*MAJOR GoT Spoilers Follow*
“The straw on the floor stank of urine. There was no window, no bed, not even a slop bucket…” those two lines are taken directly from the beginning of Eddard Stark’s last POV chapter in George R.R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones. Before he lost his head, our protagonist found himself in a less-than-accommodating cell—jaded, disillusioned and dissatisfied. At first, he cursed all those he believed played a part in putting him there: Littlefinger, Janos Slynt, Cersei, Jaime, Varys and so on. The last name he ends up cursing is his own:
‘Fool,’ he cried to the darkness, ‘thrice-damned blind fool.’
The five stages of grief, in order, are listed as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In his solitude, Ned Stark seems to experience these stages, all but one—bargaining. After an undefined amount of time, he is visited by Varys, who reaffirms his current circumstances. He’s fucked. Ned, in between the stages of denial and anger, wonders why the eunuch did not intervene when his men were being slaughtered. Varys, rationalizing their situation says:
I was unarmed, unarmored, and surrounded by Lannister swords…When I was a young boy, before I was cut, I traveled with a troupe of mummers through the Free Cities. They taught me that each man has a role to play.
Now, Lord Eddard Stark’s predicament may serve as a quasi-metaphor for the way one feels when their narrative expectations are not met, and it is indeed why I mention it; however, I also bring this particular moment to your attention because of one very important fact: the show did it better. The foundation of the scene in the show may be the same, the water, rock, and cement stirred similarly but solidified in a slightly different manner. The writers of HBO’s adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, Game Of Thrones added a stellar addition to Ned’s series of retorts:
You think my life is some precious thing to me? That I would trade my honour for a few more years of…of what?! You grew up with actors; you learned their craft and you learnt it well. But I grew up with soldiers. I learned how to die a long time ago (addition in bold).
The showrunners built upon an already fantastic exchange with a fist-pump-worthy display of Eddard Stark’s Ned Starkness. As viewers, we all of a sudden became okay with our hero’s death; if Ned Stark were to die, at least he would die with honor. Dignity. The end would feel a little less discombobulating. He will not have died for nothing. We could make peace with the fact that his character would always be viewed as an honorable man, but then it happened—Ned Stark accepted the reality of his circumstances. He admits to the treason he did not commit in order to save his family. Ok. Fine. At least he’ll get to live now and redeem his honor in some other fashion down the road. Nope.
“Ser Iiyn, bring me his head!”
Ned Stark’s execution was made even more powerful due to a worthy bunch of words written by HBO’s finest. In the seasons that followed, GoT seemed to follow this formula; adding things to and subtracting things from George R.R. Martin’s hard work in ways that seemed reasonable. Cinematic. Writers gave Robb Stark more focus, made Catelyn Stark more sympathetic via prayer wheel weaving monologues, and had Arya bring Tywin Lannister cups. The show wisely even cut some of the novels more graphic scenes, because, well—chill, George.
For a while, the show was brilliant, trustworthy—we expected to be awed. It did not compromise. It was surprising to find a fantasy series so relatable and grounded while at the same time obviously immense. A boatload of prophecies and foreshadowing on top of layers upon layers of SEEMINGLY well-rounded character arcs. This all began with the death of Ned Stark, as did the most important thing we learned from Westeros: narrative decisions have consequences.
In K.M. Weiland’s book, Creating Character Arcs (an often referenced book by narrative nerds with too much time on their hands), she defines a character arc as revolving around the lie that a character believes. Over the course of the narrative the character will have to come face to face with this lie and either overcome it or succumb to it—positive and negative character arcs accordingly.
The lie that Ned Stark believes is that his honor is all that matters. What makes Ned’s death so tragic is the fact that he overcomes the lie he believes when he does what is best for his daughters but dies anyway. Although the audience could see this as a negative arc, I choose to see it as a positive character arc, albeit a less victorious one.
Given Joffrey’s character and subsequent reaction, Ned’s fate still makes sense. Seven seasons later, the show itself does not… and the internet is on fire. It is ablaze with the type of heat that can only come from incomprehensible madness or one very pissed off fan base—and the latter is an understatement. A lot of people hate the latest season of Game of Thrones. It feels rushed, contrived, inconclusive, and chaotic. Scorpions are being fired while Tyrion’s demonstrably gigantic brain suffers through a severe case of constipation simply to move the plot along.
Get off the privy!
The consequences of this unsatisfactory season: fans with a proclivity for overreacting. Reddit ninjas have bombed Google so that Dan Weiss and David Benioff (sorry guys) are the first faces one sees when they google “bad writing.” A petition has already been made begging HBO to fix this season (yesterday it had something like 16,000 signatures, now, 300,000+). Hell, I wrote an article about lowering my expectations for this season, and I’m still pissed off. All this hate stems from a handful of disjointed character arcs mixed in with broken promises.
When a story plants a seed of ominous information or foreshadows something, it essentially bargains with its audience. For all the “prince that was promised” prophecies and not-so-long-night allusions, winter came and went without so much as a single case of frostbite. And the character arcs. Oh, the arcs. Jon believes the same lie as Ned and apparently hasn’t learned shit from dying as his already questionable intelligence seems to fade. Jaime believes all that matters in the world is him and his sister—if the past few seasons were any indication, he grows to learn that this is not the case. So why the fuck would he regress? And of course, Dany’s lie is that she is the fateful ruler (no matter what). All that genocide might even make sense for her if we could have actually witnessed the decline of her sanity in an earned way.
And the clever-ish white to black wardrobe progression doesn’t make it any more convincing…
Am I writing this article to appeal to the vast army of dissatisfied customers? Absolutely. It’s a popular idea at the moment and the audience matters. Sure there’s been fan service—quirky love triangles, warm and fuzzy reunions. No one can deny that the series’ writing has gone downhill since its departure from George R.R. Martin’s source material; rock without water and cement is just rock. We were actually fine with the rock, but why the rush? The compromising gravel? If the true Warden of the North refused to compromise until right at the very end, then neither should any writer.
Put your heart and soul into that text—type until the keys break, write until the ink bleeds. The whole world is watching—a worthy cast and crew is at your disposal; a disappointing ending is forgivable, but a disappointing season? If writers don’t pay attention to their audience, then an honorable man who once sat in the dark pondering the future of his world really did die for nothing.
Woah, you’re going to ruin your sword, bro…
And now, the majority of us story-obsessed free folk are jaded, disillusioned and dissatisfied—cursing the showrunners and all those believed to have played a part in putting us in said position. Episodes one and two found us in a state of denial: ” they’re just setting up all the pieces.” Episode three brought the anger: “Why can’t I see anything? That’s it for the Night King?” After episodes four and five, we became depressed, on the verge of bargaining with the ways in which book adaptations should be accepted right before we lose our heads.
In the darkness of disappointment, we curse our own expectations.
“Fool, thrice-damned blind fool.”
At least there’s no straw on the floor stinking of urine.
I went into work this past Monday and one of my coworkers mentioned how all he saw on his phone when he awoke that morning was GoT backlash. “If people are this upset by a television show they shouldn’t be watching it,” he said.
Maybe he’s right… at the end of the day, Eddard lowered his head, said a prayer and made his peace with the end…
Featured Image Via Popculture.com