Note: This is more rant than recap—but there are still spoilers from Season 5, Episode 7 of Game of Thrones.
Last week, the rape of Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones led many to publicly abandon the show—and last night, I experienced a strange feeling as I watched the latest episode: palpable envy at those who’d stopped watching and could now do something else with their Sunday nights. Not because the episode was offensive or stomach churningly violent (it was, I suppose, but no more than we’ve come to expect from your “average” episode of GoT), but because it just wasn’t very good. HBO’s flagship drama series is bold, unexpected, and shocking, every week inspiring hundreds of recaps, thousands of water cooler conversations, and millions of acts of online piracy. But it also, for long stretches at a time, just kinda stinks.
This is something that doesn’t get talked about much: how over-the-top bad the show can be from time to time. I’ve thought about this a number of times this season. Is there a possibility that GoT, after a handful of straight-up amazing initial seasons and shocking moments that challenged yet again the culture’s concept of what TV could and couldn’t be, just kind of…got dumb? And if so, was this dumbness perhaps baked into the source material (book readers seem to be less satisfied with every new entry in George R.R. Martin’s novel series), or is it instead a function of showrunners Benioff and Weiss outpacing Martin, running out ahead of him and stumbling without the handholds of the superior source material to guide them? This is starting to feel a bit like cultural blasphemy—Game of Thrones, bad? How dare you!—but there’s got to be a reason that The Mary Sue, for instance, finds it so easy to quit watching. The show’s been morally nauseating for years. It’s only just started to feel boring and inessential.
I can’t possibly level such a claim without at least attempting to back it up, so in the case of Andrew vs. Game of Thrones I give you exhibit A from last night’s episode: the ongoing fiasco that is this season’s King’s Landing plot. This storyline has always been borderline absurd—they seriously want us to believe that a group of monkish fanatics can throw the nobility in dungeons without any backlash?—but last night the absurdity actually revealed itself in a scene when young King Tommen lamented that he literally couldn’t free his wife the freaking queen because I guess all the men with swords were somewhere else or something. He was actually talking about bringing his army back to the city (where are they, by the way? any big battles recently?) to take King’s Landing back from the handful of religious nuts who’ve taken it over seemingly without opposition, and I’m like, wait. Don’t you have a Kingsguard? I’m pretty sure you do, because I saw them surrounding you in last week’s episode, and in another a couple weeks before that. I’ve no doubt that these trained swordsmen could easily and quickly dispatch an old man with bad knees and his army of barefoot dudes in burlap sacks.
And the thing with Cersei getting thrown in a dungeon by the same religious fanatics that she let loose on the city in the first place. I suppose this was meant to be satisfying, and I suppose it kind of was—except that I saw this shit coming weeks ago, and I’m pretty sure everyone else did, too. Since when did GoT, the show that gave us Ned Stark’s beheading, the Weddings Red and Purple, and the Mountain and the Viper, start telegraphing its punches? When did a series where almost anything could happen from week to week become so predictable? As sloppy as the plot in King’s Landing is, the character work is worse—because if I could predict what was going to happen, Cersei Lannister could’ve too, and though she may be a lot of things, dumb isn’t one of them. Her motivation for unleashing the Sparrows is so thin—it’s something to do with her love for her son, I guess, or her hatred of Margaery, I don’t really know—that if I think about it for more than thirty seconds, I begin to think that the whole thing is just a result of Benioff and Weiss not having fully thought through the world they’re trying to portray, or the people who live in it.
There’s plenty to gripe about in other plotlines, too. Let’s see—let’s go to Castle Black, where two men of the Night’s Watch take advantage of Jon Snow’s absence by attempting to rape Gilly. It’s yet more evidence of Benioff and Weiss’s weird obsession with loading up the story with as much sex and violence and sexual violence as they can. To make things even worse, the means they use to save Gilly from the predicament they’ve put her in is to bring out Jon’s direwolf, who’s been ignored in the narrative for so long that I can’t even remember his name (Ghost?), and he’s only really brought out when he serves the plot, anyway. (Call him a canine ex machina. Deus ex dogina? Whatever, you get the idea.) Then, the icing on the cake, the show has Gilly and Sam having perfunctory sex, because obviously it’s not enough for these two to have an emotional connection, which has been established over lo these many seasons—no, she ultimately has to be a prize for his bravery in standing up for her. (Nevermind that it was the dog that saved her and Sam was just kinda, you know, there.)
I’m being uncharitable. Other stuff happened last night, too. For instance, Ramsay once more demonstrated that he’s a bad dude (as if the interminable torture of Theon a few seasons back hadn’t accomplished that), we learned how thoroughly Theon has been broken (ditto), and the desperation of Sansa’s situation was re-emphasized (we got it last week, thanks)—but it’s all basically marking time until either Stannis or Brienne get off their asses and move this plot forward. (Oh, speaking of Stannis, we also get another scene of Melisandre obsessing over king’s blood. Did you know that she’s obsessed with King’s Blood? She’s obsessed with King’s Blood.)
The best thing to happen last night was for the series’ two best characters, Danaerys and Tyrion, to finally meet each other. But the payoff of that, it seems, will be delayed until next week.
So check back then. Maybe I’ll be less cranky.