For several years now I’ve thought that Game of Thrones has been a bit silly. I was an avid reader of the first two books and a habitual, even somnambulistic, reader of the rest. This seems a common problem with epic fantasy: a ripping yarn for two books and then the writer treads water for page after chapter after volume, seemingly intent on the idea that to create their own world and mythology, and have it accepted as ‘real’, they must include a level of banality that means we can identify with otherwise larger-than-life characters.
But there’s enough banality in my life already. Strapping chaps with six foot swords, nimble women with slashing blades, wizards with hands of fire, thieves with hearts of gold and hobbits with hairy feet are there to thrill. There’s not much thrill in treading water. The middle books of an epic series are like end-of-season-games in predictable sporting leagues, the Scottish Premier League of literature, if you will. In the case of the ‘Wheel of Time’ series, the author, Robert Jordan, even died after the tenth (the tenth!) book, which has led to George R R Martin, the author of the ‘Game of Thrones’ series, to receive death threats over his own literary lassitude. The ‘Wheel of Time’ series now runs to fourteen volumes, the most recent having been penned by Brandon Sanderson, an author equally as happy to take the scenic route.
For ‘Game of Thrones’ the scenic route has become its reason to be. The TV show, gorgeous as ever, ploughs manfully on through a roundabout tale of power-hungry folk involved in the great game. A bit like Monopoly at Christmas, the lead changes hands and players drop out, too drunk or too bored to continue, and the game becomes pointless as players are unable to move their pewter boot without owing someone else a fortune. Mortgages and properties are haggled over with an initial zeal that quickly fades as players wait for mums and dads to declare a winner and send one person away in a sulk. ‘Game of Thrones’ has embraced its banality, becoming Eastenders but with more fighting, flaying and fucking. And just like any soap it continues to the point of silliness as the deaths and marriages and affairs pile up like a King’s Landing mortuary.
In upping the bellicose ante to banality, the latest series of Game of Thrones has even managed to outstrip the novels for water-treading triviality with the ridiculous duo of Jaime and Bronn invading Dorne (for those of you who don’t the series or the books, don’t worry, it’ll be over soon – unlike the series or the books) to rescue the princess who is Jaime’s niece and daughter. It’s Sid James and Bernard Bresslaw as we Carry On Throning, the audience increasingly desensitised to the violence and rape and abuse.
And that’s where the silliness ought to stop, because the desensitising makes it not so silly anymore. Sansa Stark marries a bully and is bullied and raped on her wedding night while the one who makes the funny noises, perhaps played by Charles Hawtrey, is forced to watch. Arya Stark, a twelve year-old girl, washes corpses and tells of her kills. Daenerys, a thirteen year-old girl, is used and obsessed over by a series of very large, and much older, men. Well, yeah. Can we have a funny Tyrion bit now, please?
When we carry on throning, the terror and violence become banal. The programme is a Carry On movie with increased misogyny and the addition of incest, violence and rape, torture and death. Characters are killed just to be killed, women are created just to be abused. This is what made the show the ‘Sopranos in Middle Earth’ and is arguably a more accurate reflection on our own world than we would care to admit. But when the filth and the fury become weekly entertainment for year after year, a generation of people growing up with this vision of fantasy violence and glamorous misogyny mean that any message it may have had is now lost.
A gory vista that slides past and leaves our own hands bloody but ignored, leads to message and thrill being lost in baths of blood as we continue with ‘event television’. The act of watching is enough in itself and most are happy to comment on their experience of the event and revel in its immediacy, but the effect of the product, the story, is ignored. It feels like we will carry on and on throning, demanding more and more blood and betrayal until there will be nothing left but a drunken dwarf and a sexualised girl at the centre of an apocalypse witnessed by its own zombies.
Fantasy shouldn’t be soap. Pease finish the story. Bring back the thrill and let us take it seriously.