Tuesday 3 June 2014

reflector or director?

I watched Game of Thrones last night.  I've tried hard to make what follows spoiler free, but if you're following the programme and you're not right up to date, then please approach with caution.

Still with me?  OK.

I watched the latest episode, "The Viper and the Mountain".  Then, as I usually do, I headed over to the Guardian's series blog for GoT to have a look at what other fans of the show thought.  The show airs on Sunday night in the US, and the blog usually goes up straight after that, but as we only get to see the show on a Monday night, there's already been a few hours to get the discussion started and there's already a lot to catch up on.  It's one of those blogs where, if you can read between the trolls and the smug book readers wanting to discuss things that haven't happened yet, the readers are as interesting as the author.

Pretty early in the discussion, DMcCool had this to say:

"I have to admit this was the point where I finally "got" Game of Thrones message, the Red Wedding had enough clues in it here they really rammed the message home. A horrendously bleak and grotesque view of humanity and an obsession with everything gruesome and ugly.The level of gore and constant brutal deaths for every sympathetic character carries GoT over into the realm of the SAW films. After coming close at the end of the last season, I think this was enough for me, I'm finally off the ride. I don't want to spend any more time in this joyless and cruel world. The saving grace of this episode (and in my opinion the best scene this season by a mile) was surely the conversation between Tyrion and Jaime, and the flashes of actual friendship there, but it is far too rare a thing in Westeros; everyone is either a psychopath or a bleating victim. It's just a horribly nasty view of humanity; it's humanity stripped of humanness with just the dull statistics "so and so killed so and so for such a political reason" left. [plot point redacted to avoid spoiler], but then GRRM has to play his one trick again and kill [a] character in the most gruesome and horrible way he can think of. It's getting old, and I can see where this story is going. I finally committed viewer suicide and spoilered myself to kill off any curiosity, freeing me from this joyless and depressing fantasy world."

You know what?  I actually kind of agree with him.  I'm not a prude and I have been known to enjoy 18 certificate films from time to time.  I'm not going to stop watching the show, but last night's episode really excelled itself in the utterly gratuitous amount of violence and gore displayed on the screen.  I knew what was coming because I've read the books, but I was actually still shocked by what I saw depicted on the screen.  These images didn't just flash up on the screen, the camera lingered lovingly on them the way that it sometimes lingers on the also-fairly-gratuitous (mostly female) nudity.

Listen, I know that G.R.R.Martin is portraying a world based loosely upon Wars of the Roses era England, and that war in the period was horrific: people died horrible deaths and were literally cut to pieces by swords and other pointy objects or bludgeoned to death by blunt objects;  people were tortured; people were and raped.  I get it.  Martin was actually forced to come out and defend scenes of rape in a previous episode in this season.  His defence was that it would be dishonest to back away from that side of war.


I don't like watching films in 3-D.  The reason that I give is that I don't believe it adds enough to the viewing experience.  I read books and I'm perfectly capable of using my imagination.  I don't need to see objects appearing to come out of a cinema screen to believe that I'm watching a 3-D world and not a projection on a flat screen.  I feel much the same way about the massive use of CGI in films.  Just because you can make it look like an entire city has been laid waste doesn't necessarily mean that you should always lay waste to a city.  Sometimes less is more.

This week's Game of Thrones did not depart massively from the book, and the most upsetting scene in particular is pretty clearly laid out there too over a couple of sentences.  It's horrible in the book too.... but somehow it's so much worse seeing the whole thing laid out lovingly and lingeringly in high definition.  I'm positive they could have achieved exactly the same shocking effect without such a gratuitous display of blood and gore.

This is a good show, and I'm going to tune in again next week, obviously.... but so graphic was the violence that I have at least asked myself the question as to why I'm still watching and you can't help but wonder what kind of impact exposure to these kind of images may have on some people.  It can't be healthy, can it?  What does it say about us that this is how we like to be entertained? The Romans liked seeing people being butchered in the arena, and it's widely agreed that this was a symptom of a sick, brutalised society.  The magic of television means that no one actually died to bring me this episode of Game of Thrones, but although I might be entertained, I'm hardly edified by the experience.

As the song said way back in 1992:

Because a child watches 1500 murders before he's
twelve years old and we wonder why we've created
a Jason generation that learns to laugh
rather than to abhor the horror

Television... breeding ignorance and feeding radiation for the best part of a century.

Are you not entertained?


  1. I am so heavily into Fantasy and Sci-Fi I once encouraged TheNumNum to read the Wheel of Time series... (he got as far as halfway through book 1).

    So far though I haven't really been getting into Game of Thrones, and I can't understand why not. :(

  2. FYI - because of your post, I am now watching Game of Thrones, which is an extremely depressing show. I haven't read the books but that hasn't stopped me realising all the "sympathetic" people are doomed to die, all the nasty people will get more power and do more immoral things, there will be lots of sex and swearing going on...

    ...wait a minute, I could swear that was the theme of Big Brother (death equalling being voted out, although if more deaths happened on Big Brother more people might tune in).

    Anyway, I'm blaming you for getting me into the show.

  3. You're welcome! You can't say I didn't warn you!