A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me to take part in an email based interview based around my experience and feelings regarding HBO’s Game of thrones, as part of research for a University Thesis. After realizing that my answer to the first question was quite a long essay I decided to post it as Blogging is fun. Enjoy;
Q: In as much depth as possible, can you tell me about your experience of watching Game of Thrones?
A: Okay so I first watched GOT streamed from freetv.com, about halfway through the second season was airing. I did to pass the hours by whilst I was job searching because I had run out of things to watch on Netflix. I wanted to see what all this fuss was about and Kayla, who managed to read the entire published editions of a Song of Ice and Fire, told me I needed to read them – something I thought watching the TV show would be an adequate sub for.
My first impressions was colored by the kind of D&D, Lord of the rings-esque mini-series that where knocking around in the late 1990s-early 2000s (Dinotopia, Gormangast, etc) as well as the Sky Adaptations of Terry Pratchett books that were popular a few years ago This is primarily because it mixes a weird mix of semi computer generated environments and oddly intense lighting that I suppose is to be the sun but makes the whole thing look like a dream sequence. Not knowing anything about the story – other than Ned Stark dies and boobs – I was ready to watch some easy fantasy nonsense.
So I appreciated the whoring and squalor off the bat, primarily because it is kind of annoying how fantasy worlds never have quite the amount of grime and depressive exploitation that happened in feudal times and would no doubt happen in a Lord of the rings – weird how the soldiers of Minas-Tirith don’t frequent brothels and Theoden has no bastard children – even if these things are a little overplayed and weird, the best example of this is the character of “Rose” who initially seems to only be there as an actor who would flash her crotch for the camera as I have no idea what she adds to the show (My further issues with Rose will be discussed later). I enjoy the initial story is focused on the inner workings of the government of Westeros – I’m a sucker for palace intrigue – as well as seeing the way the Night’s Watch work through Jon Snow’s experience of Channel 4 News The Wall as it’s a convenient way to tell us all about the North, the Wildlings and the religions of Westeros – again something I appreciated about GOT vs. LOTR, as this adds an otherness about the North and thus of the Stark family in relation to the rest of the Westeros aristocracy.
It’s kind of annoying how the only people with any independent characterization are members of the aristocracy; everyone without a title seems to have emotions primarily focused around those who do. All the working class nightswatchmen are super angry with Jon Snow for being good at fighting as opposed to… I don’t know, being conscripted into a celibate army in a land of perpetual Winter. The boys Arya is taken north with seem to all be universally cowardly and viscous with the exception of Gendry(You know, the one with noble blood). When I read the books (after watching the second season) this made sense as the POV nature of the books sort of requires us to firstly see things from the from the perspective of the aristocracy which would naturally overlook all the commoners who don’t do stuff for them; however, this perspective sort of goes out the window since we’re not inside any character’s head during the TV show, an issue I’ll bring up later on but I don’t want to get into comparing the tv show to the book unfavorably too much.
Despite all this classist bullshit that goes on in minor characterization is kind of weird as it seems to fly in the face of the overarching thesis of game of thrones, which I think is that hereditary power is a bad Idea as everyone who inherits power during the story (Robb Stark, Joffery Baratheon, Cerci Lanister, Robert Ayrn, Viserys Targaryen) fuck up monumentally due to a hubris based on the arrogance they have been endowed with due to being label for rule from an early age, whilst the competent players are all the marginalized characters (Tryion Lanister, Jon Snow, Samwell Tarley, Littlefinger, Lord Vareys, Jamie Lanister). It should be noted that they’re all still members of the aristocracy, which kind of makes me sympathetic to the argument that game of thrones plays into the iconography of fascism in that the heroes of this story all seem to be members of the lower upper class and benefit from the breeding and the fact that they have had to fight their way to the top.
So ladies; It confuses me that GOT is lauded as the most feminist thing in the Fantasy Genre (gonna complain about it not being like the book for a paragraph, sorry) So there are four characters who I think are unpleasantly scaled down from the fully fleshed out characters they could be/are in fact in the books;
1) Ayra – So from the get-go Arya is an irritatingly pingeonholeable “Tomboy”. Something I don’t necessarily mind in itself but is kind of annoying playing against Sansa (who we will get to) she comes off as just a foil for her sister’s less than clever remarks about her professed love for Joffrey. The main source of my irritation re: Arya is that she watches her father be murdered, is threatened with rape, murder and attacked nearly constantly whilst she is meandering through the middle of a no holds barred war – yet she doesn’t kill anyone until the end of the third season. in the book (Sorry) she kills her first person at the end of book one, who is a stable boy, this leads to an awesome piece of character development as it pays off near the end of the fourth book as she has a minor breakdown as the fact that she has washed herself in the blood of dozens of men for the last 18 months or so. As she doesn’t do this during the tv show her bravado and gradual heart hardening don’t make a lot of sense as all her killing is done for her by men and boys who all seem to be much more competent than she is despite lacking the sword training she apparently has. GAH
2) Shae: Why the fuck does Shae give a shit about who Tyrion marries? Their relationship starts with him hiring her; her primary motivations are money and entertaining herself and all the ideas Tyrion has about her loving him are supposed to be just those; thoughts in Tyrion’s head. It pains me that a character who was clearly written as the antithesis to the “Hooker with a heart of Gold” trope go on to weirdly fulfill that role. As a side note I do like that Sibel Kekilli did porn earlier on in her life; it kind of shows that it’s possible to be a successful public figure even though people know for a fact that you’ve had sex…. In Germany at least; Sigh English speaking world, sigh
3) Sansa: Sansa is super frustrating The fact that we have a character who has been trapped by her former betrothed whilst coming to terms with the death of her father, a thing she was somewhat complicit in, is a really cool opportunity to either explore what it would be like to experience this – would she work to try and undermine the Lannisters and their hold on king’s Landing or possibly develop some kind of Stockholm syndrome that the amount of time she spends both in court and with Cersei. Instead of this we just see life sucking for her continually as her gallant brother Robb fights to save her unsuccessfully. (Sorry about the need to refer to the book) A major flaw in Sansa’s Character in the TV show is that during the books she develops really extensively but almost all of that development is internal monologue, this means that in the TV Show she comes off as just a damsel in distress.
4) Daenerys: So Danny is annoyingly under characterized – a good example of this is a seen early on in the first season when her handmaid teaches her how to have sex with Karl so he’ll respect her more. The dynamics of this scene are annoying because it’s premise is that The Female heir to a former Royal household which deals almost exclusively in sister-brother marriage (something that means that from birth she has been told about sex and breeding because that is essentially her job) at no point thought to ask anyone to give her pointers on how to gain power in a marital relationship through sexual favours. This is especially annoying as it makes Danny this weird helpless damsel in distress until she gets dragons. After she gets dragons, however, I enjoy Danny character despite the fact that the entirety of her stay in Quarth seems to supposedly be the turning point of her story as she begins to resolve to build her army/empire as opposed to keep running.
As well as under characterizing people who we’re supposed to root for, GOT has a bad habit of over characterizing people who don’t need it at all. A good example of this is Joffrey; why do we need to see Joffery begin to suspect that Cersei and Jamie have been fucking? Why do we need to watch him be sexually intimidated by Margery? Joffery is a Sociopath who has been taught from birth by an overbearing mother that he is the literal center of the universe who will one day rule almost all the known world. He has no redeemable qualities and it’s detrimental to the show to pretend he does. I can only assume this is something the writers have taken from the fact that the way Jamie’s character is developed over the series as we start knowing only that he is a killer who is prepared to kill kids to protect his incestuous affair, we then see him grow as a human-being and come to see his character as whole and well beyond the one dimensional swaggering villain he starts as.
Overall I like game of thrones; I think it’s a really good step in the right direction as it has a really nice earthiness that a lot of fantasy/sci-fi stuff is really bad at – possibly because the target demographic isn’t super comfortable with social commentary, and sexy stuff.