Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why You Should Still Love Game of Thrones

Hating Game of Thrones is the new loving Game of Thrones. Sometimes, I swear I don't want to keep up with our disposable culture.


The most delicate balancing act in writing fiction is the one between realism and optimism. Get too real with your work, and people will be bummed out and stop reading or viewing. They have more entertainment options and less leisure time than ever, so they don't want you to depress them. They can be depressed at work.

On the other side, if a writer is too bubbly, they're irritating and not credible, but that's never been the extreme Game of Thrones was in danger of reaching.

I have two theories about Westeros: It's either a glorious metaphor for that too-real human inability to band together even in the face of annihilation, or George R.R. Martin hates Ren fairs and wants us to know. Let's explore the first theory.

The White Walkers are a metaphor for corporate greed, climate change, or if you're a conservative, the more whimsical "perils" of gay marriage and paying your fucking taxes like the rest of us. All the bickering, back-stabbing, and abuse of honorable people on the show is just a terrible reflection of a society unable to pull together to face a force of destruction that threatens everyone equally.

So that's a bummer. But as a viewer and reader, I don't care, because it rings true. We are, in fact, fucking the world right up. We are, in fact, paralyzed about what to do about it. Good for Martin and the television writers for wrapping this important call to action in an entertaining package.

I think realism should forgive a lot of the perceived sins of this show and book series. That Sansa scene that had everyone I know barking at one another over their draft beers at liberal dinner parties? I feel like the writers were in a bind. If you focus on the rape, you're exploiting peoples' pain. If you cut away to another character who's (technically) male, you're making it all about him. The only change they could've made would've been one of those "let's focus on this random candle" shots. And that's cliché, the worst crime in a world we apparently have to remind ourselves is fictional.

The feminist argument neglects the fact that Dany was exactly like Sansa at the beginning of the show. She was powerless, beautiful, and not particularly wise. But she learned and fought and got a little lucky with her friends. Isn't that how everyone makes it? They work hard, get lucky, and have support. Sansa is a hard luck character with very few resources at her disposal. She would be victimized in this world. Realism ought to forgive the perceived sin.

And let's give the television writers and directors some credit: all those "boring" early episodes built up to the best 1-2-3 punch HBO has had since the last three episodes of The Sopranos. (The point of the diner scene was that the family was always going to be waiting for the sword to drop, and I submit to this day it was brilliant.) The climactic action was great specifically because of the slow boil that preceded it. How many times did you re-watch the battle of Hardhome? How about Drogon and Dany in the arena? And Brienne finally avenging Renly!? The show might be doing a better job of resolving storylines than the book at this point.

On the other hand, look at all the people alive in the books but dead on HBO. I love that Martin was secure enough to let the show be an independent vision of his world. Yes, I know he's receiving roughly nine trillion dollars in return, but as a control freak, I still salute him. And I hope Stannis wins in the book and the two visions diverge completely. I would find each one entertaining.

As for the Ren fair thing, I was only half-kidding. Maybe Martin wanted to skewer our odd romantic re-imagining of Medieval England. Why did we ever look back on that age with any sense of whimsy? Plagues, rapes, poverty, pollution, death. That's our past, and it will be our future if we can't get our shit together.

So I'm not hopping off the bandwagon just because someone decided that's the trend. I love this world on television and in literature and if it ends with Dany and Tyrion failing to stop the White Walkers I'll stand up and salute the courage of writers who refused to pander to their audience just because hope sells. When Littlefinger said "There is no justice but what we make", that rang true to me. Perhaps if we evolve our expectations as readers and viewers, we'll get something better than predictable franchises and inferior reboots. Despite the trend toward huffy disapproval, I can't wait to see what dark place Game of Thrones takes me next.