clock menu more-arrow no yes

Game of Thrones episodes are starting to feel like trailers for the real show

The show has forgotten how to tell a story in between its big moments.

Remember me?
HBO

Every week throughout season six, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Before you dig in, check out our recap of Sunday's episode, as well the archive of our entire discussion to date. This week, we'll be hearing from culture editor Todd VanDerWerff, executive editor Matt Yglesias, identities writer Emily Crockett, foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp, and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for more entries.

Matt Yglesias: It's true that Game of Thrones' more streamlined TV narrative doesn't give us as clear a sense of Davos's line of thinking as the books do, but the structure of the story creates a straightforward rationale for seeing Jon Snow as a man of destiny. Of all the political leaders in the Seven Kingdoms, the Lord Commander is the only one who can see the need to put aside human squabbles in order to fight the White Walkers.

Davos is a loyal and dutiful servant of the realm, and Melisandre, for all her considerable flaws, is also focused on the problem of the Walkers and the need to find Azor Ahai reborn.

It all adds up.

What's actually weirder to me is the not-yet-depicted-in-the-books resurrection of the book version of Jon Snow. As Andrew has been saying, book Jon is a more interesting, more morally complicated character who was last seen abandoning his effort to focus attention on the need to guard the realms of men from the Others in favor of recruiting an army to march on Winterfell.

When sworn brothers of the Night's Watch fall on that version of Jon and stab him, he will be the traitor, not them.

And while there are plenty of extratextual reasons to believe that Jon will be resurrected in the books — including the not-inconsequential fact that Jon was resurrected on the TV show — the specific logic of the resurrection is a bit harder for me to parse. In the books, Melisandre won't yet have witnessed Stannis's defeat outside the walls of Winterfell, and Jon's determination to ride south would seem to undermine his reputation as the savior of humanity.

The TV show has precisely the opposite problem. Having Jon die for the sake of his plan to collaborate with the Wildlings makes his death nobler and his resurrection more in line with a heroic arc, but why is he breaking his oath now?

A show with less going on or more screen time to fill might have offered us a Jon Snow character study episode. How does it feel to come back from the dead? What's it like to eat food with a huge, unhealing gash in your cheek? A ruminative hour could have given us a chance to understand Jon's state of mind before he declares that his watch is ended and he's walking away.

To me, almost everything in "Oathbreaker" seemed almost too well-paced. When Game of Thrones isn't bogged down in horrific violence, everything skips along a bit too plainly and easily for me.

It feels almost like I'm watching a trailer for the real show. The one with a slower pace, where Smalljon Umber is introduced properly and we learn how Rickon has been treated up in the Last Hearth over time and we see what disagreements existed between Smalljon and his father, and how Greatjon passed away, and what internal debates took place over the decision to side with the Boltons.

The scene, as written and acted, packed an impressive amount of information into a very brief window. But I'd still rather have seen the whole thing, and gotten a picture of where the Umbers live and what sort of hardy folk serve them and how they are preparing for winter and all the rest.

All of which is to say that, to me, Game of Thrones' world building is getting a bit sloppy. Down in King's Landing, where our attention is restricted to characters we've known for a long time, things seem smoother. The Queen of Thorns is always a pleasure, and it's nice to see Kevan Lannister stand up for himself. But it works because very little of we're seeing is new. When Qyburn is chatting with the "little birds," just a touch of exposition goes a long way, because we already have extensive context for the existence and significance of Varys's spy network.

That's how it ought to be, a slow accumulation of knowledge and information that lets scenes largely be themselves. Too much of the show at this point feels to me like it's in a hurry to get to the next "shocking moment" rather than simply telling a story.

Read the recap. Come back tomorrow for more discussion.

Previous entry


Watch: Game of Thrones is secretly about climate change

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.