Corners. You can cut them. You can go around them, but what you should never do is write yourself into one. Yet, over the past year, we’ve seen two series that have done just that. One, a cultural phenomenon, the other, a disliked prequel to a seminal sci-fi series. Yet, in a twist as [REDACTED], one series has failed to write itself out of that corner gracefully, while the other delivered on the promise it had before we saw the first season.
Spoilers for Game of Thrones and Star Trek: Discovery incoming.
Star Trek: Discovery has seemed doomed to fail ever since it was announced it would be a prequel to the Kirk-era Original Series. For a lot of avid Trekkies, the series was an abomination. The main argument posed was that it just “wasn’t Trek”. Yet, the showrunners insisted on placing it in an era of Trek where they’d just be forced to create retcon after retcon. The first season outside of a few stellar episodes in the Mirror Universe seemed to confirm that. The series felt even more devoid of Trek soul than the so-called JJ-Verse. If anything, Discovery came into its second season fighting for survival. With new showrunners at the helm, they had to undertake the challenge of escaping the ever-narrowing corner that the first season put them in.
Meanwhile, Game of Thrones was hardly fighting for survival. The show has been HBO’s cash cow for 8 years and is probably going to get a bevvy of spin-offs now that it’s ending. The challenge ahead for David Benioff and D. B. Weiss wasn’t quite saving the series, but just ending it on a high note after a few seasons that have had a slight decline after they ran out of George R. R. Martin’s source material. Yet, they were in a corner. Without knowing the full extent of Martin’s plans they had to craft an ending for about a gazillion characters. Oh, and they had an army of Ice Zombies to deal with.
Much like the impending Original Series timeline was a ticking time bomb for Discovery, the Night King’s invasion of Westeros was one for Benioff and Weiss. All while they surely realized that the element they wanted to explore further was the human drama, and not the unstoppable, mystical killing machines. With a shortened season ahead of them, they clearly decided to treat the Long Night as a B-Story, more of a scarecrow than an actual threat. The problem is that the characters never got the memo (other than Cersei, who at this point is probably 3 glasses of wine from straight up breaking the fourth wall). We’ve been given 2 episodes of goodbyes. 2 episodes where we were told the battle against the Night King would be a suicide mission. Yet, in the end, the only truly major characters to die were Theon and Jorah — dudes whose arcs were clearly designed to lead them to this exact moment.
This is probably because Weiss and Benioff see the other characters as important to the rest of the story. Having all of them in Winterfell was clearly great for the drama prior to the battle, but made the battle less impactful. The unstoppable Army of the Dead was stopped due to… their hubris? That’s more of a Cersei thing, isn’t it? While the episode itself had some brilliant moments, it felt like in the series about actions and consequences, the biggest of the actions had absolutely no real consequence.
Meanwhile, on CBS, Discovery made strides the other way. Bringing in Anson Mount as iconic Cpt. Pike was a great way to enhance a beloved character. Ethan Peck absolutely nailed Spock’s mannerism and style. The story suddenly shifted to a more crew-wide perspective, and most importantly, the writers stopped being afraid of addressing the discrepancies and rather than retcon everything, decided to do what they should’ve done in the first place — launched Discovery into the future. Granted, some of the explanations seemed rush and hastily written. Some of the writing may have been less than perfect. But in the end, it broke the writers out of the corner they’ve set for themselves quite smoothly.
These two examples are very different of course. The corners at different angles. But this isn’t about comparing the most popular TV show with what could’ve been a classic franchise’s swan song. It’s about how you react to the corners you’re placed in. You can either embrace it and slowly craft a story to write through it. Or you can just hastily get out of there to get to the stuff you want. One makes for satisfying storytelling. The other makes for a lot of disappointment.
Granted, Benioff and Weiss still have time to turn this around. Will the Night King return? Was it all another ruse? Will Cersei win somehow? We’ll find out, just as we’ll find out the future of Discovery.