I get it. I get it. Game of Thrones is not for everyone. Yet, even if you refuse to sample a single episode, it doesn’t mean you (writers) can’t get some benefit from understanding what the series did right…and then how the story went so horribly wrong.
On my end, I confess I waited four seasons to even start watching—okay binge-watching. There’s something about me liking a show that seems to spell out its inevitable doom.
To be blunt. If GoT wasn’t going to stick around for the long haul, I didn’t want to get too attached.
***Sorry about ‘Firefly,’ btw…
Also, some spoilers ahead for those who keep reading. For everyone else? Feel free to continue day-drinking…
What Game of Thrones Did RIGHT
Go Big, or Go HOME
The single largest problem I see in new novels is the author thinks too small. Superlative fiction is regular life amplified. The more terrible the odds, the higher the stakes, the more hopeless it all feels, the deeper a story hooks the audience.
All the best stories go BIG (literally or metaphorically). There is so much on the line, we cannot help but keep turning pages/watching episodes because we HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.
Humans long for catharsis. The slower and more intense the build up, the better the payoff.
***At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Once hooked, we become so immersed that an intense story experience is the closest we’ll get to astral projection (without years of training or psychotropic drugs).
When it came to going BIG? Game of Thrones set the ‘vastness’ bar so high it made Lord of the Rings seem like a Prius parked next to a Monster Truck.
Suffice to say that, over the past seven seasons, Game of Thrones set our expectations somewhere in the upper stratosphere.
Everything was over the top from the story to set design and film locations, and on and on. The story was boundless, complex, and sometimes infuriatingly detailed.
Also, this last season took over two years to release. Suffice to say we were primed and ready for the promised payoff (more on this later).
Bad Decisions Birth Great Stories
Game of Thrones, Paging Dr. Phil…
Next on the list? Bad decisions. Game of Thrones contained so many bad decisions, it was like seeing what would happen if every supermax prison documentary made babies with all twenty-seven seasons of Jerry Springer.
I think this is what intrigued me so much.
I know many people hated GoT (or refused to watch it) because there’s every sort of debauchery, violence, perversion, and more perversion. Did I mention debauchery?
Trust me, I get it. I finished the series far faster, namely because I used a LOT of the three-arrow feature in my controller.
Okay, yes loads of sex and more sex and weird and weirder sex. Got it. Can we get back to the intrigue and back-stabbing?
Yet, to me, this is what made Game of Thrones biblical in proportions and dimension. I can only speak from my own faith perspective but, seriously.
Game of Thrones was like watching the Old Testament…only with dragons.
Granted there’s honor, family, loyalty, justice and a profound longing for order in a chaotic and cruel world. Humans aren’t all bad all the time.
We mean well.
Alas, Game of Thrones then served these noble intentions alongside heaping portions of power-grabbing, corruption, misogyny, misandry, subversion, false prophets (or not), zealots, revenge, insanity, racism, eunuchs, classism, incest—takes breath—resurrection, false gods, evil generals, prodigal sons, bastards, executions, rebellions, ambushes, demonic creatures, necromancy and….
Meh. Y’all get the point.
Art Revealed in Efficiency
Game of Thrones & Chekov’s Prophecies
Game of Thrones did this incredible job of using…pretty much everything. Before you shout me down, I know they could have done this better but that is for later in the post.
Yet, by and large we (the audience) HAD to pay attention.
Snippets of dialogue, a camera lingering on a book, a glance, the casually mentioned name of a sword, etc. all played a part in the story.
I learned early on to a) take nothing for granted and b) if you think you figured it out? Guess again and c) don’t get too attached to anyone…not even pets.
Prophecy, in my POV, served as the hub for much of the suspense. Everyone had their own idea of HOW the prophecy would be fulfilled, each faction creating their own spoke.
Perhaps this was the wheel that Dany insisted be broken?
There was a tremendous amount of misdirection—which is great—but misdirection can be a double-edged sword.
As a fan, we’ve all tried to figure out how everything would play out.
Some fans wanted this…
The rest of us knew George R.R. Martin and his reputation for dangling a glimmer of hope that our favorite character(s) would live…then tossing them into a literary tree mulcher.
All of this to say that Game of Thrones did an amazing job of keeping us guessing. Short of a tinfoil hat and a wall covered in pictures and red string? I had plenty of guesses myself.
Great stories should use everything. Setting, dialogue, speculation, props all have a job. Nothing should live in our stories rent-free. The trick, however, is to misdirect the audience about how much weight each of these carry.
The greatest compliment an author can ever receive is, “I never saw that coming” followed by “How did I never see that coming?”
What Game of Thrones Did WRONG
Expectations and Reality
Anger is the emotion we experience when our reality fails to meet our expectations. The greater the distance, the hotter the rage.
Ironically, what GoT did right in the beginning is directly responsible for why so many fans are now seeing red.
Early on, GoT held as true to George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire as was possible in the visual medium. I’d only read the first two books, but even I was seriously impressed.
Unfortunately, this grew problematic when the HBO series caught up to the book series far more quickly than George R.R. Martin anticipated. Because Martin hadn’t finished the final books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, HBO had a problem.
There was no way to convey the same level of complexity from the previous seasons that had been based off the published books.
This is why we start seeing deviations around Season 6.
Martin could only offer broad strokes of the various ways he’d intended for every through-line to play out and for the series to end…but that was all.
HBO had to then use the pieces on the board and refashion a satisfactory ending from what they had. #SuckedToBeThem
HBO had already SET the operational tempo for this story. Over time, people either got bored (not fans) or we learned to adapt, enjoy, and even revel in the slow torture (TRUE fans).
Sure, we all moaned and complained, but it didn’t mean we didn’t LOVE to suffer and commiserate about our collective pain.
***Dallas Cowboys fans know this feeling all too well.
Pacing and Plot Puppets
Characters, Like Chess, Have ‘RULES’
Is it possible for a character to do something utterly ‘out of character?’ Sure! Good storytellers create characters who surprise us. If the audience knows exactly what the characters would and would not do, there’s no magic.
This said, having characters shock us is colossally different from a character going completely off the rails and doing a thing because we (the writer) NEED them to.
Plots—notably plots like Game of Thrones—are a giant chess game. There are innumerable variables, outcomes, wins and losses that can be chalked up to strategy (good or bad), fatigue, impatience or even simply not seeing a threat.
A game of chess is only a game of chess because of the pieces on the board. Same in fiction. Plot means nothing without the characters on the field. Story is always made better because each character possesses certain constraints in every scene (move).
In chess, just because we’re losing a match doesn’t mean pieces can suddenly start moving any way we want them to. We can’t move a rook like a knight simply because we want to speed up the game and ‘win.’
Storytelling is very similar. When characters start rushing and acting in ways that haven’t been foreshadowed simply because the writers NEED them to do X, Y, and Z…it’s cheating.
There are very good reasons fans are screaming ‘FOUL!’
Red Herrings & White Walkers
Game of Throne…OF LIES!
Game of Thrones was released in 2011. Pretty sure if there is a GLOBAL following EIGHT YEARS LATER, we would have been okay with slowing the hell down.
Yes, as writers we want to mess with the audiences’ minds, step on their expectations. They will hate us, but also love us for it.
But, there’s a line we shouldn’t cross unless we’re ready for some righteous blowback.
As far as I’m concerned, the HBO ending is only mildly better than if Brandon Stark had bolted up in bed, sweaty….realizing it was all a bad dream.
We have been groomed for eight years to BELIEVE the Night King and his White Walkers posed a serious threat.
Part of why I found myself railing at the heavens had to do with all the petty fighting about who was going to be king or queen or duke or earl of whatever when there was definitive PROOF there were ICE ZOMBIES.
Why I gave it a pass? It is SO human nature. Though maddening, it WORKED. Humans have a loooong reputation of sucking at priorities whenever a crown, a throne, money, revenge, or free Animal Fries are on the line and there to distract us from stuff that matters.
I have no doubts that if an asteroid is going to strike Earth, if it happens on Black Friday, Walmart will STILL erupt in fist fights over who scores the last flat-screen.
So the infighting over the World’s Most Uncomfortable Chair, while ludicrous, made sense in a pathetic way.
Humans are masters of idiotic compartmentalization.
But building up this terrifying enemy just to…and then the waiting TWO years for…..
Winter is Coming…JUST KIDDING!
How many memes, t-shirts, mugs all sported the famous saying, ‘Winter is Coming’? If you even read the first few chapters of the books, you get the impression that winter in this ‘world’ is a threat alone (White Walkers or not).
The entire push to secure the Iron Throne and thus stabilize the seven realms (at least early) largely had to do with the fact that winter lasts a LONG FRIGGIN’ TIME.
So the seven-year winter (possibly longer) was declared and thus presumed imminent.
***Vaguely recalling snowflakes dropping in Season 3? Or maybe that was last night.
But winter NEVER COMES. Well, sort of. More like a Texas winter. All smoke, ashes and fire one day, snow the next, but PICNIC weather by the weekend.
One might have even intimated the ‘Winter is Coming’ to be metaphorical. But again, the Night King and his armies melted faster than an Amarillo blizzard.
Here’s a tip. DON’T make a HUGE deal out of something to simply drop it. This ticks us OFF. Conversely, don’t almost completely IGNORE something then POOF!
Here’s your ENDING!
There WERE Simple Fixes
Game of Thrones & Resting Bran Face
I can appreciate that HBO was in between a rock and an Iron Throne, but slowing down and adding a couple more episodes likely could have at least tempered our outrage.
In the span of a couple more episodes, the writers could have:
a) Made the battle against the White Walkers more than the single largest disappointment since New Coke.
b) Ratcheted the ‘end of the world’ feeling that WOULD entice characters make utterly STUPID decisions.
I’m looking at you, Jaime Lannister.
c) With heightened doom—losses against the Walkers and weather, Cersei refusing to render aid, and the sheer emotional stress that Dany was failing those she’d promised to save—Dany’s final acts of madness would have felt far more organic.
Her zealotry could have grown from subtle (which they already HAD) but then her fanaticism would’ve had a bit more time to bloom in proportion with the threat.
If she believes she’s the ‘messiah,’ the more people die, the more irrational she’d become (contrary to a resounding and relatively easy victory).
With a growing power of White Walkers heading south, along with really bad winter weather that would have limited any advantage the dragons offered, that is a LOT of pressure.
Combine this with losing all her dragons but one…only to have Jon Snow friend-zone her?
I could see someone finally snapping.
She wouldn’t be the first female to set things on fire after a nasty breakup.
We wouldn’t have LIKED her mad rampage, but we would’ve understood/accepted it more easily than the writers turning Dany into Ani Skywalker on a dragon.
d) Finally, with more TIME, the writers could have reintroduced the all-but-forgotten Brandon Stark into the main storyline…as opposed to leaving him some Fur-Lined Macguffin Recliner in the background (to help hide the Starbuck’s cup and water bottle).
Face it, we already had SO many theories of how this would end that adding in Brandon Stark as another contender likely wouldn’t have swayed us much from our own deeply entrenched pet theories.
In the End
Humans are Never Happy
George R.R. Martin is and will always be a genius in my book (as if he cares, but I said it). This post has nothing to do with his writing or storytelling abilities or any lack thereof.
Once HBO did its job a tad too well—Game of Thrones catching up to the published books—they had a real problem. Noted.
***HBO you did a brilliant, brilliant job…mostly.
But, I believe the biggest mistake HBO made—in truth—was they seriously underestimated their fans.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I would’ve rather had a couple more episodes or an unexpected additional season than the rush job that made me want to rend my Mother of Dragons tees and replace them with sackcloth better for rolling in ashes.
Fans Can Be Forgiving if We TRUST Them
We as authors must remember that audiences can be very forgiving if we permit room for them to readjust.
Want to speed up the pacing? Slowly accelerate. Need to floor it? Then give us a Night King or an incoming Ice Age or at least a solid reason for sudden madness, weird left turns, irrational choices and ridiculously bad judgement.
Stuff just happening because it HAS to? It pisses us (audience) off and stories—whether this is fair or unfair—are almost always remembered by how they END.
Keep that in mind 😉 .
Anyway, playing armchair editor/writer is always an easy thing to do. But I hope this blog—whether you watched Game of Thrones or not—can offer valuable lessons to make your own writing better.
Study what HBO did brilliantly, but also be willing to dissect what backfired and why and how to get around those pitfalls.
Your fans will thank you.
***Oh and HBO. If this happens again? Call me. Seriously.
Playing Game of Groans…
What are your thoughts?
Other than the folks who never watched it. I get it and appreciate why. Maybe you have other series that made similar mistakes you could share?
Also, I know I don’t have a PhD in GoT like many of you, but what are your thoughts on the storytelling? I want to hear your opinions!
What did you love? Hate? Miss? Can you think of other ways HBO could have avoided rushing our series off a cliff?
Thanks for playing, and now a mention of what funds the time for me to tear apart all the stories you love to use for Gross Anatomy Fiction Edition.
On Demand Classes: LAST CHANCE!
Ready for summer school? Come on! You can even go buy a NEW notebook.
*wiggles new pencils in front of your noses*
A final note these ON DEMAND classes on CRAFT and BRANDING are about to be removed from the server (and possibly not offered again).
All these classes ran long (closer to three hours) so they’re all a bargain…delivered right to you to enjoy at your leisure.
***NOTE: Classes are designed to play on computers (laptops or desktop) and our technology plays nicest with Chrome or Firefox. Many times the recordings are compatible with other devices like tablets or smartphones, but those devices aren’t always able to access the class because of the changes with HTML5. Use mobile devices at your own risk.
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Yes, you can write a book in two weeks. I’ve done it using what I teach in here. On Demand for a limited time. $55 for basic/$349 for GOLD
On Demand for a limited time. $55 Basic/$165 for GOLD