Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Posting a Little Nerd Sacrilege on the Game of Thrones

I haven't read all of the Game of Thrones.  It was not from a lack of trying.  I found it laborious reading with characters I felt no empathy with and an overly complex plot that really wanted to be both fantasy and political that moved forward at a snail's pace.  It had so many characters introduced with so many minor interconnections by pledge, war, family, friendship and animosity, that I had difficulty even keeping track.  Introductions to characters were often brief with barely enough description that if I did not remember their name, family relationship, or nickname, I had no idea who they were when they were mentioned again later by one of their interchangeable names.  Even physical descriptions were often similar. I know very few who have actually read the series.  One friend who did, tells me he finally printed out character lists and family trees to make it through the first book. If you did, congratulations.

I made it roughly two-thirds of the way through, and then I decided I just didn't know why I was putting myself through this.  I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the plot to do something.  Moving forward or even to the side would've been nice.  It just didn't.  And above it all, I just didn't care when a character was hurt, murdered, betrayed, attacked, or imprisoned.  As with the brief introduction to characters, motives seemed to be added later.  And so I quit.  Perhaps I will go back and try again.  I don't think I am an idiot.  I love complex stories with multiple story lines and characters. Shogun by James Clavell which  basically asks the reader to learn the entire Japanese Samurai culture and the Japanese language was a fascinating read.  I was even able to keep track of characters by name and wade through Russian novels like Crime and Punishment without a cheat-sheet.

So I decided to watch the HBO series instead.  I've heard that it hits the highlights of the books and makes them imminently more accessible. I find the same problem.  I don't like the characters, I find it contrived, and I still have problems following who is who in relationship to whom.  And then there are the random deaths.

Yes, you're right.  In real life, death is random.  Good people die.  Bad people succeed.  Game of Thrones is not real life or even realism.  It is fantasy that doesn't seem to know what it is:  epic fantasy, dark fantasy, political fantasy, satiric fantasy, humorous fantasy...  Not to put too fine of point on it, do all the deaths actually serve a purpose?

"Winter is coming" eventually.  Doesn't the fact that it seems cold in several places all the time mean it is arrived and exactly how long does it take an army of White Walkers to arrive?  What was once established as a central idea just seems to be sitting on the bench at the sidelines to be put in randomly to remind us there was (is?) an over-arching theme to the series. "Winter is coming" and here is a white walker to remind you.  And while I'm at it, what purpose do the Stark wolves serve?  Is there some sort of meaning to the idea that many of the swords bear a name or is it just a bunch of guys roaming around naming swords? The throne does seem to be made of swords and there are dragon bones in the king's castle.  Is there a meaning to this or is it just really cool to have an odd chair and your own personal T-Rex without having to go to the local museum of nature and science? And is it just me or are the Lannisters becoming less blonde.

Meanwhile, in another country, the only character I actually like, Daenerys Targaryen, is gathering an army and raising dragons while never seeming to go anywhere which is okay because other than some brutal battles and betrayals and murders, nothing seems to change or ever happen in the kingdom of the Iron Throne, which seems to be made of steel swords.  I am also sure that given the nature and randomness of the deaths, Daenerys is pretty much toast. No don't tell me if I am wrong or right.

So what finally prompted this diatribe and sacrilege on the nerd kingdom of Throne lovers everywhere was the infamous "Red Wedding."  I had heard the term, but I somehow managed to avoid anything else about it, including who died.  When that episode rolled in, I knew. I could see the betrayal coming from proverbial miles away.  Sorry fanboys and girls, Rob Stark was an idiot, and I find it excruciatingly difficult to believe that this guy would win any battles let alone a war.  The guy is oblivious to the political realities of the realm in which he lives. So we went through two seasons of war, watched all that blood and death and for what? So we could have another shocking episode 9?

His dad's death, just to pour salt on the wounds, also served no purpose. At the time, it was meant to be a noble act to save his family, to avert the war, to prompt the overthrow of Geoffrey or to do something.  It didn't.  Again, in real life death is often pointless and serves no purpose.  In crafted stories, important character deaths should be thought out and reasoned and reveal something about a character  or a theme, or move the plot  To kill off characters because the writer just wants to speaks loudly. It says there is no real purpose for the character  so rather than coming up with something to add to the plot, the character dies or perhaps the killing is just for the shock value. Shock value is cheap. You can find it in any schlock slasher movie.

I heard once that George R. R. Martin once jokingly, or not, threatened that if fans complain too much about his writing speed or his willingness to kill off virtually any character, that he would kill even more favorite characters in the next book.  If this is true, it only supports my point that in the world of Game of Thrones death is a plot point serving no purpose, and the entire series seems to have no real direction.

Then there is Joffrey.  I have to say I am actually a bit sorry for the young actor who landed the role of the most vile sociopath on television.  He will probably be forever labeled and basically unusable by almost every other series and film.  He will really struggle to break the image.  There is skill in his acting to get that kind of reaction, especially when you consider how many other vile creatures there are roaming around the kingdom.  Let's also face it, everything has been done to make the character so unlikable, that if you saw him you'd belt him one, and when the police later asked, "Why did you hit him?" you would say, "Somebody had to."

I read fantasy for a myriad of reasons, the least of which is meaningless reality.  I know the argument may be that we have a sort of antihero or even anti-civilization in the Game of Thrones, but that just does not work.  Perhaps the death of the only noble character in the first season was loosely symbolic that all goodness is dead, and there only remains the twisted and corrupt.  Perhaps, Game of Thrones seeks to be a first of its kind, a dystopic fantasy, but even in a dystopia, there must be hope.  It is the reason we feel so disheartened when Winston Smith dies in 1984 or John the Savage hangs himself in Brave New World.  Even in an antihero, there must be something redeeming - something we can feel empathy with or for, and the fact remains that no character nor element of Game of Thrones gives us that hope or empathy. I ask you that in the three seasons that have now passed, has anything really changed other than a bunch of characters are dead?

I realize I am in the vast minority, and I will no doubt continue to watch in hopes that something of value comes from all this in the next three seasons of the series.  This rant will no doubt be disliked, hated, or even vilified by any fan that comes across it.  But just as my reading of the book, my patience has limits. Who knows? Maybe winter will finally come.