Last year, I outed myself as a geek on the Huffington Post, when I felt compelled to defend HBO's Game of Thrones from what I deemed an ill-considered New York Times critique. Full disclosure: I've been reading the George R. R. Martin series since I was 17. In the late nineties, it was not cool to be a geek -- not even close. I'm not convinced it's cool now, either -- only that some aspects of the fantasy genre have become insanely lucrative some of the time. But now it seems like whenever I take the subway, there is someone reading a George R. R. Martin book. And I experience moments of (admittedly) geeky annoyance when people refer to "the Game of Thrones books," because it's A Song of Ice and Fire, if you please.
Anyway. Much as I disagreed for the most part with Ginia Bellafante, I do think we should be talking about this show from a critical perspective -- especially now that it has grown so popular. A Game of Thrones is zeitgeist now -- to some degree, it is a reflection of our times. I'm also interested in exploring my reactions to this story as an adult, more than a decade after I was initially hooked. Things have changed.
I promise not to spoil the books. I will be spoiling the TV episodes I discuss, so catch up on the show before you read this.
It's a real thrill to be watching a fantasy show with stunning production values, skilled acting, and often good writing. After world-building, George R.R. Martin's greatest strength as a writer is dialogue, making his work well-suited to television.
But. (And you knew there was going to be a but, didn't you?) What is it with the ridiculous sex scenes in this show? They are so ridiculous as to become the focus of an SNL sketch. The most-cited example is the scene last season where Littlefinger delivers a soliloquy that reveals the innermost bitterness of his soul... while two naked prostitutes simulate sex for his benefit. But my personal favorite might be when Viserys takes the opportunity, while penetrating a woman in a hot tub, to discuss his ancestors. There's nothing more arousing than great-grandparents, am I right?
This season, no pendulous breast is left uncovered (all the young, nubile women of Westeros possess DDs at the least -- well, it is fantasy). And the problem with these scenes is that they are often so over-the-top, extraneous, and repetitive as to be unintentionally funny. When Theon declares, just before unzipping his pants, that he is a "hard" man, I recalled one of my favorite lines from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "You've really mastered the single entendre."
Maybe the showrunners are worried that if there's no sex in a scene, we'll get bored and check our email, due to the much-touted Death of the American Attention Span.
But there is some great acting. In the novels I was bored by the character of Davos, but on the show he comes alive thanks to the commanding presence of Liam Cunningham in the role. Lena Headey may not be exactly the way I imagined Cersei, but she gives dimension to a character that in the books quickly devolves into a screechy caricature. And Aidan Gillen is my favorite Baltimore-mayor-turned-devious-courtier ever.
But of course, it's all about Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage. Thank God for Tyrion. Without him, there would be absolutely no humor on this show -- just nonstop carnage. I look away from the screen these days, until I hear the glop sound effect that indicates the severing of some miserable, unwashed-looking character's aorta or jugular. Glop. This seems to happen at least once per episode. Sometimes it is preceded by a clatter. Either way, I'm not looking. I watch this show during dinner, which I admit may not be the wisest move.
Knowing that the carnage will go on, and on, and escalate, I do feel like a bit of a masochist for watching this show. It utterly ruined our dinner when the showrunners decided to explicitly murder a bunch of babies at the end of the first episode this season (we don't see this happen in the books). Thanks to Weiss and Benioff, we went straight to Ben and Jerry's.
But as a lifelong geek, there's no way that I can miss this show. We're in it for the long haul. We'll just be keeping the freezer well-stocked on Sunday nights.