Monday, September 1, 2014

On Game of Thrones, Season 4

I'm behind the times on Game of Thrones, both the books and the shows, but having been laid low by a nasty-ass cold (seriously, hacking blood into a sink is a bit worrisome. I have no problem with the zombie apocalypse so long as I'm not patient zero), I decided it was an opportune time to try catching up on at least the show, since I just don't read fast enough to plow through the books in a weekend. 
So I'll be up front with you guys ... I'm not a huge fan of Game of Thrones, and that IS NOT because I think it's bad. I think it's great. I think George R.R. Martin's books are fantastic (the 152 pages I've read) and the show a moderately faithful but still kickass adaptations. So what's my problem?  I'm a cynic, and the show's sincere but perpetual portrayal of the human condition as nasty, deplorable, untrustworthy, and dishonorable just ... doesn't do it for me. 

My favorite fantasy author, Stephen R. Donaldson once said, "Fantasy [is] involved in affirming the value of the individual. Fantasy implies that there is some way in which human beings are greater than the sum of their parts by using magic as a metaphor to discuss what it means to be a human being. It implies some kind of transcendence in the notion of who we are as people, and so it affirms by necessity the value of who we are and the lives we are living."

You can see this a lot in the genre of fantasy, Tolkien especially. Where you won't see it though, is in Game of Thrones, which is intentional. You see him talk about it in interviews, like for Rolling Stone, "Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it's not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn't ask the question: What was Aragorn's tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren't gone – they're in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?"

So Game of Thrones has done nothing wrong save for going off and boldly exploring an area that just doesn't much interest me. 
Most Idiotic Review

"Game of Thrones has always been a slow-burning affair, which is worth more as a whole than the sum of its parts. But when a show pledges to give fans even more and then doesn’t deliver its leave of an empty feeling of mild disappointment."  — Neela Debnath (The Independent) 

Stuff like this annoys me. I think it's partially because it displays, what seems to me, to be something of a naive attitude toward storytelling structure. Case in point, show of hands, who here remembers Peter Jackson's King Kong? Okay, cool. How many of you remember the Brontosaurus chase sequence? Of course you do, it dominated a better portion of an already massive film and served little purpose in the context of the final film. In 2005 I was 13 years old, and guess what, I felt visually exhausted by the end of that scene, and there was still half of the movie left to go. 

"Who are you again?"
So what did Game of Thrones pledge to deliver? Well, I'm assuming it's pretty much the same stuff we've known the whole time. We have the Whitewalkers, Daenarys and her Dragons, and the frankly insane level of complication involved in who's stabbing who in the back down in Westeros. Admittadly, the season isn't as grand. It's more character focused, but it certainly is establishing the brickwork to deliver what one can only hope to be a hellova ride for the next few seasons. 

Most Accurate Review

"Game of Thrones a slog through constantly fluctuating politics and random instances of gore with only brief moments of true excitement when you know exactly who you're rooting for -- when you can distinguish good from evil. This is clearly a writer's choice and not one that should be criticized from a structural standpoint, only a moral one."  — Ben Travers (indieWIRE)

This is definitely more in line with my own personal viewpoint. Westeros is a miserable place. I'm a fan of Joss Whedon, Tolkien, and Neal Stephenson. My upbringing never prepared me for the sheer level of abuse these characters inflict on one another, whether it be sexual, verbal, physical, or psychological, it doesn't seem to matter to them. I'm used to being emotionally decimated by shows like Buffy, Supernatural, or Doctor Who. But Game of Thrones operates on a whole different level, and while it's truly well done, that just makes me more uncomfortable. Call me overly sensitive if you will, and naive for preferring heroic characters over Martin's arguably more realistic ones, but it is what it is. 

This constitutes a break.
What I Say

Plot — Well, I personally think Westeros needed a break after the Red Wedding and the Battle of Blackwater. Let's face it, the majority of primary characters were murdered in one, and the majority of opposing armies were murdered in the other. Everything is in shambles and the dust needs to settle a bit before the remaining forces make their move. 

This season is dominated (after the death of a certain little troll) by personal character studies, mostly. We get some pretty powerful character arcs in this season. That said, the plot section will be a bit shorter, so I can devote some more time to the characters. 

What is primarily happening in the wide world of Westeros? Daenerys and her dragons are finally bitten in the ass for her inability to understand economics and cultural diversity after freeing countless slaves who don't know how to live any other life than the one she finds morally abhorrent (I consider Daenerys to be one of the most frightening characters in the show). 

Jon Snow is forced to contend with the Wildling forces as well as growing threat of the Whitewalkers, who we still only see brief glimpses of. The petulant twerp Geoffrey is finally offed, via poison, and the blame is placed on Tyrion, who just can't catch a break on this show, and is put on trial for regicide.

Comparatively, yes, it is a simple season, dealing primarily with fallout from the last three, and prepping for serious ass-kickery yet to come.

Characters — Seeing as there seems to be a bazillion characters starring in this show, I'll try to focus my attention by a random set of conditions that I'll try and pass off as reasoned and well thought out.

Arya Stark is undoubtedly a badass. She kicks ass and takes names and survived longer than the majority of her family, even when her circumstances were far worse. Even so, she's a terrifying little girl. Not even girl, she'd be terrifying as a boy. She'd be terrifying as an adult. The sad thing is, it didn't even occur to me until after the fact. She was strong, but now she's broken, and I don't mean that as a failing. Whatever mercy, understanding, or forgiveness she might have once had seems to have been smothered by sheer cruelty. She is now and forever a product of the war.

Jon Snow maintains his dour stoicism though. For every curveball the North throws at the poor bastard (everyone else points it out, why can't I?) he simply glowers, gets up, dusts himself off, and keeps doing his duty. Driven by honor and chivalry, he seems to be one of the handful remaining respectable characters left in the show who displays any level of restraint, even if in certain circumstances, I wish he'd cut loose on some of his superiors. His relationship with Ygritte is brought to a close, prompting more brooding (I said he was respectable, I didn't say he was complicated). 

After a season dedicated to their growth, both Jaime and Brienne seem to drift at sea. It makes sense, seeing as where they are both physically and developmentally, as they're both trying to find their bearings. Tyrion too becomes very reactionary this season, having been blamed for Geoffrey's death, and is forced to sit inside his cell for the majority of the season. The relationship between the brothers and Cersei is expanded upon in the meantime, and we do see progression in this, further fueling Jaime's seeming redemption (that can't end well). Cersei continues to be crazy. 

I know there's way more to delve into, but unless I broke the season down episode by episode (I could do that you know) I think I've said enough here. As it is, I excitedly await 2015's Season 5.  

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