“Tear it down and try again, but this time don’t embarrass yourselves.” – Bender B. Rodriguez
I’m left in an unenviable position with the popular backlash to the latest series of Game of Thrones. Longtime readers will know I’ve been gently pointing out the obvious flaws of the show about boobs and dragons for a while, so it is of course gratifying to see everyone admit that I was right all along. On the other hand, there’s few things in the world quite so infuriating as people getting into the same interests as you, and then doing them wrong.
It is a tenet of our modern consumerist society that people want to have exactly what they ask for, instantly, hence our confused relationship with Amazon Prime – like fatty foods, there is the ominous suspicion that it will have dire consequences at some indeterminate point in the future, but here and now it just feels so good. And so, the mild disappointment people have felt over a work of fiction has led directly to legions of them taking to the internet and creating a petition, with some four hundred thousand signatures at the time of writing, to demand that season 8 of Game of Thrones should be remade ‘with competent writers’.
In principle, I don’t even disagree. I’ve taken my swipes at some of the recent plot decisions, and I also put these faults down mainly to the writers and showrunners, the chink in the show’s armour of otherwise well above-average production values. However, I’m also a book snob. If they’re doing to do it again properly, then they should do it again properly, and by this I mean including Lady Stoneheart, not turning the Dorne plotline into Jaime and Bronn’s inconsequential lad’s holiday, and possibly most importantly, including Aegon VI Targaryen. Otherwise they’re just papering over the cracks.
This would have required making major changes, going all the way back to, at the very latest, season 5, which was released in 2015. Remember 2015? Remember the Charlie Hebdo shooting, and Volkswagen getting caught rigging their emissions tests? That’s how far back we’re talking. If remaking season 8 would be costly and implausible, and it absolutely would be, then remaking the show from season 5 on is the stuff of a madman’s dreams.
The petition itself cites the show needing the original books to lean on, but honestly, I can’t imagine the people who have turned against season 8 being all that much happier with a completely faithful adaptation. A number of the plotlines in A Feast For Crows went off the rails a bit, in particular Brienne’s chapters, the bulk of which were one long shaggy-dog story – and there’s a similar problem with most of the preview chapters for The Winds of Winter, almost all of which have gone heavy on walking, roaming, hiking, more walking, and strolling.
In a grimly humorous turn, one flashpoint of the criticism of season 8 has been those who, in the first full flush of Thrones’s popularity, named their children ‘Daenerys’ or ‘Khaleesi’, blissfully unaware of the turn that character would take. But this points to the ultimate reason why this petition came to be, and why it’s quite so ridiculous – a great number of fans are looking to this television show as something more than a simple work of fiction, higher-budgeted and better-produced than most but still a work of fiction, and instead believe it’s something important enough that they’re literally drawing their young family’s identities from it. Let us at least agree that there is something wrong here.
(Ironically, many beloved characters in the show itself, being nobles from feudal dynasties, place great importance on family names. If Tywin Lannister learned his grandchildren were to be called ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Hermione’, he would have vomited with rage.)
My header quotes are often taken from Matt Groening’s animated works, and Bender’s blithe dismissal of a lot of hard work seems an apt summary of the petition, but a close second choice would have been Comic Book Guy’s immortal line ‘as a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me’. This is, perhaps, the cost of Thrones’s immense mainstream success – it has reached a position where it could not possibly hope to satisfy all of its audience. And this isn’t even limited to the narrative itself. People have inevitably read all sorts of contemporary political meanings into it, not helped when the show itself made quite a splash about placing ‘women on top’ going into season 6, alongside Hillary Clinton running for President of America.
Clinton herself, it must be said, didn’t help matters either when she publicly compared herself to Cersei Lannister – which strikes again at the contemporary truths behind the petition. Humans seek out contact and relationships, that’s just the way we are. We as individuals want to believe we have some personal relationship with the stories and brands and trademarks we consider important (a thought which even professional politicians evidently aren’t immune to) when the truth is that we don’t.
That might seem so obvious it barely needs mentioning, but it’s exactly this illusion of a personal relationship that many corporations have attempted to deliberately cultivate. Every time, say, the Wendy’s Twitter account delivers an epic snapback, or whatever it’s called when they get into an internet slapfight, it creates the impression that Wendy’s is a discrete individual with a personality, rather than, like all corporations, a loose assemblage of employees whose goal is to create value for its owners and shareholders.
Possibly the most obvious form this takes is the recurrent argument about ‘representation’ – when works of fiction include characters who belong to minority groups, or when corporations slap a rainbow flag on their advertising. It feigns being a welcoming hand to real-life members of these minority groups, when all too often (universally, in the case of the corporations) it’s a cynical ploy to attract these people as a market by playing on their vulnerabilities.
It’s the same thing with Thrones dipping its toes in the waters of contemporary politics. Whether it agrees or disagrees with your personal perspective, to a certain mindset that inevitably becomes a value judgement about you yourself. And so it moves people to action, and they create petitions to demand it is recreated in a way which doesn’t strike at them personally, rather than taking a step back and recognising that it’s only television, and if you don’t like this one there’ll be something else along in a minute. This isn’t to say, though, that it’s the man in the street’s fault for not knowing fact from fiction. Remember that article about people calling their kids ‘Khaleesi’ I linked above? That’s not from an entertainment news site like this one, that’s from supposed purveyors of hard news The Independent, so if you’re looking for those most responsible for blurring the lines between TV and reality, there you have it.