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In the first episode of Game of Thrones’ eighth season, there is a scene that involves Bronn (Jerome Flynn), a rather minor character in the show, that has become emblematic of the famed HBO series.

The scene is not entirely useless, a plot element is introduced, but carries baggage that the show has come to rely on too much. The character is seen being undressed by three sex-workers, who themselves become nude, and then sleep with him. A conversation, which is supposed to be funny, takes place as two of the girls lie next to Bronn and another is right on top of him.

It is a scene straight out of softcore pornography. It serves no purpose within the context of the show except to give audiences the customary sex scene that every episode of Game of Thrones is mandated to include, or so it seems. Later on in the episode, we also get a cringe-worthy close-up of an axe impaled on a man’s face being pulled out.

There was a time when violence and sex were used in the show to depict the bleak world that is Westeros, home to the Seven Kingdoms, whose eccentric inhabitants played the great game of “Thrones”. The stakes used to be high and the characters so realistic, one did not know whom to root for. No one even had a clue who would survive.

It was once a show that gave us Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) and had him decapitated within the first season. It did not even care to give him a season finale send off.

By season 8, the creators of Game of Thrones have removed all the stakes for characters that have become highly popular - Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Daenerys (Emilia Clark) and Jon Snow (Kit Harrington). It has now become boring as a result, prefering to fill the slot with gratuitous sex and violence, because it does not dare anymore to give us the sorts of characters we would come to know intimately and break our hearts when it kills them.

The momentum was kept up until the fourth season of the show. Grit, realism and unpredictable story arcs gave us a series that was just as unpredictable as it was creative. But the commercial success was a mighty foe to the show. The popularity of the three characters meant that a sophisticated theme, emotions and plots had to be sacrificed to keep them endearing in the eyes of fans.

This was glaring, especially after the fifth season, which closed with the apparently fatal stabbing of Jon snow. The sixth season was an irritating attempt by HBO to keep under wraps that the character would return. There were a flurry of fan theories on exactly how his life would be restored, let alone on whether or not he was really dead. This was not to mention leaked set photos of Harington on the show’s set.

Bruised and bleeding, the ones great show gave us exactly what we were expecting - Snow returns - in exactly the way that he was predicted to. This was no longer a series steeped in the realism it had earlier engrossed us in.

It would have been hard for the show to have kept up the momentum for long. Great TV series - from The Wire to Breaking Bad - do not dare run beyond five seasons. However good anything is, it always begins to rankle if it goes on for too long.

It also did not help that there was no longer a book to adapt from, although George R.R. Martin, writer of A Song of Ice and Fire franchise, had shared with creators of the show outlines of installments that are yet to be published. Although the series has its strength, especially in the atmosphere and visuals it has set up, its greatness has always been reliant on the world that Martin created.

A Song of Ice and Fire, which currently has five installments, is one of the greatest epic fantasy series ever written, and definitely the best contemporary one. Martin has created a universe with such a vivid and expansive history, religious systems and socio political structures, one wonders if he has lived it. The characters he has created are so animated, so flawed, whether good or bad, it as if he has met them in some previous life.

The fact that the sixth book has taken so long to write - eight years and counting - is almost understandable given that Martin has probably no clue how to bring it to a satisfying end. Evidently, he is scared of all the built up anticipation by fans.

Game of Thrones is adapted from such a highly regarded book series - it should live up to that expectation, which it did to a degree in the first four seasons. It is hard to pass a verdict before the show’s finale, but based on what the first episode of the eighth season already looks like, it is hard to anticipate a return to form.

At this point, all I am asking for is for the romance between Snow and Daenerys, played by Harington and Clarke, respectively, to be infused with a bit more chemistry than the one Donald Trump and Mike Pence boast.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 20,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 990]

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