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The 'Threatening Fantasy' of 'Game of Thrones'

Television
by Sam Adams
July 31, 2013 4:31 PM
14 Comments
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Thrones

Maris Kreizman is best known as the proprietor of Slaughterhouse 90210, which pairs pop-cuture stills and literary quotes to often hilarious, frequently eye-opening effect. (Scroll down a bit for the Enlightened/Portrait of a Lady mashup.) But Kreizman, whose day job is in Barnes and Noble's digital division (and who, disclosure, was my editor when she worked at eMusic), is a formidable writer in her own right, which she most recently proved with a provocative essay on Game of Thrones.

Kreizman throws down a gauntlet with her opening line: "Game of Thrones is a show for Star Wars fans who thought Princess Leia should have been raped." She goes on:

I am not squeamish. I am used to HBO. I am used to sex and graphic violence and whatever you call what happens on True Blood. But Game of Thrones is visceral, literally. Body parts get hacked off and all sorts of gunk oozes from wounds, and the camera never cuts away. The spewing sound that accompanies decapitations becomes disgustingly familiar. We see everything. Nothing is insinuated. The personal depth and inner story we see in a majority of supporting characters actually come from seeing their insides. Sadism is commonplace. And in this world, a world in which violence and cunning and blood determine power, sex is the biggest weapon of all. Rape, or the threat of rape, or antiquated fantasies about rape, are present in every single episode.

It's a troubling piece, especially for what it implies about Game of Thrones' popularity in an age where sexual assault is presented, sometimes proudly, as public spectacle. Kreizman knows the counter-argument that George R.R. Martin is simply basing his world on the Europe of the Middle Ages, where women were often treated as less than human, but she's not buying it: "Game of Thrones is so brave to show what it was like back then," she snipes. "You know, in the time of dragons."


Part of what makes Game of Thrones distinctive -- and, to an extent, thrilling -- is the unforgiving brutality of Martin's world. It's one where no one, no matter their ranking in the hierarchies of power (or the opening credits) is safe from sudden death, where limbs and other bodily appendages are hacked off without warning, and where women, who rarely carry more than a dagger in rooms packed full of men with swords, are under constant, if implied, threat. Does the fact that women, contra stereotypes about fantasy fandom, have taken to watching the show en masse mean they identify with that, or that they're willing to overlook it because Dany has dragons? I wish Kreizman's piece were longer, and I hope it sparks further discussion, but man, am I glad it doesn't have a comments thread.

Read more: 'Game of Thrones' and the Threatening Fantasy

Television
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More: From the Wire, Game of Thrones

14 Comments

  • XAZ | April 15, 2014 7:58 AMReply

    Having read the essay in question I would contend that Kreizman misses the point entirely.

    Much lip service can be paid to the fact that men are placed under similar (not the same) threat of sexual violence as well as physical violence, and can often be viewed as political pieces rather than agents of their own fates. But this is a far too shallow reading of the piece as well.

    Metaphorically taken, Game of Thrones can be viewed as an allegory to very real power struggles placed before normal and powerful people in the real world. This is most evident in the political dealings, but the same can be said for the gender dynamics of that world and our world as well. Having built a semi-fantastical patriarchal society, Martin is exaggerating a male dominated society that we currently inhabit, and in doing so maps out the significant ways that the under represented women find they can subvert that power. Whether their methodologies can be viewed as deplorable or not is the point. It is the best possible course of action to ensure survival, which we as the audience are meant to take exception towards.

    If viewed as commentary Martin's world is one where women are under constant and extreme danger, and marginalized to the point of commodity. But almost all of the forward female protagonists wrestle with that void of power and come to various ends to achieve some means of success (in this case meaning continued longevity). Cersei's viewpoint, singled out in Kreizman's essay as being crass and demoralizing to her gender, is her understanding of wielding what little equity she has. In the novels she expresses as much, bemoaning she had not been born a man because she has the wit and the guile to have used that kind of power to better ends than her male family. This is about as un-subtle as you can get when discussing gender politics.

    (Side-note: Theon's torture is not absent in the books, while he isn't castrated it is a fairly sincere adaptation of his torture in A Dance With Dragons.)

  • Juzt | November 14, 2013 3:36 PMReply

    I really really hate the show. I thought I would love it. However the thing that bothers me is not emphasising constant threat and danger. Not even the gratuitous sex and violence. Its the fact that almost all the characters i like are dead. Leaving only the ones I don't like. It is an act of sadism on my part to watch it. Its a hopelessly bleak world in which nothing good ever happens. EVER. Nothing positive not once. Apparently this is realistic. But it is not, if this is what real life were like we would have all killed our selves by now. I really don't get why people like it. There is no pay off or anything, Bambi's mother dies every single episode eventually either leaving you jaded and depressed, desensitising you to any additional major character dying. Or in my case thinking I can't bear to watch this any more it's just horrible.

  • Shavonne | August 4, 2013 3:21 PMReply

    Most of the point of Game of Thrones is that everyone is under some sort of threat, no one is safe from war, rape, torture, incest, castration, necrophilia, prostitution, etc. I don't think showing this brutality is necessarily saying it is ok or only in regards to targeting one sex vs another. There is always a limit on seeing a portrayal of any or one of this things, there just is. If I don't want to watch something like that, I don't, maybe Ms. Kreizman should look into that.

  • anonymous | August 2, 2013 3:46 AMReply

    What I gathered from her essay is that genre fiction is not allowed to deal with the realities and horrors of life. If it does deal with those subjects, they must be there to titillate rather than shock or disturb. The show is a mess at times with all the HBO prerequisite boobage and the entire Theon torture arc never shown in the books. However, I don't think even the show's creators and directors would say one should enjoy it because of such. Reading A Song of Ice and Fire is a much different experience than watching Game of Thrones and I would recommend reading it before casting the failures of the show at Martin

  • right | August 1, 2013 6:23 PMReply

    http://imgur.com/gallery/GyQ038a

  • Taco | August 1, 2013 1:03 PMReply

    It's just a t.v. show, you should really just relax.

  • Missy | August 1, 2013 11:36 AMReply

    I agree with Kreizman 100%.

  • Jeff | August 1, 2013 12:19 PM

    It's a rather one-sided piece. Men are subjected to the same violence. Men are threatened with rape. One man has his penis cut off. Another is slaughtered and his body sewn to the head of an animal. Yet she doesn't mention any of these items.

  • kate | August 1, 2013 10:49 AMReply

    Where can I read her essay??

  • Sam Adams | August 1, 2013 1:10 PM

    The link is right at the bottom of the article.

  • kate | August 1, 2013 11:03 AM

    Don't worry, I know how to use Google, but kinda lame not to link to original article...

  • Tyrion | August 1, 2013 4:27 AMReply

    If Mrs Kreizman is titillated when she's watching rape scenes, she shouldn't assume that everyone is as pervert as she is.
    She can keep her migosinistic theories to herself and avoid making a fool of herself by showing that she can only see sexism in one of the most feminist show on currently on tv.
    It's sad when people don't see that they are worse than what they criticize, yes Mrs Kreizman, by only seeing what you want to see in the show (an average of 2 min by 60 minutes episode, approximately 3% of the content) and by being excited by those images when the intent of the show was clearly to present horrible/discomforting situations, you show us that you are a lot more sexist than Game of Thrones ever was or will be.
    I'm sad for the feminist movement because you're hurting them a lot by being lumped in the same category.

  • Eli | July 31, 2013 10:38 PMReply

    I love Maris Kreizman and she is completely right in every respect, except one. Don't take this as me saying she's wrong she's just has what I feel is a minor mistake that I always find a little distressing, a pet peeve of sorts.

    "Oh, right. Game of Thrones doesn’t need to be historically accurate because it’s a fantasy..."

    Fantasy to me has never needed to be anything other than a world that has never existed. Sometimes they are fun enjoyable worlds like the Discworld, Magic Kingdom of Landover or Xanth series. Other times they are hard, cruel worlds where terrible things happen to terrible and god people alike. All of these don't have to explain why they chose to be light, bitter or anything in between. A fantasy story's worth is in it's ability to bring you somewhere new that you could never inhabit, for better or for worse.

    I love GoT, but not because it has to happy, bright and wonderful. I love the world in all it's cold, dark and terrible dangers. I follow the characters I care for most (Jaimie, Catelyn, The Hound, Sansa, Tyrion and Sam Tarley) and worry for them, because this world is so cruel and hard without respect for anyone's life and wellbeing. It's the world's miserable nature and the way it draws me into the characters lives that makes me love it so.

    That being said I really do want an HBO styled Landover, Abhorsen or The First Law TV show to develop from GoT. You can only hope.

  • dfmgloik | July 31, 2013 5:33 PMReply

    Her simplified, insultingly depressing first quote and basically entire article about the series, which I've watched more than read, lacks any new ideas on the subject. Sure, it's a fantasy where medieval lifestyles can be played out and embellished, or probably glossed over, for a story with dragons. If Martin wants to write about it, that's his choice. Nobody has to read it. I don't get if this argument is basically just her coming to terms with what's being portrayed because she eventually decided to have a love/hate relationship with the show, or if she has any argument at all. It's the responsibility of the TV station to hold back what they want from the book, and from what I've heard a lot of fans of the book say, they cut a lot out, made a lot of shit up, and basically exploit what Martin may very well have just been attempting to portray. You know, because it's HBO.

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