/ Leigh Alexander / 7 am Fri, May 11 2012
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  • Reasons to love you, Game of Thrones

    Reasons to love you, Game of Thrones

    I became involved with the Game of Thrones TV series and books against all odds. After all, I don’t think of myself as a “geek” or a “nerd”, even if I am a video game journalist.

    My interest is in unnatural universes and the potential in interactive fictional worlds, but the traditional wheelhouses of SF and high fantasy—and as terrified as I am of the people who won’t like to hear this, I’ll come out and say it—feel like something I grew out of. When I was adolescent, I ate up entire novel series about thrones and dragons and mages. In my work—where I look at the cultural context of the things we play, and the reasons we’re attracted to playing them—I click, tap and button-mash through countless products that owe everything to Tolkien.

    Wandering though these exalted realms, I’m way tired of serving wenches and noble knights; weary of sack-clothed peasants and their thatched-roof cottages; sick to death of bikini armor, sigils, scale helms and sacks of holding. Enough, already.

    So I thought it’d be more than safe to overlook Game of Thrones, a niche-bound, overcomplicated slice of knights-and-dragons that, for whatever reason, was becoming an ornately-armored TV show.

    People will eat up all kinds of garbage; ‘media criticism’ often means gritting your teeth, convinced of your rightness, through the latest pop culture feeding frenzy until the blood has dissipated into the sea. This is what I was going to do about Game of Thrones, even though all of my friends—all of my people!—were stoked about it.

    But then I heard about the boobs.

    If you know nothing else about Game of Thrones, you know that there are boobs in every episode, that according to the TV show the world of Westeros (and the lands beyond the narrow sea!) seems preoccupied with relations after the canine manner. Even if you do not watch Game of Thrones and you never intend to, you’ve heard someone say that there are a lot of naked women, there are a lot of woman-subjugating sex scenes, and there'ss generally a lot of fleshy eye-candy in this show.

    There are entire articles, from high-end magazines to lunatic blogs, which analyze, deride or scrutinize this particular element. And like any new media feminist, I got suckered into the debate before I’d read a stitch of text or seen a minute of the show. Voraciously eating up all of the discussion, the dread premonition settled in: I would end up reading all of George R.R. Martin’s books. I would tune in, with the fervor of religion, to the television series.

    This happened to me before—and I take no pride in it—with the Twilight series. When something attracts so much online discussion (wondering why adult women would be attracted to an absurd tale of supernatural creatures warring over a clumsy, ordinary girl) I consumed it as thoroughly as any superfan. Twilight's disturbingly anti-feminist fantasy is compelling escapism, a deferral of obligations in the face of complicated things, a fear-response to overwhelming female empowerment rhetoric.

    In an age where we’re whisking shame away from sex like so much stale old smoke, what woman wouldn’t daydream about being treasured by many even if she never puts out—even if she’s a powerless loser? In an era where it’s nearly a sisterly obligation for each woman to stand wholly on her own, who wouldn’t find some guilty pleasure in the admission of fear of male anger (facing the werewolf, Jacob) or of male sexuality (the chilly, chaste restraint of Edward)?

    I kinda loved it. So in kind, I wanted to know: Why Game of Thrones, why HBO, why now?

    I ate up the first book over the course of a work trip late last summer, and the first season of the show, always making sure to keep ahead in my reading. That way, a new episode carried with it the distinctly geeky pleasure of instant recognition: I already knew the television characters for who they were.

    First, there's the brilliant casting. Every character reveal is a subtle delight, which alone seems a reason to keep watching: a fascinating translation from the text to the imagination and to sight. It shares this quality with the Harry Potter movies—fiction that captures the imagination creates a compulsive urge for imagery that’s more tactile, more relatable. Most of those who roleplay Harry Potter on the internet uses the series’ film actors for their avatar pictures, not the books’ official art nor any of the impressive fanart that exists.

    There’s something about Game of Thrones that makes it more interesting than anything I’ve ever seen step over the crossmedia threshold. Martin’s writing style is frustratingly unsentimental—he’s like a lover who spends the night with his back to you. He describes incredibly complicated relationships in elaborate political climates; yet he creates empathy for these would-be rulers without giving us much insight into their inner worlds.

    Events and behaviors are drawn as they are, and his skill is in letting his readers know plainly who the “good guys” are without writing anyone as particularly good. Much of the appeal of his novels lies in the pleasure of emotional inference; behavior hints at subtext, and you root quietly for your favorites, knowing that most of them will never gratify you, and may be yanked away at any moment for an inglorious death.

    Well-cast and talented actors given such roles are light blades of clean light shone through a prism—suddenly everything bursts into color. Certainly, the show has taken liberties. As faultlessly loyal to the books as it often is, it feels somehow different; the actors add nuances to the book's characters without making meaningful change to their story arcs or to their dialogue.

    How human written creatures are once we can look into their eyes! Game of Thrones is a fascinating essay in how television and literature are alike yet different; what does one medium excel at versus another, when telling the same story?

    Back to the boobs, though, since that’s why most people know about Game of Thrones. If the fiction is as political as The Sopranos, and as socially complex as Mad Men, why does it need to rely on “sexposition,” the much-bandied term that refers to using erotic scenes as backdrops to illustrative revelations about plotlines or characters?

    The fabric of Martin's universe, with multiple families, motives and allegiances, is pretty taxing. Perhaps HBO needs a way to keep people with short attention spans tuned in. Okay.

    But through all of the banners and battlefields, through the trenchers of bacon and the heels of black bread—more on the books’ truly elaborate food fixation later, maybe—it’s a narrative about marginalized people triumphing in ironbound, ancient and ugly structures.

    It’s a world that allows magic to creep in at its fringes, a variable that just might create future fortune for those who most need it. Whether they’re little-person “half-men” (as in the series’ best character, Tyrion Lannister, as portrayed by Emmy-winning Peter Dinklage), unwanted bastard sons, or frustrated women powerless in a patriarchal structure, Game of Thrones is about the heroism of fighting fate and the social order.

    In The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum recently pointed out that Game of Thrones is just one of many high-concept television dramas fascinated with the nuances of old-fashioned “patriarchal subculture”. Meanwhile, our pop television breathlessly fans itself with White Girl Problems, 2 Broke Girls, Sh*t Girls Say, The New Girl, and—oh, wait, what’s that one?—oh yeah, Lena Dunham’s Girls.

    Boobs on TV aren’t just boobs on TV at a time like this. Power structures are changing, so it’s not so surprising people would be drawn to a fantasy series about how power structures limit and exploit women—structures suddenly fragile in a fantasy world at war, ideologically and literally.

    It’s the kind of thing that I feel rewarded by exploring instead of just talking about. You can be one of those people who calls "misogyny!" at the first sight of a naked woman on TV. Just as you can be one of those people—as I almost was—who sees Game of Thrones as just another sugary slice of fanservice.

    Either way, you’d be missing out on something that’s not just a fascinating exercise in crossmedia storytelling, but probably has an under-addressed role in expressing our own culture's quiet revolutions.

    A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) is available from Amazon and bookstores.

    / / COMMENTS


    1. I keep trying to think up a joke about “OK lady no matter how bad Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms was, there was always worse” but whenever I think of “worse SFF than Dragonlance” I think of Gor, and I don’t want to think about Gor. You really can’t get past “fixed smile” when trying to make jokes about Gor.

      Anyway, I guess it’s time I read and watched Game of Thrones.

      1. My wife practically forced me, kicking and screaming in protest, to “lower” my high-brow literary tastes and read the damn things, and I quit fantasy books at Gormenghast some 40-odd years ago. 

        Effin’ brilliant. I didn’t sleep for two weeks. Don’t get me started on the boobs, I mean TV series. We had to sign up for HBO, at my insistence.

      2.  Ugh.  Gor.  Working at Linden Lab for a couple of years, I learned that there are people out there obsessed with Gor.  There is (or at least was) a whole Gorean subculture in Second Life.  I really, really didn’t get it.

        1.  There’s a Gorean subculture in real life as well.  I’m going to avoid searching it, due to being at work, but it’s apparently not too hard to find. 

          Strikes me as personally distasteful, but power dynamics are deeply embedded in sexuality. 

        2. A friend of mine, having succumbed to Second Life, sent me pictures of kajirus. I immediately recognized them as iterations of Jon Mikl Thor.

      3. Any time I think about Dragonlance novels I wish I could go back in time to my 13 year old self and tell that kid: “Stop reading that stuff. Go talk to a girl. And for goodness sake have a shower you greasy little nerd!” Then I remember after reading those novels I discovered Kurt Vonnegut and everything works out. Good thing I never read those Gor books. Who knows what would have happened to me. 

        The long and short of it is I kind of know what you’re saying. I hadn’t read high fantasy novels in a long time (at least since I stopped being a greasy nerd) and after watching the first season of GoT something clicked. Next thing I knew, I read ever single one [only finishing the 5th book last week] and the short stories (which are just as good).

        1. For me, someone who wore the online moniker flint_the_dwarf for years, Dragonlance was just something I loved as a kid.  Much like The Belgariad and Mallorean, and the Shannara books.  Looking back on them, I realize they aren’t great writing or even great storytelling, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

          All of it brought me here, and now I love “high fantasy” and speculative fiction, but I still like the childish appeal of Dragonlance (even if I don’t read it).

      4.  Was that the series that started with “Posteriors of Gor” and its sequel “Buttocks of Gor”; or maybe they weren’t actually called that, maybe it was just the Chris Achilleos covers :)

      5. I came across a Gor book once as a horny teenager. I really wanted to be thrilled by it, but all I got was an icky feeling and the knowledge that John Norman is a really crappy writer, and someone I wouldn’t ever want to know.
        On the bright side, the Goreans on Second Life make really nice sims. It’s too bad they’re all full of Goreans.

      6. whenever I think of “worse SFF than Dragonlance” I think of Gor, and I don’t want to think about Gor.

        Maybe you could think about The Wankh instead?

    2. Boobs are good.  Save the tatas wherever possible.  And when not possible, reconstruct.

    3. Does it exploit and “rely on” sexcapades, or does it acknowledge them as part of life?

      Does it salaciously focus its gaze only on comely female flesh, or does studly male flesh receive more or less equal time?

      1. To 1.  – the answer is yes and no – the stuff that is put in that mimics the book (IMO) are actually well done and definitely add to either the plot or provoke your reaction to the character.

        However there is alot of stuff not in the book that’s just added in for the T&A that gets overdone – which is a shame because it detracts from the rest of the show when it does.

        To 2.  much like the first question – the scenes in the book seem to come off with both parties being exposed – where the ones added tend to be one sided unfortunately.

        *edit* – and I think a point the review leaves out – which (again IMO) is important. The females in this series range all over the place in personality and ability – in that aspect the sexes are equal in this story.

        That is to say there are strong, weak, whiny, plotting, sneaky, brave, bold, and dashing woman and men throughout the series and if it stays true to the books you will find yourself changing opinions of the characters as they grow – which is I think a compliment to the writer in making female characters that are as varied and nuanced as the men.

      2. Flesh time is definitely biased towards women, but there have been a couple instances of boy on boy action and dudes getting drug around naked. I think it’s mostly because a bare chested male isn’t nearly as attention grabbing in our society, and there’s only so many frames of wangs they can slip in before it becomes porn.

        There was one guy who spent most of the first season showing off his well oiled pecs, but he’s dead now and no one’s stepped up to fill those shoes.

        1. I’ve never tried putting my pecs in shoes, but hey learn something new each day.  I’m not judging.  Let’s call it shoe-peccing.

      3. Question 1: Yeah, I would say rely, but the weird thing is they are in the book in far greater detail.   

        Question 2:More former than latter.  And quite frankly, I have been subconsciously trained by media to lay my hetero female eyes in that direction as well.

      4. does studly male flesh receive more or less equal time?

        Not that I’ve watched it, but I’d say that male boobage is fairly fully on display thanks to Jason Momoa.

        1. Even I can recognize his pretty.  Particularly when he does spinning-around-fighting and his long, long hair whips around.  :)

    4. “After all, I don’t think of myself as a “geek” or a “nerd”, even if I am a video game journalist.”

      You know, of course, that this is self-delusion.  :)

      1. It involves significant cognitive dissodance when one is writing on the site for happy mutants.  I mean, I assume they ask about ones nerd traits during the interview.

    5. Sex scenes are irrelevant.More problematic is consistent portrayal of women as indecisive, stupid and overly emotional when they have actual power.

      1. As are the men… I could give examples but would prefer to keep the comments spoiler free.  

        1. Problem is, while there are many male failures and fools, there are also a lot of competent, intelligent and cunning individuals. Not so in the female sector. Consider the actions of  Catelyn, Daenerys and Cersei across books 1-5. Ugh.

          1. *spoilers* I don’t think Catelyn Stark makes stupid decisions.  Trying to save her children is perfectly logical and just because your goals are different (I presume you’d prefer if she hadn’t released the Kingslayer) doesn’t mean she’s wrong. These are strong female characters written like real people. The only male who never makes a mistake in the series is Tywin Lannister, and he gets shot by a crossbow on the toilet so it didn’t do him much good.

            Here are a few more strong female characters for you to rubbish; Olenna Tyrell- The Queen Of Thorns, all the Sand Snakes (Obara, Nymeria, Tyene, Sarella, Elia, Obella, Dorea, Loreza…not from memory haha), Melisandre, Brienne, Asha Greyjoy, Ygritte…and you didn’t mention Arya.

            1.  Ah, by Tywin Does end up getting a bolt in the guts, surely he did something wrong to end up like that?

            2. Well, his children all pretty much loathe him (except maybe Cersei), and yeah, spoiler, that is directly linked to his death. I don`t know if I`d count that as `never making a mistake.`

            3.  This needs a massive spoiler warning… I can hear everyone who likes the show but hasn’t read the books screaming in spoiled agony all the way over here.

            4. She’s not wrong because of her goals. She’s wrong because she doesn’t think through the consequences of her moves or examine her conclusions. Instead of learning, she gets worse. Eventually, her decisions get so compulsive they go beyond mere mistakes. She’s nowhere near a Perfect Monster like Tywin but she becomes a godawful zealot after (spoilers).  Basically I don’t like her because she never rises above being damaged goods.

              But, so it goes with some people.

              (PS, several of the strong female characters are also creeps. Which makes them no different from men, so far as I can see.)

            1. Hell, if I was half so brilliantly ruthless at, what, 15?  Yeah.  My life would be different.  (And if I’d had dragons a lot of homophobic jerks would have been SCARED.)

          2.  Daenerys is a very young girl with precious little education and/or reliable advisors, trying to do a very hard job in a very hard land. She makes mistakes, but I have to admire her courage and will, if not her choices. But then, I’m me, and she’s got Quite a different upbringing, not to mention goals

          3.  “Catelyn made two major decisions. First was the direct cause of the whole war.”

            I honestly do not get this sentiment, which I’ve heard many times. I suppose Jaime Lannister *had* to throw Bran out the window (a shrewd decision)? And the person who sent an assassin after Bran (I’m aware who it is, but SPOILERZ!) only raised suspicions as to the nature of Bran`s near fatal injury, which might have been taken as an accident otherwise, and led to Catelyn`s investigation.

            Not only that, we speak as if dishonourment and insult are perfect excuses for war. No, of course, in such a setting, they are reasons. But it does not change the fact that these are emotional reasons, cloaked in politics and social custom.

            While a shrewd and otherwise strategically brilliant man, Tywin Lannister`s obsession with immortality for his family`s name ruined lives all around him, most of all his own children. However, because of his political intelligence and his charisma, he gets a weird pass from all of us. I love his character too, but it doesn`t change the fact that he is a much more deplorable human being than Catelyn Stark has ever been. His cause is just as silly and emotional as her love for her children.

            Finally, everyone SAYS in the book that Joffrey basically pushed the war over the edge by executing Ned. I suppose he was very level-headed when he decided to destroy any possibility of a peace treaty with the North.

            Going over how stupid and emotional Ned Stark was (heavens bless him, I love you, Sean Bean!) is pretty well-covered in the form of memes.

      2. Um, like who?  Catelyn Stark, Denarys Targaryen, and Cersei Lannister are as intelligent and (un)emotional as the male characters, as are less powerful female characters like Arya, Osha, and Rose.

        1. Catelyn made two major decisions. First was the direct cause of the whole war.  The second doomed someone important to her.

          Cersei was, initially,  portrayed quiet nicely. Until Tome 4, when she got her own POV and she showed herself as utterly clueless, petty and blind. It was horribly painful to read.

          Daenerys spent half her life as livestock and the other half whining indecisively in one exotic palace or the other. She made maybe one important decision – the emancipation of the slaves – while the rest turning points (hatching, house of the magicians, the arena thing) happened magically because she has teh dwagon blawd.

          1. Mouton, please don’t spoil and snow me with tidbits from later books.  From what I’ve seen of the show so far (all) and what I’ve read from the first book (half), women are portrayed as fairly as men in terms of intelligence and emotion. So you know more about this world than most of us– bully for you– but don’t lord it over us.

          2. The red priestess is powerful, in charge, not afraid to get dirty, and takes no crap from anyone.

            The wilder woman shows herself to be fierce and powerful and compassionate.

            The frog twins – the one that is the most competent is the sister.
            Cersei let the power go to her head – which is why your opinion of her changed – that’s not horrible – it’s called character growth which can be negative for the character itself.

            Daenerys’s refusal to compromise her morality for expeditious power is a key and stark opposition to Cersei – if you see her as just a magical ‘dwagon blawd’ you are seriously missing her strength of character – which if she didn’t have she’d be marching on Westeros right now.

            Brienne is such an honorable and perfect knight – that she actually makes Jamie Lannister reassess his entire life. 

            Ygritte – is a strong and capable woman – someone who not only knows her own self – but is able to take what she wants and also is shown as being confidant enough with her sexuality to go after and seduce whom she wants and with no hangups about it.  This is liberating to see in a character.

            Arya is a strong and capable girl, who is growing into a lethal weapon.

            This is just a taste of the female characters that are strong – and yes I disagree with you about Cersei – but the point is if you want to only look at the worst of how the women are written – you are missing the forest to stare at the mushrooms.

            1. Thank you!

              All the characters in the books are complex people – and few of them are unsullied and “good.”  They all make mistakes, sometimes terrible ones, and many of them are selfish and venial or short-sighted.  And that includes the women.Martin gets major credit from me for his women, who exist within a deeply patriarchal structure and still DO things.And Arya’s awesome – although she’s nearly the stock castle-born-tomboy, it gets utterly subverted by her bloodthirst.  When a child (was she 10 or 11 at the time) falls asleep at night reciting the names of the people she’s going to kill…  well, she’s the wolf’s child, all right, and it’s totally believable.  

            2. Well said, especially about Brienne’s honor making Jaime reassess his own life. She changed not only him, but the dynamic of the entire Lannister family. 

          3.  I’ve read books 1-4, but haven’t read Dance with Dragons yet, and haven’t seen the show.  Daenerys and her dragons always felt tacked on, like they were there just because there ought to be dragons.  And that picture with the snarky-looking cartoon CGI dragon above really doesn’t help.   On the other hand, the Others north of the wall really worked for me.

            1. danaerys and her dragons are integral to all this. book 5 has MUCH more to do with her than book 4. martin split the books oddly with 4 & 5 (and regrets it) — book 4 is all about king’s landing and the people there, and book 5 follows the same time frame, but catches up with everyone else NOT in king’s landing.

              in the tv series, that moment with the “cartoon CGI dragon” (as you put it) was awesome, and i even said to my partner when we saw it, “man, that dragon looks frickin’ awesome.” — so maybe a still shot doesn’t capture it right, but they are very very cool in the show.

    6. Ignoring the porny aspects (as if it were possible), boobs in Game of Thrones make as much sense as the swords, ravens, and dragons: the plot is fundamentally one of power struggles, and the characters leverage whatever power they have to attain more.  Violence, sex, money, and magic are the currencies of its world, and an episode without boobs pouring from a frock would be like an episode without gore spilling from a falling, dying man.

    7. I think that accusing Game of Thrones of misogyny is akin to accusing Man Men of racism just because it’s set in the 60s.

      Its backdrop is a feudal patriarchal medieval-like society, and even then many female characters shine as power players in Westeros and beyond the Narrow Sea.

      You have to remember that even though there are plenty more gods in Westeros, christian ideology does not exist there and so is the guilt associated with sex, yet many still see it through that lens.

      1. I don’t think that flies. You can’t toss a bunch of female sex slaves into a fictional medieval setting and wave it off with a “LOL THAT’S HOW IT WAS BACK THEN!”  

        Some awareness has to be given to the audience viewing the product.

        1. Slavery is forbidden in Westeros so it’s not being condoned, and people who mistreat women are generally the worst of the plethora of baddies occupying that universe, also they usually die screaming (although some don’t, at least not yet) and that is what I find most appealing about the novels, the realistic rendering of humanity in that fantastic world.

          1. As someone who has only seen the show and not read the books, the most reasonable interpretation of “female sex professionals” is how they exist in the world I know (a demeaning one).

            1. Related trivia – at least some of those female sex proffesionals, are being played by real-life female sex professionals.

        2. You’re really taking the audience for idiots. And basically you’re calling for nonsensical, anachronistic political correctness. 

          This world is modeled after the middle ages, feudalism and all. If you have read some history on the epoch, it’s painfully obvious. In the short stories set in the same universe, GRRM even portrays knighthood in extremely verisimilar details. So much so that, if you ignore the backstory and the mention of recently disappeared dragons, it could be very educational historical fiction. 

          If anything, the role and position of women in GoT is much preferable than what’s happened in history until the last few decades. 

          1. Verisimilar? You’re trying to tell me that women actually looked like that back then? And dressed like that?


          2. This world is modeled after the middle ages, feudalism and all.

            Women didn’t even show their hair in the Middle Ages, let alone cleavage.

            1. Yeah, when you’re the author of a fantasy setting, you can totally pick and choose from different historical eras, because you’re creating it.  When you’re a fan, though, it’s stupid to point to a fantasy setting and say “it’s okay because history!”

              I actually think the misogyny is interesting rather than disturbing – it comes through better in the books, I think – because it’s a misogynistic *setting* rather than a misogynistic *story.*  The women are written as people.

            2.  Although I would have to do some research to come up with good references, from my personal recall drawing on a lot of historical reading:
              * In the 14th C in France (and Italy I believe), it was common for fashionable women at court to wear dresses that fully exposed their breasts and nipples. They would apply rouge to their nipples to make them more visible.
              * At one point there was apparently a brothel inside the Vatican – not exactly the image that we retain concerning the center of Catholicism.

              Our modern concept of proper behavior and dress is based heavily on the Victorian period. It has been retroactively applied to our view of earlier European history by writers since that time. Our versions of Shakespeare have had the swear words removed etc.  Do you recall reading about the “Shitten Knight” in the Canterbury tales – my school version seemed to miss that bit entirely?
              The Victorian era has given us a vision that the past was filled with a massive level of prudery that was in truth missing in many cases.
              For instance, during the Napoleonic period, it was common for horsemen such as Hussars, to put their pants – really more like hose than pants – on wet, then let them dry so they tightened up as much as possible. Women who attended Balls could easily tell if a man was circumcised or not.
              The level of sexual content in the show (and books) is fine with me.

              As for the female characters, it seems to me that the majority of the events that happen in the books, if not all, are the results of actions by female characters. It may be male characters who resolve an issue in many cases but I think in a lot of cases its a female character who is responsible for causing the issue to exist in the first place.

    8. I picked up the first book in the GoT series as a pulp read for a US west coast->east coast flight. a few pages in and i was dreading what i had done – the tired cliches of dragons, monsters, swords, castles, and not really written with much dexterity or wordplay.

      but by the time i got to the end of it several hours later, i was actually fairly taken by the whole thing. it seemed to me that GoT wasn’t really about the scenery and fantasticness at all, but very, very much about the all too human characters and how they interact and respond to changing circumstances. i didn’t feel that i needed to read the rest of the series, but it was quite pleasant to discover a quality in the book(s) quite different from my initial  impression.

      1. You should absolutely check out the next two books, they are by far the best in the series and they make the first book pale in comparison, imo. Be prepared for a lot of late nights.

    9. I watched the series from the beginning and honestly, never realized it was a series about boobs , so thank you for enlighten me.

      Why are ( especially in the US media) so many people are afraid/offended/fixated of/by/on boobs and nipples ?

        1. because sex is more horrible then murder.

          You’ve obviously dated my last boyfriend.

      1.  For some reason we find a new reason to be offended by breasts  every 50 years:  Religion, sexism, feminism, Kids might see them!, utilitarian nature of breast feeding.  Folks really need to get over it.

      2. Because–duh?–sexual objectification of women contributes to their subjugation.

      3. Agree, Brit here and I put this firmly in the ‘sexy’ category, not the needless category. Needless nudity is often crass and distracting, but this feels purposeful.

        It’s a story about a fictional past-time with dragons and knights and wenches; take it for what it is, the way the women are often objectified is no more offensive than the way the men are portrayed as brutes.

        1. To you, no more offensive.  It might be good for you to recognize that other people may disagree…  particularly people of the group being objectified.

          In this case, the women involved have personalities and stories, so I’m a lot more okay with the sexy than I usually am, personally.  But others may disagree, and that’s fine.

          Also, most of the men aren’t presented as all that brutish, are they?  I’ve always thought that Martin’s male characters tend to be less ruthless than his women (on average, of course).  I mean, yeah, Tywin Lannister, but then there’s Catelyn Stark, and I’m not sure who would win a more-calculating-and-ruthless contest.  Tyrion’s not a brute at all; Jaime’s a softer soul than Cersei; Arya’s a vicious little thing, particularly contrasted with dreamy Bran.  Minor male characters are more likely to be unthinking brutes, I guess, like Bronn and Shagga.  And there’s Theon, my least favorite character ever, but – is his sister actually less brutish than he is?  I’m gonna vote no on that.

          I don’t mind this trend for the female characters, but it’s noticeable.  It’s kind of a nice change from women who whimper and wait for men to do things.  Very few of Martin’s women fit that description – so few that those who do stand out sharply.  I’m thinking of young Sansa, here…  

      4.  Because in North America we have been subjected to a highly twisted view of all things sexual that we have inherited from the narrow minded Christians who established the colonies in NA. They were in large part Puritans after all, who believed women were inherently evil and sinful, sex was sinful and should only be engaged in for purposes of procreation etc. It has twisted NA society completely so all issues that relate to sexuality in any way are intensely divisive, and by implication “dirty”. This without even getting into issues related to alternative forms of sexuality or fetishes etc.
        Violence however is apparently just fine. We revel in violence and gore in our media and no one bats an eye. It makes no sense whatsoever at least to me.
        I don’t think we will have a healthy attitude towards sex in western society until the major religions have died out sadly. As long as sex is viewed as “sinful” we will have problems with it.

        1. My comment wouldn’t have been dismissive if she hadn’t admitted to 1) thinking we were all idiots before and 2) felt the need to point out all these “deep” things she thinks we’ve missed.  She was being snobbish and is now trying to backpeddle from that position.

          1. Well OK, but you’re being much worse than she was by deriding her in this way.

            The article isn’t written for people who have read all the books and watched all of the TV episodes. 

            You may think she’s late to the party – but refer back to that xkcd comic. Despite how it may myopically seem to you, a very small percentage of the population has read these books or watched the show.

            A not-insignificant portion of the people who haven’t read or seen it and would potentially enjoy it are dismissing it in exactly the same way that she admits she did – plenty have already spoken up in this thread. This article is from one of those people to the others, saying that this is worth a look despite what you may think.

            It’s admitting her snobbishness but isn’t backpedaling from that – it’s pointing out how ridiculous her snobbishness was, and saying to the rest of the snobs who haven’t given it a chance for the same reasons that maybe they should.

            One of the ways she’s doing that is by pointing out interesting aspects of it. Not things you missed if you’re already familiar with it – things you wouldn’t know if you haven’t read or seen it and which you might not have thought would be in it.

    10. exactly as everyone says: yes, there’s tons of nudity and largely gratuitous sex in the books and tv series, but the power struggles and the character arcs really help you look past all that. what *i* find most compelling about the books is the magic, and the unknown. what ARE The Others? besides them, what’s beyond The Wall that everyone is so afraid of, and why does the wall need to be so BIG to keep it out? also, i find the magic subtle and fascinating. werebeasts, prophecy… the magic wielders, like Melisandre… and, of course, Danaerys and the dragons themselves. great stuff. loving it. i’m on the most current book, a couple hundred pages from the end, and i find that i dread reaching it.

        1. It may be that the wall is as big as it because of the level of fear about what’s behind it. I mean, do you feel our current level of airport security is precisely the level it needs to be? Also, you’ve got long periods of time where the Night’s Watch has nothing much to do other than construction busywork.

    11. I think of the boobs (much as I enjoy them) as just gratuitous to fit the genre of “premium cable series”.  It’s no different than the nudity & sex in the Borgias or Spartacus.  That said, I feel the same way about the magical elements, that they’re gratuitously thrown in to fit fantasy genre expectations, when it appears GRRM would rather be writing straight historical novels about politics & war. I’m halfway through the 5th book and magic STILL isn’t really relevant to the plot. The dragons, skinwalkers & whitewalkers could vanish and the basic plots (of which there are far too many) would be unchanged.

      1. I’m thinking the opposite; that it was supposed to be a fantasy but the magic was thrown out and the sex put in to contribute to the realism of the humanity in that universe.

    12. And here I thought we were finally getting over our puritan founder’s conservative views and catching up to the rest of the developed world where the naked body isn’t a horrible shameful thing.

      Silly me.

      1. Just so you know, I do strongly agree with you.  However, let it be known that these are not Margaret Mead boobs (you know like utilitarian boobs for breast feeding as where you would most likely see them in a pre-Industrial world), they are gratuitous boobs (like, well you know).

    13. So fine, those hipster guys that talk at the end of the show to critique it (Director, Producer, luckiest guys in the world replete with swagger) have opted to throw in more sex scenes than battle scenes.  This I can deal with, and one of my degrees is in the field of Women’s Studies so I am not supposed to be OK with it (I think).

      BUT, adding a character into the story who was NEVER in the book when any number of fully realized fascinating GoT characters never even made it past casting.  That my friends, is heresy.  In fact, it has given me pause for grimace at least every other day since that episode aired with that chick from Volantis Robb spoke to post Oxcross battle (?).

      Has this bothered anyone else?  Will not go to GoT sites bc I like sunlight.

      1. I  thought you were talking about Rose first, which I agree with, but that Volantis girl is obviously Jeyne Westerling. They just changed her background so as not to confuse newcomers with talk of who’s bannerman is who’s and the intermarried/entangled royal families of Westeros. It is just easier for her to be minor royalty from another land than explain minor vs major royalty in Westeros.

        1. Agreed – the Roz character in Kings Landing is grating on me, but the Volantis nurse is definitely at least part Jeyne Westerling.

          There have been so many changes to the book, in the name of streamlining…I actually find this to be one of the minor ones.

          1. Roz, duh. shows how much I payed attention to her. I didn’t even realize it was her with Joffery until I read the review. My biggest gripes have been things the director and writers had no real choice over such as budget constraints. The first season had really nice sets but they all felt small with few people especially the city scenes and the khalasar. The CGI leaves a lot to be desired, though I have liked the dragons and the wolves, there was just a  lot more of them in the books. 

            I am worried about the dragons as they get older. I would settle for Jurassic Park or Dragonheart level CGI. Surely things have progressed enough for 20 year old CGI to come down to TV level production prices?

        2. Actually, it’s pretty clear that she’s lying about her identity.  Catelyn mentions that she isn’t familiar with her family, in fact.

          More obviously, she was originally announced that she would be playing a character called Jeyne…and we can assume not Sansa’s handmaiden who hasn’t shown up in the series.  Further, Jeyne’s family originally hailed from Volantis.  In the books we do actually visit Volantis, and she doesn’t strike me as coming from a noble family that depends on the slave trade.

    14. I wish I could think of something intelligent to add to the discussion. Unfortunately, I’m currently so jazzed about seeing a ASOIAF/GoT thread here that I can barely think (as you might be able to glean from my user-name, if you know the book series).

      I’ll be back later when I calm down.

    15. Without spoiling the plot, because this is mere speculation on my part about what is yet unpublished, what strikes me as most true is that all this intrigue, maniacal brutality, and greed takes place in the shadow of a looming threat that most of the characters don’t even believe in.

      How foolish and petty the little kinglings all will seem when the real enemies come. How they’ll regret the fields they’re burning when there are no more crops to harvest, and how they’ll wish their worst enemies could have lived to man the Wall.

      Winter is coming.

        1. My greatest frustration with the oligarchy is that every bit of slack in the system is quickly gathered up by greedhounds. We’ll miss those margins when trouble comes, as it surely will in one form or another.

          Today’s hedge fund reapers strike me as Greyjoys: “We do not sow.” 

    16. Of course men don’t get what is wrong with gratuitous boobs. As a woman, it’s annoying. I like the show (haven’t read the books), but constant boobage, s&m, girl-on-girl is something that is mainly for the male audience. Of course, some women are into those things, and that’s cool, but I find it distracting from the otherwise well-written, well-acted and well-plotted series. It feels inauthentic and totally “modern” in it’s over-the top-ness. Some of it would be fine, particularly if it advances the plot, but it’s too much.
      I am also disappinted that there is so little levity. Thank god for Tyrion and Arya who are the only characters that every make me feel something nice on occasion to balance out all the baby-killing.
      Both of these qualities of the show signal to me, “this show is for men”. Men like boobs and dreariness.

      1.  I find the boobs that aren’t in the book as gratuitous as the male on male scenes that also aren’t in the book.

        But then again some guys like men on men :)  Points go to the show for the most … noisy male on male scene that I can recall ever seeing on TV or cinema – outside of the adults only section anyway.

        You can’t watch the series and believe that they aren’t *trying* to give a little cheek to all crowds :)

      2. My wife really enjoys the show beyond all measure. Nothing manly (most of the time) about her.

        She is truly a free-spirit as well…maybe that helps?

        Even in dreariness we can see the spirit of the people involved and their beliefs are strong. Awesome stuff here if you just try not to focus on all the bad.

        Maybe you need Engram retraining?

      3.  Er.. why exactly have you categorized s&m as a “man” thing?  And why is it “cool” if women are into it?

      4. i dunno why it should be important to note — maybe it isnt — but i’m actually a woman, despite the androgynous name. i think the “nothing wrong with” stance is definitely problematic, but i also think context and analysis and discussion is extremely important to evaluating how progressive any fiction is. 

        (really glad about the discussions being had here! thanks all for reading!) 

      5. i dunno why it should be important to note — maybe it isnt — but i’m actually a woman, despite the androgynous name. i think the “nothing wrong with” stance is definitely problematic, but i also think context and analysis and discussion is extremely important to evaluating how progressive any fiction is. 

        (really glad about the discussions being had here! thanks all for reading!) 

      6.  I have to agree with this. I am no Puritan and have no problem with sex scenes, particularly if they advance the narrative in some way, but the problem here is they are so over the top and manipulative that it is actually repulsive in some ways. All drama is manipulation, but good drama does it subtly, and doesn’t beat you over the head with it.

        In the lesbian scene with the two prostitutes and Littlefinger, the fake porno movie moaning was so extreme that  I said “You have to be freaking kidding me” within 2 seconds of that scene starting. As if anticipating this reaction from the audience, Littlefinger then chides the ladies for the obvious fakeness of their moaning, but the scene itself continued to drag on and on to no apparent purpose. It totally killed my immersion in the narrative and threw me back, as if someone snuck up behind me while watching the show and shouted “LOOK! LESBIANS! WAAAAAAAAAH!” in my ear.

        When you have 40 minutes to convey a complicated plot, spending 5 to 10 minutes on heavy-handed and gratuitous porno scenes is not only a waste of time, it is positively distracting and immersion-killing. If I want to see porno I can watch a porno movie. I am here for the narrative and the characters. The scenes with Tyrion and Arya are far more intriguing and I don’t want to see either of them naked. A little fan service is okay but seriously.

        Some of the violence is also overly heavy-handed, but it is over in a second and doesn’t distract from the narrative unlike the overlong sex scenes. The “zombie movie” scene where the maid has her arm ripped off is obviously manipulative, but served the function of saying “this crowd is really vicious” and was over with in a flash.

    17. Surely that picture is a bit spoiler-ish?  I’m on episode 6 of the first series and that picture has just told me what’s going to happen now.

    18.  You might not think of yourself as a geek or a nerd, but your tastes beg to differ. I have zero interest in anything that smacks of dragons and swords, but had to read this book for a songwriting book club I’m in (write/perform a song about the book, basically.) It was definitely a compelling read, “well written” if you consider something a page-turner to be good writing. But the novel ultimately was silly and pointless. The characters, while colorful, never transcend their 2-D world- there’s no depth beyond stock television depth. The book was written as if it were already a tv show; plot point to plot point without any genuine insight into anything. It’s quite good for the level that it aspires to, but that level is far from literature, and resides totally in the world of geekdom. Let’s call our spades spades. Yes, I enjoyed it, no, I have no interest in reading more. Your re-interpretation of all the boobs as some kind of cultural marker is the stuff academics are made of… yawn! Let’s call a boob a boob. It’s not misogynistic, but it ‘aint high art, either.

      1. the thing is, the whole first book is just an introduction. an annoyingly long introduction. It’s not SOIAF proper, and thus lacks the depth the next installments have.

    19. Nothing new in this formula.  As Hugh Hefner put it back in the 50s: “We aim to present incisive commentary by the world’s most controversial figures on today’s most pressing issues.  Also huge glistening boobs.”

      1. Yeah, I think you’ll find it’s what they call a winning formula ; )

        Although to be serious, I don’t think there’s that much sexism at all in the show; granted, some of the boob scenes seem fairly gratuitous, but it (rather deftly, IMO) manages to convey both a starkly patriarchal milieu (which obviously goes some way to justifying the boobage), and somehow also the space for intelligent and determined women to go forth and kick arse, with some degree of credibility.

        1. Misogynistic setting with well-rounded female characters trying to cope with it.  Also with boobs, which I will admit I enjoy.  :)

    20. When a friend started nursing her new baby she told me, “Now I know who these damn things are really for.”

    21. Unaware of the boobs, I was sceptical before I was quickly sucked in. I too have a strong preference for SF and find the fantasy genre derivative and cliched, but the sheer gobsmacking quality of this production makes it highly worthwhile.

      As mentioned, the casting is indeed brilliant; it’s one of the show’s greatest strengths. Dinkling’s performances in particular are to be savoured – that guy is a gem.

      I wish I’d stayed away from this show until it finishes, so then I could watch the whole thing back to back like I did the first season. The end of which, by the way, provoked quite probably the strongest emotional reaction of any fictional video content I have yet witnessed. I was blubbering like a little girl.

    22. Two of my favorite shows.  Mad Men and Game of Thrones.  One is set in the 60’s advertising New York culture.  The other in a fictional magical europe.  Why do I love these shows?

      The characters are compelling.  The stories are consistent.  You don’t have this feeling people are doing things for shock value, they do it because it’s what they want to do as a character.   Inconsistencies are rare.

      Then there are the two things lingering:

      The White walkers and who they are?

      Don Drapers past as Dick Whitman.

      The shows have violence, sex and surprise with good acting and they never over use any of them.

      1. Just out of curiosity, what do you feel is still lingering about Draper’s past? I think it’s pretty well exposed at this point – all the top guys at the firm know about it and don’t care, Whitman’s wife died so he doesn’t really have a connection anymore (other than the girl who they made pains to show is entirely self-sufficient). We the audience know the whole story of course, much more than any character besides Draper himself knows.

        So long as they stay away from defense contracts from now on, I don’t really see what else they can do with that.

        Then again – in a recent episode, Pete yelled to Draper calling him “Dick” when the faucet broke at Pete’s house during the party, and nobody seemed to notice (Pete being the one who originally found out about Draper’s past). That struck me as odd, and I’m wondering what that might lead to since it wasn’t brought up in that episode or subsequent ones. Maybe Pete plans to try to extort something out of Draper again, since Pete has been in the dumps (I haven’t seen the latest two episodes yet so don’t tell me ;)

    23. Please please please change that picture! For those who are not completely finished with the first season (and we’re still just only now in the midst of the second), this is a massive SPOILER.
      I am in the middle of watching this show with my friend, and we just finished episode nine when we came upon this blog post… what a disappointment.

      The post was awesome though!!! Great article <3

      1. Yes, it’s a spoiler, but…  seriously, the show’s been around a while…  and she had dragon eggs, remember?  And is of the blood of the dragon?  Talks about dragons all the time?  People refer to magic leaving the world when the dragons left?  

        Consider it visual foreshadowing.

    24. I thought the first book was a blast, but once Martin realized how much money could be made by padding the planned trilogy out into a 7-book series, it turned into a turgid interminable waste of time. There’s not enough time in my life to read 6000 pages of characters getting captured, escaping, moving from one kingdom to another, and occasionally dying arbitrarily.

      1.  This is why I’ve held off on reading the books and am just watching the TV show.

      2. The first three books were a blast. Especially the third one. The fourth and fifth are hopefully set up for a wild sixth and seventh. But if we only get three Bran chapters per book I have no idea how I will be able to enjoy it.

      3. I think it’s unfair to think of expansions as simply ways to get more money. What if the author just wanted no compromises on his writing? Remember, he wrote these stories as novels because writing books gives him more artistic freedom than the potentially more lucrative TV shows, though the books did eventually et translated to television.

    25. I am holding off on watching the show until I learn how they are going to handle that awkward moment when the show catches up with the books.  George RR Martin’s glacial writing speed leads me to fear the show will either be cancelled or sent spinning off away from the book series.

    26. Ordinarily, nudity is associated with vulnerability, but in the scene pictured at top, Daenerys’ nudity is almost a sign of her power. Daenerys is so powerful at that point that, even naked, she completely terrifies everyone around her.

      1. I think you could argue that this is true of Dany more generally – as she grows into her power, the fact that she’s a little slip of a girl doesn’t matter, and she absolutely owns her sexuality.  It’s a neat bit of character development.

        That scene – that was some of the most powerful and least sexual nudity EVER.  Covered in ash and dragonlings.  I thought it was beautifully done.

    27. I’m also holding off — I read Books 1-3 avidly back to back before I realised it was an unfinished series. Now holding out for a hardback boxed set to read them all properly. The TV series can wait until the books are read.

    28. It’s true, there are a lot of boobs in Game of Thrones. And there’s a lot of sex. But… I don’t know, the sex doesn’t bother me all that much in that series. I always see it as a slice of life… it’s just there. Frankly, it’s WAY less creepy and weird than all the sex scenes in True Blood, which brought us really upsetting hate sex between two vampires where one twisted the other’s head completely backwards during the climax. *shudder* So I’ll take the generally normal if over-present sex and boobs in GoT over that anytime.

    29. Am I like the only person in the entire freaking world that really doesn’t like Game of Thrones?  Boobs is a pretty weak justification unless you’re a 14-year-old boy.

    30. You know what annoys me about Daenarys in the TV show? Everything. First of all, I totally get why they can’t portray her as 13 years old like in the book, but they still could have had an 18-year-old actress portray her as a younger teen if they were willing to give up some of the sexy naked sexytime,  Yes, she does learn to love Khal Drogo and his oiled chestiness, but to me the sex scenes could be a lot more discreet between them. Part of her whole character is she’s sold off at a very young age to the highest bidder.

      Second, why don’t her eyebrows match her hair? Granted, other people in the series have this problem. Perhaps Westeros is world populated by black-eyebrowed blond-haired people. Shallow of me. Anyway-

      A lot of people are talking about the scene where (SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN”T SEEN THE FIRST SEASON OR READ THE FIRST BOOK) she’s left naked and covered with ash and dragons. One detail in the book that was left out, that bugs me, is that her hair was burned off too. I thought that was such a powerful image, crouching naked in the ashes with a bald head and three dragonlings, everything from her past life burnt away. In the series, her long lovely blond hair is swaying in the breeze, turning it from powerful loss-and-gain to Oh Hot A Naked Chick. (Not that bald chicks can’t be hot, but I think in a medieval fantasy world it’s a lot more powerful of an image if her lovely blond hair is burnt off.)

      Also, WTF with that lesbian scene when Littlefinger is telling the sad story of how he loved Cat? As someone who does not find the idea of having to ramp up my put-on lesbian sex to earn a job in a brothel so I can eat and clothe myself as particularly fun, I found it very jarring.  And gratuitous. There’s lots of sexy sex in the books, and even more rapey sex, but that scene was what I think fueled that genius SNL skit about the TV series being written by George R. R. Martin and a 13-year-old boy who needs frequent bathroom breaks.

    31. How are there supposed to be people living in the north? People who live in the Arctic depend on the sea or migratory animals like caribou and salmon.  And they keep talking about building a fire but nobody says “Hey we’re on a glacier here and I don’t see any wood!”

    32. Weird, my wife read the books and watched the series and she never mentioned the boobs.

    33. Martis is great but there are many great modern fantasy authors that I’d put up there with him, and some I’d put above him.  Don’t judge the whole genre based on some Dragonlance novels you read when you were 12!  Martin is 100x as popular but by no means the best fantasy writer still working.

      You’re missing out on so much.

    34. There’s one thing considering sex that was done incorrectly in the series:
      in the book, when Bran spots the Lannister twins, he thinks they are “wrestling”, I believe. So, they’re doing it face to face, the more intimate way, as Daenerys’s story emphasises. They have a strong connection, which surpasses mere lust.
      In the TV series, it’s the same “from behind” as elsewere. Wrong, in my opinion.

      1. The whole “from behind” thing is really taken to an extreme in the television series. In addition, in the first book, when Daenerys is married off, there’s this really drawn-out love scene in which she and her “savage” groom, Drogo, spend hours pretty much playing with each others’ hair before she takes the initiative to get busy with him. For some reason, the television series decides to interpret that as from-behind rape as the child-breed weeps.

    35. And like any new media feminist

      It was only at this point that it occured to me that ‘Leigh Alexander’ might be a woman. Up to then, it had seemed rather creepy.

      Even if you do not watch Game of Thrones and you never intend to, you’ve heard someone say that there are a lot of naked women, there are a lot of woman-subjugating sex scenes, and there’ss generally a lot of fleshy eye-candy in this show.

      That is me, and no, I hadn’t heard that- but now I have. I think this article has made me somewhat less likely to watch the series.

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