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Yet More Game of Thrones Talk

2011 July 20

Alright, so here’s one last, slightly late poke at Game of Thrones. Things that are worth discussing but which didn’t fit in the main recap at the end of the series. As with last time, there may well be spoilers ahead.

First up, there’s something interesting about the way the series presented sexuality. Straight sex was shown in abundance, with not one episode going by that failed to meet HBO’s Mandatory Nipple Quota. That said, very little of it was what you could consider “ordinary” – instead we get an array of incest, non-consent and prostitution. We never see Ed and Catelyn Stark together, or any of the show’s other (non-sibling) couples. The closest we have is Danaerys and Drogo, and by the time their partnership becomes less disturbingly non-consensual we pretty much stop seeing them as well. Straight sex, then, is abundant but somehow always unpleasant.

Still from Game of Thrones, copyright HBO. Two white shirtless men, one shaving the other's armpit.

Renly and Loras: soon to vanish from the screen faster than you can shave an armpit.

Homosexual acts are distinctly less common in the series. Between female characters we get some slight implications with Danaerys and one of her serving girls as she learns how to please Drogo, a scene that is noticeably less graphic than the straight scenes in the show. The one time we are shown things by the same standards is a particularly unusual scene. The focus throughout is pretty much entirely on Lord Baelish as he instructs two recently arrived prostitutes. The scene is somewhat reminiscent of moments from (link is not worksafe) American Psycho, where Bateman does much the same, the sex a mere sideshow to his monologue. It places the male character directly at the centre of the scene and becomes almost parodic as Lord Baelish informs one of the pair to “be the man” in their actions.

And lastly, gay male pairings. We get one, and it’s an interesting one. On the one hand, it’s significantly more overt than it is in the books. Where the books give us a few sly remarks and implications from people, HBO pretty much flashes a giant neon “HEY GUYS, THEY’RE BONING” sign. And yet nothing is actually shown, only implied by sound effects, and the pair are then immediately written out for the rest of the series. Yes, they leave in the books as well, but given that HBO has already shown willingness to make changes, why not go a little further and develop them more fully? Certainly, HBO hasn’t shown a problem showing male relationships in past titles – see Michael Hall and Mathew St. Patrick in Six Feet Under, for example. So why the shying away this time?

Next up, issues of race. These have been widely discussed across the internet (see for example this, which we recently linked to), so I won’t go into it too much here. In summary, the handling of race is fairly disappointing and the presentation of the Dothraki never rises much above the Savage Other. The one key comparison that really illustrates this, and which is worth talking about in a little more depth takes place in the first episode.

Still from Game of Thrones, copyright HBO. Viserys, a pale, blonde young man, looking disappointed.

Viserys simply can't *cope* with all this awfully tiresome uncivilisation.

The Starks, as we are first introduced to them, are going about the business of executing a deserter from the Night’s Watch, the brotherhood that guards the great wall in the North. It’s all shown as very grim and honourable, in that way that the Starks are throughout the series. No one takes any joy in it, but it’s a necessary task and the younger Starks learn a lesson about duty and suchlike from watching this poor chap get beheaded. Later we see the marriage celebrations for Danaerys and Khal Drogo. It’s a wild party with dancing and public sex. A fight breaks out over one of the women, ending with the disembowelling of the loser. Two public deaths, two very different contexts. When the (very, very white) men of the North kill someone it’s honourable and we sympathise with them. When the Dothraki do it it’s savage and lets us know that they’re Not Like Us. And that’s a problem.

Lastly, a minor character worth discussing: Lysa Tully, sister to Catelyn Stark. She’s an uncomfortable character, and a hard one to depict tastefully. If Cersei Lannister has something of the manipulative Lady Macbeth to her portrayal, Lysa Tully is entirely caught in the moment of “out damned spot, out I say!” Driven into a state of paranoid mania following the death of her husband, and with an entirely inappropriate relationship with her sickly son, there’s just something awkward about the implications of her character. As with a few others (notably Hodor), it’s a character that it’s hard to see how HBO could have done right without massively deviating from the source material.

Okay, that’s the last I’m going to say on Game of Thrones until season two rolls round. In the mean time, book five is finally out after a generation-long wait, so there’s that to get through between now and next spring.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Russell permalink
    July 20, 2011

    I really feel like going into race in this show again is going over ground which has not only been covered but purged with fire and salt, but I do feel the need to comment, as once again your analysis seems intentionally selective. Once again, when one actually looks at the broader presentation of the group that is supposedly more civilised, as compared to the general actions of the supposed savages, we can see that the behaviour of the “civilised” Lannisters – pushing children out of windows, having incestuous relationships and children, betraying and backstabbing at every turn – is far more brutal and savage than anything the Dothraki can come up with, even in their disturbing version of crime and punishment (I’m referring to being tied nude to a horse and made to run behind it). In a sense, the Dothraki are there to provide an intentional contrast; at the very least they show us that our “civilised” Westerners are every bit as brutal and savage as the “savage” Dothraki. Obviously I refer to the Lannisters rather than the Starks, but ultimately the two families though different in sub-culture are products of the same culture. Also, the Starks are very much The Good Guys in this show/series of books; of course any killing they’re going to do will be very much presented as good and honourable. The actions of groups who are out and out villainous (at this stage) such as the Lannisters, or somewhat more ambiguous, such as the Dothraki, will obviously be portrayed with a deal more ambiguity.

    I broadly agree with your observations about sexuality, but I do think that rather than looking at as a numbers game of amount of straight sex versus gay sex or “weird” sex (by this I mean the heterosexual situations you mentioned) versus “normal” sex, we need to ask why we’re being shown more of one than the other. In this case, I think the sex reinforces the point that women have a deeply restrictive role in this society, and goes some way to highlighting that when they escape from this mother/wife/whore role they are very capable individuals – though it could be argued that Catelyn’s naivete indirectly causes her husband’s death, discuss, among other examples.

    Lastly, I’ll comment again on how frustrating, as a reader of the books, I find the fact that so much discussion focuses purely on the series, and is critical of the series purely on the basis of what is shown so far in this first series, when we not only actually KNOW that Arya does kick quite a lot of ass later on and that Daenerys is a lot more, and scarier, than just a child bride but also KNOW that we are going to see that in the second series. To me it feels like discussing the first chapter of a novel outside the context of the rest of the novel; bizarre, weird, and an odd thing to criticise someone for – like saying a magic trick is rubbish before getting to the prestige.

    • Russell permalink
      July 20, 2011

      I think maybe intentionally selective in the first line was more incendiary than I really ought to have been, sorry. I was trying to get across that I think you are missing the point.

  2. July 20, 2011

    I’ve been thinking about the race thing with the Dothraki as well, and I’ve come to the conclusion that both GRRM and HBO spent enough time establishing that most of Westros is fucking awful that the Dothraki are depicted as no better or worse, just different.

    Nobody in the Khalassar gets as much casual pleasure from killing as Joffrey (And what? I finally get a character with the same abbreviated name as me in something and he’s a sociopathic little shit with no redeeming human features? Pout) or the Claganes. But the Dothraki are less recognisably ‘formal’ about it.

    Nothing the Khalassar does on its rounds is any more savage than what Tywin Lannister orders done repeatedly to various parts of Westros. But the Dothraki are less recognisably ‘formal’ about it.

    Both societies settle issues in single combat as a matter of course, but the Dothraki are less recognisably ‘formal’ about it.

    I think it actually asks you to examine how you percieve the same acts when wrapped up in a veneer of ‘western civilisation’ and when not. And Viserys is very much an indicator of the lens you’re likely to be using.

  3. July 22, 2011

    Actually, one worrying racial thing in the show which just occurred to me, Xho hasn’t even been glimpsed in the background of the court, not that he does much in the books except show that there are non-white races that associate with the Westrons, but still…

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