Monday, May 20, 2019

Why Game of Thrones Needed to Hurt Your Feelings

Sometimes social media shows itself to be the strange lens that it is. Lately, I’ve had this experience with Game of Thrones, the popular TV show (I mention for posterity or anyone waking from a coma), where I find that the more people dislike the latest episodes, the more I tend to like them. And this isn’t just people in their free time, but reporters and other professionals laying out elaborate analyses of just how this show has gone off the rails. Many even saying the GoT staff should apologize or, stunt or not, remake the final season. 

The fault, dear viewers, is not in the art, but in ourselves. For one, social media gives us the illusion of power to dictate how our media should be made. I say “illusion” here in the hope that we succeed less than we have already. I’m certain that most of the media we consume is made by people imagining how it might be tweeted about. It’s a scary world where art is democratized. 

Also, I think the distaste for how Game of Thrones is ending is a symptom of our feasting on the candy of superhero narratives for the last decade. Not that I have anything against superhero narratives. But for the last decade Hollywood has been saved by a constant outpouring of comic book superheroes from our childhood.  We’ve grown so soft from these narratives that it seems we can’t recognize tragedy even as we’re watching it unfold. 

The story people are coming down from, the Avengers, ended with a guy snapping his fingers and making the world back to what it was. Granted, we are watching fantasy here (both in narrative and in every great hero also having their own great costume designers) but the idea that things can become so terrible and that a magical act of sacrifice will not only stop the worst from getting worse, but will put everything back the way it was before is, well, Disney as it’s always been. 

Game of Thrones final episodes works to wake us from this fantasy. (Yes, I am talking about the show with dragons and ice zombies, but at its best—why we all fell for this show—these aspects are meant to show us humanity from a new perspective.)  The superhero of GoT is made historically accurate. The Iron Man of the last eight seasons becomes Thanos in the penultimate episode. Daenerys is elevated to such power that she becomes a brutal dictator (the image and the speech clearly meant to hit all the notes of 20th-century fascism/Stalinism). 

The only complaint I agreed with regarding this last season is that this turn in Daenerys felt rushed. But with the final episode I see that this transition happening in just two episodes was intentional. Liberators can become tyrants in the blink of an eye. Take your pick from history. 

In the end, Game of Thrones, in part at least, wound up being an allegory about absolutism and revolution. The wheel that had to be broken was not just that of kings and rulers seeking power, but of an underclass defeating the ruling class and then becoming the ruling class only to become corrupt and taken over again. Compromise is the message, or at least the political message, of this tragedy. 

As painful as it is to come down from this sugar high, thank god we have Game of Thrones to pull us back into balance. 

Depth of character does not come in always winning. It comes when we see heroes torn down in their prime, or decay before our eyes. It also serves to remind us that the world is not as simple as good conquering over evil. The decisions we make in life should come with caution, not just a rally cry.