Why I’m not watching Game of Thrones

I suppose like many people, George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Fire and Ice came to my attention when Neil Gaiman famously gave pestering fans of the books a dressing down in 2009: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html

“Look, this may not be palatable, Gareth, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but the simplicity of things, at least from my perspective is this:

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right now.

People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.

You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.

No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.”

Ironically, being curious to see what the fuss was, I re-broke my oft-broken rule of not reading a lengthy fantasy series until it was done.  Being somewhat wise, I purchased a secondhand paperback of Game of Thrones. Again, like many people, I found that first book OK but wasn’t sure where it was going and was taken aback by the shocking death of a central character.

Well, then I binge read another one and another one and then found myself empathising with poor old Gareth who had been so adeptly schooled by Mr Gaiman.

Around the same time, a HBO television series of the books was in production. Given HBO’s reputation for intelligent drama, this was an exciting step for a SFFnal book series. I’d recently binge-watched a DVD box set of The Wire and if a Game of Thrones TV series was half as well done as that, well, that would be something.

Yet, I made a decision not to watch it.

Partly, that was an easy decision. I didn’t have cable and if it ended up on broadcast TV then it would be at least a year later, it would be bought up by a commercial TV station and would wander around the schedules. However, I also decided not to seek it out when the inevitable DVD’s were released.

I don’t mind catching up on a TV series after it’s done – I only started watching Breaking Bad last year, for example – so I didn’t mind missing out when Game of Thrones rapidly became a must-see.

So why not watch it? Partly it was the sexual violence of the books. It isn’t that I think fiction or drama should never depict sexual violence – it is something that is in the world and expunging it from fiction does not protect people from it – but on film, there is an inevitable increase in how graphical and traumatically it is portrayed. I was concerned too, that this element would be further emphasised by a TV show in an attempt to assert that it was a show for adults in an attempt to over-compensate for a perception of fantasy being a juvenile genre.

Partly it was because I’d rather read the books (although now the TV series has overtaken the books, this may seem less wise). Partly it was because TV can maybe do more interesting things when it develops shows based on the strengths of the medium. Partly I don’t have a good reason and laziness is as good an explanation as any. Partly it was so I didn’t need to avoid spoilers (although again this is now less wise).

But I can’t ignore the show either. Its popularity combined with the familiarity of the characters and events makes it easy to follow the chatter around the show. The fan theories and the speculation and the association of specific characters with specific actors.

So, two episodes of Game of Thrones Season 6 have been nominated for Hugo Awards in 2017. In theory, given the alignment of books versus TV series, I could get a season 6 DVD set or stream it and still make sense of who is who and where everybody is in the plot. But I’m not going to. True, I can’t truly claim to know what the TV series is like without watching it but I have a pretty good idea both in terms of what is good and what is bad about it. Instead, I’ll not place either of them on my ballot and as ‘no award’ won’t be on my ballot for this category either then I’m not deeming them unworthy of an award either.

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6 comments

  1. delagar

    I watched a lot of it — I think through season 4? — because my partner likes it, and I liked some of it — the dragons, for instance. But finally the sexual violence, as well as just the flat sexual objectification, was too much for me. I agree with your point that sexual violence is part of our culture. So is sexual objectification.

    At a certain point, though, in this show, the combination of non-stop sexual violence / sexual objectification started to seem less as though it was in service to the story, and more as though it was almost a sort of porn. In the middle of one specific episode, I got up and walked out of the room. Dragons just weren’t enough anymore.

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    • Cora

      I’m in a similar situation. I read that first book years ago and did not particularly care for it. When the TV show came out, I initially gave it a miss, especially since watching it would have required procuring it by not quite legal means and I simply wasn’t interested enough to do that. A year later, when Game of Thrones finally came to German TV, I decided to give it a shot, expecting not to last any longer than a few episodes. But to my own surprise, I found that I quite enjoyed the show, when viewed as “Dynasty” with swordfights and dragons, i.e. a twisted family saga where pretty much no one is likable.

      In the end, I lasted halfway through season 4, I think, when the constant violence, both physical and sexual, simply became too much for me. Besides, the few characters still alive that I liked – Daenerys, Jon Snow, Arya – also started killing people and generally doing horrible things, so I stopped watching.

      I may give the two episodes nominated for a Hugo a shot, provided I can find a way to easily watch them. But I suspect they won’t rank very high on my ballot and would probably rank even lower, if not for the fact that I can neither easily watch the Black Mirror episode nor the Expanse episode, which leaves Doctor Who (another show I’m so over) and that rap album (interesting and worthy project, but not my music at all) as the only competition.

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  2. Lurkertype

    One could postulate that GRRM is now HBO’s bitch, as he was (per contract) forced to tell them the outline of the ending so they could go on with the show. So if Gareth is a paid subscriber to HBO, George is indeed very fractionally his bitch now, in some infinitesimal fraction.

    Meanwhile, HBO will have done 7 years/seasons’ worth of episodes, covering the whole thing, in which 1 book (what overlaps with a previous one to a great extent; call it 2/3 of a book) will have been released. Something is very wrong when a TV show shot all over Europe, in a process that requires hundreds of people, all of whom have their say and bollix up the schedule, in a business notorious for not finishing things, and requiring staggering sums of money, can have an entire run before one new book gets out.

    The final two books will be out (if ever) after the TV show is done. While things will be played out differently, the basic ending (zombies eat everyone; it was all a dream; someone shoots JR; the sun goes nova; Tyrion tells everyone to sod off and lives in some pleasant climate while the dragons eat all the other characters) will be known years before it comes out in paper.

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  3. greghullender

    Eric and I have watched all six seasons so far. Initially, we waited until they came out on DVD and then borrowed them from the library, but now we actually subscribe to HBO for just the time it takes to watch Game of Thrones each year. Yes, there’s sex, violence, and sexual violence. Yes, characters we love get killed and/or corrupted. But it is spectacular, the scenes are beautiful and often breathtaking, and it makes a fantastic setting for a dramatic contest between good and evil.

    If you haven’t seen it, you’ve missed out.

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