Game of Thrones’ Relentless Misery

Life is misery. Photo: HELEN SLOAN/HBO

Every once in a while, you watch a sweet, bookish little girl burn to death while screaming for her parents and you think, Oy. More child sexual slavery? More rah-rah decapitations? More massacres? Welp, it’s a very brutal world. I know. I know that Game of Thrones is big on carnage, big on desperation, big on bloodlust, and lust lust, and a bunch of other kinds of lusts. I get it, Game of Thrones. I do.

But I just want one happy episode. No killing, no raping, no plotting out killings and rapings, just … a holiday celebration, say, where no one’s fetus gets stabbed out. A concert. A play. Some random serfs having an ordinary afternoon. A sporting event that does not result in anyone’s death. Something!

I’m kidding, sort of: Game of Thrones will never give us this, and I’m (reluctantly) resigned to that fact. The show is primarily invested in excavating every depraved moment in its characters’ lives, in bringing out the absolute worst in everyone. And fair enough: People here in the actual world are also overwhelmingly terrible. But we also know that even in the most dire of circumstances, people seek happiness and foster comfort and express their humanity by creating art. They find meaning in small rituals. They cook favorite meals. (Come back to us, Hot Pie!) They form lasting, meaningful bonds. They find light in the darkest of times.

GOT has of course portrayed romantic love, but generally to leverage it for sadness that can be caused by death or separation or betrayal. We’ve seen wedding celebrations, but they tend to end badly. The show loves wondering how bad … or how far … or how much … But this constant brutality becomes numbing, and each “surprise” has diminishing returns. The show’s merciless entropy has exhausted me.

Some stories try to balance brutality with hope. Think Breaking Bad, for example — a very dire show, with tremendous savagery, but with some flickers of light, like Saul or Badger, and ultimately, Skyler and the kids escaping the black hole. Game of Thrones tries to cut its misery with exhilaration: Giant battle scenes (hell, episodes) contribute to the carnage, but they also create a sense of spectacle and dazzle that in some ways provide a reprieve. Some of the dragon moments fill that role, a sort of release valve on the ground-in horrors, providing a way to step back (sometimes by actually zooming out). By the time Drogon showed up last night, even he was getting stabbed, and it wasn’t thrilling or spectacular so much as a CGI distraction.

The point of GOT is not to be cheerful, clearly. But a show that can find this many ways to be unhappy could surely find one even small way to engage with joy that wasn’t immediately poisoned somehow. If you can have a surprisingly easy to foil army of eunuchs, you can have, oh, double Dutch.

Game of Thrones’ Relentless Misery