Game of Thrones.
You heard of it? It’s a TV show.
A show now infamously characterised by actor Ian McShane as ‘only tits and dragons’. Which, to be fair, isn’t that far off.
But it’s not entirely correct either. It’s also a whole bunch of disappointment. (Oh and we’ve had a dick now too.) Because Game of Thrones can rouse you like almost no other show, but it can also disappoint the shit out of you like almost nothing else.
The idea of disappointment in the context of a narrative is an interesting one. In a show such as Game of Thrones, where a likable and presumably untouchable protagonist like Ned Stark gets mercilessly executed after less than ten episodes, the notion of a viewer’s hopes and expectations not being fulfilled is pretty much central to the type of story it wants to tell and the ideas it wants to expound. Just like in life, not everything will work out the way you want, and not everyone will make it as far as you think. But there is a difference between carefully managed disappointment arising out of good writing (Oberyn *sob*), and the bad type of disappointment that comes from clumsy writing, hanging plot threads, or inconsistent rhythms.
The distinction between the two is of course largely subjective so disagreements will be had, but nevertheless here, in our opinion, are the most egregious examples of the latter. These are the plotlines or moments that promised much, only to then fizzle out, leaving a oddly-smelling gasball of disappointment and emptiness.
Bad. Ass. I’ve watched that scene innumerable times. The writing, the performances, the music, the defiance against a distant, despotic ruler, this scene had everything. The road to it was paved with tension and heartbreak, but when it happened it felt like the tide might actually turn.
And it did. For a while. Victories were won, fear was instilled in those who deserved it, hope shone for those who needed to see it. And then?
Then THEKINGINTHENORF married a hot, foreign nurse and an old bitter patriarch had him and his forces gutted, and all felt for naught. Yes, it propelled the plot forward, and so much of what happened after pretty much followed in its wake, but that’s called ‘cause and effect’.
This is a tough one to judge on where it sits on the ‘good disappointment - bad disappointment’ spectrum, but I’m gonna have to throw it into the latter.
Arya sets sail for Braavos to do fuck all
The finale of season 4 and the one of the most stirring moments in the entire show’s run, my god did this tug at the heart- and hopestrings. Here is Arya Stark, bereft of her home and her family, having lived through incredible hardships and always come out fighting. Independent, capable, intelligent, she — by incredible circumstance — has managed to acquire a temporary way out of her living hell. She will sail across the Narrow Sea, to an unknown land, following only cryptic instructions from a mysterious and deadly man who helped her when she needed it the most. What will she find when she steps ashore in Braavos, the place where her beloved tutor, Syrio Forel, also hailed from? Will she find the means to fulfill her single-minded, bloody vengeance upon those who have wronged her? Will she find peace?
Does she heck. She arrives and promptly spends interminable stretches of time getting beat with a stick, going blind, washing corpses, hanging out with a lame, sack-wearing version of the awesome assassin who helped her back across the Sea, and watching on-the-nose farcical street plays. The she decides that’s not even what she wants. She’ll go back to Westeros, presumably having learned how to avenge her family, but thus far we’ve been shown nothing really tangible that she might have learned that might help with this goal. Syrio’s water dancing lessons back in King’s Landing looked like they did more good than the bouts of Waif-stick beating in Braavos.
‘Mance Rayder’s got an ahmy, naarth of the Wall!’
He sure does. And a terrifying, off-screen, long-massing horde it is.
Then we finally meet him, and not only does he and his army measure up to all the tales; he also gives face to the oft-unfairly maligned Wildlings; he gives voice to their fears and to their frustrations at having been born on the wrong side of an arbitrary, geographically-determined power divide. We are now engaged. We understand them, and why they — who follow no-one — would follow him.
And he’s played by Ciaran fucking Hinds!
This can only go up from here!
What happens instead is Stannis ‘The King Of Grammar’ Baratheon charges the fuck out of Mance and his army, routing them apparently within a minute, after which he tries to burn Mance alive, only for a swift merciful arrow from Jon Snow to relieve Mance of the heat of the fire, and us from the lackluster conclusion to a great, barely utilised character.
OMG giants! Well, one (Wun)
Even as the more magical and fantastical elements started to increasingly osmose into Westeros and Essos, the giants hanging out with the Wildlings still stood out. Wonderfully designed and executed, their appearance on the scene threatened to completely upset the balance of power South of the Wall, in one direction or another.
Look, I can’t embed it, but here is the battle for the Wall. Giants! (Plural!) Mammoths! (Plural!) Westeros has no idea what’s coming…
Unless, that is, they guessed ‘one Wun Wun’.
Now, obviously, Wun Wun is an absolute wrecking ball.
But for a little while it looked like we would’ve had a whole construction site of them. Unfortunately it looks like they’ve suffered from Direwolf Syndrome (aka ‘this CGI is too expensive’).
The Unsullied march, as free men, to a death by anonymous stabbing
You know what the other most stirring moment in the show is? Dany using her wiles and freeing the Unsullied from bondage. Rallying them to her cause as free men and eliminating those responsible for the unimaginable horror of slavery? Damn did that feel good. Damn did that feel like something big was to come. Again, embedding is disabled, but if you feel like drinking a cool cup of justice and triumph here it is.
And, to be fair, the Ultimate Disciplined Fighting Force have been mostly pretty cool and have lived up to their name. But you know what they say: what happens when the Ultimate Disciplined Fighting Force meets the Slavery Loving Gimp Parade?
They get slaughtered by the hundreds. Look, I get it, fighting a guerrilla force that knows its city and its nooks and crannies inside out is an uphill struggle — especially with those incredibly long spears and the narrow corridors shit keeps happening in — but still. You’re starting to feel like a little bit like a damp squib, Unsullied. Conquer something again.
Which leads us to…
Any Dany speech
‘I will take what is mine!’
‘With fire and with blood!’
‘I will take you across the Narrow Sea!’
‘And we will tear down their stone houses!’
‘And take what’s mine!’
‘With fire and with blood!’
I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to point this out, but: