These are the first words in The Prestige, the first (credited) film that Jonathan Nolan co-wrote with his brother, Christopher. In Westworld, helmed by Jonathan Nolan, this cryptic first line became a writing mantra. Warning: spoilers to follow.
Many characters were omitted and most of the plot threads included in the fifth season were truncated versions of their literary counterparts. Yet the show justified this by taking many plot lines beyond where the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, left them. Yet as the old saying goes, “never leave a job halfway done.”
So let’s talk about this season, in particular last night’s finale. Warning: spoilers.
When season five was announced, one notable absence was announced shortly thereafter: Bran Stark. The show’s head writers sited that the character’s ” immediate future didn’t seem to provide as compelling material.” Fair enough, kind of a dig at Martin’s writing (which covers Bran’s training) but okay – lose a lackluster plot to help preserve the pace….
For those out there who missed it, let me some up what Arya does for ALL of season five: washes dead people, watches people, gets told she is not ready, sweeps. Sure, she kills someone in the season finale… but this was compelling? This is what Bran Stark needed to be sacrificed for? Watching an Arya scene in season five felt like watching paint dry… while being told it is not ready to dry. The main story ground to a halt and the same dull message was repeated over and over again (sort of like the Red Skull’s scenes in Captain America).
Hypocritical to call one plot boring and the other riveting. For those wondering, Arya is still following the book’s plot (for the most part). That said, why? In making changes to the show’s content – head writers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have challenged George R. R. Martin. They know how it ends… and they have reacted by losing characters that Martin called important and making substantial changes to the plot… while still following it.
This is what I mean by don’t leave a job half-done. If Benioff and Weiss have problems with Martin’s work, they are not bound to follow it. Yet they for the most part did, and the end result was a finale final hook that fans of the book have known about for a while… and that the author has already essentially debunked.
It is a cliffhanger, and a cheap one. One that hinges on the audience abandoning all reason to believe it is true. Oh if only there was someone… a witch (who conveniently just rode in) maybe, around who could control life and death. Oh drat, all well, on to the next main character driving the Wall/White Walker plot line… oh there isn’t one? That’s odd.
The point is, this is the hook that A Dance with Dragons ended with, but the show is not in the same place. That epic White Walker attack never happened in the books (or if it did we didn’t read about it) so the threat is still far off. In the show, they seem to be like… a day behind John Snow in reaching the Wall. The tension is ratcheted up already, we didn’t need a PSYCHE moment to end the season.
And we didn’t need cliffhangers… oh god the sheer amount of cliffhangers in that last episode was staggering. Forget adapting and source material, that was bad writing.
There was no content in that season finale that served the current season. It was all hook… with no bait. As anyone who watched Lost will tell you, you can’t just ask questions. When the show was winning me over, it was because it wasn’t waiting. Martin’s last two books have entered a holding pattern on the main plot… and it appears that the show ultimately has done the same. At least this time fans know the wait will be finite, but after so much build up – can we still hope for a satisfying payoff?
The final episode reminded me a lot of the last two books – something big is going to happen… eventually. But for now enjoy more death and nudity, if that still affects anyone watching the show at all.
Reading A Song of Ice and Fire feels like reading five books stretched into seven, and unfortunately for all its big “changes”, watching Game of Thrones is feeling the same way.