Game Of Thrones Catch Up: Season 1 Review

*SPOILERS for the entirety of season 1, but not beyond*


Ok I’m going to be completely honest: Game of Thrones is a beautifully shot and designed show that is smartly written, with many bold storytelling twists and turns that successfully juggle an improbably large cast of characters all of whom are finely cast and embodied. But ultimately it creates a world that I’m not sure I’m completely invested in. In fact, I watched the season finale a good week or two ago and I’ve felt no great urge to continue (I will of course, it’s just not a top priority)

There are a number of reasons for this lack of devotion and because I’m lazy, I shall list them in point form. {Ok I realised all my below arguments are exactly the same and stem for my impatience and the desire for more resolution. But please continue, because I believe some of my points are almost valid}

  • There are simply too many characters. Now, all the characters are strongly defined considering the size of the cast. But the scope of the story is constantly pulling the audience in too many directions. You get interested in Kings Landing intrigue and then you’re away pulled to check on Jon and his band of rejects, then Bran and his 3-eyed crow dream (which, like many other story threads has absolutely no resolution this season), then Tyrion, then Daenerys, etc. Each episode doesn’t have time to fully develop any particular storyline. Rather, it feels like a short check-in to remind us of all the balls in the air, except the balls are falling very slowly. Now, while the show gets through a large chunk of plot with each episode and the time between episodes moves quite quickly, the sheer number of running storylines keeps too much progress from happening to any given character in any given episode. The most successful episodes are the ones that leave out the stories that are treading water and focus on 2-3 main story threads. These episodes develop greater dramatic momentum and leave us more excited to revisit the story in the next episode. But the vague water-treading feel that I got from much of the season leads to certain moments having less impact than they should. For example in the finale when everyone starts chanting ‘King of the North’ and Robb accepts his new position, I couldn’t but think ‘Do I care about Robb?’, what do I know about him? (especially since the greatest use of his cunning and strength – tricking the Lannisters and capturing Jaime – all took place off-stage) which left the moment feeling strangely hollow. My biggest fear is that I’ll keep waiting for the exciting plot developments and then when they actually occur I’ll think, ‘Oh, was that it? Is that what I’ve been waiting 3 seasons for?’
  • My issues with this season are also exacerbated by the 10 episode season order. It’s obvious from the series finale that season one only represents the beginning of a longer story, but the very nature of the television season cycle is to expect some sense of closure before we leave these characters for a break, while getting audiences hooked for the coming season. The finale does have its hooks (of the dragon variety) but lacks almost any sense of closure. Of course you shouldn’t judge a story while its still being told, but my question is this: when do we get the catharsis? Has the shit gone down already and no-one told me. Yes we finally got dragons after 10 episodes of Daenaryas walking around (I admit I do enjoy her character a lot more than I did in the pilot), but will this lead to anything in the near future (rhetorical question) or will the dragons spend the entire second season growing and then in the season 2 finale, we see them huge and we get excited for season 3 and then season 3 they spend the entire season building boats and by the end of season 3 they’re finally ready to cross the narrow sea. You get my point.
  •  Could the story told in season 1 have been condensed? The issue with TV is that the time it takes to truly flesh out characters and story as they would be in a dense, long fantasy novel series, is a lot longer than we’re used to from a TV show. A novel can take its time because it can be read at its own pace and because we crave the details that a visual medium can provide far more efficiently, if less poetically. Each episode of TV (even moreso for network TV, where every ad break is expected to represent a new turn in the story) traditionally falls under the 3 act structure: Introduction, conflict, resolution. The large number of characters means that each story moves slowly and the small number of episodes means we never get very far in the grand scheme of the long-run narrative. Each episode will have a lot of introductions and a lot of conflicts, then more of both until the season ends with everyone going off to create more introductions and conflict for the next season.
  • This is not a fault of the GoT but I prefer shows that aren’t completely serialised. While completely procedural shows (like CSI, The Mentalist, Law & Order)  are overly repetitive by design, shows that can incorporate case of the week/monster of the week type scenarios with a longer form mythology or arc are the shows I get the most out of. Shows like Buffy and Veronica Mars expertly interweave stand alone stories that build characters and expand the scope of the series with larger arcs that build throughout the season towards an exciting, high-impact climax. By the end of a season you feel as though you’ve gone on 22 little adventures with these characters. You’ve seen the characters react to so many different situations that you gain a greater understanding and (sometimes) affection for them. My issues with serialised storytelling is that, while characters may have a number of different adventures throughout the story, it’s hard not to judge the story arcs and character arcs for their result, rather than the journey getting there. And really, much of GoT is build up: characters moving from one place to another, people assembling their armies and preparing for war, people recovering from injuries, characters slowly gaining strength and confidence. No matter how epic the result may be, it’s hard not to look back at season one and think hmmmm…….what actually happened? Now I don’t expect a war every second episode, but how many episodes can I watch Jon Snow chatter on with Samwise Gamgee about nonsense. Honestly after an entire season, what did Jon do? Yes he learnt to take his position as a watchmen of the black whatever seriously and yes that’s a lesson that requires time to develop but jeez let him do something other than practice fighting amongst the 10 extras that are supposed to represent the army of 1000s (Ok, he fought zombies. That was cool, I guess).
  • Ok I’ll admit that last argument completely got away from me. Now after all that bitching, let me re-iterate: I absolutely do like this show, it’s just a sometimes frustrating watch on an episode-by-episode or season-by-season basis. I know that come the end of the series, I’ll look back in awe at how impressive the series was constructed, but until then, gimme some damn dragon fights.

Episodes I Likes: 1, 5, 9

Despite my complaints of the entire season being a gigantic series of set-ups and intros, the season does kick into second gear around episode 5, ‘The Wolf and the Lion’. In fact, episodes 5-9 do well at sustaining a good pace with plenty of action and story twists. Episode 5 starts off this season’s series of audacious story turns by ramping up the Stark/Lannister rivalry.

Episode 9, ‘Baelor’ is obviously notable for killing off one of its main characters in Eddard Stark, and it’s all very well handled. I also very much enjoyed Tyrion’s storyline as we learn to sympathise with him even further despite the fact that he spends an entire battle knocked out; a telling character moment as well as innovative way to save money.

I’ve already spoken of my appreciation of the pilot episode, ‘Winter Is Coming’ in my first post.

Episodes I Don’t Likes: 2, 4, 10

(I don’t particularly dislike any episodes. I’m just keeping to the utterly stupid conceit of this blog.)

You’ve already heard me whinge about the finale, but I’d say episode 2, ‘The Kingsroad’ is as close to being unnecessary as any episode. All the ‘action’ that takes place on the road between Arya, Joffrey and Sansa is especially unexciting. Sure it’s all character building but even without that episode we could see that Sansa is weak, Joffrey’s an asshole and Arya is strong-willed (and dislikes Joffrey).

Episode 4, ‘Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things’ spends a lot of time with John and his band of rejects as it introduces Samwise the hopeless into his gang. Much of the time spent at the watch feels like it’s taking away precious time from the more interesting and livelier storylines. It’s watchable and it does makes Jon one of the more likeable and sympathetic characters of the show, but it still feels like treading water.

Overall Season Grade: 7.5 exciting, epic, bloody battles – that take place entirely off-screen (out of 10)

3 thoughts on “Game Of Thrones Catch Up: Season 1 Review

  1. Lol. Yes, the TV show has a budget (even if huge). Many people love Jon’s storyline (it gets better, I promise!).

    Agree on the four lines all waiting aspect of it…

  2. Pingback: Game of Thrones Catch-Up: Season 2 Review | I Likes What I Likes

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