Are you baffled by the love for Game of Thrones?
The fantasy drama has been an unqualified success for HBO, but even as it's entering the home stretch of its third season, not everybody is on board the Westerosi train. Take, for example, this Thrillist writer who insists that women hate Game of Thrones. Crazy as Mad King Aerys, right? Her points are so ridiculous, we're tempted to think this is supposed to be satire, except it's neither clever nor funny. Of course, this far more eloquent and learned New York Times writer offers a similar argument in her review of Game of Thrones when it first debuted.
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As bona fide women, TVGuide.com's Hanh Nguyen and Sadie Gennis (of the Game of Thrones By the Book chat series) would like to very respectfully discuss some of the biggest issues that the detractors have with the series.
Dear Game of Thrones haters,
We understand that Game of Thrones isn't for everyone, but we're disappointed by some of your arguments against our beloved HBO series. Here are seven points — one for each of the seven kingdoms of Westeros, seven gods, and yes, seven hells! — that we'd like to address:
1. It's not for women In this day and age, it feels very dated to hear that anything — except maybe Viagra and jock straps — are lost on women. True, this is not Sex and the City, but very little is on the current TV landscape, and we have broad tastes (you know, because we're broads). As far as female protagonists are concerned, just take your pick of some of the strongest depictions on TV. If Brienne or Arya are too tomboyish for your tastes, there is still the uber-feminine Cersei, Margaery, Catelyn and Daenerys. (You really can't get more beautifully bada-- than the Mother of Dragons.) And as women who, sadly enough, can relate to living in a patriarchal society (though thankfully not one as bad as Westeros), it's empowering to watch Game of Thrones' female characters, who are born with little to no power, defy social codes and assert their autonomy. As the show has proven time and time again, it's often the women who rule the men around them (and in some cases, the entire realm!) Even Game of Thrones' creator George R.R. Martin considers himself a feminist at heart, telling the Telegraph that though many fans might hate the female characters, he's happy "they hate them as people, because of things that they've done, not because the character is underdeveloped." Plus, the show has enough pretty people and pretty clothes to make even Carrie Bradshaw shriek in jealousy.
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2. Strong sexual content HBO delivers R-rated content for your subscription fee, but Game of Thrones isn't really any more salacious than the stuff we see on Californication or Shameless, both of which have avoided similar scrutiny. Plus, there's equal-opportunity nudity. Go, feminism! And even the constant female nudity, which many find unnecessary, often serves a purpose beyond simple sexploitation. When Daenerys emerged from her bath completely exposed to Daario, it wasn't to give the viewers a T&A show, but to prove that even when she should be at her most vulnerable, Daenerys maintains control of any situation. And if it's the use of prostitutes or darker encounters (e.g. crossbows aimed at prostitutes) that are disturbing you, well, they're supposed to. Those scenes aren't supposed to be sexy. And in a world where integrity and chastity are as rare as dragons, wouldn't it be a tad contrived to depict prostitutes as conservatively dressed, non-sexual people? The beauty of this series is that sometimes, the more talky scenes turn us on the most. This season, Brienne and Jaime navigating their budding friendship was some of the most swoon-worthy stuff on TV and we were shipping Jon and Ygritte long before he stuck her with the pointy end.
3. Too much violence and gore Beheadings. Impalings. Skinning. Make no mistake: This is not Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. That said, the amount of violence isn't ever gratuitous. Every cut, every death is unpleasant as it should be. How the characters react to these horrors is what gives the series weight. But don't be distracted by the blood and guts; these gory scenes aren't the point of the show any more than the sex scenes. If you focus all of your attention (and hate) on them, you're missing the bigger and richer picture. If Jaime hadn't lost his hand, he never would have been humbled into the noble man we now know. Westeros is a tough and brutal world. To pretend otherwise would lower the stakes of the dangerous game at which they're all playing.
4. Too complex We will not disagree that Game of Thrones involves many, many players (sometimes with multiple nicknames). It is war after all! But if a soaps fan can keep track of decades' worth of characters, a sports nut can recite detailed stats and a young Harry Potterhead can tell you the how to turn a victim's legs to jelly (that's Locomotor Wibbly for you muggles), then the politics and vast cast on Game of Thrones isn't too difficult to grasp. As with anything worth learning, however, an interest is required. And for new viewers, possibly the Internet as well. There's no shame in turning to Wikipedia now and then to distinguish Grizzled Bearded Man No. 1 from Grizzled Bearded Man No. 2. Just try to avoid spoilers! Or simply don't let yourself get bogged down by questions and just get taken for a ride.
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5. Fantasy genre This is a rather complex issue to address here, but we'll try to keep it brief. We've heard of many reasons why people don't like fantasy: it's nerdy, it's childish, it's an inferior type of escapism because it's not set in a real world. Over the years, the stigma attached to the term "nerd" has been shown to be less nichey and undesirable than previously thought (thanks to superhero films, Chuck, Big Bang Theory and sexy geeks like Seth Cohen). Besides, nerdy isn't a bad thing. Nerds are nothing if not passionate about what they love, and therefore, are the most loyal of fans. Beyond that, we'd like to hope that fantasy keeps the imagination and sense of wonderment that we had as children alive. And how are magic and dragons any less relatable than a chemistry teacher-turned-druglord or a serial killer with a moral code? Fantasy isn't a second-class genre for those who can't deal with real world, but rather a genre that rewards those who have the imagination to accept and enjoy things outside our everyday experiences and see ourselves reflected in even the most fantastical experiences.
6. The series differs from the books This is a legitimate complaint since adaptations are rarely as rich and complex as the source material. (Although we must admit that we prefer The Princess Bride movie over the novel.) Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series, on which Game of Thrones is based, definitely has more nuance and a deeper historical foundation than what's shown on the screen. But adaptations are not exact translations, and we can't help feel sorry for those who have closed themselves off to the awesomeness of Peter Dinklage's sardonic yet heartbreaking Tyrion Lannister, sharing the horror of Ned's execution (which was only mentioned in passing in the books) or actually hearing Dothraki and High Valyrian spoken in outrage. With only ten episodes a season, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have had to condense and reconfigure many aspects, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Yes, Edric Storm was a charming little bastard, but who are we to complain about more Gendry screentime (especially when it involves so little clothes)? So what if the characters on the show are more attractive than their book counterparts? After all the close-ups on amputated nipples, flayed fingers and infected stumps, it's nice to look at a something pretty now and then. And while subtle allusions have often been replaced by obvious exposition, the show always manages to stay true to the tone of the books, which is what really matters in the end.
7. It's your opinion The emphasis is on "your." Instead of making general statements like "Women hate Game of Thrones," or "Game of Thrones is too hard to understand," we'd respect you far more if you simply used the word "I" because that's more accurate. You don't like Game of Thrones. You're confused by it and find fantasy uninteresting and pointless, etc. No one is forcing you to watch the show and while we support your right to share your opinion, it's not your place to speak for us. You are not the Lorax and we aren't trees. We can speak for ourselves and what we — and we assume the millions of other female viewers — have to say is that we love Game of Thrones, sex, gore and all. We're not about to pull a Joffrey and have you beat up for annoying us. But we might think about it.
Do you hate Game of Thrones? Why? If you love Game of Thrones, what are some of the criticisms you've heard?
Game of Thrones returns on Sunday, June 2 at 9/8c on HBO.