The Rise of DeathPorn on Cable TV
So I let myself stew a bit over the last episode [The Mountain and the Viper] of Game of Thrones (GoT). And before anyone starts prepping their retort to this little missive, let me just state the obvious: after 4 seasons I am fully aware that this show is about the rise to power and how many people it corrupts and kills along the way. I get it. You DON’T have to remind me.
But here’s the rub for me: I need a story where I can invest myself in the characters. As a writer I want the drama they bring to the story. Martin’s cavalcade of death and power amongst the most despicable kingdoms in his imaginary world is gritty, it’s horrid, it’s sensual, it’s grueling, it’s beguiling, and it’s nothing short of porn.
Exhibitionist DEATHPORN. On a scale that might even leave the ancient Roman’s gob smacked.
Case in point: FULL DISCLOSURE TIME: Admittedly I haven’t read one of the books. So I’ll cop to that right from the get-go. To be honest I’ve been too busy writing my own stories to have the time to invest in his world.
BUT having watched the four seasons of the TV show I have come to the realization that I have very little interest in the lives of the people who inhabit Martin’s visually compelling literary universe. From the adverts at the time it had two of my favorite character actors in the show: Mark Addy and Sean Bean. They had me hooked with just these two actors being attached to the project. Well, there was Jason Momoa too.
I was a Jason fan from his stint on Stargate: Atlantis a few years back. I also saw picts of this Kit Harrington guy and he sorta filled the bill as a sexy lead so yeah, I was all in. I was really into the season and contemplated reading the books. I read quite fast so it wasn’t a far cry for me to just jump into the fray and compare with the series what was happening on screen. But I yielded from getting into the books because I wanted to give the TV series a chance. TV and film can be so far off the mark from the original source work (see my previous rant about that whole myth that Hollywood perpetuates all under the guise of the ‘creative process’). I wanted to let GoT the TV series stand on its own. So I watched. I was intrigued. I was stymied – yeah I said stymied (more people should use this word more often – they walk around in that mode – completely stymied over how this modern world truly operates and yet, they seem to use the wrong word to describe it). So yeah, stymied at the small regard Martin seemed to have for his characters.
And believe me, I get pathos. As a writer, I got pathos coming out my ass. But here in is the rub of Martin’s work. While imaginative, bombastic and challenging as it may seem – ultimately what does it serve? Certainly not a character study – as you don’t have any of them around long enough to warrant a true evaluation of them. You get, at best, smatterings of their truer personae. And this ultimately is the singular gift Martin offers for his readers/viewers. Smatterings. Snippets of the fuller beings they could become. Now, again, I concede that I haven’t actually read the work (and I don’t think I will after last week episode – but I’ll come to that anon).
So Ned Stark and the King were my main focus for season one. Joffrey was a right shit so I lost complete interest in his being the villain. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the actor’s portrayal – I had nothing against him. It was the vehemence of the character that got to me. It was one dimensional – cardboard – all that was missing was the handlebar mustache (admittedly that would’ve been hard for Jack Gleeson to pull that costume effect off – but it was there in spirit). I grew bored with him as the season one baddie.
Say nothing of writing Mark Addy (a brilliant character actor, btw) off so quickly. So I’d lost one of my beloved actors even before the first season had grown cold. A few eps later and Ned got the whack job of his life. So now I was out both of the reasons that I even started to watch the show. I contemplated leaving it at this point – except something altogether surprising happened: I sort of fell in love (as a writer/actor) with Arya and Bran Stark, and Jon Snow. So I hung in there for season 2.
Then we had some interesting gay characters spring up here and there – but already I noticed a trend: Gay characters were nothing more than a trifling to show Martin had any depth as a craftsman, but he quickly disposed of them. It seemed (to this gay writer at any rate) that they were nothing more than a marketing ploy. No real staying power. This is a HUGE negative in my book. Martin doesn’t get props for inclusiveness if he can’t bother to keep them around – cause here’s the nitty gritty about being gay Mr. Martin – we learn very quickly how to survive in a very hostile world. Far craftier than most straights would ever grant us credit for. But of course, they have nothing to compare it to. They don’t have to live their lives in denial until they have some relative ease with which to feel they can be themselves with friends and loved ones. So yeah, a life undercover tends to make one far more careful with their actions. So some of those deaths were nothing to advance the plot. They were porn.
And herein lies the crux of Martin’s world. I liken it to a weekly gladiatorial viewing by the TV viewing masses to see who else gets offed in a given episode.
And just to be clear – here is the complete run down of deaths of the major (and some minor) characters: I Googled it and found one site that had the body count of characters from the series at 208!
So, let’s review that little nugget: 208 character deaths in a series that has only had 4 seasons thus far. Perhaps only Walking Dead could boast a higher body count.
And let’s not toss in that tired line that: it’s a story about how power corrupts man. Yeah, got the memo on that one. But this takes it to the nth degree, doesn’t it? And ultimately to what end? To just see who makes it out alive? That’s what we’ve devolved into? Not about what makes the character’s tick? Not about the interpersonal nuances between them all? A writer writes stories hoping against the odds that their characters will be embraced by their intended audience. Well, Martin has effectively (for this reader/writer/actor) done an ample job of doing the opposite. I have lost all care for any of his characters (though I still have a small degree of it left for Arya, Bran and Jon).
But the rest? Nada.
You know what did it? What broke the proverbial camels back for me? Oberyn’s death.
I thought – “Wow, now we have a VERY interesting character to deal with. He was crafty, ballsy (in ALL the right ways) and didn’t give a shit about what the Lannisters thought about him. I was TOTALLY in his camp. I was loving this guy from top to bottom – and what a nice bottom he had too! He was all over the map in ways that none of the other trapped characters were. He was sensual, he was certainly pan-sexual, but more importantly he was unpredictable. A HUGE smattering of gray in a very grey world. But his grey was fucking neon gray – gray you couldn’t look away from.
And now it too is gone.
And I am not lamenting it because Pascall is one fuckalicious hottie of an actor (though it’d be a close second), no, ultimately it is the interesting things that Oberyn could’ve brought to the table in the long run. But not in Martin’s world. In that world the great takeaway is don’t invest yourself in any of them. It’s just not worth your efforts. You’ll reap no reward for the telling.
There’s nothing on display in GoT other than great art direction, some decent (if at times, over the top) acting, and brilliant costumes. The plot and delivery of the story – very one dimensional. A shock and awe that has long since worn off. So he can kill off characters – what this says to me is that he can’t make them last. He doesn’t know what to do with them all. So like a rotund Rumpelstiltskin he churns out character after character. If you lose one – well don’t worry, I’ve got eight more that I’ll throw your way only to hack them to bits too.
So that’s my takeaway. Martin can create but ultimately he doesn’t know what to do with them other than full on deathporn. Which is really the worst kind.
I am reminded of a question my cinematic idol, Alfred Hitchcock, once posed with Psycho – What happened if the audience was fooled into thinking Marion is the main character only to kill her off early in the film and reveal the true main character as her killer? An interesting perspective on things. With Martin he’s taken it to pornographic levels of death, blood and mayhem – but not to great end. Really it’s quite sad. I mean, sure he’s laughing all the way to the bank, but I just can’t go there any more.
At least with Spartacus, I knew what I was in for. I got that it was about gladiatorial death sequences and that any moment could be your last. But with GoT, the rollercoaster ride only has one bump, one twist and you see them coming a mile down the road. Even when it’s a surprise (as it was with Oberyn) it really isn’t. Martin’s done it all before. Only this time – I’m out.
I am not a deathporn fanatic. I want characters who we have to struggle with and against. None of Martin’s are worth it (with the exception of my trio). Even Daenyris has become a cardboard cut-out. A caricature of her once noble self. It’s a good thing Kahl Drogo got bumped off when he did. His wife has proven utterly boring at this point. A one-hit wonder – with dragons no less. The shock and awe and the carnage to come won’t keep me hanging on.
I wish there was more to hang my hat onto here. But ultimately on which hook do I hang it on? Which one can I trust? Some may say that that is the reason for watching the show. Yeah, not so for me.
Unlike Spartacus, which was admittedly just as gory, just as harsh, just as convoluted, at least you got some redemption for the investments you made into the characters. And the GAY COUPLE fucking lived to have their HEA (Happily Ever After)!! Fucking aces in my book! You NEVER see that in a action/adventure setting…
But with GoT? I just lost interest.