I really enjoy the fantasy genre. Any story that has an element of magic to it can usually draw my attention. I loved reading the Harry Potter books; I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings (books and movies!); I think The Princess Bride is tops.
The reason I like all of these particular stories, and several others, is that I enjoy a story that’s essentially optimistic about the state of the world. Yes, there are evil forces at work, and they are serious threats to everyone’s well-being, but they can be overcome. Good wins out in the end.
Now, the latest greatest fantasy fad is the television show Game of Thrones, which is an adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. I’ve not read the books (though the more I see of the series, the more I want to) and I know that Martin hasn’t finished writing them, so it’s still up in the air as to what the ultimate outcome will be. I don’t know if good wins out in the end, or if in Martin’s fantasy world there even is a greater overarching good.
It’s generally best to look at the show as having a set of factions who are at odds with more and less sympathetic characters contained within each faction. While the Lannisters appear to be villains and the Starks heroes, you get characters in both Houses that you actively root for or against depending on the context of a given scene. It’s all very complicated, and leaves you feeling uneasy about who you want to achieve their goals.
Throw on top of that the fact that this is a low fantasy in the most cynical, grimdark way possible. The stakes for the factions are more political than moral, magic exists on the fringes of the world with any instance of it leaving you wondering if it should be trifled with, and characters die with a suddenness and regularity that makes you hesitate to latch on to anyone. For someone like me who tends to prefer idealism (see: my love of superheroes), a series with all of these horrific elements should be a turn off.
But I find it so compelling!
It’s difficult to pinpoint what makes the series so appealing, but if I have to take a guess, I think it’s the fact that everyone’s constantly in danger. If you’ve seen any of the series then you know what I mean, and if you haven’t, then you have to understand that no one has invincible plot armor.
I think that’s an important thing to include in a story, because it adds a level of verisimilitude that a lot of fantasy lacks. The fact of life is that people die all the time, and often they die before they reach any sort of closure on whatever their personal stories are. It’s an important thing to remember, because I think ignoring it can stifle the empathy that we should be fostering for one another. Not all real life stories end satisfactorily, and it doesn’t do anyone any good to act like they do.
Keeping that fact in mind, I find the stories in Game of Thrones compelling because they are intimately human. Families are trying to be reunited, lovers are trying to be happy, climbers are trying to get just a little more security for themselves. The fact that so many times these stories end in failure doesn’t negate the fact that I want to see these people succeed.
There are some serious problems with the series though. While I love the story overall, incidental creative decisions always irk me. The first season was pretty good about making depictions of sex and nudity relevant to the progression of the story. In context of the scenes where it happened, it made sense. The second and third seasons were far worse offenders though, with multiple instances of nudity just for the sake of nudity, with almost all of it being exclusively female. It’s disappointing to see such gratuitous appeal to the lowest common denominator in a series that otherwise seems to be trying to explore the problems for women that are inherent in living within a patriarchal society.
There’s also the problem of torture that comes up in the third season. Those scenes that included torture made me feel really uncomfortable while watching them. I don’t usually have an issue with depictions of graphic violence, but some of the stuff they portrayed left me feeling kind of squeamish. Of course, torture is categorically wrong, so the point may have been to make me feel uncomfortable seeing it so up close.
So the series has it’s plus and minuses, but overall I like it.
Except Joffrey; he can die in a fire.