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.
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?