HBO’s Game of Thrones: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken (S5E6)

May 18, 2015 Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (1) 745

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As usual, I’m playing fast and loose with spoilers from the show, from all the books (including sample chapters, and even from interviews and apocryphal material. You have been warned.

The writers on HBO’s show have one, and they’re going to play it over and over again.

As a fan of the book series, one of the more difficult things to accept from the TV is the reduction, to the point of near-elimination, of magical elements. In the books, magic steadily grows as an influence as Dany’s dragons age, but on the show we get dragons and White Walkers, and that’s about it. Even where magical plotlines seem to be set up–Berrick Dondarion, for instance–the show shies away from the supernatural. There’s no Coldhands, no Horn of Joramun, no glass candles, no Quaithe or Azor Ahai or any other prophecies, no glamour, and no Lady Stoneheart. At least, not yet.

The show runners have talked about magic, and their sense that it takes away from the realism of the show; that asking viewers to accept an undead Caitlin Stark or a magical door through the Wall is asking them to go a step too far. Instead, we get rape, and more rape, and–oh yeah–just a little more rape.

Rape is the go-to peril for any female character on the show, and while in earlier seasons the threat of rape was used with some skill to create tension–between Joffrey and Sansa, Brienne and Locke, or later Tyrion and Sansa–it’s now deployed with little art to elevate Ramsey into top-villain position. I’m reminded of that Stephen King theory about terror, horror, and revulsion. The series has devolved into Hostel territory, and like many people I found myself watching that final scene and hoping for some unexpected twist that never came. Instead we got the horrifying yet dull scene we all expected, even if it didn’t make sense for any of the characters involved.

I don’t need to go on about why this is such a weak storytelling choice; for that I’d recommend you read Laura Hudson at Wired. Hudson is particularly dead-on about how regressive this feels as a storyline; we’ve been down this road with Sansa already, and it’s just tiresome to have the writers try to re-tread. Alyssa Rosenberg at the Washington Post is more forgiving of the choice, particularly the way it’s presented in contrast with the analogous scene from the novels; but I’d argue that if the best defense one can mount of this scene is “it could have been worse,” we’re not addressing the core problem. Specifically, that far too often when the show’s writers deviate from Martin’s source material, that deviation involves sexual violence against a woman.

If I’m honest, the writing on this show peaked with the Red Wedding, and hasn’t really been great since. Sure, there have been a few high points, but season four was basically clunky from beginning to end, and while some of the changes made in season six five are interesting and tighten up the narrative, the show is suddenly reliant on tropes and redundancies to drive the story. I know I don’t have the willpower to stop watching, from this point on I suspect I will be hate-watching.

Further thoughts are bullet-pointed: Continue Reading

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HBO’s Game of Thrones: Family, Honor, and Legacy in Westeros

June 23, 2014 Pop Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy Comments (0) 1748

“Your father grew up in these same halls. We hunted together many times. He was a good man.”
– Lord Yohn Royce, to Sansa Stark

“Your father was an honorable man…what would he have done?”
– Stannis Baratheon, to Jon Snow

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**SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t caught up on the HBO series through the end of Season Four, be forewarned. There are no book spoilers past “A Storm of Swords.”

One of the most interesting things about HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation has been seeing the cultural rules of Westeros at play. Life in a feudal medieval society is core to the book series, which George R. R. Martin meant to present something more grounded in reality than his beloved Tolkein, but seeing actual humans act out the same scenes shines a brighter spotlight on the way the people of Westeros must live, and how they choose to act within the confines of their society.

Family and reputation play heavily in all the lives of highborn Westerosi, and we’ve seen that throughout the series. Tyrion’s live is saved by his family’s wealth and reputation in Season One, just as Brienne is saved by her family’s (fabricated) wealth in Season Three. Family names and heraldry often stand in for individual identity–a Lannister becomes “a lion” in conversation, or a Stark “a wolf.” Questions of parentage and family allegiance loom large in the series–including one question many viewers don’t yet know they should be asking [I’ll say no more about that here, however].

In Season Four, the role of family and lineage became particularly interesting as it begins to turn some assumptions on its head. Specifically, what is the end result of Eddard Stark’s commitment to honor above all? Continue Reading

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HBO’s Game of Thrones: The Mountain and the Viper

June 3, 2014 Hockey, Pop Culture, Reviews, Science Fiction & Fantasy Comments (0) 962

I just have a couple of quick thoughts on this week’s episode. I know I haven’t been posting on GOT much recently; I’m back in novel-writing mode (elbow-deep in revisions) and putting most of my energies there.

First, a customary warning: As always I play fast and loose with the spoilers, book and show. Read at your own risk.

Like many viewers, I was taken aback by the ending of this episode. The teeth, the eyes, the screaming. The exploded brains. Even for a show that has been brutal throughout, this episode took it further. (How about that flayed man earlier in the show, too?)

It was so traumatic, my initial reaction was “that’s not how it happens in the book!” Then I went back and re-read what happened in the book, and realized this was almost exact. The teeth, the eyeballs, it happens slightly differently, but it’s all there.

And after I got over my initial reaction, horror at what I thought was exploitative, ratings-seeking violence, I decided I liked this ending–and I’ll tell you why. Continue Reading

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HBO’s Game of Thrones: Breaker of Chains

April 21, 2014 Pop Culture, Reviews, Science Fiction & Fantasy Comments (0) 543

** Warning: Game of Thrones Spoilers through Season 4 Episode 3; also a few very minor spoilers from the book series to this point.

After George R. R. Martin took his time last week laying out the Purple Wedding, the show runners had to work to catch us up on what’s happening with everyone else, and this week we saw a lot of plot points moving. It strikes me that if there were a similar arrangement on the novels, we might see a book more often than every five years.

Without Martin in control, however, it’s too easy for the show to stray off that knife’s edge it walks on gender and the role of women. The first two episodes of this latest season had me wondering about changes made to the dynamic between Jaime and Cersei from the novels, and I’m outright baffled as to why they thought Jaime needed to rape his sister. Others have pointed out how problematic this scene is, even in the Westerosi context, and I don’t have much to add except to add my objection. Continue Reading

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HBO’s Game of Thrones and the Purple Wedding

April 16, 2014 Pop Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy Comments (0) 573

** Game of Thrones spoilers follow. If you’re caught up on the HBO series then you’re safe.

Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns

I watched Game of Thrones on Sunday night with a mix of delight and disappointment. Delight because since the debut of the HBO series I’d awaited the Purple Wedding almost as eagerly as I’d dreaded the Red Wedding; disappointment because, as the episode drew to a close, I was sure they show had cut out the most interesting part of the Purple Wedding. Specifically, the clues as to who really murdered the Mad Mini-King, Joffrey Baratheon.

In the books, you see (and this is not a spoiler because, well… keep reading) considerable time is given to the Queen of Thorns, Olenna Tyrell (one of my favorite characters, incidentally) and a jeweled hair-net she gives Sansa Stark to wear. After the wedding, Sansa notices one of the black stones missing, and it’s heavily implied–if not outright stated–that the jewel was in fact a fake, containing a deadly poison called The Strangler that someone snuck into Joffrey’s mug.

The book never outright says whose hand places the jewel in Joff’s wine; the plan may include one or more other Tyrells, or perhaps all of them. Olenna, however, is certainly the architect.

As Liz and I went to bed Sunday night, I laid out the whole scenario for her so she’d know what she was missing. I felt a little resentful, betrayed even, that the show runners had decided to present such a flat and unsubtle version of the Purple Wedding.

Then, on Monday, the Internet showed me the error of my ways.  Continue Reading

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