(Because it’s never not time to watch this)
The countdown has been going on for months. HBO has been feeding the frenzy, releasing teaser after trailer after photo after interview. The books have been on the best seller list for ages. All leading up to tonight.
The last time I remember that a fantasy series so caught the public’s attention was in the lead-up to each of the Lord of the Rings movies. Why not Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, you might ask? Both of those series had broken through to all levels of the reading populace before the movies were released. While there were those out there who had memorized the LOTR books and were able to converse in elvish, most people only had a passing knowledge of the books. Before the Sorcerer’s Stone came out, JK Rowling’s story of the boy with a lightening scar on his forehead who lived under the stairs and was really a wizard was more well known. And we all know the rabid fans out there for the Hunger Games before the movie ever came out.
But what about Game of Thrones?
There has been a push to describe as something for the “Dungeons & Dragons crowd”, as if that was simultaneously an insult and a badge of elitism. The moment it became clear that the series was set in a medieval world and dealt with men in furs with swords and women in gowns and then dragons…that sets off the bells. There was a recent article in the New York Times that is pretty critical of the series. It suggests that there are too many characters with similar goals (essentially the Iron Throne) and that none of them are particularly of interest, that there are no characters for the audience to latch on to.
Some people love this kind of stuff, of course, and presumably those addicted to the George R. R. Martin books on which the series is based will immerse themselves in Season 2, just as they did in Season 1. Will anyone else? You have to have a fair amount of free time on your hands to stick with “Game of Thrones,” and a fairly low reward threshold. If decapitations and regular helpings of bare breasts and buttocks are all you require of your television, step right up.
What “Game of Thrones” needs if it is to expand its fan base beyond Dungeons & Dragons types is what most of the United States didn’t get this year: a hard winter. Life in this particular fantasy land consists of seasons of indeterminate length, and since the series began there have been references to an impending winter of fearsome power.
Pardon me, but I feel this is all too reductive. There are more people watching the brilliant HBO series than those who were original fans of the Martin books and I personally know of at least TWO viewers who wouldn’t even know how to play Dungeons & Dragons.
When the series premiered last year, the NYT ran a review that basically said that Game of Thrones is for boys, with sexiness thrown in to get the girls to watch:
The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.
This is just patently untrue. The idea that fantasy and sci-fi is only for men is an outdated notion and Virginia Heffernan’s review pissed off a lot of people – men and women – out there who saw the series, both book and TV, as something more and appealing to those with and without penises. Not to mention that most of the characters in the series that have the power and foresight to get said power, are of the fairer sex. Just ask anyone who reads the books what they think of Arya or Daenerys or even Cersei (no matter how much you might hate her), and you’ll see these are not females who wait for a man to tell them what to do.
So why does this reductive tendency exist? Why are people so quick to jump on the “genre” bandwagon like it’s something negative? Is it that urge to demean something you don’t like or just don’t understand? Have we come so far too fast so that it’s inconceivable to so many that a fantasy series that is more about power struggles and complex characters than about wands and wizardry can’t be seen as universally appealing?
I don’t know. But I do know that it becomes tiresome to have the same argument over and over again. Remember…Genre is not a dirty word.
But on to tonight!
Will the season 2 premiere live up to the hype? Apart from Lost or Mad Men, I can’t think of another TV show that inspired such levels of obsession. I mean…Game of Thrones pizza from Vinnie’s Pizza in Brooklyn?
New York Magazine even put together every kill from season 1 into a 60 second video.
And last year when the series premiered, we got this highly entertaining tribute to the Lannisters, those incest-loving, gold crapping, back-stabbing, debt-paying Lannisters:
Finally, let’s not forget the Game of Thrones-inspired fashion line from Helmut Lang.
Based on the 2nd book in the series A Clash of Kings, this season will have to expand the world that season1 introduced. We get more characters, say goodbye to others, and learn to love some that we might have previously sworn off. Magic continues to creep in at the seams but the driving force is the hunger for power and loyalty to family and loved ones. And while the first season was able to get by with small skirmishes, there is an epic battle at the end of the season that will have to take front and center.
I hope many millions of people watch and I hope many of those are people who have never picked up a fantasy book but are drawn in by the rich characters, complex plots, and gorgeous sets and locales. I hope that many women continue to watch and not just because you get a sex scene thrown in here and there (remember, there’s a lot more sex in the books than you ever get on the show). I hope that those who were willing to let The Wire or The Sopranos grow on them, are as patient with Game of Thrones. I hope the program lives up to the moment when the showrunners displayed their courage by going through with the beheading of Ned and you saw the beginnings of the repercussions for Seven Kingdoms. I hope Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion continues to be as cunning and sly and brilliant and clever as we know he is.
In the end I say, forget the criticisms, ignore the hype and just watch.
And never forget — Winter is coming and the North remembers.