Let’s begin by revisiting the best Game of Thrones scene to date. Notes:
1. It was not part of last night’s garish, brutal, wantonly mirthless season finale.
2. It certainly did not involve a sobbing naked lady being railroaded through town and pelted with shit for 45 minutes straight as leering extras shouted bitch, cunt, whore and so forth at her as the Flying Nun trailed behind chanting shame, shame, shame and ringing a giant bell, which at this point along the arc of the show’s moral/aesthetic deterioration qualifies as fan service.
3. Nor did it include the line “You want a good girl, but you need a bad pussy,” which is totally a thing another lady said on Game of Thrones last night, as though channeling the Entourage movie.
4. It starred MOTHERFUCKIN’ KHAL DROGO.
Incredible. This is season one, of course, way back in 2011—several hundred shocking deaths and/or rapes ago. In it, a jacked-up oft-shirtless warrior-savage ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist does a wrestling promo in which he vows to kick rich amounts of ass in the name of his oft-shirtless Dragon Queen wife, all in a goofball made-up Tasmanian Devil language that requires him to spit so much I’m surprised the campfire didn’t go out. It is both hilarious and absurd; how anyone involved kept a straight face or for that matter remained upright is beyond me. But the comedy is not quite unintentional: The show knows this is all hilarious and absurd, but sells it with such conviction and cornball-badass ardor that it comes across as legitimately romantic, legitimately dramatic, legitimately badass. It’s lunacy worth buying into, a reward for your perpetual suspension of both disbelief and conventional morality.
Game of Thrones doesn’t do this sort of thing anymore: levity, wit, sublime ridiculousness. The show’s unmerciful and now mercifully concluded fifth season vacillated between Dull and Awful, with the Awful meant to spice up the Dull, an unending dirge of sexual assaults and child-burnings and CGI atrocities and unending misery and ineptly telegraphed Surprise Twists. Was the 16th closeup (spread out over 15 episodes) of the bitchfaced kid sneering at Jon Snow possibly overkill? Anyone surprised by what immediately followed the line “I’m glad that you’re my father”? Have we driven home the point that Ramsey Bolton is both a bad person and an invincible snow ninja, or do we need several more scenes of him torturing people and clandestinely lighting an entire army’s worth of horses on fire?
Likewise, should we tilt the moral scales toward Arya a li’l bit more by having her sneering adversary whip a couple underage girls first? Are we seriously going to spend the next 10 months on Twitter debating whether Brienne just whacked the tree above Stannis’ head or whether Jon just turned into an ice zombie or a wolf or whatever? Did Theon and Sansa seriously just push a lady to her death and then leap to safety from that same height? Is the snow in Winterfell really that ... fluffy? Is there even anyone convincingly likable left to do convincingly terrible things to? (Don’t answer that.) “You want a good girl, but you need a bad pussy”? This is the LOL Nothing Matters gif in Trajan font; this is You Shouldn’t Do That on Television.
Listen, I won’t begrudge you if you enjoy relentless torment and degradation and whoops-you-thought-he-was-the-big-hero-but-LOL-we-killed-him nihilism, but the show used to counterbalance all that with the occasional semblance of human feeling. But anytime not-awful people are being not-awful to each other onscreen anymore, you’re braced for the cynical gut-punch to come—you know it’s just fleeting, insincere kindness designed to make the inevitable cruelty crueler, which is why it’s mildly shocking Sam and Gilly didn’t trot out of the Wall and directly into a jet engine. Play the Anyone Can Die at Any Time, Especially the People You Like game long enough and the only thing left to root for is the White Walkers, or the credits.
I’ll tell you who really sucks: the Unsullied. The Unsullied are the Atlanta Hawks of Game of Thrones: nameless, cheerless drones with no sex appeal in an alarmingly visceral sense who’re nonetheless tirelessly hailed for their grittiness and adherence to fundamentals and team-first attitude, at least until they all get iced in a back alley by a ragtag troupe of Katy Perry backup dancers. Daenerys would’ve been better off with the dwarf-clown troupe from Joffrey’s wedding. Re: the Dull part of the Dull/Awful equation, this show spends a lotta time building up the fighting/strategizing acumen of peripheral characters who all turn out to be total chumps. Even Drogon the Dragon nearly got murked by half a dozen Katy Perry backup dancers throwing spears. And I’m not watching another scene in Dorne unless they knock it off the with poison/antidote shit and the let the RZA direct.
KICK HIS ASS, DROGO!
There are many TV shows I enjoy watching, but none I enjoy watching as much as I enjoy not watching this one. Which is not to say I’ll stop now, though it’s not so much that I’ll hate-watch season six as season six will be hate-broadcast to me, all the remaining women further degraded and Walk of Shame’d into full-blown, full-frontal oblivion. all the scant few remaining Good People grindingly rendered horrible or killed horribly. “Hey, do this logical, pragmatic thing.” “Nah, dogg, I’m gonna do this rash, suicidal, knuckleheaded, ostensibly honorable thing instead.” [Hit by bus.] [Bus raped by another bus.] [Both buses fall off a cliff, explode.] I’ve got enough problems, and so do you.
Your only hope going forward is that Daenerys wound up back with, yes, the Dothraki, who will hopefully not burn her at the stake or anything, and then at least while we’re waiting eight more episodes for her to do something again we’ll get to watch her watch them slap each other around while Tasmanian Devil’ing foul oaths like THE WORMS WILL CRAWL THROUGH YOUR LUNGS and whatnot. See, this can all be fun! You can be both vicious and human, y’know. Let’s get back to first principles here, first principles meaning, “Not everything has to be 100 percent awful 100 percent of the time.” It’s not that I object to profound onscreen unpleasantries so much as I’m tired of those unpleasantries being the Entire Point, the show’s sole reason for being, an escalating trollishness that punishes you relaxing or caring or smiling or not-wincing, even for a second. There is nowhere to go but down, from Too Far to Even Farther. It’s the only game left in town. Game of Thrones long ago entered its “going door-to-door trying to shock you” phase, playing for stats in which the only stat that matters is “number of Twitter users appalled.” We got plenty of grist for that mill last night, and no grist for any others.
Rob Harvilla is Deadspin’s culture editor. Yes, there is one. He’s on Twitter.
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