How Game of Thrones Fell Victim to Its Own Magnificence
At Heart, I'm a Fan
I began reading A Song of Fire and Ice (often shortened to ASoFaI) about two years ago, and, man, has it been a journey. I fell in love with the book and the show for similar reasons: the acting and writing were superb, the plots tended to be unexpected, the characters had actualized personalities, various minority groups were represented, and the story in all of its forms didn’t rely on tropes. Once the plots for the book and the show began to seriously diverge, I still enjoyed each for their own reasons. The show was still well produced, well acted, and entertaining. By the end of season five, I was feeling a lot less zealous about the series as a whole. By the end of season six, I was ready to swear off the show altogether. I still enjoy Game of Thrones (shorthand: GoT), and as much as I’m about to naysay it, I’m sure I’ll tune in and watch season seven. I’m a lot less enthusiastic about the series as a whole now because it’s gotten a bit predictable and, quite frankly, hopeless. I’m mostly talking about the TV show at this point, since it’s technically ahead of the books as far as chronology and plot development go.
The Precipitous Edge
I was first attracted to A Song of Fire and Ice (as the books are called) and Game of Thrones (as the TV show is referred to) because no one was safe. Your hero, Ned Stark? Decapitated. Your villains, the Lannisters? Ruling the city. Joffrey? Well, you could pretty much always count on him to be terrible—but you couldn’t count on others’ reactions to him. Game of Thrones’ unpredictability was its main draw for me. I wasn’t going to get the pristinely wrapped ending where good conquers evil and everyone is happy—tropes that high fantasy falls victim to far too often. Instead, I was enraptured by a morally convoluted universe where good might not win, and things didn’t always work out. There was hope for the good guy, but there was hope for the bad guy too. This felt like a far more realistic representation of the world than the typical high fantasy idealism where good conquers evil, and things always work out in the end. But then GoT fell over that precipitous edge.
Kill 'Em All
By “precipitous edge,” I mean the fine line between predictable and unpredictable. Season six of GoT pushed the series into trite predictability for me. You could come to expect one thing as an almost universal truth for the series: everyone is going to die. Of course, there are people from the beginning who are still around, including Cersei, Jaime, Tyrion, Rob, Sam, Sansa, Daenerys, the Hound, and a slew of others. However, the overwhelming majority of GoT’s characters are fertilizing the ravaged countryside at this point. 277 of the series’ 2,000+ named characters die. Yes, that statistic is for the book; however, the books and the show follow each other very closely up until the last two seasons or so. Even then, GoT works with GRRM (George R. R. Martin) to keep the show roughly on the same track as the unreleased, upcoming sixth book, The Winds of Winter. Point of the matter being, you can assume with some certainty that your favorite character is probably going to die. For me, being able to count on your favorite character’s death is just as awful as being able to expect good to always triumph: it’s not good writing.
All the Kills in Game of Thrones as of Season Six
When Good Writing Isn’t Good Anymore
I enjoyed GoT’s willingness to kill off main characters because it meant unpredictability: Allow me to preface the critique that follows by saying that I believe ASoFaI is an exquisite work of literature. That doesn’t mean it’s not without its flaws. ASoFaI was so fantastic and engaging because you didn’t know what was going to happen next. Was Sansa going to realize how her lying was, quite literally, destroying her family? Was Joffrey ever going to receive retribution for his innumerable atrocities? Was Ned going to be able to be a just person and survive the game of thrones? By the sixth season of GoT, you can pretty safely expect these questions to be answered with a shrug and a noncommittal “Probably just going to get killed off.” Killing off your main characters is all well and good—in fact, I liked that about ASoFaI. But when killing off your main characters becomes an expectation, that’s bad writing.
Killing nearly everyone important is as bad as everyone living: Killing off main characters at an alarming rate effaces the brilliance of keeping your audience guessing. Killing off people becomes a trope in and of itself. In this way, this once awesome aspect of ASoFaI turns into its ultimate downfall. The expectation of death ruins the hope of the series and by extension, the audience’s engagement. If your favorite character is going to die randomly, why care about any of the characters? If there’s no hope or ray of positivity in the show, why watch? The excessive doom and gloom of GoT is just as detrimental to its likeability as most high fantasy’s blithe idealism is a detriment to enjoying it. GoT ends up swinging the pendulum too far and leaves little to no hope for most of the characters. So, for me, the writing of the series begins to deteriorate when the audience can expect most of the characters to perish at the drop of a hat for some arguably asinine things.
Main characters dying became a trope: More than what was mentioned above, a storyline becomes bad writing when the series manages to create and perpetuate a trope to the point that the series becomes predictable. The unpredictability and merciless character assassination that once made GoT stand out ends up becoming its own trope due to the frequency with which main characters are killed off, meaning that GoT ends up becoming predictable; thus, the writing that once made it strong and unique becomes poor writing because you can suspect what’s going to happen.
The Infamous "You Win or You Die" Scene
That Being Said...
I’m likely to finish out the series despite my quibbles about partially because I do believe that GRRM is a writing savant and partially because I’ve come this far. GRRM creates landscapes, plots, characters, and stories that feel more fleshed out than some people I know—that sort of talent is breathtaking and hard to walk away from, even when the writing gets questionable. So, I’m somehow hopeful that the next book (Winds of Winter) might go in a different enough direction for me to want to amend and modify my opinion. Until then though, I’m more than a little disillusioned with GoT because of the way it created and then overused a plot device while becoming more predictable in the process.