That’s Entertainment!

Bran, the keeper of stories, presides over the campfire

Yes, I, too, have a few final words about one of my favorite “TV shows” of all time.

First a little personal TV history:

  • On a break from college, Daughter Meagan had to sit me down and introduce me to Seinfeld, a show I’d never heard of until then.
  • Friend Dean Stevens had to make a personal pitch for me to give The Sopranos a look.
  • As previously reported here, another friend had to hand me a DVD of Season 1 of The Wire and beg me to give it another chance after I had given it a thumbs down the first time he recommended it.
  • I walked away after Season 3 of Breaking Bad…done in by its increasing darkness…only to be brought back just before Season 5 by Lorna imploring me that I was missing out on something special.

I detail all this to make clear that I am not one who either chases the latest shiny thing on TV nor am I one who necessarily knows on first sight what’s good and what’s not. And sometimes goodness has little to do with it. I’ve given the renowned Deadwood two chances and still can’t get into it. The problem is not the show’s obvious qualities, but my inability in my softening years to handle its unrelenting harshness.

So embracing Game of Thrones at the outset was not a matter of giving in to hype (though once you let HBO in the house it will hype the hell out of you). I am most indifferent to the whole Lord of the Rings genre, so if all GOT was going to be was another sword and sorcerer epic, I was not going to be an easy sale. But from the first episode on, I was hooked…by its lush production values, bold characterizations, brilliant casting, rapidly unfolding multiple story lines, and ability to both shock and entertain.

Early on I joined an online group dedicated to discussing each week’s episodes. What was most remarkable about that was how quickly sharp, bitter battle-lines were drawn between those who had read George R.R. Martin’s books that were the basis of the show and those who had only just come to Game of Thrones through TV. As readers can be on occasion, the book battalion was, I must say, smug, condescending and reckless in giving away spoilers, which kept the site’s moderator busy warning and/or suspending many of them through the first two seasons. Given my unfamiliarity with the books, I was more sympathetic with those who were just trying to have a good old chat about a TV show they enjoyed with like-minded fans. That experience should’ve prepared me for the further divisions Game of Thrones would in time create in the culture. As it reached its final episode this past Sunday, there were as many warring factions on the outside of the show as there were on the inside throughout the Seven Kingdoms. Just off the top of my head, allow me to describe some of these factions in Game of Thrones terms:

  • The Faith Militant — those over-zealous, original book readers who may or may not have scarred their foreheads to mark themselves as true believers. Coincidently they pretty much disappeared from the online frenzy about the same time Cersei blew up the Great Sept of Baelor. The war that raged on after became almost entirely TV rather than book based.
  • The Wildings — the wildest of fans, adapting the hair, the clothes, the lingo, the fantasy itself as history…forever wary of spoilers beyond the great wall…and in constant struggle on all sides against each of the following:
  • The Maesters of the Citadel — the critics — pros and amateurs alike — imposing not just their sense of order on themes, character arcs, logic, and pacing but imposing values, norms and politics from America in the 21stcentury on a make-believe world from a distant past…and insisting on deciding what’s allowable and not allowable in what? A fantasy.
  • The Sons of Harpy — proprietary fans of the series who turned on it with a snarky vengeance at the end when it became too popular for their tastes and sense of exclusivity.
  • The Unsullied — the very strange legion of the self-castrated who refused to watch the show but seemed compelled to make a boastful virtue of it.
  • The White Walkers — GOT’s haters…a dark, relentless, undesirable horde of intruders who seemed incapable of just walking away from a show that aroused in them so much deadly disapproval.

Then there was my group…and I’m not quite sure what would’ve been our analog in the show itself. We’re the ones who went into it for the entertainment and stayed with it for the entertainment, happy to glean social or political significance from it when readily available, willing to overlook the occasional plot plop, and content to choose suspension of disbelief over imposition of belief. Rather than a group, we (me!) probably most resembled Bronn, who went through the entire series with a mostly amused grin on his face, taking whatever came his way with a well-honed sense of irony and basking in the end in the bountiful fruits of his forbearance.

Thus from my own ironic distance I was able to thoroughly enjoy the show without being too distracted by how fast and loose the creators played with space and time or being too terribly annoyed with Benjen Stark’s too frequent deus ex machina appearances or being too terribly baffled by Cersei’s lack of a baby bump despite at least 6 months of pregnancy at the time of her death. These creative issues along with the superimposed political/social issues from the future* (aka our present) helped stir the conversational pot that was a large part of GOT’s popularity. There was so much to pick apart, chew over, regurgitate…and for us lucky millions to savor from week-to-week.

There have now been a number of obituaries written of the show claiming that with its demise we have seen the last of its kind…a cultural event that can engage so many of us at once and provoke a global before-during-and-after conversation. I’m guessing this is a premature judgment, since it has been made many times through human history as storytelling has evolved from the oral tradition to the written word to radio, television and the digital age. But storytelling is inherent and critical to our existence as a species, which is why the producers’ choice to end GOT with a paean to storytelling was so appropriately self-reverential. The subtext of Tyrion’s final, pivotal speech on the value and rewards of storytelling was the creators rightfully patting themselves on the back for managing to pull it off…to tell a story around our modern campfire that kept people engaged — or enraged — but ultimately entertained for more than 8 years. You can’t ask for more than that from a storyteller.

*A postscript:
I didn’t want to burden this farewell piece down with a lot of the socio-political takes of GOT that threatened to break the Internet with epidemic inanity, but there was one Tweet that epitomized the worst of it, and I can’t let it go without putting a little dragon’s breath to it. I can’t recall if it was a pro or amateur critic…I’ve read so many that it’s become a blur…but this particular intellect offered the opinion that in having Arya sail off for whatever was West of Westeros, the creators were giving a typical white man’s hat tip to the coming age of colonialism. That’s a bit of shoehorning your politics into your entertainment boot that’s bound to cause severe blisters on your heels and toes. Arya, like her fictional kin Huck Finn, is simply “lighting out for new territory”. It is a destiny that was totally in keeping with her character and easily predicted by anyone who watched the show that was on their TV screen and not the one on their personal agenda.

From the obit desk at the Hartford Courant to the copy desk at Larry Flynt publications to the stage at Long Beach Playhouse to books, blogs & beyond.