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.
Mild spoilers for Game of Thrones TV series, Episodes 1-4
- 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.
- 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.
- 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]
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
Reasons it’s icky:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
If I’ve intrigued you and you want to dive straight in at the fifth episode, check out the recap.