(Spoilers for GoT S6 E2 “Home”)
For the better part of five seasons, I’ve put up with Game of Thrones episodes doling out plot points slipshod and been mostly ok with it. And maybe that’s not even fair, because the first season or two tended to keep things a little tighter, in part because there were fewer important characters in fewer places than there are now.
But my patience is wearing very thin.
It’s impossible to argue that nothing happened in last night’s episode. Tick down the plot points:
- Bran had visions of the past
- Theon decided to leave Sansa
- Wildlings took over Castle Black
- Arya was invited back to the House of Black and White
- Jamie might have been captured by the High Septon
- Tyrion unchained the dragons (although they’re still in captivity)
- Ramsey killed Roose Bolton, Roose’s wife, and his newborn son
- Euron killed Balon Greyjoy
- Jon Snow was resurrected.
The problem is that those plot points were the entire episode. There wasn’t any dramatic movement behind any of those plot points within the episode. No story built through the runtime that advanced a character more than one step, much less developed the time to allow them to struggle, to learn, and to apply that knowledge in a dramatically satisfying way. All those plot points just rolled out in sequence for us to consume like pieces of candy: sweet individually, but eat too many and you’ll have a serious stomach ache without having consumed anything of substance.
This is a problem that seems mostly unlikely to go away, especially when you think about how many characters we didn’t even see. Daenerys was absent. Daario and Jorah weren’t to be seen. No Margaery. Petyr Baelish hasn’t even showed up this season yet.
This is a major dramatic problem. Vox published a great article recently about how streaming shows, especially Netflix shows that release an entire season at once, have a bad habit of not making good television episodes. At this point, there’s probably no show more emblematic of that problem than Game of Thrones.
I was particularly annoyed in this regard with the storyline that actually got the most screentime in last night’s episode: Jon Snow’s resurrection. The scene with Davos admitting what he’s learned of miracles from Melisandre, and of her doubting the foundations of her life, was compelling. But when Davos asks if there isn’t some way for Melisandre to help Jon yet, it feels out of left field. Yes, it’s tied to the idea that Davos sees Melisandre as a proprietor of miracles, but that’s weak. It seems like Davos would have been motivated by conversations with Tormund (who got nothing to do this week, basically) or some of the Knight’s Watchmen close to Jon. If he saw how much stock they placed on him and how much they feel they’ve lost, there would have been so much more motivation for Davos to seek out any solution to help this man, Jon, whom he respected but barely knew.
I want to eventually see how all these divided story arcs come together, but I also want to be satisfied by the ones that are actually given time on screen, not handed the cliff notes for the plot. Game of Thrones has earned some expectation of investment in its characters, but it can’t completely abandon giving us fresh reasons to follow them. It’s a show known for brutally cutting down its characters; maybe it’s time to get similarly brutal in addressing which plots are actually given time on screen instead of simply implied (how much of anything in King’s Landing did we actually need to see firsthand this week?), and how many plotlines each episode tries to move forward.