Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Storytelling of Game of Thrones

If I were to pitch a show to you that was set in an alternate universe, loaded with medieval castles and knights and filled with mystical creatures and beings, and which would eventually feature a massive 5 king war for one throne, that's something that would excite you, is it not?

Well, what if I were to tell you that there would actually not be a war the entire time you were watching?  Instead you would be treated to the planning of this war.  Nary a sword would be drawn.

Yet this is the season of Game of Thrones that is currently airing on HBO.  And almost every moment is captivating.

Instead of the swordplay and dragonfire that would captivate the audience, the writers of the show (and to a large extent, George R.R. Martin) have decided to focus on the people in the war, showing their virtues and their flaws and in such a way that would endear certain characters to us and make us abhor others, all through a lost art in television today: dialogue.  It's not even the exposition that plagues so many network shows.  No, the characters of Westeros instead decide to give us a glimpse into their lives by speaking with other characters.

This is an interesting concept for a number of reasons.  Like any good novel, or even how you meet a person of the opposite sex, it's not so much what is said but how it's said.  Huck Finn would not have been the same novel if Twain didn't write it in the first person to show us the changing education of Huck.  So when Arya Stark is speaking to Tywin Lannister, we not only have to pay attention to what is being said, but why it's being said.  Tywin's grandson had Arya's father killed, so there's a bite to everything she says to him.  She is trying to come off as a commoner, but also show to Tywin that she's not quite.

For Game of Thrones, the quest for the throne is not as important as those trying to attain it.  But even with that in mind, it's an interesting choice not to show extended battle scenes (other than the funds available).

For 60 minutes every week, you spend your time watching people talk, and then you wrestle with the idea that nothing happened in that entire time.  How long you stick with that notion, though, is based on what you expect in a television show.  In the CSI age, we expect things to happen throughout the entire episode that leads up to a satisfying conclusion at the end.

With the time spent in Westeros, however, it's not about a satisfying conclusion at the end of each 60 minute stretch.  Even if there is no conclusion, per se, at least the kind that can be wrapped up with a bow, there is an endgame.  Trying to capture the Iron Throne is not a 60 minute trek.  It might not even be a 10 hour quest.  It could very well last the entire series, but it's the motivation of each of the players, however big or small, that becomes key.

In the end, we as the viewers are going to want someone who is virtuous to claim the throne.  Plato spoke of the Philosopher King as the ideal ruler, and through each interaction throughout the show, we have the opportunity to learn of any candidates for the throne have any qualities of a Philosopher King.  We are able to choose whom we would like to see rule, and if there are bits of pieces of each that we would like.  We transport ourselves to the Seven Kingdoms as if one of these flawed men (and Ms. Targaryen) would one day become our leader.

Or we determine, if none of these men are suitable, that we would be better off if war were declared.

Luckily for us this is Game of Thrones.  And war were declared.

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