When You Need the Tropes – Game of Thrones Edition

I spent a day angry about the Game of Thrones finale. I won’t go into the why, because I’m going to write something larger on that topic later on. Put me in the group of fans that found it highly unsatisfying and leave it at that.

Many of those same people have been saying that the series has dropped off since they left the part that books covered (and really, before that. Season 5 was a mess – the Dorne plot was ridiculous).

The other complaint for fans of this saga is that we’ve been waiting for the next book for seven-and-a-half years (or as I like to call it, the entirety of my eldest child’s lifetime). And since Martin hasn’t given us anything like a meaningful update in at least half that time, we’ve gone through cycles of denial and bargaining and anger and are coming to accept that we may never see the end.

And Megan McArdle has the explanation for that.

In trying to create a world where anything could happen to anyone at any time, he may also have created expectations that could never be fulfilled. We loved surprises such as the carnage of the Red Wedding, because that made the whole thing more believable. But in the end, a good story must deliver something that reality rarely does: a clean narrative arc.

Which meant that despite the illusion that anything could happen, most plausible things actually couldn’t. One way or another, the Starks had to win the battle for humanity, and Westeros, because otherwise why did we spend all those years following them around? Making that feel realistic in a world that isn’t governed by cosmic justice is, well, a heroic task.

You can only deconstruct the tropes of fantasy so far before it becomes an exercise in misery porn. Which is what HBO series tend to trade in (Chernobyl anyone?), but which is not the reason fantasy epics exist. You tweak the tropes to update the genre, not to destroy it.

Too many people would rather it be destroyed because of their own cultural-warfare reasons. It’s enough to make a body disinterested in what the establishment offers us for entertainment.

What Came to me Watching Last Week’s Game of Thrones

Anger be now your song, immortal one

Akhilleus’ anger, doomed and ruinous

that caused the Akaians loss on bitter loss

and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,

leaving so many dead men– carrion

for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.

-The Iliad

Below the fold, the climactic scene in the episode, with Black Sabbath in the background. Obviously, *SPOILERS*. This has also been done with AC/DC, and Metallica, but I like this way better. And seriously, this stuff is R-Rated; it’s incredibly violent.

And Now, Idiots Write Stupid Things About Game of Thrones

This post, which is full of SPOILERS, has been inspired by Ace dumping all over the doubleplus goodthinker who’s mad about the ethnicities of the fictional characters who took it in the shorts in the recent battle with the hordes of undead zombies in front of Winterfell.

It’s literally: “Zombie Apocalypse, Immigrants Hardest Hit”

I guess all those pasty wildlings who died at Hardhome don’t count. Whatever.

{Also, if you want to tout the virtues of immigrants, maybe DON’T connect them in people’s minds a violent horde of pseudo-Mongol cavalrymen who love murder and rape.}

Also, I’m thinking of the brainiac who had to mount the soapbox because no one gave Melisandre the “redemption” that Theon Greyjoy got (and of course takes the opportunity to shoehorn in something about Brett Kavanaugh, because he’s the Villain of the Year). This sort of nonsense is largely self-refuting, because in no way has Melisandre been as central to the story as Theon has. His entire arc of fall, punishment, escape, and redemption has been connected to the main plot and a massive fan favorite. Melisandre has always been a character half-off screen, representing forces larger than herself. It was those forces that gave her the power to do dark and terrible things, and those forces that made her the enemy of the Night. Davos watching her collapse into nothing, her race run, her battle won, was not the obvious Stark-forgives-Theon redemption, but it was something deeper. It was a kind of grace.

Not that I’d expect a dim ideologue to understand that, or if she did, acknowledge it. Her purpose is not to consider such nuance, but to blurp out screaming clickbait and turn everything into a reflection of her religion ideology by ham and by fist. So really, these first two aren’t that bad. They’re obvious and predictable and so far off-base from the show they’re ostensibly critiquing that they aren’t even wrong.

No, I’m talking about the rest of you.

The fans.

The ones who, 8 seasons in, are still SURPRISED when this show doesn’t do what you think it will do.

The ones who are mad at the way the Battle of Winterfell turned out, because in your head it was going to go a completely different way. Because in your head, you had it all figured out. Just like you totally saw the execution of Ned Stark, the rebirth of dragons, the Red and Purple Weddings, Tyrion’s Trial, and everything else coming. Yup. So transparent, this show is.

The Game of Thrones subreddit is full of whining salty tears because the WHOLE SEASON IS RUINED NOW. That whole plot was The Plot. That Villain was T*H*E Villain. It was *SO* obvious, you guys.

And yet, it isn’t. And yet, something else is happening.

When the story is over, you can critique structure, methods, character and purpose. But the story is the story. The Night King is dead because that’s the story in the hands of the showrunners. And it’s folly to complain about what happens in the books because a) the show has been deviating from the books for several seasons, and b) the books are unfinished, and likely to remain so for some time. So any expectations built off of the books are doubly irrelevant. The show is speedrunning to its own conclusion.

And of course, reserve the right to be disappointed by that ending when it does come. Reserve the right to critique everything once we have a complete saga. That’s legitimate. What’s not legitimate is confusing the show as it exists with the one you’re imagining in your head.

Lost in Westeros

So a friend of mine texted me yesterday with the words “New Game of Thrones book out 11/20.” And I got all excited and stuff. Because I’d pretty much given up on ever seeing Winds of Winter this year. And that’s a day before my birthday. Serendipity, right?

RIGHT. TWOW CONFIRMED. GET HYPE!

Oh.

No, winter is not coming… not in 2018, at least.   You’re going to have to keep waiting for THE WINDS OF WINTER.

You will, however, be able to return to Westeros this year, as I suggested  back over on Live Journal.

Archmaester Gyldayn has at last completed and delivered the first half of his monumental history of the Targaryen kings of Westeros, FIRE & BLOOD, and Bantam Spectra and HarperCollins Voyager will be releasing the hardcover on November 20, I am thrilled to say.

This is… not… what I wanted.

And I knew this was happening. I’d read Martin’s blog at the end of last year when he teased that Fire and Blood was happening. And it would be unreasonable to expect the man to get two whole ASOIAF-related books out in one year. So that’s fine. More details of the lives we already explored in World of Ice and Fire. The nerdery is endless.

That’s not what annoys me.

What annoys me is the certainty – the surety – that Winds of Winter will not be published at any point in the eight remaining months of 2018. This is now seven years since A Dance With Dragons. And I know. I know. He Doesn’t Work For Me. He Doesn’t Owe Me Anything. And really, I’m okay with that. You spend enough time on r/asoiaf and the misery at the Long Watch becomes palpable enough to ruin your afternoon. I’m fine with letting the man write. I really am.

Still, though.

The hell are you doing over there, George?

This is the third act of the story, or close to it. This should get easier. You should have this. After seven years, you should have this.

So why doesn’t he?

Ultimately, no one who isn’t Martin knows. But I have a theory.

Here’s a website calling itself “A Winterfell Huis Clos” devoted to analyzing and theorizing the Winterfell plotline in A Dance With Dragons. Details that I had missed from these chapters despite several rereads are brought to the surface and thrashed around, sifted to form patterns that answer certain questions, such as “Who is the one murdering Frey and Bolton men in Winterfell?” (the answer is provocative, and well-argued). There’s a novel’s worth of discussion on this one plotline in one of Martin’s novels.

Here’s a theory, based on the infamous “pink letter” Jon Snow receives at the end of A Dance With Dragons:

The presence of heads above the walls of Winterfell is not quite Ramsay motus operandi. In Moat Cailin, the defeated ironmen were flayed and put on post along the kingsroad. Ramsay brings up the flaying tradition over and over, to the point of carrying a flaying knife assorted to his sword at all times. The heads above the walls of Winterfell seem like Roose Bolton’s behaviour. We never saw Roose flay anyone in the story. When Roose conquered Harrenhal, he did display the heads of the people he had executed.

Now, all of this could be wrong. The pattern may not be aptly read. But the level of detail, and the patterns they suggest, indicate how much is involved with creating this narrative, and the world that sustains it, and the characters that inhabit that world. We can see the difference between a dark character (Roose Bolton) and his psychopathic son (Ramsay), and make inferences accordingly. It’s all there, if you read close enough.

The effort involved in creating such must be staggering. The effort in tying it all together, more staggering still. This gets harder with every word Martin writes, probably.

If we ever see the remaining books, I will be thankful.

Winter is Leaving – A Lament on the Unfinished State of Game of Thrones

wow

Because I actually go so far as to purchase HBONow so I can watch Game of Thrones, because A Song of Ice and Fire is the only fantasy series I’ve gotten my wife to read, because I’m a fan, I occasionally check Wikipedia to see if there’s any rumor of Winds of Winter, the long delayed sixth book in the series. That’s how I got warned about Dance With Dragons, the fifth book, so superstition will have its sway. But I don’t read Martin’s blog (which he calls a “notablog” out of some esoteric contrariness that is no longer funny, if it ever was), because I’m never in the mood to read about what he’s blogging about (Football, the Hugos, and Wild Cars, all the time). And I stopped reading the Song of Ice and Fire subreddit, because the misery in that place is just overwhelming. But I do care. I do want to read the rest of the series, when it’s out.

I try not to complain about George R.R. Martin’s lack of progress. I don’t, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Complaining is a closed-circuit loop of misery. The aforementioned subreddit is a rhetorical minefield of whining. Why anyone would take the time to obsess over something while pretending not to obsess over it and complain on every aspect of its production continues to elude me. I suppose that’s why I’m not a hardcore sports fan. Until we get the books, nothing else will satisfy us, so there’s no purpose to speaking about it. There just isn’t.
  2. Complaining won’t make the books come any faster. It doesn’t matter if we think George is a great artist struggling with a massive work or a lazy old fat bastard who’s coasting on his laurels. It doesn’t matter how we speculate for reasonable time frames and estimates, and then get angry when they aren’t met. It doesn’t matter how righteous the backlash is. Nothing the fans do will bring the book one day closer. Nothing.

Larry Correia has a good discussion on the proper relationships between fans and authors on his web site. In a nutshell, the proper role is as follows:

  • Authors: Do the Work. Get it done. Don’t mess about, or your fans will desert you. And they’ll be right to.
  • Fans. Shut your pieholes about what you think you’re “owed.”  There is no “moral obligation” to write a book. You have no claim on anyone else’s time. See the 13th Amendment for further elucidation.

All that said, I just… want to know what’s taking him so long. I want to know that there will actually be a series to finish reading. I don’t want to abandon this the way I abandoned Wheel of Time (Because that series got self-indulgent and boring, not because of production delays). And I’m afraid I’m going to have to.

I guess I just better write my own series, then.

(Does this mean I’ve decided what to work on when The Sword is finished? Maybe.)

The Biblical Game of Thrones

One of the most interesting things about the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is the all-to-human snapshots it gives of life and politics of the Bronze Age. While the Gospels spreads a moral vision of a perfected humanity, the OT spares us none of the warts and horrors we have come to expect of ourselves.

For example, consider the Books of Kings. Historians have called into question whether Solomon really ruled over the resplendent realm that Scripture describes, but the fall from power that Solomon and his heirs experience has a powerful truthfulness to it. Basically, Solomon grew old and arrogant, taxed too much, married too often, and began to idolize himself. He became the thing that the prophet Samuel warned Israel about when they asked him for a king. And then, under his heirs, the northern part of the realm broke away and formed its own kingdom, worshipping the Golden Calf (because nothing is new under the sun).

The House of David after Solomon, ruling the southern kingdom of Judah, was a mixed group, according to the two Books of Kings. We see some genuine reformers, some hardened idolators, and some in between. But they hung on to power until the Babylonians came calling.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel, on the other hand, was a soap opera out of George R.R. Martin’s most lurid imagination.

The leader of the revolt against Solomon, who became king of the Northern Tribes, was Jeroboam I. He build the Golden Calves, an idolatry the Biblical authors never miss a chance to remind us of and condemn. His son and successor, Nadab, was murdered by Baasha, a captain in Nadab’s army, who stole the throne. As Justice would have it, Baasha’s son and heir, Elah, ruled barely a year before a commander of chariots, Zimri, murdered him while he dined in the house of a steward.

Zimri was king for all of seven days. Apparently he’d neglected to check if the army was really behind him. As soon as the word got out that Elah was dead, the soldiers nominated another commander, Omri, to be king, and Omri laid siege to the palace in Tirzah. Zimri perceived that all was lost and set fire to the palace, burning it down over his head. Omri thereafter ruled from Samaria.

After this, we get a period of relative dynastic stability. Omri’s dynasty rules for three generations. They are followed by the dynasty of Jehu, which manages four generations. Then the old pattern re-emerges. Shallum murders King Zechariah, and rules for a month before being killed by Menahem. Menahem rules ten years, and his son Pekahiah for two, whereupon Pekah assassinates Pekahiah (yeah, there’s a difference). Pekah rules for twenty years before being assassinated himself, by Hoshea. Hoshea was a puppet of the Assyrians, and when he made the mistake of rebelling against them, the Assyrians did what they were famous for, and wrecked the place, brought in foreign tribes, and resettled the Israelites in other parts of the realm. So began the legends of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

genealogy_of_the_kings_of_israel_and_judah

There’s a novel in here somewhere, is all I’m saying…

Resurrection and Identity in Game of Thrones I – The Man of Ice and Fire

Game of Thrones made its mark upon the public consciousness with its mix of fantasy and intrigue but also with its premium-channel willingess to “go there” with sex and violence. Thematically, this has been shown in numerous instances of the Death of the Hero. Not only were Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark shown to be flawed and destroyed by their enemies, but also their avengers – Stannis & Renly Baratheon, Robb & Catelyn Stark, etc., came to untimely ends before our eyes. Death is a god in the eyes of more than one set of characters in Westeros, and its reach, the shows seems to tell us, is unlimited.

Except not really. There are certain characters who still possess what is known as plot armor: they are too essential to the storyline, or readers have invested too much in them, to be discarded. Tyrion Lannister, Danaerys Targaryen, and others are all but assured of at least making it to the climax of the story. They may die in that, but their deaths are to be used on behalf of the climax, and not just as a consequence of their own flaws.

Consequently, this season of Game of Thrones has had a marked interested in the theme of Ressurrection. Characters are being brought back, symbolically and literally, from death and given a new lease on life. Concomitant with resurrections are a shift in identity. The dead/dying characters are not just reborn, but recast as someone new. In this space, I will discuss some of the characters who have or are experiencing rebirth this season. Today, we will deal with the obvious: Jon Snow.

Game-of-Thrones-Jon-Snow-Dead

Continue reading → Resurrection and Identity in Game of Thrones I – The Man of Ice and Fire