I mentioned in my first post that I liked the Game of Thrones TV series (along with half the population of the world, apparently). You may have heard that the second season started recently.
Going back to the series after the season break was an interesting experience for me because I’m approaching the upcoming episodes with a fair amount of trepidation. Partly this is because I’ve read about the later volume’s less than stellar reputation and partly it’s due to the nature of long running fantasy series. They always seem to start off strong, or at least readable, before the cracks start to show in the second volume. By volume four the plot grinds to a halt and the entire series nose-dives off a cliff, never to recover (see Wheel of Time, about which more at a later date). Then again I couldn’t get more than five pages into the Game of Thrones novel and I found the series gripping anyway. I’m not sure why that is. It’s certainly not because the writers are removing the more idiotic/ offensive content, a fact that became abundantly clear upon returning to the series.
The Dothraki Sea, where men are men and women have bare midriffs.
I remember finding this sub-plot quite tense and fast paced upon first viewing, but now I’m just struck by how terrible the whole thing is. I won’t comment on the racism and sexism present, except to marvel at how blatent and lacking in self awareness it is, as other far more qualified people have already written at length about it. What I want to point out instead is that the sub-plot makes no sense and contributes nothing to the story.
When we’re first introduced to Daenerys she’s basically
Conan the Barbarian* Khal Drogo’s sex slave. This continues on for awhile and then suddenly they’re supposed to be in love for real. When exactly did this happen? How did it happen? Did Drogo apologize off screen for buying Daenerys like a piece of property and repeatedly raping her in the middle of season 1? Isn’t this a pretty big piece of character development to gloss over? To be clear I’m not sure it would have even been possible to make the “relationship” seem in any way normal or sympathetic at this point, but they could at least have tried. As it is I keep assuming Daenerys is suffering from a massive bout of Stockholm syndrome. Maybe that’s what they were going for, but it sure as hell doesn’t seem like it.
Apart from being idiotic and disgusting, Daenerys’ sub-plot is also unnecessary. I get where it’s going- Daenerys gate-crashes the Westeros civil war and explosively trolls everyone with her dragons- but until that happens she only has the most tangential connection the main plot. A far better way to do this would be to not actually show her at all until its time for the two plot-lines to merge. Instead we’d only hear about her exploits through the vague snippets of news and rumours of dragons being born that reach Westeros. Then, during some climactic battle scene BOOM! An awesome warrior woman shows up out of nowhere. With dragons.
*( It’s pretty telling that when I first wrote that joke I forgot that Jason Mamoa was also Conan)
So let’s talk about how the story is glorifying feudalism.
There’s a scene in the first episode of the second season where an old man- one of the regional lords serving under the Starks- goes to Bran, a ten year old boy who happens to be the only Stark left in Winterfell, to request masons to help repair his keep. When asked why his own men can’t do it he says all of the young men have been sent to fight in the Stark’s war against the Lanisters. Bran tells him off and reminds him of his sacred oaths or whatever to fight for his lord.
What got me about this scene is that we’re clearly supposed to side with Bran here even though the old man is making a good point. The war between the Starks and the Lanisters essentially boils down to a petty feud between two rich families, fueled mainly by the fact that both sides are pig-headed and stubborn. I get that in the story’s setting it makes sense that they would have no problem sending thousands of men to their deaths (and indirectly causing the deaths of many more men, women and children through the ravages of warfare), but I feel like the writers almost have an obligation to in some way acknowledge how fucked up the whole situation is. But no, they just let the moment sail on past.
In the first season the consequences of living under one of the ruling dynasties of Westeros seemed to largely involve making manly vows of loyalty and spouting a lot of guff about serving your Sworn Brothers from this day until your last day or arresting Peter Dinklage or whatever, and while that’s a bit too hyper masculine for my tastes it was relatively benign. But the second season is supposed to be dealing with horrific all-out war. Let’s see some exploration of what that actually means. Some characters who aren’t rich and powerful land-owners or associated with rich and powerful land owners would also be nice.
Stop it with the fucking brothel scenes.
This is more speculation than a problem I have with what’s going on now, but there’s a scene in this episode where one of the council dudes declares that summer has ended and winter is coming (autumn is missing, presumed KIA).
If Game of Thrones has an ace up its sleeve, it’s the central premise of a planet that cycles between long, languid summers and crushing, brutal winters. Setting a tale of political intrigue and warfare against the backdrop of an oncoming apocalyptic cold snap/ supernatural invasion is a neat idea. You build up the fighting and back-stabbing and tension to boiling point and then introduce a vastly greater threat that renders the character’s struggles almost moot. I’m on board with that idea.
This distinctly feels like the sort of plot thread that’s going to be dangled in front of viewer’s faces without ever being resolved because actually paying it off would at the very least involve a massive shake up of the status quo, and if there’s one thing long-running, popular media franchises love it’s status quo.