Blog readers who’ve been around long enough have seen me yammer on and on about Babylon 5. And why not: it was a great show. But I haven’t yammered on about Game of Thrones. Why? Because I didn’t watch it. When it started on HBO, I didn’t *have* HBO. It was already 3 or 4 years along before I got HBO, and I had no desire to start in the middle. However, over the years I’d catch the occasional snippet – unsurprising given the cultural behemoth the show has become. And so over the last year or two I’ve been slowly accumulating individual seasons of GoT on Blu Ray when I’d find used copies in pawn shops and thrift stores and the like for five bucks. I finally got the first six seasons, and over the last little while I’ve watched seasons 1 through 6 and… holy carp, that’s a good show.
There is no immediately obvious link between B5 and GoT. They both started at roughly the same time… the pilot movie for B5 aired in 1993, the first GoT book was published in 1996. But while B5 was (reasonably hard, at least for TV) science fiction, GoT is fantasy (at least until in the closing moments of the series finale, likely to be aired in 2019, it turns out the whole place is an experiment set up 12,000 years earlier by Haviland Tuf). But I suspect that without B5, there’d be no GoT on HBO.
Prior to Babylon 5, virtually every TV series, certainly every science fiction series, was episodic in nature. Apart from – maybe – the series premiere, you could watch most of the entire series in a completely random fashion and not be the slightest bit confused. B5 upended that by making the series a “novel for television,” with a beginning, middle, end and a season-long post-credit scene. Stuff *happened,* it happened for a reason, there were payoffs that were planned years in advance. Characters had arcs; some were introduced or killed off for reasons of plot rather than because the actor got bored or dead or drunk.
Additionally, B5 introduced alien societies and political & religious systems in a way never before really explored for television. It made political intrigue interesting, even if the politicians were aliens.
And then many years later HBO made Game of Thrones, an arguably longer (8 seasons compared to 5, but with far fewer episodes per season) “novel for television” featuring political intrigue in “alien” political systems with wacky “alien” religions. B5 had Emperor Cartagia, GoT had King Joffrey; cut from the same cloth, they were both the sort of horrible king that pops up distressingly often in hereditary monarchies. They were both entertainingly evil to watch, and both entertaining to watch finally get what was coming to ’em.
And they both had twists and sudden deaths you didn’t see coming. And they both had deaths you didn’t *want* to see… “Sleeping in Light” and “The Door” can reduce fans to horrible gelatinous blobs of sadness.
A quarter century of technological advances mean that the production values in GoT make B5 look… well, kinda bad. B5 was there at the dawn of the first age of computer graphics for TV, and it shows. Where B5s visual effects were limited due to budget and technology, GoT has computers the likes of which the B5’ers could have never dreamed… and episode budgets vastly beyond what B5 was able to scrape together. GoT has scenes of a fully rendered navy attacking a fully rendered city… and that navy being assaulted by fully rendered dragons. Tens of thousands of individual elements, and it all *works.* As much as a dragon can be considered realistic, those on GoT are wholly believable. At least philosophically, GoT owes a debt to B5 for getting the ball rolling on the important use of CGI for TV visual effects.
Of course, GoT being on early 21st century HBO rather than late 20th century broadcast TV means that it can show things that B5 never could. It’s probably a safe bet that someone akin to Littlefinger had an establishment or two like his on B5… but we were *never* going to see that in all it’s NSFW jiggly glory. Interestingly: having binge watched the first 6 seasons, it seemed like the giggty-factor was high early on and has greatly faded. This makes some sense from a plot standpoint… at the beginning, the world of GoT was at relative peace and things took place in “civilized” environments. By season 6 everybody is too busy slaughtering each other for that sort of thing. Also: by this point, the show has about all the fans it’s going to. But early on, it was important to drag viewers in, kicking and screaming… and I suppose that was a good way to do it.