Tag Archives: Westeros

Winter is Coming

My last piece on my first impressions of Game of Thrones was somewhat cynical. I still stand by many of my comments and feel more strongly against the disgusting sexual abuse by men  – what I read of season 2 and poor Ros the Pros made my blood boil! But I have been wondering about my final premise – to read it like a myth. Whether intended or not, it makes a story into something meaningful and empowering, and rather topical.


The watchword of season 1 is “Winter is Coming”– a phrase meant to frighten those younger characters who had never known what real hardship is. Just as I watch this, Britain has brought in a new round of austerity measures. The media are making their own ‘winter is coming’ clarion call, adding a bass note to the government warnings about cuts as savage as the Dothraki. We are encouraged that there are threats from fearful outsiders, just like those from over the Wall and across the Narrow Sea.


Winter is Coming means get ready – as those wise disability benefit claimants who have renewed before the new harsher rules came in. It doesn’t mean just brace yourself, but to prepare. In metaphorical winter, it is not a case of endure it and see if you come through: unlike a season, we can affect whether winter comes and do not have to accept it.


I am encouraged that so many characters in Game of Thrones are disadvantaged, yet no-one gives in. They turn disaster into opportunity instead of cowering and resigning themselves.


Tyrion the dwarf advises to wear one’s disadvantage like armour. He doesn’t languish saying: my family don’t love me, my father is ashamed of me, I’ve only ever been with women I’ve paid…. I will be lonely and an easy target so I mayaswell just die. He twice states his love of life. He knows he is not a strong fighter, so he trains his mind instead by constant reading and uses his wit to help save him. He has a soft spot for others whom society rejects; he designs a saddle so “cripple” boy Bran can ride a horse. Although he cannot play as he did, Bran relishes that he can still look at the world and enjoy that.


When Daenerys is sold to a violent warlord by her controlling brother, she could have felt her world was over. But she not only ends up with a loving marriage, but a loving people, and she becomes the leader her brother dreamt of being, learning her powers and realising her potential. She is empowered through loss, transformed through tragedy and treason.


Arya names her wolf for a queen she admires and takes after. When her father is killed before her and she’s rounded up by a rough man, Arya must have also feared for her life. But by disguising her as a boy and taking her to the Wall, Arya is made safe from Queen Cersei and avoids the arranged submissive marriage she dreads. Her ‘dance’ teacher Syrio taught her to tell death “not today;” even bravely when he realised it may call for him, he saves her and imbues courage and a buoyancy in her that will keep her going. Arya tells her father that Syrio said, “every hurt teaches us a lesson, every lesson makes us stronger.” I think I might make that my sigil and motto.


Jon Snow is so fed up of being the half acknowledged bastard son that he goes to the Wall to join the Night Watch of brothers. As a nobleman with sword training, he looks forward to military duties – only to be relegated to manservant. But his friend Sam points out that being a steward to the chief commander has huge advantages and opportunities.


This is what Game of Thrones.net says of Sandor, the Hound:

Once Sansa has lost everything, he tries to show her the lessons he had to learn alone: how to survive, how to keep going when dreams are dead. He tries to protect her and help her to protect herself.


Even a slimy character (Ser Petyr) has something worth hearing: “Only by admitting what we are do we get what we want.” It seemed to refract some spiritual manifestation and growth books I read recently.


I realised that life in Westeros can feel more akin to our current world, especially in the countries with so much violence in them at present. Many countries have leaders who want power for its own sake, not to lead for the good of the people. Houses may not be about blood families, but about other alliances which means you help your own, at cost to others and regardless of ethics. As Cersei tells her son, when you are in power, you can create the realities that will be circulated and believed. But the truth will be revealed and karma has a way of dealing out justice.


What follows winter is coming in Game of Thrones…? The fight back*, not simply being crushed by undemocratic tyrants with dubious justice systems. And those who seize their power and treat their people cruelly never keep their seat.


*I am not suggesting for a moment it ought be a violent one; I am against taking up arms

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All Fur Coat and No Knickers – a response to Game of Thrones

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… 


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”


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