Credit where it’s due, the unprecedented success of Game of Thrones is an impressive feat: HBO took a risk in adapting George R.R. Martin’s original material, with its mammoth cast of characters, and byzantine lore that had surely appeared impenetrable to all but the geekiest. Weiss and Benioff managed to strip down the novels to fit the narrative demands of television, while retaining much of the richness that cemented A Song of Ice and Fire’s appeal to dedicated readers of sci-fi and fantasy (Or so I’m told by people who’ve tackled Martin’s tomes). The subject matter was unique: incest, ancient family feuds, savage violence, and an enormous scope (how many other shows include a map in their opening credits, just so you can remember what/where the fuck is going on?) The unique selling point of GoT, however, was its unpredictability in regards to the lifespans of its cast: for a show to kill of its most important character, played by its most widely recognised actor, in its very first season, was a bold move. This looming prospect of sudden brutality is what made it possible for a teacher to tyrannise his class with the threat of immanent spoilers (https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2014/mar/25/teacher-punishes-students-with-game-of-thrones-spoilers), and is why - unless you want to invite some fierce tutting and the possibility of some genuine Dothraaki style violence – you should only publicly discuss Game of Thrones in a conspiratorial whisper.
And yet, when July rolled around, and millions of fans around the globe descended in unison upon their sofas to herald the arrival of the long awaited season seven, I was not among them: something had changed in Game of Thrones, and my interest had been waning for the last two seasons. In the earlier seasons confrontations had been tense, with characters verbally sparring in ways that hinted at antagonistic histories, and the writers trusted the audience to string the pieces together themselves; one of my fondest memories of GoT is Ned Stark’s meeting with Jaime Lannister in the throne room, where we learn simultaneously of their troubled relationship, as well as the political history that has led up to the events of the show. Or think of Sandor Clegane saving Sansa from the predatory hordes: she comes to him afterwards, and thanks him for his bravery - "A dog doesn't need courage to chase off rats", he replies. He's a man who does what is needed of him, and sometimes he relishes it. True, GoT has never been as subtle as some truly great TV shows (Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Wire), particularly in its use of ‘sexposition’ (a portmanteau whose invention was necessitated by this show), the most egregious of which was when Littlefinger recited his life story to two prostitutes engaged in loud, Sapphic sex for no other purpose than the viewer’s titillation – but the dialogue remained sharp, the characters remained murky.
During and after season five that mystery was lost. Characters’ motivations became completely apparent, and their histories had at this point been largely revealed. Dialogue was cringey, a caricature of what it had once been, producing the unforgivably awful line ‘You want a good girl, but you need da bad pussy’. Conflicts that had been ethically ambiguous and nuanced were now boring and stale. We had to put up with an ineffectual Dany equivocating for ten episodes while the anonymous and omnipresent ‘Sons of the Harpy’ terrorized the poor citizens of Meereen. In King’s Landing we were forced to endure the smug, self satisfied face of the High Sparrow as he expounded his tiresome philosophy of self-abnegation week after week, like an insufferable, evil Gandhi. In Winterfell we tuned in to see what depraved suffering the cartoonishly vile Ramsay was inflicting on his newly-wed wife this episode (for my money Ramsay was the show’s worst character: he’s basically a Joffrey clone signed up for CrossFit and stripped of personality so he can devote the maximum screen time to gratuitous violence.)
By the next season, the series had deteriorated beyond any recognition. To cite only one example, Yara and Theon’s estranged Uncle Euron shows up after six long seasons in order to throw his brother, the king, off an inexplicably rickety bridge. Three episodes later, in possibly the worst scene of the whole show, Euron gate-crashes the Kingsmoot triggered by the death of his brother, shits all over Yara’s claim to the throne, makes a few jokes about his nephew’s lack of penis, makes a joke about the comparative size of his own penis, confesses to murdering his brother, and is promptly crowned King of the Iron Islands by the cheering crowd. After his coronation (that lasts all of thirty seconds), he rises and speaks the Shakespearean words: ‘Where are my niece and nephew? Let’s go murder them’. His plans are frustrated when he finds that Yara and Theon have used those thirty seconds quite efficiently, and stolen almost every ship on the Iron Islands to facilitate their hasty escape. The whole scene lasts exactly nine minutes. If you’ve ever wondered what a scene of television would look like if it was written by a procrastinating screenwriter at 5am, ample bags under his eyes and cans of Monster littered around his room, you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efwghvZcMRc.
If Game of Thrones once resembled an intricate illuminated manuscript, full of elegant curlicues and written on the finest vellum, it was now more like the crude sketches of a toddler who hasn’t learned to colour between the lines, the whole thing damp with dribble and smelling vaguely of a soiled nappy. I faced a classic sunk cost dilemma; persevere through another season of contrived melodrama and endless reaction shots (and in the process expose myself to the risk of Ramsay experiencing a Jon Snow style resurrection), or cut my losses and run, safer in the arms of another Mad Men rewatch. Game of Thrones was like a friend who popped up on Facebook every year to borrow twenty quid I knew I’d never see again. And so - not unlike a toxic relationship - with a heavy heart I cut it out of my life for good. So long GoT, and thanks for all the memories (maybe I’ll finally get around to reading the books).