Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Game of Thrones Season One

My most-viewed blog post, by quite a large margin, is Drinking Game of Thrones. (I enjoy the thought of hordes of unengaged people idly googling “game of thrones drinking game”, finding my post, and then getting slammed by the stealth anti-racism.)

That was eight weeks ago, though, and now the first season of Game of Thrones has come to a close. I suppose this means I should have five times as many thoughts as I did back then. Here are some of them.

As a whole, I liked the show. It has its problematic elements, natch. For one thing, I could honestly go the rest of my life without encountering another male-dominated story. It's gotten to the point where, if I pick up a book thinking it looks interesting but see that the protagonist is male, I put it down again. Only a really cool premise, a recommendation from someone I trust, or an author I love can make me read a book about a man. And yet (as we shall see) just because Game of Thrones is set in a male-dominated world doesn't mean it's necessarily a male-dominated story (see also: Boardwalk Empire).

For another thing, GRATUITOUS NUDITY. HBO has a fixation with this. The trouble is that US network TV is so puritanical, HBO goes too far in the opposite direction just because it can – like a teenager from a strict home who's away at university for the first time and goes a little wild. Maybe if the rest of US TV would just grow up a little, HBO wouldn't feel the need to shower its programming with BOOBIES. It's as if somebody said, “All these characters are a little confusing. Every other episode we need a scene where some man monologues for ten minutes about things the audience would already know if they'd been paying attention. But how to make this unnecessary exposition palatable? Ah yes, BOOBIES!” Honestly, it baffles me. We live in the internet age. Every viewer can see all the boobies they could possibly want at the click of a mouse. Why do we need gratuitous porn in our TV shows?

And, of course, lest they be accused of unequal-opportunity pornifying, the producers slung in a couple of dick shots as well. Wow. You know, I hate cats and have never seen an episode of The L Word, and if that ever makes me feel like Not A Real Lesbian, all it takes is one TV schlong to assure me that I couldn't be gayer if I threw out all my skirts and changed my name to Shane. Seriously, my straight and bi sisters? You're... you're really into that?

“But Anna,” you are yelling, “enough with the nekkidness already. You've written 400+ words, and you haven't even mentioned racism!”

Well, quit yelling; it's annoying your housemates. As you know, I have serious problems with the crass Orientalism of the Dothraki storyline, but I think it takes great strides toward redemption with that devastating scene between Dany and Mirri Maz Duur (here be spoilers, if I need to say it). Dany can't believe the woman she so nobly rescued would betray her; Mirri Maz Duur icily describes everything that happened to her before Dany's oh-so-noble white-woman intervention: “Look to your khal and see what life is worth, when all the rest is gone.” Unlike in the book, this scene is separated from the one where Dany suffocates Drogo. As such, it has the space to emphasize Mirri Maz Duur and to speak unarticulated volumes about the relationship between conqueror and conquered.

That was arguably my favorite moment in the season; but, gratuitous nudity notwithstanding, there were plenty of other things I liked too. For all my whining about male-dominated stories, I think the show did some pretty great things with its female characters. Both Catelyn and Cersei were much more engaging to me in the show than in the book. In Catelyn's case, it might have been the fact that I didn't have to listen to her inner monologue carp about Jon Snow, which was all she ever seemed to bloody do in the book; but both women, thanks to excellent performances from Michelle Fairley and Lena Headey, had real depth to their characters that allowed them to exist as much more than just mothers and wives.

Even Sansa had a moment in the final episode that made me think she's not quite as unutterably tedious as she'd been up to that point. In her case, witnessing her thought processes gave me a good deal more sympathy for her in the book than in the show; without them, her progression from vapid teenager to shrewd and desperate survivor isn't as clear. I have high hopes for her in the second season, though.

And need I even mention Arya, and the 52 varieties of ass she kicks?

What I like most, though, is that what Game of Thrones is really about is “cripples, bastards, and broken things”. All the most compelling and sympathetic characters are the ones who are disadvantaged in the dog-eat-dog world of Westeros: women, PWD, a dwarf, a eunuch, an illegitimate son. The powerful non-disabled male characters, who think they hold the reins, are either flat-out evil or fatally myopic, and it's the people they continue to underestimate – Arya, Cersei, Tyrion, Varys – who will make them pay.

I think there's an interesting contrast here with The Walking Dead. Oh, how I hated The Walking Dead. (When its second season starts in October, I plan to finish a long-overdue blog post about how much and why I hated it. Sneak preview: one of the reasons is racism!) It's not an entirely fair comparison, because my familiarity with the source material gives GoT an advantage in my affections, but for two high-budget, highly-anticipated, highly-acclaimed TV shows, I've had very different reactions. And I think it's because TWD sidelines its cripples, bastards, and broken things, while GoT actually, despite what “starring Sean Bean” might lead you to believe, foregrounds them.


  1. You know, you bring up an interesting point with the scene with Mirri Maz Duur. I haven't actually given that much thought, but now I will.

    In case you're curious, I've actually written about A Game of Thrones--twice XD

    One is here regarding the first sex scene between Drogo and Daenerys and I've actually also written about the book series' feminist merit.

  2. It's possible I'm reading too much into that scene. Gena from Hathor Legacy hated it, because she felt we were being told to sympathize with Dany and not "traitorous villain" Mirri Maz Duur; whereas I sympathized more with Mirri - not that her actions weren't horrible, but I could absolutely see where she was coming from. I read that scene as a turning point for Dany: she had the chance to start thinking critically about the nature of conquest, but instead (motivated partly by grief, of course) she chooses to kill Mirri Maz Duur and continue riding around the Lands of the Summer Sea pulling that "look at me! I am the white woman nobly freeing all the slaves from their nasty colored oppressors!" shit.

    I've seen your post about the sex scene before - a very good point. I'm not completely up-to-date with the books yet (almost finished A Storm of Swords 2: The Bloodening), but as soon as I am I'll check out your other post.