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Bethany McHugh Headshot

Dear HBO: An Open Letter

Posted: Updated:

Hello, friend.

As you know, I watch a lot of your shows. I mean, a lot. Veep, Girls, True Blood, Real Time with Bill Maher, The Ricky Gervais Show... I'm super excited about The Newsroom next week, too. I didn't watch Game of Thrones until recently because, well, we're already looking at four hours of television on HBO alone, and there are other networks to take into consideration (but don't worry, my dear, you crush them all.) But -- as much as it pains me to admit -- I have a grievance with you, which is why I'm writing you this rant of a love letter.

I was very, very much in awe of what a spectacular creation Game of Thrones is. Such complexity is rarely found in television -- and quite frankly, when it is, it's almost always on HBO. Intricate plot twists and turns, an exemplary cast, and a phenomenal production team makes it, in my opinion, the top contender for the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy (which is saying a lot, because I would love nothing more than to see Mad Men have another consecutive win).

But what I really admire about the show is its unabashed glee in making me feel uncomfortable. In no specific order, and with no tally as to how many times I've seen it, characters have been raped (obscenely, brutally), tortured, and murdered (again, obscenely, brutally). I've watched acts of incest, graphic prostitution, and disturbing beatings. Oh, and beheadings. Don't want to forget about those.

While in the middle of playing catch up with the series, I saw in the news that the show was under attack for having former President George W. Bush's head on a spike. The story, from what I've gathered, is simple: the two creators (David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) used various heads in the prop department -- because it's what they had lying around. It was not a political statement, they claimed.

I am all for artistic freedom. As a writer, I try not to take for granted that I live in a country where I can say, write, create, whatever I want, and have it be protected by my government. While I don't believe that it was a political statement by the creators -- because if it was, don't you think they would have said something more incriminating in addition to pointing out that sighting? I mean, no one noticed it in the first place. The First Season finale premiered over a year ago, and no one noticed until the creators pointed it out on a DVD commentary. What I do believe it is, however, is a gross oversight of respect for the Office of the President of the United States. Agree with the policies, disagree with the policies, it doesn't matter: this is a man who was voted into office by the people, who tried to serve for the people, and did the best he could with a job the majority of the population could never handle, myself included. For that reason alone he deserves some respect.

So when you initially stated that the scene would be pulled from future airings, I was proud. I mean, there must be tons of unused footage that show the purpose of that scene without Bush's head on a stick. Let's also note that his head on a wig and tons of make-up on it to erase the fact that it was his head, but I'll push that aside. There must be one angle that doesn't show it. The apology from the creators I thought was sincere, and again, I do not believe was on purpose. I thought the mutiny was over.

And then you pulled the episode entirely. Which brings me to the crux of my message:

HBO, I love you. I really do. I want to work with you one day. I want to help create the intricate, smart, sexy, and riveting stories that are the trademark of this network. You're the dream job. But to pull an episode -- a 58 minute artistic piece of genius -- over a shot that is 18 seconds long (if that), over a prop that was used on accident, that was apologized for, that could easily be removed with the advent of modern technology and editing, is somewhat unbelievable. As a woman, I have watched my gender be completely demoralized on this show (see: rape, beatings, incest, prostitution, murder, etc.) and (because this is not a rant about feminism), I understand they are relevant to the plot. To be completely honest I didn't have too much of a problem with it because that's the nature of the show and that's what I signed up for when I decided to watch it. That's what I signed up for when I decided I was going to watch an HBO show. That's why I pay an additional amount per month to my cable bill: to watch programming that expects me to be smarter than the mass audience, requires me to think, and basks in the knowledge that I'll suffer through some obscene acts because it's integral to the world of the characters that I'm watching.

My point is: there are far worse things going on in this show than a prop Bush's head on a spike. Your initial reaction to this faux pas was exemplary, and if such an act ever arose on one of the programs on a channel I ran, I would hope to do the same. But to pull the episode entirely: as an artist, I'm offended. As a loyal HBO subscriber, I am offended. As a network that also airs Real Time with Bill Maher, hosted by a man that has never said kind things about President Bush and whom you have never muzzled, I would focus your attentions in the political arena someplace else besides a fictional drama series.

I hope you aren't too angry, HBO. I'm going to continue watching this brilliant show unravel it's story, I'm going to look forward to The Newsroom this Sunday, and I know we're going to remain the best of friends for a long time to come. I just wanted to let you know how I felt.

I'm going to watch this evil black smoke thing that was birthed out of Melisandre kill off more pivotal characters when I least expect it and always bloodily. We'll talk soon.

Much love,

Bethany