Game of Thrones has been off the air for five months. It was five years before that when I had come to the realization that I was not watching the show the same way most others were. Season five’s first four episodes had leaked. Where I saw a lazily written, sexist mess that seemed to have no regard for any character, the internet at large saw TV’s most outstanding drama.
Thrones may have won that title again at this year’s Emmy awards, but there’s no mistaking the fact that the internet at large had changed. Sure, a few months after the initial backlash to what might go down in history as the absolute worst finale of a TV show we began getting a very vocal push of the narrative, “season eight was good, actually”; but even the usual marketing drum wasn’t enough to erase the memories of…oh god, what to even pick? Arya unceremoniously ending the zombie apocalypse? Dany killing women and children because her nephew wouldn’t give her a good romp in the sack?
For the most part, I’ve tried to be a gracious host, inviting everyone who arrived late to our little, unabashedly book snob-filled party. But it’s been a really weird feeling, to say the least. And the past few days, it’s only gotten weirder as the illustrious showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (“D&D”) received a fresh wave of criticism, followed immediately by the announcement that they’re quitting and totally not fired from Star Wars, guys. You know it’s serious when Forbes is casually quoting “themes are for eighth grade book reports” now.
As much as I’d love to say this recent ire was the culmination of the hard work of our Thrones-critical community over the years, where I, as well as many others, tried to painstakingly provide detailed analysis that could almost scientifically prove the poor quality of D&D’s writing (our retrospectives tried to steel-man, even)…nah. D&D just decided to come out and say they’re bad at their jobs and don’t give a single shit. That’s right, as was painstakingly detailed by Twitter user ‘Needle & Pen’ (@ForArya), Benioff and Weiss participated in a Q&A session at the Austin Film Festival where they essentially displayed their massive privilege, apathy, and incompetence in neon lights. I strongly recommend reading the whole thing if you haven’t already.
— Needle & Pen (@ForArya) October 26, 2019
I could probably write 800 words on each tweet in this series, particularly the gems like D&D saying they tried to strip away fantasy elements to attract ‘mothers’ and ‘NFL players’, or how they very intentionally let actors define all their roles and started writing to that. But the most surprising aspect to me of this thread was that…nothing was surprising. Benioff and Weiss seemed as fundamentally disinterested in A Song of Ice and Fire as we’ve been hypothesizing about for years now. What’s more, it was confirmed that D&D divvied up scripts and didn’t work in the same room as one another. That certainly explains things like the Dothraki swelling in numbers after “The Long Night”, or the completely disjointed tone in between episodes.
They were also quite explicit in their lack of a clear plan for the show, instead speaking about the importance of surprising the audience. They also reiterated things we very much knew: there was no writers’ room, they didn’t see any value in listening to fan feedback, and they didn’t make any attempt to boil down elements of the books (read: themes) into the show because they were too big. This is barely paraphrasing the tweeted account of their panel.
Do I like, spike a football?
What did strike me, however, was that D&D reiterated giving up a decade of their life to work on this, as if it was some great burden they took upon themselves. That, coupled with them speaking quite bluntly about how unqualified they were (Dan Weiss going as far as to call it an ‘expensive film school’), actually has sparked a lot of discussion about the privilege of white men as our storytellers in Hollywood. And…yeah totally. This entire panel is a case study in privilege, complete with an apparent total lack of self-awareness and ability to read a room. If they were going for charmingly self-deprecating, they came off like dispassionate assholes.
Though now there’s this confusing spin-off conversation about how because Hollywood favors men like them, they were somehow victims of this system? I have no idea why this logic loop even exists, but let’s just set the record straight: bad writers who are given a job and do it poorly are still bad writers who should feel bad. They failed spectacularly in a position they weren’t qualified for, and yet still raked in money, won all the awards, and landed a 7-figure deal with Netflix when all was said and done. The system didn’t fail them; they are the poster children for the broken system. Didn’t think that needed saying, but sheesh.
Can we all agree that they found R+L=J on a forum before their initial meeting with Martin?
The thing is, while I can’t say I feel bad for them, I do feel a very strong sense of second-hand embarrassment. They truly went into that room thinking they were hilarious and bold for their approach to this show, and said things like ‘[we wrote the episodes by ourselves] because we didn’t know better’ without cringing. This isn’t even touching their tone-deaf answer about bringing on women/POC as writers, where they simply reiterated the lack of a writers’ room before pointing out that Dave Hill is of Asian descent. Oh cool, that solves the crowd-surfing scene!
I also feel hopeful about how this interview was received. No, we cannot assume the Star Wars news is related–though “time conflict” is a pretty standard excuse that’s trotted around Hollywood a lot (see: Guillermo Del Toro’s Hobbit). It’s more that the conversations that followed were either about the incredible need for diverse storytellers (else we’ll be saddled with idiots like this again), as well as the elements that make stories incredible too. D&D made it abundantly clear that they have no idea what those are. Media may have followed their lead for some time, but I’m feeling very encouraged at the thought that we’re now gearing up for an equal and opposite reaction: bring on the shows that have a purpose, themes, and meaning. And for the love of god, bring on more inclusive writers’ rooms.