Game Of Thrones is like standing behind a mean horse who kicks you in the head, over and over. A friend walks up and says ‘What are you doing?”
You say, “I’m standing behind a horse who keeps kicking me in the head.”
Your friend asks, “Doesn’t that hurt?”
You say, “Are you kidding? It’s brutal. I’m dizzy and I can’t see straight. Watch. He’s going to do it again.”
Your friend asks, ‘Why don’t you move???”
You say, “Because it’s the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen.”
That’s Game Of Thrones. It pummels you, over and over, with unrelenting harsh brutality yet it is turning out to be the best show that has ever been on TV. You can’t walk away even as it repeatedly kicks you upside the head. It’s filled with amazing beauty and is as grand a narrative as you’ve ever seen.
NOTE: Spoilers start halfway down, you will be warned before they start. Also, this is written from the perspective of someone who has not read the books. Please, if you have read the books, no forward spoilers in the comments section.
I actually had no desire to watch Game of Thrones. Season three was over and I still refused. It’s not my genre (snore) nor did any of it sound appealing. I’ve certainly seen enough tits and ass and gratuitous violence over the years to keep the ‘R’ rated factor from being enticing. And dragons? Eh, whatever. Been there, done that as well. I was one of those people who, when fans would go rabid on Facebook, I’d roll my eyes with great patronizing condescension. Then after much bullying one of my best friends, Adam, dared me to watch the pilot. Just one episode and if I didn’t like it, he’d never bug me again.
Honestly, in about 5 minutes I was absolutely transfixed.
What is it about this show? Certainly there is the scope. Nothing on this scale has ever been done on television. Each one hour episode is filled more stunning visuals than just about any summer movie thundering around the cineplex. And, yes, there is the “tits-n-ass and blood-n-guts” factor. The show is incredibly ‘R’ rated, so much so it spawned one of the funniest online videos of the last couple of years:
None of this, however, explains why the show is so popular and why so many of us are saying it might be the best show ever on television. For any narrative to work, the audience has to care about what is happening and George R. R. Martin, along with the creators, writers and actors of the show, have created incredible characters we root for passionately. As another great friend, Chad, remarked tonight after the season 4 finale, ‘I feel like people I know are dying.”
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Perhaps the best example comes from this season’s biggest shocker, Episode 8.
Season 4, the best season yet, introduced us to Oberyn Martell, brilliantly portrayed by Pedro Pascal, a character that instantly became one of our favorite characters. Oberyn rolled into King’s Landing with an amazing confidence, telling the truth even when it was dangerous. He immediately stood up to the evil in power, stood up for those who had no one else on their side. He’s one of the great characters in many a year. Episode 8 was incredible! It contained scene after scene that would be an amazing season finale in any other show: Jorah’s heartbreaking banishment, Arya’s amazing laugh, the brutal destruction of the village by the wildings, Sansa’s brilliant makeover.
Yet the episode rolled on to the brutal finale when Oberyn, a character I could not imagine leaving the show given Pascal’s brilliance and the joy of his character, dies in the most horrific way imaginable. His literally crushing death is the most shocking and upsetting moment I’ve ever encountered in any narrative. I did not even sleep that night and was distraught for days. My beloved Stacy A, who also relentlessly bugged me to start watching, emailed me immediately after: “prostrate with grief”. Anyone who watches the show can understand why. We all remain prostrate. This gets to the heart of Game Of Thrones. As crazy and wild and envelope pushing as the show can be, ultimately it is an intimate family and political drama that keeps you riveted by the power of the writing, directing and performances.
Another great example occurred in Sunday’s episode, one of many great moments in this terrific season finale: when The Hound and Brienne faced off. As soon as these two amazing characters came face to face, I moaned. Two characters I love destined to fight over fan favorite, Arya of Stark. “I hope this doesn’t go south” I cried out. But, hey, it’s Game of Thrones and one of the more brutal fights of the series began. I could barely watch. The fight made complete sense yet there could be no winner. Whatever the outcome, it could not be satisfying for the viewer as we’ve come to love both characters so much.
Maybe it’s because of all the ‘t-n-a’ but HBO allows things to happen on Game Of Thrones you never see anywhere else. In comparison, I am a big fan of ABC’s Nashville but something that irritates me about Nashville is that even when a major earth-shattering event happens, no scene lasts longer than 90 seconds. Seriously. Unless a song is playing out in full, no scene lasts longer than 90 seconds. The suits at ABC don’t trust the audience to stay engaged in one scene or event any longer. Ugh.
On Game Of Thrones, two characters can face each other and talk, simply talk, for 5 to 8 minutes at a stretch. Just talk. Nothing else. And you cannot take a breath, the scene is so compelling. That’s amazing storytelling by a gifted team that seems to have realized just how good the show has turned out to be and is working with all their might to keep it on track, creating the best drama ever on television.
People about whom you care. It’s what makes great narratives and is why Game Of Thrones is the show to watch.