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‘Game of Thrones’: Why One Company’s Attempt to Censor the Show Is the Worst Idea Ever

A startup wants to filter all the sex, violence, nudity and profanity from HBO, Netflix and Amazon shows.

Kit Harington in "Game of Thrones."

Helen Sloan/HBO

What would “Game of Thrones” be without its sex, violence, nudity or profanity? We only have two words for that idea: Seven hells.

Unfortunately, that is precisely what a streaming startup aims to do: sanitize shows like “Game of Thrones” and other streaming content from Netflix, Amazon and HBO by tagging and then removing specific words, images and even whole scenes.

READ MORE: ‘Game of Thrones’ Has Given Us More Than Just the Most Feminist Moment on TV This Year

According to Inverse, VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon said, “It all happens through the VidAngel app, which interacts with the major streaming services on the user’s behalf once they’ve entered their login credentials to those services. VidAngel securely comes you in the cloud. Then all of your Amazon, Netflix, or HBO content becomes available within the VidAngel app.”

If this sounds like a legal land mine waiting to be detonated, that’s not far off. VidAngel is already named in a lawsuit by several film companies for sanitizing movies from major studios like Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Denied a license by these studios, VidAngel bought up thousands of DVDs of the movies it wanted to stream, stuck them in a warehouse, and then made scrubbed versions available to stream on its original platform. Although an injunction led to a temporary shutdown, VidAngel has apparently been resurrected to work its sanitizing wiles on the likes of “Game of Thrones,” “Orange Is the New Black” and “Transparent.” It hopes that the 2005 Family Home Movie Act, which protects the use of specialized DVD players that sanitize movies, will be upheld when it comes to streaming.

Even without the legal hurdles, it is unclear exactly what VidAngel and its users would want out of a “Game of Thrones” sans objectionable content. At its most basic level, the series is about a struggle for power — note the show’s title — and how blood is shed and lives are lost in the process. Violence is part of the show’s DNA. Characters literally live and die by the sword.

"Game of Thrones"

“Game of Thrones”

HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from the first six seasons of “Game of Thrones.”]

In the two first scenes of the pilot, characters die brutal deaths at the hands of White Walkers or are executed for deserting their watch. These deaths set the tone for the entire show, which is a series of violent events: young Bran getting pushed from the tower, the killing of Sansa’s direwolf, Jory’s eye impalement, death by molten-hot gold, Ned’s beheading… and that’s just the first year. We haven’t even gotten to the various battles, bloody weddings or sexual assaults in subsequent seasons.

While many viewers would agree that the show could use less violence towards women, that doesn’t mean sexuality or nudity need be removed altogether. In fact, sex is seen as a far more matter-of-fact occurrence in this world, and in some cases, such as with the Viper’s introduction or Renly’s backstory, these scenes serve to reveal important character traits. And as icky as it may seem, Jaime and Cersei Lannister’s twincest is the taboo driving force behind some of the most pivotal events in the series. Even nudity has its place. The revelation that Melisandre is an ancient crone simply would not have had the impact if she weren’t entirely left bare and vulnerable to viewers’ eyes.

READ MORE: Emilia Clarke Calls for ‘Game of Thrones’ Nudity ‘Equality’ Between the Sexes

While censoring language may seem like the least disruptive way to censor “Game of Thrones,” that couldn’t be further from the truth. The show not only uses certain words like “fuck” for emphasis or to build character, but it also uses words that do not necessarily carry that stigma that modern society may have ascribed to it. Take “bastard” for example. The concept of bastardy is central to many of the storylines in the series regarding power and identity. Removing “bastard” from the show would eliminate the motivations behind characters like Jon Snow or Ramsay Bolton.

"Game of Thrones"

“Game of Thrones”

HBO

The problem here is that VidAngel wants it all — all the content from giants like Netflix, Amazon and HBO — without the effort to curate, without acknowledging the artistic merit of the shows that use so-called objectionable content for a purpose.

When it comes down to it, there is no reason why a person who objects to all of those things would be watching “Game of Thrones” in the first place. The viewer warnings are used for a reason, to deter those who know that that sort of show or content isn’t for them. Simply removing that content doesn’t make the show watchable; quite the opposite in fact. The bowdlerization of “Game of Thrones” is akin to removing the lethal qualities from a dragon. It would be no more than an anemic pet, nice to look at for its opening sequence and pretty wigs, but essentially toothless and lacking fire.

We say “Dracarys” to all that.

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