Recently I began watching “Game of Thrones,” finally ending a conscious effort on my part to avoid it. This was for a variety of reasons, but I think chief among them was that I didn’t want to pick a side in the kinds of debates it’s been raising. If I watched it and didn’t like it, I would have to say I didn’t like it to friends who were huge fans by aligning myself with the kinds of people who think that it’s a tasteless mix of “Dungeons and Dragons” and pornography that should have been left in the basement with twelve-sided dice and the rest of the genre. On the other side are those who believe that this opinion stems only from anti-fantasy bigotry and that “Game of Thrones” is one of the best TV shows of all time, some people calling it the best HBO show ever made, and just from what I read, all this struck me as highly dubious. Also, if I ended up really liking the show I knew I was in for some unpleasant experiences (we should have all gotten used to seeing Sean Bean die by now but somehow it still hurts).
I do think “Game of Thrones” is a good show and would caution anyone to dismiss it because it is fantasy. This is because, unlike most of the self-important derivative ridiculousness that makes up modern high fantasy, “Game of Thrones” manages to give audiences the sword fights and dragons while carving out its own territory. Instead of playing around with the same old tropes, Martin and the creators of the show have brought this story out of the mists and down to a solid ground of alternate history complete with complex dynamic characters instead of worn out archetypes. This is less “Beowulf” and more the Wars of the Roses, where you don’t know who will come out on top. It is this preoccupation with history (real and imagined) that helps to add depth to the story and balance some of the more tawdry and forced elements that serve to create a decidedly un-Medieval feeling, especially in the earlier episodes— in particular, the elements that seem like they are trying to hard to remind the viewers that this show is serious and gritty and for adults damn it! Specifically, the sporadic use of profanity that feels like it’s there when the writers remember it and the large amount of prostitutes that make it look like anything in the Middle Ages lacking an Y chromosome was either a would-be queen or a sex worker. And yes, like everyone else on the internet I find the insertion of female nudity into scenes that were interesting enough on their own, thank you very much, to be patronizing, exploitative, and just plain irritating.
Now where do I stand in relation to the two camps I described earlier? I don’t ascribe to either view. This show shouldn’t be written off as trash but I certainly wouldn’t call it the best series ever made. So going with the “two camps” metaphor, I’m wandering around looking for somewhere to pitch a tent.