This post will deal with plot points through the first four seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the excellent adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. If you’re not caught up on the source material, reading this article will spoil you. You’ve been warned, yo.
Game of Thrones on HBO recently wrapped up its fourth season, and I don’t think I’m alone in my desire for Season Five to start Right Now.
It was another great season, even if some things were painful to watch. Like Littlefinger being all skeevy with Sansa. Or the horror of the fight between the Red Viper and the Mountain going terribly awry. Or the heartbreak and terrible irony of Tyrion strangling his love.
These were things that were painful to watch, but not because they were executed poorly. It’s part of the bold and unpredictable story and that’s great. Ever since Ned Stark lost his head, we all should have realized that we’d be in for a rough road. But it’s okay not to love everything about the story.
This season, I felt that there was a lot more Sunday quarterbacking than in previous years. You don’t know what I mean? Statements that we’ve heard in the past, like:
- Why are they wasting all this time on Robb and what’s-her-name? Boring!
- Did we have to spend two minutes with Bran and those kids? Whatever!
- Theon? Torture? Again?
The above statements were examples of things I’d heard during Season Three. Some of that criticism turned around.
I don’t think anyone can go back and re-watch Robb’s scenes and be unmoved, knowing what’s to come for him.
Season Four wasn’t that much different, it’s natural for people to look forward to certain storylines and if they’re not invested in some characters’ journeys, to be irritated and impatient when those characters have the show’s focus.
But it seemed like every podcast I listened to that covered Game of Thrones, or every forum I read talking about the show had vocal detractors who were very put out by anything going on in the North.
- Why are they wasting so much time with Theon? Or Reek? Or Whatever. We get it.
- Why are they wasting so much time with Theon’s sister, not rescuing Theon? Lame!
- Why are they wasting so much time with Bran going north? Still going north?
- Why are they wasting so much time with Jon running around? Shouldn’t he be running into that zombie horde?
- Why are they wasting so much time with Ygritte being angry and mean? Ooo Wildlings. So scary.
The follow up to any of these statements was almost invariably why waste time on that, when we want to see what’s happening in King’s Landing?
Daenerys in the east wasn’t immune to criticism, nor was Stannis who eventually ended up in the North (at the very end, yo. Dramatically!) But people seemed to tolerate their storylines because these two are possible contenders for the Throne.
For some people, Game of Thrones is all about the Iron Throne. Naturally. It’s like, practically in the name of the show! (The books are called A Song of Ice and Fire, by the way.)
King’s Landing, the Happening Place
A lot of criticism for the northern storylines boiled down to their perceived irrelevance. The further one got from King’s Landing, or the less that the story dealt with the dynastic control of the Throne, the more boring that storyline was regarded. The North was both far from King’s Landing and not necessarily tied in to the struggle for the title of monarch. Doubly boring to those watching the show for politics.
It’s not hard to see why King’s Landing as a locale rose to prominence. Let me tell you a story:
Once Upon A Time, when the television show Game of Thrones started out, the focus happened to be on the Stark family.
They lived in a big castle called Winterfell, where Lord Eddard Stark (his friends called him “Ned”) ruled the North. (The Wildlings called that place the South, but let’s ignore them for the moment.)
The Starks did what families do. They squabbled, they laughed, they attended the occasional beheading or two.
The simple life.
Then the king, big bearded Bob Baratheon, showed up and did what kings do when they drop in to visit. He made things very complicated.
The Stark family was split apart as the father and his daughters relocated to the capital of King’s Landing, where Lord Eddard would now be working.
Then, a lot of bad things happened.
Nearly everyone we liked left the kingdom of the North (some going south, some going Really North), people we didn’t like invaded the North, and Winterfell burned down.
Robb Stark had become the King of the North. Yay!
He’d sworn to avenge his father. Right on!
Then he died. 😦
The North just wasn’t that fun a place to focus on.
(Yeah, I’m grossly oversimplifying things.)
Meanwhile, down south in the capital, things were consistently exciting. Kings were dying, political marriages were being made, and armies were roasting alive on the waters of Blackwater Bay.
There were battles of wits, battles with steel, conspiracies, intrigue, assassination, sorcerers in boxes, trials, sexy men, sexy women, infanticide, regicide, alleged nepoticide, attempted fratricide, and successful patricide.
There’s a lot of different sides to the stories in King’s Landing.
People were making plans, making money, making time, making the occasional moonlit rendezvous, making introductions with adorably-named kittens, and just making things happen.
In comparison to the Crownlands, the North no longer seemed relevant or important.
King’s Landing had Tyrion. The North had Theon.
That’s not much of a contest.
But by the end of Season Four, the writing had metaphorically appeared on the big icy wall of The Wall that things were changing. King’s Landing was becoming less and less the place with all of the stories.
(Even the Season Four title sequence was less-King’s Landing-centric!)
The Blackwater Tides Are Waning
What changed? Well, for starters the population of King’s Landing was on the decline, and the North was on the rise.
- Tywin Lannister was dead.
- Brienne and Podrick had left the city.
- Olenna Tyrell had left the city.
- Tyrion had left the city.
- Shae was dead.
- Varys had left the city.
- Sansa (the heiress of the North) had left the city with Littlefinger, who’s playing his game of thrones elsewhere.
- Oberyn Martell, the super-sexy prince of Dorne, was totally dead.
Who’s left? Queen Regent Cersei, King Tommen Baratheon, Ser Jaime Lannister, Margaery Tyrell, and Ser Loras.
And dynamic Mace Tyrell.
Let’s count Ellaria Sand, Ser Meryn Trant, Maester Pycelle, Ex-Maester Qyburn, and the poisoned Gregor Clegane.
I’m not forgetting Bronn. Bronn’s still the bright spot of King’s Landing. Credit where credit is due.
Still some interesting people, sure. But not nearly as many as before.
Who arrived up North during Season Four?
- Roose Bolton with an army, now that Theon arranged for the surrender and slaughter of the Ironborn holding Moat Caillin, the bottle-neck of The Neck.
- Mance Rayder, with thousands and thousands of Wildlings. Who are now prisoner of…
- Stannis the Mannis, who arrived dramatically in the nick of time to save the Night’s Watch and foil the uncontrolled Wildling migration.
- Stannis has his people with him: Davos, Princess Shireen, Queen Selyse, and the bewitching and pyrotechnic Melisandre of Asshai.
Who else is in the North? Well, all the Night’s Watch folk we know: Sam, Gilly, Gilly’s child (son of Craster and therefore candidate Other), traitorous Janos Slynt, hard-ass Aliser Thorne, blind Maester Aemon, and complaining Dolorous Edd.
Jon Snow is in the North, that know-nothing, and his former wall-climbing comrade Tormund Giantsbane.
Yara Greyjoy was last seen in the North with her small force of men, after failing to rescue Theon.
An army of Ironborn still control the western coast, even though Roose claims they’ll be fleeing soon.
When last we saw Rickon Stark and his Wildling protector, Osha, they had the intention of making for one of the loyal Stark bannermen, the Umbers.
And further north, we have the surviving child of Howland Reed, Meera.
And Hodor. (Hodor!)
And Bran Stark.
Bran Stark: The King In the North!
And a miniature Uma Thurman and this really old guy stuck in a tree.
There’s a lot set up in the North.
I guess I shouldn’t forget these guys either:
Rumor has it that they’re walking around up north. Managing a baby day care. They’re totally not important, right?
The North Remembers
Okay, it’s possible that some of the podcasters and forum-posters who’ve been complaining about time wasted on the North are reading my post. I mean, quantum mechanics imply that nearly anything is possible, right? Probably unlikely…
But assuming they are, they might be thinking:
Pat, you may be right that more stories in the next season will involve the North, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be good. It’ll just be More Time Wasted.
I’m just saying that Once Upon A Time, everyone was really invested in Ned Stark. When he got killed, I think everyone was on board with supporting Robb’s desire for justice. But now Robb’s dead.
Why must we abandon our need for justice for Ned? And why can’t we add in a desire to see justice for Robb and Catelyn?
Why are we forgetting the North, which at least is still remembering?
Is it that people feel that it’s a lost cause? I know it’s been hard being on Team Stark, but we still have a lot of Starks left.
The Starks are part of the North, and if viewers are invested in the stories of Ned and Cat’s surviving children (and seriously, Robb’s the only one that’s dead – the Stark’s aren’t in danger of being wiped out) then we should be invested in what’s happening in the North.
The North can never be boring to me when Roose Bolton’s still running around, being the boss of the place. He betrayed and killed Robb Stark, foiling the most straightforward course of justice for Ned Stark.
Joffrey got taken care of. Tywin got taken care of.
Shouldn’t we still want Roose to get his?
This feels like a dumb topic to write about. After all, people can watch the show however they like, without me lecturing them that they are watching it wrong. (But I do agree with Dan Harmon that most critics were watching Season One of Community wrong. Because they were.)
I’m fine with people not being invested in all the story-lines, and I think it might be interesting to watch the show with a tight focus on specific characters. But it drives me crazy when people complain that the show is wasting time, just because some plots aren’t hitting that viewer’s sweet spot of interest.
Unless that viewer has insight into the unwritten books that George RR Martin is working on at his trademark glacial pace!!!
If so, then hey, Spoiler Alert would be appreciated, people.
Don’t ruin the overall story for me by telling me that the North storyline is boring as snot and meaningless.
I’d rather not know that fact.
I didn’t tell you about Ned’s beheading or the Red Wedding, did I?
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones, obviously.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2014 Some Rights Reserved