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Dragons, Tits, and The Duality of Human Ethics
There are a lot of great shows on TV right now with large, devoted followers across media: Sopranos, Lost, and Law and Order just to name a few. The one I find most interesting however, as well as being a fan myself, is Game of Thrones. Between the dragons, the white walkers, and the sex, its probably one of the most successful TV series of all time, with a fandom so committed that the show has the highest number of illegal downloads. Its ‘shock and awe’ episodes send aftershocks that radiate throughout our society, even if you have never seen the show yourself. Game of Thrones stands out to me though because of how it has come to reflect our dualistic and conditional sense of morality.
Did You Hear About…
Based of the novels written by George R.R. Martin, the HBO series came on the social scene riding the coat tails of the popular Lord of the Rings trilogy from the theaters. It even went so far as to hire one of its alumni, Sean Bean, to play the first season’s titular character. At this point I must confess that I didn’t watch the show during this time, nor had any interest in doing so, precisely because it seemed like such a blatant cash cow move by HBO to capitalize on a successful franchise. Prior attempts have not been that creative and normally did not end well.
But I had heard the reasons why it had a growing fan base.
All New, All Different
The first season alone quickly established the show as much more graphic than its spiritual predecessor. Very soon it became famous-or infamous-for the amount of female nudity and realistic violence, which the latter was not often seen in Hollywood productions. One friend took to referring to the show as, “Dragon Tits”. While this seemed like shallow reasons to start watching, the driving reason behind it all however was the writing.
Characters like Ned Stark, twins Cersei and Jamie Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen, showed deep levels of complexity to their personas. Ned, the principal good guy of the show and noble, was also willing to marry off one of his daughters to a prince who anything but charming. The seemingly self-obsessed Lannister twins had been involved in an incestuous affair for years, even producing three children, passed off as her husband’s, the king. When it came to their children’s’ lives, they suddenly became more human and less scandalous. And even Tyrion Lannister, the younger, dwarf brother while just as self-centered as his siblings, is gives cause to sympathize with him because of how people treat him as well as for his talents. He shows intelligence and wit that causes you to overlook his affinity for fucking prostitutes on a regular basis.
It really is brilliant writing, causing many fans to state that the reason they liked it so much was exactly because of its more mature and realistic take on the world, albeit still a fantasy one. This held weight against its critics for awhile. And then the first season ended and that should have been a clue as too what to expect later on.
Ned Stark, the hero of the series, good father, noble and honorable lord and man, is beheaded by the new and crazed King Joffery, Cersei’s oldest child. This was shocking because it went against the entertainment status quo of not killing off the main hero, even more so for trying to do the right thing, making it more foolish. Shocking as this was though, it season two, The Rains of Castamere, that really shook everybody up, even non-fans.
The episode climaxes at the wedding feast of Ned Stark’s son, Rob, who has been fighting the Lannisters since the execution of his father. During the wedding, his supposed allies suddenly brutally murder his pregnant bride after her womb is stabbed several times. Rob’s bannermen are also slaughtered, with Rob and his mother being the last killed off.
Objectively speaking, this really should have been par for the course. Fans did say they liked the show for its ‘realism’ after all, and sometimes good people and the bad guys get away with it. However, the outcry was so loud that it was felt far beyond the community. Once again the shows heroes are killed, not only unjustly but brutally, and fans started voicing their frustration on various media outlets that their show seems to revel in killing off their favorite characters.
All is Fair
For his part, George Martin has never apologized for his depiction of Game of Thrones as he had specifically written his books to reflect more of history’s grotesque and daily realities, than myth and legend like Lord of the Rings. Game of Thrones dealt in the day to day realities of actual rule, not just major battles and grand adventures.
Six seasons in now and the show has not changed its tune, though it has arguably become somewhat more balanced. Villains have started dying off now as well as heroes, but the occasional uproar continues. Most recently, the rape of Sansa Stark at the hands of her husband Ramsey caused such a commotion that many fans stopped watching all together. They had had their fill of ‘realism’, and now began to feel that it was scenes of rape and abuse to women were just done to get ratings. They wanted a more progressive feel for the show represented. They wanted to see more women presented victors and not victims.
Staying at or Leaving the Water Hole
Few shows have proven as divisive as Game of Thrones, both among its own base and society at large. Thanks to Twitter and Youtube, people frequently argue with each other if the show has finally crossed the line and how real the scenarios it portrayed need to be. Staying with the rape of Sansa Stark for a moment, it has been noted by many critics that while there was much righteous outrage over the rape of a fictional character, there was no equally loud outrage at real world rape situations, were the crime is not pretend or on a studio set but in dark corners and slums across the world and perhaps our own backyards.
Another popular character, Stannis Baratheon, caused another heart-breaking stir among the GOTS community when he burned his own daughter alive to gain favor with a deity so he could win an upcoming battle. And yet it shouldn’t have been that shocking either because he had been doing that to people for the past two seasons. Why was that acceptable and his daughter’s, not?
This is the intriguing thing about the show. It not only reflects the values of an older world, but of the modern one as well. For all their praise of the show’s maturity and realism, at the end of the day many fans still wanted the ideal of good triumphing over evil, just like Frodo inside Mt Doom. People wanted their heroes, wanted the hope that they represented, even if it was just an escape.
And because it is an escape, perhaps people don’t want to be reminded of how cruel the real world actually is. When discussing with a Christian woman named Sarah, on why religious students didn’t take well to classes and groups on the grotesqueness of their religion’s history, she responded by saying:
“Christians don’t come here to be challenged. They come to have their faith built up.”
Obviously not all of Game of Thrones fans are Christian or Muslim or whatever religion you can name, but perhaps Sarah’s underlying sentiment still applies here. George Martins’ fantasy series definitely challenged and changed how our media portrays, sex, violence, and aspects of our nature we don’t routinely deal with: both conservatively and progressively. And this was something fans at first found refreshing. Now, though more people watch the show than ever before, some of those same fans are leaving the water hole, unable to bear any longer just how dirty the water they drink from actually is.