c.e. taillefer

April 4, 2013

Sorry Not Sorry II: I watch Game of Thrones


A Note: A short while after I posted my first Sorry Not Sorry, someone mentioned that they hated that phrase because of how dismissive it sounds, a cousin to “I’m not homophobic *pulls out bullhorn and screams* BUT…” I chose this name partly out of practicality (it’s topical, it’s catchy), but also because for me, it sums up the contradictions in being a queer woman and participating in media culture.  Pretty much everything I consume, whether it’s literature, television or video games, is going to have its problems, some far more than others. However, I like participatory criticism, and given the popularity of some of these works, the criticism has a broader chance to get out there and be heard. Maybe that’s still naivete. But it’s my naivete, at least.

Safe to say, this post will contain spoilers for seasons 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones, and while I’m talking about the show over the book, consider the post as having spoilers for books 1-5 as well.

Sansa and Shae


Season 3 of HBO’s Game of Thrones premiered on March 31st, and, despite airing counter to the Walking Dead’s season finale, netted its highest numbers ever. For all that, it was a slow premiere – not bad, but of a necessity, slow when you have an ensemble cast as big as GoT does.  Some people have criticized it for a lot of talking, without much actions (big or small) but in my experience, some of the best and most intense moments have been dialogue over any of the action.

The producers have mentioned they are splitting up the third book, A Storm of Swords, covering some in Season 3 and some in Season 4, due to the length. They are also, however, weaving in elements from books 4 and 5 as well (and possibly hints from books yet to be written). It’s not so much a book by book coverage as it is an adaptation of the themes, and in some way I’m glad.  Prisoner of Azkaban was one of the less-faithful adaptations of the books, and yet one of the most re-watchable of films, and the current seasons of True Blood look nothing like the book counterparts (thank god.)

On the other hand, I’ve mentioned before that the thrust of the show feels more vicious.  Despite the body counts of the earlier ASOIAF books, the authorial tone of the fifth book takes on an unpleasant vengeful tinge. One of the things that I liked a lot about GoT season 1 was the scenes that were added that you couldn’t have seen due to the POV aspect of the books – Cersei and Robert’s honest conversation, for example.

Cersei: …I felt something for you once, you know.

Robert: I know.

Cersei: Even after we lost our first boy… for quite a while, actually. Was it ever possible for us? Was there ever a time, or a moment?

Robert: …No.

You don’t actually get any hint of this until book four, when Cersei finally gets her own chapters as a point-of-view character. I’m glad they humanized her early on in the show, because in the books, you get a little whiplash from thinking she’s a monster (thanks to Ned and Arya’s points of view), to feeling some sympathy for her and the Hand (little court humour there for you) life dealt her, to GRRM pretty much telling you, “No, she’s a monster and deserves everything she gets.”

In some ways, the show is more tender about the grey-morality characters. The problem is, I’m unsure if this is to present a more balanced view than the unreliable narrators of the books can give us, or if it’s just to more Starkly highlight (did it again!) the horrors of Westeros and Essos.

Take, for example, the Dothraki.  In both the books and the show, they are presented as a vicious barbarian horde, uncivilized and rapacious. They are also, for quite some time, the only POC in the entire show, which makes a sad and racist statement in and of itself. In both mediums, Dany comes around to love her warlord husband, going so far as to sacrifice everything to try and get him back.

In the books, it’s pretty clear that she’s married to Drogo unwillingly, and the scene where he consummates the marriage is uncomfortable – more so than ever when you remember Daenerys in the books is only 13. He tries to make her comfortable despite the language barrier, but it’s obvious this marriage is gonna happen whether she wants to or not. In the show, you get essentially the same story; however, the consummation is so viscerally brutal, replete with tearing of clothes and crying, that the take-away message is wholly different.  I suppose it’s meant to steepen the incline she has to struggle from her brother’s property to queen, but let’s be real, the odds in the book were stacked against her just as badly. Is it because society cannot process anything as rape other than “forceful”? Is this a deliberate choice on the part of the authors to ramp up the drama, or because anything more subtle would have confused most viewers.

(For what it’s worth, when the comics came out, one of the covers was Dany’s rape scene, so I’m inclined to believe it was the former.)

Season two was even worse, with at least three separate scenes where I had to pause the show and catch my breath – the attack on Sansa during the riot, Joffrey with the women, and the torture scene in Harrenhal. Again, in the books, we don’t really know what happens to Sansa during the riot, since it’s a Tyrion POV chapter and they’re not very chummy.

Tyrion and Sansa

“Lady Stark, you may yet outlive us all.” From your lips to God’s ears, bub.

The show takes a gleefully long time in showing us exactly what happened to Sansa during the riot, and in case that wasn’t hard enough, a shot-for-shot reply in the next episode when she has a nightmare about it.

I liked the ambiguity of the books in a lot of ways. Maybe it’s cowardice, in not having to confront the ugliness, but it wasn’t really necessary to have graphic and brutal rape for me to understand how dire Dany and Sansa’s straits are.  I knew Joffery was a colossal coward and asshole, I didn’t need a scene showing us more than that. It feels like either GRRM or the producers don’t trust their audience enough in some instances – couldn’t the latter situation have been dealt with via Tyrion slapping his nephew around again for brutalizing the women? Then it would have served at least two purposes – we know Joffrey did something heinous, and it would have actually had Tyrion ACKNOWLEDGE that two women were scarred and scared by his monstrous boy-king of a nephew. (Bonus purpose: more gifsets of Joffrey getting slapped!)

It’s not really surprising to me that the HBO show isn’t really breaking the mold of rape to punish women, or suicide/death to punish a gay couple. It’s great that the show HAS lots of interesting women characters, or an openly acknowledged queer couiple – but what then are you saying about them? There have only been a scant handful of non-white characters, one of which is a morally ambiguous pirate (and yet still less heinous than most of the main characters, so) and another was murdered in season two.  Season three brings us Missandei, probably my new favourite character after Nathalie’s performance on Sunday,  Dany’s remaining Dothraki and/or the armies she manages to collect in the slave cities, and the ethnic ambiguity of Shae and Talisa.

And yet, every week when it’s on, I’m looking forward to a new episode.  It’s compelling, the acting is fantastic even if the plot is shaky at times, and I do think the sense that it’s very hard to find anyone to “root” for is refreshing. (Even though the answer is obvious: Sansa. And Davos. And Missandei. Three heads of the dragon. There. Done.) It’s meaty as hell, and every 52 minutes of airtime gives me hours of stuff to talk about with others, break down and guess ahead.  It’s like a puzzle. A grim, gory, awfully sad state-of-affairs puzzle, but a puzzle nonetheless. It’s one step removed from GRRM, whose views on his characters I find personally repugnant.* Sometimes, when I hate myself, I can read the westeros.org forums and get angry, which passes the time. (Sansa haters, the lot of them.)

I’m conflicted on GoT. It’s one of those things where even as it’s a jab at fantasy like Wheel of Time or LOTR where war is fairly tidy, and Sauron is evil, and women mostly non-existant, I am not sure this is the representation we want either. Because it’s grittier, fantasy is in a weird place where people are clamouring for realism, even though medieval history (whatever that is) wasn’t an all-white rapefest, either. The truth lies somewhere in between. And that’s okay, fantasy isn’t meant to be realistic. We don’t really have elves, or dragons, or cold zombies. But it’s kicked off a trend I’m not sure I like, even if I do enjoy reading ASOIAF and queuing up Game of Thrones every sunday.

What about you?

*at some point, I read an interview/blog post where he stated he thought Daenerys was the sexiest book character, which. 13. THIRTEEN. If I find the link later, I’ll add it.


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