May 14, 2012

Game of Thrones on HBO: It's the sex! [Review Time]

It grew on me. Judging from the hype, I’m probably alone in that I wasn’t blown away by the Game of Thrones television adaptation from the beginning. Although the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, is going on close to two decades of readership, it wasn’t until HBO gave it a primetime slot that the whole world starting raving about A Game of Thrones and the book sales skyrocketed. It definitely got my attention, but also left me wondering, how is this so different from all the Fantasy that’s rotting on the bookshelves at Borders, the piles of crappy generic, poorly-written re-tellings of The Lord of the Rings? The pilot of Game of Thrones answered my question relatively quickly: it’s the sex.

I’m not a prude; as proof of that, check out my favourite movie, Fight Club. That’s not what this is about. It’s just that Fantasy as a genre has always avoided intense profanity and graphic sex for a reason, and it’s not because Fantasy is for children (although alienating the child and youth market as a Fantasy author is often a pretty shitty idea) or because of any high and mighty ideas about what belongs in the genre. It’s because sexy Fantasy comes off as pure gimmick. It’s very, very hard to pull off without looking gimmicky, without seeming as if the only thing setting this series apart from all the others is that this Fantasy is not for children. This is Fantasy for adults.

The instant Robert Baratheon starts dropping f-bombs, the show begins to look gimicky. On the other hand, another show I’ve watched from a network that doesn’t adhere to censorship is Dexter, and I completely feel that the swearing and all add to the realism. Are you ever getting your Criminal Minds fix and Morgan comes out all agitated and says, “Damnit!” and you’re like, come on, the guy’s a hot-headed FBI agent and people are dying and he’s outright pissed and I’m supposed to believe that “Damnit” is all he’s got? Yeah fucking right. So I appreciate the realism you get from Dexter, and Debra Morgan, and her foul mouth, is completely my hero (except when she’s crying over things, which is often).

The pilot of Game of Thrones was a little shocking after everything I’d heard; no one told me this was going to be soft-core porn. It actually took a few episodes before it became clear that Tyrion’s threesomes were not the only reason people were watching the show. But the kind of debauchery we see at the beginning of Game of Thrones does more than set the series apart as sexy Fantasy for adults; it primes you for the kind of darkness we’re going to be facing here. It’s all fun and games when the freedom from censorship gives us unclad ladies and thrilling sexual encounters, but what it’s preparing you for is the infanticide, incest, rape and guts you’re going to be seeing very soon.
Don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s shocked; it becomes clear that that’s the point when you have sickly looking crazy ladies breast-feeding near-teenagers and Wildlings marrying and breeding with their own daughters, dozens of them. Don’t tell me it’s not shocking when an episode later little breastfeeding son is going for his mother’s teets again and you’re like “Please not that again. I don’t need to see that again. I remember, but thanks for the reminder,” and the only saving grace is that they don’t make you see it again. What a relief.

There’s a reason why in his Emmy acceptance speech, Peter Dinklage said that HBO is a network that allows artists to create art. If you think about your favourite classic piece of literature, you’re probably going to be able to pinpoint some profanity and some perversion, whether it’s Catcher in the Rye, James Joyce’s Ulysses (which was and prosecuted for obscenity and banned from the UK for a decade), The Godfather, One Hundred Years of Solitude... the list goes on and on. The point is to shock, but it also creates realism; real life is gritty sometimes.

After a season and a bit I’m just as addicted to Game of Thrones as everyone else and I’ve decided it’s not a gimmick. I’m hoping everyone’s not watching in hopes of seeing Cercei and Jamie Lannister going at it again or the beautiful Dany Targaryan getting practically raped by her husband. It’s because we care about characters like poor Sansa Stark and don’t want them to get raped, not because it’s thrilling, right? We’re not sick like that, right?

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