Dec 12 2013

Searching for the Next Breaking Bad: Candidate #3 – Game of Thrones

Published by at 11:58 am under Columns,Television

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It’s been a while since I visited this series, where I attempt to deduce which show currently on television will take Breaking Bad’s abdicated throne as the best show on TV. I’ve already covered Sons of Anarchy and Boardwalk Empire, and discussed how each has pieces that live up to Breaking Bad, but as a whole, neither does.

Now, I turn to what could be the most compelling candidate on TV right now, Game of Thrones. It feels only fitting given the fact that the show was nominated for a fat zero Golden Globes today, while Breaking Bad’s final season earned three.

Spoilers for Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones (show only) follow.

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Without question, Game of Thrones is the most well-made show on television right now. It’s massively expensive for HBO, but still, the budget pales in comparison to movies from the fantasy genre. They do amazing work with limited effects, and have managed to assemble an ensemble cast without equal to populate Westeros. The show feels massive, even when its only shot in a handful of locations, and the supporting cast makes it feel even bigger.

I think this is Game of Thrones’ greatest strength over Breaking Bad. While Cranston’s individual performance is among the greatest of all time, he only has a few supporting players backing him up. Granted, Hank, Jesse, Skyler and so on are all effective characters and incredibly well acted, but Game of Thrones simply drowns us in awesome characters, and manages to expertly divide screen time between them.

It’s amazing more or less everyone is a subcharacter, outside of a few obvious leads like the Stark kids and Tyrion. Yet, even minor characters are incredibly well written and acted, from Joffrey to Varys to Littlefinger to Sam to Tywin and so on. There’s rarely a character that the audience outright hates (if I had to pick one, I’d say Shae, who I believe is not well written or acted).

Additionally, Breaking Bad’s shocking turns are indeed matched by Game of Thrones’, if not surpassed by them. There’s very little on television that can possibly match the shock of Ned Stark’s beheading in season one, or the Red Wedding in season three. While something like Hank’s death was well handled in Breaking Bad’s “Ozymandias,” I’m not sure even that, possibly the biggest shock of the show, can match the tragedy of “The Rains of Castemere.”

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But here we run into a problem that Sons of Anarchy and Boardwalk Empire didn’t have to face. Only a certain portion of the audience is shocked by what they see onscreen. There’s no reason to lock scripts in vaults, and really, no reason to speculate what happens next.

The reason being, of course, is that the show is already written. It’s based on the still in-progress work of George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, and will never, ever catch up to the source material for obvious reasons.

So the Game of Thrones audience is split between those who have read the book and those who haven’t. Obviously this doesn’t directly affect the quality of the show itself, but it does impact the enjoyment of it. Everyone isn’t on an equal playing field. You can guess which SAMCRO member will die next on Sons of Anarchy, or which mobster will bite it on Boardwalk because no one actually knows. You cannot do the same with Game of Thrones, and even now, I’m forced to muzzle myself about the next major character death on the show for fear of spoiling it for someone who hasn’t read the books.

In turn, asshole-ish people have spoiled what would have been impactful deaths for me, before I read the series. I knew Ned Stark would be beheaded, and though it was still jarring to see, I will now never have that moment of complete, pure shock that I would have otherwise. And that negative influences how I enjoy the show. Breaking Bad’s final season wouldn’t have been nearly as intense if half the audience knew where it all was heading.

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Perhaps this isn’t a fair criticism of the show, but I think it does work against it. I ended up reading Game of Thrones for fear of having even more turns ruined for me by internet douches whom I can’t escape because this is my job. Now, I know everything Martin has in store for the future, and while I was shocked while reading, I can no longer be shocked during the show. My joy had to come from watching other people watch the Red Wedding unfold, and not having that experience for myself. Not to say I don’t enjoy the show, but I’m not lusting after episodes week after week like I once was.

If you can manage to not read the books and not live in fear of internet spoilers, then Game of Thrones might indeed be as gripping as Breaking Bad for you, but otherwise? It’s tough.

In my eyes, Game of Thrones is indeed the best candidate I’ve analyzed so far to succeed Breaking Bad as the must-see TV event of the year, every year, but it has certain things working against it as well.

What do you think?





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2 responses so far

  • Akari

    Good point about not being able to be shocked about GoT twists anymore. Like you, I saw Season 1 with no knowledge of what was going to happen, and seeing Ned’s fate was stunning. As the credits rolled, I kept thinking ‘So how are they going to show that he survived in the next episode?!’ only to have that sinking feeling that no, he actually was dead.

    After watching Season 2, I couldn’t wait to see where the story was going, so I read the books too. When Season 3 came out, I’d already read the whole series, so I was not as eager about each episode to come along. I still watched and enjoyed them all, and I do think some of the HBO modifications to the story are /improvements/ over the books, but I also missed the sheer shock that the Red Wedding would’ve been had I seen it unprepared. Still a great series though.

  • Jeremy

    I was fortunate in that I’d heard of the novels before seeing Season 1, but never read them, and knew only one person who had. He didn’t spoil anything. I’m into fantasy and Sean Bean, so decided to watch. And I did have that moment of shock and amazement when they offed Ned Stark. Like so many, I could not believe they would kill their lead, the “hero”, Sean frickin’ Bean! It was at that moment my love of the show was sealed and I immediately went out and bought the books, dying to know what happened next.
    Knowing most of what’s coming brings a different kind of excitement. Most people I know have not read the books, so there’s a certain deliciousness in knowing what’s coming and not saying anything to observe their reaction (as all the Red Wedding videos on Youtube would attest). And the books gave me the “shock” value that Season 1 had – in a later book I had to put my iPad down lest I give in to my temptation to throw it across the room. If it had been a physical book I may just have done so.
    In the end I think GoT is fantastic entertainment whatever the medium, and I’m so glad it’s all happening NOW.

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