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Life In The Hollow Golden Age Of Television

Are shows likes Game of Thrones really what we want history to record what we were doing when the debt ballooned and fertility collapsed?


With Game of Thrones finally wrapping up, there is an overwhelming plethora of takes of all varieties – political, social, and otherwise – and some even worth readingThe level of dissatisfaction with the conclusion of the epic saga seems to me to be a bit overblown, as my objection is less where things ended up than the process by which we got there. This final season would have been improved dramatically by being several episodes longer and building more slowly to the eventual result. It felt like the show’s writers, divorced from the original material, were constantly pressing fast forward through all the scenes that mattered to get to the end. “Wait, this character is doing what now? Why? That was fast.”

Ace’s comments here are apt:

I mentioned before that I don’t have a problem with most of the actual story beats (except for what people are calling “Deus Ex Arya”) except for the fact that they were very, very rushed, to the point where they just had no real impact because they were clearly writers’ contrivances for the sake of being done with the series and not character evolutions that felt organic and earned.

If you’re going to turn a character who has been a Big Damn Hero for seven years into a straight-up homicidal maniac villain, you need to show that descent into madness over the course of an entire season. Not three minutes here and there over the course of two episodes.

The cinematography and effects on the final two seasons was almost entirely great. The writing, other than a few moments, was a D at best and occasionally an F. Self-referential material, fan service, callbacks, and irritating cameos lowered the stakes of the series that had done so much to take itself seriously and speak to themes well beyond the War of the Roses foundation of the story. And the conclusion of rulership, so central to its debates and promotions, ended up being the least satisfying element of all. Chaos is a ladder? No, chaos is a ramp.

The overall takeaway after Game of Thrones conclusion is it serves as a definitive defense of binge-watching for all shows. Binge-watching gets a bad rap from many people who say shows are meant to be consumed more slowly, with more time to process their meaning. But if you binge-watched this show, there is none of the emotional frustration expressed by so many in the past 48 hours about “wasting eight years on this show”. It takes a lot of that frustration out if you just spent two years on it – you don’t feel robbed and you can appreciate it for what it is, in much the same way that relatively disposable Marvel movies can be appreciated with their ubiquity. 

[Those Marvel movies also happen to include many of the same flaws as the final two seasons – extremely cool cinematic shots and poses, rushed character choices, fan service to the max, callbacks and in-jokes, and villains that with rare exception are chronically underdeveloped. And people love them – in part because the formula works and the casting choices are nearly all excellent, but because they like to have their faith rewarded. If you don’t put Ant Man on a pedestal, you can appreciate him in much the same way you can appreciate Brienne of Tarth. It’s only when you ask too much of the writers that you end up disappointed.]

And that leaves us with a deeper question: Are any of the prestige shows that have captivated – sometimes to absurd distraction – the American elite so convinced we are living in a Golden Age of Television really worth it? The appeal of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Justified, Deadwood, and The Sopranos is obvious. But are shows likes Game of Thrones really what we want history to record what we were doing when the debt ballooned and fertility collapsed? As China’s elites took over the world, America’s elites were really spending their time arguing about a show with a dragon named Drogon? If this turns out not to be a Golden Age, but one where Hollywood wears a Hollow Crown, what does that say about us?