HBO has a formula. One part shock value: violence, torture. One part sex: nudity, boobies, education. And one part of actually really great television: you know, that one scene every few episodes where an awesome character delivers and awesome monologue or your mind is blown by some epic twist. I used referred to it as “sexy history” a la The Tudors staring Johnathon Rhyes Myers. I could enjoy it, but once you’ve detected the pattern, it wears thin.
For some reason, I never quite saw HBO as a network that would go to the world of pure fantasy for their source material, but clearly it’s brilliant. You see: it’s just sexy history where the source material fits the HBO formula better than real history. How can Johnathon Rhyes Myers play a fat 50 year old man and still be sexy?
I watched Game of Thrones not really sure if I would like it. My wife will tell you I’m obsessed now, but I want to stand on saying that I very much enjoy Game of Thrones but step back from obsession. For me, Westworld takes that title.
The truth is that Donald Trump is president, and escapism – in the face of ecological destruction, American fascism and the death of the Great American Republic a very likely probability – is the order of the day. Game of Thrones is as good escape as any.
George R.R. Martin is a great writer because he knows very well he is not a great writer. He is a master borrower and adaptor. The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros while distinctly different from European history, is at the same time reassuringly familiar: it’s a world that you immediately understand and know the rules too. The Dornish remind me of Moorish Spain; the Lannisters strike me as a little French. The Starks strike me as Scottish. Similarly, the religions of this universe parallel quite nicely with European paganism, Catholic Christianity and Islam. While no one to one comparison is ever possible (it’s not really Martin’s style to make social commentary, I would say), things fit together more or less they way then did in the middle ages. Martin’s fantasy has just the right amount of fantasy to be brilliant.
Here’s another example. Yes, there are dragons. And yes, there is magic. And yes, there might even be ice zombies. But they remain in the background to real human drama; they act more like props or symbols or metaphors. The dragons don’t talk; they are simply animals that happen to fly and breathe fire. Magic appears as illusion or religion or possibly chance; we are very far from Harry Potter. The ice zombies remain a terrible, possibly false myth; they add to the drama rather than being major plot points.
I was struck by how closely the television show follows the books. They really did a great job adapting it.
Final verdict: Game of Thrones is grade-A escapism.