Now here’s a Game of Thrones plot twist that will leaves audiences truly breathless.
While scheming how to calm the restless cannibals of Merreen, Tyrion receives a surprise visit from his elderly Aunt Agatha. He greets the old lady in some style on some sort of veranda near the top of the Giant Pyramid. He inquires if she wants tea.
‘Why, thank you, little nephew, that would be marvellous,” the old lady wheezes.
“It’s special tea too, dahling,” Tyrion announces, ‘handpicked by nineteen fingered slaves from the southern part of -uh – somewhere.”
“Why, that is utterly delightful nephew.”
A sudden look crosses Tyrion’s heavy brow, the sort of grimace that usually connotes some dire portent. Is something terrible about to happen to the dear old lady? Will a sons of the Harpy spear suddenly materialise in the back of her neck? Will she be eaten, beheaded, flayed, forced to join some travelling band of strippers? Or will the producers choose this moment to unveil some new method of exquisite existential torture that no one has even suspected until now?
Tyrion’s ponderous look breaks slowly into a broad smile, all the more shocking because viewers have never seen such a thing before. “Can it be?” He whispers. The old lady returns the smile, ‘Perhaps, nephew,” she says. His voice becomes halting “Can I … Can I look?” “Why, of course you can, nephew.”
With shaking hands, he takes up the old woman’s handbag and peeps inside. “It is … Oh, it is,” there are real tears in his eyes. “Yes it is nephew,” the old woman smiles. Tyrion is beside himself. “Your patented, family recipe cucumber sandwiches,” he cries at last. “You remembered how much I adore them.” “How could I forget, nephew.”
For the next ten minutes, the pair drink tea and munch sandwiches and chat about happy old times in Casterley Rock. There are no deaths, no severed heads suddenly dropped on their table from on high, no Varys lurching in with multiple arrows protruding from his butt, no soiled unsullied, no slave girl with suddenly absent limbs. At the end, Tyrion pecks the old dear on the forehead and bids her adieu. That night, the Internet literally melts down as fans of the show are unable to cope with the shock.
George RR Martin’s gore fest thus produces an unexpected boon to humanity, as people are forced to chat briefly to each other until the Internet is repaired. The murder rate only goes up slightly. All over the world, critics hail Game of Thrones as the show you predict at your peril.
No. It probably won’t happen. As series six sets off on what promises to be its exhausting way, we reckon we’ve probably got the GoT Universe sussed by now. We can’t offer direct predictions, of course, but we can follow the general rule, immutable as some medieval theorem, and work from there: bad stuff will happen, and if you in any way lean towards being even slightly good, worse stuff will happen.
It’s as if Samuel Beckett rose from the dead, decided he was fed up with Theatre of the Absurd, and tried his hand at a fantasy epic instead. This is Beckett loose in Narnia, gaily slashing and burning at the cute little forest creatures wherever he goes. Not even in dreamland will anyone be safe from the chill reality that life is basically a large bucket of soggy excrement. GoT has even paid a sort of homage to the great man with The Hound and Arya’s aimless, Vladimir and Estragon style trek throughout Westeros, in the course of which there’s even a cameo by the current, living ‘Mr Samuel Beckett,’ actor Barry McGovern.
How did it come to this? How did the culture reach a point where the most popular TV show in the world used the most optimistic genre in literature to produce a sprawling, nihilistic anti-drama whose basic message is that no matter where you go, other planets, alternate universes or whatever the hell Westeros is supposed to be, people are basically no damn good?
Tyrion taking incident free tea with Aunt Agatha would be shocking because GoT is finally in danger of getting stuck in the web of its own predictability. We now expect horrible stuff to happen, every minute of every scene of every episode. When in doubt, the show has recourse to its usual tropes: let’s stick in another beheading, how has that female character managed to avoid being raped until now? Let’s fix that immediately. The show’s moral arc, Ned Stark, was beheaded at the end of Season One. The show has defied most televisual logic by remaining extremely popular ever since. It has produced plenty of compellingly nasty new characters ever since, but rarely has there been someone who connects with the audience because, well, they’re very nice, or because they have a surprising new perspective, or an intriguing new idea. No, actually, scratch that. The last thing you want is somebody nice. You’d spend all the time wondering when they’re going to get eaten, flayed or just plain disembowelled.
Whatever about the suspicion that GoT may ultimately be headed towards a multi-layered dead end, there’s surely a wider point about the culture here. How is it that something so unremittingly bleak remains so damn popular? Without wanting to be a killjoy, isn’t it time to wonder whether there’s some connection between ISIS’s addiction to filming its own beheadings and GoT’s own fetish with the same method of despatch? Of course they didn’t get the idea from GoT, but mightn’t there be some way in which the real is now feeding off the fake to some deeply unhealthy degree?
As in so many other genres, what we’re really seeing is the apparently unending echo of 9/11 and the scar it continues to gouge on the American psyche. It is extraordinary that as America’s cultural power continues to expand like a super-bloated Death Star, so also does a certain existential hopelessness start to bleed further into the global, media saturated consciousness of the rest of us.
We’re seeing the fake and the real become ever more entangled, so that, like the farmyard beasts at the end of George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm,’ we are finding it increasingly impossible to tell which is which. Donald Trump’s bid for the US Presidency, with its core message that ordinary people will always be screwed by the system no matter what, might as well have come from the GoT Universe, indeed, in many ways it does. The same pattern is being replicated, to one extent or another, in countries all over the West, as voters increasingly perceive current democracy as a pyramid scheme designed exclusively to favour the hyper-rich.
Maybe GoT’s popularity isn’t that surprising after all. Maybe ’tis nothing more than the news in funny costumes. Still, I wouldn’t have minded that cucumber sandwich all the same.