Believe it or not, the staffers of TV Guide don't always agree. Just ask the spies over at Slack HQ (just kidding, we hope).
Instead of letting our most intense debates continue to disappear into the void, though, we've decided to share some quarrels with our readers in point-counterpoint style, starting with this heated discussion between Amanda Bell and Tim Surette about the merits (or lack thereof) of Game of Thrones' many instances of on-screen infanticide. Enjoy.
Hi, so we get it, Game of Thrones. Westeros is a dangerous place, and no one is safe — not even the cutest, most snuggliest of babies. We've heard you loud and clear, but enough is enough already. Can we get a drop of the Mother's mercy and stop being forced to watch children die?
I'll admit that part of the problem for me is that I've become a parent twice over since Game of Thrones first started. My firstborn came along just before we saw the Night King turn Craster's baby, and it made me so physically uncomfortable to watch that little one lying in the frozen forest that I almost quit the show right then and there. So, I'm willing to chalk some of my frustrations up to mama bear syndrome.
Even then, though, I could understand why we were witnessing this slice of ice hell — the Night King was amassing his army by turning more than just rotted corpses, and we also needed to experience the sickness that was Craster in order to empathize with Samwell (John Bradley)'s desperation to save Gilly (Hannah Murray) and Little Sam.
Beyond that baby, we've seen all sorts of child executions unfold. Some have been mildly tolerable — more than tolerable, in the case of Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) — while others were absolutely excruciating to behold, like when the Lannisters hunted down Robert's pint-sized bastard in the brothel and slayed him in front of his wailing mother or when Princess Shireen (Kerry Ingram) was burned at the stake while her own father ignored her screams. The worst — THE WORST — came along when Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) threw poor Lady Walda and her newborn into the dogs' kennel. I might never forgive Game of Thrones for that one.
All of these monstrosities have been in service of showing us just how hideous these characters can be and what a cruel, cruel world even the non-dead humans have made here. Fine. But I came into this season hoping they were done eliciting cheap shocks with children's deaths, and yet ... the very first episode brought little Lord Umber back to the Great Hall, adorably fumbling over his manners as he asked for help rescuing his people, and then the kid got strung up by the Night King like some grisly murder trophy.
Child deaths like these just aren't necessary anymore. We already know kids are vulnerable and caught in the middle of these terrors. We are fully versed on the fact that the stakes for losing the war ahead are incalculable for all ages of man. Quit beating a dead
horse kid already.
Unfortunately, it seems likely that Game of Thrones will continue employing this low-blow move in the next episode.
All the littlest northerners have been gathered to wait out the battle in the crypt, and since we've heard roughly 47 times how this Stark graveyard is the safest place for them, we know it is absolutely not. That place is probably about to become ground zero for the Night King's newest set of reanimated corpses to roam, which means at least half of Winterfell's wee ones are going down. Which... sigh. Why.
Counterpoint: Kid Deaths Are as Important Now as Ever
I'm not sure why I signed up to become the newest internet villain by condoning the murder of children on television, but here we go! I'll start with this, just to make it clear: I do not support the killing of kids in real life. I can't believe that I had to say that out loud, but bases need to be covered. I actually like the little buggers! And as a father of a 5-year-old, I would throw myself into oncoming traffic to save a stray tyke. They are our future, etc. etc. etc.
That said, I do get a charge out of seeing Game of Thrones off little ones as often as it does. There's something about treating children as equals to adults in this world that really builds out the show's universe, which has become the most realized fantasy world on television.
Westeros sucks. It's a horrible place to live. There's nothing but cruelty, manipulation, corruption, and violence, all of which press the characters against the wall into action, defining them as heroes, antiheroes, and villains. Constantly coloring this world as a vile place is essential to the framework of the story and the people who live in it. It's vile through and through; there's no Shire for furry-footed munchkins to hide in and smoke their lollipop weed or whatever, or a single evil entity bringing darkness into this world. The world is already wretched, and we need to be reminded of that.
Unfortunately for the prepubescent, a good way to do that is by killing them. Game of Thrones goes through adults the way Craster went through diapers, which desensitizes us to the eradication of elders. Remember when the Mountain ripped that dude's head off? That was hilarious. The burning of Shireen Baratheon was the most difficult thing I've watched in the show, but it had purpose. It showed just how far gone Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) was in his endless pursuit for the Iron Throne. The same can be said when Theon showed off those kids al pastor. That was horrifying, and it sticks with you to immerse you in that reality. It's hard to watch, but it's incredibly effective.
And treating kids as equals goes both ways. Joffrey — R.I.P. little buddy — was arguably the worst human being in the series. He was given an adult's role, he sucked at it, and viewers were popping champagne when he was poisoned. Robyn Arryn? A full-on lame-o of epic proportions. I bet even Amanda wants to see him trip out the Moon Door and become a chunky mess on the ground below.
Game of Thrones has established that every person, young or old, is their own being, and therefore subject to the same rules as everyone else. That's what establishes Game of Thrones as relentless adult fantasy.
Now, I'm not asking for Game of Thrones to give us a 45-minute bloody battle between two armies of toddlers — though I would watch the HECK out of that, and now that I think about it, I need it. But an infrequent reminder about the cruelty of this world, especially the harshness of the unfeeling White Walkers (sorry little Umber), keeps the weight of the show right where it needs to be.
What about you? Where do you fall on this oh-so-important issue right now?
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.