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nenena ([personal profile] nenena) wrote2014-07-20 10:37 pm

The show is Ramsay and we are all Theon: Reactions to Game of Thrones

Summer is the time when I always try to catch up on all of the shows/books/movies that I don't have time to consume during the rest of the year, and this summer I decided to buckle down and marathon the one show that nearly every single person that I know IRL already watches: Game of Thrones.



Now I have to admit, before I even started my marathon of all four seasons back-to-back, I wasn't exactly coming into this experience as an unspoiled virgin. Like I said, nearly all of my friends watch this show, and I already knew quite a bit about it from simple social and pop cultural osmosis. I knew that I was going to have to brace myself for a lot of rape and incest; I was already spoiled for the Red Wedding before I even started watching the first episode; and I knew more about author George R.R. Martin's astoundingly tin-eared, sexist defenses of, well, the rampant sexism and misogyny in the books than I ever cared to know simply from reading about the internet wank that resulted every time he opened his mouth. In fact, I even tried to read A Game of Thrones once, waaaay back in 1996 when it first came out, but I quit halfway through the book because it was too much of a sweaty neckbeard fantasy even for 13-year-old me to tolerate, and that's really saying something because 13-year-old me uncritically devoured a LOT of terrible fantasy books without really picking up on any racist or sexist content that was in any of them.

But yes, despite not liking the first book when I tried to read it many years ago, I was still tired of being left out of This Supposedly Awesome TV Show that most of my friends were absorbed in, so I did it: I watched every single episode of Game of Thrones.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Even though it was kind of terrible. And when it was bad, wow did it get bad. But when it was good... WOW was it good.

Some general impressions:

The best parts of the series were the parts that thrilled my inner ten-year-old. I mean, it's hard not to enjoy a show that consistently rewards viewers with BADASS DRAGONS FUCK YEAH and FUCKING AWESOME SWORDFIGHTS FUCK YEAH and HOLY SHIT THAT DUDE'S HEAD JUST EXPLODED and GIANT BOOMING EXPLOSIONS FUCK YEAH and FREAKIN' SYRIO JUST TOOK OUT FOUR ARMORED DUDES WITH NOTHING BUT A WOODEN SWORD and OH MY GOD STANNIS BARATHEON'S ENTIRE NAVY IS ON FIRE AND THIS IS AWESOME.

Not only that, but quite a lot of the fight choreography is downright spectacular. The continuous shot that begins at 0:38 in this youtube clip from the Battle of Castle Black is one of the goddamn coolest things I've ever seen on television, and it's even better-choreographed and better-shot than most action sequences in all of the big-budget fantasy films that I've seen recently (including the Hobbit films, but then again, that's not really saying much).



And there are moments when Game of Thrones actually manages to be Great Television, too. Yes, it's an HBO series, so yes, I do expect to sometimes get great drama on the level of The Sopranos or The Wire - and yes, there are moments when Game of Thrones truly reaches that level of greatness. Granted, this doesn't really happen until HBO realizes that its audience is capable of watching a great character monologue without having to hold our attention with lesbian sex happening in the foreground, that Varys is a fascinating character who DOESN'T need to mention his dick in literally every single scene in which he appears, and that Cersei is a complicated, complex character who's so much more than just a stereotypical Mean Girl - oh no wait, the writers keep forgetting about that last one.

Fun fact: About halfway through the second season I started playing a game with myself: "Was a woman involved in the writing and/or directing of this episode, or was this episode written entirely by men?" I could always guess correctly based on Cersei's dialogue alone.






(Hat-tip JamieTheIgnorantAmerican)


There's disappointingly little fantasy in this fantasy series. There's so little magic, in fact, that many of the characters don't believe in magic and a few of them are actual atheists. There's even a scientific explanation for why Westeros has such a fantastic seasonal calendar, for flip's sake. The problem with this grim-and-gritty "realistic" version of a fantasy world, however, is that when fantasy elements DO show up they feel completely out of place. To be fair, this is somewhat reflected in the characters' reactions to said fantasy elements, too - such as when self-proclaimed atheist Davos Seaworth sees a demon with his own eyes and then later rationalizes that he may not have seen what he thought he saw, and when Janos Slynt sees a giant right in front of him and then seems to have a psychotic break and just stands there muttering about how giants can't be real because they're only fairy tales - but on the whole it's still... odd. And it creates all sorts of weird world-building paradoxes, too. Everybody accepts that dragons exist and are magic, yet there are people who still don't believe in magic? Are there no wogs in the South? Are there only warlocks on one side of the Narrow Sea? And then in the very last episode of the fourth season - when for about ten minutes the show becomes an ACTUAL FANTASY SERIES complete with skeleton warriors, fairy children, and a wise old mystical bearded wizard who lives beneath a magic tree - it's such a jarring tonal shift that it almost feels like I'm watching an entirely different show.

And yes, despite all of the many ways that I enjoyed this show, the rampant sexism was still pretty hard to stomach. There has been much already written, said, and debated about the excessive misogyny in the world of Westeros, author George R.R. Martin's astoundingly asinine assertion that a fantasy world without misogyny would be "unrealistic" and that sex and violence are totally the same thing, not to mention his equally asinine defense of the Jaime/Cersei rape scene in season 4, plus the totally unsurprising fact that audiences can be sexist too and that Sansa Stark is one of the most hated characters on the internet simply because she's a flawed teenage girl hero who acts like a flawed teenage girl hero, so I won't cover that ground again here.

Cool link interlude: George R.R. Martin's Redwall

"'Be careful, lad,' Bertram, the wisest hare of them all, cautioned Matthew the Warrior as they crossed the threshold. 'They say Timothy the Vole takes all his sisters to wife, and feeds the product of their union to his unseelie, eyeless gods.'

'You say that about everyone,' Matthew answered crossly.

'Well, it’s true about everyone,' Bertram said mildly, 'here in the land of Sister-Taking and Infant-Sorrow. This is the most vicious part of the Blood District in all the Screaming Counties.'"


I still want to hash out, however, the two things that bothered me the most:

1) The fact that the writers seem nearly incapable of writing a Strong Female Character without having said Strong Female Character insult other women, denigrate femininity, or make a big deal about how she's Not Like Other Girls (and therefore superior). This is the dumbest, laziest way to write a Strong Female Character and it's 2014 and I am goddamn sick of it. Even the otherwise flawlessly awesome Grandma Tully falls prey to this terrible cliche in that scene where she insults and humiliates a young girl who was just asking for her approval. After four seasons, the only notable female characters left who haven't made a big deal about how they're Not Like Other Girls are Brienne of Tarth (who ISN'T like other girls but who has yet to claim that this makes her *better* than other women) and, well, Gilly. I'm actually really impressed at the way that the writers have handled Brienne's character so far - she's a masculine woman who is clearly comfortable rejecting her traditional gender role yet at the same time never acts as though rejecting femininity somehow makes her Better Than Other Girls - although I really shouldn't be impressed by that because that should be the standard, not the exception to the rule.

2) The goddamn Podrick scene. You know the one. Tyrion Lannister gives teenage virgin Podrick a bag of gold and leaves him in a room with three of the most experienced, expensive prostitutes in Littlefinger's brothel - and then Podrick returns home later with the bag of gold still in his hands and bashfully reports that the prostitutes refused payment because he was just that good. At first the viewer thinks that this is some sort of trick or ploy on Littlefinger's part, but no - a scene between Ros and Varys later confirms that yes, the story here is actually that a teenage virgin was supposedly so sexually gifted that three of the most high-class prostitutes in King's Landing refused to accept payment from him, and yes, the show is being entirely serious about this, and yes, this scene actually was written by real human beings (with their hands down their pants, apparently) and yes, HBO does actually expect its audience to be stupid enough to forget that these prostitutes work for a man who has been known to kill and maim them when they don't earn money for him, and yes, if you ever, EVER find yourself wondering why so many readers and watchers say that Game of Thrones is a sweaty male neckbeard fantasy with absolutely no grounding in reality whatsoever despite the author's ludicrous claims to the contrary then this is it, THIS is the scene that proves it. Much moreso than the rape and the constant naked sexposition and the misogynistic worldbuilding, THIS is the scene that really made my jaw drop at the sheer unadulterated totally-out-of-touch-with-reality-male-fantasy-ness of it all. I'm still flabbergasted that this scene actually happened. That somebody thought it would be a good idea to put this scene in the show. You know, the show that desperately defends its own sexism by claiming that the sexism makes it "realistic." It just blows my mind.



And at a certain point, I gave up on watching the show without my laptop at my side and the GoT wiki open in one tab, because it was impossible to keep track of the characters otherwise. For starters, during most of the second season I couldn't tell any of the grizzled old guys apart. And then this thing kept happening:

MYSTERIOUS CHARACTER SUDDENLY REVEALS HIMSELF!!

THE AUDIENCE IS SUPPOSED TO RECOGNIZE WHO HE IS!!

OTHER CHARACTERS GASP. "IT'S YOU!!"

And I have to pause the show and turn to the wiki because my only reaction is "Who?????" Oh yeah, it's That Guy who appeared for all of ten minutes of screentime two seasons ago. Well of course.

I was also really confused during the first season because everybody kept talking about Stannis Baratheon but I couldn't remember which of the umpteen million grizzled old dudes he was supposed to be and it was driving me CRAZY. Only after I double-checked the wiki did I realize that Stannis never actually appeared onscreen during the first season so at least my memory wasn't as bad as I'd thought, phew.



And then we got to Theon Greyjoy's terrible story arc in season three and I just laughed all the way through the "guessing game" scene because this is actually what happens:

THEON: I HAVE NO IDEA WHO YOU ARE OR WHY YOU WANT TO PEEL OFF MY FINGERS WHO ARE YOU?

MYSTERIOUS CAPTOR: lol you have to guess who I am.

THEON: NO SERIOUSLY I'VE BEEN STARING AT YOUR FACE AND I STILL HAVE NO IDEA WHO YOU ARE OR WHY YOU WANT TO PEEL OFF MY FINGERS WHO ARE YOU????

And meanwhile I'm just sitting here like, wow. This scene perfectly encapsulates the experience of watching this show. We are all Theon Greyjoy and Theon Greyjoy is us.

By the time we get to the fourth season, though, the comparison is even more relevant. Like the Honest Trailer guy says, Game of Thrones "is the abusive show you keep watching, no matter how many times it hurts you." And now I know what my friends are talking about when they complain and complain and complain about this goddamn show but they still keep watching it because no matter how stupid, how illogical, how silly, how difficult-to-follow, or how sexist it sometimes is... There are moments when Game of Thrones is simply GLORIOUS, and it rewards its dedicated viewers with juuuuuust enough moments of Truly Great Television to hook us in and keep us addicted no matter how badly we sometimes want to quit. And now I'm one of those people too. No matter how terrible this show gets I'm still going to keep coming back to it, because there is no way I'm not going to see it through to the end now. I'm going to stick with this terrible, wonderful show and keep coming back to this terrible, wonderful show and at least I know I'm not alone in this. In the end, Game of Thrones is truly Ramsay Bolton and the rest of us, we're all Theon Greyjoy. We just keep coming back.


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