"Oh no!", I hear you groan. "Not you too!" Yes, I have to confess it: I am a fan of the series. Every man, woman, and their dog seem to have an opinion on the show, and have written reviews, comments, opinion pieces, etc. etc., on it, so why not my five-cents' worth too?
I have seldom, if ever, seen any of the five seasons (and counting) on live TV. I have watched almost the entire show on DVD boxed sets. This has two advantages: you miss out on commercials and you can binge-watch an entire series almost in an afternoon. Although, with season 5, I must brag about some self-control; I recently stretched it out over four days! Quite an accomplishment, given how addictive the show is.
I won't even think of attempting a synopsis of the story. There are so many plots and sub-plots, characters both major and minor, and countries – and anyway, all you dedicated fans out there don't need me to attempt a stumbling summary of the action. Suffice it to say that the story is about the great families of the mythical kingdom of Westeros, a.k.a. the Seven Kingdoms, back in vaguely early-mediaeval times, and their internecine warfare for control of its Iron Throne. The show is based on a series of fantasy novels, "A Story of Ice and Fire", by George R.R. Martin, who also is deeply involved in making the TV series.
Although the show is mythical fantasy – I love the dragons though, sadly, they are not immune to a well-directed spear or two, as we discover in season 5 – it contains so many historical allusions that it appeals to the historian in me. It is clearly based on mediaeval western Europe. There are great, warring families, a la the Wars of the Roses. The show's great ice wall – vale Jon Snow! – sealing off the wild northern peoples and the terrifying White Walkers (basically, zombies) from the more civilised (?) south of Westeros, clearly has its counterpart in the real-life Hadrian's Wall in the north of England. The terrorising and (sadly temporary) imprisonment of Cersei Lannister by a power-mad high priest in season 5, and Stannis Baratheon's fatal domination by Carice van Houten's evil priestess, mirror the supreme power of Church over State in mediaeval Europe.
But what fascinates me most of all about this show, is the absolute amorality, power hunger, cruelty, and duplicity of the overwhelming majority of its characters. Only Tyrion the Dwarf (sometimes), Jon Snow (most of all), and the Mother of Dragons (when she settles down to ruling a city rather than rampaging in conquest across half the known world), show signs of a sense of ethics and morality. And now, as their reward at the end of season 5 for showing glimmerings of human decency, one is dead, another is exiled and at the mercy of vicious rebels, while a third is stranded alone in the wilderness, far from help and threatened by unknown horsemen. So much for the virtues of goodness.
The violence and rape in the show can be mind-numbing. I can only remember one TV series more violent than "GoT", and that was "Spartacus", the US/NZ show from several years ago, set in Roman times, revolving around slaves and gladiators, and which lasted for three blood-soaked seasons. Now, we all know mediaeval Europe was a pretty violent place, where life was cheap, women counted for very little, and if you were not wealthy and powerful, you just got trampled, but boy! "GoT" drives home the lesson in no uncertain terms. It makes for mostly riveting, if sometimes exploitative (the sexual violence in the show is quite remarkable considering the feminist era we live in), television.
I feel, though, that the last couple of seasons have started to slow the show down. There have been long patches, sometimes whole episodes, where all the characters do is hang around in very dark rooms, lit only by candles, and engage in Deep and Meaningfuls about not very much, rather than getting on with the sword fights, graphic sex, and violent disposals of unwanted family members, for which the show is famous. Particularly in season 5, I just longed for the characters to go outside into daylight, where you could actually see what they were doing! Impenetrable gloom may accurately reflect mediaeval domestic lighting conditions, but it can lead to dull TV, in more ways than one. But at least the last two or three episodes of the most recent season made up for it: more blood and bodies, and major characters disposed of, than you can shake a stick at. Those episodes of violent action, however, should have been scattered throughout the season, rather than just concentrated in the final episodes.
I am basically a peaceful and civilised type, so what is it about the unrestrained violence of a show like "GoT" that is so appealing? Maybe there is something dark in all of us, something that the restraints of civilisation normally keep under control, that responds to these shows. Maybe it is a yearning for simpler times, when Man was not shackled by bureaucrats, paperwork, risk managers, and litigation. Back then, you could solve a problem with a simple sword thrust, an uncomplicated beheading, some quick pillaging, and a town or two sacked and burnt to the ground. No "nanny state" to get in the way. Stannis Baratheon would have no room to move in the modern world (unless he was an IS commander), while the Mother of Dragons would be in deep trouble with the Environment Department and the RSPCA.
Now I must go into months of hibernation to await further developments. Sure, season 6 starts in a couple of weeks on pay TV, but I don't have Foxtel. So I will have to await the appearance of the DVD in due course. Patience is a virtue, so they say ...
Here's to more swordfights and gore, fewer D & Ms in the gloom, and, producers, can you please leave at least one Stark child alive to become someone big and important?