Dancing With Dragons

This week’s “Game of Thrones” was all about hard decisions and compromises, the value of a human life as a pawn in the higher game of thrones—and it’s almost as if the show-runners were trying to speak directly to the haters.

In a season that has been a bit of letdown all-in-all, not to mention a source of much controversy, there’s been much to-do about what sort of show “Game of Thrones” wants to be. Could it still balance its prestige drama with the abusive world concocted by George R.R. Martin? When can a fantasy decide it’s more than its medieval roots? And though I’d argue there is a case to be made for the universe they work within, it’s hard to argue that the either of the head writers (nor Martin himself) have done an adequate job explaining why it should be.

The truth to that question is because it is the world imagined for them, and by them. They have decided it will be a show where being a woman is as powerful as it is worthless, where rape will exist as a logical plot development, and where death is always around us.

GOT5_102214_NW_0422Set against the backdrop of that, Mother of dragons Daenerys opened the fighting pit last Sunday while her betrothed and her counsel banter about the value of her strategy. Hizdahr (said betrothed) boldly triumphs the brutality of the entertainment. “What great thing has ever been accomplished without killing or cruelty?” he asks.

Tyrion jumps in; perhaps to defend his pride against Hizdahr’s boasting, maybe to score some points with Dany, likely just to give himself something to do. “It’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be. Especially when what is has worked out so well for you.”

“Confusing what is with what ought to be” is, in a sense, exactly what critics of “Game of Thrones” have been complaining about since day one, now more vocal than ever. So imagine my surprise when it was from the mouths of one of the show’s characters when it came out. Let alone in response to a comment so similar to the creators’ defense.

And therein lies the dilemma for “Game of Thrones:” It’s got interesting things to say, about power, politics, sex. But it feels bound to provide the thrills that in season five, a 10 weeks largely about rebuilding the world and restructuring the unruly plot of the books, felt increasingly like they were drawn from a checklist of upsetting ideas rather than earned moments of uncomfortable truths.

Its worth as a prestigious drama rooted in its characters has always been weighed against its need for shock value at the expense of its (often female) characters. The showrunners have always maintained that these threads will be explored and touched upon. But even with season five’s leisurely pace and a chorus of critics louder than ever, there’s been little proof that they can put their money where their mouth is.

Maybe they’re right, and the change is gonna come. But as Tyrion also said, “in my experience, eloquent men are right every bit as often as imbeciles.”

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