Sunday, August 7, 2011


An apt diptych from last week: the mornings were spent teaching the elements of plot to German high school students; the evening spent indulging in HBO's new fantasy series, Game of Thrones (indulging my respect for stoic Sean Bean with a ponytail, and and my perving over the Northern English accent).

In brief, Game of Thrones is about a kingdom on the brink of internal war. Destined for conflict are those loyal to the King and his family, and those loyal to his right-hand man, Lord Stark, Lord of the North, and his clan. The King's wife's family, the Lanisters, are gold-laden schemers, and the King, considered a usurper by some, faces another family contesting his right to hold the throne.

Game of Thrones offers nothing to the viewer tiring of convention. There is little evidence of originality in the plot (aside from the interesting concept of a winter which comes not yearly but without much warning, and after years of summer, to devastating effect), and no 'realistic' character development. We are re-engaging a medieval approach to character where all is visible and emblematic. In medieval literature the reader knows the character of a knight, for example, because of the symbol on his shield or because of his actions. In Game of Thrones we know the character because of a knowing smirk, a toss of the hair, a killing blow, or the consumption of a bloody horse heart. Game of Thrones produces a cast which is a variation on a theme of archetypes: Lancelot and Guineverish illicit lovers (the Queen and her brother), the King's loyal retainer (Sean Bean's Becket-like Lord Stark to Mark Addy's Henry II-like King Robert), and the girl who wants to be a boy (Stark's daughter Arly).
The most obviously ambivalent character is Tyrian Lanister (played by Peter Dinklage). The dwarf, brother to the queen, is sassy and likes whores, and operates strictly in his own interests (reminding us perhaps of 'The dwarves are for the dwarves' in Lewis' Last Battle).

There are savage horse-lord people, beautiful albino-blondes with Elvish hairdos, and jousting tournaments, all accompanied by a combative martial opening theme with a celtic fiddle and hooflike counterpoint. (This musical theme has been stuck in my head all weekend and makes doing the dishes epic.)

So, despite all these obviously generic conventions, dressed up in armour and dirty leather tunics and sweeping hems and peaked cloaks, the question is why we - viewers not much hoodwinked by its familiar fare - become so involved in a well-worn plot which derives its energy, like a Victorian three volume novel, from its multiple plotting?

To be continued...

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