Game of Thrones: An Appreciation
It was the late Robin Williams who famously coined the phrase: "There are two types of people in the world- those who love Neil Diamond and those who don't". It was by no means an original line but it was apt for the times in which he was adapting it and I feel that, while it could be applied to many things, including sushi, it is most applicable today about Game of Thrones, the HBO juggernaut that is now half-way through its eighth and final season.
It's important to say at the outset that this is a spoiler-free appreciation. People like to know these things before they read on. The reader might also pose a question, why now? Why not wait until the conclusion of the series to pen an appreciation, when we know the conclusion, when we know who will have won the game and sits on the Iron Throne of Westeros? Patience Iago, all will become clearer.
And that is the difficult part isn't it? For a show that is Lord of the Rings meets The Sopranos, there are so many twists and turns, so many plots that won or backfired, so many enemies dispatched that ultimately the machinations are reduced to a statement by Sir Davos Seaworth: “If we don’t put aside our enmities and band together we will die. And then it doesn’t matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne.” As inspirational speeches go it was short. However it perfectly sums up the overarching theme of the series: Winter is Coming.
House Stark has been intoning this, solemnly, for thousands of years. That house and family have been shown to be defined by the clarity of purpose they get from their position in the North, where they know better than the more comfortable southern houses; the all-trumping importance of constant vigilance against the ageless dangers beyond the Wall. Not for House Stark are these petty, vain intrigues, no no: Winter Is Coming, and ultimately all of the living must either unite or die.
The story, as told over eight years has been at great pains, from the very beginning, to show this as an essentially inevitable revelation for anyone who ventures beyond the Wall, or really for any character whose perspective on the world becomes large enough to contain awareness of the White Walkers. The Kingslayer Jaime Lannister, whose narrative arc swung him from attempted-child-murdering solipsism to an ever-expanding moral identification with others and orientation toward the greater good, didn’t even have to go north to realize it; being confronted with a captured wight in King’s Landing was enough. He understood, immediately: The thing that matters before all others is joining the living to defeat the dead.
There have been many pivotal and bloody moments in the series; The Red Wedding being the one that, even for casual viewers, will stand out as a moment when the writers killed off half of the cast and left us reeling. It was a brave move and displayed a confidence in the abilities of the writers, who took their template from George RR Martin, to keep us engaged even though some of our favourite characters were no more. It is this writing that has kept me and millions like me riveted to our screens.
For those of you who have, and those who may not have, Season 8, Episode 2 is a master-class in screen-writing. Most of the major characters have assembled in Winterfell for the forthcoming war with the dead and taking from the old tradition of a ship's captain touring his ship before a great battle, we get a tour of our characters. As the great story-teller himself, Stephen King tweeted:
High praise indeed. The episode show-cased the strength of the series and how well-drawn the characters are. As they share what passes for wine in front or a roaring fire, they tell tales and sing songs. It is warm, uplifting but ultimately foreboding. Gallows humour abounds and we see our characters stripped of preconceptions, realise truths and begin to understand that for once they have more in common than they might think.
Meanwhile, back in King's Landing, Cersei has decided not to join the living to fight the dead. She took one look at a big map of Westeros, saw where Winterfell and the Wall were relative to King’s Landing, and went, “Pfft, that’s real far away, you guys,” and on the basis of that alone is a wiser leader and strategist than literally any of the haunted characters (we're looking at you Jon Snow) who spent the past eight years insisting the White Walker threat trumped all others. It trumped nothing! Cersei’s army sat that “war” out entirely, and all she’s got to show for it is a vast numerical and positional advantage in the actual war that matters, which is over which of a handful of hereditary elites will get to claim the Iron Throne. That’s truly amazing. It’s the kind of bold, expectation-upsetting writing, in fact, that made this show so famous and memorable in the first place.
Roll on the rest of the Season. I look forward to its twisted path to its conclusion. You may be in the camp that has never watched Game of Thrones, that poo-poos it. Well, while other opinions are available, you're wrong. It has been and continues to be, as it takes its time to tell its story, one of the best-written, best-acted, best directed and most human stories we have seen on our small screens for some time.