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The ‘Threatening Fantasy’ of ‘Game of Thrones’

The 'Threatening Fantasy' of 'Game of Thrones'

Maris Kreizman is best known as the proprietor of Slaughterhouse 90210, which pairs pop-cuture stills and literary quotes to often hilarious, frequently eye-opening effect. (Scroll down a bit for the Enlightened/Portrait of a Lady mashup.) But Kreizman, whose day job is in Barnes and Noble’s digital division (and who, disclosure, was my editor when she worked at eMusic), is a formidable writer in her own right, which she most recently proved with a provocative essay on Game of Thrones.

Kreizman throws down a gauntlet with her opening line: “Game of Thrones is a show for Star Wars fans who thought Princess Leia should have been raped.” She goes on:

I am not squeamish. I am used to HBO. I am used to sex and graphic violence and whatever you call what happens on True Blood. But Game of Thrones is visceral, literally. Body parts get hacked off and all sorts of gunk oozes from wounds, and the camera never cuts away. The spewing sound that accompanies decapitations becomes disgustingly familiar. We see everything. Nothing is insinuated. The personal depth and inner story we see in a majority of supporting characters actually come from seeing their insides. Sadism is commonplace. And in this world, a world in which violence and cunning and blood determine power, sex is the biggest weapon of all. Rape, or the threat of rape, or antiquated fantasies about rape, are present in every single episode.

It’s a troubling piece, especially for what it implies about Game of Thrones‘ popularity in an age where sexual assault is presented, sometimes proudly, as public spectacle. Kreizman knows the counter-argument that George R.R. Martin is simply basing his world on the Europe of the Middle Ages, where women were often treated as less than human, but she’s not buying it: “Game of Thrones is so brave to show what it was like back then,” she snipes. “You know, in the time of dragons.”

Part of what makes Game of Thrones distinctive — and, to an extent, thrilling — is the unforgiving brutality of Martin’s world. It’s one where no one, no matter their ranking in the hierarchies of power (or the opening credits) is safe from sudden death, where limbs and other bodily appendages are hacked off without warning, and where women, who rarely carry more than a dagger in rooms packed full of men with swords, are under constant, if implied, threat. Does the fact that women, contra stereotypes about fantasy fandom, have taken to watching the show en masse mean they identify with that, or that they’re willing to overlook it because Dany has dragons? I wish Kreizman’s piece were longer, and I hope it sparks further discussion, but man, am I glad it doesn’t have a comments thread.

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