Game of Thrones is known for surprising and shocking audiences but I felt that last night’s episode was the very worst example of crass exploitation I’d seen in the series to date. Not only was visually representing The Viper’s death on screen and in full gory glory unnecessarily graphic it felt that the show’s runners were bereft of artistic expression and were just trying to create a talking point on Twitter and in the next day’s news and blogs (and hey look! It worked! )
I don’t object to gore and graphic violence on screen (although I do think on screen violence begets a tendency towards it in the real world too – Bobo Dolls, anyone?) -after all, the role of film narrative is to challenge and entertain across the emotions. My own film features a paroxysm of linguistic and physical violence, including one of the characters being pistol whipped to death so I can’t really complain too much.
But showing the moment when Gregor Clegane crushes Prince Oberyn’s head in his hands after knocking out his teeth and gouging out his eyes all on camera was pushing the envelope to the max. What made it particularly brutal was that it came after a beautifully choreographed and shot fight sequence in which the Viper is triumphantly victorious, forcing his enemy – The Mountain – to confess the rape and murder of his (the Viper’s) sister and her young children. Knowing the character had committed such evil deeds in his past, we expect justice and a fair degree of vengeance. We stood on the cusp and then had it viciously snatched away.
There have been moments in this season which have been excellent, but some parts of it have been well below par. Michelle McClaren’s two episodes were notably different and weaker IMHO and the show feels like it’s becoming formulaic. It feels like it’s being deliberately stretched out in order to hit the audience with a shock in the last two minutes of each episode. Where the shock endings have worked in previous episodes – the death of Ned Stark in Season 1 and the Red Wedding last year – it’s because these have come as a pay-off to a long developed thread or story. The shock was a season ending. This season we seem to be getting a shock ending every episode – Tanner’s reverse sword swallowing and Lysa’s fall from grace being examples from the last two episodes – and it feels like cheap exploitation.
Given what is yet to happen – Ygritte’s death next week, Tyrion’s escape and murder of Shae and Tywin (no doubt the week after), the return of Cat Stark as Lady Stoneheart and her capture of Brienne and Poderick and murder of the latter – I can’t help but think we’re going to have “GoT shock ending fatigue” by the 19th June.
That would be a shame – in fact no, it would be more. It would be tragic because Game of Thrones has been one of the greatest TV shows to grace our screens, if not the best ever. For it to lose itself in easy audience grabbing moments at the expense of better, deeper story telling would not just be something of a betrayal of the audience but of the genre it fits.