Game of Thrones season three premiered Sunday, and I tuned in with great anticipation. I'm making a point of not reading the books, so the plot had me on the edge of my seat. But when I got to work on Monday, most of what I heard about the episode was complaints.
"It was too slow."
"It's impossible to keep track of the characters."
"I'm not cheering for anybody."
I couldn't disagree more. Game of Thrones is carrying on the Golden Age mantle, and doing so admirably.
The Golden Age of Television was almost over. The Wire and The Sopranos are dead and gone. AMC's alliterative duo of Mad Men and Breaking Bad are in their twilights. These Core Four all shared common characteristics. They're remarkably slow, for one. Breaking Bad is the fastest-paced, and it featured an episode where the protagonist focuses on fixing a broken water heater. They also eschew the traditional good-guys-and-bad-guys approach to TV. Even the term "protagonist" is misleading, since there are episodes in all where McNulty, Don, Tony, and Walt are downright despicable human beings. Their universes are expansive, too. If you can name every corner kid in The Wire or every cousin of Phil Leotardo, my hat goes off to you. I know I can't.
Game of Thrones does more than carry on this tradition: it one-ups it. Forget about protagonists. They cut Ned Stark's head off in season one. Keeping track of characters? Ha! The depth of characters emerging from the woodwork in this universe makes The Wire look like its whole cast could fit on a basketball roster. And The Wire was the show, mind you, that had one criminal from season one neither dead nor incarcerated by the end of season five. ONE. They chewed through young black actors in a way that would make Dave Chappelle proud.
And the only two truly terrific and truly horrific characters on the show are under the age of fifteen. Most everybody else falls on the morality spectrum of "Umm..." Some are likable while others are not, some follow ethical codes while others do not, but there are no good guys or bad guys, and no correlation between morality and mortality. And in the two full seasons of Game of Thrones we've seen, there has been only one full battle scene. Because the struggles of the soldiers who fight the battles of kings are ultimately unimportant to the actual plot of the show. That plot can be boiled down to one word: power. Who has it, how they get it, how they keep it, and how they lose it. It can be an army or magic or dragons or fear or money or political cunning that wins at the end of the day. Nothing is off limits, and nothing is a trump card.
The sum of these characters, themes, and plots is a terrific show. And I haven't even gushed about the visual splendor of the series yet.
For a second there, TV looked to be headed in a new direction with the genre porn of The Walking Dead and the breakneck pace of Homeland. Not so fast, guys. Game of Thrones is just getting started.