(This is Part Two. If you need to recap, Part One is here.)
Before Season Five of Game of Thrones started, my husband and I rewatched the first four seasons with our daughter. She’s older than I was when I watched “I, Claudius,” and she’s much more adult and vocal about gender, sexuality, and women’s roles than I was before the age of 40, so I was okay with her watching it. My kids are good about getting up and walking out of the room when there’s something on they don’t want to see.
I didn’t watch much of Seasons 2 and 3, because one scene in Season 1 turned me off so incredibly hard: the scene where Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger) monologues while two prostitutes have sex behind him. My take was not only did the audience have no idea what Littlefinger said during that monologue, I was willing to put money the actor who plays Littlefinger, Aidan Gillen, had no idea what he was saying during that monologue. It was the most cynical and exploitative thing I’d seen on TV in some time. In fact, the Wikipedia page for Sexposition uses a still from this scene as its illustration.
That scene made me throw up my hands and say, “WTF?” I walked away. (See? My kids have learned from the best.)
I saw bits and pieces of the show after that, but most of the time I annoyed the hell out of my husband by saying, “Who’s that?” or “Why are they killing that person?” or “Oh good, more naked ladies, what a surprise.”
When we watched the show straight through with my daughter, I had plenty of knowledge about what was about to happen and what would happen to certain characters.
The second time around, the structure of the story came through loud and clear. And, my problems with the cynical exploitation of women aside, the structure of Game of Thrones is damn good. Sometimes structure elements are slipped past the audience during that annoying sexposition, or hidden behind the extreme violence. But it’s there. And it’s tight.
Despite the bulk and canvas of the Song of Ice and Fire novels, writer and creator George RR Martin started on smaller canvases. And he was a TV writer (and TV scripts are all about structure and hitting your plot points). David Benioff and David Weiss, the showrunners who brought this show to life on HBO, are extremely experienced screenwriters who are renowned for their writing and the structure they use.
Benioff and Weiss have discussed the endgame for Game of Thrones with the writer and creator, Martin. They know where everything is headed. They’ve said the show will be seven seasons — I’m quite sure that HBO would like it to go 24, 25 seasons, but Benioff and Weiss have said seven is the limit.
They have figured this out ahead of time, guys. They are not feeling their way through this, a la Lost.
They are hitting their plot points and hitting them hard.
Jon Snow is the main character of Game of Thrones. He’s the guy with the epic storyline. He’s the only one trying to do good for the sake of doing good, which, when you’re dealing with epic fantasy, is a pretty important quality in a main character. Other characters sometimes have bigger problems, such as losing their heads, but Jon starts as the stableboy and keeps working his way up, showing off his mad skillz, dealing with giant problems on both sides of the Wall, and essentially becomes the only guy who can deal with the White Walkers — which, because you’ve been paying attention, you know is the main storyline of the show. Benioff and Weiss show us that in the first ten minutes of Episode 1.
No matter what else happens, that damn Winter Coming is the main problem of the show.
There has been exactly one main character who’s been dealing with that. Sure, he’s had to deal with most everything else too — every time he turns around, someone else in his family has been murdered, or the civil war going on is on his doorstep, or whatever — but he’s been on the front lines of the main problem of the entire series the whole time.
And he just died? Hm. Is there anything unusual about picking this particular moment for this development?
It’s time for some math!
I don’t care if I mentioned if there’d be math; you should always be prepared for math.
We’ve reached the end of Season Five and Jon Snow, the only halfway decent guy in the entire story, just died.
Everybody pull out your pencils and paper: what percentage is five seasons of seven seasons? I want you to round that off to big percentage numbers. Who here came up with between two-thirds and three-quarters of the way through the story?
The technical term for that is, as you’ve been learning, the end of Act Two.
So we should be at one of two points:
- If everything’s going to end well for our characters, we’re at the lowest point, or how things would end in a world where they were going to end badly.
- If everything’s going to end terribly (and our story is a tragedy), we’re at the highest point, or how things end if they were going to end well for everybody.
What point are we at right now?
We are now at the lowest point.
(Which means, of course, that the Boltons should immediately cash out their 401(K)s, because things look really, really good for them right now — this structure stuff applies to every damn subplot too.)
Jon is the guy we’ve been following the entire time, the only almost-pure-of-heart character in the entire show, and he dies?
Yeah. I don’t think so.
There’s been plenty of stuff seeded throughout Game of Thrones telling us people can come back from the dead, although there might be some problems with the process. Plus, we know that someone who has some experience with raising the dead just showed up on the scene.
(Now, there’s an interesting plot development that happens in the book (Lady S, if you’ve read them) that doesn’t happen in the TV show, because the actress in question didn’t want to do it. (Can’t blame her, really. She had her moment with its cathartic ending, time to move on.) And like I wrote earlier, I haven’t read the books. But I sort of wonder if this particular character in the books was to show the downside of what could happen when you come back fro the dead. Or whether Benioff and Weiss are going to fold elements of her story into Jon’s.)
In case you still don’t believe me that Jon is just fine…let’s go back to Season 1, Episode 1.
It opens with people we’re never going to see again in an area we’re not going to spend much time in until a couple more seasons in: we’re with some Watchers, north of the Wall. They run into some WEIRD STUFF and one guy hightails it out of there and keeps running south of the Wall…until he’s captured by some guards (who we never see again) and brought to the local lord who will mete out justice, Ned Stark. Ned chops the guy’s head off (oh, look, foreshadowing) and then King Robert shows up because things have turned to shit the capital and suddenly there’s incest and Tyrion Lannister and we forget about the beheaded guy.
We get 9 minutes into a 50 minute initial episode for this gigantic canvas before we get to one of the main locations for the story’s action. Who is the FIRST main character we see? Contrary to who you might expect, it’s not Ned Stark.
We see these guys:
If you’ve followed along with the show for the five seasons so far, we know what’s absolutely, positively happened to one of them. The handsome, self-involved Prince ends up dead, dead, definitely dead, because the story’s theme is “You win or you die” and he forgot to keep his eye on that. And we’re pretty darn sure what the other one’s doing — but even so, he’s the kind of character who the showrunners could get rid of for all of Season Five without damaging the story. (You did notice he was gone for all season, right?)
And Jon Snow is in the middle of the damn frame.
Weiss and Benioff are not messing around. They know the endgame. They’ve just taken us through ten minutes with characters we don’t know doing things we don’t understand, to make it clear that there is a gigantic problem heading everyone’s way. Now, they need to get us involved with somebody who’s going to be with us for the long haul. The showrunners are telling us right up front who it is.
Well, sort of: they’re mushing it up a bit having three of them in the frame. But c’mon: Snow is RIGHT THERE IN THE CENTER. The cinematographer didn’t just choose that setup on a whim.
Jon will be back. Not to worry.