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In Praise of the Languid Pace of ‘Game of Thrones’

I could spend all day watching these two be bitchy
• May 11, 2015 12:24 pm

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Some very mild spoilers for the first half of the fifth season of Game of Thrones below.

It's a complaint I see pop up from time to time on social media whilst watching the latest season of Game of Thrones: "nothing is happening," "when will we get to the action," "what are we waiting for," etc. I have to say: I just don't get it.

I mean, I get it. We all like big, bravura action sequences, such as the Battle of Blackwater or the Wildlings' assault on the Wall. We wailed during the Red Wedding and pumped our fists during the Purple Wedding. We want dragons and second sons and Dothraki horse lords. I get it.

However, despite the fact that, sure, nothing has really happened so far this season—I mean, seriously guys, it took five episodes for Stannis to move out from The Wall and begin his march on Winterfell—I just don't care. I find myself fascinated by the world of Westeros. I'm happy to spend hours and hours amongst the schemers and the plotters, wandering the halls of Castle Black and the back alleys of King's Landing.

It's a tribute to the world that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have created that I don't yearn for bursts of action to interrupt the stillness. Indeed, it can even be a bit annoying: the big battle pitting Greyworm and Lord Barristan against a horde of masked foes that closed the end of the fourth episode felt tacked on and pointless, as if they felt they needed a jolt to close an otherwise slow-paced episode.

I'm had pressed to think of another show that has done such an expert job of world-building. The Walking Dead has always bogged down when Rick and Co stick in any single location for too long. Justified did an excellent job of creating a sense of space, though I'm not sure Harlan could've handled the sort of pace that Game of Thrones has adopted this season. Mad Men‘s recreation of the 1960s has always walked an awkward line, somewhere between smarmy and nostalgiac; I won't miss that universe when we leave it behind and Don Draper reassumes the identity of Dick Whitman (or whatever happens as that show limps to a close*).

So yes: bring on the White Walkers and the Stone Men and the Mother of Dragons. I'm always happy for a bit of bloodshed or a romp at one of Petyr Baelish's establishments. But let's all take a moment and luxuriate in the world that Benioff and Weiss (and, yes, George R.R. Martin) have created. It's a true wonder. And one that, sadly, will be gone all too soon.

*As my friend Alyssa Rosenberg has argued, Mad Men should have ended at the close of season five (with Don leaving Megan at an audition to go hit on a woman at a bar: some things never change). Or, alternately, it should've closed this season with the liquidation of the firm and its absorption into McCann Erickson. Don holding his hands up and telling everyone that it would all be okay as the world scurried about him was a pretty solid symbol of his growing impotence.