How the Red Wedding Broke 'Game of Thrones'
The Red Wedding killed Game of Thrones. Or, more accurately, The Red Wedding killed my ability to care about almost anything that happens on Game of Thrones.
Investment in a fictional universe is a curious thing. It’s so easy with the current state of television to get pulled in by a series to the point where the characters feel like real people and every aspect of the world feels important. Game of Thrones had been that show for me for three seasons. I watched and re-watched it incessantly. I read the first book to fill in gaps in my knowledge, then decided to stop so I wouldn’t get spoiled on future episodes. I’ve seen every episode at least twice, and in some cases three or four times. I cried when Ned Stark bit it. I cheered when Stannis’ ships blew up at the Blackwater. I was in pure shock when the ‘The Rains of Castamere’ started playing and all those throats got slit.
And then it lost me.
The sad fact is I rarely care about anything or anyone on Game of Thrones anymore. Sure, some crazy things have happened this season, but I’m just not interested. Joffrey getting killed was a huge moment, but after the Red Wedding it felt like small potatoes. The controversial rape scene, the Craster’s Keep storyline, Theon’s brainwashing, Dany’s continued adventures across the Narrow Sea, Arya and The Hound, the Littlefinger revelation, and even Tyrion’s trial. None of it has had any serious impact on me.
I’d blame my own preferences, only I used to be so engaged by everything — okay, maybe I never cared that much about Bran Stark or Jon Snow, but all the rest was gold. In thinking what has changed, it was difficult to pinpoint at first, but I think I know the exact moment things started to turn. It was The Red Wedding. That incredible, memorable, heart-wrenching scene. It broke my heart and it broke the show.
The Red Wedding was built as a turning point in the series; an amped-up version of Ned Stark’s execution in Season 1, boldly confirming the series’ thematic intent. Game of Thrones was great because it adopted the fantasy genre and all its romantic tropes, only to turn them on their head, giving us a world not far removed from our own, where nobility and honour are no guarantee of justice, and where the concept of “heroes” is unrealistic at best. The Red Wedding proved all that. It was that moment where we could no longer deny the truth the series was telling. The problem is, now that we know the truth, what more is gained by watching the same depressing, cynical message repeated ad infinitum?
Jaime is an awful human being, not a newly redeemed hero? Great. Arya is becoming a little psychopath? Excellent. Sansa will continue to be a pawn in the games of powerful monsters? Super. The world is a horrible place and will always be horrible? Thanks, Game of Thrones, but do you have anything else to say? It’s a message that felt fresh for a while, especially given the genre, but is no longer enough to sustain my interest. Furthermore, the cynicism has become so overwhelmingly constant that even the small moments of hope lose their power, existing only as manipulative lead-up for ugly slaps to the face to come.
The Red Wedding was also the straw that broke the camel’s back with respect to death. Over and over and over again, Game of Thrones has killed off characters I’ve cared about, often before their stories feel satisfyingly complete. Sure, it regularly shakes up the grander narrative, but something is lost. All the killing has trained me to not invest in the fates of the series’ vast array of characters. The Red Wedding hammered that lesson home in a big way. Admittedly, this is an aspect of the series’ intended themes, but perhaps it’s trained me too well. I’ve become numb. Even on a scene-to-scene basis, I’ve stopped investing myself in the characters, both new and old.
Between the cynicism and the rampant death, the only thing I have left to get interested in on Game of Thrones is how the larger narrative will play out and who will end up on the Iron Throne, if anybody does at all. It’s become purely an exercise in watching complex narrative progression. While I agree that it’s intriguingly complex, that is still the most superficial way to watch a series, and the larger narrative plays out so slowly — when the hell is Dany going to get to Westeros? — that watching it becomes a chore.
That’s how Game of Thrones is feeling this season. It’s a chore. I’m sitting back, watching characters I can’t invest in anymore get pulled around in stories that express only cynicism about the world, and it’s all happening at a White Walker’s pace. Maybe that will change, and I sincerely hope it does. In fact, the most recent episode, “Mockingbird,” showed some signs of life. Most of the episode bored me, but the scenes between Arya and the Hound, Tyrion and Bron, and Tyrion and Oberyn were all beautifully done, focusing the series back in on the emotional weight of events on its characters. For the first time in a while they felt decidedly human, which is something that will always get me engaged, even if only in fits and starts. Hopefully the series continues improving in that direction. If the overall trend remains, though, then the truth is I’m falling out of love with Game of Thrones and it’s hard to see my way out of the darkness.