Posts Tagged ‘Game Of Thrones’

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

FYI: This is a SPOILER-FREE Turtle post. I won’t ruin Game of Thrones for those who haven’t seen recent episodes yet. Also, you don’t need to watch GoT or The Walking Dead to understand this post – so read on! 

Wow. The most recent episode of Game of Thrones (Episode 4.08: The Mountain & The Viper) was intense, to say the least. In a TV series that is marked by regular twists and surprises, no twist has shocked me the way this one did. Even after letting the episode sink in, I’m still thinking about it.

My reaction to the episode has shifted the more I think about. At first I was pleased: I love when a story – Game of Thrones or otherwise – surprises me. After all, great storytelling should surprise us.

Then, I gradually started to turn on the episode. The more I consider the conclusion, the more I’m displeased with it, because I believe the surprise ending sacrificed some deeply interesting long-term plot threads in favor of a short-term shock. Having not read the books, I’m hopeful that I’m wrong and that new, interesting plot threads develop from this conclusion.

Games of Thrones and The Walking Dead – two of the most popular shows on TV – both work well in part because each show is willing to do what most TV shows and Hollywood movies will not: kill of characters – or more specifically, kill off protagonists.

Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin loves to kill off characters!

Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin loves to kill off characters!

I love superhero movies. Just this year alone, I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Typically, one of the flaws of superhero movies is that our main protagonists aren’t in any real danger. Secondary characters or villains may die, but when we go to see a Captain America movie, we are pretty damn sure that Captain American is going to survive. (Yes, yes, comic nerds, I know Cap gets assassinated in the Civil War story line in the comics, but that hasn’t happened in the movies – yet.) And even when a main protagonist dies, somehow they always come back – that was half of the point of X-Men: DoFP, to resurrect characters.

Thus, superhero movies have to find other ways of being satisfying without the real sense of danger for our main characters. In the Spider-Man movies (and comics) we know Spider-Man will survive, but his loved ones are in constant danger. Also, like in the first Spider-Man movie (2002), we see him lose out on love despite beating the bad guy. In The Dark Knight, Batman survives and beats the Joker, but at the cost of becoming a vigilante and more.

However, in every episode of GoT and TWD, we fear for our characters. Each show has proven, time and time again, that nearly any character can be gone in an instant. When Captain America is surrounded by bad guys, we know he’ll survive; when a character is surrounded by zombies in TWD, we have no guarantees. This is part of the appeal and power of GoT and TWD. We are invested in the characters and we’re scared for them.

In an appearance on Conan, GoT’s creator George R.R. Martin says all of this directly: “We’ve all seen the movies where the hero is in trouble, he’s surrounded by 20 people, but you know he’s going to get away, because he’s the hero. You don’t really feel any fear for him. I want my viewers and my readers to be afraid when my characters are in danger.”

The killing of characters is, typically, warranted in these shows. Both shows are set in worlds filled with chaos, destruction, and death. The core ethos of each show requires that characters not emerge unscathed from all of the horror surrounding them.

Yet, for as much as I applaud both shows for being willing to kill off characters, there are times when I wonder if the shows/stories aren’t just kill-happy, and end up killing off better story arcs for the sake of shocking us with character deaths.

From a writer’s perspective, the usual stance on killing characters is that a death has to be “earned,” meaning that a character is not just killed for the sake of killing a character; rather, a character has met his/her demise for sound, logical reasons that can be pieced together through the story. Even if we are initially shocked that the character is gone, we should be able – in hindsight – to understand why it happened and how it adds to the story moving forward. If it ever seems like a character was killed simply because his/her name was pulled out of a hat, that isn’t an “earned” death. And if a more interesting story is sacrificed with the death of the character, it isn’t an “earned” death.

So, back to my mixed emotions on “The Mountain & The Viper.” I wonder if the episode’s conclusion was “earned” for that second reason – were interesting story arcs sacrificed? Again, without spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen the episode, I will provide a hint for those who have:

When a certain character points a finger and yells, “Who gave you the orders?” toward the end of the episode, I immediately foresaw a WORLD of ridiculously interesting story possibilities in terms of character conflicts that could be played out over many episodes. Then, a few minutes later, that was all undercut. The short-term shock replaced the long-term story.

Again, I still loved the episode, but I will have to wait to find out of the conclusion was truly “earned.”

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Over the last couple weeks, my wife and I have been devouring the first season of Game of Thrones.  Yes, yes, we are behind the times.  I know the fourth season is currently on HBO.  Please forgive our pop culture delay, and don’t give any spoilers in your possible comments to this post. Thanks much.

Now, most everyone has heard of Game of Thrones by now, and realize that the series is a melange of fantasy/action/drama/political thriller.  The series is set in an imaginary land and time that is inhabited by 1434624mysterious creatures such as dragons and ‘white-walkers’.  But, the show does not revolve around magical beasts. There are no main character elves or dwarves, like in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or Hutts and droids like in Lucas’ Star Wars.  In Thrones, all the characters are human, and the emotions, the drives, the beliefs are all too recognizable. For a fantasy series, Thrones is strangely, and brutally familiar.  However, this familiarity stems from more than just the characters; the setting, though a make-believe land, feels like earth. The imaginary time period seems like a ‘real’ era of human history.

Game of Thrones takes place in a bizzaro European Middle Ages.

Everything in the show has the feeling of the medieval world; the clothing characters wear; the weapons that they use.  The castles, and/or hovels, characters inhabit.  The social hierarchy that exists, with lords, ladies, priests, warriors and peasants (this is even the terminology.) The political factions that are constantly scheming for power.  All of this, and much more, makes Game of Thrones seem to be a strange fantastical attempt to relive a ‘true’ past. The series is a sort of Renaissance Fair writ large; and writ bloody; and writ sexualized.

Winterfell

A typically medieval scene from Thrones

Game of  Thrones‘  medievalism is not unique. References to the world of the Middle Ages are a common aspect of twentieth century fantasy tales.  The most famous example is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  Though mentioned previously that Rings was more fantastical than Game of Thrones, what with hobbits, wizards, orcs, etc, the overriding aura of the two stories are more similar than different.  Like in Thrones, knights, steeds, magic and castles are all a part of Tolkien’s fantasy land of Middle Earth.  Tolkien’s fantasies are not alone. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and George Lucas’ Star Wars, though less obvious than Thrones or Rings, has the Medieval touch as well. Seemingly set in modern Britain, the Potter tales transport readers to the more magical, hidden ancient world of wizards, trolls, castles and ghosts just out of sight of the muggles.  Taking place in a galaxy far, far away on the other hand, the plot of Star Wars revolves around a brave knight (Luke Skywalker) utilizing magic and rare sword skills (only Jedis use the lightsaber) struggling against the forces of pure evil.  To defeat this evil, Skywalker must fulfill seemingly impossible quests. It is an Arthurian legend with a space cruiser. 

Why do these modern fantasy tales so readily depend upon medieval tropes ?  If this question never occurred to you, it is probably because you have always been inundated with these cultural themes.  After a lifetime of fantasy medievalism, we now simply accept the utilization of the historical era’s ideas, language, clothing and notions as a natural part of fantasy tales. It seems so natural in fact, that to plunk down such a tale in a different historical era seems odd, if not absurd.   Imagine if Game of Thrones depended upon Ancient Greece for its influence. Picture in your mind’s eye the Starks, Lannisters, and Baratheons wearing togas. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

The reason this seems absurd has much to do with our understanding (or stereotypes) of the Middle Ages. Whenever covering the period my history courses, I tell my students to think about what terms and ideas they associate with the Middle Ages. They respond as you might suspect.  My students imagine kings, queens, castles, knights, serfs, etc.  But, they don’t stop there. Some students invariably enter the realm of fantasy.  They will tell me that they think of witches, dragons, magic, and wizards when they conjure up an image of the long gone world.  My students understand these things did not exist during the Medieval period, but the ivanhoeideas come to their mind regardless. They just can’t help it.

My students are dredging up more than just the fantasies of Tolkien or George R.R. Martin.  Their associations of fantasy and the Middle Ages are much older than those two twentieth century writers. The early nineteenth century, and the Romantic movement is truly to blame. The romantics’ obsession with the Middle Ages as a time of wonder, magic and heroism must be the starting point to grasping why medievalism entwines so readily with our contemporary fantasies.  Responding to the cult of rationality associated with the Enlightenment, the Romantics created a Middle Ages that was mythical, irrational and magical. These modern Europeans created a legendary memory of the Medieval period that lives on even today. Game of Thrones is just the latest rendition.