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'Game of Thrones' faces attack from nitpickers

Posted August 25

The late "Get Smart" producer Leonard Stern famously compiled "A Martian Wouldn't Say That," a book of actual notes from network executives to TV writers. The title came from a request to change a line in the series "My Favorite Martian," but it has come to mind of late reading some of the nitpicking about "Game of Thrones."

Science fiction and fantasy fans have a well-established history of grousing about properties that they love, from complaints about noise in outer space in "Star Wars" to the general lack of consistency as to whether a fall from great height causes death in superhero movies.

Still, the popularity of "Game of Thrones," coupled with a faster narrative pace as the HBO series nears the end of its penultimate season, has brought out second-guessing and gripes in droves.

Most recently, the issues addressed -- with great seriousness and sporadic bursts of indignation -- have involved the flight speed of ravens bearing urgent messages and dragons traversing huge swatches of ground.

In this case, it's fans, not network suits, who are distributing the equivalent of "A dragon couldn't do that" missives -- only here, not directly to the show's creative team, but through the filter of social media.

For TV writers, of course, this is part of the territory, and in a way a kind of validation. The more people obsess over the details, the more emotionally invested they are in a program, which is why some of the harshest appraisals are directed at shows like "Game of Thrones" or "The Walking Dead," which had its own deserved run-in with "But you couldn't escape a mob of zombies by hiding under a trash bin."

Such criticism is generally written off as a high-class problem. As "Thrones" director Alan Taylor noted in a Variety postmortem, "It's cool that the show is so important to so many people that it's being scrutinized so thoroughly."

Even fantasy worlds and alternate realities have to adhere to logic, lest they jar the audience out of its reverie, as the most recent "Thrones" episode clearly did for some fans. And it's certainly best not to make a habit of that.

At the same time, it's tempting to roll one's eyes at the time and energy exhausted sniping at minutia. Reasonable minds can differ, but as James Erwin wrote in Slate a few years ago -- when scientists were quibbling about the movie "Interstellar" -- "We lose something when we insist that a word can only mean one thing, that an image can only be interpreted one way, and that the worth of a film hinges on the plausibility of all its elements."

So okay, fine, a dragon probably couldn't have covered that distance in the allotted time. But once die-hard fans have invested six years in a TV show with dragons and witches and people being raised from the dead, it would seem that they've ventured far enough into the world of Westeros to abide the occasional leap of faith.

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