Game of Thrones does denouemonts really well

article-0-1D189DD800000578-933_634x445We’re coming up to the last episode of this season of Game of Thrones, and we know it’ll have some stunning twist or much-talked-about moment. But we also know that it won’t be nearly as intense as this week’s episode. We know that in some ways it’ll mostly be a wrap-up. Loose ends will be tied off. We’ll figure out how Arya is gonna get to Westeros and what she’ll do when she gets there. Maybe we’ll find out whether the Hound is still with the Brotherhood. Maybe Bran will be shown coming into his powers. Possibly Dorne will be featured (not that anybody cares).

This is something Game of Thrones does really well. I remember the episode after the Red Wedding, for instance, which starts with Joffrey dispensing favors to all the lords who supported him. Too many shows ignore this. Or they attempt to start a season by doing the wrap-up to last season’s finale, which is completely backwards, since the beginning of a season is for the beginning of things and not the ends of things.

I honestly think the best part of any long narrative is the wrapping-up. I live for this. I want to know who married who and who ended up where. I want to know if they were happy in the end, or if everything sucked. I can enjoy and respect a finale like The Good Wife, which essentially said, “You’ve watched the story of somebody’s transformation, and what’s happened is that she’s gonna keep being the person she’s become.” But when I write a story I usually give it a finale like Parks and Recreation had, where they jump fifty years in the future and you see everybody’s fate in exhaustive detail.

Game of Thrones is a show that respects loose ends. We see Bronn again. We see Podrick again. We even see Bronn hang out with Podrick. Hell, we see Osha again! We learn why Hodor is Hodor. We meet Samwell’s shitty parents. Everything circles around, if we wait long enough, and I think it’s fucking awesome.

Television does a really good job with stories where nothing really happens

The problem with the most recent books in the Game of Thrones series is, more or less, the problem with the most recent season of the show: nothing really happens.

Sure, people move around a lot, but there is very little going on in the way of events. Even large pitched battles and changes in political position aren’t very much in evidence during those books. These books are basically several thousand pages of Brienne trying to find Sansa or Tyrion trying to find Daenerys or Arya trying to do…something or Bran wandering north of the wall. There’s lots of motion, but little resolution.

And this season of the TV series has, as far as I can tell, been exactly the same. With the exception of the developments in King’s Landing (which were also one of the only really dynamic parts of the last two books), we’re not really in a different place right now, in episode six, from where we were in episode one.

But that’s okay, because that’s exactly what we expect from TV.

In television–even in modern television with its season- and series-long arcs–we don’t really expect permanent movement. Take Mad Men for instance. The show could’ve ended at the end of any season. They were all the same. Don falls apart and pulls himself back together. The only uncertainty was in seeing exactly where in the cycle the series would choose to end.

Because that’s what television does. It takes an underlying contradiction in a character, and it extracts every iota of drama (or comedy) from that conflict, until finally the whole thing is so played out that the series either needs to switch focus or it needs to end.

3870982-jorah+mormontAnd in the most recent season of Game of Thrones, we can see there’s still plenty of drama left in these characters. Every one of Daenerys’ plots is the same: is she fickle and mad like her father? Or can she be a powerful and canny ruler?

It’s the same with Tyrion: is he the feckless waste of space that his father thought he was? Or is he a canny schemer?

Does Jaime have a sense of honor? Or is he just a higher-born version of Bronn?

Does Jorah Mormont have any sort of higher calling? Or is he just obsessively fixated on Daenerys?

These are huge, interesting conflicts, and it’s interesting to see them play out. I don’t expect any of them to be resolved in a satisfactory way, because none of them can be resolved satisfactorily. In the end, we know there are only two answers. Either Tony Soprano is a responsible, family man or he’s a sociopath. The pleasure of TV comes from the fact that we know both of these alternatives are unsatisfying and incomplete, and that the show only works so long as both possibilities are held in suspension. We know that for as long as the show continues, Tyrion will sabotage himself. We know that for as long as the show continues, Samwell will sometimes fall prey to cowardice. We know that Jon will sometimes be high-handed and arrogant. In the end, no matter how dynamic the plot of a television show might be, the characterization is (usually) fundamentally fairly static, and that’s why Game of Thrones is satisfying in a way that A Song Of Ice And Fire is not.

This season I’m liking the Game of Thrones TV show ALOT more than I liked the books

Grey_Worm_Profile(light spoilers for the latest episode lie ahead)

I read A Song Of Ice And Fire when I was in high school (i.e. before it hit the mainstream, you posers =) and as such I think I’m allowed to say that I think the TV show is better. In fact, I already did say it, a few years ago. But back then my thinking was that the TV show was slightly better, because, in a few isolated cases, it corrected some errors that the show had made.

Now, though, I have to say that I think it is much better, because it’s started to create new and compelling content. For instance, in the books, Grey Worm is a placeholder character. He just represents someone Daenerys can talk to when she wants to make the Unsullied do something. But in the TV show, he is shockingly compelling (and the view of Unsullied–and, by extension, human–sexuality is much more nuanced and interesting that I would’ve expected from this show).

Similarly Jon’s interactions on the wall in this latest episode, both with Tormund and with his fellow sworn brothers, were pretty engaging. Tormund, for one thing, humanized the wildlings. Up to this point, they’d come off as a bit of a noble savage caricature. But Tormund’s obvious trepidation and angst over Jon’s offer was something new. And whereas in the books the sworn brothers seemed completely unreasonable in their unwilingness to accept the wildlings, here in the show, it feels much more understandable.

The show feels like it has more room to milk all the natural human drama out of what’s occurring. For instance, the scene where Aemon Targaryen talks about Daenerys is a no-brainer, but it’s not something that did (or could’ve) existed in the book, because the book was relentlessly focused on its viewpoint characters at the expense of all the side characters. The show has also settled down into a more relaxed pace. Things aren’t happening as fast. There’s a sense of wheels spinning, in some ways. So more weight is being placed on character interaction. All in all, I’m actually very compelled.

All of George R. R. Martin’s child characters are off by about three years

hklgI am still making my slow, but steady, way through Ulysses. But a splitting headache impelled me to take the afternoon off and read The Hedge Knight, which is the first of the prequel novellas George R. R. Martin wrote for the world that inspired the Game of Thrones TV show. This is probably one of my favorite-ever short novels. It doesn’t really have the punch that one associates with a short story, but it does tell a perfectly contained little adventure story: basically, it has all the virtues that Martin’s high fantasy novels have and many virtues (compression, precision) that they do not. However, the kid in it is 8 years old. And, well, I don’t have extensive experience with children, but he just does not seem like a second or third grader. He’s way too witty and worldy-wise. I mean, some kids are precocious, but it just doesn’t read right. He ought to be at least 11 or so.

And this holds true for all of the kids. Does Joffrey really seem like a 12 year old? Does Robb really seem like a 15 year old? Is Arya really 9? Is Daenerys really 14? What’s weird is that all of the kids definitely seem like kids–they just feel like kids who are about three years older than their characters’ stated age. This is yet another way in which the TV series is better than the books, since–even if they kept the stated age in the same place–the actors tend to be a few years older than the characters they play. Thus, on a visual level, the actors seem to match up with our mental conception of where the characters should be.

However, the weird ages of the characters in Martin’s novels turn out not to matter very much, since almost every reader just tends to imagine them as being older than they really are. This is yet another example of the effect I noted with regards to black characters: you can say whatever you want about the characters, but you’re going to need to say it again and again and again if it’s going to override the reader’s biases (in this case, the reader’s conception of what characters of various ages sound like).

So yeah.

In other me-related news, I did only very light writing for a few days because I was worn out from finishing the novel, but then I realized that I have only eight days left before Sewanee! EEEP, I still need to do another round of edits for This Beautiful Fever. Luckily, I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do, and I feel like I should be able to get it done in under 15 hours of work. But still, I gotta get cracking!

Scattered thoughts on the second season of Game of Thrones

So, when I watched the first season of Game of Thrones last year, it somehow wasn’t particularly compelling to me. Since I read the books, I already knew what was going to happen, and I wasn’t particularly interested in watching it played out onscreen. I finished the first season, but I didn’t rave about it. This year, I watched the first episode of the second season and then put the whole thing aside. I just didn’t feel any desire to watch the rest.

Yesterday, I finally watched the second episode, and I found myself intensely gripped. I rapidly watched the next two episodes. And I have no doubt that within a few days, I’ll have watched the rest of the season.

This makes me remember, “Oh, wait, this is exactly what happened with the books.”

Way back in the mists of prehistory, when I was a high school sophomore, I basically slogged my way through A Game Of Thrones. I enjoyed it enough to keep reading, clearly, but it was also just a little boring. The death of Eddard Stark at the end of the first book was just surprising enough to rescue the book from being a failure, in my eyes. So it was only with reluctance that I picked up the second book. However, from the moment I began reading the second book, I was captivated.

Since then, I’ve read the first book several times and considerably enjoyed each re-read, so I’m not quite sure what put me off the first time. Maybe it was all the children. The worst thing about A Song Of Ice And Fire are the children. Particularly Bran. My god, he’s dull. In five books, he’s done absolutely nothing. Arya has a more action-packed life, and it definitely caught my interest….but it definitely wasn’t ever what kept me reading. Only Sansa sometimes crosses my interest threshold (but then, isn’t she the most nearly adult of all of them?)

Anyways, the series of really good. Arya’s storyline is surprisingly interesting. Perhaps that’s because it’s just so horrifying. There’s really something about seeing it that is different from just reading about it. All of the little side characters she encounters along the way also have so much more life in the series than they ever did in the books: Gendry, Lommy, Hot Pie, and the Tickler all have some kind of solidity to them.

I think that’s true of the series in general. It’s definitely done wonders for even some of the more important minor characters. Tywin Lannister, for instance, was an imposing figure in the books, but in the series there’s also a hint of humanity to him.

And, of course, the best character resuscitation is that of Renly/Loras. Okay, I knew that they were lovers in the books. But really I only knew that because of a fan-made FAQ. It is really not at all obvious. And that’s for a simple reason: I don’t expect to the homosexual romance in a modern book to be subtextual.

For instance, it’s obvious (to me, at least) that Ishmael and Queequeeg were lovers in Moby Dick, even though it’s never directly acknowledged. They sleep in the same bed and spoon and Queequeeg calls Ishmael his wife and they hold hands while kneading a barrel of sperm. It’s totes obv.

I understand why Melville had to be so coy. I mean, that was the 1800s (although he was considerably less coy than Martin’s books). But it seems a little antiquated that Martin inserted this homosexual relationship into his books in such a veiled manner. It comes off as more of a box-ticking exercise than any real engagement with the world. Like, “Oh yeah, there should be gays. Oh, and we’ll put an island of black people somewhere too.”

Anyways, I am glad that the movie corrected this oversight. And they did it so deftly, too. Renly and Loras are, like, a real couple. I particularly like that their relationship is not just sexual (although in every case that we see them together, they’re about to start having sex), but that Loras is very involved (perhaps more involved than Renly) in this whole plan to turn Renly into a king. And I like how the show steers clear of shoving them into a feminine/masculine dichotomy. Both of them are a little foppish and a little foolish and, in their scenes, they trade off on the role of being the wiser head. There’s also no implication (in their scenes together) that whoever tops the other in bed is also the one who is more worthy of respect. Yay for not assigning normative value to sexual roles.

Oh, and the Daenerys plotline (which, in the books, is completely tepid) is also marginally more interesting to me in the show, although I have a sneaking suspicion that this might just be because the actor who plays Jorah Mormont is so handsome. I think I have the opposite problem with Jon Snow’s plotlines. Those were pretty interesting in the books, but there’s something about Jon Snow’s goofy looks that’s putting me off.

So….yeah…I’m just going to come out and say it….I’m thinking about adding this show to my list of movie/television adaptations that are better than the books.* Who’s with me on this?

*The other items on my list: The Prestige; Legally Blonde; The Devil Wears Prada; The Godfather; Minority Report; Total Recall.