How Game of Thrones caved-in to the Norms of Television

There’s no one explanation for how Game of Thrones became a culture-spanning phenomenon. Slipping into the microscopic gap between the Golden Age of Television and the binge-watch era, HBO’s fantasy epic earned an investment of resources from its network that would have been unthinkable previously for such a budget-conscious medium and managed to bind together a diverse group of fans…

There’s the book readers who largely rejected Benioff and Weiss’ vision for the show’s ending and the book readers fed up with Martin for failing to execute his own. There’s the people who have lived with the show and its characters for eight years and the people who started watching eight weeks… or even eight days ago.

Every single one of these groups had a different idea of how Game Of Thrones should end. And so we shouldn’t be surprised that the final season has been divisive, or that some people have gone so far as to risk the public embarrassment of signing an online petition to force HBO to change the show’s ending.

But we also shouldn’t pretend that the sheer diversity of the show’s viewership and the impossibility of pleasing everyone means that the writers get a free pass… It may be unreasonable to critique the show for not following an exacting set of expectations, but it is reasonable to hold the show accountable for a series of choices in these final seasons which took the show away from what it did best.

Once a Hollywood reject, George RR Martin took full advantage of the freedoms of the literary medium in the world of ASOIAF. Without budgets, he plunged the continent into a five-front war. And without actor contracts, he killed his main character and several of his potential replacements.. Egos and agents be damned !!

Ironically, such blatant defiance of television’s institutional norms made for inherently interesting television. To its credit, Game of Thrones didn’t change the core characteristics of A Song of Ice and Fire to make them more palatable to TV. Instead, it was TV itself that was changed in the initial seasons…

Never before had a show baited and switched its audience about the very concept of a protagonist ; never before had a show decided to go for an hour-long battle with the financial demands of a feature film ; never before had a show carried such an overwhelming mass of detailed lore that it could single-handedly support its own explainer industry. Part of what GoT’s dedicated fans have responded to is it’s old-school craftsmanship, in the form of great performances and richly outlined characters. Even bigger appeal, however, was in novelty : Viewers weren’t used to feeling the disorientation that came with Ned Stark’s beheading or the internal conflict with Jaime Lannister’s gradual redemption, so they stuck around for more…

The sheer feat of translating these subversions, and balancing them with the practicalities necessary to create an actual television show, ought not to be understated. Whatever criticisms they’ve faced for their relatively original storytelling, Benioff and Weiss proved themselves to be master adaptors for the greater part of the show… 

Image result for david benioff

Since Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss bypassed Martin’s original material circa Season 6, the relationship between books and show has complicated.

With its cast of thousands, dense mythology, and intercontinental scope, A Song of Ice and Fire is an awkward fit for the TV screen indeed. Yet what the current split in regard between books and show tends to ignore is that this very awkwardness was once a boon, not a handicap… A cruel paradox of GoT’s later seasons is that the show effectively trained its fan base to hold it to the same logical, methodical, unsentimental standard as the earlier seasons and books did demolish… !!

Game of Thrones has now preemptively taught its viewership to forget the shortcuts and workarounds it’s taken on the way to it’s conclusion. It’s a typical TV logic—exactly the kind Thrones initially rejected, and can no longer resist.

Game of Thrones may be the biggest television show of all time, but at the end, it couldn’t transcend television.


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