Why I was disappointed by Game of Thrones

Yeah, it took me ages, but I don’t torrent or have cable.

Winter is coming

High fantasy, I now realise, is a form of the pastoral: it’s nice to imagine living a life that is more in touch with nature’s rhythms, and then defending that life against dirty, quasi-industrial Evil. I also now realise that it’s an aspect of high fantasy that is critical to my enjoyment of it, because it really bugs me that everyone in Westeros apart from Ned Stark is less in touch with the seasons of their world than an ordinary modern alienated schmuck like me is with his. (And how do the trees survive? Don’t get me started.) This is a shame, because the Wall and winter coming were one of the few things which the first novel left me curious about.


It’s not just that all but one of the sex scenes in the first series were incest, prostitution, rape or technical rape: it’s that they’re so disconnected from the rest of the story that they might as well be dream sequences. Stacks of nudity and titillation but very little sensuality and no sexual tension at all. Compared with Battlestar Galactica, say, it’s pretty bad.

The rest of it

That said, the sex scenes were my favourite parts. I found myself thinking “what a shame, this is going to give the genre a bad name” but everyone else likes it and I remembered that until I read the first novel last year, I hadn’t read any high fantasy for decades. I just don’t like it anymore, I suppose.

Oh, and that bit where Jamie Lannister says “I could care less what other people think”

That annoyed me so much that I went and deliberately spoilered the second, third and fourth novels by reading the remainder of Tiger Beatdown’s magnificent post. No regrets.

3 responses to “Why I was disappointed by Game of Thrones

  1. Yep.

    I reminded myself that the first book in the series was published by 1996: effectively pre-Internet, before the New Weird books, a time when people still thought, laughably, that Snow Crash was gritty, and when David Eddings set the gold standard of high fantasy.

    At that time there was very little of the ‘grimdark’ element that abounds in modern fantasy: no rape, no prostitutes, no child murder, no nasty sex. Importantly, as well, no HBO, no Sopranos, etc. In this environment, I think it’s fair to say Game of Thrones was a jolt that justifiably received critical acclaim merely for countenancing the dark possibilities of human action, increasing the detail level of faux-medieval historicity, and having less than entirely predictable plots.

    Until about 2006, I’d recommend the books when someone said ‘So: which high fantasy should I read?’, but since then, there’s been a certain despondence about their lasting quality, and the TV show has deepened my certainty that the series as a whole is (or will be) nothing special.

    There was a certain frisson of early adopter pleasure when the show became insanely popular, but it’s evaporated now.

    High fantasy, I now realise, is a form of the pastoral: it’s nice to imagine living a life that is more in touch with nature’s rhythms, and then defending that life against dirty, quasi-industrial Evil.

    Shades of Moorcock’s celebrated ‘Epic Pooh’ polemic in that statement.

    • I think the book (the first one, anyway) is much more of an artistic success than the TV show. I can imagine the impact it made at the time. And most of the problems I had with it are interesting in terms of GRRM bucking genre conventions.

      By contrast, the show seems like a clunky, expensive mess.

      I had forgotten about that Moorcock essay. I think I’m a lot more comfortable admitting to the consolatory aspects of high fantasy than I once was. Still basically on Team Gormenghast, though.

      • Well, I reckon:

        The difference of a new thing hides its sameness. This is why fantasy has an apparent revolution or a seismic shift, or a soul-searching moment every few years but looking back the whole thing’s a fairly consistent continuum with internal cycles of revolt and reform.

        When people discuss Fantasy and related subjects, they usually invoke their preferred works as though a revolutionary moment, you can catch Jeff VanderMeer doing this with the New Weird quoted in Rjurik Davidson’s Overland piece on steampunk.

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