Our plane had dark wings. We had dark words.

Probably spoilers for Game of Thrones season six to follow. I haven’t decided yet.

Taking yesterday as a day of rest (rather than the traditional day of sex, being hump day and all), my girlfriend and I decided to unwind and watch a few Game of Thrones episodes. It’d been long enough since we’d last watched that we’d forgotten we were in season six, let alone which episode we were on. It was a fun world to dive back into and we quickly devoured three episodes before crashing out. We’re now five or so minutes away from having finished the fifth episode (laptop battery died on the plane flight at the climactic moment). While we were watching though, we’d both noticed a change in the air. I remembered that while the series diverged from the books a while back, this was the first season that didn’t have a corresponding book. The obvious outcome is that we were watching Game of Thrones that hadn’t been written (scenes or an overview at least) by George R.R. Martin. The difference was kind of noticeable. As always, one of my favourite things about watching a film or show with someone is unpacking and comparing thoughts and feelings. Sharing the experience has a somewhat vicarious feel to it, as it helps provide alternate views to your own which in turn expand your own perspective. Comparing season six to the previous ones, here were some things we noticed:

  • Gratuitous nudity down, gratuitous swearing up: “Tits and dragons” has scaled down both the tits and dragons. The language on the other hand is bluer than ever. I’m not complaining, it’s just different. Ser Davos, while a sailor at heart, never used to curse like one. Now it’s “fuck” and “cunt” as punctuation. I understand that Mr Seaworth has lost close friendships and family, but I’m not sure that it’d immediately change Mr Seaworth into Mr C-Word. He’s always been honest, humble and blunt, but rarely crude, as far as I remember. Unless my memory is the issue. It’s been a while since we last watched.
  • Characters becoming closer to caricatures: My girlfriend pointed out how many of the characters feel less dynamic than they did. As if they ran focus groups and discovered well this is what people liked about Daario, so let’s make him like that all the time. Characters being defined by specific features instead of being given depth. It’s kind of changed how the show feels. Less prestige, more pulpy. Ramsay Bolton, for instance, always had an exquisite sadism about him. He delighted in causing suffering. Now it feels like he’s cruel or violent for the sake of it. At the same time, there hasn’t been much telegraphing of him slowly unraveling, so it feels unearned. Tyrion’s trademark barbed wit needs sharpening and his ability to turn around a situation feels lacking. Self-interest was always one of his primary motivations (while essentially having a moral compass that’d get the better of him). His arc into selflessness feels too all-encompassing.
  • Fanservice at the behest of storytelling: My longstanding issue with Parks and Recreation (a show I really did adore) is that eventually it fell too deeply in love with its own characters. As a result, the show was loathe to let them really face strife and it became obvious that everything would work out okay. Game of Thrones is known for its abrupt twists and turns, throwing you off balance and not knowing what to expect. Now it feels like the fan favourite characters are gonna be alright no matter what happens. Of course Jon Snow is fine. Tyrion will be okay. Daenerys will come out on top time after time. Everything in its right place. Arya’s trials with blindness could’ve been far more of a depraved struggle, but instead were overcome with a tight little training montage (and this is coming from someone who loves training montages). The twists, when they do come, seem far more obvious than they did. Dialogue is predictable and runs on safe patterns. George R.R. Martin seemed to take pleasure in withholding what the audience wanted and the series felt stronger for it.

It’s not like the show is terrible now. Being basically the most popular show in the world, having so much time, money and talent pumped into it, obviously it’s great fun. Mid season six, however, doesn’t feel like its golden age. Valar morghulis, of course, but can’t it wait till the end?

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