Disneyfying Game of Thrones
Dave and Dan have made a decision and I personally don’t like it. I call it Disneyfying Game of Thrones. It lacks a lot of ideas that made the series unique in my point of view. Of course, D&D‘s work is still great and I appreciate – also as a book-reader – that they created a fascinating adaption of a plot deemed unfilmable. As a consumer, I loved the scenes they shot, enjoyed the tension they created up to now. But, from a critical point of view pointed out below, they broke the chains the Westerosi world put on their creativity when they blew up the Sept of Baelor. And it was not for good. I’ll start with minor weaknesses and get on to really troublesome deficits. I have best hopes, they will live up again to a higher standard by Season 8.
#1 Character Incoherences
One of the most disputed topics in the forum is a minor weakness in my point of view. Of course, it’s always disputable how a character should have behaved according to his portayal before. Looking back at Season 1, you will soon realize how severly a lot of characters have changed – and remember how rarely this has been a matter of discussion, rather of appraisal of their plausible development. Looking at the current characters, questions popping up about their coherence should at least be taken as a critique that the portayals haven’t been so convincing anymore than they have been before. There’s an explanation for it in #7.
#2 Compensating aporetic moments
D&D have decided to leave some things unexplained in the series to contribute to its mystery. Yet, GoT was always a matter of making a complicated issue comprehensible. They now make a much easier setting incomprehensible by leaving out important information. That’s how they create the effect of „not knowing what will happen“ now. This hasn’t been the case before. GoT has constructed these aporetic settings before in a totally different manner: Either you thought you knew what would happen – before someone was interfering in an un-anticipated, but plausible way out of complex sets of relations between actors. Or you saw two (or more) actors with two (or more) agencies in competition with one another, not knowing how it will play out. In #9 you’ll find a reason why they have to compensate for truly aporetic moments in this way. Although it may annoy you while watching the series after you have realized this method of „building up tension“, it creates the effect of „not knowing what will happen“.
#3 Plausibility Stretches
Plausibility stretches are fine. You have a cool idea, so you film it despite knowing it‘s rather unrealistic. If you want to have some dragon fun beyond the Wall, it doesn’t matter how plausible the timeline is. Anyway, it would be boring, if you showed all the time passing until someone gets to Winterfell. Telling such a story involves jumping wildly in time and space and sometimes, important characters have to travel in lightspeed to get the story going on. Can be disrupting of the experience of smooth watching, but is less troublesome when the scene makes up for it. They usually do make up for it in Game of Thrones.
#4 Unnecessary Stretches of the Storyline
Yet, in sum, the points mentioned before may culminate into stretches of storylines that seem rather absurd afterwards. For example: Why, if at all, was it necessary to have Littlefinger lingering around in Winterfell for so long? The Starks knew from the beginning of the deeds he did to Sansa and Lysa. Why did they have so many pauses in the war between Dany and Cersei? There was hardly a real battle or run for alliances. Why have they thrown Jaime and Jon into the water when they had such an easy time to get out of it? (Personally, I speculate that they did this, because it may be interpreted as a part of the Azor Ahai Prophecy, leaving open the answer.) And the most central deficit, of course: What about the truce with Cersei? Of course, anyone would have known she wouldn’t keep the pact and we get to know this like five minutes after they have arranged it for half a season. It wasn’t even reasonable for Tyrion to believe she would keep the truce, if not for her childbirth.
In the afterthought, these plots appear often as rather unnecessary, repeating and unplausible stretches of a storyline. It leaves the feeling that the story now has much less to tell than it makes us believe. Just to compare: We may look at so many events like the Red Wedding or Ned’s Beheading to realize what really was a „gamechanger“. Season 7 lacks those twists totally. Twists are interrupting a linear plot. This time, it’s following simply a linear plot with a lot of retarding moments.
#5 Severe lack of agency
Theon was carried through the Season with hardly anything to do. Sam, Arya and Bran were all about getting to Winterfell. The Brotherhood moves to the Wall, as does Gendry in his brief appearance. Melisandre just disappears. Dickon Tarly too. Most of the characters have no more goals of their own to which they act accordingly. Most of them follow Cersei or Dany or Jon. But even Cersei and Dany hardly move – despite being in war with one another. Why hasn’t Dany tried to conquer all the other parts around Westeros instead of complaining all the time about having lost Highgarden and Dorne? Also, Cersei is waiting like months for the Golden Company, although she can send Euron from Kings Landing to Casterly Rock in minutes. Someone must have told them, that the Twins are easy to conquer. We have to face this honestly and attest a severe lack of agency: In Season 7, Jon Snow is the only character left in the show that really moves. The rest are downgraded to bystanders – notably Davos, Varys, Littlefinger and Bronn, characters with a lot of subversive potential. Remember the time when Arya, Theon and Tyrion had to solve a severe problem nearly every time they appeared on screen? This brings me directly to the point of …
#6 Weak Characters
Why have all the powerful characters in this show become such weak players? Tyrion is so easily outsmarted, Varys lacks any information and goal, Littlefinger’s plays are undercomplex, submissive and easy to see through. Destined to die, Littlefinger has seized power in the Vale and has no clue how to use it. It seems like they had to lose their strength in order to show other characters becoming more powerful – Cersei and Sansa for instance. Yet, this idea of telling a character growing in power in relation to another character didn‘t work on me. It’s just adding some people making unnecessary faults they haven’t done before. Making these characters much weaker doesn’t show how much power other characters have gained.
#7 Story Telling > Character Development
I try to put it simple: D&D want to tell us a story. And characters have to develop accordingly. The goal of the character development seems to be fixed. It doesn’t grow anymore out of the circumstances in which they are in. In the end, they have to act according to the linear plot. Since the story doesn’t grow out of the agency of its protagonists anymore, a new malaise arises: You still have to show which traits characters have. Some characters‘ traits are therefore downplayed to dialogue lines. Other characters get contrasted with one another with someone explaining to the other their difference to make it super-obvious that they are different. Yet, the seemingly ongoing shaping of characters by experience doesn’t change the plot. They only „live“ traits when they fit into the plot. We have a massive appearance of pretty much all the main characters by the end of the show in one place. Each character lives his trait exactly then, when it furthers on the development according to the (linear, retarding) dramatic structure. Most of the time, the individuals disappear under the surface of the plot. (Yeah, I know, in this scene they greatly told a story by shooting reactions. Telling a story, remember the point of this argument, is the problem regarding individual agency anyway.)
The Arch-Maesters of the Citadel are just a bunch of scientists far from worldly necessities. They have some cool books, but we don’t get but a glimpse of their knowledge. The White Walkers are just hording a zombie mass, and have no mysterious background culture anymore. The Dothraki are pretty easily civilzed; however Dany has made it (and whatever was the point of the Meereenese knot showing the problems of ruling a strange people then). Religion plays no role anymore: Mel disappears and Thoros dies; Faceless men are faceless men, so what; the Drowned God isn’t mentioned prominently as far as I remember; greenseeing is left unexplained. Warging has been no point in the series. Dragon-riding neither. Hell, this is a magical world with so little mystery in this Season, it’s all down to the brute force of dragons and zombies.
#9 Total Lack of Background Complexity
By far the most severe point of critique: The story has now lost all the background about Westeros it had before – because they concentrated on details like dressing, swords and minor anecdotes. Before, they usually managed to show us a lot of the minor folks of Westeros. Now the war is over, the harvest is destroyed, the Sept of Baelor exploded in the middle of Kings Landing, and so on, so what about the people of the Seven Kingdoms? How do they live under the tyranny of Cersei? What are the Dothraki horses eating on the obviously tiny island of Dragonstone? What’s going on in the Twins after Arya has been there? What’s up in Dorne? How’s the Wall preparing for the big attack? We don’t get a glimpse.
But it’s not just the details in the background of Westeros, it’s also the mechanisms of power that have lacked totally: What’s the point of ruling the Seven Kingdoms? Or ruling Dorne and the Reach? What is Dany’s vision for Westeros everyone is praising? And how do they rule: Dany and Cersei regarding their realm? What is even their realm? Where are the borders, who is loyal to whom? What’s the whole point about the Game of Thrones? Seems like D&D totally have lost track of the interests of the living while concentrating on the danger of death.
Even minor details that could easily have been fixed are simply left to forget. So, for example, what about the heir of the Dreadfort? Could’ve been named besides Umber and Karstark. Than also Sansa would’ve been pleased and had not to discuss with Jon. What about the new Prince of Dorne, or the new owner of the Twins? Highgarden’s been so important for its money – the Twins aren’t? Who is ruling the riverlands anyway now?
#10 Missed Opportunities
Truth be told: They should have totally rewritten most of the story – not all of the scenes – after a critical review of the first draft. Likely, they realized this and lacked time to do it. Obviously, D&D put so much effort in explaining their plot and characters afterwards – which would not be necessary if they had done it by working it out in series. Obstacles, taken seriously, enhance creativity. The epitome of an obstacle is, of course, the Wall. With the Wall going down in such a simple and brute manner, it shows a rather uncreative exploration of Westeros‘ magical depth. Explaining the scene, D&D said a dragon was the only weapon in Westeros that could bring down the Wall. As if there weren’t any alternatives in a fictional world that couldn’t have been built in. For example, heavy chains out of iron in an area were people used to lack iron so that you could pull a dragon out of an iced sea and then have the Wall brought down by a dragon.
GoT has become disneyfied: A linear plot with a lot of retarding moments, but you can be sure that in the end the good side wins against evil and some people you like will die on the way. That’s now quite a hollowed out version of anything GoT used to promise. On the surface, the consumer will still be pleased. The emancipated spectator may see the development critical.