Game of Thrones - Review - Part II - ADULTS ONLY
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
Okay... soul-baring time.
You may have noticed by now how there were so many things I loved about Game of Thrones, and that they were so good, that it speaks for itself as to why Game of Thrones has become one of the best TV shows of all time.
Well, one question I have that's been gnawing at me forever is, can something or someone be too skilled at something for their own good?
The first reason I ask that question is, one of the many, and one of the biggest, things Game of Thrones is known for, and not necessarily in a good way, was the sudden deaths of some of the main characters. And I don't mean by outside forces, or by something foreign to Westeros. I mean by their own kind. Yes, I'm talking about betrayals, injustices, a much-longer-than-they-should-be period of the most inhuman activities that could ever be committed by anyone.
Joffrey Baratheon, the son of Cersei Lannister, or Ramsay of House Bolton? Don't even get me started on either of them! These guys are some of the most despicable characters I've ever seen, and once their true natures came into play, I did not enjoy their presence in the show. At all.
Joffrey...yeah, I might as well get this over with first...was the son of Cersei and Jaime Lannister, even though he's clearly part of the Baratheon bloodline. Not only did he not give a rip about the welfare of his fellow people, least of all Sansa Stark – his first wife, of all things – but he also exulted in the misery and pain of others. And once he became king, almost everyone respected him a lot LESS than before...especially after he executed Ned Stark at the end of Season 1.
Oh yeah, I better talk about him, while I'm at it. Ned Stark, the father in the family, was one of the noblest and most honorable characters in the show, and was even the primary focus of many Game of Thrones promotions around its premiere. He was given just as much focus and complexity as the other main characters I talked about earlier, and as a result, many viewers of the show instantly liked him, and also believed he would make it out okay and win in the end. Unfortunately, all it took was for Joffrey to say the words, "bring me his head!" and once the execution went through, almost everyone reacted as vehemently against it as you would have expected them to.
A lot of viewers who saw this were incensed by the idea of the most likable character in the show being beheaded by arguably the most hatable child character ever known, period, and many even swore to boycott the show as a response. Who could've blamed them? Of course, the head of HBO, Sue Naegle, addressed this, saying in a statement and out of defense for the show:
The book series was filled with unexpected twists and turns. I loved this idea we’d bring together the group of characters, then once you started to believe all the tropes of heroes, you pull the rug out from under them. It’s the opposite of feeling manipulated.
While I understand where she was coming from, the last sentence really turned me off. Fortunately, Jeff from Bullz-eye.com addressed this, saying:
I think Naegle said it beautifully, though many would probably argue that they were manipulated into caring for a character that would eventually be killed off. This raises some interesting questions about the nature of a story, and what we, as viewers, expect from a TV show.
Thank you, Jeff! Good thing there's someone out there who speaks my language.
Oh, and by the way, the execution in question happened at the penultimate episode, not the season finale, so it was quite an unexpected route for a show like this to take. But hey, at least there would've been one more episode in Season 1. Surely, this would've made things a little better, right?
We. Wish. The opening of the season finale rubbed salt in our wounds by not only showing the aftermath of Ned's execution, but we, as the viewers, were given the misfortune of watching Sansa, Joffrey's then-newlywed and Ned's daughter, being harassed by Joffrey as he gleefully showed her the head of her father on a spike while also telling her he planned to kill her brother, Robb. Why such a prepubescent a-hole (excuse my language) like Joffrey was even allowed to exist is beyond me. And the first time I saw it, I wasn't blown away, but rather felt subject to what I called 'artistic rape'.
Many people say they had issues with Game Of Thrones when Season 8 came into full play. Well, I had issues with the show since the moment Joffrey ordered Ned Stark to be executed.
And the worst part is, it took forever for him to die, or for anything to go to the heroes' favor with regards to the likes of him. We had to put up with his ungodly motives for the next two seasons of the show, right down to seeing him torture a poor pair of prostitues, shoot one of them with a crossbow (for his own pleasure) and also order the execution of all the bastard children of King's Landing. Yeah, at this point, I started to question the show's entertainment values and, on more than one occasion, its outlook on life, when we had stuff like this to deal with. Compare that to what you see in the news, and ask yourself, what kind of entertainment would you feel more content with at the end of the day?
Of course, we did finally see him die early in Season 4, and obviously, I was relieved, and yet, I wasn't relieved enough somehow. Was it because I wished for a more gruesome death for Joffrey after witnessing all the devilish crimes he commited? Or, rather, might it have been because of the fact that I was spoiled about it by a friend of mine, who was also watching the show at a similar pace as mine, before we even saw it? Yeah, you read that right. A friend of mine, who was also watching the show for the first time like I was, enthusiastically told me about how he looked online and read about Joffrey dying when we were one or two episodes behind where it would've occurred.
Wow... refraining yourself from looking up info on upcoming episodes until we actually see it and let it do its work, as well as refraining yourself from spilling such beans onto others. It can't be that hard to do!
And this calls back to the question I posed earlier. The actor, Jack Gleeson, obviously played Joffrey like a pro, but the end result obviously left so many viewers sickened to their stomaches over his character, and even George RR Martin wrote him a congratulatory letter, saying:
Congratulations on your marvelous performance, everyone hates you.
That was almost the most uncomfortable compliment I ever read...almost.
And let's not forget one of the reasons why Jack Gleeson quit the show around its fourth season. Besides quitting so he could've focused on his college studies and launched a fundraiser for Haiti, Gleeson admitted that acting, despite him enjoying it since he was young, wasn't all it was built up to be for him. One of his reasons he felt that way about acting?
A large part of his dislike of acting likely comes from how much people hate his “Game of Thrones” character, King Joffrey. Even when news that Gleeson was doing charity work in Haiti came to light, people had a hard time differentiating Gleeson in real life from his evil character.
If we are to believe what I just brought up here, there is a slight likelihood that Gleeson may have had to deal with harassers who mistook him for his polar opposite of a character and, God forbid, might've treated him as such.
You see where I'm going with this?
And of course, the other baddie that sickened us to the core was Ramsay Bolton. Like Joffrey, he relished the inhuman activities he always did, whether it was onto innocent people or even onto his own family. This actually made him a much nastier beast than Joffrey, and the way we met him was uneasily stealthy. Remember what I said about Theon and how he was subject to his cruel treatments after trying to take over Winterfell? Well, that included being ordered around like a dog, being treated like one, to the point of Ramsay calling him "Reek", and even being castrated, complete with Ramsay making a roasted bratwurst out of his penis. It's about as nauseating as it sounds.
But even then, that was nowhere as outrage-inducing as when he raped Sansa Stark on the night of their marriage (sheesh, what was it with Sansa being treated like such a glutton for punishment?). When this occurred during Season 5, a lot of people swore to never invest in this show due to how much, in their eyes, it undermined Sansa and went over the top with Ramsay's brutality on her. Even the mere fact that Ramsay was raping her onscreen repulsed them enough to condemn the show.
In the same season, I read online that the one moment in the show that many viewers admitted they'd rather never watch again was the scene where a young girl named Shireen was being dragged out to be burned alive at the stake. The helpless cries from the girl, and the lack of reactions from the people who stood by to witness it, except for that of the girl's mother, was shown from beginning to end in its harrowing imagery, and it shook its viewers to the core.
But, believe it or not, there was an even greater injustice committed in this show that trumped over all that Joffrey, Ramsay, or Season 5 ever did. And what was that, you ask?
The Red Wedding from The Rains of Castamere. Which is also a penultimate episode. Of Season 3.
Here's what happened: after Ned was executed, Catelyn Stark, the mother, and Robb Stark, the eldest son of the Stark children (and who were both also given as much focus and attention as the other characters) ventured out to seek vengeance against the Lannisters for it. In doing so, they collaborated with the Freys once they heard they had connections with the Lannisters. In the process, Robb married a girl he met, Talisa, even though he was meant to marry one of Walden Frey's daughters as part of their alliance deal. So, the Freys invited them to a celebratory dinner, and without warning, slaughtered them left and right, and at a time when Arya was so close to reuniting with Robb and their mother.
The absolute suddenness and brutality of this massacre was shown in all its sickening imagery, and all the viewers who saw it blew their tops off, as did all the readers who read it in the originating Song of Ice and Fire chapters. They screamed bloody murder at George RR Martin, at HBO, and at the creators of the TV show for exulting so much development onto such characters as Robb and Catelyn, only to suddenly slice them off like it was no big deal. And yes, I kind of am on the same boat. What was the point of treating Robb and Catelyn Stark, as well as Ned Stark, like important characters who were worth rooting for in the story if they were going to just suddenly be axed off both out of the blue and in front of our eyes? That's why I didn't feel entertained by the show, but rather victimized by it, duped by it.
In addition, not only did so many viewers threaten to boycott HBO altogether for this sequence, but George RR Martin, when he wrote the originating chapters back in 2000, was met with truckloads of hate mail, both physical and digital, in response by the readers who made it this far in his story. They condemned him, saying they'd never read his work again, and that they threw his book in the fire, and they, along with the HBO viewers, accused him and the creators of the show for being too sullen for their own good, or for having such an enjoyment out of killing off main characters.
And yet, this has been hailed as one of the best episodes of the series ever created, and that always astounded me. Why was "The Rains of Castamere" being called 'one of the best episodes of the entire show' if repulsion, sickness, sadness, instinctive outrage, and borderline abandonment was all it evoked out of its viewers? People say the most hurtful treatment that entertainment could possibly receive is no attention, so doesn't this sound more like artistic suicide than an artistic accomplishment?
It's gotten to a point where many people, myself included, viewed this show as the television equivalent of excessive tough love: if the ferocity of the events in the show (primarily with the sudden deaths of beloved main characters) outweighed the story's best intentions, the viewers would inevitably have misinterpreted it as abuse for abuse’s sake.
Oh, and here's a fun fact for you: the season 3 finale also decided to rub salt in our wounds with the sins of the ending of its previous episode, just like Season 1. In this case, the Freys came out of their castle and paraded outside with the then-headless body of Robb Stark and the head of Rob's direwolf attached to it. I swear to God, the Aborigines, who inherited our country before Christopher Columbus came along, had to have been made up of tribes more civilized than this one!
Oh, yeah, and get a load of this: the levels of nearly-noncompensated injustices don't stop there! Just after finally seeing Ramsay get his just desserts and the end of Season 6's penultimate episode, "The Battles of the Bastards", the beginning of the season finale, "The Winds of Winter", started with a 10-minute (or something) crescendo of events that were building up to something, and I was at the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen, and hoping that nothing bad would happen. The culmination? The destruction of a good portion of King's Landing, thanks to carefully placed candles, and a classic, instantly flammable substance, that killed off plenty likely characters, and all orchestrated by Cersei. This was where I let my first audible F-bomb drop, I felt so betrayed. Not even the execution of Walden Frey in the same episode at the hands of Arya was enough to turn the tide for me.
By the time the episode wrapped up, and both my father and I were all caught up, he reflected on it with awe and amazement, as did almost everyone else who tuned in to see this episode. But after seeing Cersei blow up part of King's Landing with the substance, and taking in his son Tommen's responsive suicide partly with grief, but also with slight relief, you know what I saw the yearlong gap between the S6 finale and the S7 premiere as? As well as, I might as well say, the time gap between S7 and S8?
Many people like my father may have seen it as a time of longing, of yearning for more of what they easily classified as an epic work of art.
I saw it as a time of recuperation.
Oh, yeah, and need we forget the execution of Jon Snow at the end of Season 5? Not only did this come out of the blue, like the deaths of Ned, Robb, and Catelyn before him, but the general reaction seemed to seep into what I would paraphrase as:
Fool me once, shame on me.
Fool me twice, shame on George.
Fool me thrice? God help George.
In fact, the death was so bad, that the wife of one of the co-creators of the show threatened to divorce him if he ever did anything wrong to Jon. I don't believe that their marriage ever went down the drain afterwards, but there must be something off if the show's characters left such an impact that seeing them die off would arouse this much real-life personal turmoil. And yes, I know that Jon would eventually have been brought back to life an episode or two later, but I still found it worth mentioning here.
But now, why am I bringing this all up and describing them the way I am? Because the way I felt about it, all of these acts of injustice, whether it was by Joffrey, Ramsay, Cersei, the Freys, or anyone else, for that matter, or if it was done unto the innocent, like the Starks or Shireen, they made watching Game of Thrones feel less like a recreational experience and more like a mistake, Westeros look less like a Medieval-inspired fantasy world and more like a Medieval-inspired hellhole, and the show itself feel less like a masterfully-crafted series and more like a masochist's paradise.
I am so sorry, I really want to love this show with a passion as much as everyone else, but every time my mind wandered to the events from the show that really did hurt, they just kept pushing me further away from it!
That was because some of these moments, like in the case of Ned Stark, or Robb, or Cately, or Jon Snow, or whoever else, were set up in ways where things might have gone out okay, but then the show went, "Ha! Gotcha!", almost like it not only believed that hope doesn't exist, but that it thought we were fools to actually believe that it does. Like it decided to play the more pessimistic sides of Red all over us and tried to prove that...
...in which case, I'll have to play Andy Dufresne in this argument, because I could not disagree more!
Normally, I don't mind situations where things look bleak for the main heroes, but that's only as long as it left us with a shred of hope of something good to come out of it. The way Game of Thrones did it, however, left me feeling like there isn't any, and that's not a good way to view life.
Now, I'm not saying that George RR Martin insulted my intelligence – I know he hasn't – but more often than not, my reflections on the heinous events from the show left me feeling as if he's insulted my morality instead.
Not only that, but when I perused the Internet to see what other people were saying about these bleak moments, I noticed one or two people say they loved to see the stakes being raised as high as they could've gone, since it would've made them feel actual fear for the surviving characters in the show. Even George RR Martin, in one of his interviews, said that if the consumer didn't feel for it like it's real life, then it's not good writing.
But, come on, if it's possible that the characters we like could've been killed before we even knew it, should the fear we would've felt for the characters have been so great that they would've overridden our personal investments on their personal journeys and character developments?
You're led to believe one thing, or assume something will happen to the characters based on some signs hinting to it beforehand, but then, after a season, or three seasons, or even years, the show completely slaps you with its sudden change of pace, which could potentially have changed the course of actions it took dramatically. And that pretty much sums up my biggest problem with the show...
If you think it's the unpredictability I despise, you'd be mistaken. I actually applaud that part of the show. It's really the deception – or, rather, the nihilism-induced deception – that drove a wedge between me and the show.
This calls to mind two different movies that, while I haven't even seen them, I'll admit, feel like something I should bring up here. One is Schindler's List.
I understood that the story of a German soldier who used a list to save over a thousand Jewish lives contained one horrid scene after another of the Nazis massacring the European Jews. What made it worthwhile, again from what I've heard, was the huge joy that the viewers felt when they reached the ending. A row of hellish scenes to pave the way for a very cathartic payoff.
Whereas with Game of Thrones, there were a lot of hellish scenes, albeit with little to no payoff, or, at least, with delayed payoffs. This added a level of queasiness to the show, and it ended up feeling more like...the next movie I'm about to refer to here.
With all the hate that George RR Martin got for all the scenes he put together, you'd think he'd be the first celebrity to be so publicly shamed for his work, right?
Well, that's not true. One of the earliest celebrities to go through that was, believe it or not, Stanley Kubrick for A Clockwork Orange.
Why did I bring that up? Well, here's something you'd find interesting. When Stanley Kubrick released A Clockwork Orange in Great Britain, it was met with a countless amount of controversy. The viewers were appalled by its nightmarish scenes, including one of the boys raping a woman while singing "Singing' in the Rain", and some of the actual rapes that occurred in the country shortly after its release were drawn suspicious comparisons to this movie, like it, and, by extension, Stanley Kubrick, were both responsible for starting a trend out of it.
This resulted in so many people throwing death threats at Kubrick, stalking his children, and circling around his house like bloodthirsty vultures, all out of disgust against his movie, A Clockwork Orange. This led to Kubrick voluntarily arranging for the movie to be banned in Great Britain for a while. The ban took effect until after he passed away in 1999.
When I managed to bring up the Clockwork Orange history with my father, he responded that this was similar to banning freedom of speech.
Once I heard that, that got me thinking. As I dissected more of what the show intended to do, I found out about how the show, for all its fantastical elements, was based off of a real life event that occurred in England in the late 15th century called the War of the Roses.
From what I understood about that event, it was about a group of Royal houses who were fighting for the Throne of England, and that it resulted in a lot of betrayals and bloodshed. I don’t know the end result of that at the time of this writing, but I can see how a lot of that inspired this show.
I also found out that the Red Wedding, in and of itself, was also based off of a real life event. Two, actually. One was the Black Dinner, and the other was the Glencoe Massacre, both from Scottish history. I’ll let George RR Martin go more in depth here:
The Red Wedding is based on a couple real events from Scottish history. One was a case called The Black Dinner. The king of Scotland was fighting the Black Douglas clan. He reached out to make peace. He offered the young Earl of Douglas safe passage. He came to Edinburgh Castle and had a great feast. Then at the end of the feast, [the king’s men] started pounding on a single drum. They brought out a covered plate and put it in front of the Earl and revealed it was the head of a black boar — the symbol of death. And as soon as he saw it, he knew what it meant. They dragged them out and put them to death in the courtyard. The larger instance was the Glencoe Massacre. Clan MacDonald stayed with the Campbell clan overnight and the laws of hospitality supposedly applied. But the Campbells arose and started butchering every MacDonald they could get their hands on. No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse.
Personally, I am really fond of works that hold no punches and do not sugarcoat history as it’s addressing it as part of its story. I also seem to recall fellow actress Natalie Dormer (who played Margaery Tyrell in the show) saying in response to the more painful elements of the show:
I find parts of the show difficult to watch, but I don’t think we do young people any favours by sheltering them.
Though I still scratch my head over why she referred to the 'young people' when this show is only for adults, in an odd way, this sort of calls back to the Walt Disney quote I mentioned in my review of Total Drama Island. That no one should be sheltered from witnessing the real world, because once they do witness it, they could learn from them for their own benefit and for the benefit of others.
But man, with so many people having either quit the show out of response to those scenes or hesitant to watch the show or read the books, I can’t quite put my finger on whether this response is a good thing or a bad thing.
And, also, did the nasty scenes in the show really need to go all out there at the expense of a good portion of its fans and their tolerance to it?
Something else I’m shocked to see is how much everyone despised the final season of Game of Thrones. Everyone complained about the characters being mishandled, or that the story strayed too far from the source material, or that the pacing was too rushed. So much, in fact, there’s actually a petition to get the last season remade with over 1.5 million signatures being made, again as of this writing. I do agree, though, that the pacing should have been more evened out, and that it should have been given more breathing room for a satisfactory ending. Other than that, I didn’t find anything overtly wrong with the season, and I actually thought the ending as it was felt satisfying enough, if also a little anti-climatic.
Frankly, it's trippy how much of the show was based on The War of the Roses, because whenever I thought of Game of Thrones, this was how I always envisioned it as being: a rose with thorns.
The characters, performances, visual effects, world-building, epic battles, and vast storytelling are the petals with a rich, desirable scent we can't get enough of, whereas the villains and the sudden deaths of some of the main characters thanks to the villains are the thorns. And yes, the thorns can infect, just like how they infected me.
As I found out the hard way while watching this, just because certain forms of entertainment is the top of its class doesn't automatically mean it's easy to watch. The best of entertainment isn't for everyone, similar to how the worst of entertainment is not for everyone. Actually, when you get down to it, that's a pretty confusing analogy, don't you think?
I don’t know, it all depends on everyone’s take on the show. What is a known fact, however, is that the show raised the bar in quality television and how much it can astound, amaze, entertain, or scar its audience...maybe all of the above? And that’s saying something. The rich legacy it left behind should also guarantee that this is an experience that none of us will forget anytime soon, even if it sent millions of people into a frenzy.
Like I said, the elements from the show that I like are superb enough for me to consider either revisiting the series or reading the books at some point in the future. Yet, at the same time, prevailing and/or long-lasting injustices and I do not mix, so...I might have to decide on this very carefully.
Game of Thrones. A cultural phenomenon that has become a game on so many levels.
– In a 60 Minute special that aired around the Season 8 premiere, George RR Martin was being asked how he felt about being called one of the most notorious killers in the fiction world. He responded that Star Wars killed off more characters than he did, bringing up the destruction of Alderaan from A New Hope as an example.
Touché, George RR Martin.
And, when you add in the number of planets we saw the Starkiller destroy in The Force Awakens, plus the Order 66 massacres in Revenge of the Sith, who are we kidding? You know George is making a good point here!
Although, the more I think about it, did anyone just piece together by now how potentially...dare I say it, alike these two franchises are?
Think about it: they both dealt with monolithic battles between good and evil, they both took their cues from The Hero with a Thousand Faces (though in Game Of Thrones’ case, it also likes to play around with them), you see several main characters die off left and right, they both had to deal with volatile fanbases hot on their tails, and the creators of each franchise even shared the same first name!
Man, this is freaky!
– If you want justice, you've come to the wrong place.
I should've taken heed with that sentence a long time ago.
- Reflecting on everything I just said here about Game of Thrones, and how much I either like the show, or want to love it, or want to dissuade others from being equally tormented by the show while still trying to understand why so many people love this show, I'm now at the stage where Misery might make a great therapist on matters such as this. I even suggested exactly that to others who've been equally as tormented by certain forms of entertainment, all from my review of said story, so what's so hard about me following my OWN advice?
Gilmore, Mikal. “George R.R. Martin: The Rolling Stone Interview.” Rolling Stone, 23 Apr. 2014, 3:00 PM, www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/george-r-r-martin-the-rolling-stone-interview-242487/.
Hibberd, James. “'Game of Thrones' Author George R.R. Martin: Why He Wrote The Red Wedding.” Entertainment Weekly, 2 June 2013, ew.com/article/2013/06/02/game-of-thrones-author-george-r-r-martin-why-he-wrote-the-red-wedding/.
Hibberd, James. “HBO Defends Game of Thrones.” Entertainment Weekly, 13 June 2011, ew.com/article/2011/06/13/game-of-thrones-reaction/.
Locker, Melissa. “Amanda Peet Is Probably Divorcing Her Husband Over Jon Snow’s Fate.” Time, 3 Sep. 2015, time.com/4021379/game-of-thrones-amanda-peet-david-benioff-divorce/.
Morgan, Jeff. “Game of Thrones: The Episode That Shocked the World.” Bullz-Eye.com, 17 June 2011, www.bullz-eye.com/television/features/2011/game_of_thrones.htm.
Rose, Steve. “A Clockwork Orange: The Droog Rides Again.” The Guardian, 11 May 2011, www.theguardian.com/film/2011/may/11/a-clockwork-orange-cannes.
Schwartz, Terri. “'Game of Thrones' Jack Gleeson to Quit Acting, Knows King Joffrey Is Irredeemable.” Screener TV, 25 Nov. 2013, screenertv.com/news-features/game-of-thrones-jack-gleeson-to-quit-acting-knows-king-joffrey-is-irredeemable/.
Strang, Fay. “Natalie Dormer Defends Game of Thrones against Accusations of Sexism and Gratuitous Violence.” Mirror, 21 Feb. 2016, www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/natalie-dormer-defends-game-thrones-7411832.