Game of Thrones: “Oathkeeper” – What Needs to Be Done
A rule-of-thumb for writing for the screen, whether it be film or television, is “show, don’t tell.” In other words, rather than simply telling the audience character traits or filling in background information through dialog, visual reveals of exposition can be far more interesting and exciting.
HBO’s Game of Thrones, however, has employed a different tactic I’d like to refer to as “don’t show, don’t tell.” Through this storytelling device, the series only hints at information, but does so in a way that clearly implies whatever the audience is meant to learn. This can be even more intriguing and effective than “show, don’t tell,” as it requires the audience to engage the show on a creative level: we fill in the details, and imagine the exposition ourselves, and as such, further immerse ourselves in the world.
For an example, let’s look at this scene between Lady Olenna Tyrell and her granddaughter Margaery, in which they discuss her presumed engagement to Tommen, and the assassination of her late husband, King Joffrey.
Every beat of this scene is a revelation to audiences: some of which is wholly new information (unless you’ve read the books), and some of which only confirms what we’ve, up until now, suspected. That Olenna would see sexuality as a tool to leverage for power is hardly news, but the reveal is interesting due to the way she tells her story through winking hints, “[I] happened upon his chamber,” “The boy couldn’t bloody walk,” and “I was good. I was very, very good.” Prior to this scene, we’ve seen Margaery wield her sexuality as she pivoted into political power, but this ladylike discussion of unladylike topics demonstrates how thoroughly she’s been prepped for her current tactics. The not-quite-vague way Olenna hints at her past sexual improprieties stands as a contrast to Game of Thrones’ sometimes exhibitionist tendencies.
This discussion, however, is only priming Margaery and the audience for the real reveal: that Olenna was behind the plot to assassinate Joffrey. Having already started a conversation built on insinuation, Olenna doesn’t need to say much to suggest her involvement: a simple “But I do know. You don’t think I’d let you marry that beast, do you?” is all Margaery, and by extension, the audience, needs to fill in the rest of the details.
Olenna’s barely uttered “confession” is paired with a brief shot in which she adjusts Margaery’s necklace. While the action would mean little to Margaery, it will remind audiences of a reveal earlier in the episode: that Sansa was an unwitting player in the assassination plot, conveying poison to the wedding feast in a gem she wore on a necklace.
Often, literature is considered artistic whereas television is viewed as mere crass pop entertainment. The reasoning behind this (often unwarranted) confusion is that reading requires intellectual engagement from the audience: we must imagine the scenes as they play out in our minds, making us active participants in the storytelling. Television, by comparison, can be passive, as the audience simply ingests the images and audio fed to them.
In this scene, which never appeared in the book series, Game of Thrones hearkens to its literary roots, by providing the minimum exposition possible, and leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions about the missing details. By ensuring that the details of Joffrey’s assassination plot exist in their full form only in the minds of the audience, Game of Thrones makes its audience an active participant, and ensures a deeper level of engagement than some TV shows ever achieve.
Angela Jorgensen originally hails from Iowa. She currently resides in Los Angeles and aspires to write for hour-long television dramas. She’s currently producing a documentary called The Longest Straw [www.thelongeststraw.wordpress.com].