Prologue: The End
On the night of May 19, 2019 the final episode of the eight-year fantasy phenomenon Game of Thrones aired. My wife and I curled up on our couch to watch it live, wineglasses in hand, resolved to optimism.
We commenced drinking the wine of anticipation. Very few minutes elapsed before we switched to the whiskey of self-defense. When the credits rolled I found myself grasping for metaphors to describe what we’d just seen, and then realized I was holding one.
The act of drinking a glass of whiskey has an expected end state: an empty glass. One would traditionally achieve this circumstance by gradually pouring the contents of the glass into one’s appreciative face.
Imagine, therefore, that a previously trusted purveyor of fine malts has approached you and offered you a dram of good stuff. You consent— then you’re handed an empty tumbler with only the faintest film of whiskey still coating the facets of the glass, the last evaporating whiff of scent hanging over it. One tubercular cricket’s feeble final cough worth of whiskey molecules, that’s what you get.
“Hey! This glass is fucking empty,” you quite naturally say.
“Well, that’s where it was always going,” says your alleged friend. “That’s how a glass of whiskey ends up once it’s finished, right?”
“Yeah, but I was hoping to drink it myself and get there properly—”
“No need,” says your erstwhile host. “Straight to the resolution, no dawdling. You get the point.”
Indeed you do get the point, though probably not the one your host intended.
Let us contemplate, gentle reader, our empty glasses of the eighth season of Game of Thrones.
The Night is Dark, and Full of Important Disclaimers
Let’s get a few things out of the way before I produce my scalpels and commence the dissection.
First, It’s no secret that my own work has been wrung through the movie/television option mill several times now, to no decisive result (a screenplay was written, which I have never seen, and a number of briefings and proposals have been passed around, some of them quite good). A development effort is still underway at the time of this writing, and though the odds are always long it’s not impossible that something might eventually come of it, and I could end up in some fashion working with (or at the mercy of) someone who takes this little sequence of essays personally. To which I say: the hell with it. There are things I’ve been politely quiet about since the beginning of my career, and confidences I will faithfully keep until its end. But if I shut up about everything I see or read, I’ll diminish my chance to make any useful contribution to my art and craft. Anyone who doesn’t like it can, in the words of the great sage Bender the robot, bite my shiny metal ass.
Second, it’s also no secret that I’m an acquaintance of George R.R. Martin— certainly not a close friend, but a professional colleague and happy associate. We share an editor in the form of the marvelous Anne Groell at Random House. I tend to think pretty highly of his work in general, and I’m not shy about it. I have no intention of discussing delays in the Song of Ice and Fire novel sequence; heaven knows I ought to understand them even if the pressures I face are fractional by comparison. I also choose to believe that George will ultimately deliver an end to the series, satisfactory to his own standards. He’s a generous, humane, and decent man, and a fine artist, and I would rather be proven wrong as his firm supporter to the end than be proven right in treating him cynically. In my estimation, he still deserves my faith and patience, and he has them, so that’s that. Those hoping I might slag him off are invited to revisit the reference to shiny metal asses in the previous paragraph.
Third, and lastly, I will admit that I grappled a fair bit with the approach I would take in writing this. The temptation to cough up performative negativity (“Sixty-eight things that drove me absolutely batshit bonkers about season eight, in order of the size of the mental hemorrhoids they gave me to contemplate!”) was definitely there, but I am determined not to stray too far down that path. It’s hilarious fun, and a guaranteed attention-getter, and that’s the problem. Ultimately, performative negativity becomes a trap, a black hole from which neither reader expectations nor creator ambitions can escape. I’ve got gray hairs in my beard now, and I feel a pressing need to be at least plausibly constructive.
Thus, while I am absolutely going to lapse into my habitual form of polysyllabic shit-talking every now and again, I have chosen to approach this analysis as though I were a story doctor, a narrative physician, here to be as instructive as possible. Although the patient in this case is already dead, I’ll talk about what I think ultimately killed it, and what I might have done to delay or even prevent that particular death if I had been called in to consult while there was still time.
TO BE CONTINUED…
(Next: With my introduction out of the way, I’ll discuss how the greatest trick Game of Thrones ever pulled was convincing you that you weren’t watching a soap opera, and how the series failed to keep leveraging that strength in its final episodes. I’ll also talk about the idea of “subverting expectations” and how it can become the heart of a narrative suicide pact, and I’ll take an imaginary hammer to the idea that precious writer fictions like “plotting vs. pantsing” had anything to do with what unfolded on our TV screens.)
Welcome to the Lynchline!
I’m glad you’re here. Hell, I’m glad I’m here! I’ve been torn for a while on how to re-open a steadier engagement with my reading public. Although I’m fiddling with my blog, it’s still a bit awkward at the moment (the back end especially), and I will certainly not be using my Livejournal ever again. This format, which was suggested to me by my agent, DongWon Song, already seems to be pretty close to an ideal solution. On a fundamental level, obviously, I like writing things, and I derive a lot of pleasure from keeping you informed and amused. Also, not to make things too sharply dramatic, but the idea that you’re out there with this tenuous little connection to me really is a great help with my anxiety, an antidote to feelings of loneliness and disconnection. I’m happier when I can share a bit of my life and contemplations with you than when I feel sealed away at the far end of the universe. So, again, thank you.
There are two versions of the Lynchline: First is the free version, in which I’ll keep you posted of all my forthcoming appearances, news, new releases, etc. and shower you with bonus items at random intervals. Second is the version for paid subscribers, which will give you the bonus items in a fashion best described as, um, more-er, bigger-er, constant-er. Support of the latter subsidizes the former for all readers, and for the time being will remain my only ongoing patronage-support item, as I have no real desire to open a Patreon or anything similar. Let’s give this a shot and see how it goes.
I’m kicking the Lynchline off with a long-form essay in three parts, which is the sort of thing you can generally expect as a paid subscriber, but this one’s going out to everyone in full. You ought to get your first hit of a brilliant, high-quality masterpiece of artistic discourse for free, after all, and while I’m sorry to say I haven’t got one of those, you can have your first hit of my nonsense free instead.
In the Lynchline this week…
• BLAME OF THRONES will continue, delivering deep analytical dives on Wednesday, July 17 and Friday, July 19.
• I’ll provide full details for the forthcoming release of the digital single edition of “The Smoke of Gold is Glory,” my 2017 novelette from the Book of Swords anthology edited by the late Gardner Dozois. Here’s a little piece of concept art for the characters in the story by my brilliant illustrator, Miles Äijälä:
(Left to right: Brandgar, the King-on-the-Waves - Mikah, rogue of rogues - Gudrun the sorceress - Tarkaster Crale, thief and narrator)
• I’ll give you the latest update on where I sit with the editing of The Thorn of Emberlain
• And maybe a bit more! It’s my first week playing with this thing, let’s not rule anything out. By that token, I’m new at all of this and I’m not sure how well Substack’s features are going to work with anyone, so if you’re having any formatting issues, please feel free to send me a note and I’ll see what I can fix or refine.
That, as they say, is that. Nothing remains but to hit “publish” and face the consequences.
Until Wednesday, cheers!