Monday, May 02, 2016
      ( 3:01 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Being on Game of Thrones must be one of the greatest acting gigs ever. In two episodes, Maisie Williams, who plays Arya, has done basically the same thing in the same place for a scene that lasts maybe five minutes. Everyone has about five or ten minutes of story and then they're getting cast in Star Wars or X-Men or any number of prestigious or high paying films. It results in a show that's made up of five or six brief scenes where something dramatic needs to happen. Normally the collectively twenty minutes or so of story from the first two episodes set in Castle Black would be pretty naturally placed in a single episode. But with all these fragmented tid bits of drama in every episode, for some reason it's only recently occurred to me that the show is a soap opera.

Well, it still has one key difference from soap operas--things that happened four years ago are still relevant to the characters now. Whereas on a soap opera, a character who is one year a street thug might next year be a CEO with few of the characters showing any real recollection of this character's previous economic and social standing. But like a soap opera, Game of Thrones is decreasingly interested in making sense or being consistent. The show has always had a problem for its blind spot regarding the lower classes, but the hyperspeed melodrama in which the show has engaged since last season has made this problem even clearer. The show remains entertaining to watch thanks to genuinely good performances, beautiful locations and costumes, and surprising character developments and juxtapositions--those last two being characteristics of soap operas, too. But, hey, I'm not here to knock soap operas. Churning out a script every day is an impressive feat for the writers and delivering decent performances is a perhaps even more impressive feat for the actors, which is why so many of the best actors in films have had their beginnings in the world of soap operas. But when a show has the time and money of Game of Thrones, one tends to expect more substance.

Spoilers after the screenshot

We actually have one moment among the lower classes in last night's episode where a man in tavern in King's Landing makes drunken boasts regarding Cersei's "Walk of Shame" last season. This is a reminder of the distinctly unrealistic and unexplored reactions from the crowd last season. The point of the scene now is not to explore the thoughts and feelings of the common people but rather to show Cersei is taking vengeance on each and every heckler with her cool new zombie Mountain.

I do find the contrast between the zombie magic versus the High Sparrow's religion to be an interesting, vague mirror of Catholicism versus Protestantism. Though of course the philosophy of atonement the Sparrow's people are into is very Catholic. Speaking of the High Sparrow, it's nice to see Jonathan Pryce back again.

Though even he still can't carry all the weight of establishing a religious sect made up of the common people without actually introducing us to any of those common people. Since he invoked this idea again in his confrontation with Jaimie maybe we'll actually see it explored. Mostly, though, when the Sparrow talked about how all of his followers are poor, I thought, "Yes, as extras without lines or even faces in focus they're probably being paid far less."

But the real, big problem with the episode involved the lamest character on the series to date: Ramsay, and his father, Roose, and it is again related to the blind spot for the lower classes I mentioned above. Roose lays into Ramsay for yet another display of bad foresight and stupidity about politics in the younger Bolton. Then Ramsay stabs him in the gut, instantly killing him.

This is because another Bolton son has come into the world and Ramsay's claim to the Bolton throne is imperilled. And yet, as Ramsay has long been worried about this, one has to ask, why didn't he kill his father sooner? It's obviously not due to sentimental attachment--Ramsay sheds no tear now. The answer to the question is obvious--Ramsay needed his father; presumably it was Roose the men rallied around--Roose had all the political capital both within the Bolton territories and in terms of relations with lords of other territories. Why does he feel comfortable killing his father, his brother, and his brother's mother now? He's intimidated the maester into saying Roose was poisoned, how's he going to explain the death of the baby and mother, particularly when everyone in the crowded courtyard saw him leading the woman and kid to the kennel?

One can explain all this the lazy way and say, "Ramsay is crazy." But that wouldn't explain why Roose, a man obviously so concerned with politics, has no loyal friends among his people. Is Ramsay charismatic? We hear the Boltons have lots of men, how do they feel about Ramsay? Or Roose? I ask the question again and again--who are these people?

The problem, I would say, is that the writers are coming from the perspective of modern men who have no connexion or interaction with the people who produce their clothing, food, or other basic needs so they don't know how to show how a society really works from the ground up. They also don't care and neither, I think, does the average viewer. Something with a simpler logic is desired--a soap opera. Which is fine. But it makes anyone who complains the show is too dark look pretty silly. Too dark? This is your daydream. It's a reflection of you.

I liked the ending of the episode, I like how long they milked the resurrection scene, even though we inevitably got the sudden deep breath shot. Thank the gods they preserved Kit Harrington's modesty with the cloth over his junk, heaven forbid we see the naughty bits.

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