Sunday, April 17, 2016

Are You Game?

With season 6 of Game Of Thrones debuting in a week, The Hollywood Reporter ranks all fifty episodes up till now. The results are predictable--the episodes with big (and violent) moments--huge battles, major deaths, etc.--are what make for high rankings.  The top five are:

5.  "Baelor"

4.  "The Mountain And The Viper"

3.  "Blackwater"

2.  "Hardhome"

1.  "The Rains Of Castamere"

(Spoilers ahead if you don't watch the show, but shouldn't you have caught up by now?)

So you've got Ned Stark's death, Oberyn versus the Mountain, the battle for King's Landing, Jon Snow's big battle against the white walkers and the Red Wedding.  Famous moments in the series, to be sure.  But by and large these are not the moments that represent the best of the show to me.

It's the characters that make the show truly work.  I'm not saying plot isn't important, but often something relatively intimate has a bigger emotional impact than large set pieces.  When I think back on my favorite moments, it's often just two characters talking, or just meeting each other.

So what ends up working best are relationships such as those between Jorah and Dany, or Jaime and Brienne, or Tyrion and Bronn.  For that matter, you've got Arya, who has chemistry with almost all her co-stars--Syrio, Yoren, Jaqen, Tywin and the Hound.

Then there are the machinations of characters like Littlefinger, Osha, Varys and others.  They don't have to fight to make a scene work.

For that matter, a scene like Brienne finally seeing Arya is more exciting than the fight she has with the Hound immediately after.  And Jorah's battle in the fighting pit semi-finals isn't as interesting as the moment he pulls off his helmet to reveal himself to Dany, who banished him.

Some of the top five episodes listed above are among the best, but some--like "Blackwater"--were among the least interesting, since the whole episode was about one big battle while the other stories, often more interesting, were shunted to the side.  Even a big fight like Oberyn's final moments don't compare to the backstage strategizing and smart dialogue of the show at its best.  And while the Red Wedding is considered perhaps the biggest moment ever on the show, I was just as interested--maybe more interested--in Arya and the Hound's reaction when they came late to the party and discovered the awful truth.  For that matter, as huge as Ned Stark's death was (and, for someone who hadn't read the books, that was a bigger gamechanger than the Red Wedding and the Battle of Blackwater combined) I was more shocked by the end of season one, which was simply a woman and her baby dragons.

The big moments may play well, but that's only because the spade work has been done by establishing these characters are worth caring about to begin with.  And that comes, often, from quieter moments--something Game Of Thrones does better than most shows, and something that sets it apart.


Blogger New England Guy said...

I find it hard to rank episodes of what is a continuous work. Do you the acts of a play? I was a late arriver to GOT- watched the initial episode a couple of times and saw the odd piece (Ned's head shot) here and there and (despite LAGuy's weekly updates), it didn't really click until I watched the Blackwater battle episode- maybe because it was largely self-contained and had a set piece battle that was easy to follow- it spurred to start watching, simultaneously watch the old episodes and read the books. I jumped into the Sopranos and Downton Abbey the same way- I guess I need to know something is an established franchise before I'll take time to jump into it

9:47 AM, April 17, 2016  
Blogger LAGuy said...

A lot of the big name shows--The Sopranos, The Wire and yes, Game Of Thrones--I got into late. But that's the way it often goes with such things: the word spreads and viewership increases. (Though I was there from the start with Lost, Mad Men and Breaking Bad.)

Game Of Thrones got a big premiere, like any HBO drama, but I turned it off after the first ten minutes. It didn't grab me and, anyway, I don't like the fantasy genre. It was only after the first season ended and word was good (and there was nothing else on) that I decided to take a second look.

The show requires a fair investment, not just of time, but of concentration. The first season tries to go relatively easy on you, centering (mostly) on Ned Stark and his family, but there are so many characters and places and customs to learn about that if you don't pay attention you'll miss a lot. (Until I rewatched some of the episodes, I had no idea Roose Bolton was hanging out with the Starks so much in the early hours.)

Still, I'm surprised it took you all the way to Blackwater for it to click. If it took me that long, I probably would have abandoned it already.

10:01 AM, April 17, 2016  

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