The main complaint of Game of Thrones this season is that it suffers from rushed and lazy writing, leaning heavily on explanations from D&D (D.B. Weiss & David Benioff) in the “inside the episode” after show rather than a natural progression of events.
This is what has caused such a terrible divide among fans of the show and books.
Characters who’s arcs have been developed, over the last seven seasons and numerous published books, have been stripped away; leaving them as no more than pawns in a game of chess played between preschoolers.
Jamie Lannister: A character who started off as an incestuous, child maiming, pretty boy earned his fall from… (well, I can’t call it grace). He certainly deserved a death early on but managed to make it all the way to the final season. His character progression saw him lose everything that made him a horrible human being. In doing so, he learned compassion, respect, and true honor.
He stepped into season 8 like a golden lion. Sure, we knew he was destined to die. This is Game of Thrones. It’s all about the consequences of actions. Nobility or the depth of a characters evil nature is not what gets a character killed. It is the actions they take and the consequences of those actions. Jamie came to fight the good fight with the living. He should have died at the battle of Winterfell, completing his characters redemption arc, earning him an honorable death. But that honorable death never came, despite the odds stacked way too heavily against him.
Plot Armor – A character’s unusual ability to survive infinite damage, due to their importance to the story.
The writers chose to keep Jamie Lannister alive, against all odds, for another purpose.
What purpose was it?
After knighting Brienne and taking her virginity, he turns his back, not only on her, but all of his new allies in the North, and return to Cersei, because…. “He’s a hateful man.”
Character Arc Assassination – A deliberate effort to derail the journey of a character in a story simply to alter their reputation or credibility.
(Yeah I made that one up, but dammit, it fits, doesn’t it?)
Jamie’s actions make no logical sense when you look at his character arc. The journey his character has taken that had people rooting for the incestuous, child maiming, kingslayer to live. Everything he has learned along the way, all the hardships, the loss, the personal sacrifices, the risk he took just to make it to Winterfell… It was all worthless because in the end, even after Bronn admitted to being hired by Cersei to kill him, Jamie returned to her for one last embrace; so they can die in each other’s arms.
What? No! This makes no sense.
“But…. Don’t you see? He’s an addict. This is classic regression for an addict.”
Is it? Has he been presented like a true addict? I don’t think so. That is a convenient excuse for lazy character motivations to rush a character back to their predestined death spot.
Here’s the thing about character arcs. If you have to ask “why,” because a character’s actions don’t make sense, then the character is not acting “in character.” When you pull a reader, watcher, or fan out of the fantasy world because they are stuck on a point like this, you have made a serious mistake. It’s not subverting expectations, (the buzz word D&D keep throwing around). They have deviated so far from the believability of the character that even casual fans have noticed. Hint: Fans don’t like this.
The Night King: This is a creation of the show writers largely based on a few elements in the books. However that does not discount the importance of a created character that has been built up through the entire set of seasons as the big bad. The expectation of this particular confrontation has been teased. The prophesy surrounding how he is supposed to be defeated has been teased. We were given the “Prince or Princess that was promised” plotline, expecting the big reveal to be Jon or Dany. Countless YouTube channels have developed from fans dissecting the show and the books all to learn the truth as they eagerly awaited the fulfillment of this prophesy. This is what fans do. This is the thing that keeps merchandising dollars rolling in, keeps the show on people’s lips, floods comic conventions and panels. Word of mouth is the best marketing money can’t buy and it pays out in dividends. Never. Ever. Forget your fans!
Jon or Dany. R+L=J. The secret Targaryen. The child of Ice and Fire. Jon or Dany (some would argue), one of those two had to be the one to wield Lightbringer, and destroy this big villain. Bring an end to the long night once and for all!
Instead, because D&D decided to, “subvert expectations.” They ignored all the prophesy they created. It meant nothing. It was just a red herring.
Red Herring – A clue that leads in the wrong direction.
They teased us for years with this, and in the end, the long night was anything but. Seemed like a pretty regular evening time wise. Winter came and went despite the Stark family reminding us endlessly for 8 seasons that it was coming. And the prince that was promised… I doubt anyone would live if they called Arya that to her face.
She was not meant to do this. It was a tactical choice by the show runners to play into the hot trope of Women Empowerment going on in Hollywood.
Trope – A commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.
And before you attack me for being against powerful women, I’m not. I love Arya. Her character is one of my favorites. I expect great things from her. She’s well trained and totally capable. But she is not the Prince who was promised. Sorry. That’s not her arc.
Subverting Expectations – Playing Bait and Switch with a Trope.
D&D have openly admitted that they chose Arya to kill the Night king because it was not expected. They had set us up to believe it would be Jon or Dany and then pulled the rug out from under us because it would subvert our expectations.
Time Stamp 32.33
The argument has been made that Game of Thrones is all about subverting expectations. And because of that they felt this particular subversion was warranted.
True, Game of Thrones has been, in the past, a great example of what it meant to successfully subvert expectations in an organic and satisfying way.
Ned Stark, a man who chose nobility no matter the personal cost, lost his life because politics is not a game for noble (in the sense of morality) men to play. That was a very poignant subversion of fan expectations. It struck a real chord with fans because unlike general fantasy, where the good guy always wins, we were served up a mirror of our reality in the portrayal of these fantasy characters.
Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, introduced to us as an irredeemable villain in the first episode, is later revealed his act of oath breaking saved the city of Kings Landing from being destroyed by wildfire. This subversion of expectations speaks to the truth that the vilest among us can also perform heroic deeds.
Arya Stark, a child, a girl at that, little more than ten years old. Essentially orphaned on the streets of Kings Landing during a tumultuous changing of the monarchy, should have died many times over. But, through a combination of street smarts and building connections on her journey, not only survives, but becomes a capable assassin. This is a subversion of expectations that creates a sense of kinship with fans. It shows us the payoff of resourcefulness and persistence.
The way Game of Thrones, in the past, used subversion of expectations did it in ways that engaged fans and gave them a narratively satisfying conclusion to events they had set in motion. Even the most shocking of events in the show: Ned’s Death, The Red Wedding, Purple Wedding, Sansa’s Wedding night (weddings are dangerous in Westeros), Oberyn’s fight with the Mountain, John Snow’s death at Castle Black, and Cersei blowing up the Sept. All of them came after layers of setup, and while shocking to witness, they were not narratively unexpected outcomes of the story.
This is where Game of Thrones Season 8 had abused the plot device of subverting expectations. They have confused the shocking results of events that have been carefully set up with simply shocking the audience with events that have no set up.
They offer spectacle, but no story to back it up. Shock with no value. This isn’t the Howard Stern show, this is Game of Thrones.
Daenerys Targaryen going full on Mad Queen and lighting up Kings Landing, indiscriminately burning soldiers and innocents alike. This came after Cersei’s army surrendered. Instead of turning her justified anger toward the Red Keep where Cersei and her precious Iron Throne was, we were expected to believe she would do something this outrageous?
Oh wait, only a scene or two before, her nephew refused to sleep with her. Yep, that’s enough motivation to push her over the edge.
I don’t think so.
“Oh but if you were paying attention you should have expected this.” One half of the fandom cries out, desperately clinging to their memories of better seasons.
Daenerys going mad. Yes I can believe that. With the appropriate amount of building toward this outcome. Daenerys has shown she is willing to do what it takes to achieve her goals, but she has never been without empathy. She locked away her dragons when they burned a little girl. She empowered countless slaves to free themselves using the example of her unsullied army. An army, if you recall, she freed and willingly followed her into battle.
“Oh, but she burned the masters. That’s not very nice.”
Yes she did. And they deserved it. I never said Dany was incapable of ruling with an iron fist. She’s proven that time and time again. But in her quest for the power she feels she is owed, Daenerys has always acted with empathy for the people. She broke away from her quest for the Iron Throne to help Jon defeat the Night King. She didn’t have to do that. She could have torched King’s Landing anytime she wanted, especially when she had 3 full grown dragons.
RIP: Rhaegal, and Viserion
“But she’s a Targaryen, and they go mad!” you say.
You’ve seen one Targaryen go mad among a reign of approximately 300 years. And heard their enemies claim it’s a family trait. 300 years of Targaryen reign should have produced more infamous mad kings and queens if that were the case. As it stands, telling me that madness is preordained because of parentage is another lazy excuse to explain why a character suddenly shifted from their standard behavior.
Let’s go back to what I said above with Jamie Lannister. His character arc was destroyed by this same kind of lazy excuses that need explanations from D&D in the “inside the episode.”
If you want a satisfying end to a character arc, you have to earn it. You have to show us. Give the fans real tangible reasons to believe that a woman who has fought so hard for power, and endured countless hardships to get where she was, would give up and turn her back on the world. That takes time.
Which brings me to my final point.
Artists owe their fans respect.
When an author writes a book, and it is loved by all, and they promise an epic series, they set an expectation. Fans, readers, whatever you want to call them, are your patrons. They are paying you for your work and all the merchandising deals that work creates. Remember my point above about Comic Conventions, Merchandise, YouTube channels, etc…. When you make that promise to deliver the completed work, those fans deserve your best. Any self-respecting artist wants to produce only their best, so typically, the system works out.
However GRRM stopped progression on his series. He left numerous plot threads on the table. Still promising to tie them all up, of course, but he has yet to do it. So, when D&D reached the point of the story where they no longer had source material to fall back on, they did what they had to do. They promised us a complete series, and we are one episode left from them achieving their goal.
D&D are not GRRM. They do not have the same love for these characters that their creator does. No one can love their creation more than the creator. So there was no possible way they could have ended this series in the way it should have ended.
That does not absolve them, however, of the task of producing the best possible work. HBO would have given them more time. They have gone on record, many times, saying they were done with Game of Thrones at 8 seasons.
D&D set the finish line and rushed towards it as fast as they could, forgetting their duty to their fans. They chose to rush plots, destroy character arcs, and ignore prophesy; using the mantra of “subverting expectations” to lead their plot arc decisions.
Just like “The North remembers,” so to do the fans.
Right now there is a petition going around with over one million signatures. Let me say that again, louder for the people in the back. More Than One Million Signatures!!!
Will HBO remake the season? I doubt it. But fans have made their voices heard. They have said loud and clear that they lack faith in D&D because they botched the end of this massively loved geek phenomenon. That is bound to have consequences. Only time will tell what those are. But, as of tomorrow night, Our Watch Has Ended!