Once upon a time Ian McShane (a first rate actor who for whatever reason received the most bit of bit parts in Game of Thrones) got himself in a lot of trouble for leaking part of the plot prior to airing. McShane’s response has remained one of my favorite quotes for some time: “I was accused of giving the plot away, but I just think, get a fucking life. It’s only tits and dragons.” They should put that quote on the Blu-ray box cover for this series.
If you remember back to the very beginning, that’s all this show was originally intended to be. When David Benioff and D. B. Weiss pitched this to HBO they spouted a whole bunch of high minded nonsense, but what this show really was always meant to be is a play on the typical fantasy genre, just with the sex and violence thrown into overdrive. It was kitty litter for men who loved Lord of the Rings but didn’t get the level of nudity and decapitations they wanted.
But, somewhere along the way this show became mainstream. For example, routinely the number one most read Washington Post article on the Monday after each new episode is Game of Thrones:
Somewhere in this fact is a weird (and very disturbing) correlation and theory that the newspaper readers of the capitol’s elite are also big time Game of Thrones fans.
To paraphrase, the criticism has always focused on the nihilism, the manipulation of base instincts, the lack of any character to really cheer for, and generally the lack of any real point. Game of Thrones has had such an influence on the screen and many other shows have sought to copy it. Here’s what I wrote back in 2017 whilst ripping apart Ripper Street:
“This is very much in the vein of Game of Thrones. I no longer watch Game of Thrones but generally keep abreast of what happens in the show. And I’m always struck in discussions with friends or coworkers who still watch and who try to self-rationalize what they see on screen. They seem to think somehow that by the end of Game of Thrones it will all somehow all work out. They talk themselves into it. Almost as if they need it.
They typically will focus on Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen as an example of the good one, or the one to root for, or the one who by the end of the series will emerge with at least some sense of accomplishment. This is in fact a specific plot point brought up within the show itself, where Danny is there to break the cycle, to stop the chaos, to bring some sense of peace to an absolutely horrific world.
But I always ask my friends and coworkers why this must be so? Why must, or should, Game of Thrones end in such a way? Why can’t the white walkers just kill everybody in the last episode? Why can’t Daenerys end up on the throne atop a pile of murdered corpses? Why must there be any redemption or peace at all, when all that’s occurred thus far is chaos and has no meaning?”
And so here we are, Game of Thrones is almost done and indeed Daenerys has ended up on the throne atop a pile of murdered corpses. To which I’ll say, what were viewers expecting? What did they think this show actually was?
It has greatly amused me to read the online reviews from professionals and ordinary people as they try to come to grips with the reality of what this show actually is, and always has been.
Myles McNutt over at A.V. Club had this to say after the white walker battle a few weeks ago:
“This is yet another large-scale battle, similar to the Battle Of The Bastards, where the moment you start getting your breath back and begin taking stock of what happened, the spell of the immersion breaks and you realize that there’s not as much “there” there as you were hoping for.”
It’s because there’s not a “there” actually “there”. The only thing that’s “there” is tits and dragons.
Or here’s a Twitter quote from ordinary average person “carol”:
“turning daenerys the mad queen because everyone betrayed her, making her look like a fool and weak, kill her dragons… in this essay I will explain why mean can’t write female characters”
This brings up another point I’ve always found weird, that Game of Thrones is some progressive icon movement, which probably helps to explain the Washington Post popularity. But to “carol” I guess I again come back to what did you expect? Game of Thrones was your feminist icon show? Really? Spare me.
Before I stopped watching this show I remember the scene where Petyr Baelish (played by the always excellent Aidan Gillen) gives a monologue soliloquy on why he’s such a manipulator. Gillen is so talented, this is a scene worthy of Shakespeare. Except, during the entire scene behind Gillen are two women engaged in extremely hardcore lesbian sex. Did “carol” or other people forget that this scene (and many other like it) happened? Or did they think that Game of Thrones matured? Or did they try and rationalize these aspects of the show somehow?
I think history will look back on this show and people will be like, why was this trash so popular? For example, remember Survivor, back in 2000 over 50 million people (50 million! when the US population was way smaller) watched the Season 1 finale. I was one of them. What the hell were we all thinking? I feel so ashamed and baffled.
Everybody is searching for any connection to other humans in this social media world. Once upon a time Friends and Seinfeld would routinely crank north of 30 million viewers each episode. Now almost no show can reach those numbers, not even Game of Thrones. So unless you love sports or politics, a lot of people are left searching for their water cooler topic, their connection to another human being. I think Game of Thrones became that topic. And in the process a lot of people tacked a lot of faith and emotions onto a show that simply didn’t deserve such a commitment.
This show will provide an ending that each individual viewer deserves. If someone loved Lord of the Rings but wanted more severed limbs and tons of sex, this show gave them what they wanted. If somebody was looking for high drama, meaning, purpose, or even joy, then they were foolish and are going to get the horrifying ending they deserve.
It’s always just been tits and dragons, folks. There are so many entertainment other options nowadays, with limitless shows to choose from, use your eyeballs wisely.
burning away misguided expectations