Monday, May 25, 2015

When Good Television Goes Mediocre

Warning: This Post is Dark and Full of Spoilers

Last year I wrote a blog post about Why I’m Done With Game of Thrones (On Television Anyway). Shortly after explaining my reasons for abandoning the televised adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga I went online to cancel my HBO subscription. My cable provider made a counter offer that I decided was too good to pass up, and my HBO subscription remained intact for at least another year. And with that done, I could think of no reason not to watch the new season of Game of Thrones when it premiered in April.

It came as no surprise to me that my original thinking about the quality of the 5th season, based on the quality of the source material (A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons), was correct. A compelling and excellent program has become, at its best moments, merely interesting and good. What has surprised me is how uninspiring and mediocre the deviations from the source material have been. Producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss have definitely made the TV show their own creation, mercifully not forcing us to sit through all of the stagnation offered up in Martin’s last two novels, but equally failing to comprehend the nuances Martin brings to the work as a storyteller. Game of Thrones has always been driven by death and violence, even death and violence against some if its most important characters. But it was never as reckless or gratuitous or pointless as it seems to have become in season five.

Now killing Mance Rayder instead of some doppelganger may have been the best choice. The story in the book is rather convoluted, and possibly would have been difficult to follow on television without a lot of exposition. But killing Barristan Selmy seems like a pointless stunt. As if the writers felt they needed to keep the theater of death that is Game of Thrones going and the dart landed on Ser Barristan. Like the death of Jojen Reed in season four, the character was killed because he was expendable, not to advance the plot. So to it was easier to have Sansa fall into the role originally reserved for Jeyne Poole, since most of Sansa's Eyrie storyline was completed, except that this subjected her to gratuitous acts of violence she did not have to endure in the original story. At this point the producers seem intent on piling on the horribleness just to prove something we already know, life in medieval Westeros sucks.

Jaime Lannister also gets diverted from whatever the hell it was he was doing in the books (I don’t remember) to making Road to Dorne with Ser Bronn of the Blackwater. This storyline is inept, treating Jaime, Bronn and Oberyn Martel’s daughters, The Sand Snakes, like comic relief. I thought the whole Sand Snakes story was a rather pointless diversion in the books, but at least it had some subtlety and didn’t become the simple-minded revenge plot offered by the TV show. The storyline for Brienne of Tarth and Poderick Payne also diverts from the book, with them shadowing Sansa all the way to Winterfell, although Brienne seem no more competent at protecting the Starks now than she ever have been. At least the TV show has not subjected us to new Iron Islanders or contending Targaryens.

The show has been somewhat faithful to the High Sparrow/Faith Militant storyline from the books, although again not one of my favorites. The shift in focus from Margery to Loras has led to the accusation by some that Loras on TV has become a ‘gay cartoon.’ I would argue that it is a little too ‘on the nose’ as a social commentary, but mostly, as with this whole storyline in the book, it seems like padding, preventing the saga from moving toward it’s conclusion. One story from which the padding has been removed is that of Jorah and Tyrion, now delivered to the doorstep of Danerys Targaryen. It may be interesting to see how that plays out, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I doubt even Tyrion and Danerys together can do much to improve the fifth season of Game of Thrones.

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