Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Outside the Buzz

The latest episode of "Game of Thrones", its eigth installement called "The Mountain and the Viper", has attracted a wild array of criticism that I feel the need to adress because it seems to be rooted in a peculiar phenomen. Let's quote the master of the lore himself, Elio Garcia:
When you hype something up—when you declare it to contain one of the best things you’ve ever done—you must deliver to the expectations you create, and for us, it fell short. That’s the danger, of course, when one promotes and pushes the idea that this is something that’s the equivalent of a “Blackwater”.
And that's just the thing. Despite being not exactly an Internet abstinent person, I totally missed the hype. Therefore, my expectations about the fight weren't inflated. Therefore, I wasn't disappointed. And I darsesay many other people outside the bubble will feel the same, although it's hard for me to tell. Usually, I'm inside the bubble myself.
To future contracts!
In this case, though, clearly those who soaked up all the buzz that HBO created and watched every promotion video that came out, leered after the stills of the fight or looked up previous duels to compare them were let down, because the fight wasn't really that long. Not "Blackwater" long. I haven't measured it, but I'm fairly certain that the fight is well in line with the other big duels. Ned vs. Jaime in season 1, Brienne vs. Jaime in season 3, the Hound vs. Beric Dondarrion in season 3. Consider it that way, and the series is short of big duels anyway. Most of the fights are over pretty quickly, and that's the point. If you drag it out like Oberyn Badassio Martell, you're likely to get killed. 

But fear not, fandom has found its culprit. Or culprits, rather, because they are legion. I'm talking, of course, of the beetles that Orson Lannister smashed and the scene between Jaime and Tyrion in the cell. It could have been cut! It doesn't say anything relevant! It's stupid! It's boring! I want to see a fight, dammit! I want to quote a user from the Tower of the Hand to show it in one example:
Ok, great. Orson=Gregor. Or Orson=the gods, life, etc. Doesn't matter. Could have gotten there in 1/3 the time. Personally I'd have spent those extra minutes on a lengthier combat scene- get more of a sense of Gregor being a better fighter and his rising irritation at the RV.
We know all about the Mountain. All we need to know. He's big, he's scary, he's deadly. Oberyn is the opposite, lean, agile and also deadly. Plus, he's Indigo Montoya. What else is there to know? Game of Throne's strength have never been its fight scenes, and absurdely enough, Elio Garcia deconstructs the weaknesses of this one at length. Does anyone believe that it could have been improved by making it longer?

Instead, we're getting a scene where not only is one of the central themes of the series - both television and book -, the random plight of the smallfolk, reinforced. A really important relationship is reinforced once more, too, almost painfully so. Because, you know, said relationship will be put under some strain soon, unlike the one between Gregor and Oberyn that is, you know, over. One scene makes the ground on which a lot of other scenes in the coming seasons will have to grow more fertile. The other one is a vanity exercise, because the ground for those scenes was already prepared in the previous episodes, when Pedro Pascal's character had other things to do beyond dying. No, the show made the right choice.

It might have been a mistake on their part to create a buzz around the fight scene, but frankly, I don't even believe that. I think that buzz is largely a incestous phenomenon. In all the reviews I read over the internet (on Unsullied sites, of course), no one complained over the brevity or the lack of characterization of Gregor. That is because Gregor needs none. He isn't really a character in the books, he's a menace. Oberyn is a fan favorite, of course, and the fight one of the most beloved fight scenes of the series. I think fandom wipped itself into a expectation the show couldn't possibly met. I for one are glad that the showrunners have their priorities straight.


  1. Great post, Stefan. I'm particularly amused by your "incestuous phenomenon" remark. All too true. The ultra-purist part of this fandom is really getting out of hand, there's no pleasing them. Nothing is good, everything is rubbish, the show is on some crusade to destroy Martin's work... it goes on and on. And as you correctly pointed out, you can only see this nonsense among readers. It goes so far that I'm seriously considering to stop participating in online discussions on certain forums because they truly sap the energy rand enthusiasm right out of me. Imagine going to the movies with a bunch of guys who hate every single movie you watch. After a while, it becomes an "abusive" relationship where I spend way too much time on the defensive or rationalising why I like what I like and if maybe I'm in the wrong.

    George really doesn't deserve such "fans". Neil Gaiman was right in more ways than one.

  2. Thanks Stefan for this. If it's hype, and Elio and Linda realize it's hype, why did they believe it? I thought that being above that sort of thing, they watch the show as a rendering in a different medium of the artistry of GRRM, not using the risible standard of the huckster (HBO seeking eyeballs) but using their knowledge of the source material and their knowledge of the craft of TV/film to critique "the show".
    I thought they had valid points to make about the setting znd the editing but using the hype as their standard (and Linda using a 3 as her disappointment default rating) for measuring the fight scene renders their critique useless.

    1. "knowledge of the craft of TV/film...", I'm curious now, what is their knowledge of the craft? I haven't really come across a good bio. Everything I have just lists them as fans more obsessive than all of us that got in touch with him about a Role-Playing game.

  3. Sasse-GarciaBowl BRING IT

  4. Very well said, Stefan. Thank you.

  5. I don't think the buzzed did get let down; my perception of the response is that most viewers were genuinely shocked and impressed by the fight, length notwithstanding.

  6. Honestly, Elio and Linda can bite me. Their criticisms of the show are grounded in arrogance. Their expertise on the source material does not qualify them as television critics.