Michael Kackman’s article “Flow favorites: quality television, melodrama, and cultural complexity”begins by discussing how quality television is distinguished through its upsurgence from the medium of television itself, to that of cinema, a more commendable art form. He uses HBO as a channel that has marketed itself as quality television as it’s tag line reads “its not TV. It’s HBO”, aggressively pointing out its transcendence from lowly television. However, after further pondering on its current most viewed show, Game of Thrones, has HBO moved past the genre which all channels showcase. I am not convinced.
Kackman defines quality television in the realm of operational aesthetic. This calls “attention to the constructed nature of the narration and ask us to marvel at how the writers pulled it off;often these instances forego realism in exchange for a formally aware baroque quality in which we watch the process of narration as a machine rather than engage in diegesis”. Game of Thrones has many examples of this, but I will focus on one of the most jaw-dropping this past season. (Granted, the series is based off novelist George R.R. Martin, the writers on the show also should be given credit to condense the series into a television show. )
Hodor’s name origin.
The ‘operational aesthetic’ worked here is almost stupefying. Hodor is a character who only says one word, his own name. He repeats it in various inflections. Before his death, the viewer sees a flash-back of a young Hodor whose real name is Wylis, who is not mentally disabled. However, through the magic of Game of Thrones, young Wylis witnesses his future death, damaging his mind and speech. The last thing he hears in this interconnecting future and past is Meera shouting the phrase “Hold the door!”. In young Wylis’ mind, “Hold the door” becomes “Hodor”. He repeats Hodor for the rest of his life on Game of Thrones.
“Hold the door!
Game of Thrones had a ‘neoformalist evaluative aesthetic’, “ narrative complexity generates representational complexity; representational complexity offers the possibility of political and cultural complexity”. However, the seasons transpire to show less critique and more melodrama. GOT in its earlier episodes is arguably ‘anti-war’, so the political register is found through the deaths of noble characters, pregnant women, and the destroying of families (episode The Rains of Castamere, i.e. The Red Wedding). As you move through the seasons, that register is lost in its melodramatic form. In fact, it seems as though the series is preparing us for a large-scale war (that will cost in the millions of dollars worth of SFX) to take place between Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen. The characters are exaggerated in so much, that a war between these two women is anticipated. This is HBO’s golden baby. Quality television? Maybe. Kackman approved? Probably not.