A Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones Edition
First, apologies for missing Wednesday. My computer has been having difficulties related to old age and outdated hardware/software. I couldn’t even get internet connection even though my router was fine. The long and short of this is that it’s going to get a brain transplant and I’ll have to make due with borrowed back-ups. I don’t intend to miss a midweek posting again (and now I’ve jinxed myself).
I’ve actually written a few entries on this before, but never with such a direct title. I have said before I love to share my love of certain media with other people, and I am sad when I am rebuffed because I want people to enjoy things I enjoy. But I try to respect their views and I realize that not every bit of media out there is going to be enjoyable to everyone. So this is about a bit of pop culture that on the surface of it I should like, and yet I do not. I’m glad my friends think of me and want to share their joy with me, but just as not everyone will love superhero movies (even though I do), I will not love what everyone wants to share with me.
So, the pop culture mega hit that is ASOFAI/Game of Thrones. I like the fantasy genre and the high stakes drama to save the world (this is also why I like comic books). I enjoyed the heck out of the “Lord of the Rings” movies (the “Hobbit” movies, well, much less so). I’ve written an epic fantasy novel. I also enjoy what I consider “quiet drama,” which to me is the type of drama generated from interpersonal relationships (this is probably due to my early exposure to the classic works of British literature). So, in theory, this vast story of political intrigue and interpersonal relationships set against the backdrop of a battle to save the world from the threat of ice zombies seems like this should be something I would totally be into. I even get a choice of the lengthy book series or the briefer HBO series.
I’m subject to peer pressure. I want to like this big pop culture hit. I really do understand those people who see all the superhero media out there and feel like they’re being left out because they simply don’t like the media. So I’ve tried the books, a bit, and the show, a bit, and this is just not for me. So to my well-meaning friends, sorry.
Now, there are a lot of details of narrative choices that are not personally to my taste. But I’m not going to get into that because my well-meaning friends are eager to explain to me if I just keep trying the books/show, I’d have the context necessary to appreciate those narrative choices. That may be. But I have an issue with the overall narrative that is a deal-breaker. This is, of course, just me, and I don’t expect (and have much evidence to the contrary) that anyone may agree with me.
This is my own terminology. As I’ve mentioned before, one of my parents was a professor of English literature, which included American and British literature. So as a child I did read some traditional children’s literature (like Roahl Dahl) but also read works like Jane Eyre when I was ten. Much of the drama in classic literature is what I call “quiet drama” because all the drama is derived from interpersonal relationships. There’s no big action sequences, and some stories actually ignore the volatile politics of the day to focus on the characters (this is a criticism of Jane Austen). The drama and the characters can certainly be intense (this is why Wuthering Heights and yes, Romeo and Juliet, are still fairly popular) but usually the main conflict is as simple as will they/won’t they (like Pride and Prejudice). In a nutshell, quiet drama focuses on character over plot.
This is again my own terminology. To me, “high drama” is derived from a conflict with world/universe shaking consequences. Like I said, this is part of why I like superhero comics. I consider the “Lord of the Rings” to be high drama because the fate of the world is at stake. In a nutshell, high drama focuses on plot over character. Does this mean the characters are flat? No, but there is an understanding (at least to me) that while individual character can and should have impact, they are secondary to the plot of saving the world. So in my Tolkien example, the friendship between Sam and Frodo is incredibly important, and Frodo definitely would not have gotten to the end without Sam. But most of the action happens with Aragorn and Co., and Gondor and Rohan, and all the giant battles. But through all of that, the characters make it clear no matter what happens, what they say or do, or who lives or who dies, what matters is destroying the ring.
Mixing these two types of drama is very difficult, even for the most talented and ambitious author. The only example I can think of off-hand that managed this balancing act is the “Dune” saga (and even that was not achieved in every book). The political stakes and interpersonal relationships (quiet drama) are key to controlling the universe (high drama).
And to the Point (finally):
ASOFAI/GoT doesn’t balance these two dramatic viewpoints. The story is driven by politics and interpersonal relationships, but really who sits on the Iron Throne is, well, I don’t want to say irrelevant, because it’s not, but it seems to be a much less important matter than stopping the zombie apocalypse. So I’m attempting to read/watch, and I just can’t get it out of my head that all this quiet drama, while fascinating, is kind of filler. Alternatively, if the drama is really supposed to be who sits on the throne, when why have the tease of a zombie/dragon apocalyptic showdown that doesn’t really seem to be affecting the bulk of the characters? Granted, Martin hasn’t finished the story, but Winter is coming, and one assumes that’s going to be more than a mundane meteorological forecast.
But again, this is my perspective. To me, trying to invest in this story (either the book or TV) would be like reading/watching the story of political jockeying in Gondor while knowing Sauron is building an army next door and no one is addressing that. Sure, it might be interesting to have a detailed story of Denethor descending into madness, but the Dark Lord is rising! To me, there are more important elements of that kind of high drama story to focus on than Denethor’s constant neglect of Faramir. Is that important? Yes. But is it necessary to describe in detail? I’d say no.
To my well-meaning friends, this is why I’m not going to invest more time and energy to enjoy this bit of pop-culture media. It may be well written/acted, and interesting, but my dabbles in this area have only left me feeling like I’m investing emotionally in quiet drama that has little to no bearing on the high drama, or feeling like the high drama is just a distraction to the quiet drama of the character interactions. I’m not getting the quiet drama I want, I’m not getting the high drama I want, and the balance between them is off. In short, this leaves me feeling cheated. If this is a good time for many, more power to them. It’s just not for me.