Game of Thrones: Murder Your Darlings

Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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34 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    I also blame the Sopranos. They enthusiastically killed characters in those first two seasons and, heck, that 2nd Season killed a *LOT* of named characters. It was legitimately shocking that some of those guys died.

    And, unfortunately, the writers learned the wrong lessons from those first two seasons because Seasons 3-6.5 had a lot of deaths that were obviously the result of one of the writers asking “how can we tie up this particular loose end?” and then not coming up with anything half as good as those first two seasons.

    “Death solves all the problems. No man, no problem”.

    This is an attitude that works really well when you have too many Kulaks. It doesn’t work so well when you’re writing a story.Report

  2. InMD says:

    Thanks for sharing Kristin. This reminded me of a piece on a strangely horrific and off-tone death in Jurassic World:

    There are definitely rules to how death works in fiction and while you can subvert them somewhat taking it too far risks a form of breaking the 4th wall. The audience realizes its been seen even if the characters don’t specifically address them.

    I never watched Sopranos either but I think Jaybird’s above comment is right about how the formula has worked its way into the golden age of TV. At its worst you get these 43 minute shows with 36 minutes of dragging set up for 6 minutes of action, ‘shocking’ death, and pointless cliff-hanger set up. It’s like the writers don’t trust themselves to put together something good enough to bring people back without transparently cheap tricks.Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to InMD says:

      Wow, that was an excellent piece, thanks so much for linking me.

      Yeah, that’s what sets the Hattori Hanzo bit apart, isn’t it? I don’t understand why it is that (many) writers don’t see the potential for writing interesting scenes that are NOT just set up/shocking death/pointless cliff hanger. I mean, there are scenes in Better Call Saul where literally nothing is happening and you’re on the edge of your seat the entire time. Yet I can watch the entire dragonfighting scene from GoT and be bored.Report

    • Michael Siegel in reply to InMD says:

      Agreed on the Zara scene. One of the many reasons I hate that movie.Report

  3. North says:

    Yeah success really was unkind to Game of Thrones. The titular novel was as tight a piece of writing as you could ask for and Neds’ death was like being hit by a dump truck. By the time you get to a Dance of Dragons the writing has overflowed the bounds and digressions abound in all directions. For a devote fan it’s still quite interesting to read but you have to wade through a lot of “why is this here?” to do it.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to North says:

      The last of the Harry Potter books suffered similarly — it would have been improved by chopping about a hundred pages worth out of the middle. Should I ever become a famous author, one of the guiding principles I hope to remember is “It’s always good to listen to your editor.”Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to North says:

      He needs an editor that understands his writing style rather than just letting him run amok.

      Much of what happens is pretty interesting to me as a fan but there are only so many hours in the day, and it’s frustrating for me to “spend” my currency of time reading a story about people I’m not that interested in to get to the stuff I am.Report

      • BTW this was one of the strengths of the show, they could cut through a lot of the extra stuff and streamline it. Like, we clearly didn’t need both Gendry and Edric Storm, make them into one guy, right?

        Though IMO the TV writers shot themselves in the foot by creating extra characters that were then something of a distraction too (Roz, Myranda, looking at you here) and expanding bit players (Shae) at the expense of some of the main characters.Report

  4. Oscar Gordon says:

    I’ll never forgive Whedon for killing Wash they way he did. After such a complete moment of grace, to get speared the way he did.

    I almost walked out of the theater.

    I could have written that scene ten times better.Report

    • That offended me in a “representation of marginalized peoples” kind of way, and I forgot how much till I was writing this piece. Who was killed? Not Cool Dude, Burly, Sexy Hooker, Badass Girl, Cute Scotty, or Author Insert Character Simon Tam, but a geek (leaving his black wife behind so she suffers too and then must bravely carry on as a Strong Woman) and a black guy. Pure trash. I get SO SICK of that kind of thing. Right up there with killing Tara on Buffy.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      How should he have killed Wash?

      I mean, killing him directly after that moment of grace is what gives the scene its dramatic force, yes?Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Stillwater says:

        Assuming he needed to die (not convinced he did, didn’t really drive anything), he’s flying through a ton of debris and flak (IIRC). He could have just taken a hit from a bit of that, something fatal, just not immediately so. He gets the ship down, and expires.

        A bit trite, but it finishes the moment of grace without resorting to a cheap ass jump scare death.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Stillwater says:

        I agree with you on this. The point of that twist is not “lol fuck you”, the point is “this is really serious, we-the-filmmakers are really willing to have lasting consequences from this story, this isn’t just a TV episode where you know everyone’s gonna be alive at the end of the show because there has to be another episode next week”. Like, the fight scene after that with people being injured and getting in trouble, you actually start thinking “wait, are they gonna kill him too? Are they gonna kill her too? Are they even gonna win?


        And I think that’s what they were hoping for with “Game Of Thrones”, was to say “nobody in this story has Plot Armor, if the heroes make mistakes they will suffer consequences that don’t just get brushed off, this is a story with stakes and not one that the author is making with one eye towards sequels and spin-offs”. Unfortunately they forgot that and instead went with “lol fuck you”.Report

        • I get that character deaths make the stakes higher. I’m honestly not arguing against the principle that any character can die at any time. It is to do it as a stunt for no reason other than to tell the audience “lol fuck you” which I know from having heard Whedon speak on the matter, that’s exactly what his mindset was. He likes killing off fan fave characters because it makes him feel like a big man, he’s said as much on numerous occasions in so many words.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Dude didn’t sign on to the sequel.

      This was avoidable.Report

  5. jason says:

    Yeah, sometimes Martin’s character deaths feel like trolling. And the only good thing about the final seasons is that they seemed to have (at least temporarily) prevented B and W from helming more big IP’s.

    I stopped watching The Walking Dead because of bad writing. When I saw that one season’s cliffhanger was “who is going to get killed next season” I was glad to no longer have an investment in the show.Report

    • InMD in reply to jason says:

      That is the exact same time I stopped with the Walking Dead and for the same reason. IIRC that was also the season with Glenn’s dumpster cliff-hanger and Carole going from hardened warrior to having emotional breakdowns that jeopardize everyone.

      I finally decided these people had been written into such implausible directions that none of them deserved to live. Why waste my time with them?Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to jason says:

      Totally. Thanks for reading.Report

  6. I’d forgotten the Hanzo scene. It’s such a great example of show-me-don’t-tell-me storytelling. That she speaks Japanese, the way she ducks their arms, the broken glass. It says so much while the dialogue is so saying so little.Report

    • And then the stuff with Hanzo fighting with his assistant, it lets you know that he’s actually running the place, he’s given up swordfighting for reals and is trying to find a peaceful life. At the same time reminding us the audience that the rest of the world doesn’t care a bit about Beatrix’s vendetta.Report