GOT FINALE SPOILERS BELOW, BEWARE…
On a previous blog post here (in fact the first of this new era of PK’s Writing Blog – I’m sure we all have that date in our mental diary since it marked a new dawn for civilisation), I threw some thoughts down on the Game of Thrones finale. Well the script of that final episode has just landed online.
(You COULD read it here on the Emmys’ homepage – though it’s currently down, so that may bring you to an e-pit of despair. It might go up again. Or might stay down. It’s either because demand has crashed it, or because criticism has been levelled against it. The other Emmy-nominated scripts are readable here.)
Various haters have used the script’s recent appearance to pull it apart even more – including how (SPOILER!) Drogon the dragon didn’t burn the Iron Throne deliberately – it was just “a dumb bystander”, as it’s described in the screenplay. Others have mocked their stage directions of Sansa and Jon Snow’s reaction to being asked what’s west of Westeros. “Jon and Sansa look at each other. They both failed geography.”
We’ll have none of that here. They say a screenplay isn’t a work of art – it’s a blueprint, an invitation to collaborate on making a work of art. They can use whatever scene descriptions they want to get the point across to the crew. So I shan’t pile in on that. Benioff and Weiss ended the show how they wanted (presuming with some sign-off from ol’ motorbike himself, George “Rrrrrrrr” Martin).
As I said in the earlier blog post, epics are hard to end when you’re telling a story of good vs evil, because everyone has to pick a lane by the end, and we end up with the goodest of the good and the baddest of the bad, and no shades of grey in the middle. The shades of grey, it turns out, was the fun part in the middle of the show, when characters betrayed each other, were redeemed, etc. The only way they could have upended expectation was to have Tyrion open a door and appear in present-day New York or something. But then that was done already by Amy Adams in Enchanted, so even that’s been done before…
Instead of pulling it apart, I want to draw some positive general writing pointers from a quick skim of the script. What can we learn from that script? Granted, now it’s offline again, you may not be able to read it. But I’ve had a skim, and here are some immediate takeaways (if the script reappears online, you can check the page numbers then)…
1. Epics look the same as everything else on the page
This script is still just 44 pages long, and adheres to all the usual screenplay layout formatting. The first thing that struck me about this script, is it looked surprisingly normal – just like my paltry attempts. From afar…
It’s also then still got all the same dilemmas re character choice and story beats as any other script. It’s also got jokes – and the moments of comedy leap off the page: see Bronn’s brothel comment on p.40, or Samwell’s laughable attempt at democracy on p.25. Two bits of comedy in a 44-page drama script seems about right I guess, when you’ve started off by referencing a camera shot from Son of Saul.
2. Epic doesn’t mean epic scene descriptions
Brevity is the soul of wit, so said Oscar Wilde (or he could have shortened it to ‘Brevity’s soul’s wit’ – even briefer). The scene descriptions may take up half a page or more, but they’re full of just the right amount of information to make the show. No fat on it. Regardless what you thought of the episode, this is how professional TV (and the biggest show on professional TV) is made. Give the crew what they need.
Look at that second line on the first page:
“King’s Landing is a smoldering wreck of a city.”
That’s all they need to say. We know from the previous episode that the city’s been decimated by dragonfire. Buildings are on fire. Flaming timber fills the streets. There’s a house there still falling down – another over there that’s now ash – another over there that’s… doesn’t matter. Let the production team make all that happen. Just get in the bare bones of what we need to know for the story.
3. The writers know when to let the visuals tell the story…
Page 4 is dialogue-free. So’s page 15, pp.20-21, pp.41-42… This doesn’t just apply to the very visual genre we’re in here. Many newer screenwriters (especially if they’re come from stageplay or radio) fill the script with dialogue and forget those moments when as viewers we just want to view. When the spoken words have given us enough to think on for now, we sometimes need the breather to take it all in. Again, those visual descriptions don’t direct, but give the director just enough to go on.
See p.20: “In a beautiful, terrifying tableaux, he [the dragon] roars to the sky, the embodiment of rage.”
…Let someone else work out what that looks like.
4. …and when to speak and speak and speak
Another rookie error is writing long speeches. Most speeches in most scripts last between one and four lines down the page. Yet us writers often earnestly think we need to have each character blurt out their life story, or exactly what they’re thinking down to their thoughts on what lovely weather it is for the time of year. Don’t need it.
That said, in epic fantasy, some characters are prone to a bit more Wizardy-Dickens kind of speech. All “forsooth, a goblin” and “thou shalt verily fight me at dawn’s break”. Tyrion’s speech at the top of p.13 isn’t too Wizardy-Dickens, but it is seven lines then five lines (making twelve lines, maths fans), as he espouses on how “Sometimes duty is the death of love.” He’s got some big thoughts to convey before show’s end, and he’s always been a talker.
See also Edmure’s speech at the top of p.25. Nine lines, and these are the first words he’s said in about four seasons – because this is the moment where he thinks he’s being grand and claiming the non-existent throne, but then is comedically cut off by Sansa and put back in his place. He overspeaks, because it’s funny, because he’s rubbish.
I wouldn’t expect Greyworm or Bronn to waffle on quite so much. But in this finale of finales, this episode of episodes, sure, sometimes the writers need to let the characters have their last speeches and set the seven kingdoms to rights. Most of the time though, us writers (me included – this blog is aimed at teaching myself, ultimately), need to know when to shut (our characters) up.
5. Some bits still don’t quite make sense
pp.26-27 – Bran is chosen as the new ruler. I’ve seen it and read it and I still don’t buy it. Tyrion asks “Who has a better story than Bran the Broken?” I’d suggest: most of them. People didn’t tune in each week for Bran’s story. They tuned in for Tyrion’s. Jon Snow’s. Arya’s. Bran’s too, but he was never our favourite.
Then a few lines on: “Bran doesn’t look shocked. Simply uninterested.”
Says it all.
BUT it’s not up to me – it’s up to the writers – and fair play to ’em for writing this as they wished. I wouldn’t have written it that way. But then I wouldn’t have got to write any of this stuff…
…Because I’m still learning. And thanks to reading scripts like this (if it’s ever reposted), we get to learn from the pros.
“END OF SEASON 8
END OF GAME OF THRONES”
(END OF GAME OF THRONES BLOG POSTS FROM ME)