So apparently season 3 of Game of Thrones has started up again. Which is cool, I guess, except I only got partway through season 2 before I got slammed with school and had to stop, and I don’t remember anything that happened in A Storm of Swords except for the Red Wedding, and if you don’t know what that is I won’t spoil it for you (although seriously. The Red Wedding, you guys). I’m partway through A Dance with Dragons, though, which is shaping up to be a pretty solid book, so I figured I’d take a crack at the TV show that’s at least partly to blame for the deluge of medieval fantasy that’s flooded into the entertainment world.
I love fantasy; I always have. I began with Narnia, moved on to Hogwarts and Middle Earth, and am now quite happily ensconced in the Seven Kingdoms. Fantasy always has magic, which I love, and often has a medieval setting, which I also love. But what I don’t like is a world that’s meant to be medieval but just comes across as vaguely so. Medieval fantasy has become a crutch of sorts for fantasy writers. And don’t tell me that fantasy is supposed to be medieval, because Harry Potter sure as hell isn’t and yet it’s still considered fantasy. And that’s kind of what I’m getting at: J. K. Rowling created the wizarding world, which has an abundance of detail. Narnia and Middle Earth have the same. What bothers me is when a world depends on already-established fantasy norms (swords, armour, no indoor plumbing, etc.) and doesn’t even bother to establish an original setting. It’s difficult, I know. Like every writer, I’ve got a project in the works, and holy hell is it hard to create an original fantasy world. But laziness will only get me lambasted in reviews like this one, so I persevere.
Thankfully, George R. R. Martin suffers from no such problem. The opening sequence spans the entire map of Westeros and Essos, and that takes like a minute and a half. It’s absolutely fantastic. Throughout the first season we see characters doing things all over the place, from the Wall in the north to King’s Landing in the south. No location suffers in comparison to the others because each is richly detailed and has its own complex backstory. So does the world itself, and it absolutely boggles my mind to know that all these names and places came out of one person’s head. The show portrays them beautifully, too: King’s Landing looks golden and warm, the Wall is a freezing hell, and the Eyrie looks damp, chilly, and unforgiving (much like the crazy lady who runs the joint).
But as incredible as the scenery is, it’s just that: a backdrop for the real action. I’ve never been one for politics (I barely manage to vote, and I don’t even know who’s in charge of the country), but if Canadian politics were anything like Westerosi politics, I would watch question period religiously. Ned Stark of Winterfell, the Hand of the King, finds out that the queen and her brother totally boinked and that all three of the royal children are bastards born of incest. And if that weren’t sweet enough, the king dies and Ned loses his head and his son is declared King in the North, kicking off the War of the Five Kings. Even if that were the only storyline happening in the entire show, I would still be watching.
But it isn’t! The true heir to the throne, Daenerys Targaryen, is busy kicking ass and taking names across the Narrow Sea, even though she’s just a teenager. Jon Snow, Ned’s bastard son (except probably not, and I’ll get to that), is up north at the Wall, guarding against ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night, and he gets to face snow zombies and endless cracks about how his parents weren’t married when they did the nasty (except they probably were, and I’ll get to that). Tyrion Lannister, a wine-soaked, whoring dwarf and brother of the queen, gets kidnapped by basically everyone and has a grand old time. Also, there’s a paralyzed kid who everyone wants to kill. So great times are had by all.
If anyone ever asks you, “Stark or Lannister?”, by all that is good and holy, say Stark. The Starks are a noble family with loads of honour and common decency and moral compasses, and also their kids have direwolves. Ned lost his head because he wouldn’t let a kid who wasn’t the true king sit on the throne, and even though he made the mistake of marrying a whining, sniping harpy from the Riverlands, he’s played by Sean Bean (so if you’re griping about spoilers, the casting choice alone should tell you what happens to good old Ned Stark) and is therefore flawless in every conceivable way, even if he’s basically just Boromir all over again.
Ned also made some pretty excellent offspring. Sansa sucks, and Bran is annoying, and Rickon is, like, three years old, and therefore not even a character at all. But Robb has facial hair (I do love me some facial hair), a smokin’ hot accent, and soulful eyes. Oh, yeah, I guess he’s also noble and heroic and sh*t. And Arya—name aside, because it seems every fantasy series has a character named Arya—she is the kind of girl I wish I had the courage to be, and Maisie Williams does a wonderful job with the character. She’s learning to use a sword, she runs around getting dirty, and of all the people from Winterfell who go to King’s Landing, she’s the only one who stays alive and un-captured. And she’s only ten! (Probably. The TV people messed around with age because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to show Theon’s dong, so everyone is about three years older, which doesn’t make a difference for the old folks, but it means I might get to see Robb naked in Season 2 and not have to feel gross about it afterwards.)
And then there’s Jon Snow, played by the intense, soulful-looking Kit Harington. Snow is a bastard’s last name; since he’s not a trueborn Stark, he can’t carry that name, and Snow is the name that bastards get in the north. Caught up? Good. For the most part I enjoy him and his neck-ruffing ways, particularly since he has an awesome white direwolf called Ghost and has a soft spot for Arya (d’aww). He also befriends Sam while he’s up at the Wall (and I have never met a character called Sam that I didn’t love), which creates a lovely bromance that is delightful to watch, as all the other bromances end with somebody dying or betraying the other guy.
The one thing that bothers me about Jon is that he’s always going on and on about how he’s a bastard. When he first met Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf told him (approximately), “You’re a bastard. Accept it, and it can never be used against you.” But he can’t accept it, which is frustrating. Yes, Jon, people are going to judge you as soon as they hear your last name. But you’re at the Wall alongside thieves, rapists, cowards, and criminals; if anyone makes fun of you, they’ve got something worse that you can tease them about! Anyway, I subscribe to the theory that his parents were, in fact, married, which would negate the whole “not a real Stark” thing. (The next couple sentences have more to do with the books than the show. Sorry.) Like most people, I think his parents were Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and there’s a fair amount of support for that theory, even though Martin’s trying to dissuade us of the notion because we cottoned on too quickly. Basically, Ned Stark probably isn’t his real dad, which means that Catelyn Stark’s been treating him like sh*t this whole time for no reason.
Which leads me into OH MY GOD CATELYN. It is so difficult to write about Catelyn Stark without hammering the keyboard while caps lock is on. Where do I even begin? She’s petty, vindictive, spiteful, jealous, and doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions. She kidnaps Tyrion Lannister with the intent of executing him because she thinks he had something to do with an attempt on her son’s life, even though she had proof that it was probably his sister, and doesn’t even consider the fact that his sister is the f*cking queen. Her actions are a contributing factor to her son’s death, and (book spoiler) the Red Wedding is all her fault. She is an awful human being and I am so glad she’s fictional, because if she weren’t, I would track her down, smack her upside the head for being so stupid, tie her to a chair so she can’t kill anyone else, and tell her, “Yes, we get it. You’re a Tully. We heard you the first fifty times. Now shut the f*ck up.” (I’m sure Michelle Fairley, who plays Catelyn, is absolutely lovely in real life, and she plays Mrs. Granger, which is nice. But seriously, you guys.)
So Catelyn aside, the Starks are awesome. And yeah, the Lannisters are kind of awesome, too, in their own way, but they also have the disadvantage of being jackasses. Jaime has a great deal of loyalty towards his family, which is nice to see, but he also killed the last king (who, in Jaime’s defense, was guano loco) and is a smarmy twerp that you want to smack in the face, and not just because he’s nailing his sister. Cersei, his sister/lover (and I just shuddered as I typed that, because those are two words that should never go together), is kind of fun because she’s controlled by her emotions (most of which are some variation of hatred) and pitches hissies all over the place. (Boyfriend disagrees with me on the fun factor. He can’t forgive Lena Headey for her role in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.) And then there’s their son, Joffrey, who is a walking example of why you do not do your family members. I actually feel really bad for Jack Gleeson because I’m pretty sure he’s dropping out of acting for the sole reason that he played his character too well. Joffrey is a petty, spiteful brat with a very hittable face, just like his Uncle Dad, except he’s inbred, which means he’s also sadistic.
The funny thing is, Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage providing a very nice tie-in with my earlier comments about Narnia), drinks, nails everything with a rack (though he refrains from people he’s related to, thank God), and tells people exactly what he thinks of them, never exercising courtesy or restraint… and yet is by far the most likable Lannister. Maybe it’s because, in a land full of people who smile at your face and stab you in the back, he’s the only one with the courtesy to stab you in the stomach (even if it’s only because that’s as high up as he can reach). He’s mischievous, irreverent, and utterly unsalvageable, but he still shows courtesy and compassion when people have earned it. And I love him for it.
I would love to talk about every single character in the show, but keep in mind, this is a well-developed fantasy world, and that’s just impossible. So I’ll wrap up my character discussion with Daenerys Targaryen (whose name it always takes me two tries to spell correctly). Dany (Emilia Clarke) was sold to a Dothraki horselord, Khal Drogo (formerly known as Ronon Dex), when she was just a girl, for the sole purpose of her brother gaining an army (who wouldn’t even cross the ocean to take back the kingdom anyway). The brother proves to be a twerp like everybody else, and Drogo kills him after making us sit through five or six episodes of his whining about how “I’m the dragon and I want my crown.” Dany develops just the sweetest relationship with Drogo, based on mutual love and affection and bolstered by the fact that she’s carrying their child, and so of course Drogo gets killed off. This, however, results in Dany getting dragons, which is awesome any way you slice it, even if she loses the baby and her husband in one ill-calculated maneuver. Daenerys is one of the strongest young characters in the series, and I am super excited to find out what happens to her.
But despite the awesomeness of the world, the story, and the characters, I still have a couple of issues with the show. For one thing, the people in charge moved everyone’s age up by like three years so they could show nudity and so they wouldn’t be involving kids in such a mature show. I guess I get that, but it still bugs me anyway. And along that note, this show is super awkward to watch, because it’s HBO and there are boobs just everywhere. As it is, I’m not super comfortable with nudity, but it raises a conundrum: if you watch the show by yourself, it’s basically watching porn by yourself, and if anyone comes into the room you get all flustered and shut off the TV and try to hide the wowsers in your trousers. If you watch it with anyone else, you are basically watching porn with someone else. So how are you supposed to watch it at all? (My solution is to watch it with Boyfriend and talk really loudly over all the sex noises.)
Finally, I hate the fact that some characters repeat personal traits like broken records (I’m just repeating an old cliché, because I was born in 1991 and have never actually seen a record player). Here are a few examples:
Catelyn: I’m a Tully from Riverrun.
Jon: I’m a bastard.
Varys: I’m a eunuch.
Tyrion: I’m a dwarf.
Littlefinger: I’m still in love with Catelyn, but in a creepy way.
Viserys: I’m the dragon, and I want my crown.
Daenerys: I’m the khaleesi.
Seriously, we get it. This stuff doesn’t need repeating. Give your viewers some credit; we have good enough memories that we can keep all the characters straight (except for Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell, because there’s nothing straight about them).
But these are all minor issues, and I can get past them for the sake of a well-told fantasy series that’s been flawlessly carried over into television. The actors were well-chosen, scenes are carefully written, and the political intrigue which was so confusing in the books has become easy to follow. I do, however, have one piece of advice for anyone who hasn’t yet seen the show (and if that’s the case, I apologize for spoiling everything): Don’t love anyone. They will eventually die.
Final Grade: A
- Arya: “Stick them with the pointy end.”
- Arya: “My father is hand of the king. I am not a boy, I am Arya Stark of Winterfell. And if you lay a hand on me, my father will have both your heads on spikes. Now, are you going to let me by, or do I have to smack you on the ear to help with your hearing?”
- Daenerys: “I am a Khaleesi of the Dothraki. I am the wife of the great Kahl, and I carry his son inside me. The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have hands.”
- Tyrion: “A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.”
- Syrio Forel: “What do we say to the god of death? Not today.”
- Ned: “Your Grace.” Robert: “You got fat.” Ned: “*significant nod*” That is all.