Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

‘Game of Thrones’ is one of HBOs most popular shows, combining sexposition with fantastical creatures, visceral battles and political intrigue. As the Honest Trailer says: “It’s like history, but with dragons…and boobs”. Whilst I have read the entire book series thus far, I think the TV show does a fantastic job of adapting the source material. It stays faithful to the major plot and character arcs, and streamlines the bulky world-building and family trees. It keeps Martin’s cutting dialogue but does away with his poor descriptive writing.

In it’s fifth season, the show’s storyline is as complex and sprawling as its title sequence map, so like ‘Orphan Black’, I’m going to focus on thematic elements. Most of the clips are pretty spoilery. There are some general spoilers, but I’ll flag up any specific plot spoilers with *SPOILERS*

Chunky fantasy books make the best doorstops

I understand Martin’s world is a fantasy medieval-esque setting, and therefore patriarchal values, as well as chivalric and feudal values are implemented in this world, but many of the male and female characters embody archetypes or stereotypes. The show fleshes out the characters into complex and flawed human beings, but there are more named male characters with volition and agency, acting rather than reacting to situations. The show can be progressive at times, for example with its portrayal of Oberyn Martell an openly bi-sexual character without it being his defining character trait. Infuriatingly, there’s a lot of female nudity with barely any male equivalent. There are examples of tom-boy warriors, seductive sorceresses, wizened old men and tricksters.

This is a rare example of a powerful clothed female character and nude male character in GoT. And we only get a peachy bum.

Furthermore, what I find most troubling is the amount of misogyny and sexual abuse which takes place in Martin’s world. Sometimes it’s just a casual plot device, sometimes it’s used as a way of ‘developing character‘. This is a sensitive topic and I do believe trauma can be used to add depth to a character’s back story, but I feel female characters are put through situations of sexual threat whereas male characters are given complexity through a range of situations. Sometimes even sexual threat is used to develop a male character, even negatively, through action, whilst female characters are passive. Sexual abuse is serious, traumatic and needs to be addressed. *SPOILERS* Male characters’ sexuality has been used against them in Loras Tyrell’s trial for homosexuality or Theon Greyjoy’s torture and castration. Using rape as a throwaway plot device, way of adding ‘depth’ or fuel for a revenge narrative is NOT doing characterisation justice. *SPOILERS* I’m referring particularly to the recent episode which featured Sansa Stark’s wedding to Ramsay Bolton, but there are so many examples throughout the whole show.

It’s all about political expediency in Game of Thrones, and high status and reputation are some of the fundamental things the characters try to hold on to. Every character has a persona, or quickly learns to adopt one, and in King’s Landing especially, there’s a fantastic performance of courtly manner and a dissonance between action and oath.There are humiliations, revenge stories, victorious battles and dynasties brought low. It’s as epic as it sounds. There’s a fascinating TED Talk which suggests the War of the Roses inspired the historical content of ASOIAF. There’s a huge ensemble cast, but even so Martin hints at the stories of other minor characters. It can be problematic when trying to keep up with complex lineages and whose side someone is on, but the visual aspect of the show makes the protagonists clear enough. Although, no one is safe. Recently the show’s creators have blind-sided avid readers by reassigning story lines.

Oh Ramsay, you are worse than Joffrey…

The viewer is given to understand that there are many houses in Westeros and beyond. Some are noble, some not so much, and houses rise and fall. Whilst some are ancient, all noble families have a name, banner and motto. Rivalries and alliances can be fluid, but family loyalty is considered the highest of all principles. Characters demonstrate a fierce need to protect their families and their names, and sometimes those are mutually exclusive. Nobility is portrayed as a cause worthy of death, or leading to an untimely death (depending how pessimistic you are). Characters are often conflicted with their obligations and duties, be it to crown, country, family or themselves.

The feudal system permeates Westeros, but really comes to light across the Narrow Sea in Essos, with Daenerys Targaryen and the liberation of the slaves. Daenerys is faced with the unenviable task of conquering and controlling several cities on her way to reclaiming the Iron Throne in Westeros. Her army and council are made up of people from differing backgrounds and conflicting values, and she faces the tension between being loved or being respected and feared by her people. The show deals with the difficulties of fairness and justice in a system which allows the rich to exploit the poor, favours the rich and sets power in their hands. Whilst historically we know it’s possible to overturn the feudal system, but whether it will come to pass in George RR Martin’s world remains to be seen. Whilst the social structure is rigidly feudal, there is some social mobility as shown through characters like Grey Worm of the Unsullied. Daenerys’ speech from the S5 trailer hints at the idea of ‘fortune’s wheel‘, with our fates constantly shifting.

I think it goes without saying that the show is bloody gorgeous. There’s a huge team that work on it from setting to costume, to soundtrack and filming. The entire team behind the script and production as well as the cast are all top-notch. The show has set a precedent for itself and other material of its ilk.

The fantastical elements work to support the underpinning mechanics of what makes the books, and by extension the show, so successful. Game of Thrones explores the human condition, from it’s bleakest depths to moments that are inspiring and affirming. It does this through a range of experiences and having a large and dynamic cast of characters. The fantasy aspect cannot be ignored, nor should it be, but that’s not what interests me so much. Whilst I still take umbrage with many aspects of the show, there’s a reason I’m still hooked at it’s fifth season. What fascinates me is not the existence of magic, but what people choose to do with the power it brings.

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