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Distaste for Thrones

For a lot of fans, old and new alike, we all know that Winter has Come with the return of Game of Thrones.

I specifically picked up the HBO stations for the simple pleasure of watching this magnificent series return so I could keep up-to-date with it from week to week. Mind you, I was starved for the next episode the moment the season opener ended. Unlike the last time where I got to watch in marathon, I’ve got to wait week to week for the next nine hours to play itself out. And how awesome an experience it will be. Already, I’ve watched the screen and knew what a character had been thinking at the moment something happened. Noticing the changes from the book to the show. In no uncertain terms, I’m an eager fan awaiting each installment.

Last week, and thanks to io9, I’ve become aware that (as to be expected) some aren’t as thrilled to see the return of the show as so many had been. Neil Genzlinger, in an article for the New York Times, decided to flay the series for every stereotype. Now, let me be honest, I don’t read a ton of reviews. At the very least, I try not to due to the fact that I want to go in with as much an open honest opinion of what I’ve seen on the screen and not just randomly copying someone else’s words. However, there are times when regardless of how much we try to avoid things, we come across one or two reviews that tend to catch the eye. Then there are also the times we have to look for them because something seems scary of atrocious that I want the warning going in. In this case it was a review of a review, which I applaud if only to agree that the intrepid New York Times reporter was criticizing something as broadly and unfair as possible.

Let me break down some of the issues I have with Genzlinger’s article:

“Midway through Season 1 of “Game of Thrones,” viewers were treated to a particularly gruesome scene that showed a lovely princess named Daenerys Targaryen eating the raw heart of a horse.

Turns out it was something of a metaphor for the series itself. In the second-to-last episode last season, “Game of Thrones” in effect ate its own heart by killing off its main and most noble character, Ned Stark, who was played by Sean Bean, perhaps the best-known actor in this cast-of-thousands extravaganza.

So the question for HBO as Season 2 begins on Sunday is this: Who is going to replace Ned as the focus of the series?

The answer, at least four episodes in: no one.”

These are the three opening paragraphs to the article, in case you didn’t read it. Okay, let’s break this down into the simplest terms possible, Ned’s death was a necessary cog in the series. I won’t go through all the details of the story. I suggest watching season one of the show or picking up the book. Even listen to our somewhat detailed (if not disjointed) podcast on the matter. To get back to why his death was necessary, it’s because it proves one man’s worth to a kingdom. People died protecting secrets, murder plots were being hatched, and the most honorable man in all of Westeros fell trying to do an honorable thing. His son and Ned’s people went to war to fight for a man whose only goal was to do his duty to his king and lands. If Ned Stark had lived, he may have subverted so many different fights. Instead a war between kings was waged. If this is a lot to handle in a show, then I’d say go with something a little more lightweight in viewing. Although, now that I’ve said it, Sesame Street might still have too many characters to follow…

Okay, after that one, I’ll dispense with the cheap shots. The truth is that complex storylines are what make good show go ’round. Some shows kick off with a very simplistic story that becomes a mainstay of a series. Then as people watch, they get tired of the same formula day in and day out, so they have to spice it up. Though many cop shows stay on the air for long periods of time, it’s often the fact that they didn’t just maintain the ‘guy gets killed and we solve how’ method. Sometimes they twist up how the crime happened or involve some personal life issues in the background of the story. Not all things like that impress me, but it’s to be pointed out that after awhile, the same show with different names gets old. With Game of Thrones, it’s a show that’s delivering a highly regarded fantasy series in a big screen fashion to the small screen. They’re not trying to keep it simple, because the books didn’t. Each part has a lot of different people that weaves a complex tapestry. Some bits haven’t full come to fruition, but those that have started to show their true purpose are grand in design. To pull that off on camera is to be commended.

Now, I’m not going to go over every little point in the article, but there is a paragraph or three I want to bring up:

“Some people love this kind of stuff, of course, and presumably those addicted to the George R.R. Martin books on which the series is based will immerse themselves in Season 2, just as they did in Season 1. Will anyone else? You have to have a fair amount of free time on your hands to stick with “Game of Thrones,” and a fairly low reward threshold. If decapitations and regular helpings of bare breasts and buttocks are all you require of your television, step right up.

Sure, it’s possible to make a decent no-character-is-safe show; a series needn’t have a sympathetic major figure if its evil ones somehow shed light on the human condition or the wages of sin. And there may be illuminating episodes ahead in “Game of Thrones.” But in the early going Season 2 seems mostly to be presenting vileness for voyeurism’s sake. You wince every time Joffrey, a sadist, comes on the screen, and not in an “Ooh, I wonder what nasty thing he’ll do next” sort of way. If you find yourself looking forward to Joffrey’s scenes, there’s something wrong with you.

What “Game of Thrones” needs if it is to expand its fan base beyond Dungeons & Dragons types is what most of the United States didn’t get this year: a hard winter. Life in this particular fantasy land consists of seasons of indeterminate length, and since the series began there have been references to an impending winter of fearsome power.”

The sweeping generalizations that are made here is astounding! First, yes, there is a lot of nudity and violence. It’s on HBO and not network TV for a reason. Everyone freakin’ knows that! Secondly, and most importantly, I say that you’ve skipped the complexities for the T&A bits. I haven’t been a huge fan of stuff like that in the past, and I can say the T&A visuals have had a lot to do with my dislike for certain shows. Too many choose it over solid character and story. The story aspect has to stand through that. The visuals, that aren’t violent or gratuitous in this, are astounding from my stand point. It has a very medieval feel with some truly cruel bits of scenery. If we look at many other series in a time period drama, it does a damn good job at conveying a world that horrid things happen in, in spite of all its beauty. In so many past shows, there have been a score of cheesy bits that have run through it. With Hercules and Xena, it was an intentional thing. It was a show that winked at itself, but still tried for a serious tone. Some effects and the like came out looking over the top. I’m not sure if it was just a budget thing or intentional. If I had to take my guess, it was both. Then you have some of the others like Legend of the Seeker which was a serious show, and to me seemed cheesy just due to the acting. I’ll let you decided whether or not that’s a justified critique. Regardless, this doesn’t try to be some overacted filler. It has a point and it does what it can to make it.

Now I want to address the Dungeons & Dragons comment… I am a far bigger sci-fi fan than I am fantasy. I did enjoy the Lord of the Rings movies, but I tried to read the book and I put it back down. It’s because what I got on screen was paced, but the visuals were cued perfectly. Tolkein was wordy beyond belief, not that I’m knocking that. I’m not so foolish to pull that stunt. What I am saying is that I enjoyed the movies a lot, but I just wasn’t dedicated enough for the series as a whole. I’m willing to admit that. Now let’s take that example and break into Game of Thrones. I, sir, am not a D&D player by nature. I do play RPG’s, I’m not going to lie. However, D&D proper has bored me stiff. The reason? It takes a skilled storyteller to keep me entertained. No offense, but most people take the storylines of popular fiction and try to run me through it. That’s all fine and well, but I want to do more. This goes back into the fact that I’m a bigger sci-fi fan, I generally see a ton of fantasy novels out there that tend to bore the absolute crap out of me because they take the same basic story and replay it. This, again, goes back to the example I used about the cop shows. When I first heard of Game of Thrones, it was as a TV series. I knew nothing of the books at all until the same friend who introduced me to it pointed out that it was also a printed series. I’ve told this story; I was very reluctant. I heard the details of the story and all I got was a show bogged down to politics and severed heads. So one day, my friend sat me down and we watched the first episode. He was dedicated to the idea I needed to see this and would really want to continue. Generally, this technique usually meets with bullheaded resistance. If I don’t want to see something; I won’t! However, after the first episode ended I was so severely impressed by what I saw I burned through the other nine episodes in no time. I had to see where this was going. By the end, I was enthralled by a series that told a really awesome story, kept subplot threading through, and managed to give some of the finest characters I’d ever had the pleasure to lay eyes on. So what next? Well, I eagerly waited for season 2! Except that was a long time off, and I wanted to know how close the series was to the books. I picked up the books as a means to know what happened next and find out what details I missed by just watching. So you see, much like many others, I became a fan of something through the small screen and it translated. Many people find themselves in that position. Though dread by my friends, and many fanboys alike, many people I knew became fans of Twilight due to the movie. They burned through the books shortly after. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, the Da Vinci Code, the list goes on… Yes, they had a ton of fans to begin with, I’m not going to argue that point, but the magic of the moving picture made so many go to the source material to keep in touch with the characters they missed severely. It doesn’t take a D&D fan to appreciate the power of a good story, it just takes a person.

Genzlinger’s review, by my estimation, was completely unfair. I understand it’s just his opinion and it’s my right to ignore it. However, I want to point out that such things are often times read by potential fans who turn away from it without so much as a blink. I give bad reviews to things all the time, but I also want to point out that it’s a to each their own affair. In joking with people, I might give an offhanded comment about what sort of viewship something may get. In honesty, I don’t care what it is you like. If I don’t like it, then it’s my loss. Obviously you found something to latch on to and that’s great in my book! However, I’m not going to automatically lump you as a Magic: The Gathering card game player because you liked to watch Harry Potter. That’s ludicrous at best.

I hope the fans out there have enjoyed the first episode of season two. If it’s anything more like the books, it’s only ramping up from here! If you’re not a fan, I encourage the watch or the read. I think you’ll enjoy it and if not, let me know why. I’d love to hear from you!