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Well, we’re into the final season of Game of Thrones, and I’ve figured out the reason why the story no longer thrills us. They’re skipping to the end.
The other evening, when I was almost through the first episode of the last series of Game of Thrones, I experienced something we were promised. Theon Greyjoy made good on his want to rescue his sister, Yara, as alluded to in the final of series seven.
And what a scene it was. Boarding the ship of his uncle, Theon’s band of cutthroats swathed their way below deck, weaving through the steel swung by those holding Yara captive. Through the sweat, viscera and anger, Theon controlled his fate. He sprung her. Blood reunited by the spilling of blood. The two found themselves to a safe vessel, only to be divided again by fate. Nothing was said, but nothing needed to be said. She was safe, they were safe. So, again, they parted. Yara to the Iron Islands, Theon worked north, toward the White Walkers.
None of this, of course, happened. In the show, we saw Euron threaten Yara whilst captive. Theon walks Yara off the boat. The next time we see the two they’re travelling independent of each other. There’s no moment, no gravitas, only conclusion.
It may seem like a tiny moment, but it represents a microcosm of the problem with the latter-day storytelling of Game of Thrones. They operate minus the meat in the sandwich. They set up stories and skip to the conclusion. The meat is important, because that’s where the flavour is. Doing nothing between the setup and the conclusion does nothing for us. It’s why the second half of GoT has been so hollow. They’re skipping to the end, and doing so is lazy, and sells we fans of the series short.
This, for those in the industry, is known as a second act.
Back in 2016, Todd VanDerWerff of Vox lamented the lack of this in modern blockbusters. Ostensibly, the second act consists of the majority of the story. It is important, because it illustrates the development of the plot, and more importantly, the development of the character within the plot. We seem them get from point A to point B, we don’t just see the two landmarks. With the second act, they mean nothing, because we haven’t earned it.
If we flash back to season seven, let us analyse the will-they-won’t-they chicanery of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. It took up most of season, and rightfully it should. They were keen on each other, and Jon backed her bid to seat on the seat of steel. Typically, they banged, which in narrative terms ruins the second act complication. In plain English, they’re both related, and they know it. The problem with the union would the question of incest. They probably shouldn’t do it, because they really shouldn’t, but they want to. It’s your classic drama. I care already.
If we unpack the stakes of bang, it becomes clear what we missed out on. There’s no emotional weight, sure, but considering what could be lost if it goes awry, from a military sense (the alliance is key to defeat the White Walkers), or politics (Snow’s claim is more legitimate), and what we have left is post-coital cigarettes. Having them just do it, represents the writers doing them wrong.
They’re speeding to the conclusion. The above is a better example of their storytelling, but there are far clunkier examples. Daenerys’s decision to go to Westeros, or Cersei’s decision to raise an army of her own. Often, a character says they’re going to do something, and nek minnit, they’ve done it. Which, you know, great for old mate, but what about us? The cardinal rule of all writing, especially screenwriting, is show, don’t tell.
We’re here for the struggles, not the conclusions. Let us experience the steps to something. Just doing it is, well, it’s boring.
The great shame, of course, is that we have great forests of source material to draw from. Yes, Georgie-Porgie waffles, but in streamlining the books, they’re removing the context that made the series so great. Yes, television can never be a book, as by virtue it is the bare bones in order to squeeze it into an hour, but there is a right way to do it. Disappointingly, the early seasons got it. Each confrontation was laded in doom, each conversation could end in blood. That was what made the series, the series.
The second half, I feel, is dangerously similar to my 6 year old attempting to tell me how school was, but due to his excitement and/or sugar levels, he’s unable to sit long enough to tell me anything but the conclusion.