Game of Television

How Two Different Shows Exemplify the Battle of Good vs. Quality TV

People have different and often opinionated views on television: some shun and avoid it like the plague, others consider it the best mode of entertainment. TV critics have made an attempt to distinguish certain types of television programs, labeling some of them “quality TV”. However, there is no fixed paradigm to refer TV shows to either quality or simply good ones. Nonetheless, there are some characteristics that can be applied to classify different types of TV shows. Game of Thrones is one such show that is quality TV, whereas Supernatural is one that is solely good TV.

Quality TV often touches upon serious subject matter and often has a harrowing context. In case of Game of Thrones the viewers get to observe various peripetia that the characters go through, most of them rather complicated and gory. There exists a great deal of intrigue which leads to political and personal rows as well as bloody battles. The context is truly epic and connects a great number of people through a cobweb of intricate relationships. The show touches upon the universal themes such as love, death, honesty, betrayal, envy, and, of course, revenge. The creators of Game of Thrones managed to connect the variety of people and events into one engaging and understandable story.

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This interconnectivity of characters is also a very common feature of quality TV shows. It may not be palpable at the first glance, but as the story unfolds, the characters meet due to unexpected turns of events and cultivate meaningful relationships through those interactions. For example, Jorah Mormont pledges allegiance to Deynerys after meeting her in exile, away from his home country, as well as Tyrion Lanister in the first season, who meets Jon Snow when in normal circumstances it would hardly be possible. Although the arc of the TV show revolves around the Iron Throne, there a great number of personal stories that are interwoven in it. All the characters matter equally; there is no one central protagonist that determines the cause of events.

All the actors have an equal amount of screen time, which is called ensemble cast. This is very common for quality TV shows as they are trying to avoid the predictability of traditional TV shows. For example, in the third season the viewers follow the path of Rob Stark and his mother Katelyn who are fighting against the Lannister family. Here there is a traditional dichotomy between good and evil, while the Stark family is known for its honesty and dignity. The viewer would expect the good to overcome the evil in the series of predicaments and character building events. However, the plot twists in an unpredictable manner leaving the viewer shocked and disenchanted. Rob and Katelyn are killed, and Lannisters are left to rule unopposed – this leads to the effect of defeated expectancy. If the show is quality, it tends to employ this technique to keep the viewer in suspense in front of the silver screen.

The focus is shifted from an individual to the community, where nobody is perfect and the characters are versatile, having different passions and grudges; faults and redeeming characteristics. Many of those characters undergo transformations, some subtle and some gargantuan, as a kind of coming of age process. These character arcs are evident in Game of Thrones. For instance, Daenerys is presented in the first episode as a young and naïve girl, dependent on her brother and incapable of asserting herself. However, as the story progresses, she learns to defend her interests in front of her husband, Khal Drogo and later becomes a strong queen, known as Khaleesi in the Dothraki language. This transformation is fascinating as Daenerys is truly kind but now learns to be assertive and decisive in her actions. Even though she makes mistakes, it just proves her vulnerability and makes her human in the eyes of the viewer.

Game of Thrones is a fantasy drama, and it displays a vivid dramatic structure based on the structure of Freitag’s pyramid. For instance, at the beginning of the first season, there is exposition, where the Stark and Lannister families are presented and their differences and unresolved issues are outlined. Katelyn Stark warns her son not to climb up the walls, and he lies to her saying that he would not. This is a clear foreshadowing element that hints at the further mishap which would lead to her son’s injury. However, the viewer sees a happy family that,often times faces a difficult decision between a calm and easy life and a duty to the kingdom. Eddard Stark chooses the latter, and it will lead to a string of catastrophic events for his family. The rising action is the squabble between Arya and Joffrey which results in the death of Arya’s friend as well as one of the Stark’s direwolves. This was a symbolic event which insinuated the further tragedies that would befall the Stark family. The direwolf is a symbol of the Stark house, so the killing of the symbol clearly foreshadowed a bleak future for the family. This was the first spark that led to a series of turning points which culminated in the Eddard’s arrest and execution. There was no denouement in the first season, as the reader did not know how the Stark family would get over this loss.

It is important to note the mood of the TV show. “Winter is coming” is the motto of the Stark House which permeated the show from the beginning. This motto is a primary example of the quality work, as only the attentive viewer could infer valuable conclusions from it. Winter, in this case, has multiple connotations; the first one being, of course, the metaphoric one, while winter traditionally means death, loss, and oblivion. The Stark family was always aware of the possible plight that could ruin their way of life anytime. The second meaning lies in the literary context of the Winterfell weather. The Starks lived in the dire climate, having accumulated the winter stoicism and sternness. The third meaning can be deduced from the Wall, the wildlings and the White Walkers that inhabited the area behind the Wall. This was the hidden danger, the winter that has always been close, yet invisible. However, the Stark family perpetuated this knowledge in their motto.

The quality works tend to deeply explore the characters, focus on their developments. The characters are not ideal or static; they make mistakes and irrational choices just like ordinary people. However, usually, they have a heightened degree of self-consciousness meaning that their steps are dictated by the inner perception of themselves. Their motivation comes from within and can be understood by the viewer. For instance, Daenerys decides not to execute the masters acknowledging her mistake of responding with the cruelty to the injustice. She realizes that she was being too power-drunk and incapable of distinguishing good from evil. Nothing is simply good or evil in the quality TV; there is always a fine line between the two, or worse, they can be inextricably entwined with one another.

However, Game of Thrones did not avoid the attention grabbing techniques employed by different directors. For instance, sexposition was widely used in various contexts throughout the TV show. Game of Thrones is well-known for its extreme violence and abundant, sometimes even excessive sex scenes. Sometimes it makes sense, as in the case of Littlefinger who makes the prostitutes perform their rituals in front of him while revealing his true attitude to Ned Stark in the first season. It clearly insinuates the manipulative nature of the character and foreshadows his further betrayal of Ned Stark. However, in a lot of episodes, these sex scenes simply serve to create the mood of depravity and debauchery that is typical for the medieval, uncivilized world.

HBO has always been believed to produce quality TV shows starting from the Sopranos and ending in the Game of Thrones. However, it is obvious that the term itself is vague and cannot be applied without hesitation. Very often TV is simply good, and a lot of TV shows of today belong to this category. For instance, the TV show “Supernatural” is a typical example of a given show. It is well-written and engaging, but it lacks the “quality” part, that elitist feel to it that could make it stand out. The TV show begins with a flashback from the two brothers’ past when their mother was killed by a demon and their father managed to save them both. This is a common technique used in many popular books and movies of today such as Harry Potter when the whole story starts with the episode of Harry’s past. Even though Supernatural expands the story later to include a variety of different characters, it does not turn it into the quality TV.

First of all, a great number of characters does not guarantee that all the characters receive equal screen time. In Supernatural the brothers are invincible – they are resurrected multiple times from one season to another. The viewers are not concerned about the fact whether the main characters will survive because it is evident that they will. This actually creates an atmosphere of a superhero-like TV show which does not leave much to viewers’ imagination. In Game of Thrones, on the contrary, we have an absolutely different picture. The main characters that are so beloved by the viewers die in their time which, although disappointing makes the show more unexpected and true to life. In real life the good does not always overcome the evil. Quality TV show follows this principle, whereas good TV does not.

In the quality TV show usually, there is a definite story line, or a number of storylines intertwined together. Supernatural strives to develop its storyline, especially in the later seasons; however, the first seasons, in particular, have episodes that are not related to the frame story. This is usually a characteristic of low-quality TV shows such as sitcoms or family comedies. Supernatural manages to condense the horror stories that are usually spread into full-fledged two-hour movies into 40-minute episodes. This contributes to the show intensity and gripping interest. However, the focus of attention in them is usually focused on the cause of events, and not on the character building and development. Later the main characters go through certain transformations that are reminiscent of quality TV character development. However, such changes are usually caused by exterior factors such as demonic powers and fade away as those factors stop to impact the character. For instance, once Sam stops to drink the demon’s blood, he returns to his normal self. There is no deep analysis of his ulterior motives, psychological drives that caused him to embark on a different journey. Basically, the character does not make independent choices of his own; it’s the environment and the external circumstances that push him toward various paths. In Game of Thrones Daenerys, although influenced by her brother’s behavior and marriage to Khal Drogo, maintains her new face even after both of them are gone. Her decision to change came from within, and the outside aspects only triggered the change but were not the only cause of it.

Therefore, it can be inferred that Supernatural concentrates more on the action part of the TV show, whereas Game of Thrones favors the psychological part. Video games have influenced the modern cinema greatly, creating a demand for the puzzle films, where the viewer feels empowered to solve the film problem together with the character. Supernatural is one of the examples of such tendency in modern film, when the characters have to perform certain activities to defeat the antagonist, usually some monster. Two brothers have to find a solution to the problem by trying different ways of killing the demon. This is what a gamer needs to do as well in the virtual world. However, now the viewers can just observe idly the whole story without having to do anything directly.

Unlike Supernatural, Game of Thrones does not show much fantasy aspects such as the White Walkers or the wildlings in Game of Thrones. The White Walkers appear in later episodes, but mostly they are just there to create a mood of uncertainty, fear, and constant danger. The TV show does not revolve around the techniques of killing the White Walkers. Actually, when Sam kills one of them, it happens by accident and not due to his effort. Unlike Supernatural, there is no central superhero in the Game of Thrones who is destined to defeat the evil transcending the borders of Winterfell. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, and it is impossible to predict who is going to win next.

Despite all the shortcomings, Supernatural can still be considered a good TV show due to its overall mood and a unique mixture of genres. It is not a horror movie although a naïve viewer would probably call it so. However, its purpose does not lie solely in terrifying the viewer; many times the fantasy aspects of this TV show are not horrifying, but rather contributing to the story progression. Moreover, it is clearly grounded on the mystery genre, as very often the brothers need to resolve a strange murder or decipher an ancient message. This variety of genres creates a unique atmosphere, intermingled with the modern American culture. Even though the show often refers us back to the old times and lore, it has a modern setting and the traditional symbol of road that connects the American viewer to their culture.

All of these aspects of flimography, storytelling, and cultural heritage combine to make both of these TV shows quality or simply good television. Game of Thrones attention to detail and significant character drama with a decentralized cast is what keeps people coming back season after season and is a prime example of quality television. Comparatively, Supernatural’s focus on two cast members and reliance on drama derived from the surroundings rather than the characters themselves are what firmly place Supernatural in the realm of simply good television. There is not as much attention to detail or as much foreshadowing; however, it still pulls in millions of viewers because of the good setting and storytelling. These two shows exemplify the differences in quality television against simply good television.

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