Though after the 1st season, I never thought I’d say that. And until last night, I would still have held up the books as a better entertainment experience.
TRIGGER WARNING: I’m talking a lot about the sexual violence in the story and in the show.
I’m writing this after spending a lot of time thinking about the episode two weeks ago, in which a main female character endures a violating wedding night… and we get to witness it through another character’s eyes. And for a while, I was wondering “where’s my outrage? As a survivor, where’s my intolerance for this moment in the story?”
I realized very soon that my outrage had been used up in a few things:
- I’d already started calling GRRM’s ASOIAF “A Tale of Rape and Food” long before the TV show. Seriously, the man can wax lyrical about the menu at a buffet or the body horror in a scene. I always wondered why he had to spend SO much time with the stuffed swans and the… well, I’ll leave that language out.
- I was already insanely furious at the TV series episode in which Daenerys marries Khal Drogo, where their wedding night goes exactly opposite what the book says. In the show, we have the intense misfortune to actually witness it. In the book, Daenerys and Khal Drogo have a beautiful, extraordinary exchange which is short, but really encapsulates how she can quickly envision a life in which people are given choices, starkly (pun not intended) different from how her brother and his cronies had treated her. Khal Drogo treats her like a person, with her own opinions and preferences, and it’s a new experience for her. It is INSTRUMENTAL for her character. And we’re denied it, why? And we’re given what we’re given, why? What does it do for either character? NOTHING.
I stopped watching the show for two years after that episode. I didn’t want to know; I didn’t care. It was stupid, lazy storytelling. Where GRRM was “A Tale of Rape and Food,” GoT became “The Rape and Food Show.”
Then I read a news item that Emilia Clarke insisted she wouldn’t do nudity in the show anymore. And some time after that, I heard that the show was catching up to the books. That some storylines would be trimmed.
At this point, I had been waiting for Tyrion and Daenerys to meet as equals for ten years.
Yeah, ten years. That’s a long time to wait for two cherished characters to meet in a series. In the books, I always felt their arcs were very similar – unfortunate children finally given love and respect from an unexpected place, and that love taken away too soon. When I could see in Storm of Swords that the meeting was coming, I was on tenterhooks. I was incredibly disappointed when they weren’t in Feast for Crows. And after waiting 6 years? Soooo many “almost…ALMOST…nope!” teases in Dance with Dragons. The last scene in Daenerys’ arc in DwD was so infurating that I threw the book across the room. Tyrion’s scenes were, at best, a struggle to read. I wasn’t looking forward to whatever would happen in Winds of Winter.
Yet I still cared, a LOT, about these characters. That alone indicates how successful GRRM is in his writing, and before last night, I’d give him tribute for the world he built and the storylines he crafted in the 1st three books, despite still calling it a Tale of Rape and Food.
So when I heard the TV series was catching up to the books, I caved. I went back, with my spouse, to start watching season 4.
OH did I love Dinklage’s Tyrion.
And much to my surprise, I found both Cersei and Sansa (and Stannis and Tommen) easier to care about in the TV series.
I have also appreciated the streamlining, and Brienne sticking around, and I could deal with the issues of Daenerys a bit better.
But, and here’s the third factor:
- There’s some sexualizing bullshit nearly every episode. I mean, prior to the wedding night violation in the same episode, there’s a scene in which a peripheral character is naked through the whole scene, and the important supporting character supposedly has sex with her on camera, but she is obviously VERY uncomfortable, and she’s in no position to withhold consent due to their history, his violent character and his place in a royal house.
That, my friends, is also a sexual violation, and I found THAT more uncomfortable because there was no easy way to distinguish between lack of consent and providing consent in a scene where the female character is visibly not happy with the situation. (see also: Cersei and Jaime.) It also wasn’t important to the motivation of either character at ALL; it was a scene like the one with Viserys in the bathtub, many moons back. It’s like the horrific Joffrey scene. It’s like all the body horror we’d seen so far. It’s like events in so many other episode when I wince and look away and think “Jesus fuck what was THAT for!?”
(Don’t get me started on how many times children are threatened with particularly nasty sexual violence. With weapons.)
With that in mind, not SEEING the event was a relief to me. I was like “fucking finally it’s behind the camera.”
I didn’t have any illusions that it was supposed to be a crux moment for the character who DID witness it. I didn’t think it was instrumental for anyone, and I knew that it was strictly done as a lazy-ass mechanism to escalate the “OH IT’S NOT JUST WORSE NOW IT’S DIFFERENT” moment of her story (hat tip to Chuck Wendig) and give her a supposed motivation to do something she didn’t want to do. Leading to more escalation and yadda yadda. Which of COURSE I agree was lazy and not important to anyone’s arc and could have been done a thousand times better and of course it was gross ….
…but it’s grossness that the show has been slathered in for seasons upon seasons. It’s grossness the BOOK is dripping with. If you haven’t been noticing it, you’re ignoring the lesser supporting characters for the POV ones, and that’s another level of grossness in and of itself.
Given that, and given that I’d been so uncomfortable with the other scenes in this season – especially earlier in the episode, and given that I’d been uncomfortable with GRRM’s writings…and knowing that in a few episodes, I’d see the event I’d been waiting for for years? Yeah. No question I was going to wait it out.
Finally, after last night’s incredible ZOOM BANG of several storylines whipping along at breakneck speed? I am starting to wonder whether the abbreviated storylines have given us a better story experience with less overall sexual violence than the books. I’ll have to go back into the books and verify.
So, yeah. I think the show might be better than the books.
I reserve the right to change my mind if GRRM does something wonderful with Winds of Winter that allows me to ignore Dance of Dragons exists. ;)