THE PLOT: For those of you who don’t know, HBO’s marketing team successfully whipped me into fangirl frenzy before the GoT premiere on Sunday. Given my feverish state and my love for the books, I didn’t really trust myself to view the first episode with a critical eye. Luckily, I watched with friends who had avoided most of the marketing and who hadn’t read the books. Here’s the breakdown:
It’s pretty. From lighting to costumes, the world is beautifully conceived and designed. (Two possible exceptions: 1. The Dothraki wedding party. Somehow, “tribal” always seems to skew a little too Burning Man for my comfort. 2. The too-gilded-to-be-true Godswood where Ned goes to think deep thoughts and… clean his sword.)
It’s faithful to the spirit and complexity of the books– and therefore, a little confusing. Given the inter-relatedness of the story, I’m surprised that the writers chose to stick to such a linear narrative. I’m not looking for crazy title cards and flash cuts but I wonder if there might have been visual ways to highlight the relationships between the different story lines, even a better use of the gorgeous map from the opening sequence.)
It’s narratively satisfying… mostly. Most first episodes and pilots suffer from “information dump” and GoT is no exception. Still, I think they did a fairly graceful job of establishing so very many plot lines and characters. My fellow watchers seemed most intrigued by the mystery of the White Walkers and I think that might have been a bit more compelling than Bran’s fate at Lannister hands. BUT I just saw the teaser for episode 2 and it looks AMAZING, more action, more emotion. (The overriding emotion of episode 1 seemed to be resignation: Ned and Catelyn to his new position, Jaime to killing, Jon to bastardy, Daenerys to getting shtupped by a giant warlord. Everyone is still playing pretty polite. Not so in episode 2.)
THE POWER: For today’s post, I’d originally planned a scathing response to this obnoxious, condescending, and straight up lazy review from Gina Bellafante of the New York Times. But Doris Egan tackled it so elegantly that I’m just going to link to her here.
I will say that Bellafante posits a lot of truly daffy nonsense including the idea that women don’t have any interest in fantasy or genre fiction and that HBO’s solution to this is to throw in boobies and some rough sex– two things that are apparently staples of chicklit or Oprah or whatever else women supposedly like. (Also, “Winter is coming” is NOT a warning about climate change.)
According to George R.R. Martin, a whole nation of genre fiction loving women has risen up against Gina Bellafante and I am but one more soldier in this geek girl army. I have ladyparts. I write epic fantasy. I loved the existing books in the series (and I’m sure I’ll love the rest should they ever, you know, exist). You know what else I like? Great characters, political intrigue, high stakes plots, and a lush, lavish world that I can get lost in. The copious coochie just lets me know I’m watching HBO.
But since we’re on the subject and given my recent interest in female heroes, how does GoT measure up? Sex and sexual power are big issues in GRRM’s books and sometimes the ways that women use and get used can skew a little ugly. But there are a few remarkable female characters in the series, some to love, some to hate, some warriors, some wives. Their motives can be questionable and they don’t always do right, but the characters are tough, fully drawn, and, yes, often heroic. Given that this is a feudal world dominated by men and their might, the women still do pretty damn well.
THE PALATE CLEANSER: In the past, when favorite books have been turned into films or television, I’ve done my best to avoid them or I’ve approached them with what can best be described as suspicion and resentment. Not so with GoT. Maybe it’s because I knew about the series before I started reading the books. Maybe it’s because HBO clearly devoted so much time, thought, and money to the project. But I think it’s mostly the fact that I read the series as an adult.
I loved these books. They got to me in a way that fiction really hasn’t in a long time. They’ve baffled me, frustrated me, and engaged me. But they didn’t save me. The fantasy and science fiction books of my childhood (Swiftly Tilting Planet, Dune, Dragonlance, and Eyes of the Dragon come to mind) weren’t just entertainment, they were vital escape.
I delight in entering GRRM’s world, but leaving it isn’t a heartbreak to me the way it would have been as kid and I wonder if this is why I’ve been able to anticipate and enjoy the HBO series. I’d be curious to hear from people who read the books when they were younger.