Through most of these reviews I’ve discussed the adaptation issues between book to screen, but that isn’t the only external expectation that Game Of Thrones was saddled with. The show was also airing on HBO, which creates its own expectation. From the end of The Sopranos in 2007, the network was searching for a new flagship show. Both their critical and popular acclaim was being swiped by upstarts like AMC (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, the start of The Walking Dead) and even FX (who launched Terriers, Archer, and Justified in the year before GOT, as well as keeping Sons Of Anarchy on). HBO had the popular but rarely acclaimed True Blood…and not much else. Across roughly a year’s span, they launched three shows aimed at critical and popular acclaim while maintaining the network’s brand: GOT, as well as Boardwalk Empire and Treme.
What comprises the HBO brand is always going to be a subject of some debate for critics, but these three shows were tied together in two different ways. First, they were prestigious in ways befitting a prestige cable drama—they had big names attached both in front of the camera (Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi) and behind it (Terrence Winter, David Simon, George R.R. Martin, and Martin Scorcese directing the Boardwalk pilot). That also included trying to capture authenticity, with Treme’s attempts at depicting post-Katrina New Orleans, Boardwalk’s expensive sets, and Thrones’ expensive…everything.
But it’s the HBO form that’s most relevant to how “The Pointy End” is constructed. HBO seasonal structures, embedded by The Sopranos and hammered home by The Wire, have tended to be constructed around several episodes of build-up, then the penultimate episode with the shocking usually-violent climax, and finally the season finale’s (sometimes even more dramatic, sometimes less) emotional response to that climax.
This formal constraint is, essentially, the explanation for why “The Pointy End” is so formless….