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Will Someone Tell Me Why Everyone Loves Game of Thrones?

Last year, everybody was raving about the new Game of Thrones TV series, calling it J.R.R. Tolkien, but subtle. So I picked up the first book from George R.R. Martin (yes, R.R.) and read it. Dishier than Tolkien, to be sure: lots of sex in that book. Easier to read than Tolkien? You bet: no six-stanza poems breaking up the incessant action. But subtle? Oh, come on: it’s basically a soap opera with swords and heaving bosoms and dragons.

I don’t have television reception at home so I haven’t seen the show, but I’m on the road right now and ran across the season opener for the show on HBO. Friends have been telling me I really need to see this TV show for the past year, and here was my chance, so I watched it, expecting something special. But my reaction was the same: oh, look, a soap opera. With swords. And dragons. And heaving bosoms (reserved for minute 40, when we’d be otherwise bored).

And yet, the newspapers are suddenly all chatty about Game of Thrones again. CNN placed GoT on its culture calendar. So maybe I’m missing something. Do you think I’m missing something? Can somebody tell me what the big deal is with Game of Thrones? Why are so many people excited about it? Is there something delicious and delectable about the books or the show that I just can’t see? Or is all that the result of calculated media hype?

7 comments to Will Someone Tell Me Why Everyone Loves Game of Thrones?

  • Anonymous

    No, I don’t get it either. I saw part of a show, and it was so bad that I winced, and turned it off. It seemed essentially like The Sopranos, but in the fantasy genre, and not even as good as The Sopranos, which really wasn’t so hot as everyone said it was either.

    My best guess is this: People get pulled in by the hype, and then so badly want the hype to be substantiated that they stick around a little while longer than they normally would, and then… they become part of The Universe of the story, and get absorbed in a TV watching ritual of it. It’s like being part of a romantic relationship with someone who’s okay, not great, but you’ve been seeing for a very very, long time. After a while, doesn’t marriage just seem like the next step?

    The public relations aspect of it also can’t be underestimated. I recently read through a book on motivational psychology that was based on a remarkably simplistic model. The book really wasn’t that great, but it got attention all over – the NPR back-to-back interviews kind of attention. Why? The author writes for the New York Times, and has connections in the publishing industry.

    These days, publishing seems more about social networking, online and offline, than quality. But, maybe it always was. Reading Lord of The Rings to my kids, I am amazed at the appalling lack of sensible editing. Do I really need to slog through all the details of the changing geology and vegetation on the road from the Shire to Mordor? Groan.

  • Dove

    I too share your disappointment after watching the whole first season in anticipation of “surely this is going to get good at any moment.” I have heard some attempt to explain that not liking the characters helps one enjoy their tragic downfalls, but to me it drained the emotional impact because no one made me care enough about them to feel the tragedy of their loss. Tyrion had some good scenes but not enough to support the rest. The story suggests the fantastic parts happen in winter but the plot is set in the summer and [spoiler alert] I was told it doesn’t even begin to snow until the end of book 5 or some such. I can only hope the book was written better than the show considering the hype.

    If you have time to read a new epic fantasy, I would suggest Steven Erikson’s Malazan tales of the Fallen, which begins with a volume called Gardens of the Moon. Great philosophical characters, deep structure (to fill 10 volumes of about 1000 pages each), and lots of open use of magical systems and dealings with allegorical divinities.

  • Joshua Budden

    I’m a fan of the books. Not impressed with the TV series. The books do have a lot of subtleties. Did you pick up that Jon may be the Targaryen heir? It’s there in the first book. Too subtle to be in the show though. Or that Jon played Eddard in order to get Ghost? If you remember, he went back to get him when her heard Ghost cry, but Ghost never makes a sound.

    Mostly I like the books, because they’re well written. It’s the only fantasy series that makes me see flesh. When I read D&D based novels, Tolkien, Robert Jordan etc, I see cartoons, or some kind of art in my minds eye. When I read Martin, I see flesh. A bit of a soap opera feel at times. Still good.

    Worst casting of the series? Loras and Renly. Renly should be 6’6″ and muscle. Both are powerful warriors. In the show neither looks like they have the strength to walk in armor. I think whoever cast these guys was too narrow minded to imagine someone who is both mighty and gay.

  • Bill

    I’m guilty of finding the books pretty engaging…well-written, unlike the vast majority of sci-fi and fantasy, plot twists I couldn’t see coming a mile away (my biggest pet peeve in literature), well-drawn characters I could form attachments to. I could say the same thing about the Ring Trilogy, but for me Martin’s series has one major strength Tolkien’s lacked. In the Ring Trilogy, you pretty much know from page one, and through every subsequent page, that Everything Will Work Out Alright. It is, after all, fundamentally a children’s story; the good guys always win in the end, and Goodness triumphs over Evil. Martin’s series, in contrast, is a lot more like real life: evil routinely triumphs, with just enough unaccountable successes for the good guys to keep you hoping against hope that maybe they’ll actually catch a break…which they seldom do. But then, I’m also a big John le CarrĂ© fan for much the same reason. I’m huge fun at parties.

    The TV series is OK, but just OK. The actor who plays The Imp (I have no idea who he is) does a brilliant job. It’s a meaty role, and he plays it well. It’s a pleasure watching a little person play something other than a munchkin for a change.

  • Sean

    I’ve read the books and I’ve watched the TV series. Even in the books it is essentially a Soap Opera. The books are more subtle than the show for sure because there are things that can’t be portrayed as well in the medium that is Television. The TV show has poor acting. The only ones that can act are the Starks (not including Jon, but I especially liked the acting for Ayra), Tyrion Lannister, and Syrio the dancing instructor (essentially a nobody). There is no definite plot, it feels like you’re just following characters through their day to day lives. I managed to read 300 pages in without anything interesting happening. The book is long and very slow paced. I felt like Dove, I kept reading because of the hype, thinking to myself “This is going to get better… any moment now… something has to happen”

    All of the sex and the killing of major characters seems gimmicky, and his villains are a bore. None of his villains are likable. It’s not because they’re villains, it’s because they have no personality. The villains aren’t even terrifying to make up for how one dimensional they are! But at least thy have a clear motive I suppose. And killing off major likable characters makes me want to put the book down, not because its heartbreaking or gruesome, but because I’ve lost interest.

    The only thing this has in common with Tolkien is that they’re both fantasy books set in typical fantasy settings (medieval Europe). And both authors over-describe *everything*.

  • Hawkinsob

    I just got HBO and started watching the series from the beginning. I watched the first 3 episodes and gave up. Very disappointed. It certainly struck me as simply a daytime soap opera with swords. That is how I stumbled onto this particular website–I googled “Game of Thrones soap opera” because I wanted it see if anyone agreed with me that it is merely a bad daytime drama, and voila, loads of articles and commentary stating exactly that. Just bad.

  • Kevin (Ket)

    No idea about all the love “A Game of Thrones” is getting. I finished the first book and I have to concur- it’s a soap opera. Not just in structure, but in pulling every soap opera trope imaginable. Family scandal, blackmail, extramarital affairs, illegitimate children, miraculous survivals, evil twins, and even amnesia!

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