Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’
A Song of Ice and Fire fans are a meticulous, scholarly lot. That first baby step into the wider world of fandom that we all take instantly introduces us to an eye-popping array of theories about past, present, and future events in the story that our fellow fans have painstakingly assembled from hints and clues embedded within the text. We all have our favorites and our least favorites, theories we think is a sure thing and theories we break out our tinfoil hats to discuss.
In this episode, Stefan and I vote yay or nay on many of the biggest, coolest, and crackiest — from R+L=J to fAegon, from Tyrion Targaryen to the Bran-tichrist, from “Oberyn poisoned Tywin” to the eternal question “Where do whores go?” — but with a twist. Our main metric: Does this theory make narrative and thematic sense?
Even the most beautifully constructed theories constructed from tantalizing tidbits in the text often fall apart when theorizers focus on how but ignore the why. Would this theory make for a satisfying story? Does it support the series’ primary thematic concerns or undermine them? Does it have a point at all beyond being a secret to uncover? Forget about why Roose Bolton or Obery Martell or Varys the Spider might do whatever’s being theorized about — Why would George R.R. Martin want them to do it? This has long been the approach both of us take, and we had a blast going full-throttle with it in this episode. Hopefully, you will too.
One quick note: Right at the end of the episode Stefan and I begin discussing a recently discovered note in the publicly available manuscript for A Dance with Dragons that appears to spoil a much speculated-about theory in a way neither of us are quite comfortable declaring was intentional on the part of Martin or his editor/publisher. We give ample spoiler warning at that point, so feel free to bail on the episode during those final moments if such a thing makes you uncomfortable.
Slate.com’s Jamelle Bouie joins us for the start of a project we’ve been planning practically since the Long Night: The BLAH Salon! In each installment of this series, we’ll be spotlighting a writer or artist whose work doesn’t normally touch on A Song of Ice and Fire or Game of Thrones but who is nonetheless a fan, exploring how the world of Westeros interests and influences them.
Our first guest in the BLAH Salon is Jamelle Bouie, staff writer for Slate. As a national political correspondent with a specific focus on race, he’s written with compelling clarity about the tumultuous, troubling year that just ended. He was also the first famous face I spotted in boiledleather.com’s followers. His insightful and enthusiastic commentary on the books, the show, along with other pop- and nerd-culture cornerstones, coupled with his insight into sociopolitics, made Stefan and I think he’d be the perfect guest for this inaugural installment. Our wide-ranging discussion hits on Slaver’s Bay, the role of Roose & Ramsay, the problem with privilege discourse, how good hip-hop and good fantasy both wear their influences on their sleeves, the bizarrely productive racism of H.P. Lovecraft, and the scene that made him a believer in George R.R. Martin’s magnum opus. Enjoy!
Celebrate Cyber Monday the old-fashioned way: in boiled leather! The Boiled Leather Audio Hour is back for our second episode in one week, and once again it’s our biggest to date. Since no one episode, and no two hosts, could contain The World of Ice and Fire, Stefan and I have tapped Race for the Iron Throne’s Steven Attewell and A Podcast of Ice and Fire’s Amin Javadi to join in the discussion of George R.R. Martin, Elio M. García Jr., and Linda Antonsson’s seemingly inexhaustible world book. We tackle many of the topics we missed in our first episode on the book, and double back on a few besides.
One more note and then it’s on with the show: Thank you so much for your generous donations to BLAH’s emergency tech-crisis fund. Your support has done a great deal to help defray the cost of the new computer and software I needed to continue recording the podcast. If you haven’t already, and you’re still in a spending mood after all those hot online deals, and if you enjoy the show or the blogs enough to warrant it, you can donate via paypal here. Any amount is extraordinarily appreciated.
Alright, that concludes our message from the Iron Bank. Check the links below for a host of posts and podcasts this fearsome foursome has already done on the book, then listen and enjoy!
We’re back, and a world awaits! Released with deserved fanfare a few weeks ago, The World of Ice and Fire, the long-awaited world book by George R.R. Martin and his co-authors Elio M. García Jr. and Linda Antonsson of Westeros.org, has proven to be an extraordinarily fecund source of information, speculation, and general wonderment. That’s a pretty fair characterization of this episode of The Boiled Leather Audio Hour, as a matter of fact: No muss, no fuss, just me and Stefan the best and most baffling moments of this extensive fake history in our biggest episode yet.
But before you begin, a quick housekeeping note: Stefan and I haven’t been able to record a podcast since July, as a series of professional, personal, and (most insurmountably) technical issues scuttled half a dozen different scheduled recording times. The resolution of these issues necessitated the purchase of a whole new computer and set of software, which I was happy to do, but which obviously took a hefty chunk out of the old Boiled Leather budget.
So if you enjoy The Boiled Leather Audio Hour, boiledleather.com, The Nerdstream Era, or any of our assorted projects, please consider clicking here to donate a few dollars to help offset the cost of the show via PayPal. (There’s also a Donate button at the top of boiledleather.com.) You all have been so tremendously complimentary and supportive, and we’re extraordinarily grateful that you listen!
2. Tywin Lannister was an even bigger bastard than we thought.
Before he became the not-so-proud patriarch of the dysfunctional Lannister clan, the future Lord Tywin was a fed-up heir trying to clean up his weak father’s messes. As you might expect from the future architect of the Red Wedding, this mostly involved killing a lot of people. The most famous incident involved Tywin’s slaughter of every last man, woman, and child from House Reyne, who’d risen in rebellion against their Lannister overlords. In both the books and the show, Tywin’s revenge was immortalized in the song “The Rains of Castamere”; the HBO series has featured versions by both the National and Sigur Ros, and when the band at the Red Wedding started playing it, that was the tip-off that the shit was about to hit the fan.
But we’d never learned the specifics of the massacre until now, and they’re somehow even more cold-blooded than the song made it sound. Castamere, the Reynes’ castle, was a mostly subterranean stronghold, extending deep underground into the old gold and silver mines through which the house had made its fortune. When Tywin attacked, the Reynes and their followers retreated underground, thinking the complex below was impervious to assault. It was — but it wasn’t waterproof. Tywin had his men redirect a river into the few remaining cracks and crevices. Tywin’s rain washed the Reynes right out of existence.
|The 10 Craziest Things We Learned From ‘The World of Ice & Fire’ | Rolling Stone
I wrote up a list of weird, wild, wonderful stuff from The World of Ice and Fire for Rolling Stone. In other words, the publication that gave us Hunter S. Thompson paid me to write about Sothoryos. This is bat country!
Honey #1 is an elegantly drawn, exuberantly paced, spectacularly colored workplace dramedy/romance. It’s an action-adventure story set in a fantasy-indebted world with prominent horror elements. It’s a radical reconsideration of anthropomorphism and “funny animal” comics. It’s a serious exploration of how communities shore up certain strengths of the individuals they comprise while also pushing them all toward willful ignorance of wrongs committed in their name. It’s a gedankenexperiment about an all-woman society — imagining it, putting it through its genre-story paces, examining female friendship, romantic relationships, and enmity in the fresh air created by the near-total absence of men and thecompleteabsence of men in positions of power. It’s hugely, admirably, refreshingly ambitious for a twelve-page comic book. If the work cartoonist Céline Loup assembles from these myriad parts is not without flaw, that’s almost beside the point.
Another chapter from the GRRMArillion? You betcha! Rogues, the latest cross-genre anthology edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, is out, and you know what that means: another long short story/novella set in the world of Ice and Fire and written by Martin himself. As was the case with Dangerous Women‘s “The Princess and the Queen,” Martin’s contribution this time around is an excerpt from the larger history of the Targaryen dynasty eventually to be published in expanded form as Fire and Blood. And it turns out it’s a direct prequel to “The Princess and the Queen”‘s tale of internecine Targaryen civil war — like, it ends the moment “TPatQ” begins. As such, it casts many of the events and characters of that story in a whole new light. And like that story, it strrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrretches the boundaries of the rubric for its inclusion in the anthology in which it appears. Is it worth it? Listen and find out! (And try not to be perturbed by the sounds of chaos in revelry in the background, as Stefan’s native Germany defeats a rival in the World Cup whilst we record. Just imagine we’re discussing this over a bowl o’ brown in the stews of Flea Bottom. I know I always do!)
On my A Song of Ice and Fire tumblr boiledleather.com the other day, a reader asked me:
I’m sure that someone has asked this before, but what are your thoughts on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings-adaptations? Especially compared to Game of Thrones (different medium, I know, but still).
In May of 2001 I received an invitation through my job as associate editor of the A&F Quarterly (“the lifestyle publication” of Abercrombie & Fitch) to a screening of the 20 minutes or so of footage of the then-unreleased The Fellowship of the Ring that had screened at Cannes. This was from the Mines of Moria sequence — the discovery of Balin’s tomb, the fight with the cave troll, and the flight down the stairs. It was obviously crackerjack action filmmaking, but I’ll tell you what really hit me the hardest. As the Fellowship flees down that first flight of stairs, orc arrows start raining down on them, bouncing off the stone steps. Legolas turns and returns fire, and the camera gives us an arrow’s-eye-view of its flight across the chasm and into the forehead of an orc archer. At the moment of impact the camera cuts to a shot just above and behind the orc’s shoulder as he falls from his perch into the pit below, and suddenly we can see the enormous distance we’d just traveled on the head of that arrow. Fresh from film school as I was, I was blown away by this. Peter Jackson had used the flight of the arrow to describe the space it was shot in, using its physical movement to convey a sense of scale to us that would not have been possible if he’d simply cut back and forth between the vantage points. This of course is what all action sequences in visual media ought to do — root you in an environment, use the action beats to move you around in that environment, give as many beats as possible palpable physical stakes you can grasp and contextualize immediately. It also showed that Jackson was going to use the full force of the cinematic medium to tell this story — he wasn’t just going to line up a bunch of CGI critters and throw them at one another, nor was he going to whirl and twirl haphazardly, he was going to paint the story with the camera and the editing bay like brushes. It showed that the soon-to-be-legendary attention to detail he and the Weta team paid to every prop and set and costume had a storytelling purpose as well, that a bow and arrow and a stone chasm and a hero-orc makeup job would not just look cool but help us understand where we were and what kind of world it was and why it mattered. Finally, it showed that for the first time ever, a fantasy film was actually going to capture the scale of epic fantasy, the sheer physical awe-someness of it all above and beyond the striking images that plenty of fantasy films before it had dealt in without that ability to convincingly situate them in a world as large as our imaginations. Not a single moment in the entire trilogy contradicted these initial impressions. They’re magnificent films and I love them to pieces.
The bodies haven’t even been removed from the battlefield of our last podcast, but Stefan and I are back already with a brand-new BLAH! Today we’re talking about the excerpt from George R.R. Martin, Elio García Jr., and Linda Antonsson’s The World of Ice and Fire about the Rhoynar, which was posted a few weeks ago on the latter two writer’s seminal Westeros.org website. Its title, “The Ten Thousand Ships,” is somewhat inapt given that it doesn’t in fact cover the naval exodus of the people of the Rhoyne from that Essosi river to the southern lands of Dorne in Westeros. But there’s plenty to talk about up until that point, from the sudden revelation that an entire water-based form of magic exists (or existed) to the wartime conduct of Old Valyria and its allies. Saddle up a turtle and enjoy!
Our biggest episode! Game of Thrones Season Four is over, and in this mega-sized BLAH, Stefan and I analyze it for damn near 90 minutes. Every major storyline is covered, every big controversy is addressed, every substantial change from the books is explored, and every complaint we have about the fandom is given an obscenity-laden airing. Hey, we told you it was a big episode!
Below, we’ve included some links to pieces on the show that we mention in the podcast. Read, listen, enjoy!
Like the superheroes of a post-Christopher Nolan world, fantasy in the era of Game of Thrones could too easily become a genre where “dark and realistic” is automatically equated with quality. Thank goodness this show realizes that when you make an epic fantasy, you sometimes need to hack “realistic” to pieces with a small army of sword-wielding reanimated skeletons. The final obstacle in Bran Stark’s vision quest, the skeletons — like the giants, the mammoth, the 50-foot ice scythe, the dragons, the direwolves, the White Walkers, and the Wall itself — was a reminder that fantasy can speak to us with pure spectacle, the way great music conveys something that just reading a song’s lyric sheet can’t touch.
I listed the best moments from Game of Thrones Season Four for Rolling Stone, trying to capture a range of moments and moods.
Intimacy and grandiosity, empathy and brutality – Game of Thrones doesn’t just straddle these lines, it water-dances on both sides at once. So you get a skeleton-army attack out of a Ray Harryhausen Saturday-matinee movie and a domestic-violence murder out of a Michael Haneke art-house joint. You get an elf lobbing magic fireballs at zombies like something out of Dungeons & Dragons, and a man getting shot to death in a bathroom like something out of a mob movie. Jon Snow strides into the wilding camp, allowing himself to be surrounded and subdued — then Stannis and Davos charge into it on horseback, killing at will. Beautiful, peaceful, dead Ygritte on her bier or comatose, rotting, living Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane on Qyburn’s mad-science operating table — take your pick. You get the Hound repeatedly begging for death, and Tyrion repeatedly apologizing for causing it.
And it’s never stronger than when the care feeds the cruelty. Look at the episode’s two strongest sequences: Tyrion’s escape and the Hound’s last stand. Tyrion is the more or less undisputed fan-favorite character of the series; his framing and trial for murder was the season’s central storyline. The Imp’s emergence from his family’s hideous shadow has been crucial to the whole series since Peter Dinklage got top billing at the start of Season Two. But his great escape first sees him choke his ex-girlfriend to death, then murder his own father while the elder man takes a shit. Now he’s locked in a box literally and figuratively – set to stew in rage, resentment, and regret most likely for the rest of his life. This, it argues, is the inevitable consequence of greatness.
By contrast, Brienne and the Hound should theoretically be spared this kind of final reckoning. They’re both ronin, masterless misfits who don’t fit in with any side in the War of Five Kings. They even have the same motive: protecting the Stark sisters. Yet the show concocts a confrontation for them that’s nowhere to be found in the source material, taking two beloved characters and crushing them against one another until only one’s left standing. It basically weaponizes the affection we feel for them.
A lot of viewers bang their heads against this kind of dichotomy. Sometimes Game of Thrones is a widescreen epic fantasy, other times it’s a small-scale study of violent lives, and it’s a struggle both to anticipate and appreciate whatever you wind up getting. The answer is to stop struggling. At its best – and “The Children” is certainly this show at its wide and wild best — Game of Thrones is all of these things, simultaneously.
How did you do that big shot of Castle Black?
When I walked onto the Castle Black set for the very first time, I noticed that it’s a 360-degree set. You walk into that courtyard and it’s standing all around you. Immediately, I thought the best place to have it all to take place was the catwalks and steps — it’s more interesting than just two guys in a flat courtyard. At some point the idea came to me of doing a 360-degree shot of the battle going on all around.
Slowly but surely, the idea to motivate the shot came to me. What was the point of the shot, other than to show off? I realized you had five major characters involved, and at this point you needed to know where they were and how they were all interrelating with each other. That gave birth to that shot in thematic terms. It very literally put you in the middle of it.
In practical terms, it was the first shot we did for that night. We set it up for about an hour, positioning everybody, practicing the camera moves. We got it on the seventh take. When I said we had it, we all gave each other a big round of applause. [Laughs]
No CGI? That was actually one single take?
It was one take. It was all the work of the ADs — and the stunt guys, for keeping out of the way of the camera. The camera was on the end of a crane arm and swinging around at high speed. It doesn’t necessarily look it from the camera’s point of view, but if the camera had hit someone in the head, it could have killed them — it was moving that fast. That was one of the worries. But nobody got killed by the camera, so that’s good.
What about that scythe on the ice wall?
David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss, the showrunners and writers] came up with that idea. I don’t know how, but it certainly was a fun idea. [Laughs] When I came in, I wanted to make it as logical as possible, to design it so it would look scary and practical. There was discussion early on as to whether we needed it, but myself, David, and Dan really fought for it. It was a really cool idea to end [both] the episode and the attack.
In “Blackwater,” some book readers complained that the massive chain Tyrion uses to block Stannis’s boats from escaping didn’t show up in the episode. Well, here’s a chain.
[Laughs] I remember those questions. The chain for the boats was gonna be way too expensive to do. This chain was a lot simpler in that respect. Maybe that was the idea — to get a chain in to keep people happy.
In the middle of its biggest battle since Season Two’s carnage at Blackwater, Game of Thrones takes us on a tour, via tonight’s episode, of Castle Black. Our guides just happen to be busy killing people.
We start with Jon Snow. He’s just brought reinforcements to the castle’s courtyard from the top of the Wall, and after killing his way through half a dozen wildlings, he pauses to survey the carnage. As he runs down the stairs to resume the fight, the camera leaves him, swooping across the chaos of the courtyard until it finds Jon’s former lover and would-be killer — the archer Ygritte. She draws and looses, and the camera moves on again to the axe-wielding, bald-headed barbarian Styr, leader of the cannibal Thenns. The camera moves again, and it’s back up another flight of stairs with Tormund Giantsbane, the red-headed ringleader of the raiding party. Then we take one last pass across the courtyard and its countless killings until the camera at last finds Sam Tarly, on a mission to free the great white wolf Ghost and even the fight.
It takes 43 seconds to make the circuit of Castle Black – 43 seconds involving dozens of performers and stuntmen arrayed across a multi-level set, shot without a single cut. Like all great action filmmaking, that shot rooted us in a specific environment, and did so clearly enough that you could practically give a tour of it yourself now if you were paying close attention. The stakes of every sword stroke were crystal clear – kill your man or you lose this patch of ground, and this one, and so on until there’s no more left to lose. It’s not just a choppily edited jumble of indistinguishable hacking and slashing; it’s the battle for Castle Black, and you are there.
My review of last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone also doubles as a sort of “How to Make Action Cinema and Why” manifesto. I hope you like it.
It all comes back to the Mountain and the Viper, really. For all his decadent swagger, Prince Oberyn was genuinely a man out for justice against people who committed monstrous war crimes against his innocent family. Yet it’s his insistence that Gregor Clegane die as punishment for those crimes, instead of just because he’s the dude who got tapped to represent the prosecution in Tyrion’s trial, that gets him killed in turn. And so, an admitted rapist and murderer crushes a man’s head with his hands, and in so doing insures that an innocent man will die for a crime he didn’t commit. That horrifying special effect was as symbolic a spectacle as any Fourth of July fireworks display – a bright-red tribute to Game of Thrones’ central contention that power is the only thing that matters, and any claims to the contrary are as hollow as a shattered skull.
—Head like a hole: I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.
“You cannot give up on the gravy.” So declares Hot Pie, former running buddy of Arya Stark and budding Great Chef of Westeros, to an unappreciative Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne. All they signed up for was a square meal and a place to spend the night on their quest for Sansa Stark. Instead, they get a monologue from a refugee from Flea Bottom who can’t stop talking about what makes for a good pie. Eventually, the kid gives them information they find a bit more useful: Arya’s alive and headed for her crazy aunt Lysa’s place. He also dropped some science: Westeros may be a hellhole of murder and deception, but individual moments of pleasure and kindness are all the more vital for it. Ice demons, zombies, dragons, giant sword-wielding maniacs, it doesn’t matter: You cannot give up on the gravy.
Or the hot sauce, for that matter. For all that we critique the show’s handling of nudity and sexuality, we should probably also celebrate it when it’s, you know, sexy. To wit: Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, getting some of that Daario D. Henry Kissinger once called power “the ultimate aphrodisiac,” but it’s unlikely he realized that it applies not just for those in the presence of power, but for those who wield it as well. Dany is intoxicated by her command of this swaggering sellsword, and the master/servant dynamic she establishes by making him drop trou in front of her – and the audience, woo-hoo! – is intensely erotic. The look on her face as she stares at Daario’s exposed Naharis? Hot as dragonfire.
I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones episode for Rolling Stone, and for once I got to write as much about sex as I did about violence. Wheeeeeeeeeeee
Another week, another sample from something Good King George has got cooking — if, of course, by “another week” you mean “last week.” Yes, since Stefan and I recorded this episode, yet another excerpt from George R.R. Martin, Elio Garcia Jr., and Linda Antonsson’s worldbook The World of Ice and Fire has been released. No matter! Like the modern-day maesters we are, we stay focused on the matters at hand, specifically the sample unveiled on GeorgeRRMartin.com regarding House Targaryen’s flight from Valyria and Aegon’s Conquest of Westeros. The sample raises many intriguing questions — indeed, more than it answers — on everything from the bloody century the Targaryens spent on Dragonstone between the Doom and the Conquest to Aegon and his sisters’ adoption of the Faith of the Seven. After Stefan and I discuss these matters, we follow up on a related Tower of the Hand roundtable and ask what place supplementary materials like this should even have in a work of narrative fiction. Saddle up, dragonlords!
for the trial of Tyrion Lannister, the throne room is transformed into something more like a circus, or the ringside seating area at a particularly lopsided boxing match. On the kind of bleachers Westeros normally reserves for the audience at jousting tournaments, the lords and ladies of King’s Landing gather round to watch the Imp’s chickens come home to roost: the Kingsguard he antagonized; the Grandmaester he imprisoned; the sister who despises him; even Varys, the friend who could never be anything but fair-weather. Watch how much work is done here by the camera alone, framing Tyrion all the way over in the lower left-hand corner, squashed into exhaustion and irrelevance by the kangaroo court that surrounds him.
It’s only when his father Tywin calls his son’s former girlfriend, Shae, to the witness stand that Tyrion, a passive participant in his own trial, becomes the star of the show. Her unexpected appearance (even the “Previously on” teaser, which dutifully reminded us of Tyrion’s previous beefs, kept her return quiet) was galvanizing and devastating, especially after the sudden relief of the previous scene. Jaime’s deal with Tywin – Tyrion’s life is to be spared, and he gets sent to the Night’s Watch in exchange for Jaime becoming heir to House Lannister once more – might have seemed too good to be true, but hey, this show does bigger surprises than that all the time. Undoing it so quickly was almost cruel.
Crueler to no one than the two people involved, of course. As Shae, actor Sibel Kikelli does harrowing work here: She’s both the betrayer and the betrayed, and her every line communicates a mix of sorrow, regret, rage, and raw terror. Tyrion, meanwhile, reaches the low point in a life filled with public humiliations. Now it’s his sexuality – the most private and intimate aspect of the physicality that’s gotten him mocked and shunned for decades – that’s put on display for the world to see, complete with pet names and pillow talk.
Simply put, it breaks him. Once again, the camera tells the tale: It circles like a vulture as actor Peter Dinklage swivels this way and that, turning his head over his shoulders to track down and berate the gazing, gawking eyes of the audience he’s forced to endure. So Tyrion plays to type, wishing death and destruction on the people who’d use something as noble as love against him. (That he did the same thing to Shae, calling her a whore in order to get her to leave town, is an irony unlikely to be lost on him.) Now he’s Richard III – a titanic figure, willing to embrace his infamy. Fuck the deal his dad and Jaime made; he’ll take his chances on a trial by combat once again. He’s gambling that his brother or Bronn will enable him to walk out of King’s Landing a free man. But the fury Dinklage pours into him makes his real goal clear: He wants to give his father, his sister, and all the nobles in the realm reason to fear. Throne room or no, you’re in his house now.
I reviewed Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone, paying special attention to sets and staging.
Once again, we close out the episode beyond the Wall, with a sequence as cathartic as last week’s was horrific. Jon Snow and his merry men make short work of the mutineers at Craster’s Keep — and yeah, we all felt a little swell of way-too-invested-in-this-show pride considering how green those dudes were just a couple seasons ago. Though the dramatic visions of Jojen Reed and the telepathic powers of Bran Stark intrude on the imagery and plotting like such things rarely have before, it’s ultimately the fate of Craster’s daughter-wives that’s most moving as the episode draws to a close. Since the Night’s Watch turned a blind eye to Craster’s abuse of his wives for years before a gang of them tried their hand at it themselves (even a valuable hostage like Meera Reed was just one more potential victim to these men), the women refuse Jon Snow’s offer of so-called safety at Castle Black. They burn the keep and the bodies, and they go their own way. “Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls,” Cersei had said. But not here. Not anymore.
I referenced this in my review a bit, but the Craster’s Keep sequence in the most recent Game of Thrones episode is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it’s Hostel, two of my favorite horror films of all time. (Texas Chain Saw is one of my favorite films of any kind, period.) The spectacle, the excess, the relentless primal-scream tone, it’s deliberate, it’s meant to be shattering, it’s meant to concretize the experience of cruelty and moral degeneracy. Under normal circumstances I’ve had responded quite favorably to that, I think, particularly as it segued into the supernatural/cosmic horror of the White Walkers. That too is a spectacle of a kind — the endlessly long takes in which you’re just rooted to the spot with a screaming infant in the cold as monsters gather to snuff out its life. Excruciating, and communicative in a way more subtle filmmaking can’t be.
The thing was, though, that the (mis)handling of the Cersei/Jaime scene the previous week, and potentially into this week depending on how you view the follow-up sequences, had thrown me for a loop, making it difficult for me to process the Craster’s Keep material the way I normally would have. What might normally have read as Salo-style forcing your face into the filth instead made me think that, for example, either some of the nudity or some of the on-screen visible rapes should have been elided.
Which tracks back to the Cersei/Jaime scene, which I believe to be a failure of filmmaking, not of morals or ethics. As a basic platform for discussion, I should note that I think the change from consensual to nonconsensual, if indeed that was the intention, is a valid choice. I don’t think it “ruins” Cersei or Jaime as characters, I don’t think it ruins their future arcs (which for the purposes of the show don’t even exist yet); I don’t think it’s inherently misogynist or reflective of misogynist thinking — I think it reflects the misogyny of the fictional society being chronicled. Be all that as it may.
Right, so. The more I think about it, the more I watch the episodes, the more interviews I read with the involved parties, the more I suspect one of two things took place. Possibility number one is that they tried to show a sex scene between two very fucked-up and violent people in which power exchange and the violation of taboo is a huge part of the sexual dynamic, but they screwed it up, and it came out as a rape scene. Because everyone involved was, well, involved, no one saw it. A secondary possibility is that while the writers intended the scene to be rape, the director and the two actors involved on the day read it and played it differently (there’s famously little background preparation done by the cast in terms of comparing notes with the books or with other characters’ storylines, so it’s not inconceivable), and the result is muddled and flawed. In neither case do I think the scene is reflective of a disgusting misconception that rape is okay, that sometimes no means yes, that it’s fun to insert rape scenes for no reason, or anything similarly depiction-as-endorsement rape-culture supportive. I think that while the apparently HBO-mandated use of nudity needlessly muddied the waters, the show has been as strong in its condemnatory presentation of this fictional world’s morally and practically disastrous institutionalized misogyny as the books. (I still prefer the books as a work, for whatever that’s worth.) If the scene failed it’s a failure of execution, not ethics.
But ultimately, using authorial intent — or textual absolutism, or adherence to a specific set of sociopolitical ideals, or the use of a favored set of aesthetic signifiers (in my case, my much beloved heads on sticks) — as a pass/fail metric is a fallacy when it comes to responding to art, an attempt to objectivize what is inherently subjective and prohibitively complex. So in the end what Benioff, Weiss, Cogman, Graves, MacLaren, Headey, and Coster-Waldau thought they were doing matters much less than the sum total of their work on screen. The text is everything and these are some thoughts about how I read it and why.