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Timely Game of Thrones Griping 9: Valar Bloghulis

By Bob Case
on Monday Sep 18, 2017
Filed under:
Game of Thrones

This series analyzes the show, but sometimes references the books as well. If you read it, expect spoilers for both.

Two weeks ago I promised you all an update “next week” (ie, last week). That’s because I forgot that I wasn’t planning on doing one last week because of busyness issues – sorry about that. But now I’m back and ready to start complaining again.

Whenever I review Game of Thrones I have to rein in the impulse to just laundry-list all the things I didn’t like or that didn’t make sense to me. If I did that, we’d be here all day and it wouldn’t be much fun to read. Instead the challenge is to pick out the things that bothered me most, or if not that the ones I think are most revealing. Using this technique, I will now review the entire show. Not an episode, not a season, but the entire show – or at least my personal experience with it.

My personal experience can be bookended with two moments: the first time I began to have doubts about the show, and the time that I finally gave up on it. I’ll describe each below, and then tell you what I took away from the whole thing.

Ned Stark: Average Swordfighter

My first doubts about the show happened in season one, episode five: “The Wolf and the Lion.” Note that I still liked the show at this point. I kept liking it through the first three seasons, in fact – but even then there were things that bothered me.

In this episode, Jaime Lannister, angry about his brother’s kidnapping by Catelyn, confronts Ned Stark in King’s Landing. Ned initially tries to talk him down, but then Jaime kills Jory Cassell (I don’t remember if he was a named character in the show, but that’s his name in the books) and Ned and Jaime have themselves a swordfight. They seem evenly matched, but then a Lannister guard stabs Ned in the leg. Jaime, irritated at being denied a fair victory, punches the guard out and then leaves Ned wounded in the street.

Very much a season one set. This is what the show looked like before HBO secured funding from the Iron Bank of Braavos.

Very much a season one set. This is what the show looked like before HBO secured funding from the Iron Bank of Braavos.

This is the point where I bring in the dreaded book knowledge. In the books, this setup for this scene is more or less identical (Jaime confronts Ned after Tyrion’s kidnapping), but there’s no swordfight. Ned tries to defuse the situation, then Jaime orders his men to kill the Stark men (including Jory Cassell), and in the chaos Ned’s horse falls over, injuring his leg.

To understand the book’s version of events, it’s important to know that in the books, Ned has no particular reputation as a swordsman. He is a noble, which means he would have been trained at arms from a young age, and he is, generally speaking, a capable person. So while it’s reasonable to expect that he’d be good with a sword, there’s no reason to think he’d be great with one, or that he’d be a match for a famous prodigy like Jaime Lannister. For his part, Jaime is as good as he is because he’s driven. As we’ll later learn (in the books, at least), he’s a very damaged person, almost addicted to self-hatred, and his fighting ability is the main thing that he takes his sense of self-worth from – a sense of self-worth that will be shattered when he loses his sword hand.

In fact, in the books Ned never fights anyone at all. If anything, he’s always striving to avoid violence, and particularly to protect children. So to me, having Ned and Jaime fight like this diminishes both characters. But Benioff and Weiss, who wrote the episode, either didn’t realize that, didn’t agree with it, or didn’t care. They wanted a swordfight, and a swordfight is what they got.

Hizdahr zo Loraq: Legitimately a very good show-only character

In season five, my personal breakout star of the show was Hizdahr zo Loraq. You should know that Hizdahr is not, strictly speaking, a show-only character. In the books, there’s a character called the same thing, who advocates for the re-opening of Meeren’s fighting pits, and who Dany eventually marries. But the show version is so different from the book version in personality, dialogue, and role in the story that I basically consider him a creation of the show and not the books.

And he’s good! He’s really good! His dialogue is thoughtful and has real heart. The performance – by an actor named Joel Fry – is right on the money. He’s a good example of an adaptational tool – a character that, in a minimum of screen time, communicates to the audience the complex challenges of ruling a foreign city undergoing sudden social, cultural, and economic change. I liked Hizdahr, to the extent I’m able to like someone who’s part of the elite class of a slaveowning society. And even if that tempered my opinion of him as a (fictional) person, it didn’t temper my opinion of him as a character that played an effective role in the story.

The show never took full advantage of Joel Fry's glowering ability.

The show never took full advantage of Joel Fry's glowering ability.

All of this just made it more disappointing when the show started treating him like a chew toy. I personally got an almost palpable sense of the writers’ unease that they’d accidentally created a likeable character who wasn’t motivated by revenge or bloodthirst. So Daenerys takes him prisoner, herds him and some other Ghiscari nobles into the dungeon, and has her dragons set one of them on fire. She’s about to do the same to Hizdahr when she changes her mind and chucks him in a cell instead.

When she visits him later, he’s on his knees, prepared to beg for his life, when she announces that she’s going to marry a Ghiscari noble. “Fortunately, a suitor is already on his knees,” she says, in her signature emotionless monotone that I think we’re supposed to find cool and badass. He isn’t given a choice in the matter, and they’re married when next we see them.Yep, they get married offscreen. I thought it was weird too. From here on Hizdahr doesn’t do much. Daario keeps trying to one-up him in front of Dany, who rewards his rudeness with approving smirks, and he gets into a confusing argument with Tyrion, apparently about whether or not you can accomplish great things without killing people. I couldn’t figure out what point Hizdahr was trying to make, but this show loves Tyrion. If a character is arguing with Tyrion, we’re generally supposed to understand that that character is in the wrong.

Then the Sons of the Harpy attack, and he gets stabbed to death. And thus ends the initially promising but ultimately pointless story of Hizdahr zo Loraq.

Why did I just type all that?

I promised you a takeaway from these two anecdotes. I think they reveal what kind of creative product the showrunners wanted to make, and how they wanted it to be seen.

A useful word in criticism is “framing.” The shortest explanation of the word’s use I can come up with is that the audience’s perception of an element of the show will be influenced by how that element is presented to the audience – how it’s framed. One easy way of intuiting a scene’s framing is asking “am I supposed to cheer or boo right now”? It’s not always obvious – the show does still occasionally traffic in measured ambiguity – but it usually is.

For instance, we’re supposed to like Ned, and we’re supposed to like Dany. We’re supposed to cheer when Ned pulls out his sword and starts fighting. even if it damages his characterization. We’re generally supposed to cheer whenever Dany starts up with a speech or threat, or goes into her emotionless monotone mode, even if she’s doing horrible things. And she does do horrible things. She has no way of knowing which Ghiscari noble or nobles is collaborating with the insurgency, so her plan is to burn them one by one until one of them talks. Then she forces marriage on Hizdahr without any input from him.

From the show’s framing, it’s clear that our overall reaction to Dany is supposed to be “YAS QUEEN.” But all this yas queen stuff becomes very unsettling when the person we’re yas queening is an actual, literal Queen who is setting human beings on fire for not doing what they’re told. Nevertheless, Dany is welcome on the show. A Ned Stark who doesn’t get into swordfights is not. A Hizdahr zo Loraq who speaks eloquently of his desire for peace and reconciliation is not. Instead, Ned gets a pointless swordfight and Hizdahr gets sidelined and then stabbed to death.

YAAAS QUEE-wait a minute.

YAAAS QUEE-wait a minute.

Two weeks ago I wrote about how many critics have given up on defending the show’s various nonsense plotlines, but still give it high marks for its showmanship. A familiar phrase in this argument is “mindless fun.” The show is mindless fun! Tits and dragons! Just enjoy it for what it is! But when we call something mindless fun, we’re saying something about what we think audiences find gratifying. In fact, to me the phrase “mindless fun” is a contradiction in terms. Mindless things in general are never mindless. They just speak to parts of our mind that we usually don’t like to scrutinize too closely.

In my opinion, scrutinizing the appeal of a show like this is part of a critic’s responsibility, and retreating into the comfortable redoubt of “mindless fun” is an abdication of that responsibility. And that, in the end, is what has bothered me most about Game of Thrones. Not the plotholes, not the teleporting armies, not the repetitive character beats, not the continuously respawning armies and fleets or the mach-6 ravens or any of that. Encouraging viewers to think about, and be critical themselves of, the things that entertain them is the part of a critic’s responsibility that carries a moral dimension. And the more popular and ubiquitous the show, the more this moral dimension comes into play.

I myself have been guilty of this. Too often distracted by inconsistencies of character, setting, and plot, I only occasionally touched on one of later seasons’ most consistent through-lines: their infatuation with authoritarianism and gratification through violence. If I sound something like a preacher thundering about fire and brimstone right now, or perhaps just a garden-variety buzzkill, it’s because I don’t know how to make this point without at least dipping my toes into buzzkilldom. Such is the price of unloading my hangups onto an unsuspecting internet.

I never even had time to complain about Emilia Clarke's wigs. Human beings do not have this much hair!

I never even had time to complain about Emilia Clarke's wigs. Human beings do not have this much hair!

The good news is that, for the forseeable future at least, I’m well and truly Game-of-Thronesed out. Right now, wild aurochs couldn’t drag me to the keyboard if it meant typing one more word about the show. That’ll probably change before long, but for now I’m putting a period at the end of the series. For everyone who’s stuck around this long, I appreciate it. I’ve never felt fully comfortable responding to my own comments, but I do read them, and I’ve enjoyed and often found interesting the discussions that take place below the line.I think that’s what you’re supposed to call it. Also, many thanks to Shamus for hosting the reviews, and for often staying up hella late to upload pictures for monday morning.


[1] Yep, they get married offscreen. I thought it was weird too.

[2] I think that’s what you’re supposed to call it.

Comments (76)

  1. Mr Compassionate says:

    Thank you for writing this series Mr Btounge.

    I’d also like to add that the “mindless fun” argument would be a fine defence for a show that started that way but Game of Thrones advertised itself as being a political drama in a fantasy setting with occasional instant gratification. These days it’s an instant gratification show with occasional political drama. In short we were betrayed, Lannister style.

    • Rack says:

      It’s so back to front. “Come for the political intrigue, stay for the tits and dragons”

    • BlueHorus says:

      This is similar to what a couple of people said last week, but it seems relevant here:

      If GoT was just swords and tits and dragons, it would probably be better than it is. But the political drama is bad, insulting, contradictory…and takes a hell of a lot of screen time. Usually it serves to highlight how little the writers care. Eg:

      – Suddenly we care about food! Let’s have a battle scene over some wagons full of grain (burn loads of the wagons in the scene). Oops, scene done, let’s never mention food again.
      -We need a fight scene, but Dany’s set to win hands down! Quick, have her send half her army to the other side of the continent to fight over Castlerly Rock! Why? Because shut up nerd!

      It compares to the Transformers movies. They’re just dumb robot action, you might say.
      But they’re not, they’re also scene after scene of frat-boy level humour, fart jokes, racial stereotypes, gratuitous shots of military hardware, etc.
      They’d be better of they were just robots punching each other for 90 minutes.

      • FelBlood says:

        This is the reason I have to be dragged into a room to watch either of those pieces of media.

        The action and what-all is usually* competent, yes. –But that’s no excuse for me to be bored to tears, at at the heaps of self-congratulatorily expensive, Hamlet fan-fiction that pads out the other 75% of the runtime.

        * Sometimes the fight team disappears so far up their own ass, that they think they can make a fight with a polar bear in a snowstorm look good. They did not.

    • Prana135 says:

      This kinda makes sense since a Lannister always pays his debts

  2. Johan Lundgren says:

    Yes. Yes! This is you!

  3. newfren says:

    Whole post on the front page boss.

  4. Sarfa says:

    Thank for this analysis! Hope to see more from you in the near future (even though it won’t be Game of Thrones)

    On the Ned Stark is an average sword fighter point- that change may have been simply because filming something like a horse falling over and injuring Ned’s leg is logistically difficult without a lot of CGI. That level of CGI is probably a bit over budget (either in terms of money or the time it would take) for this part of the show. Not when you can injure Ned’s leg with a sword fight and a spear much easier.

    That is, that may have been a change made for filming logistics rather than anything else.

    • Daimbert says:

      They still could have had him stabbed in the melee caused by Jaime’s proclamation, instead of turning it into a swordfight. So I suspect that the motivations were indeed to have the personal fight here instead of just dealing with something that couldn’t be done as easily as it was in the books.

      • Dev Null says:

        In fact, they could have had Jamie do the “put him in chains; kill the retainers” line, and then had Ned do a Mercutio and get stabbed trying to stop the fight. That would have _strengthened_ Ned’s character, slapped an exciting fight on screen, and still not tried to put him on par with Jamie.

    • Joshua says:

      It was also foreshadowed in the first episode when Jaime is taunting Ned about never seeing him enter any tournaments, and Ned responds something like “I don’t want people to know what I can do”. So, they absolutely wanted Ned to be a good swordsman.

      That’s one of the larger problems of the series, devolving everyone’s competence into whether they’re good at fighting, good at manipulating people, or both.

      • tremor3258 says:

        And manipulating mainly to get good fighters on their side….

      • Sarfa says:

        Yes, but if you are going to put in a sword fight later on between two major characters because you don’t want to try to film/animate a horse falling over, going back to the scripts and foreshadowing it (or building up audience anticipation for it) isn’t a bad idea.

        I’m not saying they didn’t want to present him as a good swordsman, just that they might have been doing that due to a sword fight being the alternative to the horse falling over bit. If they’re going to have a sword fight between Ned and Jaime end with Ned getting stabbed in the back of the leg, you want to at least establish that one of Jaime’s guards might consider Ned to be a big enough threat in a fight to justify that interference. And make the audience think that maybe such a fight between Jaime and Ned wouldn’t just be Jaime rapidly eviscerating Ned.

      • King Marth says:

        It’s a shame, but that sort of thing just happens when you convert a long-running fantasy series to D&D. I mean, you can try to run political intrigue in D&D, but the rules for combat are so much more detailed and interesting that you just end up spending more time on it in play.

    • Tohron says:

      Admittedly, Ned (in the books) HAD been in a fight against three of the former Kingsguard where him and one of his bannermen were the only survivors. So he’d have to be a pretty good swordfighter in order to survive that.

      • Boobah says:

        I thought about that, but in as much as those guys were his bannermen, it would’ve been their duty to keep Ned alive.

        It’s also worth mentioning that Ned thought the final fight between himself, Howland Reed, and Arthur Dayne was a close-run thing… and a 2-on-1 is generally a sure thing. One of the points of that fight was that the Kingsguard were total badasses while Ned and his men were merely competent.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Right now, wild aurochs couldn't drag me to the keyboard if it meant typing one more word about the show

    But you will still come to type words about something else,right? You cant just hook us like this and leave.

  6. Shen says:

    From how that sounds, I’d have to side with the adaption with regards to swordslingin’ Ned. Dude was right-hand man to the leader of a successful rebellion – much rather he be taken out in a dramatic swordfight than some clumsy horse. I get it’s all part of Martin’s so-called thing for “random” inconveniences in the name of realism but frankly, that scene sounds rather…


    • BlueHorus says:

      Winning that rebellion was probably more about having armies and support from other houses than it was about individual skill with swords. However, I kind of agree (also with above point that filming horses is difficult).

      A lot of Jamie Lannister’s character is build around the fact he’s an exceptional swordsman. Ned should have lost – him holding his own in that fight was one of the first examples of the show-writers bending the plot the way they wanted:
      ‘This character’s the hero, he can’t lose!’
      And damaging the integrity of the story in the process.

      They could have written the fight so Jamie wins handily, then he stabs Ned in the leg, while shouting ‘Give me my brother back!’ You still get the fight, and Jamie still looks good (and is a credible threat!).
      But then your main good-guy character is less badass, so…

      • Joshua says:

        “”˜This character's the hero, he can't lose!'
        And damaging the integrity of the story in the process.”

        Exhibit A in how they screwed up Jon Snow’s plot and themes, when the books show that his story is about learning to lead effectively as opposed to swinging just one sword, whether skilled or not. It’s explicitly called out by Mormont when he says something like “What do you think one more sword is going to do to make a difference for your brother?”

      • Joshua says:

        Another interesting thought that I had was that it’s got to be incredibly hard to demonstrate exceptional swordsmanship without a lot of time spent training the actor. I’ve not been much impressed with the fighting scenes in the show, but apart from having one character fight like an idiot to show the skill of their opponent, it’s really hard to show “X is pretty good, but Y is much, much better!”.

        Still, I giggle when I recall the scene where Jaime is fighting Brienne in the Riverlands and comments upon how she’s actually pretty good when she’s just pivoting her stance to match his….from about 10′ away. Adjusting a stance to adjust to your opponent is good, but would be in the introductory levels of fighting training.

  7. ehlijen says:

    Am I the only one who was caught off guard by the sudden end to this post?

    It read like it was revving up for an elaboration of that final statement, but then instead closed off.

    • Droid says:

      It kinda is an elaboration on the statement that many critics have given up on the show?

      • ehlijen says:

        Bob makes the statement that the show focuses too much on authoritarianism and violence. He follows that with an apology for being a buzzkill, and then the article winds down and ends.

        A fairly condemning statement like that, especially since it appears to form the basis for most of his thoughts on the show, made me expect more elaboration.

    • Locke says:

      No. That absolutely did feel like it needed to be elaborated on with some examples of authoritarian things being done and framed in a good way. Mr. Btongue’s previous Game of Thrones-related whining provide enough context that I can make a decent guess as to what he would’ve brought up, but that’s because I’ve seen his YouTube video. The article series should stand alone.

      So, what’s stronger than wild aurochs?

    • shadr says:

      Yeah, it ended quite abruptly. Given that he said he was going to write an entire other post two weeks ago I thought he’d have more to say. But I can’t blame the guy. Probably exhausted writing about GOT at this point.

      Good series of posts Bobby. I don’t know if you’re going to cover season 8, but it’d be hilarious if you did.

      • Wolf says:

        I would strongly prefer a post-season structured analysis of Season 8 to another attempt at “timely” griping.
        Comparing the writing quality and depth of this post series with the pre-Season 7 analysis leaves me wishing back the glory days of actual long form writing.

  8. Grudgeal says:

    Interesting post. I have been thinking a bit on the same things, namely when the first time was that GoT had a ‘glitch in the Matrix’ that set me up to dislike it, and which moment made me finally give up and drop the show. And I think mine are as follows:

    Glitch — Littlefinger and the Hound: The interplay between Sandor Clegane and Sansa Stark is a very interesting one in the books. The two are practical opposites, yet they both set each other up for some kind of character development. Sandor tries to ‘awaken’/disillusion Sansa with bluntness, his rudeness and his horrible life story (which is horrible), while Sansa tries to approach Sandor with courtesy and kindness, which notably is *not* faked as it all happens from her POV. In their most memorable interaction in book 1, Sandor pulls the visor off his helmet and shows Sansa his scarred face, and tells her how his own brother (who is an anointed knight knighted by Rhaegar Targaryen himself) did it to him for basically no reason at all. Sansa is unable to do much more than say “well then he’s no true knight” as a defence, and the scene ends up shaking up her worldview.

    In the show, this story is told to Sansa by Littlefinger during the tournament joust. Presumably to show he’s a manipulator of some kind? But why would Littlefinger tell Sansa that story? It loses practically all its punch to have The Hound’s story, which defines so much of his character and why he hates knights and chivalry, to be delivered to her third-person like so much table gossip without the context of “there are no true knights” that Sandor adds. It doesn’t develop Sansa’s character at all, it doesn’t expand her interpersonal relationship with anyone (as Littlefinger never brings it up again). It just seems like the whole thing got turned into exposition for the purpose of setting Littlefinger up as Evil Mister Exposition. There are a lot of good scenes in GoT season 1, even a few good original ones (I loved Robert and Cersei’s mutual marriage councelling session, even though their book equivalents would *never* have a scene like that in a million years), but the writers having Littlefinger deliver The Hound’s deepest darkest secret in about as much time really rankled. Imagine if, say, Roose Bolton did the same to Brienne and delivered Jamie’s “by what right does the wolf judge the lion”.

    Breaking Point — Mance Rayder the Evil Eskimo: I remember the idea I had of Wildlings from the book. A collection of picts, norse, and celts from north of Hadrian’s Wall, in fantasy form with highlander mammoths and giants. A people of freedom and dance and song, but also harshness, brutality and a lassez-faire look at death and dying. And Mance Rayder’s tent was such a brilliant introduction to it in A Storm of Swords. A giant tent made of fur, decorated on the sides with war trophies, a burning fire in the middle and a singing bard alongside the giant, silver-bearded man feasting on leg of ox and the earless warrior with his bronze mail and axe. Mance’s introduction defined the man, and the cause he stood for, and the way he connected with Jon was a really good look into ‘the other side’ with the ‘good’ of Mance and Thormund after having spent the last book with Yoren and Rattleshirt.

    Instead, the show gave us… An igloo. A tiny little igloo, with an open window letting the winter chill in, some red-haired mumbler with an unplaceable accent, and a Mance Rayder in a full-body outdoors suit sitting on a chair of snow, indoors. Seems like a silly thing to have the whole thing break over, I know, but it made me realize something: The show’s creators have looked at the books, and determined that Some Things Matter, and Some Things Don’t. Which is fair. You can’t 100% everything in the massive doorstop series. But the degree of effort put into the Things That Don’t isn’t like 50% of the Things That Matter, but more close to 20%. Like, the amount of care and detail the show can put into Renly’s costume, to showcase him as the thoughtful scholar-king the show wants to present him as, is stunning (as can be seen in the behind-the scenes). But they can’t even put a tenth of the effort into giving Stephen Dillane some basic coaching on who Stannis Baratheon is and what sort of character he is, nor re-read the book one more time and not making into a one-dimensional comic book supervillain. So, yeah, the igloo broke the show. I kept watching for two more seasons until Charles Dance and Stephen Dillane had been written out (adding things like Tysha to my list of indignities in the process), but at that point ‘enjoyment’ had given room to ‘I really don’t enjoy this show and only watch it because my friends and family do’.

    • BlueHorus says:

      I bet a lot of people here have a similar story, of gradually losing confidence with the show up to a final breaking point where they just stop trusting the writers. Mine was later in the show than yours was.

      Sad thing is, that breaking point retroactively made a lot of what I had accepted before in the show worse.

      A tiny little igloo, with an open window letting the winter chill in, some red-haired mumbler with an unplaceable accent, and a Mance Rayder in a full-body outdoors suit sitting on a chair of snow, indoors.

      I didn’t even notice that at all at the time. That’s absolutely terrible, like, a deliberate parody-level of set design/writing.

    • JDMM says:

      My glitch was the Kingsguard, similar to your point it has a lot to do with character dynamics but also theme, tone, plot everything

      In the books the Kingsguard are why knights matter, they are illustrative of the greats knights can aspire to and through their service to Aerys the worst a knight could be

      They are why Sandor matters and why Brienne matters, Gregor becoming a robot and joining them is supposed to be the great question, just what are we asking of citizen soldiers?

      Of course the Kingsguard mythology need only be a scene so you can say to yourself it will be included in the next episode, the next season, the next book etc

      As my reference point for longform tv drama is The Wire my breaking point as it were was in some senses more severe than most, I watched season 2 with the poor pacing and said to myself “This is not how top tier television works, scenes are being wasted, a narrative is not being give forward compulsion”

      Oh I continued to watch, friends and family were watching it however I never lost that sense that the show was second tier

    • Duffy says:

      I think my particular glitchy moment where I lost faith in the writers was when they cut Jaime’s confession concerning Tysha while helping Tyrion escape. That detail was super instrumental to Tyrion and Jaime’s character progressions and they had set it up in the previous seasons making me anticipate the eventual payoff. But when he finally confronts Tywin, they dropped it and made the whole thing weaker than it should have been.

      • THIS, SO MUCH. It was such a pivotal moment for both characters. Replacing it with some anecdote about a beetle-killing cousin(?) Lolno.

      • BlueHorus says:

        Glitch 1: The Fookin’ Legend of Gin Alley.
        Me: ‘Wait, is this guy actually drinking wine from the skull of his enemy? That’s not exactly subtle. Come on GoT, you’re better than that…
        Oh, and now he’s just insulting the other murderers and cutthoats around him. Not even cleverly – he’s just swearing and calling them rude names and boasting about how he could kill them. It’s not like he’s in charge because of Rast’s propensity to stab people he doesn’t like when their back is turned or whatever.’

        Glitch 2: Ygritte
        ‘Oh awesome, an entire episode about the fight for the wall! This is great And at the end Jon finds his ex-lover after the fight, bleeding to death from an arrow (maybe one of his, maybe not), as a poignant reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around him and the reality of politics can and will crush those you love without caring-‘

        LOLNOPE, Their eyes meet across a crowded battlefield and they hesitate, and for a few seconds the fighting around them stops, because reasons.
        Then she gets shot by some fuckin’ kid while in his arms, utters her catchphrase and dies. Fantastic.

  9. `Retsam says:

    I don’t really have a dog in the Game of Thrones fight (never watched the show, didn’t care for the books), but my one quibble here is that I don’t think I agree on the bit about “mindless fun”.
    Or rather, I think I agree with the specific point, but disagree with the general argument.

    I agree that watching a woman burn innocent people to death while being “badass” probably shouldn’t be “mindless fun”. If the idea of innocents being killed horrifically doesn’t give you pause, and you’re really yelling “YAS QUEEN” at those moments, then that’s a bit concerning.

    At the risk of sounding moralizing or condescending; I think those scenes can be gratifying for the same reason that, say, gladiatorial combat was hugely popular. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not equating the two morally: (certainly the fact that this is fiction is a huuge difference), but I think they’re fundamentally fueled by the same bit of human nature, and it might be wise to not give that bit of human nature too much “leash”.

    But in the general case, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “mindless fun”. Yes, it’s not truly mindless, and if you’re categorizing morally objectionable things as “mindless”, that’s a problem, but otherwise I think it’s fine to appreciate a show just for its entertainment value, and not for its logical consistency or deep insights into the human condition, or whatever. A lot of people want their entertainment to make them think… but a lot of other people just want their entertainment to be entertaining, and I don’t think that’s inherently wrong.

    And, in defense of those critics, it’s possible to argue that Game of Thrones has a lot of “mindless fun” without needing to argue that every scene is mindless fun. And, even just based on these complain-y posts, I can see it. A band of misfits journeying into a frozen wasteland to face down a giant undead army, undead dragon zombie, etc. That sounds like pretty cool “mindless fun”.

    Still, it does seem like Game of Thrones has really fallen if it’s falling onto the “mindless fun” defense. There are lots of fantasy series that I’d describe as “mindless fun” (or closer to it), but that’s about as far from A Song of Ice and Fire as you can get, which has always been hailed for its “realism” and general dourness.

  10. Crimson Dragoon says:

    Thank you for this series. I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with your critiques and I still very much enjoy the show (maybe not the latest season as much, but still). But your points were always well made and argued, and I certainly have a more critical eye on this show than I ever did before.

    Provided you’re still up to it, I look forward to reviews of the final season in a couple of years, as well as any other show/movie/whatever analysis you come up with in the meantime.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Seconded – thanks Bob.

      I never completely agreed but always got where you were coming from, which is the sign of a good critic.

      Would love to see more from you, whether it’s the final season of GoT or another TV show or whatever. Great stuff.

  11. Vermander says:

    I'm an obnoxious mega-fan of the books and was really excited when HBO began adapting it. I really liked of the show for the first several seasons, even if I didn't agree with every adaptational choice. I like to think I'm pretty reasonable about how different media sometimes requires different techniques to tell the story and understand that not everything that works on the page works on screen. For the most part I like all of the principal cast and I think most of the visuals are amazing, especially when I read about the technical and budgetary limitations that even a series this lavish has to deal with.

    That said, I ultimately turned against the show somewhere in late season 5/early season 6. It was a combination of the half-assed Dorne plot, the depiction of the Sparrows as crazed homophobic zealots, and the hatchet job they did on Stannis' character arc. All of these storylines made me think that the show writers have bought into the popular misconception that this is supposed to be a dark, cynical series where might makes right, love, compassion, and loyalty are weaknesses, and brutal application of violence is the only way to achieve anything.

    The books present a world with ancient oaths, laws and customs that both the nobles and the commoners take very seriously. It may not be what we'd call a free or just society, but even in Westeros, people are supposed to be born with certain rights and even kings have limits on their power. There are certain lines you do not cross without alienating your followers. Even most of the objectively evil characters have to work hard to maintain a coalition of willing allies.

    People also often express admiration for leaders that they perceive as good and noble. Ned Stark is so well remembered in the North that men from the Hill Clans are willing to march to their deaths against the Boltons to save “Ned’s little girl.”

    On the show the people, nobles and commons alike, are mostly mindless automatons who will obey whatever backstabber currently sits on the throne. Atrocities like the Red Wedding and the burning of the Great Sept are largely forgotten within days or weeks. The only challenge a corrupt or incompetent leader has to worry about is a determined protagonist with a sword, and even then it's presented as a matter of personal vengeance rather than justice.

    • Joshua says:

      To me, the first few seasons were like Peter Jackson’s LotR. There is a lot of simplification, or changing themes to make them more relatable to modern audiences, but the general gist is more or less intact (YMMV). Every season got worse and worse.

      My early gripes were how they simplified Catelyn Stark and made Jon Snow a constant idiot in Season 2. I realized it after watching the season and going back to read the books.

      • Droid says:

        Just about any change to Catelyn Stark would have made her look less intelligent as well, simply because she is just so clever a character in GRRM’s books. She’s well-educated, quick and logical in her analysis, excellent judge of intent and not above making a good show to fool people in a way that can help her.

        Her show representation just lacks so much of that.

  12. Sannom says:

    And he's good! He's really good! His dialogue is thoughtful and has real heart. The performance ““ by an actor named Joel Fry ““ is right on the money. He's a good example of an adaptational tool ““ a character that, in a minimum of screen time, communicates to the audience the complex challenges of ruling a foreign city undergoing sudden social, cultural, and economic change. I liked Hizdahr, to the extent I'm able to like someone who's part of the elite class of a slaveowning society. And even if that tempered my opinion of him as a (fictional) person, it didn't temper my opinion of him as a character that played an effective role in the story.

    You should read the Fandomentals’ take on GoT, I think you would like it. They refer to that character as “male-Sansa” because of the qualities you just described.

    • Joshua says:

      And as many have discussed D&D’s GoT doesn’t even understand why characters like Sansa are in the story, so of course the plot-lines go nowhere, because good leaders who inspire and/or care don’t fit into their nihilistic view of Westeros.

      • BlueHorus says:

        “Whaddya mean ‘Sansa is the logical Queen in the North’? She’s hardly killed anybody! She’s only had one the one rape-revenge story (and we had to change the story to make even that happen), so no-one’ll respect that.
        How do you gain loyalty or trust from people other than proving you’re a stone-cold badass who slaughters their enemies?
        …I mean, when’s the last time even Sansa even set anyone on fire, huh? That’s what real Queens do.”

        • Joshua says:

          It’s like the entire show is a demonstration of this trope.

          • RCN says:

            It is really jarring when they make such a good point of delivering the reason Westeros is in the shitter is because they put a really good fighter (and a really bitter and disillusioned one to boot) in the throne because he was so good at killing with his own hands.

            That was the reason I initially loved the show and got interested in the books.

            But now it seems the competence of any character at everything is directly tied to their ability to immolate large amounts of people in the open… (which… wasn’t this the precise reason everyone started hating the Targeryans to the point they’d rather put a brute drunk in his place?)

            • Droid says:

              In the books at least, Robert is also a coward. Not in battle, mind you, but he’s not dumb or blind. He can see what a monster Joffrey is (“sometimes I think about abdicating, and I would do it if not for Joffrey”), he knows how horrible it was of him to let Tywin sack King’s Landing and kill Rhaegar’s children, he can also see that his excesses are emptying the coffers and that he is behaving like a fool instead of a king (“this was not very … kingly” [after hitting Cersei], “I hope I’ll be remembered as a good king. – [Ned says nothing] – At least I’m better than Mad Aerys!”). He sees the massive problems his reign and his decisions have caused, he sees how poorly he treats Cersei and that it was him who made her as bitter and spiteful as she is today.

              And yet he does nothing. The one time he’s actively involved with a decision that we know of (planning to assassinate Daenerys and Viserys), the one time he actually influences the rule of his own kingdom, haunts him so that he thinks he got mauled (and soon to be killed) by that boar as divine retribution for his decision to send that assassin.

  13. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I think “mindless fun” is really just mindless criticism. Actual, good, “mindless fun” is fulfilling some kind of human desire. Instead of just writing something off that way, you should be asking what kind of appeal that the show is really providing. It’s something that still requires careful construction, and attempts to create it as still subject to criticism.

    Digibro had a good video where he talks about that.

    • Ander says:

      I watched and enjoyed the video. Wading into the cesspool of YouTube comments, I saw a few that claimed that many people who say, “It’s just mindless fun” don’t really mean mindless. They mean, “It’s not as carefully constructed a world as you seem to want, and that does not distract me from the intended fun.” When Digibro said that the inconsistencies/basic failings of the Object anime held his attention more than the show itself, I thought of Shamus’s many claims that he simply can’t help but ask, “But what do they eat?” and such like. I acknowledge this perspective as valid; however, some people’s attention is not held this way by weaknesses and gaps in the story. “Mindless fun” is not usually said to mean”without any thought.” When people say it as a defense, they tend to mean, “Those things you brought up did not bother me,” and perhaps, “You are unreasonable for being bothered by them.” The first part is valid as an opinion; the second is not necessarily valid as a criticism of the critic.
      Ruts’ current series about FO3 intends to answer the question, “Would this story be *better* without the weaknesses and gaps?”

    • Steve C says:

      I don’t like the term “mindless fun.” I prefer “spectacle.”

      It’s like watching fireworks. People don’t watch it for the mindless fun, people watch it for the spectacle. The audience might be having mindless fun. You are being entertained by a spectacle though. It’s a subtle but important difference. At least for me.

      I can’t enjoy GoT as mindless fun. It aggravates me. There are no characters I like in the books. There are some that are ‘ok’ on the show but the show has pretty much wrecked how much I care about them. Even then I don’t particularly like the characters on the show. I can accept that some people enjoy the ‘mindless fun’ of actors having a dramatic non-conversation. I’m not one of them. For me, that kind of thing only pisses me off. It keeps my attention as I expect something to happen. Then goes nowhere. So I only feel cheated and annoyed.

      Note that “spectacle” is =/= “effects and explosions” nor is it nudity. A fact which I feel the show has forgotten. Spectacle can be the little things like Tywin riding into court on his horse and the first we see is it shitting on the floor.

      The spectacle in first half of seasons was consistently good. Not great. Just ‘good’. The second half (particularly this last one) has been consistently bad with really great highlights (like the loot train battle) that muddy how consistently bad it is. If TV was better I wouldn’t watch GoT at all.

  14. Re: the hair…. I’d kinda assumed (checked out just before the Red Wedding) that Daen’s hair was going through an Elizabeth I sort of arc, getting more and less elaborate as she gains or loses power. That said, it’s rather implausible that she has slaves/peasants that have similar hair colors (or could be dyed to match) that could be added to her own, not to mention the time requirement to have such intricate styles done.
    Cersei’s hair, on the other hand, generally makes sense, at least imho (and again, while I know what has happened since the Red Wedding in general terms and have seen pics, not seen an ep since). I’d actually love to read a fashion/hair historical analysis of the GoT characters, using the War of the Roses (since that is in theory the historical basis for GoT) as a starting point.

    Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed this series, and I hope, sir, that you will write more here in future on whatever you’d like!

    • krellen says:

      Regarding the hair, do I misremember seeing screenshots of Daenerys with hair loose falling to the ground, implying she has at least six feet of hair? And it’s not wholly impossible; Crystal Gale is rather famous for her floor-length hair.

      • I don’t ever remember seeing her having longer than waist–length hair, but it’s entirely possible. It’s also possible that she has unusually thick hair which would allow for those styles, but the time required is still a bit of an issue (imho anyway). Yes, she can do some stuff while her hair’s being done, but she does have to keep more or less still and would not be ready for any formal audience. That’s one of the reasons wigs became really big (well, that and lice) in the European courts later on. You could have amazing, ridiculous hair without having to spend hours getting it done, plus since it wasn’t your hair it could be much more easily added to.

  15. Brandon says:

    Some people totally have that much hair.

  16. Paul Spooner says:

    I’m leaving a meta-comment, on the lack of commentary from other commentators on the fact that your criticism is a meta-criticism on the lack of critique from other critics.

  17. Geebs says:

    Here’s the thing about Hizdahr zo Loraq [show]: he’s a snivelling little one percenter douchebag who made his money out of other people’s suffering without ever doing an honest day’s work. He just had a daddy who spent some money on some fancy rhetoric lessons, and his apparently sincere belief that he is in any position to bargain with the new regime is pure entitlement.

    We’re not ever actually supposed to buy anything he says, and it’s supposed to be obvious that Danny’s marriage to him is entirely one of convenience. Which, to be fair, it is in the books as well.

    • Droid says:

      That is the main thing I dislike about Hizdahr: “It’s all in the books!” is the rationale for why he suffers through whatever he has to suffer through, when book Hizdahr and show Hizdahr are very different people who are very differently framed.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      This makes him different from every other nobleman and woman in this series how? It’s all well and good to condemn the nobles of the Slave Cities for being slave-owners, but it’s not like the peasants of Westeros have it any better under the Houses. We only ever see them when they’re being ground under the feet of corrupt nobles, and even virtuous Jon Snow seems to care more for the Wildlings than the Northern peasants who suffer most from their raids.

      • Geebs says:

        Daenarys is, at that point in the story, leading a cross between a peasant’s revolt, an anarchist collective a and a bunch of emancipated slaves.

        Hizdahr is asking to be given back the right to own people for the purposes of to-the-death gladiatorial combat, for the single reason that he considers it his inheritance. He is Not A Good Guy.

  18. Christopher says:

    Thanks man, I enjoyed this series even if my familiarity with the franchise isn’t that great. I certainly empathize with the moral objections, on a personal level. I would never call that first season I watched bad, but I would call it cruel, and what mainly kept me from watching more is the fear that vengeancee, violence and cruelty were the only virtues the show lauded.

    Looking forward to seeing a new series from you, either on here, or another of your videos on your channel, when you have the time. Love your work!

    • Joshua says:

      “I would never call that first season I watched bad, but I would call it cruel, and what mainly kept me from watching more is the fear that vengeancee, violence and cruelty were the only virtues the show lauded. ”

      Read the books, then. They’re a lot less nihilistic. There’s more of a tone of evil people tend to be self-destructive and bring their own downfall, and doing good doesn’t make you guaranteed to survive, or even succeed, but is still the right thing to do. However, even good people have their own flaws that they have to try to overcome, and nothing is easy.

  19. Grampy_bone says:

    I totally lost all hope for the books after the Red Wedding, thought I thought the show might salvage it. I think they did clean up a lot of the needless crap and make the story more consistent, but ultimately you can’t fix something this borked.

    I do have more appreciation now for people who insist the books are genius and the show is ruining them, but ultimately you can’t blame everything on adaptation. The last 2 books were barely readable. It’s clear now the author is done with them and anything else he produces will suffer accordingly.

    • Sannom says:

      It's clear now the author is done with them and anything else he produces will suffer accordingly.

      That doesn’t follow. The guy was like “Let’s make a timeskip!” then thought again and realized “Wait, that’s crap, let’s write ALL THE THINGS!”, how is that the attitude of someone anywhere near being “done with it”?

      • silver Harloe says:

        That was a change he made somewhere between 1996-2000 when he still gave a damn about the books. Somewhere in the last 17 years he lost his way, and I don’t think he’s even interested in finishing the series now – he finds literally every single other project that crosses his desk more important than finishing book 6 and I doubt he’ll ever finish book 7.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Simple:Many say that while those intervening events can be interesting on their own,most of them are irrelevant to the overall story that was started and will now probably not be finished because GRRM got bogged down with those irrelevant events.

        • BlueHorus says:

          Here’s a relevant question for book readers:
          Do you remember Vargo ‘The Goat’ Hoat?

          ‘Cos I do. He’s little more than a name floating around in my head, up there with Ser Wyman Manderly, Doran and Quentyn and Elia and Oberyn and Arianne Martell, the Viper and the Sphinx and the Darkstar and the Maid and the Sword of the Morning and the…

          Anyway. Why ‘The Goat’? Did he look like one? Did he feed people to goats? Did he f**k goats? Was he half-goat? Was he raised by goats?
          I just can’t remember!
          I do remember that he was a ‘Bloody Mummer’ (‘ah right, one of them!‘, I hear you say) who was somehow related to Jamie losing his hand. And he had a lisp. And was in Harrenhal, for some reason, leading a group of killers after the last group of killers left following Arya’s coup using some horrible killers.

          I’m sure someone here can tell me all about Vargo ‘The Goat’ Hoat. But that’s not the point (of course), the point is why was this guy in the story?. What did he bring?

          One of the things that the show did well in the first few seasons was that it trimmed the story down. No extraneous characters. Less fat. Less complexity, of course, but I never felt like I was drowning in names like the books.

      • Locke says:

        It’s counterintuitive, but that is, in fact, exactly the attitude of someone who’s running out of focus. Not everyone who’s running out of focus, because some people do in fact try to put a quick, sloppy bow on a project when they start to get sick of it, but other people are committed to seeing their original vision through to the end and just get steadily more sloppy in the execution. For example, noticing flashbacks growing out of control and solving that problem by adding a whole new book to the series instead of finding a way to edit things down to a more tight narrative. Considering the enormous gaps between books even as GRRM has begun drowning in so much money that it is difficult to imagine what could be keeping him from his writing, I find it more likely that he is the kind of author whose fatigue manifests as a lack of editorial discipline (probably coupled with a lack of editorial oversight, as he is now famous enough to override his editor as often as he likes and with very little effort) than that this is evidence of some kind of renewed commitment to the story.

  20. Jokerman says:

    This one below the line has greatly enjoy the content Bob, some i disagree with, some i thought i disagreed with and can around when you explained your points haha, but overall it was great fun, really interesting, and i hope we see you back soon.

  21. Natomic says:

    Any possibility of getting you to review Blade Runner 2049 Bob?

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