At some point in the late 1990s a friend who knew I was skeptical about fantasy fiction passionately suggested I read A Game of Thrones. It was, she said, the first novel in a proposed trilogy, and unlike anything she’d ever read before.
So I read it. And hey, it was good. Even a fantasy fiction skeptic like me could appreciate the unpredictability of the narrative. About a year later, the second novel of the series was published. It was equally good, and I became fully invested in the narrative.
A year after that, the third book–and by then the author, G.R.R. Martin felt the original trilogy would require a fourth book. The story was strong enough that I was willing to wait for a fourth book and the end of the ‘trilogy.’
It was a long wait. Five years. Sure, I had to re-read the first three books to remember what was going on, but I didn’t mind. Except that now Martin was saying the story required six books. At least six. I was less invested in the narrative, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to wait another five years for the fifth book.
It took six years. And I bought it for a couple of reasons. First, why not? I wasn’t as invested in the story itself, but there were characters I loved and I wanted to see what happened to them. Second, HBO was producing a television series based on the novels. I told myself that meant G.R.R. Martin must be about to release the final book(s). Otherwise why would HBO even begin the series? It would be monumentally stupid for them to start filming such an expensive (and expansive) series without having an ending. Right?
I made a conscious decision not to watch the HBO series. I liked the books and I figured the series would be a pale version of the story (let’s face it, the book is almost always better than the movie or television series). I figured I might watch it after I’d read the final book, which I expected to be released in the not-too-distant future.
A couple of years went by. I heard a LOT of friends talking about the series. I decided it couldn’t hurt to watch the first episode. You know, just to confirm that it sucked. Besides, I was almost out of patience waiting for G.R.R. Martin to churn out another book. One episode wouldn’t ruin the books for me.
That first episode? It didn’t suck. It was actually pretty good. I seem to recall there was a lot of gratuitous tits and ass, but that’s what you expect from HBO. In any event, Tyrion was perfect and the cinematography was astonishingly good.
So I started watching the series. Not binge-watching, but every couple of nights I’d watch another episode. I told myself it would be okay, because surely the final book(s) would be published soon. Right? I mean, the series couldn’t continue if the books weren’t finished. Right?
Nope. The series moved beyond the books. The source material had stalled, but the screenwriters–presumably with Martin’s help/approval–continued the story. And…well, it wasn’t as good. There were some amazing battle scenes, and I was still invested in a few of the characters, so I continued to watch. But battle scenes are just that–scenes. Individual scenes don’t move the narrative very far. You have to string a lot of scenes together to create a narrative. The individual character story arcs became simple, almost cartoonish. Everything felt rushed. Some aspects of the show became sort of dumb. In fact, some aspects were completely fucking stupid. Worse, they were stupid without being interesting (yes, it’s possible to be both stupid and interesting at the same time–remember LOST?)
And then the series ended. It ended stupidly, as if the writers had lost interest. As if the writers had given up and just wanted to be done with the whole thing. It wasn’t just that the story resolution was disappointing, it was–and I don’t know how else to put this–it was wrong. It felt wrong. It was cheap.
For those of us who believe passionately in the power of a narrative, there’s no betrayal worse than a resolution that cheapens the narrative. I won’t claim the HBO series was any sort of masterpiece, but it had been good, solid television. Ending it the way they did was like–you remember that 19th century painting Ecce Homo that was ‘restored’ by an elderly amateur? Yeah, that’s how Game of Thrones ended.
Now HBO is producing House of the Dragons, a GoT prequel. G.R.R. Martin apparently signed the deal back in 2018/19, when he was still promising to finish A Game of Thrones. Will the series be any good? I don’t know. And I don’t care. I simply don’t trust either HBO or G.R.R. Martin enough to care. I’ve lost all interest in anything Game of Thrones-related. If Martin ever actually produces a final volume in the book series, I can’t imagine caring enough to read it.
The sad thing is, House of the Dragons has a lot of narrative promise. But we’ve been lied to before.
That said, if HBO would string together a compilation of every scene involving Tyrion and release it as a show, I’d watch the hell out of it. Same for Brienne of Tarth. And Bronn. And of course, Arya Underfoot. Now that would be good television.
House of the Dragon? Fuck that.
I missed Game of Thrones. I also missed The Sopranos. For a long time I missed Forrest Gump, but that’s just a movie—not much of a time commitment—and I think I eventually saw it on the way to Europe. It’s relatively easy for me to miss phenomena, even if they are good. However, I did also miss Ecce Homo, so I’m glad you mentioned that, because that’s bizarrely fascinating! Also tied to that, I’d never heard of silly season—a much better term than the dog days of summer. Or maybe I had heard of it, but I’d forgotten. That happens too. Which allows me to rewatch series I thoroughly enjoyed the first time through. Instead of finally watching Game of Thrones for the first time.
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Ecce Homo is tragic, but perversely funny. It’s also apparently become something of a tourist attraction, which is great for that small Spanish town’s economy, but still has to be embarrassing to them.
As far as television goes, it gets (and often deserves) a bad rap. There IS such a thing as good television. And a lot of it. But there’s infinitely more mediocre and bad television. Finding good TV can be a hard slog. But I watch a couple of hours of television most nights. That’s about my limit.
The thing about GoT and a few other shows is that they are almost communal events. People discuss them. Anything that gets people talking enthusiastically about something is a good thing. Shared enthusiasm is usually a good thing.
I did something similar to you—read all the books, and refused to watch the series because I was holding out for that last volume. I have continued to steadfastly resist watching the series, and it has become easier with time, because I ceased to hold my breath that the last book would ever be written. I was fortunate in that I didn’t start reading the series until all five were published, so I didn’t have to reread as you did, but I realized, after a few years of waiting for #6 (and possibly #7?) that I WOULD have to reread when it/they finally arrived, and the thought of it was exhausting. But the thing that actually let me off the hook was the fact of the HBO show ending so badly. The theory among Martin followers now is, if he writes the ending like the show, people will be mad because it sucked; but if he writes the ending the way he would have done it if he had done it before they did, and it’s different, then everyone will be equally mad because he didn’t do the right thing by his franchise! So no one thinks he will ever finish it. And by this time, I don’t care. My recommendation: Try the books of Robin Hobb. All the series (multiple trilogies set in the same world) are finished!
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There’s more good fiction out there than good television, so I’m never at a loss for something to do. I’ve actually been thinking about doing a blog post on how my book-buying and reading has shifted over the years. For a fairly long time, I read Serious Fiction almost exclusively. Then genre fiction began to work its way into my reading time. Now, for the last five years or so, it’s been almost entirely genre fiction. There’s a LOT of really good, thoughtful, powerful, beautifully written genre fiction out there.
Yeah… neither read a word nor watched a second of Game of Thrones, so I shan’t be bothering to watch Hype of the Dragon or whatever it’s called. I AM looking forward to the second season of an Australian series, Fisk.
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I will check out Fisk. You were right about The Detectorists, which I plan to re-watch some day because it’s just so good. Quiet, gentle, sweet shows like that are so rare.
I also recommended Rosehaven, another Australian gem (five seasons), if that ever becomes available here, and another one I think that you’d like, Utopia.
I started reading Game of Thrones because Martin and his writing projects intrigue me.
I gave up on the books on about the fourth one, I think it was.
The trip from the north with they baby and the perpetually crying mother sum it up for me – the book became an exercise in beating the same mule over and over.
Interesting twists, yes, but far too much for me.
I would happily read/watch some specific individual story/character arcs. I’d enjoy revisiting all of Arya’s story. Or Sansa’s; she had the most dramatic and drastic shift in character. Maybe that guy who trained Arya–the guy with all the faces; he’s probably got an interesting backstory. Yara would be fun to follow. And yes, Bronn.
But that’s about it. Somewhere, I’m sure, there’s a site that could tell me how all these characters fared by the end of the tv series. I can’t gin up enough interest to search for it, though.