a few thoughts on a catch-up binge of Game of Thrones: Season 3



As you may have noted, I spent yesterday on a catch-up binge of Season 3 of Game of Thrones. I often don’t get a lot of stuff done until there’s a deadline looming, and that deadline was tonight’s debut of Season 4.

I’m not sure anything — TV show or movie — that’s been based on a book has ever felt more like a book than GoT. This feeling may be aided by the fact that I have not read any of the George R.R. Martin series, so I’m not comparing it to the books in my head. But I’ve binged on entire seasons of TV before, but not until yesterday did it feel so much like lolling around all day reading. Part of it is, surely, that bingeing means the experience isn’t episodic… and while it sucks that I ended up so far out of the loop in talking about the show, it was wonderful not to have to wait a week to find out what would happen next.

Part of that bookish feeling comes from how rich the world here is. And it is an entire world. What other TV show or movie series have ever been this big? Even visually told stories that travel to lots of different farflung places — I’m thinking about Doctor Who, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and so on — are mostly set on a relatively small ship with a relatively small group of people who just get teasing glances at strange places. But we get deeply immersed in widely disparate peoples and cultures in GoT… disparate from one another and from our own. And then the extra beautiful thing is that even though these alien cultures are enough like our own that we can get some clues about lots of things that aren’t being explained, every once in a while something gets dropped in to remind us that we cannot take anything for granted, especially our own perhaps unconscious expectations.

Like with gods and magic in this world. Are they real? Enough characters seem to be skeptical that it would appear that even they haven’t seen evidence of their truth… but then we see something like the little band of religious mercenaries that Arya stumbles into, and their leader, who has been resurrected from the dead how many times?!

So there’s the capacity for surprise here. As many others have noted, GoT doesn’t follow the sort of narrative rules TV, movies, and even lots of book series have trained us to unconsciously expect are being followed. Major character die here without warning. And unlike in other geeky genres, people who die seem to stay dead!

It was impossible to avoid, last spring when these episodes first aired, hearing about the bloody Red Wedding, in a general sense. (I didn’t know anything more in advance than that: “bloody Red Wedding.”). I knew something big and bad was coming. But even so, all the talk throughout these episodes about Joffrey’s upcoming wedding to Margaery, and then the wedding of poor Tyrion and poor Sansa getting sprung on them (and us)… I was expecting that this Red Wedding would be occurring in King’s Landing. Even as Edmure’s forced nuptials approached and Walder Frey was being his usual ultracreepy self (man, David Bradley turns my stomach in this role!), I did not see coming what happened. The Starks, decimated…

But now there’s Bran with an almost terrifying new power: the ability to get into another human being’s head. This has potential for future revenge…

Favorite storyline of this season? Gotta be Jaime and Brienne. I can hardly believe it, but I was starting to suspect that Jaime was more than just a sister-incesting, boy-defenestrating bastard even before he got his hand chopped off and went all gooey. I mean, why would he bother to save Brienne from getting raped? Why would he go back for her when he didn’t have to. He doesn’t even like Brienne. My god, could Jaime have — I hardly like to say it — scruples? Astonishing. And apart from the Red Wedding, the scene in the bathhouse might be the most riveting of the entire season.

(There was a lot of rapey stuff in this season. And a lot of sexualized violence. Incredibly, men were victims of it about as often as women were. I wasn’t counting, but it felt that way. Now, if the show could only get the balance of sexy, nonviolent nudity right. I don’t mind all the naked women, there just needs to be more naked men. I mean, c’mon.)

Second favorite storyline is Daenerys’. Mother of Dragons and Freer of Slaves? Hell, I would follow this woman into battle.

Everything about GoT is superb, and best yet this season. The quality of the writing, on a grand scale as well as scene by scene, is incredible. Every single member of the cast is scarily invested in creating characters so plausible that you sometimes wish they weren’t quite so good: the guy torturing Theon is horrifying. Charles Dance as Tywin nearly made me pee myself in terror. Even the kids are amazing… though some of them are older than you think. Jack Gleeson, who plays Joffrey, is about to turn 22, so he hasn’t really been a kid through most of this show. Still, where does such evil come from in someone so young? And Arya, assuring the Hound that one day she will put a knife through his eye and out the back of his head? What do they do to these kids to get them to be so believing saying such things? *shudder*

I don’t even want to think about the logistics of shooting this show. Surely it must be created as one giant 10-hour movie — that would make the most sense. You know, you shoot all the Daenerys-in-the-desert stuff in one big go, and all the snowy Beyond the Wall stuff in a separate big go, and so on. And yet there are multiple directors, different from episode to episode even when different storylines are mixed up together… However they’re doing it, they’re getting it oh-so right.

Onward to Season 4! (Which I will blog about along the way. Stay tuned.)

Game of Thrones: Season 3 is available on DVD [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] and streaming [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.]

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