Lena Headey is good at acting. In 2006, she stole a scene in the homoerotic Magic Mike precursor 300. In 2012, she made the Judge Dredd remake almost watchable. Last night, she stripped nude and got vulnerable in front of a massive crowd while cycling through more facial expressions than Jim Carrey at an Irish wake. There were layers of anger, sadness, defeat, and defiance piled on her slightly arched right brow. It was magnificent and kinky and daring in a way that seemed precisely calculated not to remind anyone of the fact that HBO is owned by Time Warner, the Rizzoli & Isles people.
How do David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the handsome GoT showrunners made from Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue papier-mache, get away with it? How do they show the deaths, the rape scenes, the racist depictions of Mediterranean peoples, the pedophilia, the bondage pedophilia, and the bondage pedophilia followed by eye gouging, then ignore major plot lines about psychic kids for entire seasons and not get canceled? Simple answer: Game of Thrones is too big to fail. That’s good news for people who like chaos, okay news for casual fans, bad news for Westerosi historians, frightening news for the show’s stars, and really fucking rad news for the show’s writing staff.
This shit isn’t about the general public anymore.
The most important thing to know about too big to failness is that it allows institutions and the people who run them to pursue their core mission. In the world of finance, that means that companies like AIG can pursue irresponsibly risky strategies while enriching their executives and passing any potential losses on to the Troubled Asset Relief Program. In the world of pop culture, it means that creatives can do pretty much whatever they want under the assumption that the hardcore fans are going to hatewatch regardless and the bandwagoneers will keep the franchise afloat. No one owns a majority stake so the execs can party.
Dickens may have been the first producer of too big to fail culture, writing meandering novels serialized in pay-by-the-word magazines while splashing out on waistcoats. But the first modern example would have to be the Rocky franchise, which yielded five successful movies between 1976 and 1990. Those movies were — for those who haven’t had the pleasure — about a Philadelphia boxer who talks like he’s had a stroke and is played by a man with very dilated pupils. The general theme is that having a good heart matters, which means that the audience is basically asked to arbitrarily root for some jamoke.
This was groundbreaking cinema verite stuff in 1976, but by the time Rocky IV rolls around, our hero is fighting the USSR’s Ivan Drago, who is 6-foot-5 a steroid-injected super villain who trains in a space age facility while Rocky chops wood to stay in shape. The film about their fight was hot garbage, but it gave off that Rocky franchise stank. It cost $28 million to make and grossed over $300 million worldwide despite being, on both first and second glance, ludicrous. Whatever else it was, Rocky IV was the movie beefed-up auteur Sylvester Stallone wanted to make.
And here’s the unified theory of why that happened and why it worked out: Everyone understood what a Rocky movie was and accepted it.
Once you’ve got that sort of universal understanding and acceptance — once you’re water cooler ubiquitous and ripe for SNL mockery — it’s actually pretty hard to fuck up (counterexample: A Good Day to Die Hard). This is why Harry Potter got to split it’s last installment into two movies, why the Twilight people weren’t torn asunder for the the weird baby bullshit, why Jurassic World just made all of the money, and why Fast and Furious 7 could consist of nothing but Vin Diesel driving cars out of planes and talking about family even after Paul Walker died in a crash. Game of Thrones is arguably a more complicated property than those examples, but it is behaving in the same way, annoying its fans, keeping casual watchers just happy enough, and flicking off the general public.
You watch sometimes because you think Kit Harrington is cute? Lolz. Fuck you. Find a new show.
The good thing about GoT being beyond the reach of reason or accountability is that George R.R. Martin, Dan Weiss, and David Benioff are all weirdos. They’re going to end up doing some bizarre, unpredictable shit (books? what books?), which is exactly the sort of thing one wants on a Sunday night. Weiss and Benioff are now free in the same way authorial way that Martin is free. They’re the gods of Westeros and if they feel like have Tyrion, say, spend a season-long arc learning to swing dance, that’s precisely what they’re going to do. As long as it looks like GoT and sounds like GoT and smells like GoT, their asses are covered.
So, yeah, they’re basically going to murder all the likable characters and light girls on fire and make Ramsay Bolton king or some shit. And that’s okay because there won’t be consequences. Now we get to see the show these assholes really want to make.