I watched the first three seasons of Game of Thrones this summer. The series is based on books I haven’t, and won’t be reading. I am certain TONS have been written about the show, by critics and
peasants regular people alike, but I haven’t read any of it. I don’t have cable (shocking I know) so it was really just a name I heard or read here and there. I didn’t know what it was about and only this year did I understand it was a period show, and I got that much from watching other HBO DVDs where you’re forced to sit through LONG clips/ads of many HBO series at the beginning of the first disc. The clips can’t be fast-forwarded through, those tricky dogs. So a couple times, while not paying a whole lot of attention, I saw the boy sitting on the throne and took in the period costumes. That doesn’t really do it for me. I don’t think: medieval times, period costumes, oh goody! Still, I had recently read where somebody, a critic or writer, called it “the best show” on TV. That got my attention.
I usually don’t want to know too much about a show (or movie, or book) before seeing it so I’ll come to it “fresh” and have my own opinions. I don’t want it spoiled for me or to have my own experience overly colored by someone else’s. I was truly able to do that with “Thrones.” I decided to give it a go and checked Season One out of the library, following that with Seasons Two and Three. I still haven’t read what anyone else has said. If you haven’t seen it and plan to, don’t worry, I won’t give away any plot points or specific surprises.
I watched it on a screen measuring 9″ x 11″ and that was plenty big enough. Why? It’s a gore fest! A very well produced, well-acted gore fest. Once you get over that, i.e., expect it, then okay (a very qualified okay). The plot was complicated with several story lines and a mess of characters. Getting a handle on the players was the first challenge. Thankfully, with a DVD, I could occasionally pause it and try to get straight in my own head on who was who and how they related to the others. [Pause. Thinking hard: “Oh I get it. He’s their father.”] Only well into Season One, did I realize the box set included a LIST of all the people and their descriptions. Oh.
I quickly fell hard for Peter Dinklage, who plays the dwarf Tyrion (I am not being backward in using that term over Little Person. He’s called a dwarf or more often, imp, and worse on the show. Remember the time period, which is not big on political correctness. You should see the way the WOMEN are bounced around.) Dinklage subtly steals every scene he’s in – he’s just that good – playing a whip-smart, sarcastic, wise-cracking, well-born Lord. He has and delivers the best lines, but it’s more than that. You can see him feel and think in character. I am so used to seeing Little People cast for visual humor, as punch lines, it is a revelation and privilege to watch Dinklage at work in this part. (Googling just now I see he won an Emmy for the part in 2011 and a Golden Globe in 2012. Wonderful. Much deserved.)
I’m not saying the other actors are slouches; just that no one else on their own would compel me as well to hang in there. He is the main reason I pressed on when I started to feel – more than once – that I’d had enough of the show’s brutality and just couldn’t watch any more. It IS brutal and while I get that a statement is being made about that place and time, I also feel that some of it’s gratuitous, as in how many inventive ways can we show gruesome killings? Season Three in particular has disturbing scenes of torture that seem to go on & on. I learned to watch out of my peripheral vision. It was too graphic, too upsetting, and for what? Occasionally characters recite a chant that ends in “…for the night is dark and full of terrors.” That may well be, but frankly, the daytime isn’t all that promising either.
Nobody had to tell me this show is made by men. It has that stamp all over it. In many ways, it’s a guy’s show. Yes, yes, I’m sure many women, like me, watch it too, but the underlying sensibility, despite strong female roles, is masculine. That frustrates me a bit. You know what it is, which occurs to me now? It makes me feel more the spectator as opposed to part of the show, a vicarious participant. Women-driven shows, on the other hand, are more welcoming, at least to women. They want us to relate to the characters, to live vicariously through them. Game of Thrones is strongly, hyper-strongly, visual, which dovetails with it being male-driven (what with men being more visually oriented). The look of Game of Thrones IS spectacular. Cutting edge. Nothing says “cheap” or “back lot.”
The show has fantastical, other-worldly elements. Heck, there’s even a smoke monster (shades of “Lost”) except this one is black and has a better role. Even with the fantasy elements, the show plays it totally straight. It’s a drama which takes itself very seriously. There’s no wink, wink, nudge, nudge, as in, “We don’t really expect you to believe this.” On the other hand, this allows the plot to go any old way it wants, reality be damned, which makes me leery of it.
I was dismayed to see how many characters are offed in Season One. (Really?! They’re killing him?? Oh yes they are, cue the rolling head.) It wasn’t too surprising then, that new people – like it or not – were introduced in Season Two. They were running out of people! That’s clearly a direction the show continues. It doesn’t pay to get too attached to anyone (but I can’t help myself).
There’s a few elements that do take me out of the moment. The women reflect and talk too much about their second-class citizen status. They’re too progressive in their comments, too reflective of their limitations as women. I don’t believe it. I don’t think women in that time would think or talk like that, and certainly not as many of them. Sometimes the women’s costumes don’t make sense. In the same climate, one woman will be in a revealing, barely there get-up, while another is dressed in heavy cloth, high neck to ankle. I get distracted thinking one or the other must be too hot or too cold in her attire. On occasion, a character utters a line that sounds too modern, like, when faced with dilemma or disaster, someone says, “Fuck me.” Yes, it’s funny, but not time-period appropriate. Lastly, I would NOT want to have watched Game of Thrones as it aired, then or now. I know I’d be thinking, “Aren’t they out of those damn woods YET?” or “Oh no, I can’t take another week of watching this beating.” The pacing would never work for me. I’ve found some episodes satisfying and others tedious. What drove me, despite elements of the show that are off-putting, is that in the end, I want to know what happens to these characters. With or without their heads.