When I watch TV, I like to keep things interesting by (a) obsessively watching some shows the second they’re broadcast but (b) leaving others until I’m six seasons behind and have had most of the major plot points spoiled by Twitter. With that in mind, I’ve just started watching Game of Thrones, and I have some questions.
1. Why does everyone pronounce Arya ‘Are-ya’?
2. How does Daenerys get her hair so white?
3. Are we really expected not to notice that everybody in the Night’s Watch – that ragtag bunch of “outlaws, poachers, rapists, killers [and] thieves” – is chubby, bony, knobbly, squidgy or otherwise generally weird-looking, apart from Jon Snow, an entirely perfect specimen carefully hewn from fine white marble, with lusciously curling hair and soul-piercing eyes?
But I digress. The question I really want to ask is: Why is Game of Thrones SO violent?
Now obviously this isn’t a particularly original question, nor should I really have been surprised at just how graphic the show is. I’ve read the first book; I’ve had numerous people recommend the show to me with the proviso ‘It is quite gory, though…’; and I’ve seen the histrionic and overwrought Buzzfeed articles about how the infamous ‘Red Wedding’ episode “destroyed us all” (hint: the ‘red’ refers to a fairly vital bodily fluid). Still, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer unending stab-fest. In the last two episodes I’ve watched, there’s been a man stabbed through the eye, a deer skinned on a table, a horse beheaded, and, my personal favourite, a man burned to death by having molten gold poured over his head. It was like the face-melting scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. (I’m not going to include a picture of that, but if you need a reminder: here. Don’t look at it while you’re eating, Or if you ever want to sleep again. I warned you.)
And the thing about it all is – I don’t want to see that. Forget the ethics and morals and the effect it will have on our children: the biggest problem for me is that I have to spend at least ten minutes per episode not watching the screen because I just don’t want to see the realism with which the blood spurts from one guy’s neck as the other guy plunges a lance into it.
It’s the same with crime dramas. I wrote in a recent post about how much I love a good mystery, but that doesn’t mean I want to see people actually getting killed. No! A vague shot of a corpse’s shoe combined with a shot of the detective sadly shaking his head will do me just fine – and, if the plot specifically calls for it, a drop or two of blood may also be shown. This is one of the reasons that I haven’t fallen in love with CSI the way I have with NCIS: there are just a few too many severed limbs and pieces of mangled flesh to allow me to settle comfortably into the show, since I always have to be prepared to shout “Urgh!” and buy my head in a cushion for the remainder of the scene.
And I do understand that TV isn’t just made for me. (If it was, Firefly would be in its twelfth season and going strong, Grey’s Anatomy would still be shown on terrestrial, there would be a channel dedicated solely to new episodes of Sherlock, and this whole World Cup thing would be edited into an hour-long summary to be shown on ITV4 at 3am on a Wednesday.) But what I don’t get is who some of it is made for. I mean, obviously there are many millions of people considerably less squeamish than me, people who aren’t necessarily put off watching a programme they enjoy by seeing a bit of rubber hose covered in red paint sticking out of a dummy. Kudos to them.
But some of this gory stuff must take a serious amount of effort to put together. The Game of Thrones stabbing-in-the-eye scene I mentioned – for that to work, the production team had to invent some kind of collapsible sword that could seem to go into the front of the actor’s head and come out at the back, then attach half of it to the poor man’s eye area so that it wouldn’t fall out as he flailed around in fake agony, then create a realistic-looking fake blood that could be sprayed into his face without blinding him for the rest of his life, then work out how to edit the take so that it seemed as though someone else had actually stuck the sword in. (At least, I very much hope that they faked it rather than just stabbing the guy. Although you never know – I just Googled the deer-skinning scene and it was apparently a real deer.) But my point is that in order for the show to go to all that effort (and in Game of Thrones that’s happening at least ten times an episode) someone has to be actively wanting it in there. Some television viewers of the world must be saying, “Well, I do like it when people get shot on TV but it’s not very realistic unless you get to see the bullet go through the organs’, or ‘I just can’t quite believe that people are dead until I see their head fully detached from their body’, or ‘This wedding is just not red enough for my tastes’. Who? And why?
And in case it seems like I’m on an anti-Game of Thrones rant, I should say that I’m not – it’s definitely not the only show that leads me to think, ‘Seriously, who’s watching this stuff?’ For example, I’ve recently been horrified by the concept of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Now the original Law and Order is another one of these American crime dramas – in this case, half the episode is the cops solving the crime and the other half is the lawyers prosecuting the suspect in the court room. So far, so procedural. And then someone at NBC obviously said to themselves, ‘You know what? Normal murders just aren’t nasty enough – I think viewers would like to be even more disturbed’. And thus was born Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, in which the Special Victims Unit of the title specifically deals with sexual assault cases, in particular those pertaining to children. That’s right. Every week you get a new story about that specific topic, because the occasional one mixed in with other types of crimes just isn’t enough sexual assault. And don’t even get me started on shock-docs about real-life murders.
Now you may say, ‘My dear Screen-Eyed Monster, if you don’t like those kinds of programmes, then don’t watch them.’ You have a point, of course, and, yes, with most of those kinds of programmes, I just don’t watch. I am quite happy – so happy – to live my life without watching dramas or documentaries where the draw is the gore; similarly, I don’t watch horror because I don’t like it, and that’s all fine. But my real problem here is that I want to like Game of Thrones. I like fantasy. I like knights. I like wolves. I like snow. I like dragons. I like breeches and puffy dresses. I like Yorkshire accents. I like Arya Stark and her spunky rejection of traditional female gender roles. I like cute little Bran. I like Jon Snow (did I mention that already?). In many ways, this is the perfect programme for me. But I’m struggling to keep watching because it makes me feel uncomfortable and slightly nauseous – not in a good, thoughtful way, but in a ‘Well now I can’t finish my hot chocolate and also I sort of wish I was dead’ way. So what do I do? Do I keep watching, keep flinching, keep going to bed slightly afraid that a White Walker will spring out at me in the dark and decapitate me before eating my entrails? Or do I give up, accept that this is one piece of TV history and debate that I’ll never be a part of, and stick to watching Poirot instead?
Decisions are coming.