“Game of Thrones” (2010 – 2019): A Game Lost (Review)

· TV

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published on the Cinematic Katzenjammer in May 2019.

The Core of Ice and Fire

What is Game of Thrones?

You can describe it in hundreds of ways. The term itself invites worlds of thought and myriads of emotion. It’s Tolkien for adults, The Sopranos with dragons and undead, allegorical histories, an elaborate environmental metaphor, the story that kills your favorite people, the trope inverter, “the TV show with incest,” etc.

However you describe it, you’re right. It and George R.R. Martin’s novels that birthed it are all of the above and more. Everyone had their own relationship with it. People found their passions through it and expressed it through art, music, or comedy, sometimes beautifully. And many others even experienced entire arcs of growth through it. All of it contributing to the landscape of discourse for culture that has defined the 2010s decade.

You might not trust it, but nearly all are drawn to it. Though written decidedly for modern audiences weary of repeated Tolkien imitation, its medieval feel conveyed a dark honesty and commanded nightmarish attention. It is an inviting web of rivals, pawns, and players – each with its own philosophies, priorities, heroes, black sheep, and greater connections with basic nature – scheming and maneuvering with and against one another in an elaborate contest for power and prosperity. As fantasy, it beckons you not only to study the board, but fantasize about the outcomes as the game unfolds before you. And through this experience, you learn about yourself, how you view human nature, how you view politics, and how you absorb stories, myth, and perspective.

As such, there exists here what another critic once referred to as “The Core” – that special power and magic of story, intrigue, and character. A place your mind naturally wanders as it hungers for hard dilemmas and adventurous feeling. Not just for a specific character, but even the concept – definition and moral existence – of character. Game of Thrones had it all.

And then it ended; sort of. No end remains in sight for the two unfinished novels, but in the TV series, the endpoints have been reached. The game continues as it always will, but the formative story is over, whether your favorite player lived or died, ended up where you wanted them to end up or didn’t. Obviously not everyone is satisfied. Some people are even petitioning.

I have grown with this series from the beginning just like everyone else, and I believe I have at least some capability of contributing constructively to the discussion. Not just to articulate my own thoughts, but to help you make sense of yours. This journey is nothing without reflection, and there is always a lesson in success or failure.

For purposes of this review, I will keep the book comparison to a minimum. I will also minimize any “what Vivek would’ve done” re-write to the extent possible. I will not get into fan theories or contrive explanations for why X is the way it is instead of Y, other than perhaps in the context of discussing the intended effect of a moment. I don’t care about coffee cups or water boots, and I definitely don’t care about your political tribe. My tribe was Stannis. Look how that turned out.

Shall we begin?

Indulgence vs. Integrity

One of my favorite modern jokes goes like this. A normal guy walks up to a group of people and says, “hey guys, I’m retarded!” The group subsequently berates him and treats him horribly. The guy then thinks to himself, “joke’s on them. I was only pretending!”

Hold that thought while I ask a question with the use of another joke.

What if an Aristocrats joke forgets that it’s a joke?

If you don’t know the joke, here’s a quick two-minute version of it.

So imagine if, in the middle of whatever repugnant, ridiculous orgy position you’ve conjured up in your twisted mind for the family, the father suddenly experiences a flash vision of the divine. It’s so powerful, the family immediately stops, and what follows is a compelling and very, very lengthy feel-good tale of how the family cleans up its act, atones for its behavior, and spends the rest of their lives on the righteous path in a constant effort for salvation. Then they get up to Heaven, stand before God once again, and break out right back into the orgy.

How satisfying exactly would you find a story like this?

It would occur to you that at some point the narrator forgot what was being emphasized and started emphasizing something else. But if you charge him with that, he’d tell you, “don’t you remember the beginning? It was always this way!” A convenient lie; this narrator had nothing.

In both of these scenarios (the previous joke and this Aristocrats hypothetical), the narrator tries to change the point of emphasis. He tried to make the joke on you because of how you received it. But the joke was on him. It will always be on him.

On an elemental level, the experience of Game of Thrones was one of dual emotion. Like ice and fire – arch opposites that foil the other and push/pull for balance – the story played on your emotions and expectations. Whomever you root for will eventually cross the path of someone else you care about, and you can’t always trust that it’ll all work out. Such was the inevitable nature of politics and conflict, and the suspense of it was real.

The consequences were immediate and wrenching. The worst would happen to the best, and often at the worst times. The pilot ended with a ten-year old boy being pushed from a tower window presumably to his death – after an entire episode spent in his perspective, his awe, and his boyish penchant for mischief and activity. And the penultimate episode of that season ended with the father and then-protagonist getting beheaded on a last-second whim of a boy king after two entire episodes seemingly leading to his honorable exile. These sudden, blindsiding moments were not just seen, but felt. Not just their slap shock, but their reverberation across the world as we saw it.

This was not for Martin’s sadism and differentiation. Game of Thrones applied realism to the world to emphasize how genuinely challenging it is to be these people, to face what they face, and to exercise power and governance over others. It’s easy to keep your hero alive for the whole story – to contrive troublesome scenarios and dance him out of them. Invulnerability can be fun. But Game of Thrones was about human limitations and limited perspectives – vulnerability and conditioning. It’s not about winning the war, but losing the peace. It’s about what happens after the mad tyrant is defeated and the war for the crown is already won. Life does not end at “the end.” The closing of one eye is often the opening of another.

This was the story’s integrity.

I use that word a lot in my criticism. The term came to me when I was studying the legal theories of Ronald Dworkin. In this context, it means – the greater artistic purpose and moral behind the surface story on display. Stories can open our eyes and ears, evoke understanding, and help us achieve common feeling and collective catharsis. Even for stories that end up affirming or comforting, there often exists within them an underlying principle that is challenging, and even alarming.

In most conventional stories, to borrow from G. Michael Hopf, “hard times create strong men,” who are implied to then create good times. To the extent that Game of Thrones is a political, sociological epic – the biggest character of the world is Westeros and it too has an arc. But this arc begins when times are good. The complacency of the world creates weak men (and women!), who then usher in hard times. If those hard times don’t kill them, they strengthen them.

The human heart houses the cyclical battles between good and evil, and one is always defined by its contrast to the other. You think Tyrion – a man who killed his own father and routinely pulled impish pranks on people everywhere – is overall pretty cool. Not just because he gestures kindness towards cripples, bastards, and broken things, but because he has more reason than any other Lannister to turn up his nose at the entire world and reciprocate its disgust of him, and instead chooses to always try to do the right thing. Petyr Baelish, on the other hand, is evil not just because he commits betrayals and pushes women to their deaths, but because he has such virtues of wit, financial skill, and near-universal likeability, as well as no established loyalty to the more sinister families, yet he chooses to use them solely for his own benefit rather than to be of service to anyone or any place.

In other words, almost no character at the outset was written just to indulge – to flatter or pander or give you an easy, vicarious escape from the reality. The story commands your engagement, your fear, your anticipation and trepidation. And no one is so good or so bad all at once so to simply freeze or boil all conflicts within the greater world of Westeros. Especially because it was not always apparent what the “right thing” was for any character, especially one in a position of having to rule.

Or at least – Game of Thrones was about all that.

You can trace its unraveling back to whatever point you want, but my argument here is that at some point in the show, integrity gave way to indulgence, and the show turned into just another kind of lame Tolkien imitation it built itself to defy. Grotesque monsters and sneering tyrants vs. near-fully redeemed and honorable underdogs in a battle of good vs. evil. Then it back-peddled and acted like it never did that.

The show changed its emphasis, and the joke’s on it. And it all started happening earlier than you probably think.

A Feast of Character Inflation

There’s a misguided theory in economics that goes like this: when markets are thriving, don’t question why. Just ride the wave. The idea is that talk of irrational exuberance causes panics and downturns more than the fact the growth might not actually be real growth. It might just be a bubble, often based on mal-investments and artificial credit expansions. This is essentially the Wile E. Coyote belief that when you run off a cliff, you will only plummet to your death after you stop and look down. So just keep running.

This, of course, is not how an economy works. It is, however, a common creative pattern for media franchises – especially ones with huge fan bases. If something is popular, keep it coming and milk it at any cost. Forget what we actually need or what the greater underlying purpose was. Just ramp up supply of whatever’s in right now, and don’t worry about the long run.

But television is the long run, and only The Simpsons lasts forever. At some point, it will end, and endings matter to us. We treat them as vindication of our collective investments in the series. And in general economic terms, Season 8 of Game of Thrones resembles a classic downward spiral. The mad rush, cutting out nuances, closing some characters too quickly or completely changing their behaviors to whisk them away, how wasted it all feels; it had all that and more.

Now, for sure, if the last two seasons were full length with more breaks, some of these issues might have been ironed out. The criticisms of budget allocation and corner cutting are all fair. But let’s look at a few of the endpoints of Season 8 – the finale in particular – and see what they were going for. I’m not going to defend any of the storytelling execution of Season 8. It’s horrendous. But in concept, some of these endpoints actually make some sense.

KING BRAN THE BROKEN

He was the first character we met. He had stars in his eyes and a spring in his step. He could climb towers and he had the makings of a future great warrior. Then he’s crippled for life by Jaime. As more dreams come to life, and as the power of the Old Gods begin to awaken within him, his journey from a fallen Winterfell took him to the cave of the Three-Eyed Raven who promised him that he would one day fly.

With the powers of the Raven, Bran travels forwards and backwards through space and time, expanding his perspectives, learning not just about events but of the people behind and within them. By the end, only Samwell can rival his historical knowledge and insight.

In the books, the story is told through the eyes and perspectives of characters, and so much is about how flawed and incomplete they are. Bran can adopt them all, experience their past, and master information of all kinds. If the throne must melt but a king must remain, someone with that depth of history wouldn’t be the worst choice, especially when the kingdoms are in rebuilding mode.

He is the Dreamer of Spring.

DROGON MELTING THE IRON THRONE

No mcguffin in Westeros comes closer to J.R.R. Tolkien’s One Ring than the Iron Throne itself. A metal object representing absolute power corrupting absolutely; around which the entire story revolves as people of various moral character try to capture it, gain proximity to it, or break free from it.

We have known from the beginning that dragons are intelligent creatures. We’ll get to Daenerys later, but Drogon is the freest spirit and also has the closest bond with her. He is her choice of mount. He likes who Dany likes, and he flew to her rescue in the Meereenese fighting pits after sensing her distress through the Force (basically).

After having lost two brothers and now his mother, as well as being rendered utterly exhausted from bringing entire city (and navy) to ash by himself, we find him resting and buried under a giant mound of snow. There’s ambiguity here to suggest that Drogon knew what was about to happen and allowed it anyway. But even if you don’t buy that, this dragon understands the corruptive power of that throne and how it poisoned his mother. His decision to set the room on fire and melt it like the Ring in Mount Doom, only to then swoop Dany up on his dragon talon and fly away in mourning, reflects that. This was probably the only good moment in the finale.

CLEGANEBOWL

Their story began in flame. Gregor melted half of Sandor’s face in the burning coals when they were children. Since then, both became great warriors known for their fearsome strength and talents for violence.

The Hound has always had a soft, redemptive part of his heart buried underneath his anger and embittered isolation. He’s always wanted revenge against his brother, but he could never do it in an ordered, civilized moment. Hence, during the parlay in the Arena, though he teases a future battle between monsters, he does not draw his sword there.

By this point, both Clegane brothers have “died” and come back to life. One from necromancy and the other from compassion.

Though Sandor didn’t plan it that way, his perfect moment arrives when the city is on fire and the Red Keep is crumbling from the dragon. Gregor, on the other hand, has been a silent bruiser since returning. He obeyed every order without question just like a wight. But now upon seeing his brother, he breaks free and ragdolls Qyburn effortlessly like Frankenstein’s monster killing his creator.

Just as before, their fight is essentially a stalemate, to end with Sandor throwing himself full force at his brother through the walls off the tower and into an abyss of pure flame. They end where they began; in fire.

ARYA THE EXPLORER

I have written elsewhere about Arya’s distance from social orders. The short version is that they fail and betray her over and over again, so she journeys outside it, then away from it, and then becomes a weapon against it.

Despite her family loyalty, after all the war, cruelty, and evil she witnesses done in the game of thrones, and vowing never to play it herself by marrying a high lord and creating a legacy with her noble titles (not even with Gendry), it makes perfect sense that Arya would want to leave. Like her wolf Nymeria, she is destined to roam, hunt, and wander alone. If she creates a family, it will be truly her own, not one bound by the feudal trappings of the Starks.

JON SNOW RETURNING BEYOND THE WALL

Jon Snow knew nothing. Ygritte told him that repeatedly, and every experience he’s had ever since has been a humbling one, even in victory.

He thought he knew his family, he thought he knew himself, he thought he knew wildings, he thought he knew love, he thought he knew his fellow men of the Night’s Watch, and he thought he knew Daenerys. Always his actions were exactly the same – tell the truth, and run balls first into a fight without ever thinking to maneuver. Each time, he either lost horribly or survived by the skin of his teeth due to the intervention of someone else.

He may be the heir to the throne, but the one thing he was right about is that the throne is not for him. He is not fit to be King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm. He is not fit for politics.

Thus he not only returns to where he began, but he follows in the footsteps of the only truly good member of his bloodline he knew – that of Aemon Targaryen. The heir who lived a full life, gave up the throne, and sought to take himself as far away from it as possible so no one would ever bother him again.

Again – all of these things would likely be better realized and appreciated in a better-executed final season. But at least these endpoints all have a logical basis, and even a slight thematic buildup from the first few seasons. But you didn’t feel them, did you? If any of the above blather about the characters made sense, it’s because I made more sense of them in the blather than the show did, even though I relied upon the depicted events as much as possible. I saw what you saw. But they weren’t in your marrow or ringing out to you as catharsis. Or at least, not all of them did.

Better critics than me have (and will) discuss the fact that foreshadowing is not the same thing as character development. Every single one of these endings was foreshadowed, but that doesn’t mean that they were supported by the dramatic text and the intended emotions of the moments that came before, big and small. Thus, you might know that something happened, but you didn’t really believe it. Knowing something vs. believing/feeling it can make the entire difference between a story that is effective and a story that isn’t.

The “buildup” we actually do have isn’t really much of a dramatic buildup at all. This crash-landing of a final season did not appear in a vacuum. It was the result of a creative panic that came from time after time wasted on inflated indulgence.

Kind of like how a market bubble bursts.

When The Lord of the Rings films needed to fill in the story gaps and heighten the immediate tension, they introduced more conflicts (sometimes awkwardly) that were not in the novels. Game of Thrones did the opposite. It removed them. From Season 4 onwards, the indulgence was everywhere and rarely in service of what characters actually needed or were experiencing.

After Jon’s return from capture, he does everything perfect up through the battle on the wall and even with losing Ygritte. He’s always right, does not make one mistake, and all potential conflicts either resolve themselves without his knowing, or they end up as dead ends because of the big battle. He plays Stannis like a fiddle, continues being entirely heroic and prescient until the jealousy and anger of his brothers lead to his death. Except, wait! He gets revived almost immediately after with no lingering issues, and thus becomes free to abandon the Night’s Watch and dive headfirst into the Stark campaign to take back the North. Sure, he does it all too brazenly and has a near-miss or two with death again, but everything goes in his favor, he learns almost nothing, and any decision that might have been a mistake is entirely vindicated with no consequence of any kind because of how evil everyone else is. Then he gets the girl all the way to the end.

And then there’s Jaime.

Jaime rapes his sister for no reason, and then the show acted like nothing happened to disrupt his relationship with her or the rest of the family in any way. Then he gets the girl he raped for real. Sure, it’s her own play to keep him wrapped around her finger, but hey – who are we to judge him for a rape in the midst of his uninterrupted redemption story? After all, he’s cool now, so let’s just keep having him be the nice and more amiable member of his awful family even when doing their bidding. Jaime and Bronn’s Excellent Dornish Adventure is drier than the Sunspear climate. It goes off without a hitch until the end, but not in circumstances that are in any way his fault. In Season 6, he and the Lannisters might as well just be grieving underdogs again in their feuds with the High Sparrow. Once again – the only conflicts here involve how evil those religious fanatics are compared to how reasonable he is. And with his Kingsguard position revoked, he becomes free to valiantly take the fight to the Blackfish and the Tyrells, including against a dragon. His conflict with Cersei at the end of Season 7 is once again all about how evil she is to stand in his way. She’s the bad one – y’know, the person he raped.

Do you see the pattern here?

Both of these characters were turned into goody two-shoes – nigh invulnerable boy scout superheroes who are never wrong and always appalled or frustrated by the evils displayed by others. The story pulled out every pre-existing obstacle in their path one by one so they could keep being awesome until near the end. Nothing was their fault. Nothing bad or foolish they did could ever be brought up or held against them, and oh shut up, Vivek, don’t you love this kind of thing?

Yes, I do. But remember, we’re talking about the Core.

When Game of Thrones ended Jaime’s and Jon’s stories in a way that emphasized their flaws and imperfections, the reason it felt so off is because it went entirely against how the show had made them as perfect as perfect can be. These things can all be dramatized in a continuing character struggle, but they weren’t. Jon’s arc could have been made more complex, tragic, or more politically involved. One that entails his wrestling with the ethics of leadership and managing expectations, loyalties, promises; it did none. Jaime’s arc could have followed a Zuko-like path that the books themselves drew for him – where his time in captivity and travels with Brienne provided him with a human introspection he lacked before. One that could create new conflicts of duty and loyalty to his family, and change his relationship with his siblings; none ever did. Or at least, not for real.

This may not have been clear exactly when it was all happening. But the dramatic text behind their journeys never enabled the endings they got. The show was too interested in milking their popularity – making them “fun” to watch, even when they were doing something that was probably stupid. But they were hardly ever accountable for it, especially as they started surviving more and more impossible situations. Make no mistake. I have nothing against Jon or Jaime. Jaime is one of my favorite character perspectives in the novels. I want them to be heroes too. But the Core demands more. What we value from Game of Thrones is not the easy, indulgent path, but the hard one. The kind where a man can only be brave when he is afraid – and where by extension, where we are afraid with them; but we weren’t.

What bites further about this is the fact that other characters, some of whom have just as strong a claim to heroism, were given the shrift. Their needs weren’t met. I have written about the contempt for Stannis Baratheon before. My goal in doing so was not to whinge about what happened to the guy I wished won. It was to illustrate the same basic point.

If there was indulgence in getting us to love Jon and Jaime, there was just as much indulgence in getting us to hate Stannis. Stannis is not a nice man. He can be funny and witty, but more in a way that makes you roll your eyes than nod your head. The moment he was introduced, it was already easy to hate him. But remember, this is Game of Thrones. No character is ever truly as they initially appear. Except, apparently, him.

Though there were moments now and then that offered brief glimpses of his humanity, Stannis was routinely made to look like a fool, a puppet, a tyrant, a bystander, a hack, unnecessarily impatient and hostile, and just wasteful. This is exactly how his enemies saw him. The show never earnestly tried to challenge this. It had plenty of ways to do it, but he apparently wasn’t worth the time. His death was one of the most disposable sendoffs. Just another moment of indulgence, this time for Brienne of Tarth.

It’s not just Stannis who suffered from this. He is a personification of the Core. Think about how much you can learn about Westeros if you got to spend more time with him. Think about how he might see his role in the world and his sense of duty to it. He’s got war stories, stories about growing up with Robert, being a ruler in his own right, and his own way of being a real person. You don’t have to agree with him or even like him. But the Core is empathy, all-seeing and understanding. It’s worldly and anti-prejudice.

I guess in four seasons of his existence, there just wasn’t enough time for that.

But if there’s anything worse than a TV series premised around realistic moral grays treating an unpopular character with exactly the hatred and dismissal displayed by his enemies, it’s treating a popular character with the exalting hero worship displayed by her subjects. You might be able to overlook Jaime, even Jon. But you can’t overlook the big one and we’ve kept that unburned elephant hidden long enough.

And then there was Daenerys…

No other character journey in Game of Thrones quite encapsulates the stuffed feast of character indulgence like Daenerys “Stormborn” Targaryen, First of her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburned, the Breaker of Chains, and the Mother of Dragons.

That list of titles alone is enough to convey the scope of her fandom. Dragon appeal, sex appeal, feminist appeal; Dany was the show’s golden girl – the promise child. She started rising and then never stopped until Westeros.

Daenerys was inflated and overvalued from early on. Her affairs in Qarth are beefed up to the point of being Season 2’s only real weakness (to say nothing of what they left out from the books). But from Season 4 onwards, though she has plenty of scenes and moments, the show stopped actually characterizing her. She is the conquering hero of Meereen who never besieges the city. Then, as Meereen’s ruler, she makes two decisions that directly contradict one another (sparing the slavers because “people can change” but banishing Jorah for a crime he committed long before because “he can’t possibly have changed”), but neither of them end up undermining her in any way. She is always framed as the party in the right, even if you felt bad for the person on the other end. The only well-dramatized decision she makes in Season 4 is at the very end when she locks up Rhaegal and Viserion.

Season 5 had the opportunity to turn over a new leaf with her – to challenge her, puzzle her, and grow her perspective. There was some initial promise of this in the first few episodes when her decision to publicly execute a slave boy for his usurpation of justice results in blowback from the Harpy. This comes after Daario, post-booty call, encourages her to be vigilant and aggressive against her enemies. For a moment, it looked like a promising direction for the character, especially with Barristan Selmy’s death.

But from then onwards, all conflicts were erased. Tyrion enters the picture, and Dany suddenly loses all interest in the ethics of governance. The Harpy is still evil and now just more threatening. Then her Dothraki captors abuse and berate her, only for her to dispatch the khals immediately and convert the entire horde like it’s just another day of being fireproof. Meanwhile, her old enemies from Yunkai and Astapor retake their cities, reinstitute slavery, and besiege Meereen to do the same to it. She returns just in time to save it, and the camera lingered insufferably long on her as if to bellow, “oh baby, mama means business now!” Tyrion makes all the diplomacy mistakes so Dany can promptly fix them, and then after saving the city she is blessed with the arrival of new Greyjoy allies that would supply the rest of her needed fleet.

When she lands in Westeros at the conclusion of Dragonstone, the sequence doesn’t stop at the Macarthur-like sand touch. No, it tracks her every step with increasing reverence. And with each passing second, the show was practically begging “bless us with your words, my Queen!”

This was not characterization. It was not even a story. Worse than indulgence; it’s fetishistic. Daenerys was whom everyone wanted to be, and up to the final few episodes, the series continuously laid waste to anything that might ever have gotten in her way. It validated every burst of anger or moment of frustration she felt, and although there was foreshadowing aplenty, the dramatic text gave us no reason to think that she was anything but the chief heroine.

…and then it just pretended it was just an act all along.

The most infuriating part of the finale for nearly everyone was the TED Talk Tyrion gave to Jon about how “everywhere she goes, evil men die and we cheer her for it.” You can tell it’s just a naked attempt to turn the tables on the audience for having bought into her. But having seen all that violence Tyrion described, not one moment of it was ever conveyed in a way that invited the audience to question or reflect upon it. It wasn’t just the audience buying into Daenerys as the hero; the show marketed itself on her back. It basked in her glory and blew her up.

A finale is an opportunity to clarify dramatic points, to bring the subtext to the surface, or to have characters finally be honest before the end. Without spoilers, the finales of Breaking Bad and Justified do all three to incredible effect. But that third thing only works when it’s an admission of something the story itself has been pushing beneath the surface expressions of those very characters. Walter White and Raylan Givens can talk and talk and talk all they want about who they are and why they do what they do, but we’ve always known better. In both of those (vastly superior) shows, characters steeled themselves repeatedly on their lies and faced conflicts that led them down darker paths that exposed them. It was not simply because others occasionally pointed out the issue. Always, the stories went the honesty route and sought to have their protagonists unnerve us. That’s partially why they have such emotionally beautiful sendoffs.

I’m not saying Daenerys needed to be exactly like this. She’s her own person. But because she was never given a dramatic chance after the first season, when the Game of Thrones finale tried its hand at being “honest” about her, it came across as one of the most dishonest statements a show has ever made about itself.

It thought the joke’s on us because it was “only pretending.”

Game Over

I don’t wish to be a buzzkill or a party pooper with any of this. Indulgence is fun. It’s fun like an extra scoop of ice cream or another shot of tequila down the hatch. But there comes a point when that ice cream turns into Type-2 diabetes and that tequila turns into stomach pumping.

Despite how it looked, Game of Thrones prided itself on being above the superficial. It was a story that put the realistic demands of Westeros first before any individual character. A story that promised you that events would not transpire in the happy-go-lucky, status-quo restoration way they did in most works of Tolkien-imitating fiction. It promised challenges, nightmares, and pain, not escapes, quick triumphs, and relief. That didn’t mean no character could ever be happy or have a moment. It means the story was never about sustaining them.

In other words, indulgence was the one thing Game of Thrones promised to never, ever do.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to the questions – what kind of story are you trying to tell? What does it mean for your story to have integrity? And what kind of relationship do you actually seek to have with your audience?

As Game of Thrones grew beyond itself, its grasp of these questions loosened. It lost so much of the dual emotion that made it so appealing in the first place. That which remained was mangled, misshapen, and unrecognizable. This would have been fine if the growth was based on real characterization, development, and storytelling. But nearly all of it was just indulgence – an inflation vehicle for fan-favorite characters at the expense of others. And so we lost the conflicts. We lost the complexity. We lost the family dynamics. We lost the ethics and consequences of failure. We lost the wholesome scope of humanity.

We lost the Core.

– Vivek

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