Winter has come on Game of Thrones, but laughter barely did this week on Saturday Night Live. The Kit Harington-led episode suffered the same malaise as many middle episodes do in a three-week consecutive run: While it’s not fair to say the show should never do back-to-back-to-back episodes, you probably wouldn’t lose money on betting on the central installment being the least successful one.
The Thrones fans that filled Studio 8H were clearly primed to enjoy themselves, given the reaction to Harington’s monologue. But aside from a single pre-taped bit, the show stayed away from the fantasy juggernaut and steered into Michael Jackson impersonators, overly-sensitive virtual reality characters and an unfortunate rectal exam. There are a million reasons why doing a GOT-themed episode wouldn’t work (Harington may be anxious to avoid being seen as Jon Snow forever, creating all the sets/costumes would have cost a fortune, Lorne Michaels prefers Barry), but if there was ever a time for fan service, this was the week.
While most of this episode will be forgotten by the time Emma Stone hosts next week, here is what people will be discussing until then.
Kit Harington Monologue
Monologues have been an afterthought during Season 44, a natural evolution of the tried-and-true format of the show. The overall push has been for a greater number of shorter sketches, the best to proliferate the program’s content in a digital format. The number of awkward, overly long monologues throughout the years suggests this is a welcome change, but luckily it’s not a permanent one. When you have a cast as big as Game of Thrones willing to pitch in, it makes sense to go big instead of going home.
The “questions from the audience” trope is exactly the type of thing that shortening the monologue format was designed to eliminate. But having Emilia Clarke, John Bradley and Rose Leslie ask the questions means that all is forgiven this time around. Had they all stuck around as several WWE wrestlers did back when Dwayne Johnson first hosted, this show might have been something special. Instead, we just got small slivers of the comedic talent GOT’s somber mood so often omits. Leslie’s “What are we going to do for money now?” might have been the line delivery of the night, were it not for the Mother of Dragons delivering the Mother of Punchlines: “Do you remember in Season 6 when we had sex? Did you know they filmed that?”
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Honestly, this didn’t even have to be good to go viral, which it undoubtedly will. And as with most sketches that involve 5-6 second jokes centered on a central premise, only about 50% worked. But as that 50% will vary depending on each viewer, it should satisfy that Thrones itch people have ahead of the premiere, and probably inspire at least three headlines like, “What the Riverdale Parody of Game of Thrones Says About Who Ultimately Sits on the Iron Throne” before Sunday ends.
If this sketch did nothing else than inspire a lot of people to Google the inspiration for the “Arya” cartoon, then it did God’s work. (Seriously, Daria is the best, and as a Gen X’er, I feel appropriately pandered to right now.) Some of the best ideas only made it into a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it form in the finale frame, with “RuPaul’s Dragon Race” and “Dorne to Be Wild” topping the bill.
What will probably get the most traction is the Special Victims Units parody (produced by Dire Wolf, natch) in which Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T survey one of the 17 million active crime scenes in Westeros. One wishes they had appeared during the John Mulaney episode, given his professed love for the show. But hey, better late than never.
Harington did his best to keep the show afloat, but only got to really own the stage here as a fiancé (Bryan) trying to make the bachelorette party of his future wife Erin as memorable as possible. The “Kit Harington in Pasties” .GIFs that will inevitably surface will ensure that its memory will not die online anytime soon either.
Having him do a burlesque number would yield about 10 seconds of amusement, but what really sends things over the top here is Kate McKinnon’s “teacher/prostitute/ghost,” providing instruction and/or hypnotic suggestions to Harington’s malleable groom-to-be. Her chaos agent makes everything truly unsettling, and every line she says is weirder than the last. “The puppy must be in the car seat, otherwise it will fly through the window” is the best line about tucking ever written, and should henceforth be re-inserted via ADR into the famous Buffalo Bill scene in The Silence of the Lambs.
The final reveal that Bryan’s thirstiest fan is his sister comes out of left field, but it also provided the biggest jolt of laughter outside of the monologue. Melissa Villaseñor has carved out a niche of developing characters that are inexplicably excited by events that horrify or confuse everyone else. She’s half the reason the season’s best sketch (“Career Day”) works so well: Her enthusiastic response to Abraham H. Parnassus’ machinations is the secret sauce that makes that sketch sing. She’s rarely the lead in sketches, but she’s a wild card that can turn ordinary proceedings into something unpredictable.