as expressed in “Beyond the Wall”, and both are nonsensical to me.  First, the whole ludicrous scheme to capture a wight in order to convince Cersei – Cersei! – to do the right thing.  And second, this contrived feud between Arya and Sansa Stark at Winterfell.  We also get a bit of time at Dragonstone, where Dany and Tyrion’s fireside chat provides some of the more sober moments of the episode, but the bulk of it is these two false dramas playing out.  The difference comes in the execution: silly as it is, the one north of the Wall is full of very juicy moments.  The sisterhood of the sniping Starks is just a disaster from start to finish, as bad an extended thread as the series has done since it left Dorne.

The truth is, the magnificent seven or whatever you want to call Jon’s suicide squad is plain awesome.  It’s a gruff, growly, cynical group of right bastards (even if not literally) played by an armada of great actors.  There are a few redshirts along for the right who we know will suffer the fate of all redshirts (they do) but the focus is on the core group.  And there are so many great moments here – Jon offering Longclaw to Jorah, and Jorah refusing.  Sandor and Tormund bonding over Brienne of Tarth.  Thoros and Gendry going at it over Gendry being sold as a slave.  And Beric, every time Richard Dormer opens his damn mouth – but especially when he schools Jon on the true nature of the war they’re fighting, and what their role in it might be.

There are more Dues ex Machina needed to make this plot work than anyone should be comfortable with, but seeing these guys tromp through the gorgeous backcountry of Iceland and take on zombies still counts as must see TV.  The first of them is how easy it is for the suicide squad to capture their wight (conveniently, he’s the only one who doesn’t turn to turn when the local white walker is taken down – which is a potentially huge development it itself).  I did like seeing the Hound’s reaction to fire here – even with Thoros’ life on the line, Sandor is still frozen (fittingly) in place.  The second, most obvious and biggest is having the team survive on that rock long enough for Gendry to run all the way back to the wall, get a raven to Dragonstone, and have Daenerys fly her dragons back up in time to save them.  Even with as silly as time-bending has become in Game of Thrones, that’s a whopper.  But by hell or high water, Benioff and Weiss were going to give us that zombie dragon – whatever they had to do to make it happen, they were going to do it.

For all that, seeing Dany’s children take it out on the Army of the Dead was pretty stunning.  They looked almost beautiful here, those dragons – and it was almost heartbreaking when the Night King shot one of them down.  I could have done without another false drowning (seriously, Guys – so played out), and having Benjen Coldhands decline to ride back to the Wall with Jon for no good reason (his arrival in the first place was yet a third Dues ex Machina).  But the show got what it wanted – that incredible shot of the wights pulling Viserion from beneath the ice with giant chains, and that eye.  Will his fire be blue now too, I wonder – or will he shoot ice from his decaying jaws?

I’m not even going to dignify the whole Sansa and Arya debacle by talking about it, but there is the matter of Jon deciding to bend the knee (figuratively at least) to Dany.  No matter how you think Martin defined them, Daenerys and Jon or dragons and white walkers (I think both), fire and ice have now truly met.  I get why Jon did what he did  – it was obvious from the moment Tormund brought up Mance Rayder that he would.  But I don’t think it was Dany who proved she “deserved it” – it was Jon.  Jon is the one with the scars of betrayal across his body, the one who always takes the hardest and most thankless jobs on himself.  I’m not sure there’s going to be anyone on the Iron Throne when this is all over, or even if there’s going to be an Iron Throne.  But anyone who wants to sit on it as badly as Daenerys does is still highly suspect in my book – and it’s hard not to wonder how she’s going to react when she finds out her new subject (and soon-to-be lover, probably) has a legal claim to the throne that trumps hers.

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26 comments

  1. Y

    This was… simultaneously spectacular and painful to watch. The amount of suspension of belief one’s brain has to perform so as to grasp that time-warp is just… PHWOAH. Gendry ran back up, wrote a letter, sent a raven, and team Dany arrived all in a matter of hours, when it should have taken at least a week for all those events to unfold. And don’t even get me started on the Stark drama, it nearly makes me puke. Benioff and Weiss have been ruining both Sansa and Arya for two whole seasons now. Also, am I the only one who thinks Dany should have been far more devastated by the death of one of her children than she seemed? I swear I wanted to like this, I truly did, but the show isn’t making it easy — at this point I’m only watching out of curiosity, and if anything, this episode above all served to lower my expectations even further, in spite of its epic exterior.

  2. I was actually OK with how they played that Dany scene – sort of stunned into silence. And I thought she seemed sufficiently grieved later.

  3. Y

    Forgive me, what I meant by “more” was that she seemed to grieve for too short a time; more long-term, more long-lasting, more embedded in her state of being, that’s what I wanted to see — something that rattles her so spectacularly that it leaves a clear mark on her psyche, branding the notion her children aren’t invincible into her mind for good. She seemed to partially get over it for the sake of worrying about Jon and assuring him she’ll help him, and that felt rushed too. Also, I retract one of my previous statements: upon my rewatch I’ve found out it doesn’t seem to have all happened in a matter of hours; I think one day passed, or two, at most. Still far from enough for any sense of realism to imbue any of that bullshit.

  4. Well, in a world where a kid can run for an entire day, a raven can fly something like a thousand miles and a dragon another thousand all in time to save a bunch of guys freezing to death on a rock, who’s to say how long she grieved? Maybe it was a month!

  5. S

    Hah, you constructed all that build up for a tart reply, but refuse to imagine that the fellowship was on the rock for more than a few hours.

  6. M

    To be fair, from Dragonstone to the Eastwatch is about ~1500 miles, give or take. It’s been implied that ASOIAF ravens are sturdier and faster than real-life pigeons (cital preferring them over pigeons, although in real life pigeons are twice as fast, and breeding them for a thousand years to be faster); which puts ravens at around ~700 miles per day. If it took half a day for Gendry to get there, let’s say the raven took a little over 2 days to get to Dragonstone.

    If according to this (http://tinyurl.com/y739dvd3) estimation dragons can go between 122.5 and 35 mph, and assume they traveled 16 hours each day on a medium 80 mph, it took 1 day (16 hours travel + 8 rest) & 5 hours for Dany to arrive there.

    All in all, thinking it took about 4-5 days for all these events to occur is decent. Now, we only have to question why the ice didn’t freeze in that time, why the boys didn’t die by freezing/lack of resources, why the White Walkers bothered to wait so long and not spear the fuck out of them/freeze the rivers themselves, why the dead bodies didn’t swarm the squad more overwhelmingly than they did, why the Walkers didn’t systematically try to send one zombie at a time to test whether the ice was solid, why Daenerys arrived at just the right time, why the squad didn’t think of a plan of isolating one zombie from an entire army while being unable to fend off the army, why some zombies were moving one-by-one in a file away from the army and why one zombie didn’t collapse when Jon killed the Walker (possibly, another Walker had him under his jurisdiction?)…

  7. Alan Taylor has now basically admitted they timelines in this ep were absurd – he called it “plausible impossibility”.

  8. M

    Though his episode record is strong, and it’s not entirely his fault that the writing is inconsistent, Allan needs to learn more about internal consistency.

  9. S

    why two days at most? where does that time limit come from? Some dude in the forums said that five days should be plenty.

  10. Y

    I assumed it was only a couple of days because in order to survive for any longer they’d need food, water and fire, and we didn’t see them bring or use any of that. They’d probably have frozen to death out there without the necessary supplies.

  11. S

    Feels less probable that they packed supplies than dragon-teleporting, though

  12. M

    I take back my words from last week.
    Jesus, the showrunners ruined both the board and the characters.
    But – hey, a zombie dragon and a knee-bender…

  13. S

    Another thing GRRM would never do: finish the fucking series.
    Fuck the king, Fuck the books.

  14. D

    Honestly, for all the non-stop payoffs and hype, GoT has turned into a pretty generic fantasy flick. If you look at this season in a vaccum, it’d be hard to sell it as epic television. The only reason they can pull this off is because it can ride on the back of 6 years of betrayal, frustration, angst and all that other shit and offer sweet, sweet release to the tortured audience. It was like the longest S&M session ever.

    And with that, the show (for me, at least) has just become forgettable. I’ve had issues with GoT in the past, but it was never dull or predictable. There were moments that really stuck with you. In contrast, this season is still going and yet I’d be hard-pressed to really remember what happened in the previous episodes outside of a vague plotline.

  15. M

    Personally, I thought the first four episodes of this season were all excellent, with a few blemishes.
    Then it got cheap. But I really liked those four; was it because I have a poor taste? I certainly liked them better than a lot of seasons 5 & 6.
    What’s your take on those first four?

  16. It’s all there in my posts, but I would have said 3 was the best episode of the season so far.

  17. M

    Enzo!!!!! Look who I’m replying to!!!!

  18. So what, I’m not allowed to give an opinion??

  19. M

    LOL. Just teasing you.
    On another note, why can’t anyone reply to a comment chain over x amount of times?

  20. D

    As I say, by themselves the episodes are fine and I think they were overall quite good, but for me, it was too drastic a change in everything, not just pace. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking this latest season, and I would certainly never suggest that your taste is off if you enjoyed them. I suppose I’m just a bit bummed out because GoT was something bigger and more unique than it is now.

  21. M

    Thanks for the reply! I sought out your take – because I am curious! The whole season is narrower and less ambitious, I agree, but I felt that the first four episodes were really “on” – they had a beautiful sense of momentum and essence. I’m talking mostly about the dialogue and battles, of course.

    It’s interesting how our dear show makers have the ability to make genuine, authentic interactions between beloved cast.. And then, as witnessed here, become total FANFICTION – as Enzo rightfully points out.

    This whole thing felt so contrived it’s embarrassing. A zombie dragon isn’t even that cool!

    That said, the most memorable scenes this season have been to me Davos epic oneliners, Sam scenes, and Tyrion’s beautifully voiced monologue while the Unsullied take Casterly Rock.

  22. A

    Hey Enzo, why such big hate for the Arya and Sansa story? I mean for me it makes sense, Arya has had years of long training in killing not political diplomacy. For me it makes sense that the reason Sansa wrote the letter would go right over Arya’s head. She’s never been written as an empathetic or emotionally intelligent character and that letter proves what she remembers about Sansa. For me this part of the story is a lot more realistic then what’s going on north of the wall

  23. Valid opinion, but I don’t share it. To be the whole thing just feels totally contrived. Arya has always been a pretty canny judge of people, and now she’s completely misreading Sansa (well – 95%). I think between this and what’s going on north of the Wall both are equally unrealistic, but that’s at least entertaining and this is just Dorne-caliber awful.

  24. A

    Interesting thought, I guess I’ve never considered her a great judge of character. For me she hasn’t really had to deal with many complex characters (in the sense of judging their motives and if they are good or evil etc) in her journey but I may be under selling her skills

  25. She’s been able to impersonate others and infiltrate under false identity, though, it’s really hard to do that if you can’t read people. Granted, this is a case of telling and not showing because every time we’ve followed her closely instead she’s often made stupid mistake after stupid mistake (especially during the shitshow that was Season 5 for her).

  26. Y

    On a positive note: “zombify the dragon” has a nicer ring to it than “jump the shark”…

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