Uh, exsqueeze me? Baking powder? Jon Snow dies, is magicked back to life two episodes later, and now he’s up and walking about like it was nothing but a pesky cold?
If you were expected a supernaturally altered Jon Snow like I was, last night’s episode of Game of Thrones felt deliberately baffling. More than that: It was boring. The Season 6 premiere may have set a ratings record for the show, probably helped along by the fact that HBO didn’t hand out episodes in advance of the live airing. But so far, this season has been painfully slow, stringing us along from one far-flung locale to another with the promise that something’s going to happen, soon, so soon, and oh, how crazy it will be when it does, just you wait!
For a few seasons now viewers have complained that the series has too many plates spinning in the air — too many characters, too much plot. I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem that the show’s core characters — the Stark children, the remaining Lannisters, Daenerys — don’t interact much. For me, the bigger problem is that the show has spread itself between so many plots in so many different settings that each story only gets a few minutes per episode to advance, if it makes the cut at all. It takes so long for each plot to advance that the details start to become fuzzy, even if you binge the show instead of watching it week by week.
Last night’s episode, “Oathbreaker,” featured a scene between the always-charming Sam and Gilly, who are traveling south to safety with Gilly’s baby; but when was the last time we saw these two have an extended conversation? Three episodes ago? Last season? I can’t remember. “Oathbreaker” had no time for Sansa, but it did include Bran, who witnesses a sort of flashback in which a young Ned Stark defeats members of the Kingsguard in Dorne order to gain entry to the Tower of Joy — where presumably he’ll find his sister, Lyanna Stark, about to give birth to Jon Snow, or so the theory goes.
Is this why Bran’s been stuck in a cave since the end of Season 4? So the show can confirm rumors that fans have been circulating online for the past several years? I know Game of Thrones has enough die-hard fans, both of the books and the series, to sustain this kind of tension, but for me, the reward just isn’t worth the wait. These early-in-the-season episodes are mostly exposition, cut with just enough violence and nudity to hold our attention for one more hour. Jaqen finally gives Arya her sight back, but only after three episodes of the Waif kicking the shit out of her (shouldn’t she have serious internal injuries by now?!).
Since Season 2, Game of Thrones has balanced enough storylines and characters to fill several prestige cable dramas, but back then the world of the show was less familiar, more enticingly exotic. Now, we expect the bone-crunching violence and the eye-rolling gratuitous nudity. “Has she been raped yet?” my mom asked wearily as we watched Daenerys march through the desert with the Dothraki.
If you’ve been watching from the beginning, Game of Thrones is familiar enough that we expect the worst, yet still confusing enough that you’ll likely need the aid of fastidious bloggers and Wikipedia to parse through each storyline. But with so many shows on the air right now, it’s a bit much to ask that viewers do their homework in between episodes just to keep up on the basic level of plot. You shouldn’t have to immerse yourself obsessively in a show to be able to enjoy it, but that’s the territory Game of Thrones is approaching.
And man, the Jon Snow stuff really pisses me off. So much hype, over so many months, and now he’s up and walking around like nothing happened? He’s not, uh, affected by being resurrected from the dead in any way? I keep reminding myself not to get hasty, that the season will pick up soon — it’s just building up to something big, and surely we’ll see the aftereffects of his resurrection soon enough.
But a good show balances long-term storylines with episode-by-episode intrigue, and right now Game of Thrones isn’t doing much of either. The series has been holding us on a knife-edge since Ned Stark was beheaded in the first season; six seasons in and we’re still poised on that brink of utter chaos. When you’ve been sitting there for so long, the view starts to look pretty dull.