The tricky thing about telling a fantasy story is that, if you can look at the story from any grounded angle, it will always seem silly.
That’s not a knock on fantasy storytelling, but it does require a reader to self-consciously suspend their disbelief. It is easier to ignore the underbaked parts of a story about a cop (or even the captain of a spaceship) than one about dragons.
George R.R. Martin had the inherent silliness of swords and sorcery on his mind when he launched A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series that Game of Thrones is based on. Martin set out to tell a story that posed meaningful questions about morality and power through complicated characters, but still delighted in the fun, campiness, and wonder of the form.
You can argue about how successful Martin was, but it’s clear what he was going for, and he succeeded often enough to mint a formidable pop culture franchise. For the bulk of its run, the show largely succeeded in doing the same thing.
But the last two seasons haven’t really worked on that level. There have been a lot of distracting screw-ups.
There’s a litany of them: Characters are traveling between Winterfell and King’s Landing faster than you can get from Seattle to San Francisco. Crossbows fall dragons as easily as birdshot takes out geese. All the Dothraki and Unsullied are dead, except apparently they aren’t. The Night King was a red herring with no apparent motivation. Starbucks opened its first Westeros location.
Characters—particularly the show’s women—have started doing inexplicable things. Cercei didn’t kill our heroes immediately when they walked out in front of her army with no cover like a bunch of big ol’ dummies. Her monologues have become B-plot Bond henchman slices of straight-up villainy, rather than compelling, twisted meditations on power, family, and motherhood.
Worse, the show’s women problem is more obvious than ever. Sansa delivered a monologue in the last episode that seemed to excuse for the graphic abuse she suffered in earlier seasons, implying that the cruel treatment is what made her a bad bitch. She is a bad bitch, but it’s obvious that she didn’t need to get raped, beat up, and passed around like chattel for that to happen.
Also, these episodes are too damn long.
In the last couple of episodes, I’ve found myself watching out of a sense of obligation, rather than entertainment. I’ve spent this much time getting here, and I’ve wanted to see how it all pays off.
Maybe the men in charge of the show, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, feel the same way. The sloppiness and expanding hackery seem to show that they’re in a big rush to wrap things up, so they can get onto their next project. Benioff and Weiss seem tired of the unlimited resources available to them and the unparalleled global interest in their work. And who can blame them? It sounds like a super lame deal.
Besides, they have bigger fish to fry. They’ve got their fingers on the pulse of the times, so it’s time to ditch Medieval Times. They’ve identified what we really need, and they’re rushing to get it to us: with white supremacist terrorism on the rise, what the world really wants is a lovingly-crafted, big-budget show about the Confederacy.