A few years ago, I noticed a bit of a change in WWE booking. They seemed to lean more toward shocking and unexpected outcomes rather than what the WWE Universe might want. Sure, it’s easy to look at wrestling as a smart mark and wax philosophical about what would make sense in a certain scenario “from a booking standpoint.” But as of late, the WWE’s style of booking has been throwing some curve balls our way. From Brock Lesnar breaking The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania, to guys like Roman Reigns being pushed to the top despite audience backlash, WWE has been taking a page out of the Game of Thrones playbook. By burying beloved characters and raising more questions than answers with mystery storylines, we’re left wanting more and by playing hard to get, they keep us tuned in.
With the season 7 premiere of Game of Thrones this weekend, I can’t help but think this shift in booking was all on purpose. It could all just be a happy coincidence, but the popularity of Game of Thrones a few years ago does coincide with how WWE has changed its predictable ways. As nonsensical and disappointing as it was the see Undertaker finally defeated at WrestleMania felt at the time, it brought a lot of attention to the match and helped to create the now invincible Brock Lesnar. Since then, we’ve also seen Brock quickly defeated by Goldberg and other surprises, like when Kevin Owens won the Universal Championship with the aid of Triple H. Love it or hate it, subconsciously, the fan psyche can’t get enough of a good swerve.
One Game of Thrones-esque aspect that fans really don’t seem to appreciate is the way that WWE likes to play hot potato with championships. We seem to always be switching from one major character to another. The frequency at which the Women’s Championship (specifically Raw’s) has changed hands over the past couple of years diminishes the importance of the title. We’ve also seen plenty of shifts with the Intercontinental Championship and US Championship over the past year. But the fact that A.J. Styles defeated Kevin Owens for the US Title at a house show certainly keeps the viewers on their toes. It’s similar to when Samoa Joe won the NXT Championship from Finn Balor at an NXT live event. This is a great way to promote these house shows as a real opportunity for a title to change hands and significantly impact a story. Luckily, the Universal Championship is in good hands with Lesnar, who doesn’t appear to be budging from his iron throne anytime soon.
WWE has also added some more complex storytelling to their arsenal. With the betrayal of Big Cass in his attacks on Enzo Amore, WWE delivered a well done tag team breakup and heel turn. And we have two more mysteries still in the works. On Smackdown, the Fashion Police are still trying to figure out who had attacked them, in some of the funniest segments the WWE has ever produced. These are about as clever as we’ve seen as far as WWE humor, and it’s a welcome divergence from the usual McMahonian fart jokes.
And finally, the Kurt Angle storyline has been delightfully vague. While each segment tries to give the illusion of clues as to who The Olympic Hero is alluding to, we are being fed scraps of information. All we know is that it’s someone close to Angle, perhaps a love interest, and it’s someone who could ruin his career. It’s very intriguing and uncommonly well done for WWE, especially with the assistance of Cory Graves. They’ve done a great job of not giving away too much, and all will be revealed on Monday. If this were 2009, it would probably be Hornswoggle or Eugene claiming to be Kurt’s illegitimate son or something. But in 2017, with the popularity of shows like Game of Thrones, WWE Creative tries a little bit harder and maybe gets a little more motivated to create something special.
Nathan Burke is a standup comedian based in Boston and can be found on Twitter @IamNathanBurke