Game of Thrones, Heart of Trash

“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour, and it can never be used to hurt you.” – Tyrion Lannister

Game of Thrones has become something of a cause célèbre in recent months, in large part due to its depictions of sexual assault. I personally gave up on the series with the Sansa incident (a line I drew in the sand several series back in an attempt to convince myself to keep watching), but what’s really began to irk me over the past few years is this series’ complete and total denial of its own identity.

At its core Game of Thrones is an exploitation soap opera, Dallas with dragons and softcore porn, but it’s so determined to be high art it can’t admit this to itself. The endless random prostitutes and rape victims used as window dressing clash violently with the show’s prestige aspirations, all of which get phenomenally boring very quickly as the show has no idea how to use them any more artistically than a cheap porno.

The real problem though is that as the show has become more and more obsessed with being taken seriously it’s proven it has no idea how to do that beside becoming more violent and miserable. It visits horror upon horror onto its cast without having any idea why besides ‘we got good reviews for Baelor and the Red Wedding, so misery’s artistic right?’, but all this does is sharply contrast with the unceasing softcore porn and make the violence unbelievably dull (I almost fell asleep during the umpteenth Theon torture scene). Whatever point the story originally had has been lost beneath the piles of tragedy it thinks makes a point in and of itself.

Part of this problem is inherited from the source material. A Song of Ice and Fire labours under the delusion that it is the great American novel or that it bears much resemblance to medieval European life*, and George RR Martin has a terrible habit of confusing randomness and misery for realism. This tends to kick the legs out from under his drama but the show takes it to a whole new level.

I think the best example of this problem with the show is its depiction of Ramsay Bolton. Villains who are completely and irredeemably horrible can work brilliantly in fiction (I hold that Amon Goeth is cinema’s greatest bad guy) but they need depth beyond their desire to cause misery. Joffrey may not have been the most complex character but he had the depth of being an entitled little shit given a position of power and influence far beyond his comprehension (like an evil Justin Bieber). Ramsay in the show however is just Joffrey 2.0, an attempt to recapture past success by creating someone even nastier, but the result is a one-note caricature who might just work in an exploitation piece but who falls completely flat in serious drama, and becomes incredibly boring.

Were Game of Thrones to embrace its nature and become full-on exploitation it would probably be quite fun. The first series’ sex scenes were so ridiculous and out of nowhere they had a certain charm the way good exploitation does, and that whole series’ embrace of its pulpy origins fitted the source material far better than the current deathly serious approach.

So in conclusion I implore Benioff and Weiss to just accept their show for what it is. Drop the pretensions to high artistry, let their twelve-year-old ids run rampant and let Game of Thrones flourish into the wilfully sleazy splatterfest it was always meant to be.




What the fuck, Game of Thrones?

(Massive, ruinous fucking spoilers to come for the show and Once Upon A Time In America)

This show has always been dark. It comes from the source material. Murder, torture, incest and events offscreen that would only seem fun to the Imperial Japanese Army. But they generally have been able to handle it, until tonight. This episode went off the deep end.

Jaime is fucked now as a character. It is impossible to sympathise with him after this. It is impossible for his up until this point impressive redemptive character arc to continue. It is impossible to want to continue watching what he’ll do. For the first time, an episode of this show was unpleasant. I should probably explain what I mean by that. I don’t mean that there has never been uncomfortable subject matter on this show, nor do I mean that I am jaded to the point where the slaughter of babies does not phase me. I mean that at no point did I want to stop watching. Anything subject matter can be shown onscreen in a compelling way, be it rape, torture or child molestation, but it has to fit with the work as a whole. This does not. It can not. The entirety of the last series had Jaime starting to redeem himself and us coming around to him despite everything we’d seen him do and that is the only way his arc can attempt to continue. But it won’t work.

The books are the most obvious comparison point so let’s start there. In the books this scene happens right after Jaime returns to King’s Landing. He arrives maimed to find his son dead and his sister/lover inconsolable by his corpse. In all this he starts coming onto her and after some initial protestations over the possibility of being caught next to their son’s body she gives in and they energetically fuck each other’s brains out. This is fucked up to an impressive degree, yes, but it does not make either character completely irredeemable. That’s the thing with rape in fiction: it cannot be justified. Murder, sure. Even the killing of innocent children can be carried out by a sympathetic character (usually as the lesser of two evils) but there is not a single sound justification that can be found for rape. We all hated Joffrey, we wanted him to die in a painful way and eventually we got it, but no-one ever wanted to see Joffrey being violated. Because that would have been unpleasant.

I think a good example of what I mean is one of my favourite films: Once Upon a Time In America, Sergio Leone’s lifetime-spanning gangster epic. Roughly two-thirds of the way through this film the protagonist Noodles is attempting to woo a childhood friend of his who reveals that she is leaving New York to pursue her dreams of acting. Noodles, who up to this point has been an interesting and morally complex character, responds by raping her in a drawn-out, very uncomfortable scene which destroys any sympathy you may have had left for him. But that it the point. Noodles is meant to become irredeemable. We still watch him because we want to see how his story ends but we are not meant to sympathise with him as it comes to a close. Unlike Jaime.

The rest of the episode wasn’t a whole lot better. The new wildling tribe are so cartoonishly villainous that they are impossible to take seriously, Aiden Gillen appears to be taking the piss by this point, the Hound mugging people was just unpleasant to watch and Benioff and Weiss prove once more that they have absolutely no idea how to write a gay character, as yet again we have the point of Oberyn’s bisexuality hammered into our skulls with a fucking piledriver. This isn’t even the show’s infamous sexposition as there is no sex, apparently our writers are just too insecure to have two men actually fuck onscreen. After Loras and Renly, whose may as well have been renamed Slutty McFucksaround and Wimp respectively we also have Oberyn’s girlfriend Ellaria Sand, whose literally only character trait is ‘fucks women’. This episode isn’t dark. It’s stupid. Unpleasant. Written by people who have no fucking clue what they are doing with this material and subject matter and if this course continues I will start burning my bridges with this show like a glowing child just turned up and told me to pick a colour.