Luongo: Passing of ‘Game of Thrones’

I have passed on reading the R. R. Martin Game of Thrones novels or watching the teevee adaptations of them. I have done this despite the requests from audiences at talks and in private correspondence that I read, watch, and share my thinking at HogwartsProfessor on the written or filmed series. I’m just not interested enough to tackle the many long books — and I don’t even own a television.

Rev George, a long time friend of this blog and correspondent, thought I would enjoy Tom Luongo’s review of the last episode in Thrones, ‘The Passing of Game of Thrones.’ He was right; I haven’t any idea if he is correct in his assessment of either original or the adapted series, but Luongo reads the books from a perspective I admire and share to greater than lesser degree.

Game of Thrones was a story built on classic archetypal, mytho-poetic storytelling ideas. But with the goal of undercutting them, of taking a more post-modernist approach, to just show chaos without structure and purpose, no ending could ever be satisfying.

As consumers, when we start a book or a movie we can go on a journey into hell and back again as long as once we’re finished the ride was worth it.

The story has to illuminate fundamental truths, not spit on them.

And what makes the series finale such a failure was the unwillingness of the writers to at the last moment embrace some traditional storytelling conventions and anchor the chaos of Westeros in a lesson that can be passed from generation to generation.

By betraying the arcs of main characters like John Snow, Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen Weiss and Benioff set themselves up for the backlash they are getting now. And with good reason.

Heroic storytelling requires heroes to rise to their pivotal moments and, through their actions, create the opportunity for radical change. They are born out of and rise above the chaos of their times to make the hard choices and sacrifices necessary to preserve the world and build the foundation for the next one.

Stories are not reality. Stories are meant as reflections of the world we live in. They exist to help us make sense of the senseless.

Game of Thrones fails, Luongo believes, because the artists involved “have lost the plot of humanity’s struggle” simultaneously to resist the chaos Game celebrates (contra Tolkien) and to create an “institutional order …sufficient to act as a brake on humanity’s worst impulses.” This, he explains, is a function of the author and teevee savants being so “thoroughly ingrained” in “post modern Marxism” as to be oblivious of the evils of chaos and the human need for boundaries lest we be animals.

Read the whole thing.

I don’t know if what he says is true of the novels or their adaptation because I couldn’t tell if the many story references he makes to back his points are accurate or as crazed as what the Harry Haters have said and exorcists are saying about the Wizarding World. But I think his concerns are important ones, validly applied or not.

If you’ve watched the show and read Luongo’s review, let me know what you think!


  1. Kelly Loomis says

    I have read 2 1/2 of the novels and hope to finish them – that is if Martin ever gets around to it. He is now a producer on several prequel GOT series for HBO. He said he will allow himself to be locked away if he doesn’t get them finished but the world of GOT fans is not optimistic. I also watched the whole tv series.

    I started watching late in the game – between seasons 6 and 7. During that time I also decided to begin reading the novels to see what differences there were as I am always skeptical of screen adaptations. There were what I felt were some key differences and I wondered how some of these would affect the story in the long run.

    Martin claims his characters experience the consequences of their decisions whether these decisions are noble or evil. The greatest character consequence we see is Ned Stark’s beheading because of his naive honesty and nobleness. People went crazy saying a “hero” should not have been killed. Martin said it was more realistic that his naïveté led to his death by those more ruthless than he. Does this fly in the face of storytelling at its finest? I’m not sure as it’s influence on other characters in the very end is not really known yet.

    As for the ending and the last two seasons…we may never know his original intent. Supposedly he met for days behind closed doors with Dan and David outlining his story. The last two seasons – as expressed by most – were rushed and given to tv special effects and grandiose battles – at the expense of character development and reasonable progression of said characters to their conclusions.

    Having had millions watching the series, I wonder if Martin will give us his true “vision”. We know D&D have changed “minor” characters but which did they change? How did those changes affect the ultimate outcome he envisioned and the overall satisfaction of a story well told? I would like to give him the benefit of doubt but I think his main purpose in the end is that the “wheel is never really broken” and those in power never really change. I guess this would be a Marxist belief and go against what Luongo said a story should do. It leaves us with a taste of dissatisfaction. If the purpose of storytelling is to leave us feeling satisfied that will likely not happen. I suppose the question is what is the purpose of storytelling? Is it realistic or unrealistic? Can we have stories which leave us feeling no hope?

    I will leave the answer to that question to those here who make these things their life’s work. I know how I feel at the end of books or movies. Is there a right way to feel? Or a right lesson to be learned?

  2. Of interest to HogPro fans, I believe George R.R. Martin is practicing literary alchemy in the GoT series. I do not believe that Martin’s work is up to par with the likes of Rowling and therefore I haven’t and likely won’t spend any serious time researching it. However, I’ve watched the entire series and read a few of the books and it was only while racking my brains to try to understand why Martin was making the plot choices that he made that I stumbled on what should have been obvious from the start. The story is the development of the Philosopher’s Stone. Nearly all of the symbolism and many of the character names come from alchemy.

    What is primarily of interest to me is the fact that this literary pursuit of the Philosopher’s Stone accounts for a huge portion of the pop cultural explosion of fandoms and the billions of dollars they’re willing to devote to works of fantasy–Lord of the Ring, the Hobbit, C. S. Lewis, Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts, and now Game of Thrones.

    I’ve written about it here in a prediction I made about the series finale (spoilers abound):

    I believe that this has something to do with the nature of Meaning itself, with alchemy as a powerful symbolic vehicle for the transmission of meaning. (I’ve written about that here:

  3. Um–not a fan of Martin’s; I’d been avoiding the series for years because I was told it was relentlessly grimdark, and there’s enough of that in the real world. But my sister’s good friends, both longtime fans, insisted we watch the finale with them and–

    I loved it! We all loved it, both the fans and the nonfans. The reason:

    Of course, it was beautifully filmed and acted. I gather the series has been, all along. But it was also much more moral and therefore much more Tolkienesque than I’d expected. Yes, innocent people died. And I gather that, if I’d been watching all along, I might have been deeply upset at the fate of Daenerys. But, to me, it didn’t come out of the blue. Like most characters; like most of us in the real world, she was not wholly justified and not wholly good–but also not wholly evil. (Mild spoiler: I both anticipated, and cheered at, the fate of the throne itself.)

    And I loved that, in spite of the tragedy, the finale left us with hope. Basically (another mild spoiler) the Stark family, Ned’s children, came through in spades. That made sense to me. (You see, I was not ignorant of Ned Stark and his fate, because a friend from the Snape fandom had posted about it.)

    I think any honest story told in this world in this day and age will be both tragic and hopeful. I did not, in the end, get that from the Potter stories. They were simply, completely bleak to me. I got that from this finale.

  4. Kelly Loomis, I was a very casual follower of GoT. Therefore I could never work up the outrage of the “true fan”s” over the ending.
    I agree with you that it is highly likely that the ending is more or less how GRR Martin intended it to be. The script writers shouldn’t be solely blamed, since they have been briefed to a certain degree. But the execution was clumsy and rushed for various reasons. Therefore the outcome didn’t feel well developed and organic.
    However, the article is interesting insofar as it explains why I never felt tempted to jump on the GoT bandwagon in the first place: I simply couldn’t get attached emotionally to any of the characters, since real-life character development doesn’t always translate into great stories. The basic idea was too nihilistic for my taste and I knew that I would be terribly disappointed sooner or later if I would start to root for a specific outcome or character. Therefore I just was content to admire Jon Snow’s beautiful curls 😃. Also, I never thought that GRRM – unlike JKR, who is the queen of long-term plot development is a great plotter and developer of a satisfying overall story arc. He has admitted this himself and said that he is more of a gardener who plants the seeds and then watches how it grows and follows the characters. The problem is, that his originally beautiful and promising GoT garden has eventually become totally overgrown, and he was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t handle it anymore. And that’s the reason why he has still not finished his series – maybe, he never will. I must’ve sensed this long ago, and therefore I never started to develop theories or speculated, where all this was going. My instinct was apparently correct.
    That said, I felt that the ending didn’t feel wrong to me at all. It seemed to be very much in line with the pessimistic undertones about human nature of the series. Some aspects I had vaguely anticipated. I was fairly sure that Jon Snow would never become king – no matter what his true heritage turned out to be. But it was all far too rushed for giving the fans any chance for deep satisfaction. Therefore I understand some of the outrage.

  5. It would be very interesting to write a treaty about the current obsession of trying to remain unpredictable and subvert fan expectations. IMO this has had a very negative influence on the story development of many tv series. A story should be developed along an artistic concept, and unpredictability for unpredictability’s sake should never become the main reason for certain plot developments.

  6. @Mary, could you explain, why the ending of the Potter Stories were “simply, completely bleak” for you? I agree with you that the ending of many good and honest stories may be both tragic and hopeful. IMO opinion the end of the HP series is just that. If one includes the epilogue, whom many readers – me included – don’t like very much, I would even argue that they end on a too positive note, which is almost naively simplistic. Where so you see bleakness?
    As I said already above, I think that GRRM and JKR have truly opposite approaches as far as plot development is concerned: GRRM constructs a terrain – or as he says – a garden – in which the story und will take and then plants the seeds for the characters. He doesn’t plan much beyond that. He definitely doesn’t know at the beginning for certain how the story will eventually end. He says that he follows the characters. This method is very good for realistic and believable character development, but the story arc can become very messy and the end may be believable but unsatisfying – just like in real life where stories don’t always end well for the people we have been rooting for. JKR however is IMO a mystery writer. All individual HP books as well as the overall narrative are constructed around a central mystery which needs to get resolved. This leads to a very artfully constructed plot and invites the readers to keep theorizing and guessing. A😛s a grown up HP reader who loves mystery novels, this has been for me one of the greatest appeal of the HP series. And while IMO the seventh and final HP novel is flawed for many reasons, JKR actually managed to adress and answer most questions which have been presented throughout the series, in a more or less satisfying way. It’s very obvious that JKR knew precisely how the series would eventually end when she started to write. The problem with this method is that Sometimes character development needs to follow the demands of the overall plot development and may therefore not be always credible or realistic. Some critics have complained that the eventual solution that Snape has been Dumbledore’s man from the first book onwards and that he never wavered once he had decided to fight against Voldemort, wasn’t entirely credible if one considered how JKR has described Snape throughout the series. There is some truth to that criticism. While all of Snape’s actions can eventually be categorized as serving the “good cause”, the overall unsympathetic and negative flavor of Snape’s character descriptions of Snape never change before the big reveal is disclosed in one of the last chapters of the final book. Once Snape has decided to work undercover for Dumbledore, his character doesn’t evolve organically in a big way. This has of course a lot to do with the necessity of laying out red herrings and keep the readers guessing until the very end about the true allegiance of Snape. But it doesn’t make him character more believable and realistic. Some readers feel that he is more an artful construct than a realistic human being.

  7. Sabine, thank you for your long and thoughtful response, and I apologize for taking so long to get back to you.

    First, it won’t surprise you, I’m sure, that I am a Snape fan. I was absolutely heartbroken by the way Rowling treated this character. You can find out a lot more about my ideas on Rowling by visiting my live journal. There’s a link from my webpage.

    But it wasn’t just Snape. I do agree that (1) Rowling’s books are plot-driven, not character-driven, and (2) she is, at her best, a mystery writer. This doesn’t mean she writes good mysteries! To give one example, I was thoroughly annoyed at the Deathly Hallows. It is very poor plotting to come up with not one, but three, Macguffins more than five-sixths of the way through your story. The Hallows are simply a mess. If they were going to be important at all, why weren’t they introduced earlier?

    There are other contradictions in the book, too, and plot holes galore. I’d say, as a writer, some holes are inevitable. You can hardly expect to write a work as long and ambitious as this without errors here or there. But some of Rowling’s errors frustrate me hugely.

    I hated, in the end, what she did with all the Christian symbolism. These books, to me, seem to promote a fascist mentality. I think they are horrifying. The reason I think that–

    1. It’s okay if a Gryffindor does it. Over and over, we see bad guys/Slytherins acting in a certain way. They are rightly condemned. Then our heroes, especially Harry, do the exact same things and are praised for it. To give the most obvious example, whom would Jesus torture?
    2. Character assassination abounds. It isn’t just Severus. Who is this weird Remus Lupin who appears in the last book, trying to sneak out of his clear duty and talking like a 19th-century villain? Hermione is abusive to Ron. Seriously! If the sexes were reversed, could you countenance her behavior? And what she does to her parents is beyond awful, and we never even learn their names. Harry is passive when he’s not being a jerk. Then there is Dumbledore. Okay–what Rowling did to him is rather cool. That really was a big reversal. From being (as I thought in the first book) a twinkly, wise mentor, he becomes a callous manipulator of both Harry and Severus. As others have said, Dumbledore is a perfect picture of a narcissist. It’s very disturbing.

    And what makes it most disturbing is that what seems to be required of Harry (the reason, btw, he’s a very passive hero) is simple obedience to Dumbledore. What sort of a message is that to send to young people? If you question, as Severus does, you will end up dead on the floor with your throat torn out. If you obey blindly, you will be a hero and all will be well.

    As to ways of writing and plotting: I have a lot to learn, but I think I’m more in accord with Martin’s method than with Rowling’s. I do think no one can be either a pure plotter or a pure “pantser”. But I find I need to know my characters and let them lead me if my stories are to have any life.

    Again, I don’t really know the Martin books, and I’m still not terribly drawn to read them, since the real world is more than dark enough. So what I’ve said is just based on my watching the final episode. I can’t claim to be a knowledgeable critic where Martin is concerned!

    But I read, and reread, all of the first five Potter books. I was a fan. I disliked HBP and utterly loathed DH. It just wrecked the whole series for me. I’d put a lot of thought and energy into the series, especially after HBP, when I found this site.

    BTW, it was obvious to me from the third book that Snape was “Dumbledore’s man”. That was never in doubt, as far as I was concerned.

    Thanks again for this conversation. It’s been interesting, and I’d welcome you on my blog.

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