*casually surfs to GAME OF THRONES*
*selects ‘cancel series’*
*shudders with a sigh of relief*
I’m sorry, Game of Thrones, but I gotta go.
I know, I know. This is an obvious, almost obligatory post after one of the soul-wrecking finales of your show — the post-episode karate-kicking-over-your-television-while-weeping-uncontrollably demonstration. I’m the cartoon office dude flinging his office papers in the air while being all like FUCK THIS SHIT. I’m like that cat who is so done he won’t stop pawing shit off the table. And of course the expectation is, eventually the trauma will recede out to sea and next year I’ll once again tune in like a junkie to see what wacky shenanigans Tyrion is up to.
I’ve been there before, certainly. Where I was thisclose to being done with you, GoT.
And then I come crawling back. Every year.
But not this time, I’m afraid.
(I know, some of you are breathing your own sighs of relief: OH THANK A HOT SACK OF MOIST FUCKERY HE’S DONE WITH THIS SHOW NOW HE CAN COMPLAIN ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE FOR A WHILE. I hear you. I’m sorry for duct-taping you to a chair and yelling all my complaints at you. I learned it by watching you, Ramsay Snowbolton!)
It’s not you, Game of Thrones.
I just spent all weekend in a hospital — my mother took ill and so we buckled her into the Healthcare Express and took her on a ride through the inefficacy and poor communication of the hospital system, and while there you witness even at a distance human suffering with the volume turned way up. Next door was a man who coughed so hard and so loud and so wetly you’d think he was hacking up four soggy cats. Another woman had chronic diverticulitis — a manageable disease, but one that earned her a stay in the hospital for a week with no food. In the ER was a young girl (presumably on drugs) freaking the unholy fuck out — weeping and struggling and fighting — just to see her mother. People in hospitals aren’t there because they’re healthy or happy or just having a laugh. It’s pain all the way down.
And I need to watch some television shows that aren’t all about that. (Or, when they are about pain, they deal with that pain honestly and earnestly and not only as spectacle. The Leftovers is dreary as fuck but it looks long into the eyes of that suffering to try to understand it and to help you understand it, too.)
Like I said: it’s me, not you.
I watched last night with none of the shock I was supposed to feel at the series of deaths that it presented to us, and I felt only general queasiness and fatigue. I felt like I was making a face the whole time, a face like I had repeatedly been made to lick a lollipop that had someone else’s pubic hair glued to it with sugar glaze. I just started to feel like, why am I doing this? Why am I licking this pubic hair lolly? What’s wrong with me?
It’s not that it’s a bad show. To the contrary — it’s often amazing! It sets up these killer moments. It tells a sweeping tale with a confident hand. Some of the characters (though increasingly fewer and fewer for me) are great, complex, funny, tragic, compelling from snout to tail.
But I gotta quit, man. I gotta tap out. I just can’t do it anymore.
Here, in particular, are three areas where the show loses me. It takes these three things and for me, fails to treat them in a way that I can really understand or get behind —
*oh, and here there be spoilers*
*no really, spoilers*
*hey no, not kidding, back out now*
*WON’T YOU TAKE ME TO… SPOILERTOWN?*
Obviously, I’ve spoken on this subject before — (We Are Not Things: Mad Max Vs. Game of Thrones). But, yeep, yoinks, yowch. Last night was a pretty good example of how the show hates its audience almost as much as it hates its women characters, which is to say, a great deal, indeed. It was a parade of hurt and humiliation for the women of Game of Thrones.
It was like they were going for a world record.
Let’s just go through the tally.
We open on three little girls being visibly caned. Painfully and with sharp cries. (I almost turned off the episode right there. Some pedophile caning little girls for his own pleasure right out of the gate churned my stomach. Now that I have a child, it’s one of those things that really rattles me.)
Stannis’ wife hangs herself (after helping to burn her own daughter to death last episode).
Melisandre is humiliated by the defeat of Stannis.
Sansa is almost killed by… whatever her name is, Ramsay’s spurned ex-girlfriend. Sansa does little to take her own agency or power here (except to possibly willfully submit to more pain), but no, no, it’s Theon “Reek” Greyjoy the Burninator of Childrens who saves the day and flings the other girl down to the ground where we watch her head thud bloodily against the stone. (Then he leads Sansa to the castle wall where they just jump, because apparently that’s an okay way to leave a castle.) (I also think we can all agree that when Sansa discarded the corkscrew she used to unlock her room door instead of, y’know, jamming that corkscrew into the very tip of Ramsay Snowbolton’s dingus — we all shared some very real collective disappointment.)
Arya goes blind.
The little Lannister girl is killed (?) by the poison of the Sand Snakes just moments after being totally cool about being a child of incest (“Love you too, UncleDad. HRRK–!”)
Dany is taken somewhere and her dragon is a jerkoff and now she’s surrounded by a whooping war-band of… Dothraki? I don’t even know. (What an excellent visual metaphor for how the show treats women, by the way: a bedraggled dragon-queen all alone, surrounded by a noisy tornado of shirtless men of questionable virtue. See also: a metaphor for being a woman on the Internet.)
And then, of course, the 37-minute Cersei “nude walk of shame through the city.” They shave her head bloody, they strip her down and then she marches full-frontally through the city while the entire city proves that it is basically home to a bunch of cave-people as they pelt her with pretty much everything. Which I guess was supposed to be impactful but just started to feel really gross. And again feels a lot like a metaphor for women on that show or on the Internet — BE SHAMED FOR YOUR AGENCY, WOMAN. BE NUDE AND FLUNG WITH CABBAGE, FECES, AND OTHER UNCERTAIN FLUIDS. Hashtag Gamer-Gate!
That last scene was seriously like, 16 hours long. And the show very clearly wanted us to watch every moment of it. Like she was Jesus dragging the Cross through town. If you tried to look away the show reached out and grabbed your chin and demanded you watch. “DON’T YOU LOOK AWAY,” the show growls through its yellow teeth. “DON’T YOU GO TURN ON ADVENTURE TIME, YOU MOTHERFUCKER. YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENS. YOU JUST SEE.”
(I must note that all of this was startlingly well-acted, particularly the bit with Lena Headey as Cersei. And well-written and well-directed and all of that. Again, the problem with the show is not its quality, but rather for me, what it uses its deft skill to portray.)
Compounding this problem is that a lot of the suffering and saving is done by the men — Sansa is saved by Reek, Arya is taught a lesson by Jaqen, Dany is saved by a dragon and then deposited into whirling dudeland, Cersei suffers at the whim of the High Sparrow and then once inside is “saved” by that old creepy necromancer and his new pal, Zombie Mountain Man. Now Dany must be saved by her two dude lovers, and Sansa is in Reek’s hands (remember, he’s a hero even though he burned children alive), Cersei will exact revenge only at the behest of the king, and on and on — it’s women getting hurt and men doing the hurting and the saving.
Brienne, though, hey, she’s still cool.
The show approaches human suffering with (to me) increasing cheapness. It’s nearly always spectacle and rarely always authentic or honest. That’s okay, usually, for a show like this — though certainly once in a while I like it when genre work actually tries to unpuzzle human emotions rather than just fling itself against them like an animal trapped in a Plexiglass box. Here, though, suffering is nearly always played for spectacle and surprise. They want your jaw to drop and your pants to soak through with pee because omg no they didn’t. But it often feels like they don’t really want to actually deal with the suffering in a meaningful way — it’s quick, mean, almost shallow. (Cersei actually gets close to it, and despite the pain of her walk of shame, Headey actually sells the emotion and makes you sympathetic for one of the most hated characters in the show. And her feelings as a mother are often sharply-drawn.)
Plus, it’s just suffering all the time.
I feel like we need oxygen in the show.
Some humor. Some moments. Some humanity.
You get them here or there, and they’re welcome and well-executed when they come.
But for me: not enough nowadays.
The show similarly treats death as spectacle — and it works in that regard, narratively, when you use it sparingly. But the show takes its thematic motto (ALL MEN MUST DIE AND USUALLY PRETTY HORRIBLY IT’S NEVER LIKE A HEART ATTACK OR A SLIP DOWN SOME STAIRS IT’S ALWAYS ‘GUY GETS HIS PENIS CHOPPED OFF AND THEN FIRED THROUGH HIS SKULL WITH A CROSSBOW WIELDED BY THE HOWLING ZOMBIE OF HIS OWN FATHER’) pretty seriously. Almost too seriously and eagerly. Almost like a young Orson Lannister smashing beetles.
This is very much a personal thing but there’s a line you cross where you say oh no no character is safe and then once you kill off too many it becomes no, really, everybody is going to die, so it’s not even worth being surprised anymore, just be resigned to it, yawn, oh another death, oh and there’s another, and another, and that guy, and her, and hey I liked him, and oh she was horrible, and I think I’m going to go have a snack now, please send me a spreadsheet tallying all the dead-people data points in the morning for my recap.
It gets a little boring.
And it’s also somewhat disruptive, narratively speaking. Characters have arcs to fulfill. They are woven into the quilt of the narrative. But when you kill too many of them, the quilt stops demonstrating a pattern — it no longer looks like the end result will be a cohesive thing, a thing of vision and design but just some haphazard tangle of meaningless fabric-scraps. Death robs the narrative of shape and opportunity when used so quickly. Death becomes a series of check-boxes instead of the fulfullment of an arc. It’s bread and circuses. It’s a gladiator arena whose dirt floor is soaked with red.
(And it’s also a problem with TV, I think. So many shows become WHO WILL DIE THIS WEEK rather than WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE CHARACTERS. Death becomes a titillating expectation. Tune in to find out who gets hit by a car / mauled by a bear / killed by a hobo / crossbowed in the face by a dick-arrow.)
Granted, the show does often try to make the deaths add up — meaning, they culminate tragically, as a result of the character’s actions. They make their beds and then they lie in them, often quite dead. But more and more, it feels like in this storyworld what earns you death is literally anything at all. “Ah, she once looked at Cersei askance. A tragic death is earned again as she is torn apart by Westerosi coyotes on a tavern floor as the tavern patrons watch and visibly masturbate! All deaths are earned! All men must shit themselves upon morbidity! VOOLAR MORGLOBULIN!”)
Death works in the show and it’s woven into the theme.
But for me, it’s again become too much.
I get it. We all die. But the weekly reminder is wearing me down.
I’m out. Can’t do it anymore. I like grim and I like dark but this feels like grimgrimgrimgrimdarkdarkdark (aka GRRMDRRK™). I can only watch a show like this for so long before I feel gutted. I like the tragic thrill of watching horror movies (and make no mistake, Game of Thrones is basically a medieval mashup of a slasher film and a zombie movie), but horror movies are like, 90 minutes for a reason. Seeing this every week mostly just makes me upset. (See also why I had to check out of both the comic book and the show of The Walking Dead.)
It’s a shame, because it’s a show with some truly wild, wonderful moments — the riding of dragons and the death of gloriously cartoonishly evil villains and that super-amazing-bad-ass scene of all those scary-ass White Walkers pouring over the walls as they attack Jon Snow and the Wildlings (pro-tip: new band name if Scalzi doesn’t steal it first).
But I gotta say bye.
It’s okay if you still like it! No judgment. This is about me, not about you. It’s still a great show. Talented people are making it awesome every week. You do you. Me do me.
Maybe after the show is all done I’ll binge watch the horror and purge the toxins.
But week to week, can’t do it anymore.
Because right now, I’m rooting for the White Walkers.
*holds up foam finger*
*White Walkers #1*