I still made time for Game of Thrones despite pretty much quitting television. Why, though, is the question. Perhaps because I've read the first book, I felt like I had a pretty firm grasp of the first season's theme and methods. GRRM's project was to use his medievalist nerd knowledge to inject some realism into the high fantasy genre. We have dragons and zombies stirring over the border, sure, but the real story was at the centre – the political "game of thrones" where the kings of Westeros struggled to assert authority over several powerful barons they nominally ruled. Season 1's beheading of Ned Stark was a shock because it went against trad fantasy expectations – Sean Bean was the Aragorn guy rather than the Boromir guy this time, and in the ASOIAF universe THAT'S what gets you the chop. Season 3's infamous Red Wedding played the same trick over again – and here the lesson of the bloodshed (revealed in the last episode) is that barons also need to manage their knights properly if they want to continue to order them about.
Or it would have been, except that Game of Thrones tends to overlay these (rather interesting) matters about the effective practice of medieval lordship with the OTT trappings of operatic drama. Srsly the look on Roose Bolton's face when his treachery is revealed is straight out of panto. GRRM wants his realism on the level of world-building and social structure, but his characters are cut out pulp figures with only the shallowest of depths. They are all introduced quickly and undergo very slight changes despite being put through colossal hardship and strain (Sansa is now less whiny, Daenerys is more assertive, Tyrion is monogamous). GRRM's style is less to initiate change, but rather to reveal new shades of the same personality in different scenes and conversations, something the TV show has taken onboard. So we have revelations about Jamie, Tywin, Varys and Littlefinger this new season. And part of the joy of watching the series is seeing how this cast bounce off each other.
Nevertheless, what we end up being put through is the blatant maneuvering of characters and tweaking of sympathies over and over again. And to what purpose? How much longer is the show going to keep teasing us before shit gets real and we start to see some meaning behind the madcap adventures. Basically, I'm starting to worry that we're building towards a Battlestar Galactica-level epic disappointment where the threads weaved so far end up in a mess rather than, I dunno, a satisfying tapestry. Bad metaphor aside: what is GRRM trying to do with this story apart from wheel us about the seven kingdoms? However the game ends, whoever wins, will be significant. And I'm wondering whether GRRM will choose to tie everything up with a long-lost king of the north marrying a long lost queen of the desert as per fantasy tradition, or will he end on something real.
The only meaning to be found in season 3 is in the convo between Varys and Littlefinger. The former serves the realm by nudging and balancing the players of the game to achieve as much peace as possible, the kind of thinking the republican Machiavelli would champion. The latter on the other hand is an unprincipled Machiavellian prince climbing up that greasy pole – he confidently calls it a ladder, in fact. Perhaps the game is really between these two opposing wills, one selfless and conserve-ative, the other self-interested and revolutionary. It would really be saying something if Littlefinger is the one who wins, or if Varys is the one to stop him. And we're gonna have to wait an awful long time before we find out. Will it be worth it?