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I continue to be ambivalent about "Game of Thrones."

Yuck, don't you just hate it when you try to distance yourself from something, but then after you spend five years following it and discussing it with friends and occasionally writing blog posts about it, you have to acknowledge that you're technically a fan?  That's me and Game of Thrones.

I hesitate to say that I "hate" the show because there's a lot I really love about it.  I also don't want to come across as a contrarian.  Despite how I must sound half the time around here, I don't hate things simply because they're popular.  I just get confused when flawed-but-still-enjoyable stories resonate with everyone else to a point where they are revered as a gold standard.  That's been my stance on the show ever since it premiered - it's good, not great.

The best way to describe Game of Thrones is "a hyper-extended second act."  The first season was pretty solid and worked mostly well as an introduction to the world and its horrors.  Then things started to get bleak(er) and you realized they were laying the groundwork for long-lasting feuds and story arcs to be resolved later.  And then more arcs were introduced.  And then more.  And then more.

The show really should have ended by now.  It's gone from "Can't wait to see how this ends!" to "Huh, that's an odd choice, wonder where you're going," to "I'm not paying for that, you cock-tease."  I don't understand how anybody could tolerate this shit in novel form.  You guys seriously spent twenty years letting Martin jerk you around?  I'd have given up after book three.


The fact is, the show hasn't ended yet, and now that the showrunners have run out of books to adapt, it seems like they have no idea how to tell a story.  I've watched seven episodes of the current run and all the forward story progression of the season can be summed up as follows:

- To the surprise of no one, Jon Snow is still alive.  Now he's trying to fight Ramsay Bolton and save his younger brother, who's been kidnapped.

- Theon went home.  His weird uncle who wasn't in the show until now has assumed leadership of their House, so Theon and his sister (who's apparently a lesbian) stole all their ships and are going to try joining forces with Dany.

- Dany went to the mountains for a bit.  Now she's back home.

- The boy king whose name I keep forgetting has been brainwashed by Not-the-Pope and has sent Jaime off to work on a siege.

- Arya quit her job at the assassin's guild.

- The Hound is alive for some reason.

- Cersei is still an idiot.

That's maybe three episodes' worth of content spread out across eight.  Usually the only reason to take so much time to say so little is if you don't know where you're going and you're stalling while you figure it out.

And that brings me to the episode that pretty much sums up everything that frustrates me about the show, "The Broken Man."

There is a ton of good stuff here.  I liked the parts where Jon was trying to rally support for his cause with all the different Northern houses, and he kept running into political bullcrap he didn't feel like dealing with.  I like that there was some momentum in Theon's story.  I like that there was some momentum in Arya's story.  If I'm being honest, "The Broken Man" is probably the most forward-moving episode of the season so far because the few things that have happened almost all took place in this episode.

But here's the thing: at least half of the episode is spent re-introducing The Hound, who we last saw bleeding out at the bottom of a hill.  He has been nursed back to health by what seems to be a Quaker-like group of humble farmers led by Ian McShane.  McShane practices non-violence and gives The Hound a lot of food for thought, but then a band of marauders comes by and slaughters everyone, thus prompting The Hound to pick up a hatchet - ostensibly to go back to a life of violence and perhaps revenge. what's the point?  Think about this in fundamental terms.  When we last saw The Hound, he was a rough-around-the-edges dude who grappled with the morality of his actions and ultimately ignored any feelings of guilt because he could justify himself as doing what he had to do to survive in a cruel world.  He was a sympathetic and flawed anti-hero.

The little guest spot by McShane didn't change any of this.  If The Hound converted to non-violence, then I'd say, "Wow, that's an interesting arc.  I wonder where you're going with it."  But since the episode ended where it did, all we really needed to hear was, "Oh, by the way, The Hound survived.  Here he is."  And guess what?  You did exactly that in the little thirty second stinger sequence that you opened the show with.  You didn't need another half hour of footage of McShane tricking you into thinking there was going to be a plot again.

This is why I keep bitching about the show.  The stuff with McShane isn't bad - very little of the show has been bad.  It's almost always well-acted and well-filmed.  It just seems pointless.  Two-thirds of it is literary diarrhea.  As if to prove my point, the show spent only about five minute with The Hound in the following episode, "No One," and actually told more of his story in that time.

You're eight episodes into what seems like the penultimate season of your show.  Now's the time to quit screwing around with side characters and their little piss-ant adventures in the mountains.  Quit milking your fantasy world and get to the point, because Winter is supposedly coming and I'm still wearing my shorts wondering why it feels so warm.

Postscript, 6/27/16 - What a difference a few episodes can make, huh?  The post above was a knee-jerk reaction (translation: whining) and probably would've been best not written until after I'd seen the whole season for context.  I still think the show had been lagging, but the last three episodes or so provided the jumpstart it needed.  I'm back on board for next season.

What I'm realizing more and more as I talk about (translation: bitch about) the show with other fans who actually have read the books is that we're at odds with each other.  Fans of the books are upset that significant characters, subplots, and story arcs were cut entirely, and I'm upset that the show even bothered to hint at those things in the first place. The funny thing that keeps happening is that I'll say, "Argh, it's too slow!" and then fans of the books go, "Argh, it's too fast!"

The conclusion I've come to is that the showrunners are in an extremely shitty place.  On some level, they have to pay respect to the books or else those fans will complain that the show isn't loyal at all.  On the other hand, they get fat idiots like me complaining that there's too much bloat.  The fact that they've continued to make a watchable product six years running shows an extreme amount of patience on their part, so major respect to them.