This is a phrase in Britain meaning “you really aren’t much underneath all your show” and Game of Thrones is full of characters with animal fur flung across their cold aristocratic shoulders, and knickerless scenes…
SOME PLOT SPOILERS
This is my first foray into fantasy; as the 3rd season starts to air on television in Britain, I watched the first on DVD. I have not read any of George R R Martin’s chunky books.
I have long been a fan of period drama and addictively though critically watched HBO’s Rome. Swapping accounts of recent viewing with a friend, I was told of this other HBO [Home Box Office] epic. It occurred to me how much fantasy is like history, except made up. Being in the mood for more of the same, I waited patiently (or not!) to come to the top of my library’s over subscribed reserve list for the box set of the tale of Westeros.
I don’t know what to make of Game of Thrones or fantasy in general. It seems strange to concoct all these odd sounding names and say them with all seriousness (my spellchecker has struggled with this article). I do not like violence but accept it is part of the world of say, the Tudors and Ancient Rome. The TV creators didn’t invent traitor’s executions, they show what happened or might have happened in that era (though how graphically is still a choice and often an unwelcome one). But in Game of Thrones, someone modern has created those worlds of cruelty. Why not set fantasy during an enlightened, non violent era? Why chose to make a world with the worst of punishments, the harshest of honour codes, and most of all, the worst treatment of women?
How could a modern teenage girl (Sansa Stark) with her timeless disinterested sneer and raised end of sentences, say she badly wants to be a wife and bear royal sons!?
Women in Game of Thrones never have pleasure for themselves; it is always about giving pleasure to men in a firmly patriarchal society with traditional gender roles.
Worst, like Rome, is the horrors that women do to one another. A witch takes revenge by killing beloved a horse, husband and son; and in return, she is burned alive, in a scene recalling the Indian custom of Sati which was outlawed in the 19th C. It is not helpful to the work that Wicca is trying to do in unravelling the demonising portrayals of witches.
I also wondered at how Peter Dinklage could play a character who is constantly called names like ‘half man’, ‘imp’ and other derogatory words for his small stature. Why not invent a world where what was known as ‘dwarfism’ is highly prized?
That thought leads me to some first impressions- that the Wall is like the Reject Bin on kids’ TV show the Raggy Dolls, where all the outcasts get put to bond and learn to love themselves (hurrah – one good message!); the White (or would that be At At) Walkers resemble creatures in arty Asian film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives; Khal Drogo looks like Ming from Flash Gordon and sounds like something between Darth Vader and South Park’s Cartman – or even Non from Superman II; and occasionally, Cookie Monster; the headgear on Lannister guards looks like a creature from 60s puppet show Stingray; and the saying ‘there’s Always been Starks at Winterfell’ sounds just too like Stella Gibbons’ bleak earthy farmyard cousins in Cold Comfort Farm. I feel a hybrid take off coming on…
Two scenes to comment on, in episodes 6/7
Introducing Tywin Lannister whilst he skilfully carves a dead stag gives the scene movement and also shows his menacing and adroit character, whilst hinting at what he what like to do to his inlaws, whose symbol (‘sigil’) is that animal.
But shortly after, Lord Petyr Baelish reveals some important information to his whores whilst they practice for their clients on one another. It’s quite a graphic scene but it is a confused one. We’re distracted by the women having sex so we don’t fully take in what Petyr is saying. And as a backdrop to his revelation, a practice session between characters we don’t really know makes an unsexy… I can’t call it a love scene as there’s no emotion and no relationship between them. It made me angry as it seemed to be offered up for us viewer’s gaze and for brothel owning Petyr, particularly to titillate males, and insults love between women.
I found the sex to be disturbing – not because of how explicit it is, but that is usually with minor characters and with a whore (meaning extras who don’t get to say a line but have to go topless, or more, before several million viewers). They are done in a position which is often uncomfortable for women and in a way that makes them akin to animals (also common in Rome). The key one that Bran sees on a climbing expedition mission is also doggy style and of the same tone as a Dothraki conqueror would do to the enemy’s women.
The only one that was meaningful is where Khal Drogo’s relationship with his wife is transformed. Forced into a match with a be-moobed huge brutal warlord who cannot speak her language, Daenerys endures her husband’s nightly rogerings until her Pleasure House trained handmaiden helps her out (the second and only way we see two women together). By looking her husband in the eye and showing him a new way, the couple connect and become a loving union, with Drogo calling her “Moon of my life.” That’s a rather nice love story, unlike some of the things he does to his enemies… [Moob = Man Boobs, squashed into a corset. Perhaps that’s why he appealed to me as a gay woman – and also his fab eye make up!]. I’m intrigued that an internet image search brings up so many hand drawn pictures and dolls of Drogo, and people dressing up as him. I can see he has captured the imagination of lots of viewers, as he has mine.
However, internet searches also show what the novel version of Khal and Daenerys’s wedding night was. He was a surprisingly gentle and sensitive lover, using his one Common Language word – no – to gain consent from his 13 year old! bride. The DVD extras don’t really explain why this was changed to be an unpleasant scene to watch and make. The producers claim the original from the book didn’t work in rehearsal, but that’s down to writing and acting. Although the TV version gives Daenerys control over her destiny, there is room for that without two rape scenes.
As Khal Drogo has died, I am not sure I’ll be watching season 2. What or who else would make me rejoin that library queue to see more horror? I felt a draw to Arya from the moment she left her needlework and pinged her bow and arrow, but her strength comes from being like a boy. Lena Headey, an incentive to watch the show, is a cold harsh queen, although most of the touching human moments are with or about her and her husband. Despite his debut scene of making his 10 year old witness a beheading, Ned Stark feels rounded and often sympathetic, and his wife Catelyn one of the stronger and better treated women (and best looking). Ned also recognises Arya’s independent spirit and gives her secret sword lessons – yet her empowering life changing moments come from the decisions of men. Ned is often merciful and wise – but also now dead.
The other touching scenes are in the Reject Bin, the watch at Hadrian’s’ Wall crossed with Hoover Dam, where bastard Jon Snow (also the name of a Channel 4 newsreader) bonds with weedy fat boy Sam (their estimation of Sam, not mine).
Apart from wanting to see the hateful Joffrey dead, I am not sure what would make me care enough to spend another 10 hours in Westeros. Despite what the interviews on the DVD extras say, I didn’t feel the characters were that rounded or make major developmental journeys – though it was better than Rome – except for Daenerys who marks her slave rescuing leadership by publicly torching one. Westeros is far removed from the current Western world with little to say on ours. I am disturbed most of all that the regular horror is a choice and offered for entertainment, rather than showing and critiquing brutal realities and historical facts. Power is the desire of most characters, with fear and force being ways to attain and retain it. Unless I hear that this changes, I think I’ll be checking out Xena Warrior Princess instead. I’ll let you know whatever I watch.
Of course, this could work like ancient myths, and maybe I have missed something. Please tell me if I have! I shall watch it again and read some of the tomes, just in case…
See my next post, “Winter is Coming”