Warning — this is a spoiler-filled post, so if you didn’t watch last night’s Game of Thrones premiere, stop reading. For those who watched and care to bring some Games-talk to the Corner, read on.
If you read Martin’s books or watch the show, you’re familiar with his bait-and-switch. He introduces characters – writing them so you believe they’re either the hero of the story or key to the entire story arc – and then he snuffs them out. The story lurches in a different direction, and all your theories are scrambled. In the first book, we thought the series was about Ned Stark’s epic struggle against the Lannisters. Wrong. By the third we were convinced that the series was at least partly about Robb’s revenge. Wrong. The fifth book spent a number of chapters on Quentyn Martell – only to see him crisped by a dragon. Now, however, we can see the beginning of the end. The puzzle is coming together.
The vast bulk of the episode was table-setting. We’ve got the red priestess in the same place as the deceased (for now) Jon Snow, with a battle brewing for command of Castle Black — a prelude to the larger fight between the Boltons and Sansa Stark for control of the North. The assassination of Doran Martell puts Dorne on a war footing against the Lannisters, perhaps providing Daenerys with willing Westerosi allies when she finally makes her way across the sea. It’s hard to imagine Daenerys’s time with the Dothraki will be a mere plot diversion (there’s not enough space left in the story), so I’m guessing she’ll come back to Mereen at the head of the horde. At Mereen, meanwhile, we watched the fleet burn — clearly signaling Daenerys’s need for new ships (hello Greyjoys.) Jamie and Cersei are back in the “us against the world” mindset that launched the war and misery of book one.
With such a sprawling plot, there is a lot to resolve, and corners will be cut. (It was convenient that Jon Snow was left lying alone in the snow. It was more convenient that Brienne came upon Sansa at precisely the right place and precisely the right moment.) But the show is still a delight, full of small moments that bear re-watching. Game of Thrones represents terrific storytelling enhanced by some of the best acting on television. Even aside from its oft-discussed cultural significance, the show is the best thing on television — by miles.
But now I must vent. The cultural argument over Game is getting absurd. I’ve made my own case as to why it intrigues me beyond the simple joy of the story — it illustrates the enormous challenge of demonstrating virtue in a dark and fallen world (the series’s stark treatment of the aftermath of slavery is particularly challenging.) But it’s obvious that leftist writers just can’t abide that a show so popular — especially amongst coastal elites — isn’t saying all the “right things” all the time about race, gender, and sexual politics. Just in the last few days I’ve read pieces arguing that Westeros (loosely based on Wars of the Roses-era Britain) isn’t black enough, that the show “celebrates” rape, that the portrayal of Melisandre as a repulsive or pathetic old crone represents a combination of sexism and ageism, and that the show still isn’t portraying women quite right (this despite featuring perhaps some of the strongest female characters in the entire history of fantasy fiction.)
It must be exhausting to watch fiction and constantly rage at its alleged social injustice. Try walking a mile in an Evangelical’s shoes. While coastal elites go postal whenever the incredibly strong female character who just killed six men with her bare hands needs a man’s help to kill her seventh, Christians are falling all over themselves with joy whenever characters in their favorite shows or movies merely mention God without immediately mocking Him or believers. (“Did you hear what Captain America said about God in The Avengers? Wasn’t that cool?”) Christians get the occasional crumb. Social Justice Warriors demand the whole cake — with a generous helping of ice cream. So get ready for dozens more think-pieces attacking a brutal and gritty fantasy show for not reflecting this week’s intellectual fashions. I’m still waiting for the piece demanding greater transgender representation in Westerosi ice zombies. Where is the White Walker in a dress?
Yet political correctness is but a minor irritation. Next week we get back to pondering the truly important questions. When will Jon Snow get off the slab? Is Tyrion Lannister half-Targaryen? And exactly how is Ramsay Bolton going to die the death he so richly deserves? We have nine more glorious weeks in season six. I can’t wait.