“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.