game of thrones

How Quickly Should A TV Show Be Wrapped Up? by Keith LaFountaine

2017 has been a giant year for television. There is no simpler way to put it. However, the two biggest sources of excitement for fans throughout the United States (and internationally) were the long-awaited penultimate season of Game of Thrones and the return of the cult classic series Twin Peaks.

Before we continue, I do want to mention there will be mild spoilers for both shows, so continue at your own risk.

These returns were exciting for very different reasons. Game of Thrones showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, had announced that they were going to wrap up their juggernaut of a series in 13 episodes (seven episodes in season 7, six in season 8), with extensive promotional material featuring battles, both human and supernatural. If anything, Game of Thrones promised a continued climax for their remaining episodes. For the most part, they have delivered on that front.

David Lynch and Mark Frost said next to nothing about the return of Twin Peaks beyond the fact that it would be an 18 part miniseries, and that there would be a huge cast of characters -- both old ones returning, and new ones appearing -- in it. There were no plot details release, no episode stills, and the only promotional material used to market the show's return were 60 to 90-second trailers containing clips of characters, underscored by ominous music.

In this way we can see the differences between these shows. Game of Thrones is in its final sequence of episodes, wrapping up a huge story in a short amount of time, and all of these tiny threads that have been delicately, and carefully, laid out over the last six seasons are finally coming to their suitably bloody climax.

It's important to mention, though, that this could be the only return of Twin Peaks we ever see. While Showtime executives have said that they're ready for more Twin Peaks if Lynch and Frost are up to continue it, the elusive showrunners haven't confirmed a fourth season. Furthermore, Lynch himself -- who is directing all 18 episodes of this third season -- has said he doesn't plan to do anything more once this season wraps up, though he did say not to rule out the possibility. However, with Lynch in his early 70s, and with no other projects on the horizon (that we know of; I can't stress how elusive this man is) it feels unlikely that he would undertake another season.

Therefore, essentially, we are witnessing two shows at the end of their lifespan. And yet, they could not be approaching pacing more differently.

Game of Thrones has become notorious for ignoring elements of realism so that they can tell their story. This is especially true whenever a character travels -- there is no time in the story anymore to show the character's slow trek towards their destination. Instead, it's much easier to cut to them arriving, and then write a line in later that describes the length of time it took them to get to said destination. They have also ramped up all of their story elements, making some character moments seem odd, or fall flat. It's difficult to tell such an expansive story in such a short amount of time. If we're being honest with ourselves, Game of Thrones could easily have gone for another two to three seasons to really get through all of these story elements.

Twin Peaks could not be more different in its approach. Lynch has said that he has approached this season of his show as an 18-hour film, and he has spent about 12 of those hours very carefully, and precisely, setting his pieces for what is becoming a thrilling, and wholly unique, ending. We've spent the majority of this season with Dougie, not Cooper, and we've only seen glimpses of some beloved characters from the show, while we've spent multiple episodes on newer ones.

Part of this comes down to the nature of the creators: David Lynch does not care how his fans react to his art, nor does he care about critical and social reception. He makes art for the sake of making art. Benioff and Weiss have done the opposite, and continually delivered on fan service (at least, they have since they have departed from Martin's novel at the end of their fifth season). So, automatically, there is a difference in approach.

But how long should someone take to tell their story? Is there an appropriate way to approach such storytelling (especially epic, supernatural stories, which both of these shows are telling) so that the fans are pleased, and the story is given the space it needs to breathe?

As always, the answer is complicated, and it is important to note that both of these strategies have angered their respective fans. Many people have accused Lynch of meandering with this season of Twin Peaks, spending more time on musical moments, and the Dougie arc rather than delivering what everyone wants: Good Cooper vs Bad Cooper. Conversely, Game of Thrones has been criticized for rushing its story to deliver big action set pieces, and huge plot developments (like wiping out two houses in a few episodes, or the huge developments from the episode last night), and for relying more on fan service, and ex-machinas to push its story forward. Fans and critics alike argue Thrones has lost the edge it had when it came to delivering the surprising deaths, engaging storylines, and multi-faceted characters that made the show popular throughout its first few seasons.

A still from  Twin Peaks  (2017)

A still from Twin Peaks (2017)

In some respect it's unfair to judge both shows before they are complete. It's silly to judge an incomplete story, as all the answers we want may be contained in those last few episodes. 

I was against Thrones doing its 13 episode model because, as I've extensively explained above, it rushes everything. Therefore, I lean more towards Lynch's approach, with methodical, deliberate story setting, character development, and plot building.

However, it's important to remember that Lynch is the extreme end of the spectrum. A show like The Americans, or even Breaking Bad are excellent examples of how you can tell an expansive story concisely, with razor-sharp precision, and still deliver the moments your fans love.

Conversely, a show like The Walking Dead is the perfect example of a show that is spiraling a bit with a meandering, repetitive story.

Ultimately, I will enjoy watching these shows because each of them offer me very different experiences; however going forward I think it is important that we take a look at how shows are telling their stories, and how long they are telling them. Television has the supreme advantage of being able to tell a single story over an elongated period of time, allowing us to watch characters change, and plots develop. It's a tool that can be misused. It can also be used with medical precision, and deliver an unforgettable experience. We should, whenever possible, strive for the latter.

The Golden Age of TV: How Is It Affecting Films? by Keith LaFountaine

The Castle of Zafra in Guadalajara, Spain; a filming location for season 6 of  Game of Thrones

The Castle of Zafra in Guadalajara, Spain; a filming location for season 6 of Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is back on TV, and with it legions of fans (myself included) have posted up on the couch each Sunday night to take in the glorious spectacle, and engaging, sinister storytelling of this incredible show.

We are currently in what many have called "the golden age of television" --  with shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Dexter, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot, The Americans, (and many, many others) being released to the masses throughout the past 25 years, more people have flocked to their television screens, supposedly leaving the silver screen behind.

So how has this affected films? Has it affected films? Is there still a divide between television and film in terms of quality and experience?

The answer is yes, though that gap is being bridged more and more with each show that springs up. The Sopranos was the first show to truly rival the cinematic quality of films, both in terms of narrative scope and visuals. Since that show ended, way back in 2007, we have had a plethora of newer shows that have continued the legacy Tony Soprano started. Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are perhaps the most popular (especially this newest season of the latter show, which has boasted some of the most impressive fantasy visuals ever), there are other shows -- like FX's The Americans, or Neflix's House of Cards, which have pushed the envelope in terms of narrative scope, characterization, and precise plotting that we generally expect in the theater.

Kevin Spacey entertains a Governor on the set of  House of Cards .

Kevin Spacey entertains a Governor on the set of House of Cards.

Films still have an edge -- they are able to boast bigger budgets, and utilize more cutting edge special effects. However, this financial benefit is hurting them just as much as it's helping. Audiences are growing tired of the large, CGI based spectacle that is so prevalent in modern blockbusters. Many viewers are pining for practical effects, yearning for a sense of realism in their escapism. In this way, television is becoming smarter. Small, bottle episodes, like Breaking Bad's "Fly", are showcasing how simple storytelling will always win over pure spectacle.

This is not to say that shows aren't bridging the gap in terms of their budget, though. HBO's Game of Thrones reportedly had a $10 million budget for each episode in season six (making the season's budget roughly $100 million). To put that in perspective, that's just $49 million less than the budget of 2017's Wonder Woman. With the show's success, it would not be ludicrous to infer that we will see more fantasy shows in the future (Game of Thrones related or otherwise), and that their budgets will increase as long as their popularity continues to grow.

In terms of quality, television has the added benefit of time. While some films generally can push two-and-a-half hours before audiences start to become annoyed, shows can run on for as long as they need to. South Park is on its 21st season; The Walking Dead is on its eighth. Both shows are still just as popular (if not more so) as they were when they started, and there is no sign that they are going to slow down anytime soon. While films are rather disposable (with exception to the classics that truly transcend time), shows stick around. By doing so, we spend more time with characters, become more attached to the story, and feel more connected to the universe.

A still from  South Park.

A still from South Park.

Ultimately, though, I don't think any filmmaker should be worried about film going anywhere anytime soon. With the popularity of the independent scene on the rise again, and with blockbusters still making billions of dollars worldwide, it's extremely unlikely we're going to see production companies being forced to rethink their strategy anytime in the next century,  regardless of how many incredible shows come out. What will be interesting to see, though, is if the rise of serious television will offer filmmakers a different perspective on constructing narratives, building characters, and utilizing pacing.