The Long Walk : A Writer’s Journey #2 06-20-16
This week’s blog is on the importance of what you owe your reader in terms of good writing. And by way of example I thought I’d use a very popular piece of storytelling we’re all enjoying today.
Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 9
Now before I begin, it’s understood at this point that what we’re seeing being played out on HBO is no longer the original work of George R.R. Martin, but rather the writers of the show, since they’ve overtaken his original work which hasn’t been completed.
(The reasons for which is of course a good subject for another blog, another day)
As writers for a TV show, they naturally have different constraints on the what’s and how’s of the story than an author. But they’re still writers.
With that being said, this was easily one of the worst episodes in terms of lazy writing, and clichéd finishes ever. I don’t know whether to be more disappointed by the episode, or the reaction to it.
There are people are going gaga over it as if it were some sort of brilliantly conceived cinematic masterpiece.
Brilliantly filmed? Absolutely, the technical people deserve an award at the very least, with a pay raise, and cocaine and hookers written into their contracts.
But was it brilliantly written? Not so much. It was a train wreck.
And here’s why.
#1 The Full Frontal Assault Plan.
Was it not explained to us that our central character Jon Snow had a nobles upbringing, and even as a bastard still had at least the basics of martial training? And was that martial training not just refined for us in glorious detail in previous episodes where he was plucked from the ranks by Mormont himself, and groomed as his successor as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch? And were not his abilities in leadership just put to the test in several running battles with both Wildlings and white walkers? So he’s got to be at least basically capable and competent right? And what about his advisors? Davos? A wily smuggler turned warrior who by his very nature tends to think outside the box? What about Thormund and his Wildling ken? These guys are supposed to be skilled and clever guerrilla fighters, raiders, and mismatched hit and run barbarians. And yet, against a numerically superior foe, on the defensive, the only strategy they can devise is a full frontal assault. That’s their plan. Just line straight up with neatly dressed lines, and go at it.
Bravo fella’s. Your logic here is staggering.
Don’t you think there should have at least been a little dialogue about other possible options? Ruses they could employ? And yet not a word about flank attacks, tricks, traps, or guile of any kind. It doesn’t take a command genius or for that matter an editor to know this is pretty bad. So if any of you guys wanna take out Life Insurance policies for the wife and kids, now might be a good time to do it.
And I’m not even going to mention the hugely disappointing fact that they used the one precious resource they did have, a GIANT, as nothing more than a walking pin cushion for enemy arrows.
Whoops, I just did.
On to point two.
#2 Sansa’s Advice about Ramsay.
Sansa advises Jon most emphatically, to not do, what the tricky Ramsay Bolton wants you to do. Don’t fall for his tricks, and walk into a trap.
So, what does our sensible and capable, and competent military leader do?
Exactly what the Ramsay Bolton wants him to do. Let’s just charge right out in front of the Gods and everyone completely alone and uncontrollably emotional at the sight of Rikkon, and lets completely and totally expose ourselves to death or capture before the battle even begins.
(And did I see absolutely zero restraint on the part of guards, or captains, or a janitor at least?)
Nobody tried to stop him!
Does it need to be mentioned that military leaders are rather, by definition, military LEADERS because they usually DON’T allow emotions to influence their decision-making?
And did we not just see EXACTLY that with Blackfish and Edmure when the Frey’s threatened to kill him if he didn’t surrender Riverrun? And however regretful what decision did the Blackfish make initially? I guess you’ll have to kill him, because I can’t surrender. That would just be silly.
Tragically of course, they did surrender after command was transferred to Edmure, but anyway.
Does it need to be mentioned?
And does it need to be mentioned it played pretty weakly?
Apparently it does.
#3 Sansa’s Memory Lapse
I say memory lapse, because the alternative is terrible to contemplate.
So, it’s the eve of battle, and Sansa has just finished berating Jon Snow for withholding information from her and not including her in the discussions. And yet, she seems to have this lapse of memory in not telling him about her arrangement with Little Finger, and his evident arrival on scene with his gallant Knights of the Vale. The terrible alternative of course, is that she knew exactly what she was doing, and felt it completely acceptable to see hundreds of their own men die, the battle nearly lost, and lie by omission rather than include that nifty little nugget of information before hand, so that maybe…a solid battle plan could emerge that might involve a well devised trap of their own, which neatly cuts the head off Ramsay’s army and demolishes them.
But no, we don’t want to do that, even though that could potentially have been a much greater ending and might it be added, much better written, and tightly plotted without giving away the surprise ending.
Personally, if I were a survivor of that battle, I’d be mighty pissed, epically pissed, that a bunch of my guys were slaughtered because Little Orphan Annie over here didn’t spill the beans on that reinforcement shit. And I’d be aiming to get a good f$$%ing explanation as to why. Because she just blew a whole lot of trust with the rank and file. She’s supposed to be morally good you see, but I’d call that massively out of character. Unless she’s decided she doesn’t have any. Which would be a difficult to explain plot twist of its own, since she was pissed off in the first place at Little finger’s duplicity in hooking her up with Ramsay and knowing what a shit he was.
#4 Ramsay’s Ancient Roman Shieldwall.
Question, do you know what made the ancient Roman military machine so devastatingly effective? Because they were progressive, innovative thinkers backed by highly skilled, highly disciplined, and highly motivated PROFESSIONAL soldiers. Quite the opposite of say, perhaps, a gaggle fuck of assorted medieval houses reluctantly banding together out of self interest, and led by a sadistic madman, with limited ability, experience, and time in command.
But somehow, presumably in his spare time between feeding people to his dogs, he’s developed this masterful battlefield tactic that no one else on the entire continent of Westeros has ever seen, much less actually tried to use. And his aforesaid gagglefuck of an army executes it flawlessly.
Someone should have given that son of a bitch a job, instead of letting him dick around at daddy’s heels, recreationally flaying people alive.
And for the grand finale of number five, the nitpickiest nitpick.
#5 The John Wayne Ending.
Cavalry riding in at the last moment to save the day? Really?
What genius contrived this original piece of screenwriting? And who was his creative inspiration? The Ghost of Gene Autry? Why didn’t somebody just run out and plop a big ole headdress on Ramsay Bolton while the US Cavalry came riding over the hill with bugles blowing and Spencer Repeating rifles shooting down fleeing Indians?
That’s deplorable, and that’s lazy.
But I suppose when you have people that greedily gobble up every bit of vacuous porridge spoon-fed them one can’t truly blame the writers for becoming lazy, since they aren’t held to any higher standard.
Readers, or fans deserve better, and it teaches them to demand better.
In the end, in its grand entirety, the entire episode was one more effort after another to strain our collective suspension of disbelief, until inevitably, it snapped.
But all these beautifully illustrated examples of flamingly bad writing wouldn’t be complete without the honorable mention of how the Greyjoy’s fleet of ships originating on the WEST COAST of Westeros from the Iron Islands, somehow managed to sail all the way around the continent, all the way around Dorne, (another wildly wicked example of bad writing all its own) and all the way up the EASTERN COAST, passed King’s Landing and so on, up and up and up, and across the narrow sea, to Mireen, where Yara, and Dani eye fucked each other for five minutes.
And all that, in the brief time it took Littlefinger and his band of merry marauders to pass up from the Vale, and passed the Twins, and the memorable hospitality of House Frey, just in time to rescue our ragtag army of scrappy heroes at Winterfell.
In closing, sloppy writing will strain your credibility as a writer. Readers won’t tolerate it for long. You only have so much credit with them, don’t max it out, unless you’re comfortable with a new future as a hack writer.