Game of Thrones and the tedium of Season 2’s war episode, “Blackwater”

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?

Game of Thrones and the tedium of Season 2's war episode, "Blackwater"

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 on that front, the episode, like its predecessor, was also 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 of the episode; 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, loosely, 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?

Links: Funny words, climate change, things the U.S. does right, writers, self-publishing, Seattle’s Escala condo building as the site of depravity, and ovulation’s effect on mate choice

* I got into an argument with a friend about whether “mollusk” is an inherently funny word. I argued yes. Discuss.

* Game over for the climate, which is one of those important articles you won’t read.

* “As an outsider I hear plenty of what America does wrong, I want to hear what they do right.”

* I need this.

* “The Writer in the Family:” “So there I stood at the front of my granddaughter Jessica’s fourth-grade classroom, still as a glazed dog, while Jessie introduced me to her classmates, to whom I was about to speak. ‘This is my grandfather, Boppo,’ she said, invoking my grandpaternal nickname. ‘He lives in the basement and does nothing.'”

* Why Are Teen Moms Poor? Surprising new research shows it’s not because they have babies. They have babies because they’re poor.

* Why self publishing, even if its title is “I May Be Mad I May Be Blind;” see also this post. Both are from literary agent Betsy Lerner.

* ‘Game Of Thrones’ Running Out Of Unkempt Old Men To Cast.

* The Writer in the Family: “If the sad truth be known, writers, being the misfits we are, probably ought not to belong to families in the first place. We simply are too self-interested, though we may excuse the flaw by calling it “focused.” As artists, writers hardly are alone in this failing.” The problem, however, is that families provide a lot of material, and to not have at least one is to deny one’s self a rich vein of material, and possibly several rich veins, which could be turned into a novel, or perhaps several novels, and a poem.

* A lot of what’s wrong with public schools can be surmised from “How did this parent end up in jail? Kelley Williams-Bolar just wanted her kids to go to a safer school — then her story took an unexpected turn.”

* Seattle is famous (?): Seattle’s Escala Condo Building Set Steamy Scenes for “Fifty Shades of Grey”

* Perception of American Women As Masculine Is Going Mainstream.

* “Ovulation Leads Women to Perceive Sexy Cads as Good Dads:”

Why do some women pursue relationships with men who are attractive, dominant, and charming but who do not want to be in relationships—the prototypical sexy cad? Previous research shows that women have an increased desire for such men when they are ovulating, but it is unclear why ovulating women would think it is wise to pursue men who may be unfaithful and could desert them. Using both college-age and community-based samples, in 3 studies we show that ovulating women perceive charismatic and physically attractive men, but not reliable and nice men, as more committed partners and more devoted future fathers. Ovulating women perceive that sexy cads would be good fathers to their own children but not to the children of other women.

* Good news: The End of Soda?

Links: Funny words, climate change, things the U.S. does right, writers, self-publishing, Seattle's Escala condo building as the site of depravity, and ovulation's effect on mate choice

* I got into an argument with a friend about whether “mollusk” is an inherently funny word. I argued yes. Discuss.

* Game over for the climate, which is one of those important articles you won’t read.

* “As an outsider I hear plenty of what America does wrong, I want to hear what they do right.”

* I need this.

* “The Writer in the Family:” “So there I stood at the front of my granddaughter Jessica’s fourth-grade classroom, still as a glazed dog, while Jessie introduced me to her classmates, to whom I was about to speak. ‘This is my grandfather, Boppo,’ she said, invoking my grandpaternal nickname. ‘He lives in the basement and does nothing.'”

* Why Are Teen Moms Poor? Surprising new research shows it’s not because they have babies. They have babies because they’re poor.

* Why self publishing, even if its title is “I May Be Mad I May Be Blind;” see also this post. Both are from literary agent Betsy Lerner.

* ‘Game Of Thrones’ Running Out Of Unkempt Old Men To Cast.

* The Writer in the Family: “If the sad truth be known, writers, being the misfits we are, probably ought not to belong to families in the first place. We simply are too self-interested, though we may excuse the flaw by calling it “focused.” As artists, writers hardly are alone in this failing.” The problem, however, is that families provide a lot of material, and to not have at least one is to deny one’s self a rich vein of material, and possibly several rich veins, which could be turned into a novel, or perhaps several novels, and a poem.

* A lot of what’s wrong with public schools can be surmised from “How did this parent end up in jail? Kelley Williams-Bolar just wanted her kids to go to a safer school — then her story took an unexpected turn.”

* Seattle is famous (?): Seattle’s Escala Condo Building Set Steamy Scenes for “Fifty Shades of Grey”

* Perception of American Women As Masculine Is Going Mainstream.

* “Ovulation Leads Women to Perceive Sexy Cads as Good Dads:”

Why do some women pursue relationships with men who are attractive, dominant, and charming but who do not want to be in relationships—the prototypical sexy cad? Previous research shows that women have an increased desire for such men when they are ovulating, but it is unclear why ovulating women would think it is wise to pursue men who may be unfaithful and could desert them. Using both college-age and community-based samples, in 3 studies we show that ovulating women perceive charismatic and physically attractive men, but not reliable and nice men, as more committed partners and more devoted future fathers. Ovulating women perceive that sexy cads would be good fathers to their own children but not to the children of other women.

* Good news: The End of Soda?

Links: Chairs, publishing, Game of Thrones, midlists, and vocational education

* Against chairs. Yes! Way against! I might buy a Geekdesk soon, in part because I can’t get this Herman Miller Embody adjusted right. See also my thoughts on the movie Objectified and designers’ obsession with chairs. EDIT: I bought a Geekdesk.

* Bertrand Russell’s 10 Commandments for Teachers; I try to follow them, especially the one about arguing via authority.

* The Real E-Publishing Story: It’s Not the Millionaires, It’s the Midlist.

* Why publishers hate the midlist: taxes and depreciation.

* How Thor Power Hammered Publishing.

* J. A. Konrath: Harlequin Fail. Interestingly, I’ve begun contemplating whether it would be possible for me to sell 10,000 ebooks per book, and the answer might be “yes.”

* What’s HBO Go’s Problem? There is no word for “cord cutter” in Dothraki. The linked cartoon basically describes me; I’ve tried to buy HBO Go, only to find that I have to have a cable subscription, which I don’t have because I don’t have a TV. I’ve tried Amazon and iTunes. Nothing. However, although I’m an inveterate respecter of copyright, I have discovered certain alternate means that allow me (and sometimes friends in my position) to watch the show, and then allow me to write posts like this one.

* Learning that works: rethinking vocational education. This is positive step, and I’m noticing more and more people making these kinds of arguments. Worthless mentions this too.

On King Joffrey in Game of Thrones

In “TV’s best villain,” Willa Paskin writes: “‘Game [of Thrones]’ is not interested in sympathy when it comes to Joffrey, doing nothing to redeem him. He is just a villain, served straight up.” She’s right, and this is useful because in real life there are outright villains; many turn out to be psychopaths, as John Seabrook describes in “Suffering Souls: The search for the roots of psychopathy” for The New Yorker. We shouldn’t necessarily focus on such people in our narrative art forms, but we also shouldn’t forget they exist. More importantly, we should be asking—as Game of Thrones implicitly does—how they can maintain power in the face of frequently self-defeating cruelty.

In the show and the books, virtually everyone except Joffrey’s his mother hates him, including those on his own side, but we can also see why the people on his “side” stand by and support him nonetheless (while waiting for one of them to break and finish him—which eventually happens, in book three or four; I don’t think I give anything away with this, since it’s not possible to survive in a world like Westeros when you alienate everyone). When Joffrey’s behavior is so awful that even his family, or at least a certain member of his family, turns on him, he can’t maintain power. People are only as powerful as the coalitions around them.

Part of Joffrey’s other problem is his age and power. I suspect that most contemporary teenagers would not handle near-infinite power over others especially well, because they haven’t had the life experiences to temper their egos and increase their empathy and understanding of others.

This analysis only works because, as Paskin points out, virtually all the other characters on the show and in the books are nuanced and neither purely good nor purely evil. In most forms of narrative art, cartoonishly good and evil characters aren’t all that interesting because they’re not real. But placing a single evil character in a morally ambiguous matrix makes the single evil character work out better, especially when “evil” isn’t really evil in some objective, Sauron-like sense, but a product of ego and nearly unlimited power run amok.

Week 36 Links: A Jane Austen Education, what Facebook is like, The Longform.org Guide to the Porn Industry, A Game of Thrones as comedy, and more

Who put a bikini on this poor statue?

* Reading this review of William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education is bizarre because it’s like reading about myself, right down to the love for Madame Bovary:

In 1990, William Deresiewicz was on his way to gaining a Ph.D. in English literature at Columbia University. Describing that time in the opening pages of his sharp, endearingly self-effacing new book, “A Jane Austen Education,” Deresiewicz explains that he faced one crucial obstacle. He loathed not just Jane Austen but the entire gang of 19th-century British novelists: Hardy, Dickens, Eliot . . . the lot.

At 26, Deresiewicz wasn’t experiencing the hatred born of surfeit that Mark Twain described when he told a friend, “Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shinbone.” What Deresiewicz (who has considerable fun at the expense of his pompous younger self) was going through was the rebel phase in which Dostoyevsky rules Planet Gloom, that stage during which the best available image of marriage is a prison gate.

Sardonic students do not, as Deresiewicz points out, make suitable shrine-­tenders for a female novelist whose books, while short on wedding scenes, never skimp on proposals. Emma Bovary fulfilled all the young scholar’s expectations of literary culture at its finest; Emma Woodhouse left him cold. “Her life,” he lamented, “was impossibly narrow.” Her story, such as it was, “seemed to consist of nothing more than a lot of chitchat among a bunch of commonplace characters in a country village.” Hypochondriacal Mr. Woodhouse, garrulous Miss Bates — weren’t these just the sort of bores Deresiewicz had spent his college years struggling to avoid? Maybe, he describes himself conceding, the sole redeeming feature of smug Miss Woodhouse was that she seemed to share his distaste for the dull society of Highbury.

The major difference is that I’m 27 and he describes himself at 26.

* A description of Facebook: “It seemed too much like tv, in reverse. Everybody transmits and nobody watches.” This is why I read Hacker News comments.

* Slate.com posted “The Longform.org Guide to the Porn Industry, which has a bunch of fascinating essays that are safe for work in the sense that they don’t have explicit photos on them. None are quite as good as David Foster Wallace’s “Big Red Sun” in Consider the Lobster, but that’s like accusing a basketball player of not being Michael Jordan. As I read the essays, I kept thinking of Philip K. Dick in some inchoate, ill-defined fashion—perhaps because he’s done so much to shape my thinking about reality and unreality.

Anyway, the next couple links stem from the Slate links:

* “Larry Flynt used to defend Hustler by calling the nude photo layouts “art.” I would come to joke that the porn video is indigenous Southern California folk art. The cheesy aesthetic — shag-carpet backdrops, tanning-salon chic, bad music, worse hairdos — and the everyman approach to exhibitionism are honest expressions of life in the land of mini-malls, vanity plates and instant stardom.” Evan Wright.

* “Those who enjoy whatever private pleasure is to be gained from receiving physical pain publicly would appear not to overlap at all with those who enjoy whatever private pleasure is to be gained from inflicting shame collectively.” From an article nominally about Sasha Grey and the porn industry, but really about expectations in cultural narratives of shame and redemption.

* “I’d call your right now, but I think you’re attending a retrograde ceremony for the artificial binding of two people in a legal contract regarding their sexual and financial behavior. I hope said ceremony at least has an open bar.”

* “Publishing—at least in general, and at least below the very top echelons of management—is not a fast-paced business, and the sense of urgency and desire for efficiency you might find in the offices of an investment bank or law firm don’t generally exist, simply because publishing doesn’t generally attract the sorts of people you often find in those fields.” This may bode ill for the future of the industry as it exists now.

* “I don’t know exactly what the future [of publishing] will look like, but I’m not too worried about it. This sort of change tends to create as many good things as it kills. Indeed, the really interesting question is not what will happen to existing forms, but what new forms will appear.”

* This is pretty funny: “A Game of Thrones” (the TV show) as a buddy comedy.

%d bloggers like this: