Game of Thrones

  • What went wrong

By most accounts, Game of Thrones has ended on a very disappointing note. All great lives have quiet spells; all great books have uneventful passages. Indeed, in literature and drama, the very concept of a climax implies relatively quiet segments that precede it. Game of Thrones attempted to defy this fact and failed. What had made the show into an absolute phenomenon also proved to be its undoing.

There’s no doubt that the series broke new ground in television. Here was TV grander than cinema. Here was a show that made people avoid the social media for extended periods– something they wouldn’t do to save their lives– just to make sure they avoided any spoiler. Never before could a show come so tantalizingly close to being categorized as soft porn (if not actually crossing the threshold), but could nevertheless be discussed in polite and erudite company.

Those who are criticizing the climax are not criticizing the show at all. For in their hearts of hearts they realize that no matter how the writers had chosen to end the show, they would still have complained

It is well known in the storytelling business that starting a story is the comparatively easier part. The real challenge lies in convincingly ending it. In cinematic parlance, one must reap after the interval what one has sown before it. Game of Thrones, despite many weaknesses, managed to keep this comeuppance at bay surprisingly long by constantly upping the ante in order to keep shocking the audience. But by the last season, one plot twist after another had caused expectations to become so high that there almost was no scenario that wouldn’t have been felt to be anti-climactic.

Excitement is in the nature of a drug, in that it requires progressively higher and higher doses for the same effect. There’s an obvious limit to it; and no wonder the writers were reduced to opting for jagged surprises by the middle of the series. The show had peaked too early and the writers were fast running out of plot twists to keep the tension alive. In hindsight, probably the best way out of the problem– and what would have meant one big final surprise for the audience– would have been to end the story just before some cataclysmic war, which would have allowed everybody to guess his own climax.

Apart from the many loose ends of the show, which are inevitable in a write-as-you-go-along series, the authors had a major error of judgment. Why they chose to kill Jon Snow in the first place is anybody’s guess, but his revival (whether or not it was part of a pre-conceived plan to shock the audience) exposed the desperation of the writers for the first time. Whatever the motivation, it smacked of pandering to the audience, which was vociferously asking for Snow to be brought back. The writers paid dearly for it. For with it some Bollywood certainly did creep into the script. Bringing Snow back from the other side meant that he was indispensable, and one could therefore be sure he was going to be standing at the end of it all. Once he was resurrected, even the writers couldn’t kill him off because nobody was now going to believe he would stay dead very long. The writer of the Gospel of John must have faced the same difficulty: the second death of Lazarus, who is reported to have been brought back to life four days after his first death, is never mentioned in the book. But being a mortal Lazarus must have eventually died, and it must have been quite an occasion too, because people would have been expecting him to stand up any moment.

One common complaint from Game of Thrones enthusiasts has been that there were many illogical and absurd developments in the final season. For example, the way Arya Stark killed the Night King defied all logic and reasonableness, it’s pointed out. Here was somebody who had been built up for quite a while as the meanest creature conceivable. That he succumbed so meekly to a little girl is unrealistic, to be sure. But how is it peculiar to Season 8? After all, dragons flying around torching to ash anything that comes their way; giants, mammoths and zombies from the other side walking around with ominous intentions; and heroes getting raised on the whim of the audience is hardly the epitome of realistic storytelling either.

Talking of absurdity, how absurd is going to great trouble inventing Dothraki and some words of Valyrian for a few characters, while everybody else in the whole realm (including apparently the semi-dead) understands and often speaks perfect English? And if one is to apply logic, then what explains the reluctance, spanning many seasons, of Daenerys Targaryen, equipped with her dragons, to lay waste to her enemies in King’s Landing and lay claim to the Iron Throne? If you fail to conquer the world despite being ambitious and unscrupulous to the core and despite possessing the only air force in the world, you are rather dense (to put it mildly); and no, your hair colour has nothing to do with it.

Why so much criticism, then, solely focused around the way the show ended? Here’s a thought: those who are criticizing the climax are not criticizing the show at all. For in their hearts of hearts they realize that no matter how the writers had chosen to end the show, they would still have complained. What they are mourning is the end of an era, for they know that while shows will come and go they will never be as young as they were when they watched the Game of Thrones. The show symbolizes for them the passing of the best season of life, if not the onset of the evening of life. Sometimes I surprise myself with my own wisdom. If only Freud was here to appreciate this flash of absolute brilliance.