GoT

As we settled in here for a long winter, with heavy snow in late October followed by a couple of lesser storms, I realized we had many long nights ahead of us here in the Colorado Rockies. I decided to subscribe to HBO. In so doing, Game of Thrones became available to us. I was one of those who had never watched an episode in all of its eight-year run, but I did recall seeing some naked blond woman (Daenerys Targaryen  played by Emelia Clarke) standing in front of a burning building one time. We must have been in a motel.

So, we settled in this winter to watch one episode per night.

Ned StarkWe lasted eight episodes, but in episode nine a beloved character, Ned Stark, was beheaded as his two young daughters looked on. Enough, I thought. If this is what GoT is about, unbridled cruelty, I’ve got better things to do. My wife, who is a soft and kind woman, suggested we keep watching, and I went along. We are now in season seven, and spoilers are all around, so I have a good sense of what is coming in the future. But I also have a good sense of why the series was such a gigantic smash hit all over the world. As I was reminded in a dinner table discussion, there are 73 episodes, each with high production values, costing roughly six million per episode in the beginning, and $15 million for season eight. But there is far more to it than just big budgets.

Graphic violence: I have never watched anything on TV or in cinema that allowed such unhinged bloodshed and bodily mutilation put forth so boldly on screen. True, enough of it is by sound effects and power of suggestion, but GoT does not shy away from rolling heads and spilled entrails, arms and legs severed and swords plunging through chests, stomachs, hearts and heads. People are incinerated. In one particularly gruesome episode, it was not violence, per se, but the idea that people were locked in a huge cell without windows, and were left there to slowly perish in the dark. One man was killed by simply having him run naked behind a horse traveling at normal speed, until he dies. Beheading is considered a kind death. Down on the scale, but repulsive nonetheless, in the last two episodes we have seen a character called Sam going about his job of cleaning chamber pots and latrines … they just can’t help themselves – we have to see the excrement! There must be some base appeal in this sort of screen presentation – so long as we know on some level that the violence is not real.

Viewers know that GoT will not shy away from any form of violence, no matter how repulsive. It is part of the appeal.

Nudity: Emelia Clark (The Dragon Queen Daenerys Targaryen) said in an interview that she was young and this was her first big role, and she had no idea of not just of the nudity itself, but the length of time she would be naked before the camera. She said she was not prepared for the amount of nudity that was required of her, a “f***load.”  I don’t think viewers generally realize how difficult it is for a man or woman to stand naked before a cast and crew and stay in character, as we all tend towards modesty. Cersei Lannister (Leana Headley) is required to walk naked for what must be a six minute scene as crowds of people hurl excrement at her.

Surely the producers of GoT know that nudity is a big draw. The characters, the women said to have lived in medieval times, have amazing bodies and readily shed their clothing. I think there was a Seinfeld episode that discussed the concept of “good naked” versus bad naked, wherein Jerry was seen on hands and knees using a machine to buff his floor (bad naked). GoT is good naked. I suspect, without the nudity, its audience would shrink.

DwarfCompelling characters: The people portrayed in GoT are mostly, each in their own way, depraved. They are intense and damaged, seething in anger and seeking revenge, and there is plenty in the script for which revenge is necessary. There is a tendency to let evil characters live on for a good long time, and to kill off good ones (as with Ned Stark) before their time. The acting is superb, the casting excellent. The dwarf, Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage, who gets top billing in each episode in the beginning credits) is a deeply flawed man and excellent actor, and we are forced to take him seriously. He has lasted now over six seasons, and I am hoping he makes it to the end. But remember, it is GoT. Don’t fall in love with a character. As soon as you do, they kill him off.

Good writing (through season five): As relayed to me in dinner conversations, the first five seasons were based on George R.R. Martin’s books, of A Song of Ice and Fire. The creators of the TV series, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, were hoping he would continue with those books as they moved into seasons six through eight. But they had to go forward with mere plot outlines as a basis for scripts, as Martin was doing other writing.  Consequently, in my view, the plots have suffered, become more contrived, more outlandish, if one can say that about fantasy. Just last night, seasons seven episode 2, we see Ayra Stark takes on the body, hands dress and mannerisms of Walder Frey, an old and gruff man whose throat she had slashed in an earlier episode. She then poisons all of the remaining lords of the House of Frey by having them drink a celebratory toast of wine.  Removing the facial mask she reveals herself as a young girl again. I realize it is fantastic and fictional, but as I said when I watched Superman make the earth rotate backwards in the 1978 movie, that’s a bit hard to believe.

Benioff and Weiss offer series insight at the end of each episode, and after season six, episode one, remark that usually flashbacks are a sign of lazy film making. They then go on to explain why, in making the first episode of GoT without benefit of a Martin book, they felt using flashbacks was a really good idea. I have noticed a kind of clunkiness in the scripts since the end of Season five, where John Snow is stabbed to death by mutineers. Euron, who only a few episodes before had lost his sailing fleet, encouraged his men (there must have been fifty) to start cutting down trees to build a new fleet. In season seven, it is up and running even as we see no sign of a shipbuilding yard on any set at any time. It is magic, I suppose, and there is a lot of magic in Song of Ice and Fire. But it taxes willing suspension of disbelief to an extreme. I want to believe in the characters and plot, but season six forward it is getting more difficult.

BrienneAlso, and Bennioff and Weiss claim this is merely happenstance, we now have a host of characters who are seasoned battle veterans, powerful sword fighters, a teen-aged murderer, and all are women. This too strains credulity. At least Gwendolyn Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth, a butch knight who looks and fights like a man, fits the part. The rest appear to be there in some curtsy to our modern era where gender is accidental and even a choice. True enough, women like Cersei Lannister make very good villains, but putting them in a sword fight as equals with men is absurd.

We have the better part of two seasons to go, and there are plenty of spoilers all over the place, so I have a hunch what to expect, even a cup of Starbucks, said to be accidentally left on a table in a set. I assume it has been digitally removed. I decided to write a bit about this remarkable series yesterday after encountering someone somewhere who thought the series might be based on real historical characters.  Yes indeed, that is the case, and also, Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons are based on real living creatures of ancient times too. It is historical fiction.

23 thoughts on “GoT

  1. I just watched the first 3 seasons or so and then I had enough; it became repetitive.

    But the series is excellently made with strong actors and quite some hidden humor. Lots of sex too, a welcome change in this ever tighter thinking world.

    The series give a good view of how conspiracies work.

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  2. Several years ago, my then-girlfriend and I rented the first season of GoT and stopped after the first episode. As I recall, it ended with one of the adult characters pushing a little kid off the ledge of a building. Obviously, the producers expected the audience to GASP! and then anxiously await (or binge) the next episode to see if the poor kid lived! But my girlfriend and I were left so cold by the cheap manipulation that we turned the fucking thing off and I haven’t regretted it. Your summary of the show makes me regret it even less.

    Since the things I’m best at doing are acting and writing, it really sucks that genre fiction leaves me as cold as it does. To me, it’s mostly just porn. Violence porn and emotion porn. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have hooked me because the writers actually appear to take the moral lapses of their characters, and the consequences of those lapses, seriously–even if they aren’t always as honest about those consequences as they credit themselves with being. (On Breaking Bad, the Jesse Pinkman character’s meth-head buddies started out plausible enough for me to suspend my disbelief over the excellent condition of their teeth, but as the show progressed they became increasingly cute and lovable in a way no serious drug addict of any kind can possibly be; by the end of the series, they reminded me more of Ernie and Bert on Sesame Street than hardcore drug addicts).

    In a porn movie, whatever passes for a story gets tossed aside as soon as we see naked female breasts or asses or male genitalia. In TV “news” interviews, the conversation comes to a halt the moment the interview subject cries, or pretends to do so. In that first episode of GoT, the story and the costumes and settings and performances all seemed to exist only to create that titillatingly “shocking” moment of the guy pushing the little kid off the ledge.

    There are times when I really wish I could give more of a shit about the movies, TV shows and novels that are popular now, but for the most part they just leave me cold or make me angry.

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    1. Haven’t seen BB, but read an interesting review that related it to Nietzches ideas. Probably would come up in a search.. Something to do with WW journey related to Nietzsche ideas of authenticity or self actualization or something.

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    2. My take on Breaking Bad is that it’s a retelling of Egyptian mythos. It’s a show about Alchemy. White is Osiris. At the start of the show we learn he has cancer, i.e. the sun is in Cancer. It’s just past the solstice so the Sun is “dying” or on the decline. White has to undergo an alechemical transformation like the mummfied Osiris, only for him it’s represented as chemotherapy. He’s heading toward the tomb of autumn, the sunset of his life.

      Later in the show he’s told by the Relocator, when he’s holed up in a freezing shack in the wilderness, that he cannot pass through the gate into town or he’ll die, which is fitting because Osiris can’t pass through the gate (of the Winter solstice) as himself, either. It’s Horus who must become Osiris to pass through and become the new King.

      These two Kings are what’s referred to when White is playing cards in the shack with the Relocator. The relocator deals out a card, “A king”. He deals another, “Two kings.” The king is dead, long live the king.

      Pinkman is the Pink Man because he’s the Horus, the child/redeemer/replacement of Osiris, who unites the North (traditionally represented by the color white) and the South (ditto by the color red) of Egypt/Kham. The arc of the show follows Horus through the underworld in his quest to save/become Osiris. Pinkman at several points wears a blind Jesus shirt. That also identifies him with the blind Horus of Egyptian mythos, blinded because he’s representing the Sun in its passage through the darkness of the underworld. Pinkman is marked with the Eye of Horus in the first episode when his eye swells shut. He’s marked again in last episode when he’s been beaten and left in the Pit by Todd.

      He’s Jesse because he’s Jesu/Iusu/Jesus, i.e. Horus again.

      At the end of the show Osiris dies so that Horus can live and take his place. Horus defeats death, Todd (tod = death), while Osiris defeats Kak/Jack, another form of death. Horus then escapes (in his El Camino/Alchemy, no less), bursting through the gates and racing toward the sunrise, as indeed he must.

      If that’s not enough to convince you I’d point out that Osiris had two sisters, Isis and Nepthys. Isis was at times represented by a dove. Skylar/Skylark would be Isis. Her sister, the nurse, would be Nepthys, the wet-nurse of child Horus. And in fact the sister does take care of Pinkman at one point in the show, besides taking care of the other two children.

      And Walt Jr. neatly fills the role of the Crippled or Black Horus. In later Egpytian mythos the earlier Horus, because it was then deemed incomplete, became the “crippled” Horus in the retelling. “Crippled” because it didn’t tell the whole story they wished to tell, but the Egyptians never threw anything away. Likewise Walt’s “first”, real son is crippled, whereas his second “son” becomes his redeemer.

      All the stuff about them cooking meth is allegory for what’s also called “spirit cooking”. It’s about an alechemical transformation. They could just as well have been trying to turn lead into gold in a trailer in the desert, but that wouldn’t have garnered the audience numbers that meth did.

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      1. Viewed by all on a television ‘Set’. On the back of every last dollar ($ sign hint) bill is the unfinished/capstone & the left eye of the deity masons worship the G.A.O.T.U.

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  3. That was shocking, and what the kid saw before being pushed was a brother and sister having sex, central to the ongoing plot, incest. The kid lives and becomes a three eyed raven, and is somehow pivotal in the final episodes to come. I had forgotten about that episode. That kid or his replacement in ensuing years is one of the worst actors casted.

    Better Call Saul? new to me.

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    1. By the way, I watched some of Breaking Bad but quit when I saw Jesse’s girlfriend, clean and sober, die after ingesting whatever shit they were selling. I guess my tolerance for cruelty has stepped up a few levels. GoT has that effect.

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      1. LOL. Yeah, I’d say it has too! It’s really weird what we will accept and what we won’t accept in fiction, isn’t it? To me, the death of the girlfriend was compelling because that sequence revealed something shocking about the character of Walter White, who allowed her to die. In most of BB’s violent scenes, we’re not just watching violence for the sake of violence and “shock” value, we’re also learning something relevant about the characters involved. My perception of GoT was that the violence was its own reward, but having only watched that first episode, I realize I can’t fairly condemn the whole series.

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    2. Better Call Saul is a spinoff prequel of Breaking Bad, less plot driven, more character oriented, and in many ways better than Breaking Bad. It stars comedian Bob Odenkirk and a really great actress, Rhea Seehorn. I would have thought you’d have to have been a BB fan to appreciate BCS, but my bookish 12 year old nephew (who I have often thought might be a genius) got hooked on BCS without ever having seen BB. It’s slower paced, and maybe one sign I’m getting older is that I like that about it.

      In my day job, I wind up going to a lot of movies with various clients. Though I avoid most television, every once in a while I binge-watch something in order to feel like part of humanity. Most of the entertainment I see strikes me as incompetent or undisciplined at best (in terms of the writing), or downright toxic at worst. A couple of weeks ago I had the flu and watched all three seasons of the Netflix dramedy Atypical. It’s about a kid with autism. Lots of cheap laughs and cheap sentimentality. In my groggy sick state I went along with it–catch me at the right time and I’ll tear up over sappy TV commercials–but when I got to the end of that series, I thought the writers were horrible people and I was ashamed I’d watched the whole thing. Mainstream entertainment feels largely dehumanizing to me these days.

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  4. Oh yeah, I forgot about the incest. Maybe it was the one-two punch of KID SEES BROTHER AND SISTER HAVING SEX!!! and KID GETS PUSHED OUT A WINDOW!!!! that made me roll my eyes. I suppose part of the problem is that, having read and analyzed scripts as an actor and a writer for so long, I’m really jaded to that stuff. If the writer(s) seem more interested in shocking the bourgeoisie than in dramatizing the human condition in a genuine and insightful way, I’m out.

    That said, I had a nasty flu bug two weeks ago and vegged in front of Netflix watching all three seasons of “Atypical,” a dramedy about a high school kid with autism. The cast was appealing and I worked hard at forgiving the fact that the autistic kid just seemed like a checklist of diagnostic symptoms wrapped in a sitcom package similar to the apparently autistic guy on “The Big Bang Theory.” By the time I got to the third season, I lost all hope that the writers had good intentions; beneath all the show’s saccharine sentimentality lay what struck me as a deep-seated (though maybe unconscious) contempt for the main character and for the intelligence of the audience. But the superficial laughs and cheap dramatic twists held my attention to the end, God help me.

    Better Call Saul is a spin-off prequel to Breaking Bad and I think it’s actually a better show than Breaking Bad. It’s more character-driven than plot-driven and the insights the writers bring to the characters and how they behave (or misbehave) strike me as being surprisingly insightful and humane. It’s also, at times, hysterically funny. (It stars comedian Bob Odenkirk and a really brilliant actress named Rhea Seehorn.) I would have thought only Breaking Bad fans would like it, but I recently found out my 12-year-old nephew (a smart and bookish kid who might be a genius) got hooked on BCS before seeing BB.

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  5. I watched all of it. There is deeper meaning in it, the final episode is full of biblical pictures, but people didn’t get anything and where upset. Of course all is twisted, here death resides in the north, not God. The evil house are the blond ones, “always paying their debt”, ending deep below, what a mocking. Here the best decode I know:
    http://rosettedelacroix.com/?p=25407
    Disclaimer – it’s a FE site, but there is information galore on what we are presented in entertainment.

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  6. Who makes this entertainment up? Same folk that put on the false narratives of history. It’s worse because you will say ‘it’s just a movie’ yet believe in it enough to watch untold hours of it. And spend $$$ to boot. And as usual, the white (male especially) folk are the butt of all jokes, the source of evil & ridicule. Just like in real society today. Scripted to form their agenda into the forefront of your mind. Hence programing….

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  7. Breaking Bad is Dr. Faustus, Southwest style (WW’s old flame who sets him on his long road to oblivion and redemption is named Gretchen- Ta Dah!) Walter White dies redeemed because he remained true to his nature, and confessed as much to his wife at the end. The swath of destruction left behind is irrelevant to the state of his immortal soul, apparently. At the very end, White (fer chrissakes!) lies dead on the floor of the Nazi meth lab, the crossbeams of the roof acting as a crucifix as Bill Maher’s composition (as Pete Ham), Baby Blue, performed by Badfinger, plays us out.
    (Vince Gilligan enjoys trashing the Catholic faith he was forced into as a child. I can relate, though his methods are worse than the scourge he is expelling, IMO)

    This is the level of pretense that buttresses the decadence of these productions.

    Let’s get even more pretentious- Pinkman (Red) Walter (White) and Sky-lar (Blue). The Holy American Family.
    (Walter’s kids are damaged discards. The baby probably has palsy, too. His is a sterile legacy)
    Pinkman is redeemed, eventually. They had to add an Acts sequel to show he gets a second chance.

    A little irony no one seemed to notice:
    https://harvardmagazine.com/2014/04/breaking-bad-harvard-style

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    1. MM covered why now a days most of our tv shows and music is violent and garbage. It makes people buy stuff. Gun sales, fast food sales, etc are going up. Plus they can squeeze in all the agendas in you don’t want your grand kids to learn about.

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    2. Tyrone, your critique seems to contradict itself. On the one hand, you criticize the show for ending with WW’s “redemption,” but then you also point out his “sterile legacy.” Was the show celebrating White’s evil or condemning it? The ambiguity is, for me, to the show’s credit. I like the fact that it seemed to have a moral center but didn’t spell it out in the form of didactic moralistic messages. The crucifix shadow in the Nazi meth was just one of countless instances where the show used religious symbolic images to confer a God- or Devil-like aura on WW. The show unabashedly plays with archetypes; show me a worthwhile work of fiction that doesn’t. Good catch on Skyler=blue so all three characters together are red, white and blue. That hadn’t occurred to me and I think you’re right, it was deliberate. I also think the name “White” and the name “Pinkman” have resonance that go beyond the American flag. What makes the show artful is that so many of its details accomplish more than one thing, sometimes seemingly mutually exclusive things.

      It seems obvious to me that Vince Gilligan is very much “in the know” regarding the issues we talk about here at POM. As an X-Files writer he consulted with the CIA a lot, and of course his name is on the script for the “Lone Gunmen” episode about terrorists crashing planes into the Twin Towers that aired six months before 9/11. (Lots of 9/11 references in BB, some explicit, some subtle.) However, I’m not sure that being in the know is the same as being complicit. In BB, I sense an undertone of despair that feels all the more genuine because the show doesn’t wallow in it, and in fact rises to great heights of invention and levity in the face of it. If an artist knows more than the general public about what’s really going on, but has no power to change it and has to work within the system in order to make a living at his craft, does that mean everything he produces should be condemned? If TPTB find his work amusing enough to promote it, does that mean we have to condemn it?

      The “Acts sequel” was entertaining in the moment, but was ultimately a fart in the wind. Gilligan has said he originally wanted Pinkman to escape the police and find refuge, only to get involved with a new character he comes to care about and chooses to save from a fatal conflict even though he knows the police will catch him and he’ll go to prison for the rest of his life. The movie would have ended with him in prison, but content with his decision. That would have been a better Acts sequel. In the movie that was made, Pinkman survives, but Gilligan wanted to make a movie where he actually emerged as a selfless hero, counterbalancing the self-centered anti-heroism of WW. Ultimately, Gilligan’s inner circle (the BCS writers) shot the original story down, certain that fans would have hated it. VG may not be a pillar of artistic integrity, but I sense a lot more of it in him than in any other TV writer I’m aware of. (Which isn’t saying much.)

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  8. Weak minded viewers? How many foolish & weak sheep went and TRIED crank during this show’s run? And how many cooked their own batches? Monkey-see-monkey-do.

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    1. You seem to be advocating a form of self-censorship that I disagree with. A lot of BB fans I’ve seen online are idiots. Sure, some of those idiots may have cooked their own meth or tried it because they saw it on TV. Many others personally identified with WW to a pathetic degree, railing against the character of his wife (and the actress who played her) for standing in his way. If you believe the show was created in order to get more people using and cooking and selling meth, I don’t know what to say to you. If you concede that the show had other intentions, but some idiots latched onto elements of it in destructive ways, we agree. But there are plenty of writers and artists who are censoring themselves and dumbing their work down so that it’s nice and safe and palatable for idiots. Always have been, always will be. I don’t think all writers should have to, though, or that they should be condemned if they don’t.

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  9. I haven’t seen a single minute of GoT and nothing I have read here, in Mark’s well-written post and the comments so far, has led to even consider watching the show now. Who wants to subject their own mind to so much fictional violence and sex? Not me.

    If anybody else out there derives pleasure from the series then good luck to them, that’s their business, I’m not here to judge or to pretend that my lifestyle is somehow superior. With that said, I do think my own mind is less weighed down by darkness and negativity because I do not allow hours of it to be beamed into my mind at 30 / 60 fps the way most people do.

    I have never even had a netflix account. The idea of ‘binge watching’ TV show after TV show is alien to me, and yet I understand that this is totally normal now: evenings spent ‘binge watching’ shows like GoT. What A Time To Be Alive.

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  10. Television/Hollywood is a propaganda machine whose purpose is to subvert the viewers. Censoring will not cure this sick society. It willingly accepts the disease. Much akin the meth head, booze, cigarette and pharmakeia users, its their ‘escape’ from reality. A reality that is a written by them for a very long time.

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  11. Speaking of TV shows, my 12 year old nephew told me he liked the seventh season of American Horror Story called “Cult” so I decided to check it out. I’m three episodes in and don’t know if I can finish it, but it’s interesting how the writers seem to be either satirizing or celebrating (or both) the success of the American propaganda machine. The first episode starts on Trump’s election night. We learn that the heroine, a progressive liberal played by Sarah Paulson, is a mentally unstable woman whose anxiety and delusional neuroses became debilitating after 9/11…but then Barack Obama was elected and life was heavenly for eight blissful years. On Trump’s election night, she starts going bonkers again. Honestly, I don’t understand how people can take this seriously as “horror.” It’s so obviously a comedy that apes the horror genre. Anyway, by mocking the liberal progressive crowd and the MAGA crowd in equal measure, the show seems to be written from the gleefully amused perspective of people who know perfectly well that all of our nation’s fears are manufactured in order to make us easy to control. They also assume all their cheap-scare contrivances will keep the audience under their control, but the story is so over-the-top silly and relentlessly hyper that I think I’m going to have to tap out. Thought it might be interesting to talk to my nephew about, but I’m not sure my sister and brother-in-law want crazy Uncle Scott polluting their 12-year-old son with his conspiracy nonsense. (Then again…what the fuck are they doing letting him watch this show?)

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