Monday, June 17, 2019

Watching Game of Thrones For The First Time

Binge-watching Game of Thrones For The First Time
If anyone told me eight years ago I’d binge-watch Game of Thrones months ahead of its series finale, I honestly wouldn’t believe them. I was never a fan to brag about not watching a popular show, as if ultra-cool fans who weren't interested in the series act like they deserve some sort of medal for living off-the-grid. Game of Thrones, in the beginning and its peak, didn’t appeal to me because The Walking Dead was ruling my life, and after trying to watch one episode, I just didn’t connect. Giving it another chance, and having been 98% unaware of its biggest moments, felt like a fun challenge. And if there is one thing that I accept more in life than anything else, and what I actually think I'm decent at, it's live-tweeting a whole series on a ridiculous time limit.

But that's exactly how I decided to ring in 2019.
When I started Game of Thrones, my expectations were not high and my parameters of its storyline or controversies were limited. I assumed by the end of the series, I’d think it was fun, and mostly appreciate seeing Jason Momoa shirtless as well as Emilia Clarke and Lena Headey being the bad-asses that they’ve always been. I hadn't read the books, so any info of how characters are different from what George R.R. Martin concocted was absolutely lost on me. Yet even if I lived in a cave on a private island, I would’ve heard about the show’s biggest most shocking moments, and the three big ones I was aware of: the Red Wedding (but I didn't know who was killed), Jon Snow died (but didn't know he was resurrected), and Game of Thrones general mistreatment of female characters. But I didn't put much stock into thinking I'd care about any of these iconic scenes or mistakes.

Being in the dark welcomed more freedom than I had anticipated. I didn't know what was coming around the corner. More often than not, I was waiting with great anxiety for anything to be thrown my way. Throughout the days and nights I started my mini-marathons, my family heard me commentating storylines and gasping about things I didn't see coming: Joffrey being poisoned (I thought it was going to be worse than poison, tbh); Oberon's head being crushed in; Daernyrs knowing how to speak Valyrian the entire time; Tyrion slaying his father and ex-wife; Hodor; Olenna confessing to poisoning Joffrey; BASICALLY EVERY SINGLE DEATH EVER.

In the first few weeks, I wasn't hooked. Throughout season one and two, I was tired of not being able to recognize all of the old white guys bragging about raping young women and going to whorehouses for sport as well as constantly comparing masculinity to eunuchs or female genitalia. I even found myself nauseous at times by the thought of all the female extras that had to be felt up by other background actors. Blurring through whatever character development there was supposed to be, all the show seemed to be obsessed with was how many boobs could be shown and how many ways men undercut each other's masculinity. Waiting for the female characters and drinking along with Cersei is truly what propelled me to keep going.
By the time season three, maybe four, rolled around, CALL ME KHALESSI, but my feelings shifted. Characters started cracking the cage I had around my fandom heart to not get attached to anyone because obviously they were all going to die. I’d say it first started with basically all the bad-asses: The Starks, Peter Dinklage’s charismatic performance as Tyrion, Dany evolving as a leader, Brienne of TARTH MY HEART IT HURTS, and drunk Cersei. There was a real feud over the Throne and who was going to rule it as characters dealt with war, forced marriage, revenge, and mutiny, and often faced massive consequences to their actions. The storylines shifted between each one with twists that I hadn’t managed to predict and kept my interest day after day.

Every time I started another episode, my soul literally screamed, “Ah shit, here we go again”. Even though that excitement geared up episode after episode, it was hard to deny as the series propelled towards season eight, its quality declined. There were no more books to draw on and the creators had to make things up themselves. Logic was the first element of the series to go out the window as characters were suddenly in a story that nobody had control over. (AKA STAR WARS IS SCREWED and RACISM IS COOL *sobs*) Action, magic, and dragons dominated a world where magic and dragons were supposed to be rare, and actions hadn't initially solved every problem.

While hardcore fans grew up with the characters over eight years, I grew attached to them in a matter of weeks. Binge-watching is all well and grand, but it brings a spiral of disappointments as well as rewards. In contrast to my long undying love for The Walking Dead until recently, I didn’t have years to make sense of the writing and character development, and spot where it went downhill. For Game of Thrones, fans might've seen the quality shift severely, I couldn't see the forest from the trees. I had only missed out on the first seven years, but may the gods strike me down if I was going to miss out on the last one.
The race to the finishing line left me perplexed once season eight kicked in. I didn't have as much time with the characters, but I thought I had a good standing on the story - the devious nature of power and its corruption; the scope of magic and the gods in a medieval setting; the tragic arcs; where characters motivations stemmed from and where they were going. While starting the last six episodes, I don’t even think I comprehended how so much could go wrong. While the coffee cup left on the table is not a big deal in the scheme of things, it was a valid reflection of how D&D rushed through breaking up season seven and eight, to get to an ending that had zero quality control. Meanwhile the writing magically forgot its most important details like “hey Euron is going to be chilling around that isle” to “oh they forgot Euron was there”, almost fooling us to believe there was a deeper meaning to why Gendry was a Baratheon or John a Targaryean (beyond getting permission from the freaking dragon to approach Dany while she was alone).

Scenes in the moment were chalked up to "oh I can see why they made that choice", only to realize afterwards that this was a massive car crash nobody could turn away from. Even as the entire internet reflected its confusion about D&D’s decisions in the eleventh hour, I still felt like I was alone in wondering what the heck was going on. Then, there was the finale. To be honest, I knew Dany was going to be killed by Jon. Point blank. That was a given. As the internet continued to cast its net about how disappointing the finale was, I didn’t know if I loved or hated it. Excluding the context that was entirely unearned and unwarranted, I preferred the direction and pacing of the final two episodes than the first four mostly because (unlike my queen Cersei who was given nothing to do except die) Emilia weaved the sheer lunacy of D&D's decisions into a ominous and heartbreaking performance that no actress should be put through ever again.

At the time, I kept telling myself that storylines added up: Dany had gone crazy; The Starks got their rightful ending; maybe it’s not as bad as it seems. And then “reality” settled in. Dany’s competence in breaking the wheeling was ruined by a projection from the writers to excuse sexism and “foreshadowing”. Cersei went from striking down the patriarchy with her sharp comebacks, drinking wine, blowing shit up, and running out of children to just standing there crying in Jaime’s arms (it’s fitting if you think about it hard enough). Tyrion morphed from a Class A entertaining drunken snob who could talk his way in and out of everything to losing his marbles because Cersei was pregnant. Jon bending the knee literally brought his character development to its knees. And we’ll just stop there. (Theon Greyjoy had the best arc in the series?? maybe next to Brienne and Sansa?).
As low quality as it was: was season seven, that I had finished the day before season eight began, the same as it was in the finale? What I loved about the show suddenly wasn’t the same, and wasn’t that the point? Wasn’t it supposed to grow and shift, and maybe I just didn’t like how they it turned out but in some nexus of the universe all of the pieces still fit? Was I just too ignorant or my expectations too high (and this thread explains why the finale works?)? Even weeks after the series has ended, which is why it took me so long to even ramble this out, I’m still reeling about if that finale ultimately ruined what was destined to be “the greatest show of all time”.

A helpful part of my confusion didn’t come to me until I watched The Last Watch. Ironically filming at Titanic Studios, where D&D channeled Captain Smith and J. Bruce Ismay to run the ship into a storytelling iceberg, two hours of diving into the last season's production process revealed all of the love and passion that made Game of Thrones so great from beginning to end – the skilled technicians breaking their backs to bring this story to life; the fans who were extras year after year; the actors who didn’t see their final curtain call coming and handled it the best they can. Even though I hadn’t sworn my allegiance to the series in its heyday, the documentary offered a sense of why it had millions of people tune in every week, and why it was so bittersweet to say goodbye. There was a profound sense of pride and catharsis to participating in something so big, something that might never come around again, only to get a send-off it didn't deserve.

Game of Thrones was everything I expected it to be in the most exciting and disappointing ways. I’m still grateful I got to see Momoa shirtless, Dany and Cersei were the best bad-asses, and that I allowed myself to grow attached to characters instead of shielding myself from them. It was mind-boggingly wonderful to see a television show achieve as much as it did, to create a blockbuster on a tv budget and for the designers to push the boundaries of what was possible to bring to small screens everywhere. But it was far from perfect. I hope that the prequels will be better and that George R. R. Martin will finally finish his series. A part of me still thinks it's one of the best shows ever. Maybe I’ll  re-watch the series to check if everything adds up the way it’s supposed to. But unfortunately, right now, I’m not in a rush.

(Honestly, I think this is one of the best live tweets I've ever done, so please check it out!)

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