Ed Sheeran, Game of Thrones and uncool appeal

As if Ed Sheeran’s invasion of the global charts wasn’t enough, he’s now invaded the world’s biggest TV show, Game of Thrones. But it seems Sheeran’s acting stint hasn’t gone down nearly as well. The backlash against his horrendous cameo in the season premiere this week was so overwhelming he temporarily deleted his Twitter account.

The scene in question showed Arya Stark, played by Maisie Williams, joining a group of Lannister soldiers at a campfire after overhearing the dulcet tones of the ‘Galway Girl’ singer. The problem with the scene is not Sheeran’s acting ability (he’s basically playing himself), but how crowbarred he is into the show’s fantastical universe. The showrunners of Game of Thrones have apparently been trying to get Sheeran to feature for years, in order to surprise mega-fan Williams. It was for her amusement, rather than to service the story.

Musicians, like Coldplay drummer Will Champion, have previously made cameo appearances on the show, but in non-speaking roles. And while Coldplay might be world famous, few people recognise Champion. His role as an extra in the infamous Red Wedding episode worked perfectly. But it’s impossible for the audience to suspend their disbelief and view the unnamed ginger soldier as anyone other than Sheeran. His presence also overshadows the far more curious casting of Thomas Turgoose, of This is England fame, as one of the other soldiers in the scene.

Without Sheeran, the campfire scene could have been a nice little moment. Game of Thrones’ excellent pacing is down to immense build-up, followed by quiet moments. It makes all the colossal set pieces and scandalous plot twists even more impactful. The scene humanises the Lannister army, showing them as reluctant soldiers pining after their family lives. Arya Stark’s morality is also explored, contrasting her wish not to take any of the soldiers’ food with her announcement of her quest to kill Cersei Lannister. But a scene about the anonymous masses is overshadowed by the presence of one of the most recognisable people on the planet.

Another glaringly obvious missed opportunity is the refusal of the producers to kill off Sheeran’s character. If CSI can kill Justin Bieber in a cathartic hail of bullets, why couldn’t Game of Thrones behead Sheeran? It’s not as if the show isn’t famous for mercilessly murdering its characters. Cameos can’t help but call attention to themselves, so why not have some fun with it?

In the end, this disastrous cameo reaffirms how patently uncool Sheeran is. At some point following the release of his latest album, ÷, it became acceptable for the press and the public to freely refer to him as uncool. No one pretends that Sheeran has any edge anymore, and no one seems to care. Being uncool is no longer an insult that can be used against him – it’s almost become the entire point of his appeal. What strange cultural times we live in.

Christian Butler is a spiked columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @CPAButler

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