Up until recently, I would say that I have been the ideal fan of HBO’s "Game of Thrones." I tune in every Sunday, I don’t complain about the violence or nudity and I don’t know enough about the books on which the show is based to offer any criticism on the adaptation. Then why, as we make our way through the second half of the fourth season, have I become so jaded with the fantasy drama series?
When the show first began, I immediately jumped on board. Having grown up on Tolkien, an HBO series about kingdoms, power dynamics and magic seemed pretty darn perfect. And for a while it was. I enjoyed the intrigue, plot twists, witty banter—all the things that “Game of Thrones” does so well. So what changed?
The problem: “Game of Thrones” is one of, if not the most, manipulative shows on TV.
As the series continues to achieve critical acclaim for its plotting, high production value and performances, my own interest has waned. This first happened around the time of the third season premiere. I had begun to grow disappointed with the Khaleesi character, our mother of dragons. To see her rise from passive, abused wife to the leader of arguably the most vicious people in the “Thrones” world was an awesome feat. But it’s hard to continue to root and sympathize with a character whose only distinguishing acts as of late revolve around being the white liberator of slaves.
It’s not exactly a subtle reversal and plenty of critics have chimed in about the character’s newfound role. But while part of my distaste undoubtedly stems from this racism and the controversies surrounding a rape scene in a recent episode, I won’t use ‘a quest for justice’ as a sole excuse for losing interest. My qualms with the show run deeper.
The rapes and racism are huge issues that fly over heads, but there’s more to it. “Game of Thrones,” for whatever reason, happens to be an extremely persuasive work of art, and that's not necessarily a good thing for a show this light on insight.
Joffrey the sociopathic sadist, for example, is a character who, for four seasons acts as the quintessential villain. While the "Game of Thrones" writers could have used his deplorable behavior as an opportunity to showcase how one becomes such a way, they never bother to complicate his character. He's bad and the fans hate him for it.
The fans hate him, because an inevitable consequence of a long-running show is a die-hard fan-base. And in today’s world, fandom is more than just rooting for the mother of dragons or the good-looking bastard son. Fans name their children after their favorite characters and create chatrooms and blogs dedicated to discussion and criticism -- a huge investment.
Considering a bulk of "Games of Thrones" fans are people around my age (twentysomething), I have found myself wondering how many of them actually read criticism and commentary. After all, when I see Facebook statuses and tweets that express both love or hate for certain characters every Sunday night, I become slightly enraged. Khaleesi is not all that is sacred, guys! I take no issue with fans immersing themselves in popular culture (otherwise I wouldn't have much of a job), but with "Game of Thrones" it all just seems entirely superficial: With the show, we're either rejoicing over the death of a character or mourning the brutally murdered.
Last year Anna Gunn, who appeared as Skyler White on “Breaking Bad,” wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times expressing her disappointment and concern over the hate she and her character receive. While a lot of her argument was based on a gender issue, it still raised an important point when looking at fandom culture. Can we trust audiences to see nuances or will people on TV always be seen in terms of “good” or “bad?” This is my problem with “Game of Thrones.” It’s a show that makes it hard to do anything but pick sides.
Let's take a major character as an example: Cersei, one of the more complex and developed characters in the series. She’s a seemingly sociopathic, power-hungry woman, but the abuse she faces from her father and the love she holds for her children make her human. Yet, we still hate her — or at least the Internet does, week after week. What we see is a woman who drinks, is in an incestuous, sometimes non-consensual relationship with her twin brother and is so full of malice. Essentially, an “evil” character. Sorry if I’m not ok with that.
And, at the same time, as long as Khaleesi remains the freer of the slaves, we'll continue to set her up as a genuine heroine.
To be clear, my grievances have nothing to do with an annoyance over what has become mainstream. I had no issues with the massive “Breaking Bad” fan-base and I still don’t even dare question why tens of millions of people tune in every week to watch “The Big Bang Theory.” But with “Game of Thrones,” there’s something that stings.
My anger has something to do with the obvious motifs the show plays with. In the “Game of the Thrones” world there’s always an underdog, a young girl, a cripple, a man who trusts too much. At the same time, there’s always someone who looks suspiciously good naked, a tyrant of a father, a religious zealot. Sometimes, the show makes it hard to look beyond stereotypes and preconceived expectations -- the manipulation.
I don’t mean to express this contempt solely as an insult to the intelligence of viewers and fans. That wouldn’t be a fair judgement because watching the show, I have often made similar allegiances and denouncements. That’s why, as of late, I find “Game of Thrones” to be so problematic. Its characters have become too transparent. Its core values have become too blurred. It seems that the more we continue to learn about the world, the more likely we are to fall into its traps.
It is just becoming a burden to watch.