Weariness Is Coming

Split/Screen
Can the show keep up with the books?
Can the show keep up with the books? // Creative Commons

GC: Dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun-DAH-dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun …

That was a test. If you didn’t hear the song — full stereo sound in your head — while reading that, then this piece will not be for you. I can’t even start to imagine how we would write for the casual “Game of Thrones” viewer, the kind of person who didn’t have March 31 marked on his/her calendar (and burnt into his/her brain). The thought of having to use constructions like “Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) says…” makes my eye twitch a little.

But that’s not to say that I loved the season premiere.

I was waiting to love it, obviously. Otherwise, the waiting would be in vain. And yet — and cruel yet! — this just struck me as a dull episode. Very little advancement of any particular plot. Some beloved characters entirely absent. Lots of what felt like bare and unnecessary reintroduction of characters and themes.

For obvious reasons, “Game of Thrones” has — and will continue forevermore to have — an inflamed case of divided-audience syndrome. There are the viewers who devoured the books, there are the viewers making their way concurrently through the books and the television series, there are the viewers who just watch the series, and every shade of devotion in between ad infinitum. It’d be impossible to satisfy each group on its own terms — regular readers of the “A.V. Club” will know that there are recaps for “newbies” and recaps for “pros” — but the show has largely threaded the needle with aplomb.

Not so this time; I can’t help but feel that this episode was Game of Thrones on training wheels. Our hands were held, and we were spoken to very slowly, so as not to be disoriented.

SN: A generous assessment of this episode, and also a feminist one: The men of Westeros shuffle around looking dead-eyed, scarred and dehydrated. But the women march on with grim determination and a swish of turquoise skirts. I enjoyed the exchange between Ros and Shay, a mutual recognition of how far they’d come: two prostitutes whom we’d all assumed were typical HBO props have actually gained power, which is not something many can say in this war.

And there’s a new queen in town! Margaery Tyrell has arrived. She was level-headed during that potentially-traumatic wedding night with Renly, and remained cool after he, her main asset, was eliminated, managing to parlay that into an even better position in the court. And what has she done with that power? Other leaders may worry about soldiers or tenants, but House Tyrell has rolled out bona fide social welfare programs.

Yet I have to concede that this episode did not explode right out the gate. The ending scene was particularly anticlimactic, as if Messrs. Benioff and Weiss have totally dispensed with the dramatic conventions of the episode form: Why bother with a cliffhanger when they know they’ve got their audience good and captured? Audience interest will be sustained no matter what they do. Recall, if you will, that the series premiere went out with a graphic (incestuous!) sex scene and a ten-year-old boy getting shoved out a window. The season three premiere? The reappearance of some old knight who, at some point, we may have had some feelings about that one time he threw down his sword in some show of defiance or something.

As someone who’s read “A Storm of Swords,” I know that all too much action lies ahead.
Yet I worry that “Game of Thrones” will slacken its pace permanently. It no longer has anything to prove; it can take its sweet time. To me, its larger structural problem is not built into its audience, but built into its source material. You noted the absence of certain beloved characters — and by that I assume you meant Arya and Bran — and that problem will only worsen. The pleasure and gaping pitfall of the novels is that the characters only multiply, and the map continues to expand. Frenetically switching between scattered points of interest means that each plot moves mere inches at a time.
The showrunners have already indicated that the third book of the series has been split into two seasons. I used to think this meant that they would adapt it with loving care. Now I worry that they are just going to transcribe hundreds of pages into slow-moving hours, rather than consolidating, editing, and you know, writing.

GC: Wow. Grim portents. Normally I’m the severe one. Still, come next Sunday I’ll be watching, avidly. Even if this was a momentum-blunting episode, the monkey is not so easily bucked from one’s back. We just need some forward motion to go along with the sideways shuffle and positioning of plot pieces.

Or, reductively, and in the words of another King: “a little less conversation, a little more action please.”

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