Game of Thrones & Vince McMahon: A Tale of One Problem
On Sunday night, Game of Thrones clinched its collective jaw and powered forward towards the finish of its majestic 8 year run. Meanwhile on Monday night, we got the answer to Tormund’s rhetorical question from the night before, “Which one of you cowards shit my pants?”
It didn’t take a world-class detective to figure it out - based only on Vince McMahon’s 20+ minute rambling segment to open Raw – that it was Vince McMahon who shit in Tormund’s pants. While the Game of Thrones came back from an episode that disappointed many fans with an anti-climactic end to the Night King, the WWE’s Raw and SmackDown are coming off of the worst ratings their two shows have ever had and their long time leader, Vince McMahon is scared. Ironically, some of the Creative challenges facing Raw and SmackDown have manifested themselves on Game of Thrones. Two different shows, clearly on different ends of the quality spectrum, were making the same mistakes. Here are three ways that they mirrored one another.
Dany’s “Heel Turn”
In the WWE, to go from a good guy (known as a face) to a bad guy (known as a heel) is called a Heel Turn. We’ve seen small signs of Dany’s lack of patience for years now. We know of her Targaryan heritage where madness can afflict family members - either early on in life or as a Targaryan ages and buckles under stress. Dany’s own father was known as the “Mad King” – and while she seems loathe to admit this label has any truth, her Stark allies have had family members die at his orders. This lack of empathy and patience appears to be the early indications of an impending Heel Turn for Dany.
On the surface, her actions are concerning especially considering her family history. At the same time, the thought that she is going to be driven crazy by Jon drinking and laughing with old friends seems a bit overwrought, even for a medieval drama. Her willingness to take the opposite side of good advice (Sansa and everyone else) asking for her to let her battle weary troops rest before going to King’s Landing – based largely on her anger at anyone voicing an opposite opinion simply makes her appear to be immature and thick headed, not a bad person. This poorly executed heel turn has made Dany’s character be less sympathetic, but more because she’s just acting dumb and entitled, not because she's becoming a creature of malice. More reminiscent of an Anakin being mad because he can’t be on the Jedi Council. Or better yet, think of Braun Strowman being turned from a hugely popular face in the summer of 2018 to a heel overnight. No real reason why, just a need for the Creative department (read Vince McMahon) to have a villain to pit Roman Reigns against (despite WWE crowds having little interest in Reigns as a face). Motivation is a key to believing whether you're watching Game of Thrones, the WWE, or Shakespeare.
On Game of Thrones, it appears that they don’t like to have a face-versus-face battle (who really does), so they’re turning Dany heel to give Jon Snow (the face) one last heel opponent when Cersei inevitably falls. Aside from one scene, when Dany executes Samwell Tarly’s father and older brother for refusing to bend the knee – Dany’s sins appear essentially to being young and entitled. While entitled isn’t a pretty thing, it’s believable from someone born into royalty, surrounded for her whole life by adults paid to fawn over her, and she has three dragons to come crashing down on those who stand against her. If it comes down to a Dany versus Jon battle, it will be a bit melodramatic to see these two clashing for reasons that are at best described as pedestrian at this point.
By having characters turn their point of view with very little explanation to become a heel, it eats away at the believability of the show. Vince McMahon has done this with numerous faces in his vain attempt to steer his fan base into cheering on Roman Reigns. Who knows why he's obsessed with making this particular wrestler a star - that's a column for another day. Despite Vince's best efforts, he has not been able to get Roman popular as a face (called "over" in wrestling parlance) with the fans. He has since embraced a strategy to turn his popular faces into heels to accomplish his goal. In Vince's mind, if his popular faces turn heel, the fan base will have to embrace Reigns. Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, and Braun Strowman have all had runs where they had to play the villain despite it being totally contrary to the logical motivations of their characters. These unexplained or poorly executed heel turns have weakened the WWE’s admittedly low-brow entertainment product as surely as a milquetoast heel turn diminishes the believability of one of history’s greatest shows.
Good Guys Shouldn’t be Stupid
Ned Stark felt the need to warn Cersei that he was going to tell Robert her secret - that her children were her brother’s not her husband's. Ned’s reasoned that Cersei, armed with this information, would take her kids and get out of King’s Landing. He was warned this course of action was folly, yet he took it. Ned lost his head and how many died in the ensuing battles for Robert’s successor in the War of Five Kings?
To one up Ned, Jon Snow decided to swear loyalty to Dany right in front of Cersei. Unfortunately, all he had to do to enlist Cersei’s support in the fight against the Night King was to remain neutral in the contest between Cersei and Dany. He knew what happened to Ned and he still was compelled to tell the truth. When he did so, also against the advice of others – that same game plan met with similar results. Keep in mind, the only reason the two Queens were meeting was to enlist Cersei’s help against the Night King and the Army of the Dead. The only way the two would be split apart was if Jon did what he did. This decision cost them at least one dragon and we don’t know how many more lives. Take that Ned.
In the WWE, faces are easily distracted by heels who talk to them via the Titantron big screen while the faces are in a match. Why would one stop during a match and pay attention to someone talking to them via the scoreboard monitor? Regularly, faces lose their focus during key moments, believe the lies told by their heel foes, and generally look like idiots almost every week. Take the recent moment when Seth Rollins was accidentally hit by his soon-to-be opponent AJ Styles during a tag team match in which they were forced to take on another tag team of heels. Predictably, the punch caused them to lose their match. Of course, Seth is now upset at AJ when it was clear that the strike was meant for one of their tag team opponents. To add to Seth’s face-like stupidity, this has only happened to at least 1 face per month over the last year (probably more). To make it worse, these characters are understood to have the benefit of instant replay to watch and actually figure out what happened! At least Dany and Jon don’t have in their universe. So they’re probably less stupid, but is that really a point in their favor?
Both the WWE and the Game of Thrones cheapen their storylines when the good guys behave stupidly in order to keep the plot moving or to get to the next step in a story. If your story makes so little sense that the only path to make it happen is a dumb face, then you need to rethink what the bad guy is doing. Or sit down and write a better hero to stop the heel.
It Really Happened! We Remember It!
In the Game of Thrones, the Targaryans ruled Westeros for nearly 300 years. They had a smaller army than those who they conquered when they arrived on the shores of the Seven Kingdoms but the Targaryans prevailed. Why? Because they had dragons!
The Targaryans were a noble house that escaped the volcanic end of the Valyrian Empire, an empire that used dragons to conquer most of the known world and almost all of Essos. No one had an answer for dragons. Even the mightiest of all castles, Harrenhal, was destroyed by dragons. The dragon was the mightiest force in the history of this world for nearly 1000 years. Yet, Cersei and Qyburn figured out a way to make a giant crossbow, figured out how to make it accurate enough to shoot a dragon out of the sky, figured out how to mass produce this enormous weapon, figured out how to mount it on numerous ships, and figured out how to put it atop of a multitude of towers in Kings Landing. That's a whole lot of figuring. Besides accomplishing this amazing technological advance in dragon defense, these two managed to do it in roughly 12 weeks (approximately). This Dragon Defense System is totally unbelievable, it’s accuracy would be hard to match with modern day heat seeking missiles, and it’s quick implementation would be the envy of today’s military forces. It makes one wonder why enemies of Valyria and the Targaryan Dynasty in Westeros didn’t come up with this solution half a millennia ago. As fans, most of us remember the history as told on the show and the folks who read Martin’s work would look at this as a total reversal of the history of this reality.
This is also true in the WWE. We’re supposed to forget the past on a regular basis. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant met for the first time in the ring in 1987 and Andre was undefeated. Except that he wasn’t undefeated and the two had met several times prior to that meeting. Of course, that was a long time ago.
Now we regularly have issues where wrestlers feud for long periods, such as Braun Strowman’s intense feud against Drew McIntyre only to have Vince declare that Braun is turning heel and Drew is now at Braun’s side. No explanations, no nothing. It was jarring for fans to see that change literally from one show to the next.
Becky Lynch has a story from January to April that is confusing beyond words (so read carefully). Becky won the right to challenge either the Raw or SmackDown women's champion by winning the Women’s Royal Rumble. Problem is that she wasn’t even entered in the Women’s Royal Rumble. She somehow attacked the next to last entrant and then won the Rumble. Sadly, she injured her right knee - which was switched to her left knee a few days later - then lost her spot in the WrestleMania title match because she wouldn't see a doctor. Becky apologized and got her spot back only to be taken away by Vince because he didn't like her attitude. Becky seemed to have a plan and attacked both champions - who were now supposed to battle at WrestleMania - and shockingly was rewarded for such attacks with a spot in that title match. The now three-way title shot was the first women's main event at WrestleMania. Becky's knee injury quietly disappeared (fabled WWE doctors) and she went on to win the title. Talk about hard to wrap one’s mind around. If you understand that story, you may want to apply for a job at WWE Creative.
You can see from these three challenges why the WWE is struggling with its worst ratings ever and why a large portion of the Game of Thrones fan base has been frustrated this season. It’s hard to believe two television universes that are so different could be facing problems so similar.
All they need is better writing. It is so simple to diagnose but in practice it is so hard to execute.
And this column got written without mentioning the farce of having a dragon getting shot out of the sky by a massive crossbow mounted on a ship without anything but iron sights.