Douglas Crockford




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(Westeros: The Uncanny Continent)

“By Henry Cavill's moustache, I shall be avenged!”

The superfans are really upset about the final seasons of HBO's Game of Thrones. They have been spewing contempt for the producers of the show all over the internet. They have been victimized, the show has caused them injury, and they are fighting back by lashing out. Some want reparations. Some want a redo. Some just want to vent. The series did not surprise them in the way they expected to be surprised. Characters stopped developing in their arcs, and then did things that they previously would not have done. They complained that there was gratuitous fan service, but they were not served. They are really angry, and while they have meticulous critiques, charges, and particulars, they do not really understand why they are angry, why they think they were betrayed.

There were early complaints that the show was too violent and too sexual. There were complaints that the books were better, but that isn't a proper complaint. The book is always better. In looking at an adaptation, we should instead be asking if it stands on its own. The show is an epic fantasy based on books by George R. R. Martin, who improves on the Tolkien tradition by adding women and an abundance of moral grayness. The showrunners simplified Martin's story, as they had to, but they did not dumb it down. They did not employ titles or narrations to tell us where we are, or who is there, or what they are thinking, or how much time has passed. The show had a very large cast, many of whom were divided into several great houses, all with strange names and rich backstories. The show expected the audience to pay attention and keep up. And remarkably, it did. The show wasn't just popular, it was culturally important.

Games of Thrones is the best television series of all time. It is a shame that it wasn't better.

In robotics and computer graphics, there is a thing called The Uncanny Valley. In the development of synthetic human forms, as our skills and tools allowed our forms to become increasingly realistic, there is a point short of perfection where the result becomes alarmingly creepy. All we can see is that the thing is not properly human. We can not see that it is remarkably close, an improvement over earlier, more primitive forms that looked less real.

I think a similar thing happened to Games of Thrones. The show was so good that some viewers formed a creative attachment to it. An industry grew up in which commentators reviewed, recapped, and handicapped predicted outcomes. It made Jonathan Van Ness a star. Fan theories abounded. The theorists had a stake in the outcome. It was no longer HBO's show. It was their show. And when the show did not go the way they imagined (and how could it?) they were shocked and spiteful. They could not forgive imperfections that could easily be ignored in other shows. All they could see were the imperfections.

I have some sympathy for the mothers who named their daughters Daenerys. It did seem for a time that Daenerys was going to be the woman who saves the world. But Games of Thrones is famous for setting up expectations and then crushing them. The superfans were not prepared for this. Their roles had changed from viewers to co-creators. They felt they had been misled, and of course they were. The greatest disappointment of all was that the show was coming to a conclusion. They did not want any kind of ending, so any ending was going to feel forced or unearned. From that vantage point, sticking the landing is impossible. All of their wrath fell on the writers. They have no respect for the creative team that produced the best television series of all time. They punished the show by pushing its Rotten Tomatoes score down to 53%. Happy Days, the show in which Arthur Fonzarelli jumped his motorcycle over a shark, has 100%.

The writing remained consistently good all the way through, right up to the end. I was particularly impressed with the committee scene in the final episode. Recall that when Tyrion fell into Daenerys's reality distortion field, his judgment became impaired, causing him to underestimate his enemies. Even worse, he was not aware that when he told Daenerys "no" that she heard "not yet". He is now being held by Grey Worm, awaiting execution for treason. Westeros is likely to fall into a long civil war. The power vacuum will be filled with blood. Sansa wants Grey Worm to release Jon Snow and Tyrion, so she convenes a meeting, packing it with as many lords and notables as she can muster. Grey Worm thinks that he is in charge. Sansa thinks it is her meeting, but as we will see, it is really Tyrion's.

Grey Worm does not permit Tyrion to speak, but Tyrion manages to say, concerning Grey Worm and the fate of Jon Snow, it is not for you to decide.

The committee asks for clarification. Who then?

It is for our king or queen to decide.

We have none.

Then choose one. Tyrion has captured the agenda. They are no longer negotiating the release of prisoners. They are now selecting a new king. All of the committee members, with the possible exception of Davos, are immediately comfortable with the idea that they should hold the power to select the monarch. Grey Worm hates all of these people, but he respects chain of command, so he allows the process to continue.

Edmure Tully starts reciting his resume. Sansa tells him to sit. Sam suggests that they form a democracy and is laughed at.

The committee asks Tyrion if he wants the crown. He declines. Who then?

Tyrion names the least objectionable candidate: Bran the Broken. All in attendance expect Bran to be a weak king, which suits them fine, allowing them to exercise more power in their own fiefdoms. Sansa will be the first to exploit Bran's weakness by seceding The North from The Seven Kingdoms.

Tyrion does not call for a vote because such a call might be met with procedural objections. For example, someone might ask that additional candidates be offered, or that the vote be delayed until after Tyrion's execution so that they can consider the matter more carefully. So instead, boldly, Tyrion simply votes: I say aye.

Sam, possibly understanding Tyrion's gambit, seconds: Aye. And with this momentum, they all in turn say aye. A new king is elected. A new procedure for selecting kings is established. Civil War is averted, at least in the short term, and Jon and Tyrion live. Tyron was my favorite character, so I was really pleased to see him using his power effectively at the end.

The superfans were confused by Tyrion's choice of Bran. They were watching from the vantage of gods, expecting to see the coronation of the most deserving. But this was never that sort of show. Instead we saw Tyrion do the best he could in a terrible situation, and on balance, it turned out pretty well.

This is only a TV show. I wish that godly outrage could be applied to more important real matters, like the rising of sea levels or the destruction of the middle class.

So passes the best television series of all time. We shall never see its like again. And now our watching has ended.