Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!

Spoiler Alert!

Jon Snow is back. You don’t need to watch Game of Thrones to know that, it’s been all over the internet. As many of the show’s fans predicted when his fellow Night's Watch brothers went all stabby on him at the end of last season, Melisandre called on the magic of The Lord of Light to resurrect everyone’s favorite bastard. And it was an all too predictable outcome. Snow is the audiences’ connection to events on The Wall and among the Night's Watch. He may also be a Targaryen and not Ned Stark’s bastard, which is a significant storyline that needs to be resolved. Unlike his brother (cousin?), Robb, he was never really expendable enough to stay dead in either the books or the TV series, so no one should be surprised he is back.

Snow’s resurrection remained a poorly kept secret for most of the last year, with the producers and actors going out of their way to assure us that Jon Snow was dead and would stay that way. But nobody bought that story, and it did not generate enough suspense for those involved to continue to lie about it. All it accomplished was to make Kit Harrington (the actor who plays Snow) look like a liar. Covering up Snow’s inevitable resurrection was one of those desperate secrets that film and television producers seem to get irrationally invested in every so often. Poorly disguised surprises that never surprise anyone.

It all started with George Lucas’ reveal at the end of The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. This was a genuine surprise to most people, a nice unexpected twist in the story. Lucas claims that he had planned that all along, and I guess it may be possible, although I have my doubts. The problem with the whole Luke’s father twist is that it inspired a whole generation of TV and film makers to become obsessed with creating clever twists or unexpected surprises. Plot secrets designed to stun the viewers. Game of Thrones did this well when interpreting the source material. The Red Wedding shocked many, as did Snow’s murder at the end of last season. But nobody was ever going to believe that Snow would stay dead, and it was a waste of energy to try and convince us otherwise.

In 2011 director J.J. Abrams, obsessed with this idea of the mystery twist, named the antagonist of Star Trek Into Darkness John Harrison, and spent a lot of time trying to convince us that John Harrison was not actually Khan Noonian Singh. Which he was. Everybody familiar with Star Trek was pretty much convinced that Harrison was Khan, but Abrams and his crew remained adamant that he wasn’t until the release of the film. Nobody was surprised. We were all just annoyed that we had been so poorly lied to. Benedict Cumberbatch’s pasty white Khan was not only an insult to the original character’s Sikh origins, but also to the intelligence of every Star Trek fan watching. Those outside of the fandom probably asked “Khan who?” and moved on. The real surprise would’ve been if it wasn’t Khan, if the villain had been another of those 72 genetically enhanced supermen (or women) travelling through space on the Botany Bay. But Abrams had to choose the most predictable surprise and hence failed to surprise anyone. And based on his equivocations regarding the parentage of Rey in the new Star Wars trilogy, he hasn’t learned his lesson. Because after the fans have run through all of the possibilities, no choice the producers make is ever going to be a surprise.

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