by John Walters
Appetite For Destruction*
*The judges will also accept “Cinder Ella”
Last night on HBO I watched “The Game Revealed: The Bells,” a 17-minute behind-the-scenes how-to on the making of the penultimate episode of Game Of Thrones. It left me humbled and in awe. The sheer scale of the undertaking of this episode, from basically recreating King’s Landing (i.e. Dubrovnik) on a Belfast backlot to the 650 extras to lighting 22 stunt men on fire in one scene, to the tedium of filming CleganeBowl and simply creating space on that stairwell (also built specially for this one scene) to place cameras, to all the work the actors had to do with green screens and yet make it look authentic, well, it’s fair to say that this may have been the most ambitious and arduous episode of television ever attempted.
Now, true, as a viewer, you are not obligated to approve of an episode based solely on its budget or the effort required to make it. Still, as we sit on our collective asses funneling salty snacks and alcohol down our gobs on Sunday nights, I feel we might sound a little less like spoiled children if we actually knew the colossal headache that creating this show must have been for Benioff & Weiss. It’s a little like parenting. You never really can appreciate how massive and unappreciated a job it is until you become one yourself. But maybe we can at least try.
All that said, let’s get to Twitter’s major beef with “The Bells,” which seems to be either 1) Daenerys’ “heel turn” or 2) the very fact that she committed mass murder when it was unnecessary. I don’t get it (the criticism, that is), and I’ll defend her, from a story-telling perspective.
First, Dany is her father’s daughter. The Mad King, Aerys Targaryen, planned to burn King’s Landing and its inhabitants before he was assassinated by Jaime Lannister. She’s a Targaryen. She’s not Jimmy Carter.
Second, this is a woman who was raised, at least militarily, with the Dothraki. They are known for being outstanding and ruthless warriors, the Westerosi version of Genghis Khan’s mongol hordes. Whatever your views as a Judeo-Christian viewer of the show may be, they are not shared by the Mother of Dragons.
Third, as I was reminded by @AuburnElvis yesterday, this conversation (below) between Olenna Tyrell and Dany at the end of last season. Recall, it was Olenna who successfully murdered a previous malevolent ruler of Westeros, Joffrey, and who got away with it. And here it is Olenna giving Dany the best military advice she’d ever receive, certainly better than anything Tyrion or Varys gave her: “Be a dragon.”
Finally, over the course of Season 5 we have seen Dany detour away from her own wishes in order to save the North (losing two dragons in the process), then losing the love of her life to a 23AndMe technicality, then losing her most trusted advisor (Jorah) and her closest female friend (Missandrei). She feels alone and betrayed (which she was) and all she really has left is her sweet ride (Drogon) and her own indomitable will.
So yes, and as the show’s creators acknowledge, Dany goes full Dresden on King’s Landing. Was it absolutely necessary? Of course not, but then neither was Dresden. That World War II bombing, by Allied air assault (including U.S. planes) resulted in the deaths, by fire, of more than 22,000 German civilians. Dresden was not an attack on important Nazi industry or rail lines or anything of the sort. The bombing of Dresden was a huge “F___ You” aimed at Germany, a release of a couple of years of frustration and vengeance for all the pain and suffering that Great Britain, specifically London, had endured.
Dresden wasn’t necessary. But it was cathartic—even if it was mass murder on a grand scale.
In Game Of Thrones, specifically “The Bells,” we have the unique scenario of a medieval battle with 20th-century aviation, via Drogon, thrown in. Benioff & Weiss had the unique opportunity, and responsibility, to create a 14th-century battleground while adding 20th century destruction, and tactics. Hence Dany launches her attack on the Iron Fleet by flying right out of the sun, which is what Japanese kamikaze fighters in the Pacific did in World War II and was also a popular tactic in World War I dogfights over France.
Was it a little inconceivable that Dany and Drogon were able to take out all the Scorpions, both in the Iron Fleet and mounted on the walls of King’s Landing, based on that opening gambit, without a single scratch? Sure it was. Was it a little inconceivable that the Millennium Falcon survived Darth Vader’s entire armada of TIE fighters plus an asteroid field? Uh huh.
As an avid fan and viewer, you’re welcome to feel any way you want about the episode. And even the final season. I’m with Scott Van Pelt on all this. I appreciate the monumental amount of work that went into making this final season, possibly unlike anything in television history. More than that, though, I appreciate that you have to tie up a plethora of story lines and that some may not be dealt with in a more brisk manner. I spend six days a week watching three cooks magically prepare dozens of meals for satisfied customers simultaneously; I realize what they’re doing and what I do when I cook for myself are not to be compared and also that they don’t get the chance to drink a glass of Pinot Noir and check the Yankee game while doing so.
Finally, I keep hearing how dissatisfied fans are with the ending of GOT. Here’s a helpful reminder: IT HASN’T ENDED YET. Let it at least finish first before you decide you didn’t like the finish. In short, please try to avoid being the worst example of everything that is wrong with Twitter. I know that you can.
A word or two more on television endings, by the way. In my experience the show most impervious to criticism, at least on Sports Twitter, is Breaking Bad.
While I loved the series, too, and have watched it start-to-finish twice, I’d argue that Vince Gilligan wussed out on the ending. The perfect ending to that series should have taken place out in the desert, about 20 minutes into the third-to-last episode, “Ozymandias.” Hank has just been killed, Jesse has just been discovered by the gang, and Walter has had to reveal the hiding place for all of his money in exchange for his life. He gets to walk out, strolling past the khakis he’d lost in the pilot episode, and leave with nothing else but his life and the eternal guilt of being responsible for the death of his brother-in-law. A bleak ending, but a fitting one.
Instead, we get the escape to New Hampshire, followed by the miraculous getaway without explanation (the car keys drop into his hand, there’s a police car in his rearview mirror, then voila, the next thing you know he’s in Santa Fe). I’ve always liked to think that Walter White died in that car and the remainder of the series, that final episode, is simply a posthumous dream sequence.
If it is not a dream, then the most wanted criminal in America somehow returns to Albuquerque undetected, visits his wife at her home in broad daylight, then rigs up a semi-automatic weapon in the trunk of his car in a single afternoon as if he’s Macgyver. Never mind that the gang allows him to drive his own vehicle right up in front of their home and park it the way he sees fit, that the angle on the machine gun firing into the home just happens to be perfect, that he and Jesse are allowed to have a face-to-face, which gives Walter the opportunity to warn Jesse that the bullets are about to fire, that Walter was able to keep the firing device in his hands even after being frisked….you get the picture.
The final episode of Breaking Bad was simply audience wish-fulfillment from a show runner who opted not to end the series as mercilesssly as he’d ended most characters’ stories in the series. But it isn’t just Breaking Bad. Mad Men had to duct-tape a final season together that, because its stars had gotten to be too successful and had too many side projects going, meant that we never got a face-to-face scene between Don Draper and any significant co-stars for the final three or four episodes. The Wire‘s entire final season was an epic letdown.
It’s funny. The Sopranos was the first classic show on HBO, the forebear to all the terrific programming on Netflix, AMC and HBO that has followed. And its creator, David Chase, may not have been able to anticipate the impact social media would have on how audiences hive-minded their opinions on shows and their endings, but the manner in which he chose to end his show was both genius and prescient.
Chase ended The Sopranos abruptly and without explanation. Fans can attempt to decipher the final scene as much as they want, but there’s absolutely nothing definitive about it. It’s almost as if Chase was thumbing his nose at Twitter before Twitter even existed, in effect saying, “You can’t criticize something if you don’t actually know what you saw.”
In hindsight, and having read all of the criticism about GOT the past two days, a genius move by Chase, the man who started it all.
In the summer of 1983 Elvis Costello and the Attractions released their seventh album in a six-year span. Punch The Clock may not be his masterpiece, but it did produce his first Top 40 hit. This isn’t it, by the way. But we’ve always felt this tune deserved more frequent spins.
NBA Draft Lottery
8:30 p.m. ESPN
Cleveland, New York and Phoenix all have the same 14% shot of landing
Zion Williamson the No. 1 overall pick. Chicago is next at 12.5% and then Atlanta at 10.5%, etc. The point being, Zion to the Manhattan is not a certainty (except with the conspiracy theorists). Some folks will tell you that Zion may not be all that and personally, we hope our sons land Ja Morant.
Our biggest concern with Zion, and this was the topic of a convo we had with a sporty sports guy the other night, is length. He’s not a stretchy-type guy like, say teammates R.J. Barrett or Cam Reddish, which is what NBA teams crave now. He’s more of a bull-in-a-china-shop type like Larry Johnson. It’s still impossible not to love his energy, his charisma and his legitimate talent. He’s a total gamer. You take him first, is our final verdict, and worry about the rest later.