The Game of Plots

Many have been enthralled for weeks as another cycle (can we call them seasons when they are so short?) of Game of Thrones has been unleashed into the world. The HBO series is sort of old fashioned in its one-ep-per-week schedule, unlike the other popular sci-fi summer show, “The Defenders,” which Netflix drops as a bundle.

By coincidence, I came across the season 5 of GoT at the library and have watched the DVD’s over the past week or more. I’m a couple seasons behind in the drama of Westeros, but if season 5 is any indication, I don’t think I’ve missed much. That’s because not much ever happens in the GoT universe.

This struck me after the second season of the show, in which the dragon-queen, dithered on the far side of the narrow sea. After an amazing first season, with it’s shocking deaths of major characters, I had expected a lot from season two. I was sadly dissapointed and have been ever since. Don’t get me wrong, GoT is a beautifully produced series, BUT it also has the tendancy to stretch two hours of plot over ten.

The ratio of plot to story time is a tricky one. Story consumers are very attuned to this narrative element, much like old people are tuned into the changing of the weather. They feel the chill of autumn in their joints long before the mercury drops. Likewise, an aimless or wandering plot may cause viewers to glance at their watch or wonder if they’re taken out hte garbage long before they realize the show they are watching has wandered off the rails.

Today’s long-arc storylines, that stretch multiple plots over numerous episodes are particular guilty of this story-telling sin. I blame “Lost” for much of the trend. That show taught industry leaders that the audience would come back week after week to learn what happens next, even if the show’s writers had no idea what really happens next. Such shows are less about storytelling and more about teasing and complications. The audience always things something definitive is about to happen, only to have a complication thrown in the hero’s path.

There were a number of drawn out elements in GoT’s 10-episode season five. Tyrion Lanister embarks on a long trip that could have been condensed. Arya Stark reaches a strange tower and not surprisingly has to sweep floors for a few episodes before she (and we) learn what the heck this murky setting is all about. Jon Snow talks a lot about joining forces with the wild folk from north of the wall. It’s all beautifully shot with excellent production values, but it also moves as a snails pace.

What GoT is really about is revenge. That is the driving emotion beneath every plot thread in this show. Someone evil is established and then…eventually…they are made to suffer. I’m still waiting for the little sadist that married Sansa to be skinned alive or eaten by pigs or some other suitably Karmic end. Revenge is an easy emotion to appeal to. ┬áThe writers simply have to “go there” in terms of placing their hero in a place of terrible suffering. I find it difficult to do. I don’t find suffering or revenge very admirable foundations on which to base a story.

But they do work and I’ll no doubt watch season six whenever I come across the DVD’s at the library. I may, however, make strategic use the fast-forward button.

About Deke

Writer and filmmaker Dale Kutzera is a recipient of the Carl Sautter Screenwriting Award, the Environmental Media Award, and participated in the Warner Brother Writers Workshop. His credits include the TV shows "Strange Frequency" and "Without a Trace" and the independent film "Military Intelligence And You!" He is the author of five novels and the popular "Plot Machine" story-structure guides. He writes about writing and filmmaking at www.DaleKutzera.com.

Leave a Reply