Scott Meslow writes that “In ‘Game of Thrones,’ War Changes Everyone: The stunning, episode-long Battle of Blackwater* leaves no character untouched,” and while he might be correct, the episode, like its predecessor, is surprisingly tedious. Meslow thinks that “it’s clear that each character has been forced, in the heat of battle, to confront who they really are,” but I’m not so convinced. Last night, before I read his piece, I sent an e-mail to a friend who wanted a copy; although the e-mail was hyperbolic—the episode wasn’t actually “bloody terrible,” just bloody and dull—the substance stands:
Episode 9 of “Game of Thrones” was bloody terrible. The show has many advantages over the book: most notably, the characters’ externality prevents some of Martin’s most insipid, obvious writing. The major disadvantage, however, comes in the form of large-scale battles, which are too expensive to shoot properly and not all that dramatically interesting. One can only watch so many extras hacking one another with swords (the number of unclothed lovelies one can enjoy, however, are infinite) before the murder is tiresome. A whole episode of battle preparations that could have been better presented with extra footage from Braveheart: alas.
Meslow says that “Due partially to plot structure and partially to budgetary restraints, Game of Thrones has spent very little time in the battlefield.” There’s a very good reason: most of Game of Thrones looks brilliant and subtle. They don’t show budget constraints. The battle scenes do. They had many obvious crosscuts between things that weren’t happening in the same time and place. The show’s financiers obviously didn’t have the cash for many extras or the computer-generated graphics that could replace them.
“Blackwater” reminded me of this season’s Daenerys scenes, which in turn felt like dumb Syfy channel shows—all bad actors spouting silly names and pointless gibberish. The many subtler, cleverer moments were lost, with the exception of Cersei’s tutelage of Sansa in the ways of female empowerment. (For more along those lines, try Belle de Jour’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl.)
I read through book 3 of the novels before the spiraling, increasingly silly plots lost me. The reviews of book 4 are not charitable, the plot summaries of book 5 leave me rolling my eyes. When sprawling, epic fantasy is too sprawling, it overruns the optimal exploration space for its primary characters and their fundamental dilemmas. At that point, such fantasy series merely become tedious. In Game of Thrones, it appears that, sooner or later, “White Walkers” are going to invade the south and Daenerys is going to arrive in Westeros with dragons. The White Walkers are conveniently vulnerable to fire. Dragons breathe fire. The various contenders will have to stop struggling with one another long enough to confront an external existential threat, sort of like how India and Pakistan have to realize that nuclear holocaust is not an optimal way to resolve the narcissism of minor differences. Delaying the confrontation in Westeros has its pleasures. Delay the confrontation too long, however, and boredom sets in. I’ll probably read or skim the last book, if it comes out before, say, the end of the decade.
The TV show, I have to assume, will eventually burn itself out through incoherent plot threads, much like the books.
* The allusion to Academi, the company formerly known as Xe, which was formerly known Blackwater, the mercenary company famously described in Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, is deft. Apparently the publicity was bad enough to encourage multiple name changes. I recommend that they next re-brand as Altria. Or perhaps Cayce Pollard should be hired as a consultant?