Sean Bean, looking vulnerable.

Look, I’ve really been trying. Not only was I prepared to like Game of Thrones when first I sat down to watch the opening episode of HBO’s series last year, I’ve come back to it several times, figuring I might have missed something, since so many people of generally discerning taste have been raving about it. But sorry, despite the best efforts of the producers to put on a good-looking, big budget production, it is hard for me to see where it differs from a Live Action Role-Playing Game writ large. Lot of overpaid actors running around in the woods with styrofoam swords, throwing flour at each other. Plus lots of tits.

I’ve also tried going to the source, figuring that the show might have got it all wrong. People have been singing the praises of this guy, George R. R. Martin, calling him “the American Tolkien” and stuff, and for all his faults, Tolkien is pretty damn great in my book. So I picked up the first volume in his endless cycle of 800-page novels and gave it a crack.

Oh gawd. What’s there to like? I mean, really? The world-building is staid, consisting of every fantasy cliché you can imagine (hardened but pure Northerners, decadent big city politicians with worm-tongued advisors, and dark-skinned savages that are awesome in battle as well as in bed, etc.) And everything is named so generically — you’re in trouble when “King’s Landing” is the best you can come up with for a great city, and when “Ice” is your idea of a cool name for a sword.

But the worst is the prose. I shall refrain from going on at length about it and merely flip through the book a random to give you a sample. This is on page 59. The righteous viking king (played by Sean Bean on TV) is haunted by doubts about a political move while his queen pines after him:

The wind swirled around him and he stood facing the dark, naked and empty-handed. Catelyn pulled the furs to her chin and watched him. He looked somehow smaller and more vulnerable, like the youth she had wed in the sept at Riverrun, fifteen long years gone. Her loins still ached from the urgency of his lovemaking. It was a good ache. She could feel his seed within her. She prayed that it might quicken there. It had been three years since Rickon. She was not too old. She could give him another son.



  1. Haha, that paragraph is bad. I tried reading the sample of the Kindle version of the first volume and didn’t even get through that little bit.

    I’ve been watching the show, though, sticking with it through season one despite a lot of reservations, and I’ve found the second season to be a big improvement. I do find it, thematically, to be, so far, rather one note. It’s all about power. All the time. Which gets tiring.

  2. Hm, I did see the first episode of the second season and found it pretty much the same, albeit with a greater focus on intrigue. But still: lots of purple, declaratory language, delivered with a straight face, interspersed with lots of t&a delivered with commercial cynicism. People tell me I should give the rest of the season a chance, but I don’t know…

  3. Well, it just may not be your thing. Considering it’s about 10 hours of my life a year, I find it entertaining enough. Kind of like Boardwalk Empire, actually. Which I find entertaining but not very… rich… I’d rather have 10 more hours of Luck, alas.

  4. Well, thing is I actually find it strikingly bad, as in hard to endure and wonder why people love it so much. Boardwalk Empire I haven’t gotten around to yet, though I probably will. I saw the Luck pilot and found it hard to follow, but it seemed interesting. Against my better judgment, I tend to like what Michael Mann does with character.

  5. I think the show itself can be summed up in the word “Gratuitous”.
    The watchers’ fascination, “Vicarious”.

    It’s a pulp fantasy, but not quite Conan. More of a Kull the Conqueror. My wife had a good laugh when we saw the opening titles of that one (all we could last), you see, if you add (as the Finnish phonaesthetics demand) an “i” to the end of the name Kull, it means “erect member”. Which is what the genre is about, really.

  6. Heh, good point. I doubt Martin and his many fans would agree with such a characterization of his work, but I’m not sure I would object.

  7. Which characterization? “A cock-fight of epic proportions, drawn out to and tied into ribbons around itself”?
    The best thing about the show is that it shows that a dwarf and self-styled prick can be a better human being than a whole bunch of other dicks.
    In keeping with the theme.

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