10 things about “Game of Thrones”

As per Sean Carroll’s secret of how to succeed at the internet. Obviously, there are spoilers. Spoilers can’t be avoided. I don’t buy Yglesias’ case for spoilers*, which is that if something is really good, spoilers won’t ruin it. Which of course is true. But is another way of saying that for spoilers not to ruin something, it had to be really good. Analogously, idiosyncratic spelling doesn’t ruin rilly good books, and photographs don’t detract from the looks of very photogenic people. Whatever. There will be some mild spoilers.

  1. How much easier would everything have been with the internet, cellphones and a good transportation network? This is what I usually think when reading books where bad or missing information, a lack of speedy communication and difficulty of travel are necessary to the plot.
  2. More generally, the middle ages were a terrible time to live in, and Martin does a great job of showcasing this. Part of that is the lack of hygiene, the lack of real science or medicine (the maesters range from well-meaning and ineffectual to actually evil and ineffectual), the stench, the terrible food, daily violence, great cruelty and ever-present death. That part is easy. But, and here I give Martin a lot of credit, people’s attitudes are also very different. One thing I picked up on, for example, was the idea of justice. At one point our hero Eddard Stark is meting out justice on behalf of the King, and he sentences someone who isn’t present to death based on confused, but probably eyewitness information. But the only identifying trait is that the person is big. Now Eddard Stark is 100% a white hat, so this isn’t a reflection on his character. Just how the standard for reasonable doubt works in that world. I used to have great disdain for history because my opinion was that “people are people.” But that isn’t right. It’s good to see Martin not fall into this trap.
  3. There’s an odd amount of religious tolerance in the book’s world. The two religions of Westeros are described in some (though not too great) detail, so it’s not like they’re just ignored. Nor does Martin shy away from the negative aspects of the middle ages, as mentioned. So I wonder if there’s some historical reasoning behind this tolerance. At least, as it exists in the first book. I’ve heard there’s religious conflict later on.
  4. The cover of the book I had seems to imply that Sean Bean is cast as the main hero in the TV series. I mean, isn’t casting Bean a bit of a spoiler?
  5. In the middle ages, people didn’t need to be that funny. Apparently.
  6. Everyone keeps making a big deal about the incest, rape and pedophilia. Maybe it gets dialed up further in the sequels, but in this book neither rape nor incest is very common or very central. For example, there’s way less incest and comparable rape and pedophilia (“proportionally”, whatever that means) to the last book I read, which is a book set in the Victorian era by A.S. Byatt, and I don’t think anyone goes on about how A.S. Byatt must be into incest and rape. As far as it is present, it seems to be part and parcel of the general theme of the middle ages being awful (see point #2).
  7. This isn’t enlightening to anyone, but it was one of my biggest reactions to the book, so I wanted to note that I hate names. Stupid names are probably what I dislike about sci-fi and fantasy the most (and incidentally, probably the common link that keeps them stocked in the same section of bookstores!) and in this book, the names are ridiculously annoying. Somehow in Tolkien they didn’t bother me, probably because I first read it in translation, so weird names were just what existed in an English book, and then by the time I went to English, they were familiar enough. Maybe because I was little and hadn’t yet developed the capacity to be annoyed by names. Maybe because, being a linguist and folklorist, Tolkien actually took enough care with his names such that they made sense and were not annoying. I like the last explanation the best. But whatever. In “Game of Thrones”, the names are particularly egregious in that many of them are just like normal English names, but somehow tweaked, and not in a consistent pattern. Every time I see the name “Eddard” I just want to punch someone in the face.
  8. Most of the best parts of the book don’t occur on Westeros, the “fantasy England”-like place. The plot around Daenerys is much better. Not only is she the only really interesting main character so far (rather than personification of an archetype), but the lesser characters are also better, and the Mirri Maz Duur episode is positively captivating, the best part of the book. And the accoutrements of a “fantasy Mongol Empire**”-like place are actually much more interesting. It makes me wonder why I didn’t read Vasily Yan‘s books as a kid, and whether someone is writing fiction with that as a more central setting that I should be reading.
  9. The book doesn’t end. My friend W. said that it ended “on a cliffhanger”. That’s not true. Instead, it’s like the subtitle to Grant Brissey‘s music column Granted: “stuff keeps happening”. Now, granted, unlike in Brissey’s columns (give me Eric Grandy any day!), stuff actually sometimes happens in the books, so that’s great. Still, it would be nice to have some reason for the book to end other than “George R.R. Martin ran out of paper” or something. Especially for a book that is already monstrously long.
  10. Coming home from the university today, I saw three copies of “The Clash of Kings” on my way (as in people holding/carrying/reading it). Now, of course, I was primed for it, but still. Shit is so popular, you best start reading it or else coming up with reasons why it’s beneath you.
*even though Yglesias is the cause of half the traffic this blog’s ever had, and so there’s prolly some patronage thing where I have to agree to whatever he thinks now
**Well, probably fantasy Scythia is a more accurate thing to say, but not as snappy
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3 Responses to 10 things about “Game of Thrones”

  1. Zuuko says:

    i’m going to read the books at some point. you should watch the HBO production. Its fantastic.

    But the name thing got me watching the show. It was hard to keep track of the characters, until I anglicized the spelling somewhat (i.e. Eddard = Edward). Then it came to be jarring when Ned Stark was actually referred to as Eddard Stark (“who the hell is that again? oh yeah…). The characters with the simplest names worked best, i.e. King Robert.

  2. Zuuko says:

    Also disagree completely with Yglesias on spoilers. Its just another way of saying good stuff is good, bad stuff is bad.

  3. Pingback: Praise R’hllor, jackasses! | Rated Zed

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