Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Before We Begin: A Full Accounting of My History with “Game of Thrones”
To begin, let’s go back to before the TV show was made. Like a lot of people, I had that one friend who kept insisting I read the books. “But I don’t like fantasy novels much,” I’d say, at which point he’d insist that this was fantasy for non-fantasy fans, and everybody should check them out. I still resisted, and it was for a rather silly reason: I took umbrage at the “R. R.” initials. I correctly guessed that wasn’t his real name (he added the second “R”) and it seemed so presumptuous that this author who was going to posit himself as an American Tolkien had also adopted his initials. So I never read the books.
But then the show came out and people went crazy for it. I watched the pilot and decided not to continue with it because it ended with Bran being pushed out the window, and I was afraid that the show would ask us, as many HBO shows do, to sympathize more with the victimizer than the victim, which I didn’t want to do.
But people kept going crazy for it, so I went ahead and gave it another try when it came out on DVD, and I found that my fears were, at least initially, unfounded. Unlike many HBO shows, this was a show with a refreshing sense of good and evil. The show made no attempt, in that first season, to justify the Lannisters’ behavior. I had managed to avoid spoilers and I was, of course, shocked by Ned’s death, but that didn’t impact my enjoyment of the show. I admired its gutsiness and shifted my hopes for a happy ending onto Robb.
The second season I found more disturbing than the first. It did indeed seek to redeem Jamie Lannister a bit, which annoyed me. More troubling, the razing (and presumably raping) of Winterfell was played as a jokey scene. I was also beginning to sense a pattern: Ned’s mercy towards Cercei led to his death, now Robb’s mercy towards Theon led to the holocaust of his home. The show was very well made, but it was starting to seem too harsh for me.
Then came the third season. There was a storyline that stretched the entire season that consisted of nothing but Theon being tortured, episode after episode. That pushed me to the breaking point. Then I got to the Red Wedding. I could no longer deny the politics of the series: The naïve goodness of the Starks was simply there to be punished, and the sadistic savvy of the Lannisters looked good by comparison. I decided I was done with it.
But I also knew that I was addicted. I had to know what happened next, so I simply went to Wikipedia and read the in depth plot descriptions of the rest of book 3 and books 4 and 5. Now I knew what was coming (I took some comfort in the upcoming deaths of Joffrey and Tywin, but not much) so I didn’t have to watch it. Once the show moved on past book 5, I no longer knew what was happening, so I started reading occasional episode recaps to slake my curiosity. I was frequently tempted to dive back in and catch up, but the endless litany of rapes I was reading about squelched that impulse.
That brings us to this blog series. I’m looking to cover books that everybody has read, and “A Game of Thrones” was an obvious candidate. I had already watched a 10-hour adaptation of the first book, so I figured it held few surprises. In fact, I could maybe read just the first twenty pages that I marked up. So I started reading the book (listening to the audiobook, actually). As my friend had told me all those years ago, it was very well written. So well written, in fact, that I got totally sucked in.
Even though I’m not a fan of long books, I found a joy in reading this that I hadn’t felt in a while, and I never wanted it to stop. The one scene that almost stopped me was Joffrey taunting Sansa with her father’s severed head. Why was I reading something so sadistic? And why couldn’t I stop? Was I a masochist? Even when I finally got to the end, I realized that I would go through withdrawal symptoms if I stopped there. I loaded up Book 2 and started that.
But then I got to the scene where Robb sends Theon off, and that finally broke me free. Once again, Martin was about to harshly punish a Stark’s mercy, and I of course knew it would only get worse, so I stopped listening and moved on to other books. I then read more online about the rest of the book series and how they varied from the TV show.
So here we are. For the next few weeks, I’ll break down what I read and why it has such strong effects on me, both positive and negative. Sorry I can’t come to it having read every book or seen every episode, but those who have are free to call me out if I get anything wrong.