On Getting What You Wanted
Game of Thrones provided what can only be described as the perfect payoff in the “Battle of the Bastards.” It was everything you could have wanted…and feel a little empty inside because of it, right?
It’s quite a paradox because if you had asked any Game of Thrones fans what they wanted last week, they’d say “I want Jon Snow to win! Feed Ramsay to the dogs! Sansa saves the day!” Naturally you ask yourself who needs to die in the battle, so you pick the least interesting or known character to that point (Rickon), kill him, and get the battle going. This is, in many ways, am episode written by the fans.
I say this like it’s a bad thing, I know, and that’s kind of weird. Shouldn’t a show give the fans exactly what they want? Yes, but often times the fans of Game of Thrones don’t know what they want. Did you know you wanted The Red Wedding? Ned’s death? Jon’s death? The show is so heavily predicated on pulling the rug out from underneath us that, when it comes time to give us what we want, it feels too clean.
If you don’t get what I’m saying, ask yourself this: were you surprised at all last night? Did you NOT expect Sansa to come in and save the day with Petyr Baelish? Did you NOT expect a death from Rickon? Did you NOT expect Jon to win? These were all pretty telegraphed moments that created a pretty paint-by-numbers episode. It certainly wasn’t dull, but it didn’t have you guessing as much as, say, the Battle of Blackwater Bay. As much as people like making fan theories and guesses, it leaves you feeling a bit cheated when you correctly guess everything. You basically spoiled the episode for yourself, right? So shouldn’t a show try to make you guess incorrectly? I’d be willing to chalk this predictability up, primarily, to the show approaching its final season. The heroes have been beaten back enough, and now it’s time for them to starting fighting back against their problems. Couple that with the notion that we have a week to ponder and speculate each episode, it’s only natural that’ll we’ll start to crack the code after six years.
I feel I’m being too hard on this episode because, at the end of the day, the show did far more things right than it did wrong. The battle was perhaps the single greatest medieval battle ever shown on screen. From the arrows sailing with crisp definition and direction to the long takes that define the chaos and confusion of the fight, this is an amazing feat in fight choreography and staging. I’d be interested to learn the budget of this episode and the hundreds of puzzle pieces at play that went into creating such a flawless visual scene. Even the quick-cut, shaky cam sequence in which Jon Snow is trampled…utterly flawless.
The preceding events at Meereen…that’s a bit different. Daenerys showed us that less is more, when Drogon’s burning the masters ships paled in comparison to Greyworm’s double neck-slice maneuver.
All the spectacle of dragons wiping out droves of battleships lacked the novelty and ingenuity of pitting the masters against themselves. Daenerys has really been a mixed bag these last six years, as we REALLY need some progress on that front before we lose interest. With the (sudden) appearance of Yara and Theon, we’ll see some soon, I hope.
I hesitate to call this episode “fan service,” since so much of it was spectacular. The action, choreography, and direction was masterful. It just left me with a feeling of emptiness at how perfectly clean it all was. Before I knock the show too hard for that, though, I am reminded of a storytelling quote from Vince Gilligan. Around the time Breaking Bad was wrapping up he said something along the lines of “sometimes the best story is really the best story.” I can’t find the exact quote (leave it in the comments if you can!), but it boils down to the idea that an organic story will have an organic ending and if everyone knows that’s what’s coming, maybe it’s for the best. Maybe this is the best way to tell this story and we’ve all just figured it out before the episode even aired.
Odds and Ends
- RIP Shaggydog? Was that its name?.
- The back and forth between Tormund and Davos was really great. Despite their differences, the two have a lot of common ideals and I’d be interested in seeing that fleshed out more in future.
- You go ahead and ship Daenerys and Yara. I’m still shipping Littlefinger and Melissendre. AND NOW THEY ARE IN THE SAME PLACE.
- I don’t know how much of that crazy long take was CG and how much was practical, but props to Kit Harrington and the technical crew for putting it all together. Either way, it’s an impressive feat…you either have to choreograph EVERYONE or choreograph it all in your head and do it with nothing. Kudos.
Alex Russo likes to talk about television. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.