How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love ‘Game Of Thrones’


‘Did IQs just suddenly drop while I was away?’ I asked the same question Ripley asks at the start of ‘Aliens’ when I saw the public reaction to ‘Game of Thrones’. I don’t ‘do’ fantasy, a cheesy mash-up of the only things kids can remember from medieval history lessons plus the drawings they made on their textbooks; moats and tournaments, broadswords, flagons, wagons and dragons. The basics are like Victorian London, too easy to write adventures in, so hard to actually get right.

Then there’s the supernatural element; villains are always called something generic, like Black Rider, and they have randomly assigned powers. (It’s like SF galaxy rulers always being called the Alliance or the Confluence). Plus there’s always a magical object called something like the Wyrdstone that everyone’s after. Chuck in some racy scenes and a bit of nonsense-politics about someone’s brother/father/child having been betrayed/killed and brew it up. Voila!

‘Game of Thrones’ commits all these sins and goes further. It was as if you removed the historical context from ‘Isabella’ – the remarkable Spanish historical series only Sky showed with subtitles – or ‘The Borgias’ (the original version, not the Hollywoodised one), and stuck viewers with the adolescent remains.

And it had something else going against it. I don’t like stories stopping dead while a trashy orgy scene offers up naked Californian babes. I’m not a prude, it’s just lazy. More problematically, it goes against the deeply ingrained prudery that existed in such early-development societies. Finally, where’s the religion? Faith is a key factor in primitive cultures that digs its roots deep. Lose the faith and you virtually have no reason for conflict.

The series had one thing going for it; George RR Martin. I’ve long been a fan of his work (way before ‘GOT’). Like Michael McDowell, he was one of the unsung heroes of 1980s writing. But I’d long been planning a fantasy work (I started it 15 years ago) of a very different nature, and as my old boss once said, ‘If a million people like something, you need to know why.’ So I cast story-snobbery aside and gave it a go.

And I got hooked.

Yes, it’s utterly ridiculous. Those women in the fields kneading hay or whatever it is they’re doing look like they just stepped off a running machine in Santa Monica. It is entirely devoid of humour. People rush in with messages. Kings ask if there’s been a raven as if it was a postman. Enemies glare at each other while they patiently listen to what they have to say. The bad ones might as well have EVIL stamped on their foreheads.

And yet.

What the series gets right is the beats of storytelling, which are suited to TV more than film. I loved the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films but they became bloated and padded because they were making so much money that they really needed to be a TV series. That’s what they virtually became. So here we have a story that fits its medium; the intrigue has just the right level of indignant outrage, the good are endlessly wronged and the evil continue to be evil week after week. It’s a sort of perpetual motion engine, running on the spot, all event-and-reaction without any real development until every now and again there is – and when that moment comes, it resets the dials so that it can begin all over again.

In short, it’s the perfect story for the medium, and that’s what makes it a winner. And given Martin’s involvement, the end will prove less cynical than ‘Lost’, which was all sizzle and no steak, futtering to a stop in embarrassed apology. I do have one question, though. Presumably children are okay with this kind of fare now, because phone videogames copy the title sequence to sell their wares, meaning that children are watching. How do parents feel about that?

11 comments on “How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love ‘Game Of Thrones’”

  1. Vivienne says:

    Have not sampled Game of Thrones and would have totally agreed about the prudery or, at least, restraint in the past. But on a recent visit to Hever Castle I read the letters Anne Boleyn sent to Henry before they were married, and was quite taken with how – although the language wasn’t blunt – explicit she was.

  2. John says:

    ” It is entirely devoid of humour.”

    It is absolutely is not! How far along are you? As the series progresses Peter Dinklage provides the saving grace of the entire series — brazen wit and panache in delivery of his overly wrought dialogue. Jaime Lannister, Ariel, and even Brienne of Tarth all show a sense of humor throughout the series. I could find several more instances given time.

    I can’t stand the writers’ penchant for “dirty” sex scenes. Has sex ever looked more repulsive on TV? Three ways, four ways and pansexuality abound in GOT. It all reminds me of the kind of thing that 14 year old boys dream about and talk about. And there are far too many disgustingly sadistic torture sequences (the close-ups have to go!) For the most part, however, I like this series. It’s far from genius and extremely derivative of everything from Shakespeare to The Godfather, but when the writers focus on the complex character relationships, familial betrayals and sibling rivalry that often ends in violence then it works very well. Many of the actors rise above the seedy material.

    I get tired of listening to the continual reinforcement of a stereotyped past of sexual restraint when all throughout history there have been examples of wantonness and unbridled sexuality. Vivienne gives an example of such an unbridled historic account in her comment. I know of many more. But that doesn’t mean that EVERYONE was wanton as GOT’s writers purport to show us.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    The restraint and prudery was there in public. There weren’t photographers with long lenses peeping from the bushes and servants knew to keep their mouths shut – at the English court at least. I think people were more restrained, too, and had more of a sense of personal dignity. There’s always the matter of temperature as well; those palaces and castles were very cold so you don’t want to be stripping off your clothes unnecessarily. The further down the social line the more visible you were and that would put restraints on you.
    I like fantasy, even when it is the bits you remember from medieval history. How much of it depends on the clothes; the women in sweeping gowns, the men in all the colours of the rainbow, and all that swash being buckled! (I know, that’s more likely to be 17th century, but it’s all the same isn’t it?)

  4. snowy says:

    The amount of sex has been fairly constant through out history, there are plenty of comtemporary sources about if you know where to look.

    A long story short; a forebear of mine was a Parish Constable back in the 17C. and appears in the Quarter Session Records. There were as many cases to settle paternity as thefts and illegal goings on with sheep. I suspect many, many similar situations were dealt with by a quick ‘pitchfork wedding’ and never troubled a judge.

    [Not all of the clan were quite so saintly, one great great great etc. aunt got 3 months hard labour for calling the Judge a very rude word.]

    It all seemed to get ‘brushed under the carpet’ when Vicky got on the throne. Not directly her doing I think, [she didn’t conceive nine children by sitting on warm toilet seats]. But more of a reaction by the establishment to the scrutiny of a female head of state. [It gets a bit complicated, royal patronage was a very big thing.]

  5. Vivienne says:

    Yes, I think the Victorian thing was unusual. It wasn’t uncommon for more ordinary folk only to marry when a child was on the way I believe – at least that way everyone knew they were fertile. It always struck me that the prudish Victorians must have been thinking of nothing but sex – otherwise why would they have seen furniture legs as so provocative that they needed covering with lacy frills.

  6. admin says:

    Sadly the frills on piano legs turned out to be a fallacy, although a rather charming one. Perhaps it’s not the amount of sex but the hilariously knowing modern attitude to sex that doesn’t make sense in the series. I know we’re not in a real world, but having a shag in a bath surrounded by candles isn’t medieval; it’s the 1980s.

  7. Wayne Mook says:

    Where in Chaucer the height of comedy was a red hot poker up the arse. As he warns though it is quite vulgar The Miller’s Tale.

    Ancient Rome and it was only in the C10th was the height of marriage in the clergy and the usual reason given for it’s banning is to do with land and the goods left by the priesthood going to the church.

    Bu as John says not everyone was at it, as now, there are people who are a-sexual.


  8. John Griffin says:

    As my gran said, the difference between her day and mine was that they were too busy getting it and doing it to sit around talking about it.

  9. matt says:

    Gave up on it after three episodes, didn’t see the point in watching another soap. Bored me solid.

  10. Alan Morgan says:

    The trouble is, fantasy, sword and sorcery, or whatever is preferred, has become set.

    It is quasi this and believed-Euro that. Even costumes are a fashion that doesn’t evolve. There might as well be a fantasy-land that has no fantasy, no invention, but it all looks the same. And that’s what fantasy so often is.

    Believed-medieval with assumed-Renaissance cities set in the sort of-dark ages and populated with 20th century characters. Worlds aren’t spun, there’s a map with cold on top. Doubtless a king.

    It is as if all science fiction had to be Star Trek.

  11. admin says:

    I agree with all the above points, but tropes appear in every genre, and this one at least gives them a thorough workout.

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