Pop Culture

Game of Thrones ““ Why Watch?

It’s getting serious buzz online and at parties (the ones I go to, anyway…): here are seven reasons to love it – and three reasons why you might not.

Trigger warning: sexual violence

Mild spoilers for Game of Thrones TV series, Episodes 1-4

Why I love it:
  1. Complexity: If you are a fan of historical fiction or biography, there is plenty to love here. It’s based very loosely on the Wars of the Roses with a pinch of Imperial Rome and the Borgias thrown in. Expect multiple long-running plots, double-crossing, betrayal, treason, and a lot of twists. Do not expect quick or easy resolutions. If you miss Rome and curse HBO for ever canceling it, you will forgive them a tiny bit for this.
  2. Interesting treatment of gender and the patriarchy: Arya is more interested in swords than sewing and is disappointed when her father tells her she’ll never be a lord. But her sword teacher doesn’t care if she’s not male: “Boy, girl – you are a sword, that is all.”[pullquote]”Boy, girl – you are a sword, that is all.”[/pullquote] Her sister Sansa is wholeheartedly submitted to the ideals of ladyhood, even if it means lying and betraying her family, and realizing that her whole worth is tied in to how many children she has and the shape of their genitals: “If I only have girls, then everyone will hate me.” [pullquote]”If I only have girls, then everyone will hate me.”[/pullquote] And it’s not just the female characters; male characters who don’t fit the ideal of a perfect man abound: Tyrion, Bran, Varys, and Sam Tarly are the obvious ones.  I’m very interested to see how this is explored by the writers as the series progresses.

    Cersei Lannister looks away into the distance
    Cersei contemplates painted whores (c/o the official Making Game of Thrones blog)
  3. It’s categorized as “fantasy,” but if the thought of spells and SFX bores you to tears, no tissues required: the supernatural elements are treated with a very light hand. Apart from the terrific prologue, the White Walkers are just rumours – so far – and the dragons are historical relics, their petrified eggs nothing but a pretty wedding present for Dany.[pullquote]”A mind needs a book like a sword needs a whetstone”[/pullquote]
  4. Seriously intriguing characters: my current favourite is Tyrion, a fan of brothels and books with a gift for ridicule, who gets some of the best lines, e.g., “A mind needs a book like a sword needs a whetstone” (my new nerd motto), does good deeds, and manages to teach Jon Snow a thing or two about class privilege before taking great delight in pissing off the 700-foot Wall. Cersei is a vicious, power-hungry menace or a damaged woman with a heart of gold, or perhaps both. Catelyn Stark is so far kicking serious ass, and Arya shows potential. It even (!) has at least one pass on the Bechdel test.
  5. Eye candy. This is TV, after all, so almost everyone will find someone to pause the show for. My personal rewind-and-rewatch contender is Jon Snow: Jon, let me show you what you’re missing with that whole celibacy thing. NOM. You?
  6. A very good cast, including Sean Bean, Lena Headey (who I adore ever since seeing her in Imagine Me and You), and fellow countryman of mine and The Wire alumnus, Aidan Gillen. Peter Dinklage wasn’t really on my radar before, but he is really doing Tyrion serious justice. And the children – especially those playing Arya and Bran –are very good, too. Bonus points to anyone who spots alumni from Misfits, Being Human, and Stargate. Double bonus points if you can spot a certain pop singer’s brother.
  7. All the northerners have northern English accents. Yum. And I’m very entertained by U.S.ian Peter Dinklage’s cut-glass posh accent and Aidan Gillen’s peripatetic just-posh-enough accent.
wearing black-rimmed glasses, Jon says "Catelyn makes me wear all of Robb's hand-me-downs. That just means they're vintage"
If Jon Snow was a hipster, I still would.


Reasons it’s icky:

  1. Historical and social accuracy seems to mean violence, especially sexual violence. I vacillate between thinking it’s allowable and even necessary because it’s accurate to the social setting; and hating it because it could be seen as normalizing or glamourizing sexual violence.  Though more prevalent, it is easier to deal with (for me) in the novels, because it’s contextualised. For instance, on Dany’s wedding night, she and Drogo ride off into the sunset to consummate the marriage. In the books this scene is detailed – Drogo makes an effort to behave gently and make Dany feel safe. It’s still painful and rough and certainly Dany’s enthusiastic consent is not required, but you get the impression that Dany isn’t traumatised by it. In the TV series, this scene is just brutish and violent, which makes Dany’s conversion from frightened and traumatised new wife in the first episode to happily pregnant queen in the third disturbingly quick and reeking of Stockholm Syndrome.
  2. Whitewashing: in common with a lot  (if not most) of the fantasy genre, all of the major characters are white, and any other shade of person is a foreigner. However, it’s not as if the series has had time to delve deeply into comparative cultures, and as one writer points out, “One of the main themes of the series is that every culture in this vast, complex, war-torn world is brutal at its core.” I’m withholding serious judgement on this for the moment.
  3. Anyone who isn’t a noble just fetches and carries, and is occasionally butchered because a noble has a tantrum, or a possibly an underhanded plan. I’m pretty sure more nobles will be skewered too before long (poor Ser Hugh), but at least they’ll probably have a character before they do it.

If you’ve seen the show, what did you think – are you intrigued? Delighted? Bored? Repulsed? If not, are you planning to watch?

Further reading: io9 has some good recaps; Slate asks is Game of Thrones racist; and all the back story you need is on the official HBO site.

If I’ve intrigued you and you want to dive straight in at the fifth episode, check out the recap.

8 replies on “Game of Thrones ““ Why Watch?”

Okay, I have to know- who from Misfits is in this?? I might actually have to watch this now!

I really didn’t like the books- I read three of them, waiting for them to get goo before I realised that this series just wasn’t for me. I can’t quite pinpoint why- I love high fantasy- but there it is.

I don’t have a huge problem with Dany’s rape and her subsequent grab for power. I think it’s important to call it what it is: her brother intended to trade her as a sex slave. To sugar coat it would be to dilute the dynamic between the two siblings. I prefer to see her as a survivor who uses the tools available to her to gain power over her abusers rather than a victim experiencing Stockholm syndrome.

Yeah, that’s how I interpreted Dany’s story too. Actually, when I heard that the books depicted her wedding night differently, I was surprised; I haven’t read them, but wouldn’t it be kind of unrealistic for her to enjoy the experience that much? I was worried that the show would get into rape = love territory, but the way they’ve focused on the relationship between herself and Viserys, I think they’ve done a pretty good job depicting her increasing self-awareness. It feels fast, but organic – as if her new sense of power is part and parcel of her broader attempts to really understand and integrate with her new Dothraki ‘family’. My complaint is more about Drogo – they haven’t bothered giving him a personality. I think a little more focus on his character would help to contextualise Dany’s transformation from victim to Khaleesi a little better.

Yes, I agree about Drogo. It seems a deliberate choice so far as they don’t seem to bother to subtitle his speech, as they do for the other Dothraki.

Perhaps I was giving away a bit too much about the books in the point about the prevalence of sexual violence in the story: Dany’s experience is just one example. It’s good to get perspective from people who going by the TV series only.

I am glad Peter Dinklage’s accent finally settled down – I thought it was a bit patchy in the first couple of episodes! He’s doing an amazing job though – steals every scene he is in.

I think Dany’s transformation makes more sense in the book, when you can see inside her head. Her choices are either to be passive and let what’s happening happen, or find a way to take control. It’s not great that the one arena in which she thinks she can start taking control is sexual, but I would rather her be taking what she wants from Drogo than not considering herself worthy/able to demand something in return.

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