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.
Sorry Not Sorry is a new series of blogs, dedicated to media I enjoy: video games, movies, books, etc. I intend for Sorry Not Sorry to open up a dialogue about the line between being a feminist and doing feminist things. The former doesn’t make everything you do automatically feminist (apologies to Lisa Simpson). The urge to close the gap between the two things is natural, I think, and ties in closely with feminists who feel the momentum of the movement flagging, attempting to flog life into it by expanding the definition of feminism so widely that it’s catching stray insects and the occasional neoliberal in its mouth these days. It has undermined the concept of subversion to the point of ridicule, where certain online circles take things like leg shaving or nail painting or high heels as a subversion of femme expectations, because they’re feminist and they’re not doing it because they have to! The average man on the street isn’t going to know that though, nor even are people you might hail as fellow feminists. It doesn’t mean you can’t do those things. It’s okay to be a feminist and enjoy watching Game of Thrones. You can be a feminist and read the Dresden files. It’s just that it doesn’t make those things feminist. Dig me?
So I open Sorry Not Sorry with Homestuck.
Last year I made a couple of posts about A Game of Thrones and one comparing book 1 versus season 1, and what worked for me and what didn’t. We’ve just finished with episode 4 of season 2 and that feeling is back, and a lot stronger this time. There will be spoilers for both seasons of GoT, as well as all five books of ASOIAF after the jump, so be warned!
Because I believe in talking about the good, let’s do that. Davos, my onion knight <3 everything you do is wonderful. So far, he seems the least changed: worried about his sons, trying his best to toe the line between obeying his king and giving him good counsel, disturbed at the religious forces at work around him. You’re perfect and that’s gonna make the season’s end really really hard.
Same with Gethin as Renly. I didn’t care much for him one way or another last season, but this season he seems to really have come into his own as an actor. Scruffy little boy king who has such a bad glass face he can’t help but fail. With him comes Margery and Brienne, two ladies I love and continue to in the show. No complaints here.
Arya and Gendry. Nuff said (for now, we’ll touch on some of it later in the bad section too.)
Finally, something that made me a little happy: in Garden of Bones, after Tyrion helps Sansa up and walks her out (and I do believe he was trying earnestly to help her get out, which becomes incredibly sad in light of what happens in the next book), he says “Lady Stark, you may outlive us yet.”
YES. PLEASE. There have been rumours swirling that GRRM, in the course of directing the actors, has had to given hints as to happenings in later unwritten books, and I sincerely hope a) that’s true and b) this is one of them. For different reasons, both Arya and Sansa are ladies I desire to see outlive everyone because they both went through hell and furthermore, it was a hell specifically tailored to their strengths – neither could have survived what the other went through. So, yes. Please. Sansa is the Dragon. Sansa is the Queen. Sansa, push Littlefinger out the Moon Door. Yes. Do it soon.
The Bad and the Ugly:
Pretty much indistinguishable from my POV this whole season. I’ve not only been horrified a lot more than I was last season only four episodes in, I’m also BORED. This is a terrible combination. You get things like borrifying, like all of the scenes so far beyond the wall: Craster’s a monster, Jon is a Nice Guy, Sam is horny, bleh bleh bleh. They’re also stupid in each their own ways, so meh to Beyond the Wall.
Littlefinger, okay you’re gross. Stop that. Also, you are not nearly the mastermind you think you are – everything you’ve pulled or will pull is because someone else is stronger or smarter than you, so just cut it out. It was satisfying to see Cat threaten to put out an eye or two, but otherwise stop shoving Littlefinger in my face. I guess because TV is so much more show, not tell, they’re giving Littlefinger extra machinations to hide the Wizard being the curtain (Varys) but I like Varys. I don’t like you. Also, as a Cat lover it hurt to see him manipulate her so thoroughly. Which brings me to Cat:
Everything about this season has been wrong with regards to mothers. A Clash of Kings is, imo, a tale of two mothers – Catelyn and Cersei are the lodestones of this initial warring. In the books, Cat convinced Ned to go south (not the other way around); she was the string-puller for the beginnings of Robb’s campaign, and while you see it somewhat in the story when she offers to treat with Lord Frey for passage, in the books she’s much more subtle and even better, you know it’s a loving subtle. Guiding Robb to a better path while also maintaining his authority before his men. Michelle Fairley is INCREDIBLE. Just flat out amazing. When she breathes “Get out,” to Littlefinger I dare your heart not to break a little because she’s just perfect.
Cat deserves better because we know Michelle can deliver. So why isn’t she getting it? Why did Robb order her to Renly, when in the books, she offered to go, knowing it was their best shot for mediation?
Similarly, while we get a hint of Cersei’s machinations, they tend to be extremely short-lived. Maybe they were in the books also, they just felt more sinister and serious because the books are so weighty? I don’t know. But the very next episode, Tyrion not only finds out Joffrey orders the Massacre of the Innocents without her knowledge, he also outmaneuvers her with regards to her daughter without (as he did in the books) poisoning her into shitting her brains out so she couldn’t rule for a few days. The scene with Lancel, while funny, also drove home how stupid Cersei must be to trust anything in this callow little boy. Book Cersei, until about AFFC anyway, was not stupid so much as just hopelessly outclassed by Tyrion and her father. That’s not the case in this season; like Catelyn, a lot of Cersei’s nuance has been stripped away, which makes their roles laughably thin and sad. So much of ASOIAF is about the adult old guard passing away before the youths who drive most of the story after book two, but that transition won’t have any resonance if nearly all the adults are despicable, dumb or both.
The sexualized violence. The sexual violence. The male-gazey sex. This is awful, because GRRM isn’t even particularly progressive wrt women and sex in his books to begin with. I’ve maintained and continue to that any sort of progressively nuanced female characters happens almost entirely by accident, or at the very least more so than he initially intends – see Cersei and her treatment by the author in AFFC/ADWD and how many people with sympathy actually view her, for example.
It was bad enough last season when Dany’s coercive marital rape was turned into flat out, crying while being forcibly stripped rape. It was bad enough with the bizarre-ass Littlefinger exposition over male-gazey prostitution lesbian sex. Shit, most of the canon sex scenes are Bad Enough. This Is Worse, So Cut It Out. Just before Joffrey pulls his horrific stunt on Ros and Daisy, we just saw him ordering Sansa’s beating (which was another thing that was more horrible to watch than to read about). I got the impression Harrenhal was a shitty, terrible place without the lovingly graphic torture sequences. We pretty much knew Stannis fathered shadow babies on Melisandre but it really makes you feel they built that cool ass table specifically to film a sex scene ‘pon it (plus it gave me really fucked up reminisces of a similar scene from Rome, which I also hated.)
Having had to wait for both Feast and Dance to come out, I re-read the first three ASOIAF books quite a few times, and noticed a sort of… not degradation necessarily, but a shifting of perspective on the part of GRRM. Horrible things still happened, especially to women, but now there was a kind of gleeful sense about it. When people pitched Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence as a successor to the ASOIAF genre of grimdark ~medieval~ fantasy, I got the sense they really meant succeeding AFFC/ADWD. Obviously, the biggest one in mind that stands out is Cersei’s downfall and her punishment by the church. There’s this glossy sort of sense you’re supposed to look at what’s happening and go “See, look at the monster get what she deserves.” Only, even in the books, she wasn’t half the monster her son was, and her son was a) that way because he was pretty much born bad and b) desperate for the approval of his rapey, wife-beating drunk man-king of a step-father. And all Joff did was choke and die. big friggin deal.
THAT is the GRRM contributing as a writer and producer on Game of Thrones this season. You can smell the veneer of glee in some of the scenes and so it’s not even the torture that turns me off, but the fact it needs to be shown altogether. I know people lose limbs in war. I know people are tortured for information. I know sex workers are tortured and beaten and raped as a matter of course people they’re not believed to be people. Do we need to see it, all encapsulated in one tidy 55-minutes? No thanks. Do we need to see it in lovingly captured detail? Wow, no. Get the fuck out.
Dear Cher, please turn back time and make GRRM the slightly-less disgusting neckbeard he used to be.
One of the best things about writing genre fiction is the ability to achieve impossible things. You can write about women who live forever, dogs that can swim through the earth like it was water, angels descending from heaven to give a protagonist a much needed slap upside the head or a fairy burrow beneath the subway lines of Toronto. One of the worst things about genre fiction is the sloppy, implausible writing that happens sometimes. It’s not just limited to writing – think of the fine arts, too. You can’t rig a gryphon or a dragon if you don’t understand the bones of an eagle or a lizard.
You can’t break the rules if you don’t know them. That includes the rules of a completely fabricated magic system or universe setting. Even in writing fairly standard vampire stuff, there’s a lot to be aware of: does sunlight kill them? (Yes.) Do they have to be invited in? (Not explicitly but they can be repulsed by a command to get out.) Can they eat human food? (Yes.) Do they have to kill to eat? (No.) And so on. There’s a reason why stereotypes are popular; breaking the rules is exhausting. Okay, so my vampires can eat human food – it’s a good way for them to camouflage themselves as humans because in this universe, vampires are not known to humans, a la True Blood universe. But where does the food go? Their organs don’t work, they don’t take nutrients from it, and they don’t pee or poop. This isn’t Casper where the food shoots right through them and comes out a perfectly formed pile of mushy cake. I could just choose not to address it at all, vamps eat food end of story. But why pass up a perfectly good opportunity to be hilarious? Why not have eating human food make them bloaty or gassy or bloaty and gassy? If it’s a camouflage instinct, the vampire now has to balance eating to look human with gaining a 7 month food baby if he’s not careful. Eventually it would just get broken down by the virulent blood of being a vampire. It doesn’t matter if something’s impossible, as long as its plausible. Anchor your wild ideas into the reality of the world you’re creating, and you’re good to go. Just be careful not to tip your hand too much – after all, when you’re looking at a piece of art or playing a video game, you’re not actually looking at the bones of the figure, are you? (Let’s pretend for the sake of argument, we’re not looking at Frida Kahlo’s art, or playing a Forsaken rogue in World of Warcraft.)
The bones don’t even have to be the tropes that bind genre up, either. They can be the bones of good writing. Let’s face it, when an idea seizes you in its wolf jaws, you’re not thinking about good grammar or sentence structure. That’s fine! It can come later, in the revising process. But if at some point the bones aren’t there, no amount of editing and beta reading are going to put the muscles on it. Good grammar, good sentence composition, strong ideas and voices will carry your story, no matter how impossible and make it shine. When you’ve got them down pat, the rule-breaking can begin.
I love writing fantasy, horror and supernatural stuff because it’s so mind-bendingly fun. Yeah, you’ve gotta learn the rules, but every writer has to at some point. And then you get to launch them into a black hole, twist them all up and yank them out again.