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When Game of Thrones first appeared on HBO I admit I was skeptical. In general I don’t watch much television except for whatever sporting event that isn’t golf I happen to stumble upon, but I do usually make an exception for HBO.
I prefer to watch HBO because their shows are not suffocated within what I call the “Network Box”. The Network Box is why most network tv shows suck…they are stuck in a box of creative limitations in terms of what they can say and show, and monetary limitations in terms of how much money they must generate in order for the network to stick with them.
On network shows the language is censored, the violence muted and the nudity non-existent. Because of this it all feels so…manufactured and phony. And because the network’s demand so much ad revenue for each show, niche programs stand little chance of surviving their early years when they are building an audience and creative momentum. So why watch network TV when it is all garbage and anything worthwhile will be cancelled before there is any resolution to the story. And so…I generally give HBO shows a chance because they have more likelihood of being good and of not being cancelled if they aren’t blockbusters right away.
That said, I watched Game of Thrones originally more out of an obligation than out of interest for that first season. Then something completely miraculous happened…at the end of season one Ned Stark got his head chopped off. Stark, who was played by Sean Bean, the biggest star on the show, was the central character for season one, and when he found himself kneeling with the executioners axe poised over his neck, I watched with a bemused detachment.
As that scene unfolded I kept trying to figure out how Ned would be saved…who would swing in, or ride by, and in typical Hollywood fashion, somehow save the star. But then they actually cut Ned’s head off and I literally jumped up from my seat. I was startled, unnerved, exhilarated, agitated, excited and shocked. I was pacing my empty living room yelling aloud, “HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!!”It was at that moment that Game of Thrones made its bones! Ned’s head was gone and it was on!
I never became a Game of Thrones superfan. I never read the books or delved into the maze of online fan sites and theories and such. I did watch every episode though, but if I am being honest, I rarely knew what the hell was happening or who half the people were, but that didn’t matter. The show as beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, well-written and was never miserly with violence or nudity. As I was fond of saying to friends about Game of Thrones, “come for the blood and guts, stay for the boobs and bush”…and that is exactly what I did.
One of the great not-so-secrets of Game of Thrones’ success was that it would take the most mundane scenes, filled with nothing but expository writing on the political machinations or history of Westeros, and turn it into interesting eye candy by setting the non-action in a brothel or bedroom with beautiful women, and occasionally men, cavorting in the background in all of their Medieval naked glory. Game of Thrones seemed to understand the most basic laws of human nature…which are, in no particular order…people like to look at beautiful people, people like to look at beautiful people naked, and people like to look at two or more beautiful people naked and simulating sex.
Besides the naked bodies and the consequence filled violence, the highlight of the show for me were the dragons. When Dany’s three fire-breathing, winged progeny grew up and took to the world, they were the most beautiful things I had ever seen on television. When the dragons were unleashed in battle, whether it be to save Dany from an assassination attempt, or to nearly kill Jaime, or to save Jon from the wights…they were glorious. When the undead ice dragon obliterated The Wall, it was simply stunning to behold. And when Dany went full Dresden and unchained Drogon to shock and awe in the battle of Kings Landing last week, it was absolutely spectacular. Remarkably well shot, with seamless special effects, the aerial destruction of Kings Landing was one of the greatest visual sequence ever seen on television.
In addition, when Drogon’s head came out of the darkness on the beach in last week’s episode to incinerate Varys…that was a truly delicious shot. It was also an example of creation through limitation…as the darkness wasn’t just visually striking…it saved money, as they only had to do a limited amount of CGI for the dragon head and not the whole body.
Which brings us to the budget issue. Game of Thrones has an enormous budget, the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it isn’t unlimited. As I wrote earlier in regards to the Battle of Winterfell, that episode’s dark and muddy visuals which so many, myself included, found annoying, could very well be a result of penny-pinching and cutting corners in order to save money for the Battle of Kings Landing. Sure enough, last week’s Battle of Kings Landing was everything that this season’s earlier Battle of Winterfell was not. It was crystal clear, visually coherent and cinematically gorgeous.
Another complaint many have had, myself included, regarding the final two half seasons is that the narrative has seemed decidedly rushed, and thus less cohesive and coherent, especially in contrast with the pace of the earlier seasons. In my opinion, the story would have been better served had they done two full seasons instead of two half seasons, but again, the budget is probably the reason that didn’t happen.
If the producers had done two full seasons then the cast may have been up for significant pay raises and would have had a tremendous amount of leverage with which to get those pay raises. By doing two half seasons, the showrunners are only paying the cast for one full season, thus keeping them on their original “rookie” contracts and avoiding shelling out a big pay day.
The budget issue is a complex one and there are no doubt mitigating and complicating factors all the way around, including but not limited to people not wanting to be stuck working on this project any longer. Yes, Game of Thrones is undoubtedly the greatest thing most of these folks, be they actors, crew or producers, will ever be associated with, but working in TV is a grind, and working on a show in far off locales even more so. As successful as the Game of Thrones has been, I’m sure nearly everyone working on it is relieved it is over.
This is just my opinion…and I am not the one writing the checks…but I would have preferred not only two full seasons but also a flipping of the Battle of Winterfell and the Battle of Kings Landing. To me, I think it makes more narrative and creative sense, at least in hindsight, to have the beautiful Battle of Kings Landing first, and then the Battle of Winterfell in the penultimate episode. Of course, I would also want to spend more money and have the Battle of Winterfell shot entirely differently and even have a different ending, as the one they went with was way to Hollywood for my tastes and out of character for the show.
Also, I would still have Jaime and Cersei die at the Battle of Kings Landing in each other’s arms, which was very poetic, but just not by being buried under rumble, which was not visually satisfying. I would have had them try to escape, then see Dany on Drogon, and Dany see them, and she and Cersei make eye contact, then Cersei and Jaime have their final goodbye conversation and hug and then…DRACARYS…and the Lannister twin’s charred remains would be frozen in an eternal embrace. But again…this is just my opinion and I am sure others have differing ones that are just as valid.
As for what will happen in the finale…I have absolutely no idea mostly because I am still not even sure what the hell has already happened. As I wrote before, the bottom line is this, we should enjoy Game of Thrones and the Game of Thrones phenomenon while is lasts because we will see nothing like it ever again. Sure, people will try to copy its success, but cultural forces will limit what other series can do in Game of Thrones‘ wake, and will no doubt make little more than cheap, watered-down, politically correct and tokenly diverse imitations on the original rather than improvements.
You only get one shot at ending something as epic as Game of Thrones. As of right now, the show’s creators, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, have definitely faltered coming down the abbreviated stretch. That said, it is not impossible, but certainly not likely, that Weiss and Benioff could right the ship in the show’s final eighty minutes. Whether they stick the Game of Thrones landing or not, Weiss and Benioff should be lauded for having gone as far as they have with this show and having been as successful as they have been with it. Game of Thrones is a monumental television achievement and regardless of whether it ends as well as it began, we should be grateful of that fact and shouldn’t lose sight of it.