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6/06/2012

The Blood, The Bad and the Ugly - Game of Thrones reviewed

 

Hit-and-Miss

So here we are again, at the end of Season 2 of the highly anticipated Game of Thrones fantasy epos. Let me first say that, on a psychological scale from yay to nay, I'm more happy than sad that it's over now. Granted, these last two episodes (especially Episode 9, "Blackwater") were definitely highlights, so I can share the praise at least to some extent, but overall, well, no, I can't.

It would be easiest to pull the "worst episode ever" card on me now and call me a book loving nerd, or a nag - you can do that if you like.



The Simpsons - Game of Thrones Homage from snogshovydar on Vimeo.



In fact, I did read the books, but contrary to the legends about book people I think I should have enjoyed it more, because I read them. The written word is neither superior, nor should it be confined by two large covers. We book people have long moved past these judgmental methods of media limitation. At least that's what has been decided on the last big meeting. :-)

The realization that hit me (while axes were thrown, and guts and heads went flying like confetti), is, that ingredient-wise this highly polished production has everything it needs to potentially stun and amaze even the most genre-opposed audience. The casting choices have been close to my own idea of those characters (which is a backhanded compliment to myself, yes) and the acting on some parts is amazing, especially Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), the sadistic yet cowardly boy-king. The settings are magnificent, the CGI wolves are mind-blowing and the directors do a fantastic job.

And yet, some things just can't be brought to life by sheer force of will. It's a problem of adaptability more than anything else.


Voices of their own; Bran Stark's direwolf and companion Summer


I didn't see the problem as much in Season 1, but it was palpable even then. The first season benefited from strong plot lines, intrigue and ominously lurking dangers, on the far side of the wall and below; but I think the novelty bonus added some wiggle room, that's why I gave it my thumbs up.

 

Flighty Flight

Season 2 has some issues, brought on by the book, combined with a plot-related misjudgment on the part of the screenwriters, and the compact format exposes these flaws without mercy.


The episodes rush through major events like a freight train, and the breakneck speed converts story peaks to staging posts on a flat plain towards episode 9, its central station.

Everyone wants something. Everyone has good reason to feel as though their claim on the throne is justified. And then there are those who just want to survive. Some of them flee.
That's what happens - but then some!


Martin's Éowyn Brienne of Tarth: She's the Man
Fleeing or traveling might in itself look like a minor part of a story, something you can easily skip to get to the next big event, but it seems like such a rookie mistake to completely discard the trickle.

Important stuff happened before that ring got thrown down Mount Doom.
- For one thing, someone was attached to it still. (Ok, that was a bit polemic, I admit)

As it is a well-known tradition in fantasy, the journey itself often gives rise to major plot moments. But here, some of those moments subsequently got lost - editor said! Of course I am not talking about the things they left out on purpose, they had to do that, I'm talking about missing things in the story lines they portrayed.


[Spoiler Alert] I'll give you an example from book 2. Aria is a strong voice in the story. She flees from King's Landing, hiding her identity and sex, gets caught and beaten, witnesses torture until she feels wildly determined to kill all men that did wrong by her and her friends (she recites the Hit List of men to kill like a prayer a myriad of times, adding more men each night - we saw it only one time on TV). At the end of her journey to Harrenhal, a man she saved earlier offers to "repay" his debt by killing three men of her choosing. It borders on obsessive when she starts to re-evaluate her picks to Jaqen H'ghar not by urgency but by personal gain. In the book she is tormented by this situation, and the inability to "make the right choice" almost suffocates her - until she discovers how to trick him. This is one of those crucial moments for a character arc, because it brings on a change. On TV, Aria was still Aria, unwashed and unbroken.[/Spoiler Alert]


Strategic Gaps

It makes complete sense, that, for a series with 10 episodes (Hardback about 900 written pages), each episode has to be packed with information to get through the story as a whole. They didn't leave out many of the "things happening", and yet,  storytelling is not only things happening, plots and subplots, coercion and consequence. A Clash of Kings has one of those jam-packed stories where, with only 10 episodes at one's disposal, you just have to leave some things out to make pivotal story elements stand out at the center of it. Characters need to be established with care to make the audience care for them in turn. 

In total, the book offers 9 Points of Views, and I think that not even half of them are fairly represented in the series.

One thing that's missing to achieve that goal is also representative of Martin's strengths as a writer. He is a virtuoso in interweaving self-reflective observations with dialogue. As a result, the reader gets to know each one of those characters, and is able to unravel them, layer by layer.
In the TV series, Tyrion comes off quite well, but even he lacks depth. We hear him saying all those smart things. What could easily be mistaken as being annoying, or bit of a know-it-all, Peter Dinklage is skillful enough to avoid as an actor. But it doesn't mean it's not there.



Varys and Tyrion talking battle strategy before Blackwater
What only readers may know about Tyrion is that one of the traits of being such a good strategist is being able to understand and read people's motivations like an open book. That's his talent. He reflects on people's behavior as he speaks with them, so the reader finds out how his brain works in the process. His POV creates a large amount of intimacy, and is unfortunately completely lost with visual methods of narration only.

 

 

 

High Level Complaints

 

I guess that's how it goes on TV. Same as it is in fictional battles. Win some, lose some. The fact that I may be the only person on Earth who didn't like the second season as much as the first one doesn't bother me as much as the outlook for season 3 troubles me. 10 episodes, one major event in the middle, then anticlimactic until the end, even more "useless" traveling involved, 12 POVs. Not to be a prophet of doom here, but if the hype does wear off until next year, I see big fat "cancellation" written in the series' future. And as much reasons as I just gave you on why I prefer the books, I still would hate to see that happening - just because it would mean missing out on such spectacular moments as the one below.