Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Game of Thrones

Once again I have fallen for the popular thing.

I like to think I'm not led so easily, but the reality is, I am. The battle between standing out and fitting in is one I have waged my whole life long. So I will scoff whenever I see "everybody" doing/watching/listening to something...only to do/watch/listen myself in private later, get hooked, yet again remind myself that things are generally popular for a reason, and sheepishly join the fray. 

Game of Thrones is different, in that I've been along for this ride since season one, episode one. I'd read the books. With the possible exception of Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, I spent more time singing A Song Of Ice And Fire than I have in any author's universe. 

But I was skeptical, intensely skeptical, that anybody could take that universe and put it on a screen. The intricate plotting, the cast of thousands, the endlessly diverse geography, and, oh, yes, the casual subversion of nearly every fantasy trope there is. All things that attracted me to the books (well, to be honest, the cast of thousands cowed me a little at first)...all things that might not play well on television. That's to say nothing of the sex and violence.

Sex and violence.

I've read a historical author who makes George R.R. Martin look like a young adult writer. His name is (was) Gary Jennings; his most famous work was called AZTEC, and in all of his books, you're assured of three things. There will be violence, often brutal; there will be sex, often depraved; and you will learn. A LOT. 

I won't re-do the whole song and dance about how much I hate violence. You all know it, it's extreme, it's unhealthy, it's yadda yadda yadda. So I find it difficult to express why the violence in historical fiction (even fiction that is VERY loosely historical, such as GAME OF THRONES), ever so slightly less off-putting to me.

I think I rationalize it as: this happened. This isn't somebody's imagination...this isn't somebody depicting their own imagination, I'd like to do this to another human being - style. Of course, somebody had to imaginate the thing into being in the first place for a show to depict it, but I am rather successful at turning my mind away from that. 

Some of the violence that most upsets me is cartoon violence--which is clearly somebody giving their violent impulses the full-screen treatment. It's over the top, and there's often a sort of gleeful quality to it that really unnerves me. Historical violence, on the other hand...yes, sometimes it's casual, and yes, some evil fucks really do get off on inflicting it. But it usually lacks that happy-go-lucky feel I can't articulate any better. War is war: it's kill or be killed. You don't have time in war to fantasize about popping somebody's eyeballs like grapes, sneer at the viewer, and then pop! pop!

Am I making any sense? Probably not.

So let's just say that yes, there have been moments in GAME OF THRONES where I have to look away. More than a few. 

Those moments are overwhelmingly overshadowed by the intensity of the story.

Story is everything to me. I share Stephen King's sentiment that a good story, well told, is worth a dozen "lit'rary" spewings. Look at my words! Look at my Germanic sentence structure! Observe this embedded metaphor! 

Go sod yourself.

GAME OF THRONES is a good story for two very important reasons. 

1) The characters are profoundly human.
2) The plot is unpredictable in ways both large and small.

1) There are very few wholly good or wholly evil people in this narrative, and even the most psychotic individuals were clearly made that way, not born that way. This, to me, reflects life. Nobody is a villain in his or her mind...we're all just doing the best we can with the tools we've got. What's even more interesting in GAME OF THRONES is that you can oscillate between loving and hating a character over seasons and sometimes even in the same episode. 

2) GAME OF THRONES and the source material on which it's based absolutely DELIGHTS in subverting fantasy tropes. 

I don't like high fantasy. I never have. I like my worlds reasonably realistic; if there's magic, to my mind it should be muted, in the background, kind of the way magic (if it exists) would be in this world. I like my characters human. I don't mind delving into politics...politics, "the art of the possible", is magic in slow motion. 

GAME OF THRONES is not high fantasy. There is magic and there are seeming miracles and the reactions people have to both are exactly the way they would be in this world. Holy shit, a fucking dragon! "I'd say you get used to them," one character says as a dragon whooshes by overhead, "but you never really do." I like that. I can stomach a world with three dragons in it. I can't abide a world where dragons are yawn-inducing. 

But back to the fantasy tropes. In this show, sometimes the princess rescues the knight. Sometimes both the knight and the princess wait for rescue that never comes. The young girl who wants nothing more than to grow up to be a lady comes to realize, over years, that "being a lady" in that world is not what it appears to be at all. A righteous and honourable man might survive, if he has a touch of ruthlessness about him, but just as likely he'll find his head on a spike. A truly despotic prick might thrive for a while until he's dethroned...usually by an even bigger despotic prick. A coward might have his heroic moment per regulations, only to be dismembered, because bravery is, let's face it, sometimes stupid. 

It's life. It's life, on screen. GAME OF THRONES is, despite the walking ice zombies and the dragons, the most deeply human show I have ever seen. Which makes it also the best. 

The acting, with a very few Dornish exceptions, is uniformly excellent, even in the bit parts. The cinematography is Hollywood level. The combat scenes are incredibly well shot, each one different, all of them mesmerizing. (One recent episode saw more stunt people set on fire than any show or movie in history). In short, if you haven't seen this show...well, there's a reason it is the single most popular television show, ever.

Eva loves it as much as I do, which believe me is a rare, rare overlap in this house. I cajoled her into watching S1E1, with her not having read a word of the books. I think she was on the fence after that first episode, but after the second, she was hooked. 

It's been seven seasons, with one more to come before the inevitable spin-offs. I can't wait to see how it ends.

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