Fucking dragons.

Every time I watch an episode of Game of Thrones, I wish I was watching an episode of The Family Trade instead.

Also, evidence suggests that the drinking game for Game of Thrones is, "Every time jwz screams 'fucking dragons!' at the TV, drink."

I have some questions, like:

How does a writer think it's ok to put a zombie on the mantle in the first act, and not fire it by the third act? (This question is rhetorical. The answer is "shitty writing".)

How the hell do they have a thousand years of recorded history and artifacts of large-scale engineering ("Our family has been on that wall, blah blah blah") and they're still stuck in the 15th century technologically? Yeah, I can make up my own halfassed justifications, but throw me a fucking bone, instead of just a confusing mishmash of UK accents scattered around the continent willy-nilly. (This question is rhetorical. The answer is "Because, uh, Tolkien".)

Peter Dinglage and Lena Headey are the only thing keeping me watching this nonsense. Can't we just have them snark at each other for an hour instead?

Well that and I'm wondering whether Sunburn Barbie is ever going to run out of hair bleach over in Race-Fail-landia.

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51 Responses:

  1. ix says:

    How does a writer think it's ok to put a zombie on the mantle in the first act, and not fire it by the third act?

    I don't quite follow. I've seen zombies, but what mantle are we talking about and when was there a third act?

    Must be the lack of coffee.

    P.S.: I also find the dragons quite disappointing. It kind of makes the end game somewhat predictable. What keeps me watching is how Martin does not shy away from killing off some of my favourite characters.

  2. Lloyd says:

    It gets really cold in winter and all the artefacts break? The exception being the wall, which is always in the cold? Brian Aldiss handled this better.

    The steampunk mechanical map opening credits do give pause for thought.

    I believe the accent issue has been explained.

    • phuzz says:

      Yeah, the accents are pretty well worked out for UK views, with the northern characters having northern english accents and vice versa.
      How this is meant to work for a non UK audience I have no idea, especially coming from an adaptation of a book by a US author, done by a US tv company, for the US market (mainly).

      As for your Chekov's gun concerns, um, yeah, that's just the source material. Hang on until the 4th/5th season, the dragons might actually be big enough to eat someone by then. They still won't have worked out who's going to rule Westeros by then though.

      • nooj says:

        Thanks for the spoilers. Not everyone has slogged through all four thousand pages yet.

        • LafinJack says:

          Why the fuck are you reading a post about an unresolved plot point in a just-released TV series if you're not willing to risk spoilers for that unresolved plot point?

          • nooj says:

            sometimes people like to discuss and speculate on the future, without actually knowing the future, even if there is a Plan.

            phuzz (and others) threw out several fairly useful pieces of future knowledge ancillary to the discussion, as an answer to a rhetorical question.

            and i am willing to risk the spoilers, but i'm also willing to criticize people who provide them.

            • LafinJack says:

              Except jwz was asking specifically about the writing, which implies translation from book to screen, which means it shouldn't be a surprise when someone brings up the book to explain the screenwriting.

              They certainly could have given a spoiler alert, but when they started talking about intentional accent use in the book, then the first sentence of the following paragraph was "As for your Chekov's gun concerns, um, yeah, that's just the source material" you might have gotten the idea that they were going to talk about the source material right afterward.

        • Suit says:

          Rob Stark and his mother Catelyn are betrayed and murdered during a wedding feast in the third book.

          Joffrey is poisoned and dies during his own wedding feast at King's Landing, also in book three.

          Tyrion is alive and well at the end of the most recent book.

          Tyrion killed his father, Tywin, with a crossbow. He's been falsely accused of murdering Joffrey. He has since fled across the Narrow sea.

          Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon are all still alive.

          Jon Snow was stabbed several times by fellow members of the Night's Watch. His fate is unknown.

      • jwz says:

        You say "that's just the source material" as if that's supposed to be any kind of explanation or excuse. It's still shitty writing whether it's the screenwriter, or the screenwriter aping the author.

        • phuzz says:

          It was meant as an excuse for the screenwriter (making the best of a bad job), but then I think I heard GRRM is screen writing at least some of it, so no excuse for him.
          Still, plenty of other authors out there to read.

        • LafinJack says:

          I'm not sure of your opinions on Breaking Bad, but when they do the same Chekov's Gun thing from one episode to something several episodes (or even seasons) later, especially when they never do "LAST TIME on BREAKING BAD!!!" recaps, because they trust the viewer to be smart enough to figure it out, they're hailed as brilliant.

          Granted, I haven't read or watched GoT so their handling of Chekov's Gun situations may be handled differently, but still.

  3. Matt says:

    Where do I sign up for the Family Trade adaptation?

    Except I preemptively weep for how the execs have neutered Miriam to make for better ratings.

  4. Shiv Menon says:

    There is only one logic in Game of Thrones, and its magic!

  5. Andrew says:

    I was going to say Tolkien and yes, I was struck by how inconceivable it was that there was apparently zero technological advancement over a period which was described as lasting nearly 4000 years for the entire Third Age. Probably the same held for the other two ages too.

  6. Niczar says:

    > How the hell do they have a thousand years of recorded history and artifacts of large-scale engineering ("Our family has been on that wall, blah blah blah") and they're still stuck in the 15th century technologically?

    You mean like antique Roman or Egyptian (or Chinese for that matter) engineering wasn't quite surpassed until the 18th century? The secret to concrete was lost for over 1500 years (see Pantheon).

    Anyway, I take it you haven't read the books; they are huge and read more like history rather than novels. I.e. a lot happens, and most of it has no future bearing on the plot, or at least not for a long while (several tomes later). Well in fact there is no plot.

    • Yeah, this. Not to defend every choice that Martin made writing the books or that the various writers of the series made in adapting them (Race-fail-landia, passim), but it's all too easy to look back from the vantage point of the 21st century and go "shouldn't they be...inventing more shit?" Even discounting the role of magic in the GoT universe, the bare fact is that the human race took minimally 50,000 years to go from the plains of Africa to the industrial revolution. Periods of rapid technological innovation are (so far) the exception rather than the rule, and most premodern societies had various organizational aspects (guilds, state-established religions) and other limitations (lack of, say, easy access to paper and writing tools) that actively hindered R&D.

      • jwz says:

        And if they were still on the 50ky flat-end of that exponential curve, I could buy that. That's not how it works. You can't park your story within spiting distance of the industrial revolution for what, 160 generations, without offering some kind of explanation. It's insulting to anyone with a brain. (And like I said, you could totally write such explanations, possibly even ones I'd believe. So give us one.)

        Given how much they like killing each other, how the hell do they not have gunpowder yet? "Oh, the Church won't let them" sure doesn't fly for that one.

        This story doesn't seem to have a strong central church in the first place, let alone one that could keep its boot on the neck of science for 4ky. Even the Catholics only managed a few hundred years of that and they were pretty good at it.

        • I dunno: I think you're probably right, but I'm leery of post-hoc explanations. Classical Rome managed to go through the better part of 800 years of near-constant warfare without gunpowder: it feels likely that you'd get guns shortly after you got proper steel, but it's hard to predict when your equilibrium will get punctured and how hard.

          The church aspect is one of the clear areas where GRRM just done fucked up. Around about book four, he woke up and said "oh yeah, I should totally flesh that out a bit." By which time he had to seriously bend the hell out of several sections of the plot to make it look like something he needed to be talking about then rather than in book one.

        • Will Sargent says:

          That's like asking why China didn't start using gunpowder in wars, when they had it a good thousand years before Europe. Or why the Middle East went from a hotbed of innovation to stagnating behind Europe... innovation isn't linear, and doesn't have to make sense. Especially when the prime mover in years gone by was freaking magic -- if you think that your ancestors did it that way, that will screw with your technical innovation in a serious way.

          There are so many things that we take for granted. Romans were taught to read out loud in school, and after that point whenever anyone was reading a book or a letter, they'd read it out loud just the way they were taught. It was one guy (Seneca?) who mastered reading silently, and he used to do it as a party trick -- because people just couldn't freaking believe you could read without hearing the words. Not to mention the Roman Number System. Rome got to a certain point and then just stuck there.

          So yeah, not surprising.

          • Niczar says:

            Read "Why the West rules (for now)" for a very convincing case as to why that specifically is. China was a huge, united empire for a very long time. There was no point in developing guns from gunpowder because there was no constant warfare.

            In Europe, however, dozens of competing yet mostly balanced states/cities/empires had been battling for centuries, and when innovations appeared that could give an edge in the constant warfare, there was a strong incentive to develop them.

            Incidentally, what's described in that book makes GRRM's world pretty convincing to me with that perspective. As I mentioned earlier, the absolute military superiority afforded by dragons would be enough to neutralize the drive to further technological improvement.

        • Leonardo Herrera says:

          Uh, they...

          (spoilers?)

          ...kind of have. They have this magic fire, that only some priests can create. The comet thing is making things more magical, so this magic fire is working better now, and priests can produce it faster. This should appear in a crucial battle during this season. However, the author doesn't exploit this much in the following books.

          I won't defend the author, I liked the books but they are too disperse, too big. I would venture to say the answer for this stagnation is "winter". Winter comes around and lasts for decades, and probably that shrinks things (academia, research, development... appendages.)

        • vacri says:

          Simple. They didn't have protestantism. Not having protestantism meant that there was no haven for a nascent Enlightenment to flourish. WIthout the Enlightenment, we wouldn't be as technologically advanced as we are today.

          You're assuming that there are no regressive politics. Japan saw this happen with the tossing of the europeans, regressing in tech until the meiji restoration. Hell, we still see it in the current day when we see religious power preventing the proliferation of science because it threatens them.

          Or a more esoteric explanation: maybe the laws of physics are slightly different. Without coal, an industrial revolution would be much harder. If metals don't conduct electricity, then you can toss out most of the 20th century advances.

          Or a more basic explanation: "The Enterprise moves at the speed of plot"

        • Niczar says:

          I'm going to sound like a fanboi but your objections go away if you consider the backstory:

          - There used to be fucking dragons recently that could cross continents, burn castles down and cook your enemies well done. If you consider that most technological innovation has been consolidated by its military usefulness, that's a good incentive right there for not inventing, say, flying machines or gunpowder. The one guy with the dragons needs no plane, and he certainly doesn't want anyone else to have any.

          - The dragon riding people came from the East, where there used to be a golden age civilization, mostly lost to an unspecified catastrophe (sounds very much like a nuke). The West was a backwater. Incidentally almost all advanced technology/magic or trade (banking) is still done in the East despite it being reduced to a few city states.

    • jwz says:

      Yes, I mean like that -- those losses were explained by societal collapses. Who do you know today who could, with a straight face, say "my family built that aqueduct"? That's nonsense. So maybe the character was meant to be talking nonsense -- but I don't get the impression that this show is that subtle. My explanation -- that the author doesn't know or care how history works or how societies fail and just wanted to ignore all that and write his Tolkien pastiche without letting facts get in the way -- seems the Occam's Razor to apply here.

      And yes, I read the first book, and only the first book, because I fucking hated it.

      To its credit, the show is way, way better than the book. This is what we call "damning with faint praise".

      • Niczar says:

        > Who do you know today who could, with a straight face, say "my family built that aqueduct"? That's nonsense.

        I'm not certain where you're getting at. Not only would this colloquially be understood to mean "we shelled out the cash" (family jewels) but we're talking feudalism here. "My family" means that which rules over a given land, the common people being serfs, one step above slaves.

        > My explanation -- that the author doesn't know or care how history works or how societies fail and just wanted to ignore all that and write his Tolkien pastiche without letting facts get in the way -- seems the Occam's Razor to apply here.

        Well I beg to differ. I enjoy history books, I've read quite a bit about Rome, Byzantium, Al Andalus, the Middle Ages ... and GRRM clearly knows quite a bit about those topics. The depiction of feudalism is entirely consistent with modern notions of it, for example.

        I find Tolkien to suck cock. How often does he explain the politics? How did the boss gain his power? What do the common people experience vs. the big guys? What's taboo in their societies? What are their values? What weird ethnic shit have elves or dwarves come up with that would make us sick?

        To summarize I'd say that SOIF is written in the style of history books, while Tolkien is written in the style of the Bible (with "god" replaced by "magic").

    • Brian B says:

      They don't have the Klingons supplying tech to the villagers and the Federation doing likewise for the hill people.

  7. Ian Young says:

    Re: Zombies

    Give up on that. It's become clear over the series that what started out as a "Winter comes, Country's in turmoil, then: ice weasels! But, ho! There be dragons! The bastard and the exhile fuck atop the ice wall as the dragons consume the undead; all is resolved!" has quickly turned into "Jesus fucking Christ I like me some buffets and some titties. Titty buffets. And murder. Man, writing is hard, I'm gonna go eat a pizza and jack off"

  8. Rick C says:

    Only straight explanation I can think of is the usual "we lost the knowledge of the ancients" bit, which is explicitly hinted at once or twice in the text of the books. (After watching the first season on HBO I bought the first novel and I'm a bit less than halfway through.)

    I'm not saying it's a *good* explanation, just as much of one as I've seen.

  9. Will Sargent says:

    If I remember correctly, the Wall was built with magic. When magic mysteriously stopped working, they were limited to what engineering skills worked without it.

    Kinda like why you can't build the Hoover dam without oil or electricity -- they just don't have the access to free energy their ancestors had.

    • jwz says:

      If this is really the explanation, then that's even lamer than I expected, because this is a show (so far) that is not about magic, so pulling that out of the hat will be super-duper lame. In the, what, ten hours and eight hundred pages that have already aired, maybe 5 minutes total have been "magic-y": two brief "zombie" attacks, and one shitty CGI dragon. This show has been about politics in a goofy version of 15th century England. I didn't feel like there was a deus ex machina that I was missing.

      See also, Zawinski's Theory of Time Travel.

      • Will Sargent says:

        Right, well... Dragons used to be a major force in the age of Valyria, up until about 400 years ago. Then there was a Doom thing, and only three were left.

        http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Timeline_of_major_events

        No-one talks about it because no-one gives a shit -- it's like bringing up the Battle of Hastings or something. Which is why people are utterly unprepared for Wights, Others, Dragons and all this other shit. It's just not part of their worldview.

      • Dan Lyke says:

        Yeah, I gave up on the books because by the end of the nth one (whatever that was that was, what, a decade ago, before the big pause and the admission that George R R Martin had no idea where the story was going and, by the way, here's the next book, suckers!) it was clear that there wasn't going to be a coherent way that he could pull all of those story lines back together.

        I'm okay with spending 4 books putting zombies on the mantle, but to then concede that there isn't a preexisting plan for all of 'em means that there's gonna be way too much handwaving and "magic happened!" for any resolution to be satisfying.

      • Niczar says:

        The disappearance (and ongoing reappearance) of dragons and magic is actually a major element of the underlying universe. If the Targaryen still had them, their rule could not have been contested. That would have been a boring story. So you're right, it's not a show about magic, because it's precisely a show about the absence thereof, and its political impications.

        In the latest books a reason is hinted as to why magic/dragons disappeared (a conspiracy).

        Anyway I understand you don't like the whole thing but to be honest I'm quite a bit puzzled by your objections to it.

        • jwz says:

          I'm quite a bit puzzled by your objections to it.

          Because I'm 11+ episodes into a TV series and I'm being pulled out of the narrative by what I see as gaping plot holes in the backstory, and your justification is that explanations are hinted at on page 4,000 of the 800 page book it's based on.

          A tv show (or for that matter, the first novel in a series) needs to stand on its own enough that the audience isn't saying to themselves, "wait a minute, this doesn't make any god damned sense."

          To do otherwise is -- like I said -- shitty writing.

          • Nick42 says:

            First, I think you're overestimating how easy it is to kick off an industrial revolution. The Egyptians were building pyramids were built in 2500 BC, and Iron was being worked around 2-1000 BC. The ancient Greeks had complicated machinery, but it was not advanced by the Romans. None of these lead to an industrial revolution.

            The wall was built by the first men (yes, they used magic), who were later conquered by the Andals, who were then conquered by the Targaryens. During the last few thousand years, most of the rest of the world was ruled by Valyria, an empire that used dragons and magic in place of technology. During that time Westeros was a pretty backwater kind of place.

            About 500 years ago the homeland of the empire was destroyed by unknown means and both magic and technology declined. The Targaryens were survivors of that destruction.

            So if it seems like they're at about tech level of 15th century Europe, that would be about right. Westeros is about as far removed time wise from the fall of Valyria as 15th century Europe from the fall of the Roman Empire.

            I'm sorry you find this jarring, but the history of the world is crucial part of the plot. I don't have any problems with how it's been revealed in the books. Some of it has been cut from the TV show, but given the volume of material a lot has to be cut.

            Personally I found it a lot more believable than the family trade series, but I've only read the first one as of yet.

            • jwz says:

              I don't know why I keep having to repeat myself here, so this is the last time.

              Yes, the history of the world, whatever that may be, is essential to having a chance of this story making any sense.

              You know what's not in the show that I'm a year-plus in to watching?

              ANY of the shit you're talking about!

              You know what that means?

              That the story -- as presented -- makes no goddamned sense.

              That's bad writing.

              • Lun Esex says:

                Reminds me of trying to start watching X-Files in the 3rd or 4th season, and then an arc episode comes on.

                "So what's the deal with his sister?"
                "Black oil? Guys with their eyes sewn shut? Huh?"
                "Are those aliens different from those other ones? Are some of them not really aliens? Are they fighting each other, or working together?"
                "Is THAT guy an alien? Some kind of bounty hunter? Who/what is he hunting? Who is he working for/with/against?"
                "Who IS that old guy who's always smoking a cigarette?"
                "Who are those guys in that secret cabal? Are they working WITH the aliens, or AGAINST them? WHICH aliens?"
                "Clones?"

                ("Mornington Crescent!")

                Then the first movie came out, which seemed to be largely an excuse to throw everything up in the air and make everyone who'd been following the backstory but HADN'T seen the film as confused as any brand new viewer (call it egalitarianism, or call it "now you can re-experience the joy you felt from being totally confused when you FIRST started watching the show!").

              • Nick42 says:

                I think the reason you have to keep repeating yourself is that it's hard to believe that your objection is that they haven't yet explained why there's been no industrial revolution.

                If, in cutting a multi-thousand page epic down to a TV series, that's your main objection I think that's a case of praising with faint damnation.

                • jwz says:

                  Again, you have completely mischaracterized what I've said about five different ways.

                  You know, I also think that all but two characters are boring, dragons are stupid, and the handling of the only non-whites in the show is comically racist, but you nerds don't want to talk about that stuff.

  10. nooj says:

    come for the zombies, stay for the snark!

  11. DaveL says:

    I think the whole world had magic-based technology, and some actual mundane technology. The problem is that magic (at least as it's always portrayed in fantasy) isn't a reliable source of innovation. Then the magic got so it didn't work very well (or at all) and that sucked even worse, because they knew it was supposed to work. Kind of like when your computer stops behaving for no reason whatsoever. Imagine thousands of years of Windows 98.

    As for the politics /whine, I agree. It started out as being the Wars of the Roses with a coat of dragon-magic-zombies on it, but it's taking him forever to get beyond the politics, and it isn't even much like the original. One assumes Tyrion is Richard III, but then who can be sure? Racefail-land was fun for a chapter or two, but OMG not thirty.

  12. Notthebuddha says:

    http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/07/08/game-of-thrones-author-george-r-r-martin-spills-the-secrets-of-a-dance-with-dragons/ :

    "You once said that fantasy needs to reflect reality. Can you explain what you meant by that?

    Well, I think all fiction needs to reflect reality. Fiction is lies, we’re writing about people who never existed and events that never happened when we write fiction, whether its science fiction or fantasy or western mystery stories or so-called literary stories. All those things are essentially untrue. But it has to have a truth at the core of it. You’re still writing about people, you’re writing about the human condition. I often quote Faulkner, who said in his speech after winning the Nobel Prize that 'the human heart in conflict with itself' is the only thing worth writing about. And I’ve always agreed with that. It’s true no matter what genre you’re writing in, even if there are dragons in it or it’s about a private detective or a western gunslinger, it’s still ultimately about the human heart in conflict with itself or it’s not worth reading."

    Apparently, the crap history and other fake parts are intentionally fake because they exist only to serve the realistic characters and plot.

    • some guy on the internet says:

      I think this is going to be the secret to successful JWZ slashfic.