Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Winter is Here
The last several years have been a sublime period for television. When did the "Golden Age of Television" arrive? I'm not sure. In a lot of ways, "Hill Street Blues" in the 1980's was the great grandfather of the golden age. "The Sopranos" really began blowing it up in 1999. But I'd say it finally hit between 2008 and 2010. Shows like "Breaking Bad", "Mad Men", and "Game of Thrones" really define the era of TV we're living in. Two of those shows have since come to an end, and now "Game of Thrones" is beginning to wind down.
How do I personally compare "Game of Thrones" to other TV shows? It's not as good as "Breaking Bad" or "Better Call Saul". It's not as good as "Mad Men". It's not as good as "The Sopranos". But saying that is by no means a put down, those shows are among the best. "Game of Thrones", however is better than "House of Cards" (which I do like), better than "Arrow" (okay first season, great second season, really awful third and fourth seasons), better than "The Flash" (which I can't get into no matter how hard I try), better than "Supergirl" (the episodes I tried to watch put me to sleep), better than "Daredevil" (good show, but has a ton of problems), better than Jessica Jones (which I love... is legitimately great). So yeah, aside from "Better Call Saul", "Game of Thrones" is better than anything else currently in production.
There are a lot of TV shows you can point to and say "yeah, this was it's best season". For example, I'll easily point to season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as that show's best season. For "Breaking Bad" it's a toss up between season four and season five (that show just kept on getting better). Arrow's best season was it's second (although, that's the only season of the show I actually like). But I don't think "Game of Thrones" has a best season (maybe it's first)... while it clearly has a worst season (the fifth, no contest)... there are a lot of exceptional episodes peppered in to most of the seasons amid a lot of episodes that act as building blocks towards those exceptional episodes. Season six is a prime example... most of the episodes built up to the great stuff. "The Door", "Battle of the Bastards" and "The Winds of Winter" truly stood out as among the show's best episodes.
I have read the first book in "A Song of Ice and Fire", and I plan to read the rest once the show winds down. So this isn't going to be one of those entries where I point out what the show did differently to the book to complain about it... spoiler alert, I like the show. I love the show. And believe me, I understand how some people can feel... I get annoyingly nitpicky about Spider-Man adaptations. But sometimes I wonder if we're as annoying as, let's say, a hardcore fan of Peter Benchley's "Jaws" novel and think that Spielberg butchered it by ignoring the Mafia subplot, not depicting Matt Hooper's affair with Ellen Brody, and having Martin Brody kill the shark by blowing it up via bullet to oxygen tank in the shark's mouth... in the book, the shark just tires out and dies. And then there's the Tolkien Fandom who still haven't forgiven Peter Jackson for his critically acclaimed, commercially successful, Academy Award winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy which, honestly, I prefer to the books... there I said it.
I'm blathering on, I know. But I felt I had to acknowledge all that in the last paragraph. I read. I read a lot. But I speak the language of film. Neither of us are right or wrong, we're all approaching this from our own angles and bringing our own baggage to it. As such I feel like this entry is less about the show itself and more about the conversations I've been having about the show for the last few years. But those conversations have been part of my experience, and while the show is by no means perfect (season five, I'm looking right at you), I still think it's exceptional television.
I feel like season six benefited from listening to feedback they received from season five, because this felt very much like a response to it. Not saying everything was. I think "Battle of the Bastards" was going to play out as it did no matter how Sansa and Ramsay's wedding night was received. But little things like Dorne being downplayed, which was welcome by me. I thought Oberyn Martell was a terrific character in the fourth season, so I was looking forward to exploring Dorne in the fifth season. What did we get instead? Jaime Lannister wandered on to the set of "Hercules the Legendary Journeys" (one of the most abysmally awful TV shows ever made... and I thought that before we found out Kevin Sorbo was a trump). So in "The Winds of Winter" when the Queen of Thorns was visiting Dorne and telling the Sand Snakes to shut the fuck up, I can't help but feel like she was speaking for those of us in the audience who did not enjoy those characters.
If I had to describe season six in one word, it would be triumphant. The threads we've been following are finally beginning to converge. Jon Snow is now the King in the North. Daenerys Targaryen has her dragons, her army, her fleet and is setting sail to Westeros. And Cersei Lannister now sits on the Iron Throne. Our "heroes" triumphed over enemies that have plagued them for a while, and will now come to a head. But not without obstacles. Cersei has alienated all of her allies, so this cannot and will not end well for her. Jon Snow is now in Littlefinger's crosshairs. Daenerys seems to have everything going well for her... but a little bit too well. Plus there's a Night's King beyond the wall getting ready to attack. And will Mad Queen Cersei allow another King in the North... will she allow Sansa Stark to remain alive when she conspired to murder her precious baby Joffrey (or so she believes)?
I can't say for certain where this will all head. Most hope for Jon Snow and Daenerys to wed and rule the seven kingdoms together... but that is a little bit too neat, too tidy. George R.R. Martin promised a bitter sweet ending. Jon and Dany ruling together with Tyrion as their Hand while Sansa governs the north after all unite to defeat the Night's King sounds too good to be true. Because I don't believe the true villain of the tale is the Night's King or even Cersei Lannister. It is Littlefinger and Littlefinger is not your typical fairy tale or high fantasy villain... Cersei is the Mad Queen and everyone knows it. The Night's King is, for all intents and purposes, the Dark Lord and most know it. Littlefinger is the Devil you don't see, he's what rises when you're not paying attention... and nobody is paying attention to him, except for Sansa Stark.
If this tale is three acts, then Act One ended with the Red Wedding (or when Tywin Lannister died on the crapper... it's debatable), and Act Two just ended. We're marching towards Act Three and I look forward to it.
I give season six an A-.