Game of Thrones & the Illusion of Depth

Game of Thrones: a series of simple fantasy deconstruction/reconstruction ruined by too much flabbiness

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We’ve all come across dozens of videos and articles since the season finale of Game of Thrones a while back and if they have one thing in common, like this video by “Just Write”, it is the disappointment in Game of Thrones no longer bucking fantasy tropes and is instead playing into it.

As a reader of the books, you know, the ones that always touted the books as superior, I have to say something here that might shock you: THAT’S A MISTAKE I HAVE MADE A LONG TIME AGO.

Once you start reading the Song of Ice and Fire series or watch the show, it is easy to quickly see a series of fantasy novels that does something different with the genre. This isn’t Lord of the Rings, you say, this is a show where good guys die and bad guys triumph. Except it isn’t.

If you go by the original outlines of the series, by the original plan, and also look at the period in which the first few books were released, we can quickly come to an understanding of what the series actually was all about. It took me a while to realize as well, but it wasn’t until I discussed the matter of the weekend with my friend Peter that it really dawned on me. To quote him freely:

Game of Thrones is a simple series with the moral that all of our petty bullshit doesn’t matter, in the end it’s all a conflict between the dead and the living.

He got it one-hundred percent there. Song of Ice and Fire, at it’s hard, is a “simple” trilogy of fantasy novels with a simple plot, that is elevated by clever plot twists (for the time?) and a brilliantly realized setting.

At it’s heart, Song of Ice and Fire is a reconstruction of Standard Medieval Fantasy. Yes, the good guys aren’t really all that shining and the bad guys are morally complex and have their own reasons, but in the end the good guys will still prevail. Also nobles were really into incest. Keep in mind that Game of Thrones is working off of George’s cliff notes. And while his conclusion might eventually be the better written one because of additional time and without budgetary restrictions, eventually it will conclude similarly. The ending will likely be another part that is a deconstruction/reconstruction of standard fantasy, giving a bittersweet “history repeats itself” ending or something similar, with at least one of the plot lines not satisfyingly wrapped up, because that’s another point about human nature. 

And I will tell you right now where the series took a huge misstep: it was books 4 and 5. Instead of sticking by his guns and going with a time skip to the concluding book, George was so enthralled with his setting that he wanted to spend more time there. This, in turn, led to a giant problem with the overall message of the story, muddling the themes a bit. Instead of simply being about living vs death, action vs inaction, good vs bad leadership, it started to incorporate themes from monetary politics to religious extremism. This might just be the reason George R.R. Martin hasn’t finished the series yet, having realized that he can never live up to the hype that’s been generated around the series, and the corner he has written himself in with books 4 and 5.

Another point to consider, one which I have hammered home numerous times with my statement of “Martin waited too long to conclude the series”, is that Martin is now in the precarious situation that he has had a huge influence on the fantasy genre but the series with which he has done so is still incomplete, while his imitators and contemporaries have come and gone. Written within the 90s, other authors have been bitten by the same postmodern bug: Robert Jordan and Andrzej Sapkowski just being two of them. A different example would be if Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s “Watchmen” was still coming out today: it still would have had an influence over the past few decades, but with trends coming and going, it feels as relevant to the era as an adaptation of John Carter of Mars or Perry Rhodan feels today (look it up, teens…).

I am not complaining though. I have made my peace with this a while ago as the realization dawned on me, and now I’m just enjoying seeing the story conclude, even if it’s on screen and not in the medium I invested the most time. Maybe others still need time to come to their own conclusions.

Author: Alex

Full time student, part time "writer" of things.

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