Getting into the Game

Posted: August 2, 2012 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve never read Lord of the Rings. Never seen the movies. Fantasy books have never really interested me, whether they’re single offerings or five-book series. I never even read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, even though I’ve read dozens of his books and everyone I know who’s read the Dark Tower ones raves about them. But their setting and plot and elements just didn’t interest me.

And until last week I had never read any of George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books and I hadn’t seen an episode of the HBO series based on the books, A Game of Thrones, which has already run for two seasons. I still haven’t read any of the five books. But I have watched the first season. Now all I want to do is talk about Game of Thrones and read about it and watch YouTube tributes and joust and betray a king.

And god do I want to see that second season.

So what happened? Have I become a full-fledged fantasy fan, one who dreams of dragons and witches? Will I attend conventions, perhaps dressed as a knight? Will I ditch sports messageboards in favor of forums about imps and boy kings? Probably not. But I have realized I’ve limited myself based on nothing more than some strange belief that fantasy books weren’t my thing.

We don’t get HBO so I couldn’t see the first season of A Game of Thrones when it premiered in 2011. I read good reviews of the series and knew friends who liked it. That’s not enough to sway me. Last year I also read an incredible story in The New Yorker about the fans of the books, some of whom turned on Martin when he took years to publish the fifth offering in the series. This enraged the fans, who created websites to ridicule their hero, all while hoping he’d finally produce something they love. It was a great story, but didn’t inspire me to watch the series.

Finally, as I browsed Netflix, I decided to just pick a series and watch it straight through and I read some of the enthusiastic Netflix reviews about A Game of Thrones — while wading through the messages left by those who still loathe the company for daring to raise their prices — and ordered the discs, all five of them for the first season. I was hooked from the first episode’s opening scene about the death of The Hand of the King until the final scenes with the dragons. I watched two or three episodes a night, sent the discs back and when it was all over, cursed the fact the second season won’t be on DVD until early next year.

Of course, I’m also woefully behind the times. While I’m still fascinated by the Lannister siblings’ unorthodox relationship, and terrified of the White Walkers and in love with the imp and ready to go into battle under the direction of Robb Stark and horrified by Ned Stark’s fate, everyone else has moved on to… whatever it is that happens in the second season (and please don’t tell me).

The problem with being behind the times is that you’re still of our times. You can’t avoid everything or much of anything. Through osmosis last year I heard about some of the plot twists, including the most dramatic one involving Ned Stark’s head. Still, I basically came into the series as a blank slate. Since I didn’t read the books I couldn’t compare the series to them and I couldn’t complain about what was left out or what was changed.

Not sure what I’ll do for the second season. In my pursuit of stories about the first season, I’ll inevitably stumble onto information about the second, tidbits that will seep into my brain, take up residence and re-emerge next year when I see the DVDs.

I’m debating about whether I should simply buy the second book. And again, people whose opinions I know and trust, folks who have similar tastes to me, rave about the books. But am I really ready to commit myself to 900 pages of fantasy, or can I only take it in one-hour doses? Maybe it works visually for me but not on the page. I have a feeling I’ll buy that second book and shortly after I’ll read the third. Eventually I’ll finish the fifth and then I’ll realize there aren’t anymore left, not until Martin produces the sixth in the series that is expected to be seven books long. Then I’ll finally understand the frustration of those fans who turned on Martin, even if I still question their sanity.

In some ways of course this is the best way to watch a series. Instead of having to wait a week for each new episode, you get everything at once and only wait a day for the mail, or consume it all at once if it streams instantly. But still, you don’t experience the highs and lows with everyone else. On a certain level, you do know what is coming, no matter how much you try and avoid it. Same thing happened with that HBO series about some guy in the mob in Jersey. You remember it — you’re still cursing about what happened during that Journey song. When The Sopranos originally aired I only caught a few episodes in real time, although with the way that show saturated our culture, it was truly impossible to avoid major spoilers. But in 2010 I splurged and watched every episode of the series in the course of a month and went through all the emotions that other viewers experienced seven or eight years earlier. Four years after that ending baffled everyone else, it baffled me.

So now I wait for that second season of A Game of Thrones. And by the time I do watch the second season, everyone else will be ready for the third. How to fill my time?

Suppose I could give that Wire show a shot.

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Comments
  1. Anonymous says:

    You’re not alone this is a great series with great characters….the key? Do not like any of the characters too much……there is a lot of offing of heads in this series…..

  2. Rich Jensen says:

    I have this theory: These days we consider ‘compelling’ TV compelling if it diverges wildly from our own lives either in premise or in execution. Perhaps such settings allow good writers and producers to experiment with the bounds of the human experience, but I think more often than not, even critics are carried away by the fantastic elements (“OMG People are smoking *indoors!* OMG He’s cooking meth in a trailer!! OMG He’s a serial killer with a conscience!!”) and allow some rather bad plotting and writing to escape notice.

    I call this the “Dark Knight” syndrome. Because edgy sets and Heath Ledger sort of disguised the ponderous, plodding, poorly crafted character of that movie.

  3. Rich Jensen says:

    Explained another way: The most highly regarded novels from the “Gothic” era were written by Jane Austen and are decidedly ungothic. For every Frankenstein, Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, you had dozens of “The Mysteries of Udolpho”

    • Rich Jensen says:

      That is, what was popular for being ‘compelling’ and ‘exciting’ back then really didn’t stand up to the passage of time. I suspect the same today.

  4. Rich Jensen says:

    I’m not really a fan. But more than that, I’m not a fan of critics who heap praise on shows like this, “Mad Men”, “Dexter”, “Breaking Bad”, “Walking Dead”, “Sopranos”, etc., as part of some ‘golden age’ of TV drama. In my opinion it raises ‘effect’ over ‘craftsmanship’. Which of course, puts me definitively on the side of Austen, vs. oh, say, the Bronte sisters. And in this era, on the side of, say 30 Rock, vs. overwrought ‘Gothic’ dramas.

  5. shawnfury says:

    Rich I think you’re looking for a fight with critics where there might not be one. Critics love 30 Rock. It might not have been a powerhouse in the ratings, but critically it was extremely popular, so I don’t think it’s a choice between overwrought dramas and shows like that. I think you’d have more of an argument if critics — and the public — had loved Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. But critics — and the audience — both chose 30 Rock over that, and they were inevitably compared. The craftsmanship of 30 Rock was praised and did win out, with the public and the pros.

    As for the Golden Age arguments, perhaps they’re a bit hyperbolic but I don’t think it’s an ESPN level of EVERYTHING NOW IS THE GREATEST or anything. I think those things are written because when you compare today’s TV dramas to what was on TV in the past, well, I mean there’s really no comparison. Look at what TV dramas were for decades. I don’t think many people would argue that the past 15 years haven’t produced series that are much, much better — overall — than what came before. In 150 years maybe people have a different view.

  6. Rich Jensen says:

    ‘Critics’ is, on reflection, a poor choice of words. Rethinking it, I would say it’s more a question of the way that these dramas have sort of taken over chunks of pop culture, or ‘blog’ culture. Something about the sheer volume of words and analysis devoted to Pete Campbell this season, for instance, sticks in my craw a little (here is the Pulitzer Prize ‘winning’ HuffPo: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-mitchell/pete-campbell-mad-men_b_1428441.html ). The show may be ‘compelling’, but it is not well crafted. At least not per my own particular standards.

    Regarding TV dramas now, vs. previous periods, I’d say the 90s kind of stunk, drama-wise, but this current crop seems redolent of the 80s nighttime soaps more than anything else. Get rid of the dragons, nudity, and some of the incest and slaughter, and you’ve got “Dallas with Swords” instead of “Game of Thrones.”

    Of recent fare, I’m a huge fan of Firefly, and the earlier seasons of House. Looking at TV shows from the past, both Kojak & Hawaii Five-O impress me because of how well formed these dramas were. Jack Lord said that the Hawaii Five-O structure was ‘as rigid as a sonnet’, yet despite that rigid structure, these dramas routinely asked ‘big’ questions. House in its first few seasons almost obsessed over the question of whether the end justifies the means.

    But apart from that desire for entertainment that touches on philosophical/ethical questions, I do have a preference for stuff that is well crafted, tightly structured, etc. Stuff like Neil Simon’s plays. Thinking about it, this may also explain my preference for cats over, say, St. Bernards and English Sheepdogs.

    Anyway, sorry for hijacking your post in the comments section.

  7. […] recent piece on the glory of discovering Game of Thrones followed by a similarly toned piece by Shawn Fury, who is something of a Simmons detractor, I figured we’ve hit a point where I, as a […]

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