30 Day Television Challenge: Day Five

A show that you hate: Game of Thrones


I’m really opening myself up to the slaughter here.

I openly acknowledge that, as far as I know, I’m the only person that doesn’t like Game of Thrones. Many friends of mine, whose opinions I value, laud the show. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me see why audiences love this series so much.

Game of Thrones is pitched as fantasy for adults, yet it is decidedly childish. The way Martin delights in graphic sex scenes or gory violence is like a teenager scrolling 4chan while his parents away. This “edgy” content may seem like a departure from the traditional fantasy canon, but that’s about as far as we get. We’re still stuck in Medieval Europe with white people worrying about Oriental invaders and women undermining the patriarchal regime.

(I will admit that the Iron Throne is pretty badass)

I should say at the get go that I’ve only read the first 500 pages of the book and watched only the first couple of episodes. So, this post may come across as more of a critique of the book than the show, but I think it’s safe to say that the show is a faithful adaptation and I’m pretty much in the clear with this. I got as far as the point where Littlefinger betrays Ned Stark. At that moment, I threw the book across the room in resignation.

Allow me to plot the frustration that had built up to that moment.

When the hype surrounding HBO’s new flagship series began to swirl, I unabashedly hoped aboard the bandwagon and picked up the novel. I enjoy fantasy as a genre – Lord of The Rings is one of my favorite books – so I figured I’d read the book before watching the show because that’s how I roll.

I must say, I found the prologue enthralling. I thought the description of the snowy waste land beyond the wall, and the idea of the Black Guard and the Others (or White Walkers as they’re called in the show) were all brilliant. And not only was the setting wonderfully executed, but the tone was also great; the prologue is creepy, suspenseful, and leaves the reader wanting to dive right into Westeros.

When Martin is exploring the unique metaphysics of his universe, the writing really succeeds.

However, there is too little of this in Game of Thrones. For the most part, Martin slogs around in cliched political intrigue and betrayal, with poorly imagined characters butting heads. The good guys lose and the nasty villains win, and the reader is supposed to wail in disgust. I just didn’t give a shit.

(definitely would’ve made for a much better show)

Oh, the Starks.

I realize Ned Stark is cherished among fans, but his characterization made me want to puke – along with the vast majority of Martin’s other characterizations. My problem is that Martin’s game is woefully obvious. He’s just beating me over the head with which character I’m supposed to like and which I’m supposed to hate. With little left to the imagination, the Starks are our heroes whereas the Lannisters are the enemies, with the exception of the oh so clever Tyrion.

My issue with Ned is that he’s something out of fan fiction. His character flaw is that he’s too honorable? And then he’s cruelly executed by the evil Cersei? Does that not make anyone else want to vomit? Ned was such an unimaginative heap of endearing, fatherly cliches that it was obvious that Martin was going to kill him of, either because he wanted to tug at the readers’ heartstrings or because such a bland protagonist couldn’t possibly sustain the narrative much further – as if that subtle foreshadowing of a dire wolf being stabbed with an antler wasn’t a tip-off.

Martin’s treatment of his characters has to be the biggest turn off for me. He is just constantly beating the reader over the head with his obtuse renderings. Cersei, for example, is an unbearable caricature of the threatening feminine. She’s just oozing with immoral sexuality. When she’s not using her vagina to connive her way to the top, she’s fucking her brother. Then she positions her inbred son, who’s also blatantly unlikeable, as King. It’s unfortunate that Martin cast her as a woman because all she’s missing is a mustache to twirl.

(what the hell do the Starks talk about when it’s actually winter time?)

If the characters are my biggest qualm, then the plot is a close second.

I’m not going to pretend that I predicted the plot lines, but they certainly weren’t earth shattering when they did come. And come they do. The book is a ready-to-order TV script, with each chapter ending with a mini cliffhanger or plot twist. It’s obvious that Martin wants the reader to pull a Bert here, but, for me, that type of writing is cheap and has a used-car-salesman sheen.

And none of the reveals or pay-offs were particularly satisfying either. It comes as no surprise when Ned realizes that Joffrey isn’t Robert’s son. Earlier, Martin explains that Cersei has refused to sleep with Robert for ages. If that’s not enough, his descriptions of Joffrey are of a typically inbred child who bears clear resemblances to his uncle. I’m not sure if Martin was going for dramatic irony here, creating suspense for the reader, wondering when Ned will find the necessary evidence to subvert Cersei’s plans. If he was, he was unsuccessful.

Also, when Littlefinger finally betrays Ned, the effect was comical, not tragic. Ned and co. were well aware of Littlefinger’s duplicity, but choose to roll the dice nonetheless. So, when Baelish does double-cross him, Stark just looks like a dumbass.

(curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!)

Perhaps Game of Thrones works great as a plot boiler. I can respect that. I don’t expect all books to strive to be Ulysses. That said, Game of Thrones‘ characters just didn’t resonate with me, which in turn exacerbated the story’s stale plot.




~ by braddunne on September 10, 2012.

3 Responses to “30 Day Television Challenge: Day Five”

  1. Agreed, I don’t like the show either. It gives me nightmares. Too yucky to kids.

  2. I stopped watching the show in season 2, but I’m on book 5 of the series. I agree with a lot of what you say about the show, but you are right that this series is a slow boil.

    The point about Martin telling us which characters are supposed to be good and bad actually gets turned on its head multiple times as the series progresses, and in fact the farther I get the more I feel that Martin is actually trying to make a point about the ridiculousness of honour for the sake of honour. Characters who are obsessed with their honour, about claims to the throne, about the role of women, etc. come off looking ridiculous and many come to disastrous ends. Characters who at first appear evil are actually far more complex.

    As an example (spoiler, although I know you are done with the series), the act that everyone reviles Jaime Lannister for, King-slaying, turns out to be one of the most honourable acts in the entire series when it is explained, and yet all the buffoons who focus on honour and allegiance to the throne see only his “sin”. Ned Stark’s death is the first of many in this vein, and the longer these honour obsessed characters live the more ridiculous they seem.

    The reasons I stopped watching the series are twofold –
    1. Season one was very faithful to Book one, but by the third episode of Season two they were way of track from Book two.
    2. The graphic sex scenes you talk about in the books are there, but HBO doubles if not triples them. There are scenes where the book just called for dialogue, and the directors threw a threesome into the scene during said dialogue just because they can. I’m certainly not a prude or against sex or nudity, but the show really takes it to a point where I started groaning about the added sex scenes.

    And anything that can make you bored of sex is an achievement in bullshit.

    As always, following your 30 day challenges with interest pal.

    • Appreciate the feedback.

      I see your point about Martin deconstructing the virtue of honor. He’s obviously a pragmatist/game theorist considering the way he characterizes Tyrion. I’m not against this as a concept for a narrative, I just take issue with Martin’s execution. I guess my beef here would be that Martin is either taking too long or is being too coy with his readers.

      Then again, maybe I’ll give it another chance in a few years and I’ll have a better appreciation for it.

      In regards to the sex scenes, I totally get what you’re saying. Watching Game of Thrones, it seemed like they were going for a poor man’s Rome. Sometimes HBO includes so much “adult content” that it becomes a distraction. For example, I found the amount of swearing – “fuck” especially – turned me off from Deadwood.


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