The third season of Game of Thrones was both amazingly good, and amazingly bad. And although the “amazing good” aspect was on screen the majority of the time, those spikes of badness have left a bitter taste in my mouth that’s hard to ignore.
And the worst thing about that bitterness, that disappointment? It’s all so unnecessary.
The show has the ability to be really, really good. It has great source material to build on, sure, but it also has many incredibly talented actors, and writers/directors/creative people who are capable of turning what’s on the page into incredibly compelling visual scenes.
Whether you support Daenerys’s attack on Astapor or not, it’s hard to deny that the moment where she tricks the slavers is an incredibly powerful and memorable scene. Although somewhat different from the book, the dynamic between Jaime and Brienne was excellent, and the Tyrells makes them a great new addition to King’s Landing.
And many non-book scenes were absolutely fantastic. Who didn’t love Davos bonding with Shireen and learning to read? He’s a character that I’ve paid little attention to in the books, but have grown to love while watching the series. Maisie Williams nails every scene she appears in, and this new version of Shae, and her relationship with Sansa, is one of my favorite things about the whole show.
It’s not really a surprise that the series is so popular. It can be so darn good.
So then why do they often choose to make it bad? One of the worst things about writing about this season was almost getting through an episode, loving every minute, wanting to talk about all the badassery and sing its praises to the roof, and then come across one unnecessary line, one throw-away scene, that made me cringe so badly it took over everything else I wanted to say.
And it’s all completely unnecessary. Some of my problems with the show, like the introduction of Talisa, are deeply woven into the story, but the vast majority of the issues are shallow, surface things that could be taken out as easily as put in. In fact, leaving them out would take less effort. They could stick to insults provided in the book instead of making them gendered. They could let directors shoot things respectfully instead of basically ordering them to include more nudity. They could avoid being mocked and be taken more seriously. They could save money on paying a bunch of women to play random nameless prostitutes! And by cutting out those brothel scenes, they’d find themselves with a little extra time to develop some of the many important characters and storylines that are otherwise neglected, like Catelyn so that when dramatic things happen later in the story, they are even more powerful.
I’ve finished the season feeling very disillusioned with the whole thing. The fact that the show is capable of being utterly amazing, but chooses to make an extra effort to lower the tone, is depressing to say the least. It’s frustrating that the writers often seem to interpret the characters differently than I do, but that, in the end, is a hazard of an adaptation. Whatever they do, someone will feel that way. It’s disappointing that the writers seem determined to fit female characters into the archetype they were intended to subvert. But the thing that pushes it over the edge is the many small, unnecessary moments that aren’t part of the story at all. Brienne being tougher and less vulnerable and naive would be less notable if she didn’t have a throwaway line where she uses “woman” as a motivating insult. Catelyn vanishing behind Robb would be more acceptable if the little screentime she had wasn’t used for a large, out of character speech about Jon Snow. And reduced screentime for characters like Sansa would be less frustrating if we didn’t spend long periods of time chilling out in brothels or playing Sexual Torture with Ramsey. It’s not any one thing, but the cumulative effect of the little things, that makes the show so frustrating and infuriating to watch.
And I’m just left wondering why. Why do that? Why make the extra effort to be offensive? Is it because they think that’s what brings in the viewers, or that they’re reflecting the thoughts and desires of the fans? I hope not. But what other reasons could there be?
Of course, come March next year, I will be absolutely giddy with excitement for the show once again. The possibility of spending more time with these characters again, combined with seeing favorite scenes on film, combined with naive optimism that a new season means a fresh start, will fill me with anticipatory love for the series. So please, show, get it together for Season 4. Drop a few of those throwaway sexist lines from non-sexist characters. Allow your actresses to wear clothes. Be the great show you are 95% of the time, and not the disgusting, problematic thing that crept out in the other 5% this season.