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.
Zack Beauchamp: One of the highlights of "Oathbreaker" was Arya's — er, No One's — training montage. As hackneyed as training montages can seem, this one did a really good job of helping us understand how Arya was changing and what skills she was acquiring. It also raised some bigger questions about the way Game of Thrones uses fights, especially compared with other TV shows that also feature a lot of hand-to-hand combat. Here are a few thoughts on the matter.
1) When blind Arya finally stopped getting beaten and started kicking ass, the camera cut to her posing with a staff. The shot looked so similar to those in the child training montages in Daredevil that I started hearing the Netflix show's theme in my head.
2) That got me thinking: Maybe Game of Thrones could benefit from aping superhero shows a little more.
3) As Todd notes in his recap of this week's winners and losers, the fight choreography in "Oathbreaker" is a little lackluster. When Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven view the past, we meet Ser Arthur Dayne — the famed Sword of the Morning — and his dual-sword work is choppy, blocky, and hard to follow. Even the mediocre 2004 film King Arthur, a gritty reboot produced before gritty reboots were cool, did it better.
4) The best superhero shows, like Daredevil and Arrow in its early years, feature breathtaking fight choreography. That's partly because superhero shows generally embrace the aestheticization of violence, something Game of Thrones is at least in theory attempting to undermine.
5) But these shows also understand that fighting is supposed to tell us something about the characters who are throwing punches (or swinging swords). On Daredevil, for example, Matt Murdock's litheness is distinctly different from Wilson Fisk's overwhelming physicality, underscoring their opposing moral approaches to violence.
6) Game of Thrones, by contrast, isn't particularly skilled at showcasing individual fighting styles. The characters who are supposed to badass — Ned Stark, the Hound, Jon Snow — all tend to fight in a similarly blocky way.
7) I get that on Game of Thrones, part of the reason many fighters look clumsy is that they're wearing a shit-ton of armor, whereas superheroes wear leather and Lycra. But the show's fighting could still be smoother and more differentiated than it is.
8) Game of Thrones has staged good fight scenes in the past, but mostly in its earlier seasons; Bronn fighting that doomed knight of the Vale in season one and Oberyn's climactic battle with the Mountain in season four both come to mind. Recently, however, the show hasn't done a great job of using its fight scenes to tell a story.
9) Hand-to-hand combat is more functional than anything else. While Game of Thrones excels at showing ships getting blown up with wildfire or zombies fighting giants, human-versus-human fights usually just advance the plot.
10) That's a problem. Going forward, Game of Thrones only has a limited amount of time to tell us stuff about various characters. And as Matt notes, it's burning through so much plot now that a lot of new characters aren't afforded the more meandering introductions we've gotten with older players.
11) I actually think this is fine: The show needs to approach an endgame, or it risks getting as lost and confused as its still-unfinished source books (I still prefer the show to the books by a fairly wide margin).
12) But narrative economy will be crucial to its success. Game of Thrones needs to find new ways to tell character stories that aren't just a lot of people sitting around in rooms, as that setup rarely advances the plot.
13) That means borrowing tricks from shows like Daredevil, which use plot-mandated fights not just to advance the story in a literal sense but also to help us understand the characters. How Arya fights as No One, versus how she fought as Arya, should help us grasp how she's changed. I hope it does.
Read the recap. Come back tomorrow for more discussion.