Last year, over the easter long weekend, I sat down and watched all three seasons of Forbrydelsen (The Killing) over the course of four days. This year, I watched all three seasons of Game of Thrones over three days. Believe it or not, this actually takes quite a bit of effort. Each season is ten episodes of about an hour in length, and the storytelling is quite dense (Forbrydelsen took four days because the first season was 20 episodes). There are numerous sub-plots and threads to follow, and in GoT there are a lot of characters to keep track of.
I really enjoyed it. I’m currently weighing whether I should watch season four at the rate of one episode per week or if I should wait until a day or so before the final episode to watch all of them at once. There are advantages to either approach, and at the moment I’m gravitating towards something in between, where I watch an episode every two or three days, and time it in such a way that I get this even ‘pacing’ all the way up to the season finale. This way I get some time between each episode to digest what happened, but don’t have to wait so long until the next episode that I lose the feeling of continuity which I do enjoy from watching entire seasons of TV shows back-to-back, especially shows where the story arc spans all the episodes, and indeed all of the seasons.
For those who don’t know, the series is of the fantasy genre and set in a quasi-medieval earth-like setting with what are essentially three simultaneous storylines which do overlap occasionally and, one assumes, will eventually converge. First and foremost, there is the vying for the “iron throne” pictured above by competing families in which there is some fighting, some backstabbing, and a lot of (melo)drama. Secondly, there is an existential supernatural threat from the far north, beyond “The Wall”, and lastly in a nice combination of the gritty human drama and the supernatural, a formerly-deposed noble family living in exile is gathering a force to reclaim the throne, and this force includes dragons. Everyone loves dragons.
Even though the genre is completely different, I liked this series for very similar reasons to why I liked Forbrydelsen – it’s very ‘real’. That might sound like a funny thing to say about a fantasy-genre TV series, but those who’ve seen it will know what I mean. Forbrydelsen departed significantly from the conventions of detective serials not only because it solved one murder per season, rather than per episode, but because of its detailed and sensitive treatment of the lives of the victim’s family, as well as the life of the detective Sara Lund outside of her work sphere. Game of Thrones cleverly incorporates the lives of the “little people” into the stories, and in such a way that viewers are really encouraged to empathise with them.
One of the things which I particularly like about this series is that they are not afraid or reluctant to kill main characters. When you watch films and TV shows, they often become predictable towards the end of episodes or seasons because you generally know that the good guy is going to win. However, in this case not only is there a lot of moral ambiguity and therefore no clear ‘good guys’ (although there are one or two very obvious ‘bad guys’, and I’d really like to know things from the point of view of the white walkers… but I digress), and so you really are kept guessing about who might still be around by the end of each episode. The randomness and unpredictability brought in by the occasional bout of bad things happening to good people, and vice versa keeps the audience on their toes, and the complexity of the vast number of characters means that you really feel for them when stuff happens to them.
Some have complained about the violence, and some have complained about the nudity. I would agree that it is sometimes unnecessarily gory, although I don’t have any real disagreement with violence per se. To the people who make these kinds of artistic decisions, I would say that the sight of something violent can have an impact, although audiences do become desensitised to it after a time, but seeing and feeling the effects of the violence can often have a greater impact – the audience’s own imagination is a powerful tool. The nudity I don’t mind (possibly because I spend too much time on the internet these days and am somewhat desensitised) but I will complain that there is disproportionately more female nudity than male. I don’t say this out of a desire to see naked men, but because the female nude is used (often overused) as an object both in the process of storytelling, and also as a part of the story itself (a hero being seduced by the wiles of the feminine form is a common trope), and I don’t feel the masculine side of this objectification coin is being used adequately. Also, the scenes where a mostly-clothed guy is making babies with a completely naked girl look a bit silly – very rarely have I ever left my pants on during the act, even when I was labouring under time constraints.
Ordinarily I try to read the books upon which shows and films are based before seeing them. However, in recent times I’ve reversed this practice simply because the books are so often better (sometimes a LOT better) that I want to give the moving pictures more of a chance. Unpredictability has certainly enhanced my viewing experience (although the death of Sean Bean, pictured above on the iron throne, was predictable enough since he dies in almost everything that he’s in). Perhaps someday I’ll get around to reading all the books, as soon as they’re finished… Currently there are five books out of seven planned (originally intended as a trilogy), and we are now into the fourth season of the TV series. I have no idea how closely the show follows the books, although I do know that the original author George R. R. Martin is heavily involved in the production of the series. I can only guess that there will be seven seasons and I wait keenly and impatiently for their conclusion. I’m secretly hoping that all the humans die leaving only the white walkers and three dragons to keep each other company, and they eventually settle down to pass the time by playing table tennis with the carcasses of small rats. Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen, but you never know… and that is what makes this show so captivating. I highly recommend this TV series, but avoid it if you’re squeamish about blood and gore, or seeing girls’ boobs.
One final note – if this level of writing prowess and production values were used to tell historical stories, I feel that the world would be a much better place. It saddens me greatly that most people grow up thinking that history is boring. This is generally because history is taught from very sanitised and highly-censored books (they are written for young children, after all) which makes history seem like a long list of lineages and events. The truth is that history is very much like Game of Thrones complete with blood, gore, incest, intrigue, backstabbing, and the occasional occurrence of accidental cannibalism (I’m not making that up). While some very captivating historical novels do exist, very few historical dramas are brought to life in a way that does them justice. I suppose after the spectacular flop of Alexander, and the relative success of rather ridiculously inaccurate films like 300 and Troy, film and TV producers are rightly cautious about it. (Although Elizabeth and Braveheart were fairly successful despite Braveheart’s depiction of the battle of Sterling Bridge somehow omitting the strategically-important aspect of the bridge itself due to budgetary constraints.)
p.s. can someone who has read the books explain to me, in a world where summers and winters can last multiple years, how people know how long a year is?