It’s a testament to the groundedness of Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky that the film’s Game of Thrones joke is really more of a joke about A Song of Ice and Fire. The film centers on heist during a NASCAR event, which is internally jokingly referred to as “Ocean’s 7-11,” and it commits to a granular look at life and society in West Virginia, with Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as two bumbling brothers and Daniel Craig having fun for once. If all the actors’ drawls aren’t exactly consistent, Logan Lucky commits to realism everywhere else: there’s a small-town beauty pageant, a Soderberghian commitment to tracing how exactly money flows around a car-racing stadium, and in a quirky little set piece midway through the movie, an elaborately constructed joke about Game of Thrones that succeeds because it’s actually about the thing itself, not some preconceived idea of it.
To set the scene: Tatum and Driver’s plan for their heist involves breaking Craig out of jail and then returning him during the same day, which means they have to find a way to distract the guards in the meantime. The inmates strike up a plan, which involves setting off a fire alarm, trapping a few guards, and then demanding a ransom. Among the inmates’ demands, alongside more reasonable things, like better food: a copy of George R.R. Martin’s The Winds of Winter for the prison library. For those who aren’t dedicated book readers, that’s the next installment in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series, which forms the basis for HBO’s Game of Thrones. The book was supposed to come out years ago, and has been sequentially pushed back to 2016, 2017, and at this point, who knows?
When the guards try to explain that The Winds of Winter isn’t out yet, the prisoners are convinced they’re lying. First of all: It was supposed to come out. Secondly: Why do some people say they know what happens with Jon Snow? It turns out those people have been watching the TV series, which has overtaken the books at this point. Finally: Why can’t George R.R. Martin just write the book already? Nobody has a good answer.
Aside from the fact that everyone in Logan Lucky sells the exchange well, with some real befuddlement on both sides, the Game of Thrones bit works because it riffs on the way people actually engage with the series, rather than something built around the idea of how people engage with it. From Bunheads to Parks and Recreation, various shows and movies have made jokes about some of the most identifiable aspects of Thrones, especially the word “Khaleesi,” Daenerys’s Dothraki title, which Jorah just can’t stop saying. It’s a step up to make a joke not about Thrones’ surface — dragons! incest! wine! — and instead engage with how the more die-hard fans would tend to act, if they were in a West Virginia prison and characters in a Soderbergh movie.
The presence of such a joke, seemingly penned by Logan Lucky’s mysterious screenwriter Rebecca Blunt, also indicates the depth of Game of Thrones’ penetration into popular culture. At this point, it’s possible to make a joke not only about the show, but about the mechanics behind it. It’s a joke about process — though, also, crucially, a joke built around a collective frustration. Just where the hell is The Winds of Winter?