Game of Thrones Understands Conflict

So, I was hesitant to join the Game of Thrones bandwagon … but a good friend of mine, through some persistence, encouraged me and convinced me to watch. Up until that point, I thought the show was just HBO gratuitous sex and violence (essentially, most of HBO), but I soon came to realize the show is brilliantly written, and it’s because of one main element: Game of Thrones understands conflict.

You see, Game of Thrones knows how to make a show continue. They do so by ensuring that conflict ramps up instead of lessens. It’s a pitfall of many shows that seem to get worse and worse as they go on, and after a rather woeful season 6, GOT righted themselves with a nearly perfect season conclusion in episode 10.

Kill One Enemy, Make Two More

So, how does Game of Thrones sustain conflict? They’ve learned this important lesson for all long-running shows, movies, novels, etc.: for every victory, there must be multiple new conflicts introduced. Yes, it feels good to see the hero defeat the enemy. It feels good to finally have the troubled couple on the show get together (looking at you, Friends and The Office), but if that triumph isn’t met with escalating conflict or new problems as a result of said victory, the story loses its edge, its need to go on.

This is why so many shows prevent the love interests from getting together until the last episode or the very end. This is a smart tactic, but it’s not necessary. Very simply, the writers for the show must organically show that the triumph has consequences, and dire ones. I think about the main characters in True Romance. Yes, they get together. Hurray! But what is the net effect? People die. They are chased. Stuff goes down as a result of that victory.

Another good example is Macbeth or its adaptation on TV, House of Cards. Macbeth and/or Frank Underwood get what they want. Leadership. Power. But what comes with it? Conflict. Life for those characters gets harder, internally and externally, as a result of their victories.

How Does Game of Thrones Do It

Outside of one character, Daenerys, who is also my least favorite character on the show for this reason, all characters meet victories with new and expanding challenges. For example, Tyrion kills his evil father Tywin, something we fans were rooting for from early on … but things don’t become hunky dory after that. He is now the most wanted man in King’s Landing. Life gets harder because of his victory. The show is chock full of these pyrrhic victories. And that’s why it gets better and better to watch as it goes on.

So, you want to write a long story? A novel? A feature film? A TV show? Learn this lesson: if you diffuse the conflicts in your writing, the story dies. For every victory, there ought to be two new resulting conflicts. That will keep your audience engaged and wanting more. This is a great lesson from Game of Thrones, and it’s why I think it’s such a huge hit.

If you’re interested in more Game of Thrones thoughts from the Over Coffee Films team, check out our video podcast on our YouTube channel, Films Over Coffee with Jared, the Sound Man and Adam (me), the Writer.

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