Friday, April 19, 2013

Game of Thrones and a Thought on Sexuality

Sometime in the year 2012, David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, and George R. R. Martin sit around a table mapping out how season 3 of Game of Thrones will unfold 
GRRM: Okay guys, there's one scene that didn't make it into the final version of the book, but I think we need to include it this season.  
DB: Oh?
GRRM: I've always regretted having to cut it from A Storm of Swords, and every year I get mail from fans who noticed its absence and ask why it was never worked into the story. 
DBW: Okay, we'll try to fit it in. What happens? 
GRRM: Podrick Payne has sex with three women at once. 
DBW: Oh, I think we can definitely fit that in. You're right, that scene is absolutely necessary for Podrick's character development. 
DB: You know, I've read A Storm of Swords front to back three times now, and I always felt it was missing something, something that, in its absence, made the story less satisfying than it would have been if it were there. Now... now I think I know what that missing something was. You're right, we absolutely must include the scene of Podrick Payne having sex with three women at once. 
GRRM: Actually, I think I might discuss with Bantam Spectra the possibility of including the scene in all future editions of A Storm of Swords. The book really is incomplete without it.

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Snark aside, I think I've enjoyed the first three hours of the new season of Game of Thrones more than the first few episodes of the previous season, which I found to be somewhat interminable and oddly paced. I suspect the Podrick Payne sex scene will be remembered by fans more with humor than with cringing, rather like the now-infamous Littlefinger monologue scene in the first season.

As always, I am an extremely annoying person who likes to analyze the differences between the TV adaptation and the books, rather than enjoying the TV show on its own merits.

But that doesn't mean I'm complaining. A vast number of trees died to make the paper used to record Arya and friends wandering around Westeros in A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. Their wandering was compressed to under two minutes of TV time, which is probably for the best.

And if the show really is doing what I think it's doing with the Theon Greyjoy storyline, it could turn out to be one of the most gut-punchingly powerful story arcs I've ever seen on episodic TV. (But if they're not doing what I think they're doing, and the Theon stuff is just meaningless plot filler, I will not be happy.)

And any book purist who complains that Missandei appears to have doubled in age, needs to remember that nine-year-old Missandei of the books used to help Dany relieve stress by climbing into bed with her and giving her relaxing 'massages'. Not even HBO would be willing to show us that.

Anyway, speaking of homoeroticism! This is more a regret at a missed opportunity than a genuine complaint about the show. I rather wish we hadn't seen King Joffrey musing on making homosexuality punishable by death in Westeros. I realize Joffrey is consciously trying to look tough in front of his bride-to-be Margarey Tyrell and needle her about her dead husband, and the scene is intended to get viewers wondering whether he is aware of Margarey's brother Loras's sexuality, and thus whether he truly knows these Tyrells or not, and so on.

But I guess I'm disappointed to see Western-style homophobia in a world where it doesn't need to exist. I've read plenty of fiction about societies whose perceptions of sexual orientation do not fall along our culturally constructed spectrum running from Western notions of tolerance to Western notions of homophobia. It might have been nice to have a mainstream TV show depict a world where sexual orientation is not perceived by society in the ways we provincial 21st-century people would expect.

Last year I read Shan Sa's Empress, a fictionalized account of the life of the real-life medieval Chinese ruler Wu Zetian. According to Shan Sa's account, Wu had numerous lesbian affairs with concubines, and no one batted an eye -- indeed, if anything, people at court felt it was good for her, and by extension for the empire. What's more, I felt that if some court minister had said 'Now hold on here, we can't have Her Majesty sleeping with other ladies', his reasoning would have been very alien to us, and that would have been interesting.

Transposing this to Westeros, one could imagine if Renly Baratheon had secured his claim as King, his extramarital liaison(s) could have continued as an open secret, and as long as Renly dutifully impregnated his wife a couple of times and produced legitimate Baratheon babies, no one would have cared. (Margarey certainly seemed unfazed by Renly's sexuality.)

A couple more random thoughts on the season so far:

  • They appear to have dropped Ser Dontos from the TV show. That's not terribly surprising, since the show tends to combine minor characters where it can, but I wonder why they bothered to introduce Dontos at all, back in the Season 2 premiere, in a scene that was very faithful to his book introduction. And then he never had another line.
  • On the other hand, I feel like they made a mistake by cutting Strong Belwas. It's true that he never did anything truly consequential in the books, and I guess he was judged to be too cartoony. But I could imagine him joining Hodor as a popular character for image macros.
  • I'm getting slightly confused about why Samwell hasn't become Sam the Slayer yet. I cannot imagine they would cut that entirely, but the most dramatically logical time for it to happen has already come and gone.
  • And finally, I generally don't find this sort of thing funny, but this time is different. I have to give props to HappyPlace's Facebook recaps of episodes One, Two and Three, which are really well-done. (But 90% of the humor will go over the heads of anyone who hasn't watched the episode in question within the previous week.)

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