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'Game of Thrones' Completely Reshaped My Pop Culture Expectations

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I’ve always maintained a bit of distance from broad fandoms due to their intensity, but I have to admit once I began reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series I was completely enthralled. George R.R. Martin’s plotting and narrative voice is so well-accomplished that I read thousands of his pages, and I’m not always an avid reader. I was also quite sceptical of the series before I began reading due to its fantasy elements, which was something I’d hadn’t really sought out in the fiction I consumed, but Martin subverts our expectations so often with his well-drawn characters, subplots, and themes that I disregarded my genre bias. While there may be dragons and the undead in the books, the series is more invested in power and politics, and the mechanisations behind both. The series is a high-stakes survival game of ambitious power ploys and immoral deceits populated by ruthless strategists constantly positioning themselves for the upper hand, leaving a high body count behind them. It’s shocking in its brutal portrayal of the succession of power, surprising us with its violent events and unexpected character actions. It made me see what genre storytelling could achieve and gave me a much broader perspective for sci-fi and fantasy writing.

However, it’s definitely a flawed journey in both its original source material and the television series. The latter has received a lot of heated backlash over the course of its final two seasons and a majority of the critiques have been legitimate, I think, but the harsh attitude and resentment from the fans is excessive. While it’s alienating for a once excellent show to end a former shell of itself, it shouldn’t make us overreact and decry the whole enterprise or say start an online petition to get a new finale made. The show remains a startling achievement for what it did that many others couldn’t in terms of scope and its high-wire balancing act of carrying so many character and plot threads—the number of which made the show and book series begin to buckle after A Storm of Swords—season four in the show. Thrones has a massive ensemble filled with dynastic families all competing for power, and Martin’s problem is how many characters he adds into the fold with some being late additions that the reader has no real connection to, and this is how the narrative stalls in A Feast for Crows as Jon, Daenerys, and Tyrion are all absent from the books to introduce Dorne and the character of Arianne Martell. The Dorne subplot is notorious for the viewers’ sour reaction to its poorly portrayed characters and complete dismissal of the source material’s plotting, as Arianne Martell never appears in the show with the creators heavily condensing Martin’s staggering novels. This happens in any given adaptation for the plot to become more streamlined, but it’s called the various absent subplots from the books into question because if they were essential to the overall ending then they’d surely be included. So, characters like Lady Stoneheart, Victarion Greyjoy, and Aegon Targaryen appear to be a product of Martin’s increasingly dense and overly detailed narrative, but a lot of criticism of the show’s rushed pacing and incoherent character arcs could be due to some of these plotlines being missed out. Many characters in the show have maintained plot armour as well, so that when they finally meet their ends, it’s predictable and not at all shocking. This could be due to the show writers struggling for plot threads that they can no longer adapt from an unfinished book series, that are plotlines they can’t show because they’ve not used the character in the show, or given the plot to a more prominent character, or they’re too rushed to be able to give subplots to characters because of the requested reduced episode orders (an act of hubris with the illogical time and location jumping).

Martin’s excess is his prose may hurt his pacing sometimes, but it always maintained that he was thorough, and it looks like David Benioff and D. B. Weiss struggled to wrap up the threads to a creative property that wasn’t actually theirs—even as George R.R. Martin too struggles to finalise his plot threads with release dates for his final two A Song of Ice and Fire books still pending. The grand scale and ambitious storytelling of Game of Thrones has enthralled so many of us, but we should’ve expected that this level of artistic ambition may not provide satisfaction at the end, as it often happens in the creative process. Whatever the case for either version of A Song of Ice and Fire, we’ll still be able to relive the creative peaks of both, as A Storm of Swords is an exemplary novel and episodes like "The Winds of Winter," "The Rains of Castamere," and "The Laws of Gods and Men" show the powerful storytelling television can accomplish. Game of Thrones was once an expectation-defying pop culture phenomenon and should be remembered as such, no matter how it ends.

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