Spoiler alert. If you have not yet seen Game of Thrones, stop reading this and go watch it. Whatever you’re doing—washing dishes, taking out the trash, googling exes—stop and watch it now. Oh yeah, don’t eat first.
You’re back? The Starks took some more hits last night. In GOT world, the Starks are “the good guys.” They’re brave, virtuous, honest, strong. Contrast them with the Lannister’s—their greatest warrior is known as “kingslayer” for stabbing a former king in the back. The Kingslayer and his sister have a incestuous relationship so potent they can’t keep their hands off each other while visiting the Starks, and when they’re caught by a 10 year old Bran Stark, they throw him out of a tower window. There’s Tyrion Lannister, a drunken womanizer despised by his family for a) being a midget, and b) having a soul.
Check out the scorecard in the “game” between these two families:
* Ned Stark, the honest and strong leader of the clan—executed;
* Catelyn Stark, his wife—killed in a treacherous ambush;
* Robb Stark, eldest son of Ned and King of the North—went with his Mom (and his pregnant wife);
* Bran Stark—paralyzed from his fall from the tower.
Meanwhile, the Lannisters are in control of everything. The young King Joffrey Baratheon is as vile a creature as has ever been written. And did I mention that brother and sister and the tower thing?
Inevitably, the show reminds you of Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. Right?
In Crimes, successful opthamologist Judah is initially portrayed as a good man, but he arranges the murder of his mistress when she threatens his orderly life. Alan Alda’s Lester is a pompous showman and womanizer who lectures about the nature of comedy when not hitting on younger women. Crimes and Misdemeanors is a significant work of art, and in it, the characters are not cardboard cutouts. Judah is wracked with guilt over what he’s done, leading him to an existential crisis, while Lester is mocked in such a mean-spirited way the viewer actually sympathizes.
In Allen’s movie, the characters who act badly not only get away with in, they are rewarded. Lester gets the girl (and even though “the girl” is Mia Farrow, in the context of the film, that’s considered a good thing). Judah’s crime is blamed on someone else, and his medical practice and his marriage thrive. The real “good” character, Sam Waterston’s Rabbi, goes blind. In GOT, none of the Lannisters—not even Tyrion—has the depth of the Allen characters, but all these characters succeed in defiance of the standard narrative; the good guy must win. He must get the girl, conquer the Kraken, and make it back in time for his buddy’s wedding.
This narrative turn in GOT is frustrating, even infuriating, and it may be why the show is great. The success of the villain not only mocks the “hero” playbook, it makes us consider what we want from the art we ingest. Do we watch to take a break from the busy workday, or to take a more sober look at the world and remind us that life hasn’t studied the playbook, and that we’re not necessarily going to defeat the Kraken.
In Allen’s story, the question becomes whether God is really watching, and if so, are we being judged, or rather, are we on our own and constantly define our own worth by our actions. Similar themes run through GOT, in which we ponder whether Daenerys will let her dragons get all dragony on the Baratheons and whether Tyrion will be a good husband for Sansa.
Or am I over-reaching? Of course I am, derrh. It’s an addictive sword-and-sorcery soap opera with dragons. Shame on you if you missed it.