I get why the 'Game of Thrones' show is popular. The Lord of the Rings movies brought high fantasy to the masses, made a lot of money (though, let's be honest with ourselves, the movies were far from perfect) and then ended. 'Pillars of the Earth' was television at its finest sporting an awesome cast, great characters and a crazy interconnected plot set in a wildly unstable period of British history, which as a mini-series, also ended. After those two properties came increasingly disappointing follow-ups, 'World Without End' which was just boring, and more recently, Peter Jackson's very watered down and bloated 'The Hobbit.' People who had never considered themselves fans of either historical fiction or high fantasy suddenly found themselves both obsessively interested and entirely out of things to watch. Into the breach, stepped HBO, an enormous production budget, and a series of books which already had a fan base, and due to the style of writing could conceivably go on forever! A new cultural phenom was born.
I get it.
But I hate it. Let me tell you why.
1) Nobody matters.
I tried reading 'Game of Thrones' years ago when only fantasy nerds cared about it, and I wondered the same thing then that I did when I watched the opening season: who am I supposed to care about? The first character you meet in the series (and I mean, episode 1) dies five minutes after being introduced. The next character you meet in any detail winds up in a coma. The next character winds up marooned in a winter wasteland with no real place to go and nothing particularly interesting to do. This process continues through the whole series. There are so many characters introduced and then dispatched, it's hard to keep track of who I am supposed to care about.
The inevitable rebuttal is, well, we're supposed to care about all of them. (A second rebuttal could be made that we're really just supposed to care about Peter Dinklage, which I have no intention of arguing with. Peter Dinklage is cool.)
My rebuttal to that is, what the hell for? What's the point? After a while, it's like having an existential crisis. Who cares which Stark dies next? They're all going to die eventually, and so is everyone else, and after enough books, none of it will have mattered anyway, which brings me to my next point.
2) Nothing else matters either.
I think George R.R. Martin believes in his heart he's being terribly clever about the plots of his books. We get a lot of different perspectives on fictional geo-politics, which supposedly brings more realism to High Fantasy, a genre categorically defined by Tolkien's good-vs-evil conflicts. The problem is that George R.R. Martin is not terribly clever about his plots. He's not even a little clever. He ultimately seems to possess no real understanding of geo-politics at all, because no one in his books is actually trying to accomplish anything.
The motivations Martin gives his characters are shockingly mundane. Starks all want to be good people, despite never really considering what it means to be a good person, or what the best way to be a good person might be. Lannisters want to take the throne, which doesn't make any sense, because they already control the finances of the kingdom and actually stand to lose quite a bit of money if they become the monarchs, because then they just owe themselves a lot of money, which in the end leaves them no one to gouge for repayments. The Targaryens start out wanting to reclaim their homeland after being deposed and exiled, but it gets more and more convoluted as the plot continues. In a nut shell, Martin's motivations all boil down to power for power's sake. Nobody really wants anything, they just want the ability to do anything they want, which isn't actually very much at all.
Geo-politics can be really interesting, but it does require a writer with some understanding of what motivates national leaders and nations. Even Hitler, who really was planning to take over most of the world, had some idea of what he wanted done with the world afterward.
3) Everyone who writes television seems to be taking cues from 'Game of Thrones'
This is a big one. Everyone everywhere seems to be trying out the 'Game of Thrones' model for their television show in the hopes of upping ratings. 'Downton Abbey' tried it by killing off some major characters this past season, and 'American Horror Story' decided that despite being a horror story, it was better to just throw a lot of narrative arcs together with no real protagonist. Both seem like weird approximations of Martin's ideas of plot, and none of them are particularly interesting to watch. Please, for the love of god, television writers, stop aping 'Game of Thrones' plot devices.
You're not making television better, you're making story-telling worse (I love you, Mike Judge).
Agree? Disagree? Want to fight about it? Leave a comment.