Interview: Chrys on Game of Thrones

Chrys is an online exegete known for her distinct blend of humor and insight. Several years ago, she began her popular series Chrys Reviews, in which she analyses TV shows through episodic recaps. These are presented as a compilation of stills from the show with her thoughts as subtitles (often satirizing the characters and scenes being portrayed). Chrys’ commentary thoroughly dissects the episode, paying special attention to dialogue, relationships between characters, and the (sometimes unabashed) mishandling of tropes. Chrys’ reviews are well-received on multiple platforms, including Tumblr, Reddit, and Imgur. Over time, she’s incorporated a number of different TV shows (including Westworld, Sleepy Hollow, and How to Get Away with Murder) into her Reviews series; she’s reviewed more Game of Thrones than anything else, with thirty-five episodes of the show’s sixty episodes covered.

In this interview, The Ogilvie’s Chief Editor Calder Hudson speaks with Chrys about her review process as well as her thoughts on HBO’s Game of Thrones and its upcoming seventh season.

 


 

CALDER: What was it that first made you decide to do the Chrys Reviews series? With respect to the screenshot-style, did you have the format and presentation planned out in advance, or did your method develop over time?

CHRYS: I wanted to make people laugh and to challenge myself as a writer (or as a friend lovingly says, “shitpost generator”). The screenshot-style recap has been a Tumblr staple for quite some time, and while I’d never actually seen the show, Hannibal screenshots that made me laugh (even though I had no context) were the reason I thought it might be fun to do my own. At first I didn’t really know what I was doing, as might be evident in some Teen Wolf recaps, but I soon found that giving each character a voice of their own helped tremendously. The format itself shaped the style more than anything else. Text on a limited space means verbosity is out of the window, unless you make the very deliberate effort to turn that into a joke–a wall of words can effectively communicate the fact that a character is monologuing or rambling. Screenshots are also great for pacing; there’s nothing like a text-free shot to give a joke time to land.

Between the screenshotting and the commentary, how long does it usually take to complete each episodic review? Is there a particular process you have with respect to making them?

It really depends on the length of the episode. I normally go through every single frame of a scene to find the best facial expressions (Conleth Hill–Varys in GoT–and Ed Harris–the Man in Black in Westworld–are prime examples of actors that spoil me for choice). This also helps me to notice details I might have otherwise missed. The time it takes to write an episode recap can vary, especially from show to show. Since I go frame to frame, the longer the episode, the more work I have. It usually takes between five and eight hours total. Writer’s block can happen, but I think it usually affects the quality of the writing (and my mood!) more than the length of time spent on a piece.

In some cases you’ve written an accompanying text post with your thoughts on an episode. When you begin the recaps, do you usually go in with a skeleton-structure of what you want to address in the episode, or do you do the full write-ups after you’ve finished the recap?

The write-ups always happen after I finish the recaps, while I’m waiting for the images to upload. I keep notes while watching the episode and always have a mental list of things I want to address, for the most part managing to get my point across as succinctly as possible without forgetting anything. The trouble with writing something at around (or past) midnight is that memory and editing become… interesting creatures.

The shows you’ve picked (Westworld, How to Get Away with Murder, Teen Wolf, Game of Thrones, etc.) cross an array of genres. How do you select which shows you want to review?

All those shows are high drama, with ridiculous plot twists, situations, and characters. They’re fun! Even Westworld, with its more cerebral approach, can become a parody of itself without particular effort on my part. Additionally, they’re shows that sometimes become controversial and deeply affect the fans watching. This means I can be critical at times and provide much needed levity during others. My Patreon supporters also have a say, but they still choose from shows I’m interested in doing. Westworld recaps could just have easily been Luke Cage recaps save for a few votes, so that’s an interesting road not taken. The most important thing is that I either love the show or love-hate it. If I find myself bored, disappointed, or just plain tired of its nonsense, I stop (and have done so for at least three shows off the top of my head). I do have to admit to liking my version of events so much I’m still watching Game of Thrones as part of some sort of weird and narcissistic exercise in writing.

Yes—you also mentioned earlier that you wanted to challenge yourself as a writer. What sort of writing do you do outside the Reviews?

I’ve written a few short fanfics and generally like to play with characters and ideas. I’m currently wrestling with an original fantasy novel and the recaps have been excellent training for letting myself abandon the pursuit of perfection in order to get something (anything!) down.

On the subject of Game of Thrones—you’ve done more GoT episode recaps than you have for any other TV show, and earlier you mentioned you either need to love or love-hate a show to proceed to review it. If you had to put GoT into one of these two categories…?

Game of Thrones is something I have a lot of thoughts and emotions about, especially as the show relates to the books. I will always love the show for introducing me to the world and to a lot of people who enjoy talking about it. I also kinda hate the show for the way it cheapens and distorts the source material. A Storm of Swords is my favorite A Song of Ice and Fire book and I started recapping the show during Season Four, extremely excited to witness the Lannisters tearing themselves apart. To say that I was disappointed by the way certain elements were adapted is putting it lightly, so the recaps became a way to deal with all my nerd rage… and Season Five was just bad! However, the recaps help me adapt the adaptation—and having enjoyed the sixth season, I think GoT has become a show I’ve accepted. Like the weather, good or bad. For the most part I just like talking about it. It also doesn’t hurt that people apparently like what I’m doing; getting feedback of any kind is wonderful and the response to the recaps has been overwhelming.

GoT gets a lot of flak for how it’s adapted George R.R. Martin’s ASoIaF series, as you mentioned. Book fans and show-only fans often end up at odds with one another—do you feel you enjoy the show more or less because you’ve read the books and have that awareness of the differences between them?

Ignorance is bliss, yet it’s pretty hard to remain engaged and ignorant on the internet, no matter how hard YouTube commenters strive to disprove this point. I think I’d probably enjoy the show a bit more if I hadn’t read the books, but given how loud book fans can get, I doubt I’d remain in the dark and would eventually be disappointed.

Some of your recaps touch on the fact that GoT has gradually moved away from ASoIaF, especially insofar as how certain characters and plotlines are represented (or, in some cases, are not represented). Do you think this differentiation is why many fans feel less enthusiastic about recent seasons (particularly, as you said, Season Five), or are there other causes for that fallout?

I know a lot of people, book readers and show watchers alike, who were extremely excited about Dorne. I think disappointment hit both sides hard. It’s probably one of the few things we can all agree on: the Dorne plotline was subpar and a waste of everyone’s time and talent (particularly that of Alexander Siddig, who played Doran Martell). And then there’s the whole mess with Stannis which was… poorly executed. I’ve also noticed that production values just aren’t what they used to be. Screenshots from Season One make later seasons look like they were filmed in a basement using post production color grading as lighting… and let’s not even mention the wigs. At the end of the day what hit the hardest for me personally was seeing a whole bunch of people who used to love the show abandon ship and write quite bitter, eloquently phrased articles about it. To say it didn’t help quell my own dissatisfaction is an understatement.

With respect to “adapting the adaptation”, what do you think is missing most from the show which is present in the books—and on the flipside, is there anything you’re glad the show has altered from the source material?

The books make an effort to show that war and revenge slowly strip away people’s humanity. While graphic at times, the writing doesn’t glorify violence and savagery, and contains beautifully written anti-war rhetoric. The show is not only missing this, but also refuses to give characters the complexity they have in the books, a sin I could forgive in a movie adaptation but not in a series of ten-hour seasons. As far as things that are better… the aging-up of some younger characters makes for more palatable watching. While certain actions can’t be excused of adults–resulting in characters who are rash or stupid rather than childishly immature or overwhelmed–it’s easier to see horrible things happen to people around 20, rather than to people under 16.

As you said, a great many fans of the show have jumped ship in the last few years. Meanwhile, some book fans are also voicing resentment, having grown increasingly impatient during the wait for the release of The Winds of Winter. This has created another point of contention within the fan community, with dissatisfied readers going head-to-head with those defending the speed of GRRM’s writing. Has this controversy impacted you or your reviews?

I’m not that impacted by the controversy. This is probably due to the fact that the parts of fandom I’m most involved in are comprised of writers who are almost unanimously defenders of his speed, even while joking about it. Essentially it’s a conflict happening far away and which my environment ensures I’m on the right side of, since I’m of the opinion that we don’t own GRRM’s time, no matter how much we love his work and how disappointed we are by the fact there’s not more of it (and I find it all kinds of hilarious that show watchers get to be smug about spoilers).

Back in May, Entertainment Weekly reported that HBO is considering four different Game of Thrones spinoffs. Given your feelings towards the show in its current state, what are your immediate thoughts on that?

Honestly, my immediate thought was “Ugh…” but having read the article, I can think of at least a couple of stories from GRRM’s canon I’d love to see adapted (the fall of Valyria in particular). Maybe by a completely different team of creators, though.

The Fall of Valyria would an interesting base for a spinoff. Most people initially predicted that they would cover Robert’s Rebellion, Dunk & Egg, or the Dance of the Dragons… all parts of the canon which GRRM has already written a great deal about. Choosing something he hasn’t elaborated on much would allow for more artistic liberties and would enable them to avoid some of the lost-in-translation issues GoT has faced. Would you like to see the Fall of Valyria because GRRM has kept it ambiguous in many ways, or is it just part of the canon you’re very interested in?

I love the stories surrounding the fall of empires. There’s just something about the grandiose tragedy of it all, especially when combined with a kind of sick, morbid delight at seeing something that epic falling to its knees. In all honesty, though, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that curiosity has a lot to do with it.

With Season Seven of GoT only a month away, some spoilers have already surfaced through set photos and leaks. Have you looked into these, or are you keeping away from them until the start of the season?

I don’t go hunting for spoilers, no. I like to go into new seasons knowing next to nothing, though I have inadvertently seen set photos and that wonderful paparazzi shot of Kit Harington in full armor with sunglasses on.

With Season Seven in mind, is there anything you’re particularly nervous or enthusiastic about with respect to the show’s direction?

Sansa’s characterization is always a worry. That’s the big one. What I’m most looking forward to is all the characters’ roads converging as we head into the final season.

Is there anything you’re planning or predicting with respect to the new season of GoT—or the other shows you review, for that matter?

I have more than a few theories about what will happen in GoT (e.g. Jaime killing Cersei which I’d love because of the Aerys parallel, or Jon and Dany hooking up which I’d hate because it’s boring). As far as actually using any of them in the recaps, well… we’ll see. The GoT subreddit has rather draconic rules concerning spoilers and I’d rather censor myself than deal with the appropriate spoiler tags. In the case of Westworld, on the other hand, I felt completely at ease jumping on a theory’s bandwagon before it was revealed to be canon.

As far as those predictions are concerned, I expect only time will tell–though in the meantime, the Chrys Reviews series will continue to offer hints! On that note, do you think your close analysis of shows–even shows which can at times be so frustrating–honed your artistic instincts? Has making all these recaps left you with any lessons on writing and creativity at large?

Pointing out other people’s mistakes should help one avoid making them, right? I would hope that’s true, but we all have our particular quirks. I’m still someone who edits as she writes, doubting word choice and structure to distraction, yet the fact that I had to have something delivered every Monday has helped me to learn to just let go. It’s been good. Typos are still annoying, but they’re not the end of the world and I’ve made enough to know. What else… setting limitations for yourself is great. I’ve tried to avoid obvious and lazy jokes or references and the result is almost always better than what I might have originally written. Comedians who complain about PC culture really annoy me in this regard, because if we remove the whole hurting people aspect of their comedy they’re really just demanding the right to rest on the same lazy old tropes… deciding to not use the word “bitch” was hard, particularly because I swear a lot and Jesse Pinkman made it goddamn hilarious. But: the format is great for learning to create characters and flowing dialogue. I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to improve.


Chrys’ reviews and other projects are accessible through her website and her Patreon; she is also on Tumblr and Twitter.