Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 1: What's This Show's Wig Budget?

A weekly conversation between an avid Game of Thrones fan, and someone who has actively avoided it until now.

A photograph of the writer.

SCAACHI KOUL was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, BuzzFeed NewsThe HairpinThe Globe and Mail and J...

A photo of the editor standing outside a house

Haley Cullingham is Hazlitt's editor-in-chief, and a senior editor at Strange Light and McClelland & Stewart. Books and pieces she's edited have won...

All Men Must Die. (Image by Jordan Ginsberg)

Haley: To me, this whole episode is about perspective: “Three eyes” seeing the future, dead eyes painted on stones, staring out unseeing. Tyrion peering through the hole in the box. But I can’t help but feel like the show might have done well to take a nod from the books and separate the storylines a little more. I’m finding the shifting perspectives here a little dizzying. I worry that the show is going to have to keep forcing itself to more and more dramatic heights just to allow its audience to feel enough in the least possible screen time. This episode, especially in the Varys/Tyrion scenes, veered a little too close to editorializing for me.

In that scene, Varys tells Tyrion he can drink himself to death or decide that the world is worth fighting for. The show struggles to fit in moments that convince us it is.

Scaachi: Interesting, because to me, this episode was about wigs and butts.

Like the wig budget on this show is out of control.

I really don’t know how anyone can pay attention to the plot when all I can think is, “HOW ARE THOSE BRAIDS EVEN POSSIBLE???” Like, girl, you cannot just twist your hair and make it stay like that all day. You are a liar and I know you are lying.

Haley: This episode was relatively light on the butts. Only one butt, I feel. Fewer butts than usual.

Scaachi: No no, there were two butts! One Olyvar butt and one other guy butt who was getting all up in that bleached blonde with the nonsense eyebrows.

Haley: So, other than perspective, the theme of this episode was really expressed for me when Brienne said, “The good lords are dead and the rest are monsters.” We’ve reached a point in the show where pretty much no one has clean hands. Even Daenerys, or “nonsense eyebrows,” is responsible for a lot of deaths.

Scaachi: Yeah, I mean, I recognize I haven’t actually seen any of the other episodes, but I feel pretty confident in asserting that almost everyone in this show is probably a murderer—arguably worse. Did Jon Snow shoot his dad while he was being set on fire? Was that his dad?

(And, can we just note that the episode started with two girls who are basically the two teenagers from American Beauty, except younger and with more hair and also more willing to bleed, I guess, I don’t know.)

Haley: Yes, totally re: American Beauty. Re: Jon Snow, that was not his dad. His dad was beheaded in the first season.

Scaachi: What I think I’m struggling to understand is the cult appreciation around the show. I like a few serialized dramas but this seems so absurd, I have no idea how anyone can get into it. Like, a room full of dragons?! Why the hell not! Boobs McGee helps some masked avenger slice up a handsome bald’s throat? Sure, yes, let’s. How do people get into this show without previously reading and loving the books?

Haley: That is something that I wonder about a lot. My enjoyment of the show is both connected to and in conflict with my having read the books, but I know that I feel this strange cultural obligation to both the books and the show, like this is something I have to finish. But obviously most people watching the show don’t feel that obligation. And many people watch an episode here and there, they don’t watch it obsessively, and that’s what makes this exercise interesting to me: Is this show inherently entertaining, or is it somewhat like Lost, and we’re imbuing it with all this importance, but it’s really just a silly wig parade?

Scaachi: But, can you watch one or two episodes of this show without following it obsessively? I can’t imagine it has any appeal if you’re just watching once or twice and then moving on. Dramas really only have payoff if you follow them to the end and get some arc-satisfaction, unlike a comedy which can be appealing for its 22 minutes and then you can ignore it until you have another 22 minutes you’d like to waste.

Also, why is everyone British in this show?

Haley: Arguably our appetite for sex and violence is larger and more biological than our appetite for comedy, so why do we need narrative importance to make a show like this appealing as opposed to a show like Arrested Development? And narrative importance, for fans of Game of Thrones, is a very interesting thing this season, because the plot of the show is going to deliberately diverge from that of the books. So what is “true” in the books won’t be truth in the show. For me, this throws the whole thing into questionable territory. I am a person who cannot tolerate “Choose Your Own Adventure” books or DVD alternate endings. The idea of a fictional world that doesn’t at least pretend to hold to some internal integrity is something I find problematic. So I feel like at this point, the show has to be entertaining outside of the idea of a narrative payoff. Especially because of the widespread feeling that George R.R. Martin is never going to finish the books. I wonder if he has an exit strategy, or if he’s making it up as he goes along? (Even though there are rumours he’s told HBO execs how it all ends, how do we know that’s the ending of the books, or the show, or both?) Will the end of Game of Thrones be like the end of Lost? People who defend that show say we should just enjoy it because “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” But you’re saying, as a first-time viewer, that Game of Thrones can’t be about the journey. You don’t think there’s any value outside of being invested, right?

Scaachi: Well, I think it’s hard to say that we have more of an appetite for sex and violence when it comes to television (I, personally, don’t, and would much rather watch two very wealthy women at a restaurant called something like “Purr” or “Huff” get in a screaming match over who didn’t go to whose dog-grooming party), but I too have a hard time enjoying something that feels completely divorced from reality. Which is probably why I’ve never even considered watching Game of Thrones (REMEMBER WHAT I SAID ABOUT THE IMPOSSIBLE BRAIDS).

I didn’t know the books weren’t done! But people seem to enjoy the books more than the show, no?

But yeah, that is what I mean: I can’t imagine being able to enjoy this show unless you absolutely give a shit about the characters and who’s gonna die next and who’s sleeping with who (did Braid-Queen sleep with her hot-chested cousin???). I can’t imagine this show has an episode that could be enjoyed separate from the rest of the show—which is how I feel about shows like Mad Men or Breaking Bad or The Wire. I like those shows, but I like them because they lead me somewhere.

Whereas something like 30 Rock, for example, can be enjoyed sporadically, if you like comedies, because it doesn’t actually matter if Liz Lemon gets married. (I mean, it mattered to me, but you can still enjoy season 3 without watching seasons 1 and 2.)

I really need you to address the wig situation, Haley. Why is everyone in a terrible wig?

And why did The Dink have to push his poop through a hole in a crate?!??!

Haley: Braid-Queen did sleep with her hot-chested cousin. He also used to wear a wig. Have you seen that episode of Clone High where they say that every celebrity has no eyebrows, and they’re added in the editing room? Ever since I learned Julianna Margulies is wearing a wig on The Good Wife, I have assumed every single person on television is wearing a wig.

Scaachi: That, too, is not a good wig, by the way. But not as bad as Peter is in general, DIFFERENT TALK FOR A DIFFERENT TIME.

Haley: Oh my god, do not even get me started on STUPID PETER. (Not you, The Dink). And, wait, you knew that was a wig?

Scaachi: Well, yeah, look at the hairline, it looks like it’s painted on. ALSO HER HAIR IS GREAT, WHY ARE YOU MESSING AROUND WITH HER HAIR. Julia Louis-Dreyfus also wears a wig in Veep, I think? ANYWAY.

Haley: Okay, one more thing about wigs and then I will get back to the point at hand. One of the best moments in (underrated Perfect Television Show) Nashville is when, during a moment of Heightened Emotion, it is revealed that a regular character has been wearing a bad toupee for the entire series, and it’s done in this incredibly subtle comedic way. OKAY BACK TO GAME OF THRONES: What you’re saying about investment captures what concerns me about this coming season. Like I said earlier, I worry the show has gotten so unwieldy that there won’t be enough screen time to stay invested in characters and storylines. And, with the investment that I have by virtue of having read the books removed because the books and the television show are going off in different directions, I wonder if I will stay interested? But then, a moment such as Jon Snow shooting Mance Rayder through the heart with an arrow while he burns at the stake happens, and despite the fact that I am watching the show quarantined in someone’s guest room while a group of people drink cocktails ten feet away from me, I SHOUT WITH HAPPINESS. This, I think, is the summary of my relationship with these books, this show, and by extension, Hilarious Man I Have Never Met George R. R. Martin. Every time I think I’m ready to give up on it, it pulls me back in with a perfect moment like that! But then I get worried it’s all just one big Smoke Monster.

Scaachi: 1. What do I have to do to get you to stop talking about Nashville?

2. I have also never watched Lost but I imagine “Smoke Monster” is code for “huge disappointment.”

3. You do realize this is going up in the morning so everyone on the Internet is going to think your friends are drinking cocktails at 10 a.m., which, I mean, no judgment here.

4. There are a lot of shows that do that to me, the I’m-ready-to-stop-doing-this but then there’s one perfect scene and you’re back. I’ve tried to stop watching Mad Men at least six times but I’m sticking around because I want to watch Don die a horrible death.

5. I feel like there could have been more fucking in this episode. I was promised fucking. That’s the whole reason I said I’d start watching this season, Haley.

Haley: 1. There is literally nothing you can do. I just dug my cowboy boots out of my storage unit.

2. Correct.


4. Don is not going to die at the end of Mad Men, I’ll bet you five breakfast sandwiches. But this whole Netflix-streaming-resurgence-of-TV business really makes me wonder about that “why.” Can a show be good without a payoff? Matthew Weiner says Mad Men won’t really have a payoff, but for me, that won’t damage the integrity of the show even a little, the way it has for other series.

5. There is usually more fucking, but there is also usually more flaying, so count your blessings.

Scaachi: Why are you so down on flaying, Haley?

Haley: Because I’m a vegetarian.

Scaachi: Selfish.

A photograph of the writer.

SCAACHI KOUL was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, BuzzFeed NewsThe HairpinThe Globe and Mail and Jezebel. She is the author of One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.

A photo of the editor standing outside a house

Haley Cullingham is Hazlitt's editor-in-chief, and a senior editor at Strange Light and McClelland & Stewart. Books and pieces she's edited have won the Governor General's Literary Award, the Kobo Emerging Writer Award, and several National Magazine Awards. She is from Toronto.