My Problems with Game of Thrones…

Laurence Thompson

Laurence Thompson is an English writer, currently working on the sequel of an award-winning independent film. He is almost certainly drunk.

You may also like...

  • ASOIAF Fan

    Game of Thrones is a human drama, revolutionning human drama would mean exploring uncharted topics based on human relations/emotions.
    You can’t explore new topics in this category that haven’t been studied by Shakespeare already.
    So basically you’re saying that it’s the best story one could hope for in a post-shakespeare era ?
    Not revolutionnary, coz it’s just impossible, but great in every aspect (exciting, enjoyable, unpredictable).

    Haven’t read the other authors you referenced but moorcock’s is child-play compared to Martin in his exploration of the human psychée.
    And unlike what you said, the character-centric chapters are a nightmare to adapt for the tv serie. Each character or event (past or present) is seen throught the eyes of multiples characters who each have different opinions about it. In the books, if you want the “truth” about something you must do a lot of cross-references and take into account the bias of every characters on the subject before getting an idea of the big picture.
    Obviously on the TV Shows the viewers see things as they really are from the get go, so you loose a lot of information on every character, you don’t know when they lie to others (or themselves) about something.

    This chapter construction is part of what makes this book series so good as a human studying experience.

    I hope you’ll try again another time and can find something to keep you interested throught the end.

    P.S : English is not my first language, be gentle.

  • http://implicatedisorder.wordpress.com/ Laurence Thompson

    Hi, SOIAF Fan. Thank you for your comment, it was a pleasure to read.

    I suppose my problem is that I’m not hugely interested in “human drama” or “explorations of the human psyche”. These, to me, sound like the sort of buzzwords that usually adorn whatever middlebrow Oscarbait movie is currently in vogue. More often than not, I avoid whatever piece of literature these terms are attached to, same with “human condition”, as they usually promote a very middle class illusion of a psychological or social state as apparently universal.

    I’ll admit right away this is probably a bias, but I certainly don’t find anything particularly insightful about Martin’s supposed studies of the human entity. What exactly are they? People are violent; people crave power; power corrupts; women have strong maternal instincts; some people(s) are more savage than other people(s)… these range from obvious to dodgy to offensive.

    Also, unlike yourself, I couldn’t be described as a bardolator. I have some sympathy with it: I got a lot out of reading Harold Bloom in general and his work on Shakespeare is exemplary. I can just about entertain the idea that Shakespeare was the first to document human motivations and psychology in that depth, but I don’t buy that his work was the be all and end all of that field. Did the internally violent psychodramas of Dostoevsky add nothing? The wandering mindscapes of Knut Hamsun? The stream of consciousness of James Joyce?

    That it seems unfair to measure Martin by that high company is only because of the insular, pulpish state fantasy has allowed itself to be. Martin might claim (and I don’t know whether he does) to be interested in what makes humans tick, but to me it still looks like a soap opera with stereotypical Medieval trappings. Moorcock might well be child’s play in that area, but his interests lie in absurdism, commedia dell’Arte, experimentalism, surrealist humour and weird physics, and he was responsible for publishing people who do have at least the literary courage of Joyce if not the talent, such as Aldiss or Ballard. And if that was all he did, it would completely eclipse Martin’s contrbutions. But that’s not all he did.

    We’ll have to agree to differ on the chapter format being tailor made for an episode. When I was reading it, I was already imagining how I would adapt it. Though again for me to criticise Martin for this would mean I fell victim to the intentional fallacy…

    • Siran

      When you admit right away that you are probably biased, then why write a review at all in the first place. One has to be completely unbiased in order to write a review about something. On top of this you haven’t watched the show till the end so far, nor have you read the books, this obviously makes one wonder about the credibility of your post.

      “”People are violent; people crave power; power corrupts; women have strong maternal instincts; some people(s) are more savage than other people(s)… these range from obvious to dodgy to offensive.”"

      For a guy who seems to act like a Connoisseur, if the above mentioned things are the ones you are able to infer from the show, then i must say you should refrain from writing these posts.

      Please note that this isn’t a blatant attack on you, just because you have a different opinion about a show which i like. And I do apologize in case I offended you. But it would be rather nice if you could introspect yourself and find out if your overtly critical review is based on your personal taste and bias or is it because the show has some genuine flaws and mistakes in it. And if so i would like to know them.

  • ASOIAF Fan

    Hi,

    Thanks for your answer.
    I can’t really respond to some of your points without knowing until where you have read.

    Martin often quotes what William Faulkner said on his nobel prize acceptance speech : “the human heart in conflict with itself” is the only thing worth writing about; so i guess that really is what he is interested about when writing his saga.
    The fantasy setting/trappings is more an original way to talk about it than the other way around (he uses fantasy to bring human drama more than he tries to “evolve” fantasy with realistic characters).

    Martin has a background as a TV writer so unconsciously that must have influenced him in some ways, but he started to write A Song of Ice and Fire because of all the script he wrote that were refused for budget constraints.
    He was tired of having to change a battle between 2000 people by a duel or limiting his script to one or 2 geographic locations so he decided to write a saga where everything could be as big as he imagined, never once thinking that it would be adapted one day.

    The point i’m trying to make is that (in my opinion) Martin is really writing on the subjects he wants to explore, he’s not surfing on some sort of hype/popularity wave and woke up one day thinking “i’m sure fantasy with a lot of sex and violence would sell really well”.

  • http://implicatedisorder.wordpress.com/ Laurence Thompson

    That’s all well and good about Faulkner, but Faulkner is a supreme example of someone who wanted to experiment and take risks in form as much as in content. That aside, there’s more examination of the human heart in a page of Faulkner than there is in Martin’s entire series. Okay, we can’t all be William Faulkner, but to do a half-arsed job at only one of the multitude of things that make Faulkner great, and then dress it up in fantasy trappings, doesn’t gain my approval. That is, if we are giving Martin the benefit of the doubt. Whether he intended GoT to sell well on the back of sex, violence and a rapid pace is irrelevant, because that’s pretty much what it does.

    • andrew stevenson

      I don’t care what anyone says…The Targaryens are Elric rip offs!!

  • Kaitlin

    I stopped reading after you seemed more shocked at the homosexuality that occurs in the novel than the rape or necrophilia. There’s also incest in the novel but it’s heterosexual so I guess you weren’t offened.

    • http://implicatedisorder.wordpress.com/ Laurence Thompson

      Kaitlin,

      I think you misread my intention with that sentence. I was being sarcastic about the idea that there’s anything shocking about homosexuality.

  • Penny

    Possibly the most highfaluting “review” I’ve ever read…have you ever heard of a food critic going to a restaurant, eating only the starter then proceeding to slam a 3 course meal he hasn’t tasted..? I don’t even know why you’d bother writing a review of something you haven’t seen through to the end?! This genuinely boggles the mind. If you spent more time reading enough of the series to form original opinions and less time googling references and wearing out your thesauraus people might put stock in what you have to say.

    • http://implicatedisorder.wordpress.com/ Laurence Thompson

      Hello, Penny. I don’t own a Thesaurus. Please tell me the words you had trouble with and I’ll tell you what they mean.

      • Johnny Morris

        Such a Tyrion thing to say.

      • Lane

        a comment that truly shows what an arrogant prick you are. But I guess that is what an unknown author must do to get attention. Petty jealously.

        • http://soundcloud.com/solarflare Glenn Davey

          Waaah! Waaaaah! Some writer on the internet who uses big words has a negative opinion about something I like. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!!

      • http://www.facebook.com/CharlesReid99 Charles Reid

        What a child you are. You do indeed attempt too overwrite like some overeager, snobbish second semester lit major who thinks the secret to great writing is a thesaurus and complication rather than plot and the ability to communicate. And so you realise it child there are readers out here far more intelligent than you and , indeed.. actual published writers. i fear.. or rather celebrate the idea that your baseless egotism and inferiority issues (see Joeffrey) bar your ever actually being a successful author.

  • James Jones

    I agree with Penny’s sentiments, this is like a critic eating an appetizer at a restaurant, then leaving and writing a bad review about an entire meal. This is considered by many people to be the greatest fantasy series of all time. It’s realism is beyond any fiction I have ever read. It has millions of readers and is a New York Times #1 bestseller, so it can be considered mainstream as well.
    Before dismissing this incredible book series, please read the entire thing.

  • Blabla

    Well,
    I love Games of Thrones (series) and i really want to read the book (i need to start reading again)
    (Also i’m very proud to say that i’ve read the whole Harry Potter and Lords of the rings sagas … hahaha i’m an unconditinnal muggle aye)
    I didn’t really understand any of the comparisons you made in your critic … Because idk any of the authors you quoted … Which is great because now i have a list of books to read that should keep me busy for a year …)

    And no, my comment isn’t constructive at all …
    Cheers

    • Blabla

      OOh and WTF ? Jon Snow on the iron throne ??? (pic)

      • Joseph

        I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have anything to do with the series, it’s called an Iron Throne Teaser, you can find many if you image search Game of Thrones on google.

  • Megan

    I’m a little confused why you even bothered to write this, your opinion is completely bias based on a television show about a book. These books are 700 pages +, not considering there is too be 7 of them so quite frankly you’ve missed out of a TON of information, plot, etc etc, you hardly even know the characters for who they are in the books. You compare you’re viewing of a show too books that you have read…why don’t you take the time to finish the first book and then write a review. You cannot compare a 1 hour television show too a complex book. You must read a complex book and compare it too a complex book. Simple.

    • LiterateSkeptic

      Did you read that he’d never actually seen the show. He says that at the beginning, and says he gave up halfway through the books, so he did read the 1st book.

  • polxander

    Not to be rude, I respect your opinion on this subject even though I disagree with your review as a whole (before I begin I did full on laugh at the ‘shock horror’ of homosexuality, I could almost hear the fake dramatic tone). However, Martin put something like 6 years average into writing each of theses ‘unoriginal’ works I believe and I highly doubt someone wanting to create a book for the purpose of having a tv series would go to this length. Also you seemed more concerned with showing of your own vocabulary and overly complicated writing style ( you have serious prowess in that field, might I add) than giving an honest review that everyone happening upon this blog can understand and involve themselves in. This kind of this seems to give most afflicted with the human condition (who do understand the vocabulary) a kind of resentment of the superiority this kind of work gives off.

    Finally before you ask me what words I didn’t understand, I’m a BA Hons Journalism student, so I got all the big words! (yay me!). I just believe such over complicated writing styles limits your target audience too much (and don’t say you don’t have one, otherwise you wouldn’t have this online in the first place)

    PS: if some of this sounded rude I do apologise, my comment could be considered more a review of your style than the contents itself. I never made it too the end (much like yourself with the series!). You will forgive me I’m sure.

  • adelee

    DUDE UR AN ASS U HAVE NO IDEA WHAT U ARE TALKING ABOUT GAME OF THRONES IS THE BEST SHOW ON TV……GET SOME TALENT AND THEN TALK

    • LiterateSkeptic

      You do know you can turn that caps lock off, right?
      Also, Game of Thrones being the best show on TV probably says more about TV than about the show itself.

  • http://gravatar.com/macaonghusa Mac

    Each to his/her own. No point over-analysing the series in my opinion, I just enjoy the tv series and the books for what they are. No series is perfect, every series is flawed. I am (currently reading Book 1) enjoying this one nonetheless.
    As I said, each to his/her own.

  • Justin Livi

    Lol this is the longest troll post I’ve ever seen. Good job though.

    • http://gravatar.com/callif Callif

      Right? The picture of Jon Snow on the Iron Throne was worth it though.

  • asd

    Regarding your question about why fantasy novels only depict European Medieval times, you should read “Tales of the Otori” series by Liam Hearn.

    Set in a world heavily drawn from Japanese samurai era, it’s a good read.

  • ala

    lol! man you should’ve at least scanned through till the end, it gets better. the “night walkers” or “white walkers” or whatever that have been asleep for thousands of years turn out to be ZOMBIES. still cant get over the zombies… still lmao

  • alex

    what a rambling pointless article, did the author have one too many brandies before writing this drivel? More like 21 problems with this article. Bit of a cheek that this guy criticises an author’s writing style

    Merry Xmas xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • LiterateSkeptic

    I agree with most of what you said, Mr. Literary Critic. I enjoy Game of Thrones for what it is (show and books). Sometimes it just gets so intense (and still goes nowhere) that you have to take a break from it!

    I can’t attest to the originality of George R. R. Martin, but I enjoy his writing style and his story lines aren’t that bad. I believe you went a little overboard with the criticism of his POV writing, because I think it’s well done and creates a bit of a post-modern feel to the whole work (see Lord of the Rings movies).

    I think most of the people arguing with you are people who don’t like having their opinions criticized or themselves judged, but I’m glad someone else noticed the racism and misogyny inherent in the writing (outside the culture itself).

    I did find myself halfway through the third book skipping all the sex and battle scenes to find the plot…the going nowhere gets old, it really does. I don’t care how long he spent writing each book…

    I was tired of them because I cannot keep reading a story that has no end. I enjoy self-contained stories. Harry Potter and LotR, you know when they were going to end and (for better or for worse) how, but with all Martin’s build up and tension I almost hope Game of Thrones doesn’t end! Whatever ending he comes up with will be sooo lame!

    I can just imagine the last paragraph going something like, “And I’m tired of writing this shit. Everybody died. Fin.”

  • http://plus.fakeforreal.net Codotusylv

    Well, A Game of Throne’s success appeals criticism. This is normal; this is even needed and welcome. However, many points in this article are not exactly relevant.

    About Game of Thrones being some kind of soap opera with no end? Yes, I buy that. The problem with soap operas, though, isn’t necessarily the format in itself – it deserves to exist, even if, personally, I do prefer stories with ends as well – but much more the content, often made of trivial love stories, like in Brazilian telenovelas. With Game of Thrones, though, we are rather far from this, quite fortunately.

    About it being conservative, reactionary or whatever? Well, regretfully unoriginal, coming from an article criticizing Game of Thrones for not being original…

    I think it is clear to all that Martin is not presenting an ideal society, but adapting the Europe Middle Ages to a fantasy world, where the status and place of women was not really central. Shouldn’t we be allowed to present such a world? Should women mandatorily be the equals of men in any fictional work, moving forward? I hope not…

    Also, I would be careful with using Moorcock old arguments in any article. Like many of his books, they are too much a product of their time, the 60 / 70’s counterculture. They did not necessarily age well, and missed the point by taking Tolkien much too litterally.

    The Lord of Rings is, in truth, a tale about individual responsibility inspired by the rise of totalitarism and the World War II. I must admit, though, that this is less obvious in Peter Jackson’s movie than in Tolkien’s novel – and I understand, from the comment about Eowin’s romance with Aragorn, that the author of this article never read it, and is only commenting the film.

    Concerning, Game of Thrones it is more obviously about politics and power. It is Machiavel’s The Prince of its time, somehow.

    And now, about Moorcock… Or more particularly, Elric of Melniboné. Well… This was some revamped romantic litterature, adapted to Conan-like heroic fantasy, with an anti-hero, which was a popular kind of character in the 70’s. Not something utterly original neither. It was well written and enjoyable, for sure, but it lacked the structure and epic breath Tolkien, or Martin (or Jordan, or many others) had or have. It was somehow messy, with too obvious meanings.

    I remember this piece where Eric was discovering some book of universal knowledge. When he found it, the book started to melt and destroy itself. According to Moorcock, this meant that universal knowledge was not an achievable goal… Oh, so astute, so powerful…

    Last but not least, about Lord of the Rings being infantile and Game of Thrones being more for teenagers? Well… The question is: should something really need to be adult to be good? Not sure, when I see the word “adult”, I often read “boring”. This is true for music, litterature, cinema… almost everything, indeed.

    PS: like the first guy who commented this article, English is not my native language.

  • iodfjasdofi

    laurence thompson is an egotistical twit

  • Heather25

    Agree wholeheartedly with everything said here.

  • Ulrik

    A very good read. I agree with you that Game of Thrones sometimes feels more like a soap opera than anything else, but I, at least, find it more engaging than any soap I’ve ever seen (or read). I also agree that it’s not revolutionary when compared to every kind of literature. What he does is write fiction that’s a lot more engaging (to me) than LeGuin or Mieville. LeGuin never did much for me, I read the Earthsea books and liked them well enough, but it didn’t blow my mind or anything. Mieville creates fantastic settings for his stories, but the stories themselves, as well as the characters, often fall flat. Martin just writes fun and interesting characters – or at least I find them fun and interesting. To each his own. There is one point where I straight up think you’re (at least a bit) wrong:

    I don’t think his writing is misogynistic in the least. Generally misanthropic, yes. Reading game of thrones often makes me lose faith in humanity, but in the same way I lose faith when I watch the news. His setting is a misogynistic place, no argument there. But I think many of his female characters are very strong characters, but aren’t the best people they can be exactly because of the society they live in. It grinds them down, either by forcing them to conform to a role they’re not comfortable in (Arya, Cersei) or by continually making them feel like a lesser person even if the role of “traditional woman” fits them (Catelyn, Sansa). I think Cersei is borderline insane from having so much power (queen, lannister) and at the same time constantly derided, both by herself and others, as a “weak woman”. And the point about women only having power through sons and husbands? That’s how a patriarchal society works. It’s a rotten concept, but it doesn’t mean that all female characters are weak characters. I think Martin does a good job with it because he presents us with so many strong, female characters who in some way subvert the patriarchal assumptions of the setting, while also showing that all of them have to pay some price for this.

  • Christopher

    I find it hard to take someone seriously when they are writing about literature, but can’t even be bothered to get a common phrase like “bare my throat” correct.

    Then they go on to proclaim that they didn’t actually finish the series…or watch the show. But they are totally qualified to pass judgment on it.

    Then they call the series out for misogyny when that misogyny is completely in character for the setting. Will they also call out Tom Sawyer for having racism?

    This is a pretentious, self important screed. A person screaming “I’m better than you because I don’t like this popular thing that I never actually completely tried!”. No more, no less.

  • Ulrik

    I just want to add that I don’t think there’s anything wrong in not finishing a 700 page book if you don’t like it. I also think you’re allowed to address *why* you didn’t finish the book.

    • Christopher

      Oh, indeed. However, you are not allowed to judge the parts you did not read. It is pretty clear from his inclusion of homosexuality as something that GRRM uses as a “shock tactic” that he didn’t even bother trying to understand the most basic premises of the series. If anything, homosexuality is handled better/more realistically than any other fantasy series I can think of. Renly’s relationship with Loras, for example.

      It seems to me as if this author went into the series not wanting to like it, then used confirmation bias to shore up what was already there.

  • http://gravatar.com/werthead werthead

    “I might as well bear my throat for the pygmies early on: I haven’t watched the HBO TV series of Game of Thrones. Nor did I finish the books.”

    Indeed? So why did you write a very lengthy article about a subject you are not very familiar with?

    “necrophilia”

    I do not recall there being any necrophilia at all in any of the books.

    “I didn’t actually come across any characters we’re meant to care about who were gay”

    Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell are both gay, and a later POV character, Jon Connington, is as well, and you are certainly ‘meant’ to care about all of them (whether you actually do or not is another matter, but the intent is there).

    “This, I suspect, is the reason behind people describing Game of Thrones as “original.” ”

    There are some people calling GoT/ASoIaF original, but I don’t think in the way you mean. So-called ‘gritty’ and ‘edgy’ elements in epic fantasy have been present since 1977, when Stephen Donaldson gave us Thomas Covenant (with its readership-alienating rape only a couple of chapters into the book) and Tolkien gave us THE SILMARILLION, complete with its incest (albeit off-page), hopelessness and near-nihilism: almost every major character and hero is battered down, forced into despair and then dies; the good guys lose the war and the entire continent gets blown up at the end, with only the gods agreeing to step in and sort everything out saving the few remaining survivors.

    What Martin did is codified the ‘gritty’ movement in epic fantasy that had been there all along, ticking along in the background thanks to Donaldson, Hugh Cook, and David Gemmell, and combined it with more traditional fantasy and SF tropes: the detailed worldbuilding, the complex interrelationships of the great houses (echoes of the Landsraad in DUNE) and seasoned the whole thing with influences and inspirations from real history. A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is a major evolutionary movement for the genre, not a revolutionary one. Its originality stems from the saga’s construction and how it assembles pre-existing tropes rather how it creates anything ‘new’.

    “Martin has spoken of his admiration for the depth and resonance of the ending of Lord of the Rings. (‘Which one?’ might well ask anyone who sat through the last twenty minutes or so of Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King, where we were treated to a series of half-hearted resolutions each more offensively saccharine than the last.)”

    An odd question. If you have seen that reference, you must also have seen the specifics Martin was referring to: the sense of bittersweetness and the brief and fleeting glimpse of victory. In LORD OF THE RINGS the ‘good guys’ win and destroy Sauron, but the elves disappear from Middle-earth, magic fades away, and we know that hobbits and dwarves will likewise vanish, leaving behind only conflicted, imperfect men. For Martin, and indeed Tolkien for that matter, the Scouring of the Shire (exorcised from the films by Jackson for time and pacing reasons) is a vital part of the book as it shows how no victory can come without a personal cost. That bittersweetness and sense of imperfect victory is what Martin was referring to.

    “Which has always struck me as strange, as I was under the impression that the atavism of our Dark Ages and the political and societal make-up that followed was the result of the fall of the Roman Empire, and yet high fantasy writers fail to mention any equivalent event.”

    Martin refers to, repeatedly and at some considerable length even in the first two books, to the Doom of Valyria, the downfall and destruction of the greatest civilisation his world has ever seen. There are also constant mentions of the fact that his world is blighted by years-long winters on a generational basis, each of which results in famine, widespread death and starvation. In such circumstances, the advance of science and technology has slowed but is still present: the historical references clearly show an evolution from the late stone age to the High Middle Ages over a period of twelve thousand years (a figure which in itself is highly disputed, coming from myth rather than history). Slower than in real life, but not outrageously so. The battle between science and knowledge (as shown by the maesters of the Citadel) and between what they see as superstition and fear (exemplified by the priests of the red god, the followers of the old religion and those who believe in magic) also becomes a key subplot of the series in later books, which you may not be aware of.

    “For instance, for all the lamentable backwards-looking exaltation of the white aristocratic male in the latter, there are at least women, like Eowen, who are courageous and admirable–that is, when she isn’t spending her time fawning over Aragorn or marrying the first single male who comes along in Faramir.”

    Trying to suggest that Tolkien gives his female characters more agency, presence and importance than Martin is not to much treading on thin ice as jumping straight through it whilst wearing chains made of lead.

    In LORD OF THE RINGS Eowyn is the sole female character of any note whatsoever. Arwen barely exists and almost all of her material is relegated to the appendices. Beyond that you have, erm, Shelob and the girl Sam marries. THE SILMARILLION actually does a lot better, with Morwen, Nienor, Luthien, Melian and Elwing. With Martin you have Catelyn Stark, a matriarchal figure who is allowed to have her own flaws (hating Jon Snow) whilst also having considerable personal bravery (arresting Tyrion, marching through a warzone and back again to treat with Stannis) and good political and even military advice for her son Robb. She does seem to be disliked by a lot of fans on rather flimsy grounds (she’s mean to Jon Snow within the first 100 pages of the book!), but she is a strong character in her own right. The same can be said of Cersei (before her admittedly disappointing and unconvincing plunge into insanity in the fourth book), despite her ruthless and murderous streak. Arya is a traditional fantasy trope (the you-go-girl tomboy) who is increasingly cleverly subverted as the series continues, by the fourth and fifth volumes displaying some of the behaviour you’d associate with PTSD victims and child soldiers in Africa due to the violence she has experienced. Sansa is much more of a victim character, but one who develops in latter volumes into a more skilled player of the political game. And of course you have Brienne, the little girl who wants to be a knight who achieves her goal and then finds its is not what she imagined.

    Daenerys is arguably the most problematic character (some of the reversals of her fortune are rather unbelievable, and her weak, hesitant and short-sighted characterisation in the fifth volume seems a little inconsistent with the strong, determined and fore-sighed women we see in the third), though she is in general well-developed. She turns from victim to ruler, from slave to leader using her experiences to motivate her, but makes serious mistakes along the way.

    “These are usually whores, rape victims or simply sniveling wretches, deriving their power from either their husbands or their high-born male children (actually, this is likewise the case with Daenerys), with no head for violence or politics.”

    This generalisation is simply untrue. I can’t think of a single female character in the series who falls into this category, certainly none of the major ones.

    “This is despite the politics of Game of Thrones being almost painfully straight forward, a simple choice of who would make the slightly better king.”

    This is a shallow and unsupported surface analysis, at best. As the series proceeds, several of the kings and rulers (most notably Robb, Daenerys and Stannis) continuously question their own motivations and ask why they are seeking a throne and power and what they hope to achieve with it. The notion of rulership as a responsibility, of having to care for the people under your rule and earn your right to rule, is shown as something that is critical (something Daenerys comes to realise by the end of Book 3, something Stannis does by Book 5). As the series continues, questions of religious belief and responsibility also factor into the matter, as do questions about law and why it should be respected.

    “The Lannisters and the Starks are respectively wealthy and self-obsessed and wintry and tough, defined by some of the most unimaginative and unconvincing heraldry in all of fantasy – a lion and a wolf.”

    Heraldry, and flags and badges, tend towards simple and straightforward symbols which can easily be seen (on the battlefield or at a sporting event) and followed.

    “The Dothraki are tattooed, Orientalist savages who haven’t even advanced to a Medieval level, unable as they are to get their heads around the concept of boats.”

    The Dothraki are where GRRM dropped the ball a bit. The Dothraki are based on the Huns, the Mongols and the Amerindians but lack any of the sophistication of those cultures (the Mongols were great siege engineers, wore armour in battle and established empires rather than just raiding for the sheer hell of it).

    “The Targaryens are a higher people (urgh) but no less homogenised – and if their fair skin, light hair, violet eyes, island-dwelling and obsession with dragons sound familiar, it means you too have read Moorcock’s Elric series and can recognise the Melniboneans Martin has plagiarised.”

    Martin has homages – many of them much more overt – to numerous fantasy authors and series in the books.

    “But to then hear that this economy of imagination with sex and blood thrown in is a game-changer, a red letter day for the genre, as every review of the book or show seems to do, is every bit as annoying”

    Annoying or not, ASoIaF/GoT is a gamechanger for the genre. That much is clear by its sheer impact and popularity, and by the change in the genre it accelerated in the works that came after it. As I said before, that change has come through an evolutionary process rather than a revolutionary one: ASoIaF does little that is new, but it is the way it does it and the combination of elements that has made it successful.

    “The one thing it does try to do different, the narrative structure in which the third person perspective changes with the chapter, also has its limitations.”

    This is not new at all. Martin ‘borrowed’ this technique (with credit) from Stephen Donaldson, whose GAP series has the same rotating POV structure with character names for chapter heads. Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME also uses it, and both series predated ASoIaF by some years.

    “but as a piece of literary experimentation within genre fiction it’s hardly up there with Ursula K. le Guin’s incorporation of Taoist and anarchist themes, Samuel R. Delany’s endless getaway drive from whatever confine in society or format he perceives, Poul Anderson’s more convincing and authentic excavation of epic myth cycles, China Mieville’s urban psychogeographies, Brian Aldiss’ Joycean language deconstruction or Moorcock’s Eternal Champion multiverse project.”

    I think Martin would be the first to agree with you that all of those authors are trying to do things with language and themes that are more ‘literary’ than he is trying. However, suggesting that Martin’s use of the already-familiarrotating POV format is meant to be massive, game-changing literary experiment is a leap of speculation without foundation or support. I’m a bit bemused that anyone would think it was.

    “Wait… he doesn’t know how it will end?”

    As any cursory Google check will confirm, Martin has often said he knows exactly how it ends, the fates of the main characters and even the tone (‘bittersweet’). What he does not know in every detail are the precise details of every chapter between now and the end. He has very, very rough outlines for the series, but not detailed biographies of every minor character and accounts of every secondary subplot. Those he prefers to discover in the moment, as Tolkien did.
    “Which goes a long way to explaining its popularity: doubtless, it being HBO, the series is well produced and competently directed, but it would take more than that for a sword and sorcery cycle to be so talked about.”

    Why not try watching it? Statements like this, which rely on guesswork and supposition rather than fairly straightforward research, make your whole essay feel insubstantial.

    “Watching or reading Game of Thrones because it’s exciting and fast paced (it is) or because there is a visceral enjoyment to be had (there is) or because the character arcs are unpredictable (they are) is perfectly acceptable. Just please don’t tell me it’s the revolution when it’s the emperor in a funny hat.”

    Did anyone tell you that? If so they were probably exaggerating based on a lack of experience with the wider SFF genre. I fear your essay, although well-written, is based on a completely false premise, that this series of books and TV series is some kind of amazing moment of originality in the genre, when it is not. It is, however, an interesting and highly enjoyable evolution and development of a staid genre, and has lots of interesting things to say about the nature of power, responsibility, consequences and choices that go beyond the genre standard.

  • GW

    Laurence,

    (Note for the trolls Im not an english lit major I just love good fiction.)

    I enjoyed reading your essay. I want to like this series. There are moments of real pleasure with the characters, but on the whole I am left with the feeling that my investment (reading all the books and watching the first two seasons of the show) was not returned.

    I fear Martin is not going somewhere meaningful with this story. I dont mind his manipulation of the narrative structure (killing key characters, spinning off a number of sub plots etc.) but as a reader I need payoff. The Red Wedding and the beheading of Ned Stark are great examples. Go ahead and wash Westeros with blood, but I want to know that at some level that the sacrifice is heroic, advances the plot arc, or is satisfying even in some small way. If I want to be reminded of the futility of the human condition I will watch CNN.

    In sci-fi and fantasy I want one or more of the following:

    1. Epic heroics – think Wagner or any epic german poem. Martin craps all over the Cambell heroic journey and seems to enjoy it. Your adolescent metaphor hit home for me.

    2. Interesting Story – Stansilaw Lem ended Solaris on a bummer note but what an interesting idea! Neal Stephenson in Anathem is another great example. Give me something to think about and I wil ignore your foibles (Im looking at you ghost of Phillip K Dick.) Jonathan Strange and Mrs. Norrell is another good example.

    3. Good writing. I know people think Tolkien is corny, but I love his English travelogue writing style. Stephenson is a really good writer. Martin’s dialog ain’t bad, but I wouldn’t say his descriptive style caught my imagination – its not Terry Goodkind bad but its not groundbreaking either.

    I really hope that he pulls a rabbit out of his hat to close off this series. If his next book sticks to the core plot (Snow + dragon lady against the big bad up north) and stops mucking about, then I will admit that he is a master and I am the novice. If he wanders and kills more characters for a Gotcha! thrill then I am going to leave for good. Put another way, if every good deed or accomplishment can be reversed on the next page then I mentally stop investing in the characters. I cant help it – its monkey brain wiring.

    I respect that this story really captured some of the readers, and I admit the show is very well acted, scripted and shot. I particularly loved the casting of Jamie and Tyrion. I remain hopeful that Martin will reward his fans with an ending worthy of their investment in his world!

    Regards,

    GW

  • http://gravatar.com/varunthecool varunthecool

    This guy cannot write a piece of art. So he degrades it.

    This guy can stoop to any level of PR. How does he do it? Target the famous fan base. That got to get you hits :P

    This guy has not read the books. Why should we give a piece of shit to what his opinions are?

    This guy really does not deserve any attention. Stop feeding fuel to the already burning fire.

    This guy is a show-off. He uses a thesaurus to show how his writing is far better than most. Remember, fan of Moorcock who is levels below Tolkien and Martin, the best writing doesn’t have heavy words and the style be concise and clear.

    This guy does not value the effort put into the books. What he does? Makes a blog post that ridicules the effort. Have you even written a book? Your description says English writer however your choice of reads is so naive and lame.

    This guy can’t write a book of that stature. So, he gets jealous and makes such a post

    So let us leave him to his whims and fancies. Let us enjoy the fandoms whilst we live.

    • Dan

      GoT is not good literature. Good literature tells us something more about who we are and what life means. Yes, Shakespeare does that.

      GoT is entertainment. Entertainment is about entertaining. Really good entertainment entertains us. It is possible that entertainment teaches us something, but that is incidental.

      While GoT may, incidentally, teach us something, its primary purpose is to excite, to provide an escape. And it does it very well. I like what I’ve seen. But that don’t make it good.

      • http://thewertzone.blogspot.co.uk/ werthead

        “GoT is not good literature. Good literature tells us something more about who we are and what life means. Yes, Shakespeare does that.”

        Literature does feature insights into the human condition, although you have to be careful about how far you go with that. The very best literature is still make-believe, and you will still learn more about human nature by studying history, biographies and science than you ever will by reading Shakespeare, as good as Shakespeare is (and it’s not coincidental that so many of Shakespeare’s best insights come through dramatising real historical events).

        On the question if the SONG OF ICE AND FIRE books qualify as literature, the answer is a cautious yes. Clearly the series is not ULYSSES, but it also does feature a number of themes which undergo literary development as the series progresses, such as power, responsibility and the ability of people to overcome disabilities and scars (internal or external), or discrimination (on the basis of disability, deformity, gender or sexuality). There is also the educational angle, as the series is based on real historical sources such as the Wars of the Roses. I’ve seen quite a few people read up on that period of history, as well as subjects such as surviving an Arctic winter and medieval castle-building.

        “While GoT may, incidentally, teach us something, its primary purpose is to excite, to provide an escape. And it does it very well. I like what I’ve seen. But that don’t make it good.”

        Actually, liking something and thinking it does something very well does mean by definition that you think it’s good.

        • Dam

          Thanks for the reply. Taking your last point first, thanks for the opportunity to clarify. By “that don’t make it good,” I should have been clearer and wrote “good literature.” Just ’cause I like something don’t make it good literature. It makes it, for example in the instant case, good entertainment.

          Which, of course, goes to the meat of the issue: what is good literature? It is, as you say, a window into the human condition. Lit is not a science, nor a discipline, but rather the art of telling a story. And because we are a story-telling species, arguably more than anything else, Literature speaks to certain truths and allows certain insights that science cannot. That is to say, when it comes exploring morality and immorality, honor and treachery, courage and depravity, justice and injustice– y’know, all the good stuff — stories speak to us in manner science cannot. And in that way, the art of story-telling cannot be surpassed.

          Which is not to say science does not tell us about our morality, for example. It does. Recent advancements in evolutionary psychology based on the hard-won and profound shift towards seeing ourselves as recently evolved African primates have begun to revolutionize our concepts of morality.

          But no matter what we will learn through science, Shakespeare will never be surpassed. That is the amazing thing about great art of Shakespeare: despite what everyone says about him, he really is that good. ;) Our reason can only take us so far. We may someday be able to quantify our morality, but that still won’t matter when our sense of injustice is insulted (barring, of course, changing our very nature though genetic manipulation, but that would start us on the road to no longer being human). No, art speaks to us on a different level. Not an objectively superior level to be sure; but a superior one nonetheless when it comes to engaging our story-telling nature.

          Some think that only good art is “art.” That rather subjective standard is a readily demonstrated fallacy, as over and over one time or civilization’s craft-work, pop music or pulp has been deemed Art by a later generation or different civilization. Mozart’s operatas and Hokusai’s wood-block prints are but two examples in long line showing this. No, I do not deny that GoT is literature; it is.

          It is just not good literature.

          • Siran

            Well it all depends upon taste, I for one am not at all a fan of literature and the entertaining elements in the show is what makes me like them, and not its literary value.

  • Richard

    An absolute triumph of writing. Bravo. Game Of Thrones is a mere fart in the wind compared to The Wire.

  • Richard

    Varunthecool, it’s a shame you can’t write properly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CharlesReid99 Charles Reid

    it sounds to me like your true objection is that GOT doesnt follow the prescribed mindless lit major arc of dogooders crushed by horrific fate and also.. everyone else.. And wagner?? really? The irony is that this is precisely the formula GOT follows and could be written by any first year lit major.. or a computer. The entire plot is “make reader care about good guys.. slaughter them.. put bad guys in delicious peril .. but save them at the last moment.. usually”. GOT is simply an extreme experiment in viewer/reader manipulation… as are any tv dramas. Nothing more

    • Dan

      I say it is a fantasy soap.

  • GvsW

    I fail to see how “The Wire” is original where “Game of Thrones” is not. Dig hard enough and you can say one thing always derives from another. GoT killed off Ned Stark, the ‘main character’ before the first series was out. Did ‘The Wire’ kill McNulty? It killed D’Angelo, but not until the second season, but he was not even the ‘main character’, which McNulty was only just starting not not be anymore at that point.

    You could also posit that “The Wire” actually visits subjects that have been on display elsewhere. Cop Shows are a dime a dozen. There are shows on education systems (Boston Public) on politics (The West Wing, although perhaps you’d prefer a municipal comparison), on the newspaper game (Heck, the Newsroom does that today). I’ll confess that there’s almost nothing about the struggle of blue-collar unions, but otherwise the other seasons have other shows dedicated to the same subject.

    As for Martin’s treatment of women, I think you fall too much into ‘categorization’. You mention only Danerys Targaryen but make no mention of Arya Stark or Catelyn Stark — you allude to Sansa Stark, but she is really the only prominent character that genuinely fits your phrasing. Melisandre, for instance, has no head for politics? Olenna Redwyne (Tyrell) as well? And those two are neither whores or rape victims either (at least Melisandre never mentions it, but one hardly thinks such a thing ever befell Olenna).

    Also you completely ignore the destruction of tropes going on. You need only look so far as ‘Charlie’s Angels’ or many superhero movies to see that the notion of “strong woman” or “Action Girl” so easily degenerates into “BEAUTIFUL strong woman”, which is just another objectification. The woman must be active, but more importantly, she must be attractive. What does Martin do? His first action girl, Arya, may or may not blossom into an attractive girl, but eventually she begins to degenerate into a sociopathic killer and assassin due to the sheer trauma of what she’s been through. The second, Brienne, is deadly, but also the ugliest girl you’ll ever meet. And although she’s as butch as they come, she’s not gay. Eowyn has it easy by comparison (whose LOTR story was just a re-telling of Macbeth in any case).

    By comparison, what key female character studies go on in ‘The Wire’? Women’s issues in ‘The Wire’ are not nonexistent, but they’re not mentioned for anything more than sparse scenes sprinkled over the course of the series. Here an adverse come-on by Judge Phalan, there a girl getting used for sex in a public school bathroom. But are any of these women looked at as in-depth as, say, Frank Sobatka? Kima, perhaps, but beyond that, not really.

    I would have thought if you were going to compare these two, you would fault Martin for presenting the Middle Ages as something that it wasn’t: that is, wasn’t quite so religious, wasn’t quite so adverse to incest, etc. While it is true many atrocities happened in the Dark Ages, Martin deals with the subject as if the church had little to no presence. He’s got all this incest going on when if you read the documents, you’d hardly ever find instances of incest occurring (royal cousins marrying, yes: but that’s an entirely different scenario). His characters are modern understandings and misunderstandings of people placed in the Middle Ages (Tolkien, if anything, was more set in the mentality of those times), where if Machiavelli were to publish ‘The Prince’ in Westeros it would just be telling everyone things they already knew, rather than generating the scandalous outrage it actually did back then.

    In short, both ‘The Wire’ and Martin’s work are about the same thing: The Game. Except two differences: Martin names the game (of thrones), and Martin is working from a position of more extreme satire, which fantasy often is.

    • Richard Weston

      You cannot be serious.

  • Huge

    Hear, hear. I’m halfway through A Feast For Crows and the mysogeny, sexism and class-ism is really beginning to grate. Combine that with, IMO, the society he has constructed does not really work (how many peasants do you need to support an armoured knight on horseback?) and I’m not that impressed with A Dance of Ice and Fire.

  • Dan

    I agree. In the end, GoT is a very well-produced fantasy soap “for adults.” The series comes to us from Home Box Office, who live up to their name. Its about money, not art. Fair enough. Sex and violence sell. So does cursing. Nothing new there (except for liberal use of c-nt to describe a person, which the American public certainly will benefit by being introduced).

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on the following:

    In season one, Martin killed of Ned Stark. In one fell swoop, Martin established that not only can good guys die, they do. And they do because the things that makes them good (honesty, courage, etc.) make them lose. The Red Wedding came as a shock only to people who weren’t paying attention: GoT is not a morality play. The shock that many felt was the shock of realizing Martin did it to them again. Yet, they did it to themselves again by clinging to infantile need to reaffirm, again and again, in their entertainment that good always triumph, because, well, it’s good.

    I give credit to Martin and HBO for exposing our American love for glib happy endings, with all the attendant scars it inflicts on story and character. Anyone with an appreciation of literature or an inkling of history, either ancient or recent, recognizes that good need not necessarily triumph, and even when it does, the triumph requires so much injustice that it remains murky if indeed the defeat of evil really makes the hero “good.” The problem with Martin’s vision, of course, is it appears to simply table the notion of justice, and,by way of default, embrace a nihilism. With a lot of sex and violence.

    But not intrigue. Don’t believe the hype. There is no intrigue in GoT. There is simply rule #2: characters will be betrayed. And you know who will get it in the back: First,those who we are to root for because they fit what we think is good; and 2) those who are not pariahs. Martin is a nerd, and lionizes the outcast. The half-man, the cripple, the unique. Shit, the best thing that ever could have happened to Grey Joy and Jamie was getting their body parts chopped off. Now we know they ain’t gonna die.

    In three years time, I look forward to watching the next three seasons in the same manner I watched the first three: in one week. That way, I’ll know if Martin and HBO are going anywhere with all the blood, sex, and “intrigue,” or if all that is merely the whole point of the exercise. Simply put, if that is all there is to it, I’ll get my fix for violence from action films, intrigue from reading history, and simulated sex from porn.

  • Stephen

    Having just managed to get through half an hour of the first episode
    before deleting this series, I can only agree with most of this article.
    The sword and sorcery genre is hackneyed to the extent of having a
    cult-like banality. Like pornography, this formulaic, tried and tested
    blueprint cannot by nature vary very far from the framework that
    constrains it. If it does deviate, it no longer serves the purpose for
    which it is intended. So in much the same way a porn addict probably
    would not get any titillation from an erotic art movie like ‘In the
    Realm of the Senses’ neither would a sword and sorcery fan get anything
    from any attempt of this genre pushing itself beyond its inherent
    constraints.

    ‘For adults’? A fantasy ‘for adults’? The only
    thing that struck me about this being for adults were the crude,
    predictable devices stamped on it that serve only to satisfy fans who
    wish to reassure themselves that they are watching ‘adult’ material.
    These incongruous devices grate badly. How else could they appear when
    their sole purpose is to announce, loudly and clearly, ‘Hey! Get a load
    of this! This is adult entertainment because here are the ADULT
    elements!’ Namely, these are, use of the, gasp, ‘F***’ word; gasp,
    titties, and gasp, bits of graphic violence.

    These are incongruous because the genre is inherently puerile. These sit very badly and awkwardly in the series. The do not make it ‘adult’ entertainment. They help a childish fantasy appear adult.

    Had I started to read this in novel form at the age of 16 I would have
    tossed it aside with the same indifference with which I now decide
    never, ever to waste a moment more of my time with this series. You’re
    welcome to it.

    • Booker Dewitt

      Why welcome to as well, asshole!

    • Booker Dewitt

      “Having just managed to get through half an hour of the first episode before deleting this series”

      Yep, I watch 1/20th of something before I decided what it was like.

      “Like pornography, this formulaic, tried and tested blueprint cannot by nature vary very far from the framework that
      constrains it. ”

      ” neither would a sword and sorcery fan get anything from any attempt of this genre pushing itself beyond its inherent
      constraints.”

      What are those “inherent constraints”? Any specifics? Just pony up to the fact you don’t like this sort of thing to begin with!

    • Siran

      As for as I am concerned, this show so far has been more “Politics” oriented than fantasy. And it also can be watched by people of all ages, despising something just because its genre is Fantasy like you do, seems more Puerile than the show itself. A content also not necessarily be completely adult oriented for it to be good and interesting.

  • Damon T. M. Barley

    I would ask for you to finish your reading, and reconsider your opinion. If it remains the same, so be it.

  • Tan Kok Siang

    I don’t see you publishing any books.

    • Rhianastasia

      None you would grasp anyway.

  • StephenR

    The biggest problem with Game of Thrones is that there is over-investment in characters who end up being killed off in pointless ways. Let me make myself clear: it is perfectly OKAY to kill off well-liked characters, but to do so without them ACCOMPLISHING something significant before their death just makes the investment in them a complete waste of time. This is especially true in a story in which there are a ridiculous number of characters in the first place (probably too many), and it takes forever to give each of them even basic coverage.

    The story would be much better served by spending a lot more time with the most relevant characters than wasting it on throw-away characters like Robb and his wife. I kept waiting and waiting for Robb’s story to go somewhere (after all, we were forced to invest a TON in him), and then it ended in perhaps the most pointless way possible, as if Martin was trying to annoy his audience on purpose. Why so much focus on characters like Robb and Ned if their deaths serve no purpose? That’s just a bizarre and inefficient way of telling a story, ESPECIALLY when we never seem to get enough of other, more interesting characters. It is irrational, and it just serves to frustrate the audience. A good editing would make this story SOOOOOO much better.

    The bottom line is that I don’t have a problem with the sex or the violence or even the frequent good-guy deaths (while the bad guys rarely seem to get killed). I have a problem with wasting time on characters whose plots go NOWHERE while other characters are practically starved of attention.

  • Greg

    Primogenture of the first borns blood lines is in doubt with the bride being had by the grooms,

  • Aaron Siering

    “The distance between the infantile Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones could scarcely be made more apparent, at least on the surface.”

    I would suggest that it is ironic that you seem to have a child’s mind, but it is a common fantasy of children that they are grown-ups. I am so glad we have the internet, however, where any opinion no matter how unqualified gets a hearing.