Category Archives: Television

Game of Thrones: The Complete Series

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What makes a “great” television drama?  “Great” is a largely meaningless term.  There are dramas that are well written, but not particularly influential.  There are dramas that are influential, but not particularly well written.  Then there is the cream of the crop, the dramas that are both well written and influential.  While it is impossible to assess how influential a show will be two days after its series finale, I’m confident that Game of Thrones will fit squarely in the category of influential, but not particularly well written.

Was it well-written at times?  Absolutely – especially when it stuck closely to its source material, George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.”  There were many times the writing was bad during the last two seasons, and there were times that the writing was as bad, if not worse, throughout the series.  Examples include Daenerys’ visit to Qarth, anything involving Ramsey Snow, violence against women that did not happen in the source material, the mustache-twirling villains of Craster’s Keep, Arya’s layover in Braavos, and Jaime’s misadventures in Dorne.  Theon Greyjoy, for instance, spent most of the series in a poorly written subplot, so his demise in the final season does not deeply resonate despite the fact that Alfie Allen has been in the main credits since the very first episode.

The rushed and sloppily written final two seasons may be the show’s most obvious writing failure at the moment, but let’s not forget that the show constantly underwhelmed in its depiction of one of the most compelling characters in the source material, Jon Snow.  While Kit Harrington’s portrayal of Snow has proven popular, the book version of Jon Snow is one of the smartest and emotionally complex characters in the entire series.  The show, on the other hand, often portrayed Snow as well-meaning, but dull and not very bright.

So yeah, Game of Thrones is flawed.  But it is also pushed the technical boundaries of the medium of television drama further than any series that came before. Game of Thrones has given us hundreds of unforgettable images, from the birth of the dragons to the knighting of Brienne of Tarth.  When I think of Game of Thrones, I won’t always think about how Daenerys’ heel turn at the end was sloppily written, but I will remember images, such as the one of Jon and Ygritte looking out from the top of The Wall.

I can reasonably predict that Game of Thrones will be more influential as a technical achievement than anything else.  The way it handled a sprawling story that took place over a decade, over two massive continents, with hundreds of characters will be a text that creators will look at when designing their own equally ambitious television series.  Game of Thrones proved that no series is “unfilmable,” and that may be its most important legacy.

I can’t quite “rank” Game of Thrones yet, but as of right now I would not put it in the same league as The Wire or Mad Men because of its inconsistent, and sometimes outright bad, writing.  A better comparison would be The West Wing.  The West Wing pushed the boundaries of technical achievement in television, not with dragons and white walkers, but by demonstrating a cinematic, “lived-in” feel that still resonates in the industry.  Like Game of Thrones, The West Wing is a rewarding show on the second or third viewing.  Also, like Game of Thrones, The West Wing suffered from poor writing, especially during its final seasons, which resulted in an ending that felt disappointing and failed to resonate as deeply as it could have.

In conclusion, Game of Thrones gets an A+ for technical achievement, but a C+ for writing.  That said, here are some of my favorite moments from Game of Thrones:

  • The Battle of Hardhome: A scene loaded with unforgettable images, not just the iconic “Night King raises the dead” scene.
  • Jon and Ygritte climb The Wall: One of the few times the show did justice to a Jon Snow plotline from the books.
  • Daenerys burns Astapor: This reads differently in retrospect – not so much a moment of triumph as an ominous harbinger of things to come.
  • The Hound eats your chicken: Game of Thrones could be really funny at times, especially when it partnered interesting characters together, like Arya and the Hound.
  • Arya reunites with Nymeria: the last two seasons were flawed, but Arya’s moment of clarity when reuniting with her lost direwolf was a highlight.
  • Tyrion’s “trial by combat” at the Vale: with great dialogue and our introduction to the Bronn/Tyrion friendship, this was an early highlight.
  • Oberyn Martell’s introduction: sometimes Game of Thrones brought in new characters slowly, sometimes it introduced them by showing you exactly who they were and what they were about.
  • “No true king ever needs to say, I am the king:” man, Charles Dance was great as Tywin Lannister, wasn’t he?
  • Battle at the Wall tracking shot: you know which one I’m talking about.
  • “And you will know the debt is paid:” anytime Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey shared a scene it was pure gold.

That’s a wrap on the final season of Game of Thrones!  Thanks for reading!

© 2019 D.G. McCabe

Game of Thrones FINAL Power Rankings (Season 8, Episode 6)

Before I get into this week’s Power Rankings, I’d like to thank all of my loyal readers for viewing these articles. They were never in-depth, but I hope they provided a fun moment or two of distraction on Monday mornings since I started writing them in Season 4.

Now. For this final-final Power Rankings, we’re ranking everybody!

1. House Stark

Bran rules the south, Sansa rules the North, Arya sails the seven seas, and Jon retires with his buddies (more on him later). Bran is the very first narrative chapter in a Song of Ice and Fire, so if he’s to use his magical powers for the good of the Realm, it will nicely bookend the story. Sansa, meanwhile, still has her ironclad alliances with Houses Tully and Arryn. While some may be jealous of the North’s independence (see Greyjoy, Yara), Sansa is capable enough to keep the North self-sufficient and at peace. As for Arya, she’s always been an adventurer, if anyone can discover what’s west of Westeros, she can.

2. The Wildlings

Ygritte gave Jon Snow a taste of what real freedom is, which is something worth living for – a purpose. That’s important, since Jon’s central purpose became saving humanity from certain doom, and he achieved that purpose. I can think of no more fitting resolution to his story than riding out into the sunset to live out his days in the North – the Real North – with Tormund, Ghost, and whomever else he might come across. The whole “let’s send him to the Wall” was a head fake. Jon never intended to re-join the Night’s Watch, and no one cares if he does or not. The show never did justice to his character, and I look forward to reading about how he really reaches his ending and gets his well-deserved freedom.

3. House Lannister

Tyrion is House Lannister now. That’s good for both House Lannister and the Realm at large. I thought Tyrion’s story resolved a bit too neatly, but the show has always been very much pro-Tyrion since Peter Dinklage got top billing starting in Season 2. I assume there is someone managing the Westerlands on Tyrion’s behalf, but the show cut out or killed most of his relations, so we’re left in the dark as to who that might be.

4. House Arryn

Robin Arryn comported himself well at the big council at the Dragonpit. If his character arc took him from creepy child to reasonably well-adjusted adult, that’s very interesting.

5. House Baratheon

Whomever Gendry gets to be his lady will be far happier in that role than Arya Stark. Other than getting his heart broken, Gendry really did well for himself, especially considering where he started. Good for him.

6. House Martell

The show did a poor job depicting the Dornish after Oberyn Martell got squeezed out of the show. Even so, the Dornish came out of the last wars relatively unscathed. I also assume given how, ahem, prolific the Martell clan has been in the realm of reproduction over the years, it’s safe to say that the new “Prince of Dorne” is probably a Martell.

7. House Tully

Edmure is still alive. Still alive so he can get dunked on by Sansa!

8. House Greyjoy

Yara is firmly in control of the Iron Islands, but with a depleted force, she’s probably the weakest ruler of a “Great House” left. She didn’t get the independence Daenerys promised her, and there doesn’t seem to be anything she can do to change that.

9. The Night’s Watch

And now their watch is ended. Well, except as an excuse to send Jon Snow north to hang with his best pals Tormund and Ghost.

10. House Targaryen

The dragons are gone now. Jon was never a Targaryen, despite whomever his real father may have been – he’s Ned Stark’s son. That means that the Targaryens are truly no more.

11. The Hound

The Hound should have taken his own advice. The Mountain was a dead man walking anyway, so by insisting on killing his brother himself, the Hound rendered his journey pointless.

12. The Dothraki

I assume they went home with the Unsullied. Or they’re on the bottom of a lake somewhere.

13. The Meereenese

Man, I hope Daario ended up being a capable administrator, or the entirety of Slaver’s Bay is completely in chaos right about now. I wish they would have made that clear on the show, since it would have helped sell Daenerys’ heel turn in the last season.

14. House Tyrell

The Tyrells are dead and gone. Now there is only House Bron. All hail Bron!

15. House Bolton

Absolutely no one misses these dirtbags.

16. The Sparrows

Or these creepy fanatics.

17. The White Walkers

And finally, last and least, the guys who were really just one guy who got killed pretty easily when it comes down to it.

Also receiving votes: “I like living;” “You never @!#!$ a bear!”; “Oh are you master of grammar now too?”; “This is my cat, Ser Pounce!”; “I’m going to eat every chicken in this place!”; “Where are my dragons!?!”; “You know nothing, Jon Snow;” “The man who passes the sentence swings the sword;” the Moon Door, the Great Hall of Winterfell, sexposition, pointless nudity, and eight years of living in George R.R. Martin’s playground.

(c) D.G. McCabe

Later this week: Game of Thrones: The Complete Series

Game of Thrones Power Rankings, Season 8, Episode 5

The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones! I know, I know, the writing has devolved into self-parody, the character beats are no longer earned, and the show can’t escape the feeling that everything is rushed. Thinkpiece after thinkpiece after bloody thinkpiece online has been written about all of that. Clickbait all. Speaking of clickbait – Power Rankings!

1. House Targaryen (Last Week, #3)

The show didn’t execute Daenerys’ heel turn with enough nuance to be fully effective, but I don’t think anyone should be that surprised. She’s been threatening to lay waste to cities since season one, she is a hardcore Dothraki fan girl (and a fan of all the murderous pillaging that goes along with it), and she has brutalized her perceived enemies regardless of their guilt or innocence. Most of her empathetic qualities were brought out by the likes of Jorah, Barristan, Missandei, Irri, or Daario, who are no longer by her side. The “genetic madness” thing doesn’t really compute, but Daenerys has already proven that she can be barbarously vicious. Forget burning, remember that time she left two people to suffocate to death in an empty vault? I can imagine that Daenerys concluded that if she burnt King’s Landing to the ground, no one would dare oppose her again. “If I look back now, I am lost,” she often thinks to herself in the books. Guess what? She’s lost.

2. House Stark (Last Week, #2)

The Starks are still alive, which is not nothing this late in the story. Arya’s storyline this week fully redeemed the clunkiness in Daenerys’. The Starks can go one of two ways. They could plot to kill Daenerys (and hope Bran can warg a dragon – fat chance – the show-version of Bran is useless). In the alternative, they could just deal with her being queen, and hope she stays the hell away from the North.

3. The Hound (Last Week, Not Ranked)

Hooray for Clegane-Bowl! I think that was about as exciting and interesting as we were going to get with those two meatheads wailing on each other. At least the Hound got to go out in a blaze of glory.

4. The Dothraki (Last Week, NR)

People complain about “plot armor” on the internet vis-a-vis the main characters of Game of Thrones, but what about these guys? Like, well, everyone, I thought they were all dead after the Battle of Winterfell. Now there’s enough of them to sack King’s Landing? C’mon.

5. House Greyjoy (Last Week, #4)

Yara wins offscreen! Now about that promise Daenerys made to make the Iron Islands independent….

6. House Lannister (Last Week, #1)

I brought back Tyrion’s personal “House Lannister in Exile” sigil this week. For now the rains weep over their halls with no one there to hear….

Also receiving votes: House Baratheon, House Tully, House Martell, House Arryn, the amazing and fireproof Ser Pounce, budget Shadowfax, and hope that George R.R. Martin can finish writing the books to fix some of this clunky nonsense.

(c) 2019 D.G. McCabe

Game of Thrones Power Rankings, Season 8, Episode 4

So, what happens next? Bringing a massive undertaking like Game of Thrones to a conclusion should be like turning an aircraft carrier, but it feels like someone is trying to turn a Jeep. The pacing felt a bit more natural during the first three episodes of this season, but last season’s sprint seems to have returned this week. The show could have used a few more episodes – but you can largely blame showbiz logistics for that. Anyway, enough about the pacing, it’s Power Rankings time!

1. House Lannister

Cersei still controls the Iron Throne, but it appears not much else outside of King’s Landing. Her main enemy is like the pacing of the show lately – rushing full speed ahead in an ill-advised and reckless fashion. Plus she has a ton of nasty crossbows, human shields, and fresh troops.

2. House Stark

Sansa is the only one pointing out the obvious – Daenerys is moving too fast. Bran must be feeling pretty useless right about now too, although I can’t imagine he’ll be this pointless in the books. Arya is on a mission to finish her hit list, though. Who knows? Maybe the “Hero of Winterfell” ends up on the Iron Throne.

3. House Targaryen

Daenerys’ potential heel turn doesn’t feel earned at this point. Besides, she’s down to one injured dragon and a few dozen troops. If it came down to her versus Jon, who’s still around to support her? Still, one injured dragon keeps her in power, and high up the power rankings, for now.

4. House Greyjoy

As predicted last week, Yara took back the Iron Islands off screen. This feels like the last we might hear from her.

5. House Baratheon

Poor Gendry. Given a lordship, but rejected too. He’s still alive though, so that’s not nothing.

6. The Free Folk

Speaking of still alive! Now plus one Ghost! I must admit, sending Ghost with Tormund feels more like the show trying to save CGI money than anything story-related.

7. House Martell

There’s a new prince in Dorne! Hopefully he’s more like book-Doran than show-Doran.

8. House Bron?

There’s not enough time left to delve into this subplot too deeply. Bron is getting Highgarden, accept it. And yes, I know that’s House Tyrell’s sigil, suggestions on what House Bron’s sigil should be are welcome.

Also receiving votes: House Arryn, House Tully, the Dothraki, disembodied flying head of Ser Pounce, copious drinking, and HBO Go.

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe

Game of Thrones Power Rankings, Season 8, Episode 3

It’s hard to understate the technical achievement of last night’s episode of Game of Thrones.  The scale of the production was unheard of for a television program.  The lighting decisions were frustrating at times, but also understandable.  First of all, it is very difficult to film at night, and on location to begin with.  Second, the fact that it was hard to see at times amplified the suspense, which was a key to making the episode work.  Lastly, filming at night makes the CGI a lot easier/cheaper.

That said, the writing hasn’t been great on the show since Benioff and Weiss ran out of George R.R. Martin’s material to adapt.  They’ve proven themselves to be serviceable genre writers, but they do not have the ability to create intricate plots like Martin does.  You could tell this in early seasons too, as the plots that Benioff and Weiss came up with wholecloth were much weaker than the plots based on Martin’s writing (e.g. Qarth, Craster’s Keep, almost anything involving Ramsey Snow, and the show’s depiction of Dorne).

Talking in generalities about the writing and lighting has allowed me to avoid spoilers for the first couple of paragraphs.  Now, however, you’ve been warned.  Power Rankings:

Lannister

1. House Lannister (Last Week, #2)

Cersei is no fool, and the other characters should know by now never to underestimate her.  Take her plan to deal with the White Walkers as an example: hire a fresh army, sit back, and see if the combined Stark/Targaryen forces can win.  If they lose, you’re dead anyway. If they win, they will be spent, and you’ll have fresh troops.  The series probably won’t end with Cersei on the Iron Throne, will it?  I think that it can, and Cersei is a much more likely final occupant than the Night King ever was.  She’s a compelling character with a real chance to win, and that justifies the show’s decision to dispatch the Night King with three episodes left.

Stark-2

2. House Stark (Last Week, #5)

Arya needs a new nickname, but I’ll leave it up to the writers of the show to come up with one.  The Starks, and most of their main cast, survived this week, but at great cost.  There isn’t much of a Winterfell to defend anymore, after all.  That said, it’s still winter and the North is defensible terrain.  We’ll see how quickly Cersei moves against them, but I’m intrigued by the possibilities.

Targaryen-2

3. House Targaryen (Last Week #6)

There’s a saying in sports that winning cures everything.  Now that the Stark/Targaryen alliance has won against the Night King, that may hold true for a moment.  Even so, the tension between Daenerys’ desire to rule all of the Seven Kingdoms and Sansa’s desire for Northern independence is not going easily.  What’s more, Daenerys’ army sustained heavy losses in the battle, and her dragons need to recover their strength after crashing and being mauled by dead men (respectively).  Overall, the Mother of Dragons is at her weakest position since her early days in Meereen.

Greyjoy

4. House Greyjoy (Last Week #3)

I assume Yara took back the Iron Islands offscreen, otherwise there would be no point in her character still being alive at this point in the series.  The question that needs to be answered is, so what?  Most of the Ironborn are sailing with Euron these days, and Daenerys no longer needs a place to retreat from the dead.

Baratheon-3

5. House Baratheon (Last Week, #7)

It looks like Gendry survived the battle!  I seriously doubt he presses his claim to the Iron Throne, but stranger things have happened on this show.

Tully

6. House Tully (Last Week, NR)

Um…anyone hear from Edmure Tully lately?  I assume Arya rescued him from Walder Frey’s dungeon, right?  The Stark/Targaryen alliance will need fresh troops from someplace, after all.

The Others

7. The White Walkers (Last Week, #1)

Maybe this week would have been a better climatic battle if it had been divided into two episodes.  There are probably a lot of inside-showbiz reasons having to do with actor contracts and union rules that made this one episode as opposed to a two-parter.  While I’m actually more intrigued with the last three episodes returning to the Starks vs. Lannisters conflict that started the show than consisting of a long fight against the dead, it does feel anti-climatic to have dispensed with the White Walkers after one battle.

Also receiving votes: the Dothraki, House Arryn, House Martell, chariot Ser Pounce, pointless cavalry charges, darkness, darkness, and more darkness.

(c) 2019 D.G. McCabe

 

Game of Thrones Power Rankings, Season 8, Episode 2

I will be treble-sinew’d, hearted, breathed,
And fight maliciously: for when mine hours
Were nice and lucky, men did ransom lives
Of me for jests; but now I’ll set my teeth,
And send to darkness all that stop me. Come,
Let’s have one other gaudy night: call to me
All my sad captains; fill our bowls once more;
Let’s mock the midnight bell.

Antony and Cleopatra, Act III, Scene XIII

With that – power rankings!

The Others

1. The White Walkers (Last Week, #1)

One of the things I love about the new opening credits is how it tracks the position of the Night King’s army.  In the books, Daenerys has a dream of the final-final battle being at the Trident, but she has a vision on the show of a decimated King’s Landing.  It will be interesting to see where the final-final showdown takes place (hint: it won’t be at Winterfell next week).

Lannister

2. House Lannister (Last Week, #2)

Away from the coming battle/dumpster fire?  That is still the best place to be.  Cersei continues to guzzle wine this week in the relative safety of King’s Landing.

Greyjoy

3. House Greyjoy (Last Week, #5)

For the sake of consistency, the groups farthest away from the undead army are doing better than the groups that are in harm’s way.  It’s safe to assume that Yara re-takes the Iron Islands off-screen, setting up a potential safe haven for the inevitable retreat next week.

Arryn

4. House Arryn (Last Week, #6)

The majority of the Vale forces are at Winterfell.  However, the Eyrie offers another potential safe-haven for retreating forces.  Sansa has been talking to Yohn Royce a lot the last two weeks. I can’t help but think that there is a backup plan in place involving what is supposedly the most impenetrable fortress in the world.

Stark-2

5. House Stark (Last Week, #3)

Has Sansa gotten smarter, or has she become merely Cersei-lite?  If it’s the former, she may end up being the most capable leader left.  If it’s the latter, disaster could ensue.  By the way, why on Earth does anyone have to tell Daenerys about Jon’s parents at this point?  Win the battle first, then sort it out!

Targaryen-2

6. House Targaryen (Last Week, #4)

Daenerys has always had a bit of an edge to her, but being in Westeros has emphasized her worst qualities.  She’s been using her dragons as the source of her power for a long time, but in some ways, they’ve become a crutch.  She’s lost all sense of nuance, and has been all fire and blood, all the time as of late.

Baratheon-3

7. House Baratheon (Last Week, NR)

Does this mean Arya gets Storm’s End now (whether or not Gendry makes it)?  Because that would be awesome!

Also receiving votes: The Night’s Watch, Florence + the Machine, the ghost of Ser Pounce, ridiculous stories about giants, pre-battle boozing, those “here’s a picture of my sweetheart” moments, that’s “Ser Brianne” to you, and the Crypts are definitely NOT safe!

(c) 2019 D.G. McCabe

Game of Thrones Power Rankings, Season 8, Episode 1

A cold wind comes from the north. That’s a bit of an understatement, right? The revised opening credits emphasize that the doom of this world approaches. Anyway, let’s get right into the power rankings.

1. The White Walkers (Pre-Season, #1)

Yeah, these guys aren’t going anywhere for a while on the Rankings. This being Game of Thrones, there’s a decent chance that everyone dies, and the Others win. There might be actual riots in the street, but it could happen.

2. House Lannister (Pre-Season, #4)

CGI money doesn’t grow on trees, so no elephants. Pachyderms or no, there’s a lot of space between the Dead and Cersei, and for that reason, she’s in better shape than her enemies. Good on her for “celebrating” with “eccentric” sea captains.

3. House Stark (Pre-Season, #2)

Lyanna Mormont: We made you king!

Jon: Um, there’s an army coming…

Sansa: Also, your new girlfriend is lame.

Jon: Um, I really don’t think…

Arya: Also, I like Sansa now.

Jon: Um, guys…

Sam: Also, you’re the one, true king!

Bran: THE DEAD ARE COMING! WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR ANY OF THIS SHIT!

4. House Targaryen (Pre-Season, #3)

Daenerys is usually pretty observant, so she should realize that only Targaryens can typically ride dragons, right? Or maybe she figures her idiot brother was lying about that.

5. House Greyjoy (Pre- Season, #6)

Yara is thinking ahead, and that’s good for her. But with the Dead bearing down on Winterfell, does Theon have time to get there? That part didn’t make much sense.

6. House Arryn (Pre-Season #5)

I guess they’re loyal to…Sansa? I might be done ranking these guys. Despite having one of the largest extant armies, they’ve become inconsequential to the story. Unless someone ends up retreating to the Eyrie, that is.

7. The Night’s Watch (Pre-Season, #7)

The White Walkers looked at what’s left of the Watch, considered adding them to the army of the dead, and concluded, “Nah, we’re good.”

Also receiving votes: grandson of Ser Pounce, Hot Pie, Sam’s library fines, pirate swagger, the continued embrace of pointless nudity, and creepy dragons who like to watch.

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe