Four episodes into the new season, and still no word on how Winterfell got burned down, or why. How do you like that?
Game of Thrones’ biggest problem is that, no matter how they try to slow things down, it all feels too bloated and too rushed. Each individual scene stands on its own as a well-written, well-acted, masterful piece of television. But when you put them all together, they’re not quite equal to the sum of their parts.
In the south, things feel pretty fleshed out, with a bunch of intriguing, conniving characters vying it out in the capitol city of Westeros. Tywin Lannister’s irascible, surly drone is balanced by the sharp, biting wit of the Tyrell women and the Tyrion/Bronn duo. Across the sea, Danaerys Targaryen’s story has really taken off, and is hurtling along like an unstoppable freight train. Her scene at the end of Season 4 has to be one of the best scenes in the show’s entire run. In fact, this may currently be the one storyline that is surpassing the book version of events. Danaerys is a drama queen at heart, master of the stirring battle speech and the chilling threats of “fire and blood”–she was a little stymied last season, bereft of her power. But now, with an army, some dragons, and two badass knights at her back, she is able to shine. Now, when she yells out threats and commands, she has the force to back her up, and she is a sight to behold.
There’s nothing wrong with the story-lines in Astapor or King’s Landing; it’s everywhere else that the problem lies. In the north we have Jon Snow, a character whose screen-time has diminished to the point where he gets about two lines of dialogue per episode. Without Jon, there’s really no one up here to latch on to (certainly not the bumbling, nerd-caricature Samwise–I mean Samwell–Tarly), so it all feels a bit (no pun intended) cold and lifeless. Do we really care who wins between the wildlings and the night’s watch? I really want to, but it’s hard if they only get 3 minutes of screen-time each per episode. Gone is the witty repartee between Jon Snow and Ygritte that spiced up an otherwise bland storyline last season.
A little farther south Bran is walking north, when really he ought to be trying to rejoin his family to the south and let them know he is still alive–and that Winterfell has been burned down by somebody.
In the river-lands Robb Stark keeps talking about all these battles we’ve never seen, and this war he’s losing. Why doesn’t he just march on Tywin Lannister’s homeland, since it’s been relatively undefended since Season 2, Episode 8? Your window of opportunity is closing, buddy.
Arya Stark has been found by Lord whosit-I-Don’t-Remember-You, the guy who made an appearance for about 5 minutes two seasons ago. It’s a rushed introduction to an interesting character, to be sure, but the actor portraying this Robin-Hood-esque figure does a great job with what he’s given, managing to dominate the scene from the moment he opens his mouth.
And then there’s Theon Greyjoy, held captive by the Boltons. Wait, so the Boltons still have their castle in the north? I thought the Ironborn conquered the north? Or did they only conquer some of it? Are they still fighting up there, or just sitting around? The military aspect of this show has been handled pretty piss-poorly, if you ask me, and it’s starting to tell.
In short, the dialogue in the show only continues to improve. Each scene is near-perfectly executed; the only problem is that the show-runners seem at times to have lost sight of the larger picture, the thread of the narrative itself. This is a show about a war, and it’s hard to get enthused about said war when you have no idea who’s winning, or why.
We don’t need to know exactly how many thousands of soldiers each lord has with him. But even a few throwaway lines for Robb Stark like “with the Greyjoys at the neck it’s impossible for us to head north and retake the castles they’ve seized up there” or “Now that I’ve married Talisa the Freys have withdrawn their troops and will no longer support our cause” would work wonders for clearing things up and explaining just how things stand.
The screenwriters seem to only be getting sharper and sharper. The dialogue feels decidedly un-expository (even when it’s delivering needed exposition) and more fun. The lines are sharp, the conversations flavorful. Let’s just hope Benioff and Weiss don’t lose track of the story or the characters in it. Maybe it would help if they had more episodes like Blackwater, in which they told a lot of the story for a few characters, instead of the format they have now, where they tell a tiny piece of the story for as many characters as they can squeeze in. Otherwise, Game of Thrones will expand until the human element is subsumed as we hop from place to place, never lingering long enough on any one story for it to leave a mark.