Thursday, March 22, 2012

Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 1: Winter is Coming

Game of Thrones Season 2 is coming up and we’ll both be watching it because we’re both fans. Since we don’t watch anything without our social justice goggles, we intend to include. Is it Urban Fantasy? No, but it’s one of Urban Fantasy’s Speculative Fiction Cousins, so we’re happy to give it a seat.

To that end we’re going to have a re-watch of Season 1 to bring us up to speed in time for the coming of Season 2

Several members of Night Watch are tracking a group of Wildlings (those who live North of the Wall that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the Wildlands of the North) and find them horribly butchered and their bodies arranged. Investigation leads to blue eyed undead who slice and dice the Night Watch

I have to snark the idea of the Night Watch’s dramatic black clothing given the snowy surroundings (which doesn’t change since this is summer in that area) especially watching said soldiers trying to be stealthy in the snow. I think that the Whitewatch may have been more practical, at least when scouting during the day.

This will all become very important in the future, oh yes.

Now the books this series is based on very sensibly kept nice guides at the back so you could quickly look up just who of the 10 squillion characters is who. HBO actually provides a most excellent guide. I’ll try and keep things clear as I can as the gazillion people are introduced.

Which is where we begin with the Stark Family, Lords of Winterfel (the northern Kingdom): Led by Ned, his with Catelyn (once Tully) and their children: Robb, son and heir, the ladylike Sansa, tomboy Arya, Bran, baby Rickon and Ned’s illegitimate son Jon Snow, joined by Theon Greyjoy, Ned’s Ward. All of whom are having a fun time until they receive news of a deserter – one of the survivors from the undead above the wall who is clearly disturbed by the “White Walkers” he saw. He is executed for desertion in the grim, cold land even though he is thought mad – and his warning of the White Walkers isn’t heeded. And so we see the Starks, honest, honourable, grim and hard – and closely linked to the old ways and old traditions. They also get themselves a Direwolf puppy for each of Ned’s children though Direwolves are not seen south of the Wall.

Next introductions! We move to Kings Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms! Where Jon Arryn, the former Hand of the King is dead (and I really love the detail they’ve gone into for the funerary rites). Alas they will need a new Hand of the King to run the kingdom while the king fails to do so.

And here we meet the boorish King Robert Baratheon, his cunning and not very pleasant wife Cersei (once Lannister), her twin brother Jaime Lannister (a kingsguard) – who are all heading north to Winterfel to talk to Ned – and give him the heavy honour of being Hand of the King. This also gives us time to see Prince Joffrey, the spoiled brat and Tyrion Lannister, brother to Cersei and Jaime – a little person, intelligent and witty though often disparaged by those around him.

And we flip to the next set of introductions is across the see, outside the Seven Kingdoms, in the Free City of Pentos where we meet innocent, young Daenerys and her abusive brother Viserys Targaryen, the last survivors of the noble family that once ruled the Seven Kingdoms before Robert Baratheon’s rebellion. Daenerys has been promised to marry Drogo, a Dorthraki horse-lord to give them an army to take back their kingdoms. On with the “savage” wedding and introducing Ser Jorah Mormont, from the Seven Kingdoms who becomes a kind of aide/bodyguard to Daernerys. For her wedding gift, among other things, she is given dragon eggs (her house once conquered the Seven Kingdoms riding dragons). This ends with Drogo raping Daenerys, while she cries – while this is obviously awful, it’s even worse when we consider the version in the books (not that the books didn’t have their own failures). Daenerys married Drogo, but when she cried he comforted her and didn’t have sex with her until she said yes enthusiastically.

Back at Wintefel, Jon is being invited to join his uncle, Bran (senior) Stark at the Wall with the Night Watch and Tyrion is most awesomely telling Jon how he navigates the slurs people throw at him. Meanwhile there is much talk of Ned going to Kings Landing and his daughter, Sansa, marrying Prince Joffrey. It’s also very very clear that the Starks and the Lannisters don’t like each other all that much.

But the plot thickens – a message arrives from Lysa Arryn (Catelyn’s sister, widow of Jon Arryn). She fled the capital – claiming Jon Arryn was murdered by the Lannisters who are now plotting against the King. While Ned doesn’t want to be Hand, leaving Robert Baratheon alone in the hands of the plotting Lannisters can’t be tolerated by him. And another sinister plot begins as Bran’s climbing takes him to a high window where he sees Jaime Lannister having sex with Cersei – his twin sister. Naturally this secret has to be protected and Jaime throws him from the high window to keep it hidden.

Obviously the treatment of Tyrion Lannister as a disabled person is problematic with the universal derision he faces – but he himself is a strong and brilliant character who puts the lie very nicely to their derision. And his words on facing their derision are powerful to say the least. He’s also sexual – which is so very unusual for depictions of disabled people, even the best depictions tend to render disabled people sexless.

I think the closest thing to POC we have are the Dorthraki. They are presented as savages however, not civilised, brutal warriors and not much else. Primal, half naked, with filthy, unsanitary food covered in flies (was that really necessary?) and men fighting and killing each other over the bare breasted female dancers who they then have public sex with. It seems common in High Fantasy or in any medieval setting to assume that all people were homogenous in the past – and, in a pseudo-European  setting, any POC must be the alien (and threatening) Other.

Robert Baratheon, alas, fills just about every stereotype possible for a fat man – loud, crude, self-indulgent, over indulgent and lazy. However there are other larger men around (albeit in much much more minor roles)

Also unfortunately, we see an insight into the women of Game of Thrones: motherly, matronly Catelyn, plotting, scheming, incestuous Cersei, innocent, abused and raped Daenerys (though she gets better), half naked Dorthraki women being fought over for sex and many many many many many prostitutes. I think this adaptation should have had a subtitle “as interpreted through the jiggling breasts of sex-workers”. These are all highly stereotyped roles, alas.

Obviously this episode is primarily aimed at introducing the huge cast of characters and showing how they interact with each other. Not much plot so much as a necessary foundation on which plot can be built. It shows who is who, who is connected to who and what they all feel about each other. Considering the huge amount of characters it has to cover, it does an amazingly good job – albeit with a gratuitously unnecessary amount of breasts on display.