Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
TVGuide.com's Hanh Nguyen is an avid scripted-TV watcher, a horror-avoider and someone who's read George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series, on which HBO's Game of Thrones is based. Her co-worker, Rich Juzwiak, rarely watches scripted TV, is a gorehound and became alerted to Martin's existence just this past week, as he started researching this new swords-and-sandals (well, boots) series. He knows nothing of these sorcerers (if that is indeed what they are), while Hanh is something of an expert (read: fantasy/sci fi nerd). Each week, he'll try to make sense of this crazy new show by enlisting Hanh's expertise. It may turn out to be a test of tolerance: in this case, the Games begin after the TV is off.
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Rich: I should say up front that I'm not a scripted TV watcher. I find the medium mystifying actually. And Game of Thrones is the epitome of this mystification (and not because it's in the fantasy genre). The thing about this show is that you really, really have to pay attention to it. Like, you can't eat chips while watching, because the crunching will drown out important dialogue. And all the dialogue is important. A raven's crowing is important. Sitting down to watch this it feels like an investment. Like, this will take effort.
Hanh: Do you watch any scripted shows?
Rich: Eastbound and Down.
Hanh: See, that's why I'm not sure I can say this is more of an investment than another show. True, it's less episodic in nature, and coming from a novel, it definitely has an end game.
Rich: But one of the common phenomena within sci-fi/fantasy is the need to constantly provide exposition. Because they're presenting this other world, in addition to how everyone relates, there's the greater need to explain how the whole thing operates.
Hanh: That goes for historical shows too, but I kind of like learning the new social quirks, new names. I'm a glutton for information.
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Rich: So you're hanging on everyone's every word. Anyway, all this is to say that Game of Thrones is hard!
Hanh: Game of Thrones, I think, could be hard, but I'm wondering if it is harder than other shows. Like True Blood has its own lingo and mythology, but in a way, so does Jersey Shore. I guarantee I'd have to explain that show to my mom more than I would Game of Thrones.
Rich: Here's what's hard: I'm often uncertain as to exactly what any given person is saying, whether it's a name or a part of the world or some made up word in their universe or what.
Hanh: The fantasy names, I've heard many people complain about having to get used to them. I've never had an issue, but I'm a lifetime fantasy reader and also, coming from a non-English speaking family, I guess I'm used to foreign-type names. It's definitely foreign ... but I think some of the names are pretty standard also: Robert/Ned/Ed/Jon.
Hanh: Hanh/Ayeshee/MeeOk/Snooki. These are all people I've met in real life. (Yeah, I included myself. What?)
Rich: I will say that watching this while listening to headphones the second time around made it easier to comprehend than the first. Except, like I said: no chips.
Hanh: Ha, you'd have to eat pudding.
Rich: Game of Thrones is definitely a soft-foods show.
Hanh: A guide to watching Game of Thrones: no crunchy/loud foods.
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Rich: Are the Targaryens supposed to be this universe's Aryans and/or the puppets of The Dark Crystal after going through the Pinocchio treatment (Daenerys = a real-girl Kira)?
Hanh: I don't think so. I think because the blood of the dragons run through them (literally? figuratively?), having them platinum blond, with violet or light eyes is just a thing for them.
Rich: Dragon's blood! That explains it! Why didn't I think of dragon's blood?
Hanh: In the books — don't know about in the show yet — the Targaryens are traditionally incestuous. The king will usually marry his sister, so in the books, Daenerys expected to marry Viserys... until Khal Drogo entered the picture. Of course, procreation from incest begets madness or at least genetic anomalies.
Rich: I was going to say, the way Daenerys' brother was feeling her up was straight up Aryancest. And then, there's the separate twincest! So many varieties of incest on one show!
Hanh: Yup. George R.R. Martin is messed up, but it's the horrible stuff that's fun in this series. Oh, and the Lannisters are all supposed to be blond. I guess that's the best they could do with Peter Dinklage...
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Rich: Here's what I don't get, and maybe I'm not yet supposed to: Why did Daenerys have to marry a Dothraki in order to help her brother's power?
Hanh: King Aerys, the Mad King, was their dad. He got overthrown and then was slain by Jaime Lannister, who was supposed to be one of the king's own guards and is now King Robert's guard. When Mad King Dad was slain, Viserys and Daenerys (technically in the books she wasn't born yet, but I digress) had to flee or they'd be killed as the heirs. They went to the Free Cities and then the land of the Dothraki. Viserys and Daenerys are poor. That old guy Illyrio has been funding them.
Rich: But they seem so chi-chi!
Hanh: He's a magister, I think — rich. And in this episode, Daenerys marries a Dothraki warlord. Dothraki peeps are super violent, fierce warriors. So Viserys wants them in return, to eventually build up an army of Dothraki, go across the water and retake the Iron Throne, so he may sit upon it.
Rich: This is insane. Now, I feel like fantasy geeks have no other choice but to be geeks. Wrapping your heard around all this stuff has to consume your life, otherwise you'll always be missing something... You know what was very Showgirls? When the Queen asked Eddard's daughter Sansa if she makes her clothes (she does), and then said, "You must make something for me!" Sansa's clothes = Nomi's nails.
Hanh: Right! It's not quite that far off.
Rich: That brings me to Ginia Bellafante's instantly infamous New York Times review. Have you read?
Hanh: Haven't had time. What's with it?
Rich: "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."
Hanh: OMG. What idiocy.
Rich: That's WRONG WRONG WRONG because Game of Thrones is, at heart, is so so soapy.
Hanh: Right. It's all about backstabbing and intrigue and relationships. It's battle soaps.
Rich: And b-----iness! That's why I'm sticking around, at least.
[Note from Hanh: I've since read the Times review, and although I'm fine with Bellafante not liking the show or fantasy as a genre, I object to a) her insistence that the genre is in some way only appreciated by a niche, non-mainstream audience (um, what?) and b) her tendency to speak on behalf of women who can't possibly like fantasy better than other genres. I distinctly remember choosing The Hobbit to do a book report on in high school simply because it was the only fantasy novel on the approved list. Women like reading about war and bloodshed too, and I wasn't fooled into reading A Song of Ice and Fire or watching Game of Thrones with promises of illicit content!]
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Rich: Now, a few quick factual questions? We'll find out more about that Young Angsty Bastard that is Eddard's son? Such as his mother's identity?
Hanh: Well... Jon Snow is waiting to find out the identity of his mother. The conversation between him and Ned amounted to, "Hey, when I see you next, we'll talk about your mom." I can't say more than that.
Rich: The Wall has been mentioned, but I assume I also am not supposed to know what that is yet.
Hanh: I can tell you what it is — its presence in the world is not a secret. In fact, you already saw The Wall.
Rich: Oh, the very first shot?
Hanh: Yup, those three guys were with the Night Watch. The Wall is a huge wall built on the northern end of the Seven Kingdoms for protection. Thousands of years ago, it was built to ward off a threat to the north (not very specific, but that's what they say). Also, the wildings are a group of people who don't bow to the king and live beyond the wall.
Rich: Do we have any idea in what year this takes place? Dire wolves have been extinct for 10,000 years (on Earth).
Hanh: Right, but this ain't Earth. Hmm, don't know the year in Westerosi terms.
Rich: I assume old-timey, but then Dothraki are so post-apocalyptic chic that I get all confused!
Hanh: George R. R. Martin draws on so much western history and cultural things that it feels historical. What I think is interesting is that the Lannisters and Starks are at odds, and in real life, the War of the Roses was between the Lancasters and Yorks. I'm sure some nerd has written a treatise on parallels.
Rich: Well, if they haven't, we have you! J Thank you for being patient with me. I now know the other side of watching something with my mother. Whenever I do, she barrages me with questions. So many of them can be answered with a simple, "YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO KNOW YET." So basically, I'm becoming my mother in full view of all of the Internet.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.