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What Reaction to Game of Thrones Scene Tells Us About Fandom

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Warning: Contains spoilers for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones:

It’s tempting, as a fan of George R.R. Martin’s novels, to make fun of the poor souls who didn’t see the Red Wedding coming on Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones. It’s hard not to smirk at the reaction videos on YouTube, and the histrionic, profanity-laden tweets declaring that everything good in the world is dead. My favorites include:

 

 

 

Giggles aside, what the heck is going on here? People are threatening to boycott the HBO drama and to murder Martin (which is only slightly less counterintuitive than when people threaten to murder him because he isn’t writing the next book fast enough). The scene on the TV show is pretty bloody, and pretty shocking — but nowhere near as brutal (to my mind) as the scene from the book. What’s more awful than reading from Catelyn Stark’s perspective as her throat is slit? And yet, show fans seem more upset about this scene than book fans ever were.

My roommate leant me the Song of Ice and Fire series one by one. When I finally got to A Storm of Swords, I remember her asking me repeatedly, “Where are you in the book? What’s going on?” And I would say something like, “Oh, you know, everyone’s trucking out to the Freys’ house for a wedding. Seems boring. I might pick it up later.” When I finally got to the Red Wedding (my roommate has a terrific poker face), I was shocked. Horrified. But I was dying to keep reading. I didn’t think that Martin was a bad dude. I wanted to know how these deaths would impact the realm, the last living Starks, and ultimately, the Iron Throne.

got-castamere3There are a few differences that might be contributing to the madness over the HBO episode. For one, Robb’s wife doesn’t appear at the Red Wedding in the book, and thus doesn’t get slaughtered. Catelyn begs Robb to run away for Jeyne’s (aka Talisa’s) sake, the only time she really comes around on their whole marriage. The only other female death (aside from Catelyn) that we witness in the book is Dacey Mormont (and the Mormont ladies are actually warriors). Catelyn threatens to kill a fool, Jinglebell, not Lord Walder’s wife. The non-combatants and women are all “off camera” when and if they die in the book. I’m a feminist and all, but the people in Westeros are not. Killing unarmed women is much, much worse than disarming knights of the realm and stabbing them in the back. And it reads that way on screen. It’s possible the producers of the HBO series got a little carried away with how much brutality they wanted to show — just as they have frequently gotten carried away with how much sex they’ve shown. It seems the main goal is to get people talking — not necessarily in a positive way.

The amped-up brutality of the TV scene isn’t the only thing at work. The fans of the HBO show are also coming from a different place than fans of fantasy novels. As you can probably tell from some of the tweets above, there are some very, very casual watchers of Game of Thrones out there. Apparently, you can watch the show and still think it’s “Ron” Stark and “Kathryn.” There’s no possible way to be a “casual” reader of A Song of Ice and Fire. The damn thing is thousands of pages long. You’d think that because of this long investment, readers would be more prone to anger than TV viewers over a character’s death. But by reading so deeply, the logic of Martin’s world starts to make sense. Although it’s horrific that Catelyn and Robb are murdered, it happens because they are using old rules of honor in a new world of Lannister “justice.” And in Martin’s universe, playing by the rules is what gets you killed fastest. The Starks, it seems, are just very slow learners.

It would be easy to watch the HBO show and miss all the social and political underpinnings of Westeros. There’s a heck of a lot to like about the show that doesn’t require terribly much in the way of mental energy. The people are hot; they get naked periodically. There are cool fight scenes. If that’s why you watch the show, then an utterly brutal slaughter of unarmed people is nonsensical to the point of insanity. It might make you feel betrayed — like your super-fun Sunday night just got gutted.

In theory, shows like The Sopranos and The Wire taught us to watch TV in a less passive, more intellectual way — and that has allowed a complex ensemble series like Game of Thrones to thrive. But you have to keep watching (and thinking) to figure out what’s going on and why. A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t fun, particularly not in the later books. It’s good. The screen is a dangerous place for un-fun fare. And in this series, the least-fun stuff is yet to come.

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Comments

  • MZ

    And it begins, the condescending group who read the books reacting to the simple emotional folk who only watch it on their television set.

  • Mark_S

    I for one was shocked and amazed at the deaths, I’m not reading the books. I thought after I saw them that the writer had an enormous amount of courage to kill of these characters. Or he was a fool because right now a lot of people won’t watch the rest of the series. I know if Tyrion had been killed I’d have stopped watching.

    You can’t ask people to be emotionally involved in a story and not expect them to be upset when people they like die. Shooting the wolves in their pen? Stabbing a pregnant woman in stomach? Yea, it’s brutal and it’s the Lanister way, but don’t ask me not to hate it and react to it.

  • Rollo Tomassi

    The difference in uproar between the books and the show is that readers of the books all read that chapter at different times and by themselves over the last decade. And then had time to process it alone(for me, I closed the book and just stared at the ceiling for four hours. I didn’t sleep that night.) And a decade ago, Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and social media didn’t exist.
    The TV viewers all experienced the RW at the same moment. And had the outlet of social media to immediately vent their visceral anguish.

  • Rollo Tomassi

    Oh that began awhile ago. I’ll admit I gleefully chuckled alongside everyone else, because “WE” knew it was coming and were prepared and “They” were not.
    But truthfully, every reader felt the exact same way when they read it the first time. And in retrospect it’s gratifying on a macro level that fiction can instill that kind of passion in its audience, whether they’re readers or viewers or both.

  • dekko

    You’d think that after Eddard Stark got his head cut off that this wouldn’t be such a surprise.

  • LasloPratt

    Here’s the thing – the first major plot point in Book One is a small boy getting pushed out of a high tower. If that doesn’t warn you that Martin has created an astonishingly brutal universe, I don’t know what does. That’s part of the power of the books – no one is safe from the brutality or the treachery. Unlike LOTR, you wouldn’t want to find yourself in this world.

  • Matt

    I never realized until aft this episode how many people watched game of thrones and how many of those people saw it as something it wasn’t. I feel like the normal John Q tv watcher sees the show as Lord of the Rings with boobs. These people need a main character they need a good guy that they can stand behind and most importantly the good guy needs to have a happy ending otherwise they will flip out. The anger from these people comes from a place of frustration over not having a clear good guy front runner. And all I keep thinking about is how a similar situation would have happened during walking dead if Lori went out like she did in the comic.

  • Jed

    Though I don’t really watch the show regularly anymore or have any desire to read the books, I can’t help but chuckle at all the shocked reactions. Really? You hadn’t figured out that this was essentially torture porn from the first 2 seasons?

  • Andrew Allen-Peat

    As someone who’s been reading the books since the beginning, I have to tell you, a lot of us (the readers) didn’t like it either. A lot of people gave up on the series after the Red Wedding. You’re just feeling the same shock, horror and disgust the rest of us have felt. Years later I *still* can’t read that chapter.

  • Andrew Allen-Peat

    This is not torture porn. Outside of Theon, who’s being tortured?

  • SageShinigami

    If you want to find yourself in the Lord of the Rings universe, you’re a braver soul than most. That place is fucking dangerous.

  • Jwatson

    I gleefully enjoyed it. Both in the book and on the show. I loved it even more on the show. In one swoop Martin killed half the characters i couldn’t stand.

  • NathanArizona

    Anyone saying they will stop watching because of the Red Wedding is kidding themselves. Even if they have a negative reaction to the deaths, the real story here is how The King of the North’s death affects the other characters, not “OMG I loved Ron (?!) how could they kill him, he’s so hott etc etc”. If people stop watching this show because of this, they were watching the show for the wrong reasons. It’s about the Iron Throne, people, the show is called “Game of Thrones”, not “Robb’s Stark’s Northern Adventures”. I personally am halfway through the second book, and will have caught up with the series by the time s4 rolls around, and will be better prepared to handle the shocks on the show from here on out. Sunday night was an incredible feeling for me, just shocked and curious about the future. I say if any material, on screen or on the page, can get that kind of emotional reaction from its fans, it is doing something right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=663669914 Sean Richardson

    I think that one major difference for the individuals reacting is that the Red Wedding is not the climax of the book. There’s still way more. You recognize that the story is going on. There were hundreds of pages of climaxes still to come.

    In the TV show, the Red Wedding was the climax for the season. Fans now have nine months to sit and wait knowing that the Starks have been basically shattered if not out-and-out destroyed. [I’m assuming that Ned won’t suddenly appear next week and say “It turns out I’ve been alive this whole time, and I’m actually the king now,” anyway.] This is because they split the book over two seasons, which means that a lot of stuff is spread pretty thin. Nobody is going to do much more until next season, there’s just going to be some winding down.

  • BeastieRunner

    Be careful where you step …

  • BeastieRunner

    I wished she did.

  • BeastieRunner

    *SPOILERS*

    Doesn’t Catelyn get resurrected?

    *SPOILERS*

  • matt

    Oh I wish she did also but I wonder if the writers of Walking foresaw what would have happened if they had done it and altered the death due to that. Yes the red wedding episode is probably hands down the best episode in 3 seasons of game of thrones but the negative fan reaction is ridiculous. I think more people watch walking dead then game of thrones, so I imagine if something akin to the red wedding happened in it then the fan reaction would have been multiplied. Even more so because argue all you want about Walking Dead’s universe working on the principal of “no one is safe” they would never randomly kill Rick and Carl. Walking Dead (the show) has “safe characters” the Walking Dead comic does not. Game of Thrones on the other hand completely is a “no one is safe” world.