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Excellent article on the show's shift from sociological to psychological storytelling

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Thank you. I like how they point out in the preamble that yes, it was bad storytelling. 

I imagine Game of Thrones will provide excellent material for future students of script writing of what works (first seasons) and what doesn't (last seasons).

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Posted (edited)

Spot on. The shots of Dany as a Sith Lord weren't a coincidence I guess; they really switched to telling a Star Wars story here. Larger than life heroes and villains existing in a vacuum and choosing Light or Dark. There is an epic appeal to it but it's not ASOIAF.

Edited by Isewein

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It's an interesting but horribly written article.  The premise isn't explained until WAY too far.

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Posted (edited)

B.S. Game of Thrones is based on novels. All novels, if they're any good, are sociological and psychological (to use the article's terms). That may be easier to do in a novel than a t.v. show, but Game of Thrones did it very well for four seasons. 

What happened? They didn't shift from sociology to psychology. They simply dropped sociology. The psychological aspect was always present. Think of Ned observing Arya's water-dancing and having a PTSD flashback episode.

Either through incompetence or disinterest, they suddenly got really bad at SETTING, PLOT, DIALOGUE, etc. They weren't telling the story of wider Westerosi culture, politics, society, religion, courtship, family, and so forth. To the point where a would-be ruler of Seven Kingdoms has no idea who's currently ruling several kingdoms, if anyone. But not because they shifted to psychology. One of our biggest complaints lately is that we have no idea what characters are thinking or why they do what they do. 

What the show has shifted to is less literary and more visual storytelling. Which might seem psychological when they linger on actors' ambiguous expressions. But just as often screentime is filled by extended action sequences or people walking past stuff or dragons soaring. 

 

Also, one thing that always bugs me: the question of why the show stopped killing main characters. I think we all knew watching season One that Jon, Dany, and Tyrion would be main characters. Ned was more important initially and the Red Wedding took up a lot of time, but come on. Low and behold, the final episode has those three (and Bran for some bizarre reason) as the main focus. 

Somewhere along the way Cersei became the principal antagonist and Tyrion dipped during seasons Five and Six. But we had our main characters from the jump. Ned, Robb, Tywin, etc. were just part of the journey. 

Edited by darmody

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2 hours ago, Isewein said:

Spot on. The shots of Dany as a Sith Lord weren't a coincidence I guess; they really switched to telling a Star Wars story here. Larger than life heroes and villains existing in a vacuum and choosing Light or Dark. There is an epic appeal to it but it's not ASOIAF.

That's a problem with being half-in and half-out of the fantasy genre. Subverting it but relying upon it. 

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The concept of sociological story telling is a useful concept to analyze narratives, but I think the idea of a shift towards psychological story telling is the wrong way to frame the issue in GOT. To me, the first seasons, and indeed the books, have both a strong psychological AND sociological element. We have characters that feel like they have real inner layers to them, layers they are not always aware of, but that are revealed through their actions and streams of consciousness. At the same time, they are placed in a realistic world that also reacts to them in a meaningful way.

The show just removed the sociological element because it is too hard to write that kind of material. You have to let the restrictions of the logic of the established rules CONSTRAIN your choices for the characters. GRRM takes a long time to write because he goes over many possible scenarios and considers how they would influence the greater plot. The show never did that post season 4.

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6 minutes ago, Jaime the Goldenhand said:

The concept of sociological story telling is a useful concept to analyze narratives, but I think the idea of a shift towards psychological story telling is the wrong way to frame the issue in GOT. To me, the first seasons, and indeed the books, have both a strong psychological AND sociological element. We have characters that feel like they have real inner layers to them, layers they are not always aware of, but that are revealed through their actions and streams of consciousness. At the same time, they are placed in a realistic world that also reacts to them in a meaningful way.

The show just removed the sociological element because it is too hard to write that kind of material. You have to let the restrictions of the logic of the established rules CONSTRAIN your choices for the characters. GRRM takes a long time to write because he goes over many possible scenarios and considers how they would influence the greater plot. The show never did that post season 4.

You hear stories about how they had different plans but shoved things in at the last second. Like Dorne in season Five, which did immense damage and was clearly rushed. You can physically see how rushed it is in the crappy fight choreography. 

Or the Battle of the Bastards, which we know had a different ending, though we don't know what that ending was. They didn't plan well enough and couldn't shoot the climax, so they improvised in the editing room and finished inside Winterfell. 

Sometimes just basic discipline and professionalism is all it takes. We don't need George Martin-tier plotting. Just plotting that you didn't make up at 2a.m. Monday morning because you put your book report off all weekend. 

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18 hours ago, zed said:

Nice article, I don't agree with every bit, but the main points are correct: The storytelling of GRRM and the first seasons was sociological and did not depend on individual characters. They should have continued to tell the story in a sociological way and the buildup of Daenerys was fine from season 1 on. They could have had almost the same end with a better, sociological telling and avoid all the controversy.

On the other hand, we now know that GRRM's saga is about the Stark children and beating the Ice (Others) and Fire (Daenerys) challenges. Of course, the important characters diminished from season to season and to let "important" characters die got more and more difficult. That's not an excuse for bad storytelling, but even GRRM will have to focus on these children after all. He just disguised it pretty long.

After all, GRRM's story and the first seasons were so speical and so excellent because he invests a lot of thinking and plotting. I like the linked analysis of calling this style the "sociological" way.

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I think the writer of the article says that the psychological stories are still there in a sociological story, but in a sociological story the world the characters live in will shape their thinking and their motivations. From the article:

Varys, the advisor who will die for trying to stop Dany, says to Tyrion that “every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.” That is straight-up and simplistic genetic determinism, rather than what we had been witnessing for the past seven seasons. Again, sociological stories don’t discount the personal, psychological and even the genetic, but the key point is that they are more than “coin tosses”—they are complex interactions with emergent consequences: the way the world actually works.

 

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2 minutes ago, Vanadis said:

I think the writer of the article says that the psychological stories are still there in a sociological story, but in a sociological story the world the characters live in will shape their thinking and their motivations.

Yes. The decisive point is that a sociological story does not live on individuals, on single characters, but on institutions, families, houses, politics, classes, unions, what ever applies. We can lose a character and still it is full of tension and future. 

Contrary to that, a psychologically told story mostly depends on individual characters and mostly heroes/anti-heroes.

Of course, psychology is important for sociological stories, too, because it drives individuals and those are present anyway.

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5 hours ago, Vanadis said:

Thank you. I like how they point out in the preamble that yes, it was bad storytelling. 

I imagine Game of Thrones will provide excellent material for future students of script writing of what works (first seasons) and what doesn't (last seasons).

This reminds me of when the walking dead tried to copycat GOT cliffhanger ends to episodes/seasons.  And right after the assassination of Jon Snow and Dany being captured by the Dothraki they tried to pull off the "who does Negan kill cliffhanger" it makes me think that script writers don't pay enough attention.  But like you said hopefully the future ones will apply lessons from GOT and we can have better quality TV shows

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1 hour ago, darmody said:

Sometimes just basic discipline and professionalism is all it takes. We don't need George Martin-tier plotting. Just plotting that you didn't make up at 2a.m. Monday morning because you put your book report off all weekend. 

Yes, I totally agree with this. And even Martin tier plotting is not impossible, for anyone with a modicum of talent, with discipline.... and time.

And the thing that is annoying about the writing quality in later seasons of GoTs (and other recent mega budget pieces of entertainment) is that the writers are paid so fucking well they should be able to find the discipline and make the time. I get if a writer working out of a basement as a third job struggles to find the time to do all the needed spreadsheet work (or scrapbook, it doesn't really matter) and rereading and rewriting to make sure the world and characters are cohesive and consistent. But these high rolling, managerial minded Hollywood twats that score big money to write something with a huge audience owe it to the world (and their own sense of accountability and honor, if they have any) to write well. They are paid to do that. If they let go of their own dicks (and egos) for a brief second, they might actually realise they are being shit at what they are paid to do and remedy the pathetic excuse for a cohesive narrative they call scripts.

Either that, or they are and always were total hacks who flew everywhere by the seat of their pants. I'm not sure which is worse.

And, all of that said, I still like the last 2 episodes of the show because I can decipher how the plot was always meant to come together. 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Winter prince said:

This reminds me of when the walking dead tried to copycat GOT cliffhanger ends to episodes/seasons.  And right after the assassination of Jon Snow and Dany being captured by the Dothraki they tried to pull off the "who does Negan kill cliffhanger" it makes me think that script writers don't pay enough attention.  But like you said hopefully the future ones will apply lessons from GOT and we can have better quality TV shows

The Death of Jon Snow was the only time Game of Thrones pulled a Who Shot J.R.?, isn't it? Because their usual m.o. is to have big events in the penultimate episode, then mop up in the finale. Always leaving threads hanging of course. 

Walking Dead was egregiously pulling a marketing stunt. Because they teased Negan the whole second half of the season, then dedicated the entire finale to meeting him. Only to cut out before the real drama happened. Worse, they lied about it and tried to pretend they told a complete story and would pick up next season with a new one. Only to waste an episode rehashing the same things before finally revealing what happened. 

That was not the first time. Walking Dead also pulled what people called Dumpstergate, which faked a major character's death. Most people knew he would live, but it was an actual Misery moment wherein they had to alter reality to make him survive. And that wasn't the worst. This happened in the middle of the season, and was followed by a flashback episode that wasn't directly related to the ongoing story and could have been put anywhere. AND the producers put out a ridiculous phony condolence letter on AMC's official aftershow. 

Game of Thrones has messed with us, but frankly not that bad. 

Edited by darmody

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30 minutes ago, darmody said:

The Death of Jon Snow was the only time Game of Thrones pulled a Who Shot J.R.?, isn't it? Because their usual m.o. is to have big events in the penultimate episode, then mop up in the finale. Always leaving threads hanging of course. 

Walking Dead was egregiously pulling a marketing stunt. Because they teased Negan the whole second half of the season, then dedicated the entire finale to meeting him. Only to cut out before the real drama happened. Worse, they lied about it and tried to pretend they told a complete story and would pick up next season with a new one. Only to waste an episode rehashing the same things before finally revealing what happened. 

That was not the first time. Walking Dead also pulled what people called Dumpstergate, which faked a major character's death. Most people knew he would live, but it was an actual Misery moment wherein they had to alter reality to make him survive. And that wasn't the worst. This happened in the middle of the season, and was followed by a flashback episode that wasn't directly related to the ongoing story and could have been put anywhere. AND the producers put out a ridiculous phony condolence letter on AMC's official aftershow. 

Game of Thrones has messed with us, but frankly not that bad. 

I think I had mentally blocked dumpstergate until now.  It really does show:

1. D&D originally did a solid job of translating great source information into TV

2. How hard it is to not piss off your fan base for the sake of ratings

3. All good shows jump the shark at some point

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Posted (edited)

Well there's another aspect not mentioned here about moving from a show that is willing to kill of it's characters to one where they all suddenly seem invincible: eventually you run out of fat to trim.

This can be seen by how empty Westeros felt by the end. You have to stop killing characters eventually, or you have to add in new ones. The further you get into a show, the more jarring it is to suddenly add in new major characters. You're brain starts to ask, "why weren't we following these folks from the start?" The answer is more palatable if the story is centered around a specific framing point or locations. But in a show like this, where we basically are introduced to a bunch of distinct stories from all over the globe, it is harder to understand suddenly meeting a new one in media res.

This is why Young Griff feels so weird. If he really is the Aegon, why wasn't his story just as important as Dany's to hear about from the very beginning?

There's really no way around this problem without taking for granted that as the show progresses, the more locked in the invincible characters become.

Edited by iprayiam

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4 hours ago, Vanadis said:

I think the writer of the article says that the psychological stories are still there in a sociological story, but in a sociological story the world the characters live in will shape their thinking and their motivations. From the article:

Varys, the advisor who will die for trying to stop Dany, says to Tyrion that “every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.” That is straight-up and simplistic genetic determinism, rather than what we had been witnessing for the past seven seasons. Again, sociological stories don’t discount the personal, psychological and even the genetic, but the key point is that they are more than “coin tosses”—they are complex interactions with emergent consequences: the way the world actually works.

Social setting should influence characters in every story. Unless it's about a castaway. Or some kind of fable or abstract thing. 

There aren't sociological stories and psychological stories. There are stories that do or don't have these elements, and if they don't have both they probably suck. 

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Very interesting article, thanks for sharing!

Well, I'm going to show my ignorance now. First of all, what does jump the shark mean? A friend told me just recently, but I don't remember.

So, I understand the concepts and differences of sociological and psychological story telling. I agree that a story told from strictly a psychological method would be uninteresting and stupid. What I'm wondering is, after the NK is destroyed, we're essentially down to Who's going to kill Cersei, and is Dany going to become ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. When the story line is narrowed down to that degree, it seems to me you have to rely more on psychological story telling than sociological. It came down to Dany's feeling unloved and unrespected (hmmm, apparently that's not a word--oh well) while she believes she is entitled to that love and respect, coupled with a genetic predisposition for madness. How could that part of the story be better told using sociological story telling when we already know all the pertinent sociological aspects? It seems to me all that's left is psychological story telling.

I have always loved to read, but I hated studying literature when I was in school. Now it interests me, but I am feeling kind of dumb at the moment.

I do have to say though, that the author of that article pointing out the convenience of Euron and Jaime arriving at the same small cove at the same time as cheap story telling was cheap criticism. Show me a story with a hero in it that doesn't have those kinds of cheesy scenes! It happens ALL THE TIME.

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