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Jun 03 2013

Didn’t you people read any of the books?

A host of people taped themselves watching the bloody violent climax of the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. It’s bizarre. First, who tapes themselves watching TV? Second, if they’ve read the first couple of books, they’d know exactly what horrible event is coming up.

Third, if they’d either read any of the books or watched the show to this point, they’d know that George R.R. Martin is a real psychopath to his characters, and just about anyone in the cast is liable to be thrown into a meatgrinder at a whim.

And most importantly, all this vicious chaos will not advance the plot one bloody bit, but will instead stymie all possible resolutions. These are books in which the actions of the characters are totally meaningless — I expect Martin’s plan for wrapping up the series is to have a giant asteroid smash into the planet in the final chapter, turning it into a cinder of ash and magma, spiraling into its sun for a final “pfffft.”

(Oh, sorry…”Spoiler!”)

172 comments

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  1. 1
    otrame

    Oh, so THAT’S where Russel T. Davies got his inspiration for his destruction of Torchwood.

  2. 2
    Gregory in Seattle

    I don’t have HBO, but I’ve been sucked into reading the books. Whereabouts is the series now?

  3. 3
    Martin Wagner

    PZ, you’re brilliant at demolishing MRA’s, Deepak Chopra and creationists, but your skills as a critic of fantasy fiction leave much to be desired. ;-)

  4. 4
    cactusren

    I assume that people who had read the books were filming their friends who hadn’t, knowing that strong reactions were likely to occur…

  5. 5
    Gregory in Seattle

    As for the meatgrinder, I’ve read an interview with Martin where he says that he wanted to turn the standard tropes on their collective ear. Outside of sanitized fantasy representations, violent cultures are VIOLENT; anyone who has actually studied history knows this well. Those who worry overmuch about honor traditionally end up very badly. As Martin puts it, happy endings are quite rare.

    If you read A Song of Fire and Ice as what a fantasy society very likely would be like in reality, you will see that Martin is subverting the genre and turning it into a commentary of how modern society glorifies the quest for power at any cost. It’s pretty subversive.

  6. 6
    gheathen

    @ Gregory (#2) Coming up to the end of book 3, IIRC.

    PZ – yeah, I get that you don’t like it. It rambles, it’s unremittingly grim and depressing, and people drop dead on, as you say, a whim. I can picture GRRM saying to himself “Bored now” as he hacks off another of Theon’s fingers and wipes out an army for a bit of a change. The whole thing is utterly redeemed by Tyrion Lannister though, even if later on he does go on some interminably pointless walkabout. Oops! Spoiler! :-)

  7. 7
    Gregory Greenwood

    First, who tapes themselves watching TV?

    Very few people – I imagine people watched the episode first, and the meme of videos showing their totally legitimate and not at all faked ‘first viewing reactions’ sprung up later…

    And most importantly, all this vicious chaos will not advance the plot one bloody bit, but will instead stymie all possible resolutions. These are books in which the actions of the characters are totally meaningless…

    So PZ… Still not a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire then, I take it?

    I expect Martin’s plan for wrapping up the series is to have a giant asteroid smash into the planet in the final chapter, turning it into a cinder of ash and magma, spiraling into its sun for a final “pfffft.”

    Well, I have to admit that would be quite the plot twist. Martin certainly doesn’t have any problem killing off his characters, and it would tie up all the loose plot threads…

    ;-P

  8. 8
    michaelbusch

    PZ: These are books in which the actions of the characters are totally meaningless

    That and that I find none of the characters to be at all likeable is why I don’t like A Song of Fire and Ice.

  9. 9
    unbound

    PZ, I see you are still cranky about the 5th book. You never know, Mr. Martin may wrap it up in the last one (7th)…

  10. 10
    mythbri

    @Gregory in Seattle

    If you read A Song of Fire and Ice as what a fantasy society very likely would be like in reality, you will see that Martin is subverting the genre and turning it into a commentary of how modern society glorifies the quest for power at any cost. It’s pretty subversive.

    Subversive? Or just more brutal?

    I tried to read A Game of Thrones last year. My reaction was “Okay. So pretty much every character that I’m mean to relate to (the female ones) are either raped, killed, raped and killed, or threatened with rape, or threatened with death, or threatened with death by rape. What fun.”

    And I get that these are incredibly violent cultures and women were little more than chattel, if anything.

    That’s not subversive. That’s history.

  11. 11
    Becca Stareyes

    I admit, if I knew any folks who hadn’t read the books and were invested in the TV show, I’d want to see their reactions. Heck, I didn’t even know what the show was on besides ‘third book’ and knew I’d know when they got to that part, the Internet would explode. (It was mostly remembering if there was something else that would make the Internet explode before that.)

    (I only read up to the third book; when the fourth came out, I decided I was not invested enough to reread three doorstops to be able to understand the fourth. The problem with killing off characters I like is that eventually I stop getting invested in characters, which means I stop reading. Sort of a desensitization to fantasy violence when everything is horrible.)

  12. 12
    brishadow

    All possible resolutions? Umm, no.

    All possible resolution for Robb Stark, and the original uprising of the Northern rebellion, yes.

    The Starks are hardly wiped out, but they are doing a standing 8 count atm.

    Not advancing the plot one bit? It absolutely advanced the plot. One by one, every claimant to the Iron Throne is being eliminated. In any other series, Robb Stark would have either a)won or b)died some heroic death with a bunch of nice dying words after a battle or some other such trope. Instead, Martin turns this whole thing on it’s head and surprises the shit out of every reader/series viewer by throwing a good case of Diabolus Ex Machina towards the one guy you were really rooting for. The series, in some ways, actually pulled off last night’s episode better than the novels did, simply by adding another layer to the entire tragedy of it all. By changing Jeyne to Talisa, having her present and expecting for this scene, giving the series viewers a modicum of hope about a new Eddard Stark, and then BLAM. It was awesome.

    The action of the characters are totally meaningless? Robb broke his oath to Walder Frey, and caused the entire fiasco. This is also a world in which the supernatural is actually real, so maybe after Melisandre’s leeches burned, the final straw in getting Roose Bolton and Walder Frey to go along with Tywin’s plan was influenced by R’Hllor/the Lord of Light. The Lord of Light is right out of the Old Testament! Anyway, everything Stannis and his Wife have done so far, by letting this Priestess into their lives, has also had an impact on some of the other characters storylines. I don’t know why I’m bothering typing all of this out, as obvious as it all is.

    There have been consequences for every major characters actions, all up and down the line, ever since Jamie tossed Bran out of the window. That one event started this entire chain of events.

    So anyway, I’m not seeing the point of the final paragraph in the post, it sounded half satirical but half not.

    “And most importantly, all this vicious chaos will not advance the plot one bloody bit, but will instead stymie all possible resolutions. These are books in which the actions of the characters are totally meaningless ”

    These statements are simply not true.

    B

  13. 13
    PZ Myers

    You know, there are four more books in the series after this one; I know the next couple consist of more bloody stirring of the pot. So when I say it doesn’t advance the plot, I’m speaking from knowledge that the plot is going to consist of little more than more interminable pot-stirring.

  14. 14
    Suido

    @Mythbri: The subversiveness is only with regard to story telling conventions.

    In that, and that alone, I appreciate GRRMs books. They are genuinely unpredictable because he’s done away with constructing story arcs and making the characters develop. Its more realistic in its depiction of humanity than almost any other fantasy novel.

    Is is enjoyable to read? Well, the first book was. After that, not so much.

  15. 15
    mythbri

    Its more realistic in its depiction of humanity than almost any other fantasy novel.

    I’ll grant that it may be more realistic in its depiction of one, perhaps more aspect(s) of humanity.

    But you know whose books I consider to be really subversive? Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel. And yes, maybe that makes me a wimp because I can’t stomach all the rape and murder of ASoIaF, but Terry Pratchett makes me think. Small Gods is one of the tipping points in my reading that made me realize that I’m an atheist. He captures the way (Western, mostly white) people think, even when he’s not talking about humans. His books are written off as soft fantasy humor. But they are not only that.

    That’s subversive.

  16. 16
    Shplane, Spess Alium

    @mythbri

    I was sort of under the impression that it being history is what made it subversive. A lot of people don’t seem to want to remember that our history was like that, and, well, we need to. We can’t stop being shitty if we don’t realize that we were.

    Not that I don’t blame you or anyone else for not wanting to read it, with all that.

    @PZ

    Actually, there are only supposed to be two more books, meaning we will have anywhere from 0 to 20 more books, depending on whether he writes like he did the first two, writes like he did the most recent two, or dies in a week because he’s like 800. I agree that Dance with Dragons and Feast for Crows should have been one book, and it shows, but as long as GRRM remembers how to edit the next two should have more actual plot advancement.

    I guess I’m glad I like my fiction with a little bit of rambling.

  17. 17
    Rob

    That and that I find none of the characters to be at all likeable is why I don’t like A Song of Fire and Ice.

    Weeeeell, I read enough medieval history while I was at university (for fun) to reach the conclusion that pretty much anyone who was significant enough to be recorded in a history book was probably not the sort of person a modern middle class westerner would consider ‘likeable’.

  18. 18
    eveedream

    Here’s what I don’t understand. Why is everybody in love with Rob Stark? Granted, I haven’t read the books, but he seems like just kind of an okay dude who’s made some absolutely terrible decisions. While I hate the Lannisters (except Tyrion), Rob wouldn’t be my choice to sit on the throne. I think it should fall to Daenerys or Gendry, Daenerys because of the historical lineage and her epic anti-slavery bent, and Gendry because he’s a nice guy who knows what it’s like to live outside the castle. Arya is my favorite character (well, tied with Daenerys), and while I keep rooting for her I know that she could get axed at any minute. But hey, isn’t that like life? Things don’t always wrap up nearly into little packages that make sense, and sometimes things are unexpectedly ugly.

  19. 19
    Callinectes

    I thought the idea was that it is the fictional history of a fictional land, not high fantasy that follows the rules of storytelling. Real history has no resolution, at least not yet. Alas, that kind of inspiration will by its very nature prevent itself from influencing both book and show.

  20. 20
    mythbri

    @Shplane

    We can’t stop being shitty if we don’t realize that we were.

    I understand what you’re saying, Shplane, but I disagree with the “were” part of your sentence.

  21. 21
    michaelbusch

    @Rob @17: Many people mentioned in history texts were not at all likeable, yes. All of them, no.

  22. 22
    timgueguen

    Sounds to me like Martin is either taffypulling the initial idea of his story to make the maximum amount of coin off it, or he needs better editing.

  23. 23
    chris

    From what I can tell it is a glorified soap opera. All the convoluted story lines in fancy dress and with more gory battles.

    I have no interest in reading the books, and I don’t have HBO. I do check out the DVDs from the library, and then power through using either the player that plays at 1.4 speed, or the program that can run up to twice speed and still have sound. That way I can still be in the cultural loop, and look at the lovely costumes.

    Because, to me, the costumes and set dressing are the only reason to bother with it.

  24. 24
    karpad

    Very few people – I imagine people watched the episode first, and the meme of videos showing their totally legitimate and not at all faked ‘first viewing reactions’ sprung up later…

    See, most of them aren’t alone though.
    My thought was that these are actually set up by someone watching the show with them who has read the book, and the camera was surreptitious enough that they didn’t notice, or when asked about it, were simply told “you’ll see.”

  25. 25
    johnharshman

    I don’t get HBO, but I’m assuming that season 2 ended with the Red Wedding. Correct?

  26. 26
    johnharshman

    My hope for the final resolution, by the way, is that the smallfolk all get tired of the doings of the nobility, revolt, and we get an autonomous collective. Or perhaps I’m fooling myself. But we certainly see the violence inherent in the system.

  27. 27
    Marcus Ranum

    I expect Martin’s plan for wrapping up the series is to have a giant asteroid smash into the planet in the final chapter

    No – Martin’s plan is to keep turning the crank and making trips to the bank to cash the checks, and to die of natural causes while writing volume #4728. After that he won’t care. But mabye like L. Ron he’ll write a few more volumes after he’s dead.

  28. 28
    Jonathan Potter

    You sound like you’re still a bit upset about Ned Stark, PZ :)

  29. 29
    Jonathan Potter

    Here’s what I don’t understand. Why is everybody in love with Rob Stark?

    Because people expect (and need?) books like these to have a clearly identifiable hero. It was Ned Stark at the beginning, and it’s Rob Stark right now.

  30. 30
    johnharshman

    Don’t anyone tell Jonathan.

  31. 31
    Marcus Ranum

    Its more realistic in its depiction of humanity than almost any other fantasy novel.

    Try Rothfuss’ “The name of the wind”

  32. 32
    vaiyt

    If you read A Song of Fire and Ice as what a fantasy society very likely would be like in reality, you will see that Martin is subverting the genre and turning it into a commentary of how modern society glorifies the quest for power at any cost. It’s pretty subversive.

    What I see is that the fantasy genre nowadays is absolutely loaded with grimdark ultraviolent stories full of utterly unlikeable protagonists, tons of pointless deaths, “historical” racism/sexism/classism and rape. Lots of rape.

    GRRM’s legacy, ladies and gentlemen!

  33. 33
    Suido

    @Mythbri 15:

    Yes, Pratchett’s novels are subversive (not just the Discworld – Good Omens was one of the books that pointed me towards atheism at an early age), but the characters are caricatures rather than realistic. Descriptions of Rincewind leaving in a hurry are much more evocative of a Loony Tunes character with spinning legs than Usain Bolt. Leonardo de Quirm casually drawing a perfect circle, Granny Weatherwax playing Cripple Mr Onion, Carrot flexing his muscles – these are all humourous caricatures. They are subversive through exaggeration, like a curved mirror.

    Whereas GRRMs characters are mean, power-hungry, short-sighted, selfish, unreasonable, and annoyingly uneducated savages. The occasional glimpse of nice behaviour is drowned is a sea of brutality. That’s realistic, and therefore subversive in the same way a normal mirror can be called subversive. It’s subversive in its warts-and-all honesty.

  34. 34
    benco

    I expect all of Arya’s development to conclude with her being run over by a runaway cart.

  35. 35
    Gregory Greenwood

    And most importantly, all this vicious chaos will not advance the plot one bloody bit, but will instead stymie all possible resolutions. These are books in which the actions of the characters are totally meaningless

    I can’t say I really agree with this. I think that brishadow @ 12 has a point – the actions of characters do have consequences. The vast majority of major events are clearly set in train as consequences of the earlier actions of one or other of the characters – it is just that the outcomes of the characters’ actions are often (indeed almost always) really, really bad outcomes (and given the circumstances, this is not really a huge surpise), and it doesn’t matter whether an action was undertaken with a good or bad moral intent since the consequences of those actions tend to be dictated by politics and the balance of power in Westeros rather than the ethical worthiness or otherwise of the protagonists. Proudly wearing an ‘I am currently the good less evil guy’ T-shirt doesn’t help much when the other side has more gold, more swords, and more political savvy, or simply has a situational advantage, as Jaime discovered at the cost of his hand.

    There is deliberately no sense of cosmic justice in Martin’s writings; bad things can and do happen to good characters just as readily as bad ones (in so far as there are simplistically ‘good’ or ‘bad’ characters in these books), and the innocent can often suffer to advance the agenda of a frankly sociopathic monster like Joffrey or a cold hearted, amoral manipulator like Littlefinger*. If nothing else, this is a fantasy medieval society that is believable in terms of its brutality and scant regard for life. It isn’t pretty, and it is no morality tale (except in so far as it reminds the reader that there are circumstances in which it is not always easy to determine which action will turn out to be the ‘right thing’ in the long run), but I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. Human drama can come in many forms, and the guys in white hats cannot always come out on top, especially when dealing with a fictional world where even the most light coloured hats available really are a somewhat grubby grey at best…

    Also, it seems clear to me that it is no accident that all the schemes and counter-schemes and plots and machinations that litter the narrative often don’t amount to very much in the long run. They don’t drive events forward in one singular direction according to the masterplan of this figure or that. Instead, it is all the different agendas, all pulling in different directions, that lead events to move in a direction that is not ideal for any of the interested parties. In this regard, if in no other, the SOIAF saga shares something with actual history – the passage of events is messy and so unpredictable that not even the most consummate of the players of the game of politics can forsee all the possible outcomes.

    While this does lead to an untidy plot and seemingly endless ‘pot-stirring’ as you say, it helps convey that everyone, even figures who at times appear to be more in control than anyone else like Tywin Lannister (I hope I will not spoil anything by saying that those who have read the books will know that this sense that Tywin is in control is not exactly well founded) really are not masters of events. Everyone is riding the tiger here, and have been since Jaime pushed Bran out of that window. Indeed, since he and his sister choose to continue their incestuous affair after Cersei’s marriage to Robert, and then killed Jon Arryn to prevent him informing the then king. And most of all since Joffrey, drunk on his new-found power, ordered Illyn Paine to decapitate Ned Stark in an egotistical display of sadism. There is no way to predict how those events and the subsequent war will ultimately play out, and we cannot say how much of the events depicted in the later books are genuinely needless pot-stirring, as opposed to the laying of the ground work to establish the chain of causality leading to events in the last two books, until the saga is completed. And none of this even touches on what is going on with Danaerys and her Dragons, the Wildlings, Melisandre and the other clerics and worshippers of R’hllor, or the Others beyond the Wall, and how those things may interact with the internecine power struggles within Westeros.

    It is quite possible that PZ is right, and Martin has exhausted his creativity and long since written himself into a corner, and is now stalling for time as he tries to extricate himself from a cat’s cradle of unresolveable plot threads of his own making. But I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt until I can see for myself what he comes up with.

    I will make one prediction though – the smart money is not on a happy ending…

    ———————————————————————————————————————

    * Incidentally, Littlefinger’s chaos is a ladder speech from episode 3 of this season, ‘Walk of Punishment’, is perhaps the best description of the libertarian mindset I have ever encountered in fiction. Viewing the bloody, violent collapse of a governmental system as an opportunity to advance one’s personal power, wealth and standing – and damn whatever horrors befall those crushed underfoot – would doubtless resonate in the black, black hearts of Randroids everywhere.

  36. 36
    Rob Grigjanis

    One of the major themes is the fragility of dynasties, and all the major Houses have been around for thousands of years. Right. That was ultimately the deal-breaker for my disbelief suspension cables, although the randomly varying season lengths came close. I finally decided that was just magic of some sort, but I wonder whether Martin has even decided what causes it.

    By the way, I recently estimated that the entire series (if it stops at seven books) will beat The Mahabharata for wordage. Impressive.

  37. 37
    mythbri

    @Suido #33

    That’s realistic, and therefore subversive in the same way a normal mirror can be called subversive. It’s subversive in its warts-and-all honesty.

    What’s the point of subversiveness if there’s no path forward?

    At least Pratchett’s subversive caricatures leave me optimistic. Especially Granny Weatherwax.

  38. 38
    Gregory Greenwood

    karpad @ 24;

    See, most of them aren’t alone though.
    My thought was that these are actually set up by someone watching the show with them who has read the book, and the camera was surreptitious enough that they didn’t notice, or when asked about it, were simply told “you’ll see.”

    Oh, I imagine that there are plenty of videos with that set up out there too, but I am bitter, twisted and cynical enough to be automatically suspicious of anything on the likes of Youtube that claims to be in any regard ‘genuine’…

  39. 39
    Suido

    @Marcus, #31

    I have, and it is the best fantasy novel I’ve read in a long time. Really looking forward to book 3.
    I wouldn’t yet say it’s a more accurate portrayal of humanity though, I would argue that ASOIAF wins out due to the sheer number of characters being insufferably stupid and cruel. It just rings so true.

    @vaiyt:#32

    I hear that. Last year I read a book that I’d only describe as torture porn – blood mages deriving their powers by torturing others, the hero being forced into the same practices, morally repugnant and sickening at every turn. However, it’s not new – Piers Anthony was doing this stuff in sci fi years ago. Refugee (first book in Bio series) was just raperapemurderrapemurderetc with no redeeming features.

  40. 40
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    And I get that these are incredibly violent cultures and women were little more than chattel, if anything.

    That’s not subversive. That’s history.

    Exactly – and that’s *why* it’s subversive. It’s subversive of all the fantasy tropes – the knight in shining armour, chivalry, happy peasants, beautiful maidens and noble lords and Disney princesses. All the whitewashing of feudalism to make it seem romantic and nice. And I hate that whitewashing, so that gives me a reason to like Martin. And he does focus a lot on the women – again, it’s horrible, but also realistic. A beautiful princess being married off to a handsome prince is just NOT a fucking happy ending, so kudos & thanks to GRRM for hammering that in.

    It may not be to your taste, which is totally fair. You don’t have to like it. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for gritty realism either, and then I go read something else.

  41. 41
    ravenred

    I’d recommend Kurtz’s Deryni series, which (although it isn’t a deconstruction) captures some of the messy reality of medieval warfare and politics. The Camber and Heirs of Saint Camber series are especially good at disposing of likable characters and showing what absolute bastards the Church of the Middle Ages could be.

    Two warnings is that it’s relatively high-magic (in comparison to GoT), and that the Church plays a central role in the identity of pretty much all the characters. It’s not preachy though (*coughcough*ChristopherStasheff*coughcough*) so it’s entirely bearable.

    Like suido @ 14, I read the first, considered whether I wanted to read the rest and decided not.

    Abercrombie’s First Law series is also worth a look, although the fact that it’s obsessively committed to being a deconstruction limits enjoyment of the well-constructed plot.

  42. 42
    Suido

    @Mythbri #33:

    A way forward would be nice, but is not always apparent. The Arab Spring in Bahrain was subversive and so far completely unsuccessful – the people there currently have no way forward. However a mirror has been held up to that society, and the brutality of the crackdown on protests confirmed the truth shown in that mirror. This has value even if the current situation within the country does not inspire hope. Other examples of Arab Spring uprisings do inspire hope, and in comparing the varying successes of the different uprisings, we can learn a lot. Similarly, we can learn from GRRMs depiction of humanity (which isn’t particularly hope inspiring) by comparing it to others.

    @Gregory Greenwood #35

    Agreed, especially the postscript. I would also add that evolution is an equally messy way to improve something, having had a big argument last night about the importance of evolution in determining which gender is better at parenting. Gah. Education is so powerful it makes any biological differences moot. I hate fetishization of evolution in that manner. /OT rant.

    @Rob Grigjanis #36:

    GRRM has stated the seasons are magical and will be resolved.
    http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Westeros#Seasons_and_climate

  43. 43
    Marcus Ranum

    I would argue that ASOIAF wins out due to the sheer number of characters being insufferably stupid and cruel. It just rings so true.

    I can see that. I also feel that Kvothe’s inability to deal effectively with obnoxious nobles, or his love interest, or his parents’ death – as well as the general pointlessness of their deaths … also rings true. I greatly approve of the way Rothfuss steps away from the standard swords and sorcery tropes (“along came the Predestined One…”) I thought that made the characters much more believable. And people are pretty shitty in Kvothe’s world, including Kvothe.

  44. 44
    Suido

    * Education is so powerful it makes any biological differences (which the scientific literature on parenting have yet to find evidence for) moot.

  45. 45
    mythbri

    @Suido #42

    The Arab Spring in Bahrain was subversive and so far completely unsuccessful – the people there currently have no way forward. However a mirror has been held up to that society, and the brutality of the crackdown on protests confirmed the truth shown in that mirror. This has value even if the current situation within the country does not inspire hope.

    We don’t have the luxury of any clear way forward in real life.

    I’ll get it in my fantasy if I can.

  46. 46
    Suido

    @mythbri #45

    Fair enough. Similar to what Alethea said in #40, there’s time for reality and time for escapism, and I fully respect that we all have different tolerance levels for reality.

  47. 47
    michaelblayney

    I haven’t read the books but I’m somewhat familiar with the series thanks to my friends and family telling me about it. OK, and TV Tropes. I think what puts me off is that there’s a difference between Anyone Can Die and Everyone Will Die, and Horribly. One promotes suspense, the other punishes investment. Just my two cents, not that anyone asked.

  48. 48
    Shplane, Spess Alium

    @mythbri #20

    Heh, fair enough. I don’t think we’re QUITE as bad these days as in those novels or the time period they’re meant to represent, or at least some of us aren’t, but we’re definitely still pretty awful.

  49. 49
    Adela Doiron

    Realistic fantasy is an oxymoron. You can’t play the realistic card when there is magic, gods, undead and mythological creatures. What realistic then read history. GoT is despair porn.

  50. 50
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Of course you can have realistic fantasy, just as much as you can have realistic science fiction, or realistic any-kind-of-fiction. There’s a fictional element, but realistic people who make realistic choices & actions when faced with their unreal situation.

    I actually like having the slight distancing effect of fantasy. I’m the same with detective fiction – I don’t mind (non-gratuitously) gruesome serial killer novels but I will NOT read true crime. I don’t want it to be too real. I don’t want the horror to have happened to real people.

  51. 51
    tyrion

    I think the end is perhaps predictable:

    Three dragons, therefore three people to ride them and save Westeros from the white walkers who march south as winter arrives.

    All you have to decide is who those three will be.

    My guess?

    Tyrion, Danaerys and Arya. One Stark, one Lannister and one Targaeryen.

    And I want Gendry to survive to marry Danerys. (one Baratheon)

    I like this theory because it explains why Tyrion is wandering around doing not very much while the other plotlines head to a conclusion. It explains the end of the most recent book, as the white walkers cannot be prevented from crossing the wall (otherwise what’s the point of them?)

    The thing against this is that Gendry’s a decent bloke, so GRRM will probably kill him off.

  52. 52
    johnharshman

    Oh, come on. It’s not so bad. Let’s recap the current (books) condition of the Starks:

    Ned: dead.
    Catelyn: dead, but she doesn’t seem to mind.
    Rob: way, way dead.
    Sansa: alive, not precisely a prisoner.
    Arya: alive, and not even blind any more.
    Bran: alive, and apprentice Green Man.
    Rickon: alive.
    Jon Snow: alive, and boss of a whole military order.

    So overall, only two out of eight dead in any serious way, and some of them doing rather well.

  53. 53
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    Didn’t you people read any of the books?

    No.

  54. 54
    Gregory in Seattle

    @mythbri #10 – “That’s not subversive. That’s history.”

    That is exactly my point: that’s history, not fantasy. What Martin is writing is a fantasy setting just as brutal, just as vicious, just as sexist, just as blood-curdlingly, unrelentingly ugly as actual history. It is subversive because it strips away the lies of glory and honor and righteous causes and noble lords and patient maidens and happy endings and shows what life really would have been like.

  55. 55
    johnharshman

    Note that Ned and Robb are both dead because they screwed up; direct consequence of their own actions, though Robb was the victim of a Lannister plot of implausible cleverness and convenience.

  56. 56
    Jafafa Hots

    I turned off the show about 10 minutes into the first episode.

    Blech.

  57. 57
    michaelbusch

    Rob Grigjanis: I recently estimated that the entire series (if it stops at seven books) will beat The Mahabharata for wordage. Impressive.

    I’m not sure if that’s impressive or not. There are a few people who have written 1,000,000 words or more for National Novel-Writing Month, but does that indicate impressive literary skill or does it indicate hypergraphia? It’s all a question of content.

    And even if Martin is motivated to write the longest series ever, he’s got a long way to go before he surpasses the Epic of King Gesar : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_King_Gesar

  58. 58
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    Gregory in Seattle

    It is subversive because it strips away the lies of glory and honor and righteous causes and noble lords and patient maidens and happy endings and shows what life really would have been like.

    Sure, it subverts some fantasy tropes, but wholeheartedly embraces insulting ideas as reality. Like Lesbian Sex Only Happens Because of Pining for a Penis. That’s a good one right there and he pulled it off twice. Frankly, I think people are giving GRRM waaaaaaay too much credit by calling him subversive. He’s just telling another scaled, cannibalistic llama story, except he’s using things we’ve accepted as Gritty Reality instead of fantasy tropes.

  59. 59
    mythbri

    I love the Scaled Cannibalistic Llama essay.

  60. 60
    poolboy

    Watch it Mr. Myers, criticising GoT is a dangerous thing >_>

    The Starks are an “honourable” house, and what you might not like to hear is that the good guys don’t always win – in fact, the goods guys are most likely to die.

    The Starks have made moral decisions, based on love, and honour, and those decisions have come back TO MURDER A LOT OF PEOPLE. The bad guys – especially the very rich guys – are winning as of now.

  61. 61
    laurentweppe

    These are books in which the actions of the characters are totally meaningless

    Reminds me of complains that followed Mass Effect 3′s ending (Also Dragon Age number 2.. which is pretty fitting considering how much it took from Ice & Fire). I almost hope someone will make a fool of themselves and start a “Retake Game of Thrones” campain

    ***

    Okay. So pretty much every character that I’m mean to relate to (the female ones) are either raped, killed, raped and killed, or threatened with rape, or threatened with death, or threatened with death by rape. What fun.

    You can also read history books about the Middle Age… Except in these no sympathetic character ever get three cool dragons and start blowing shit up. Which makes Song of Ice & Fire clearly the superior product

    ***

    depending on whether he writes like he did the first two, writes like he did the most recent two, or dies in a week because he’s like 800

    Martin is a baby boomer: he’s not that old.

    ***

    pretty much anyone who was significant enough to be recorded in a history book was probably not the sort of person a modern middle class westerner would consider ‘likeable’.

    That’s a possible answer to Fermi’s paradox:
    Every intelligent alien species eventually develops tim traval, meet their medieval ancestors, and slaughter them all out of sheer disgust, thus wiping them out of history.

    ***

    he seems like just kind of an okay dude who’s made some absolutely terrible decisions

    By Westeros standard “Okay Dude” is like being a born-once-a-generation saintly-good leader.

    ***

    One of the major themes is the fragility of dynasties, and all the major Houses have been around for thousands of years. Right.

    They claim to have been around for thousands of years. You know, like the Imperial House of Japan: the Yamatos have this great elaborate genealogical tree which goes all the way up to Furball by way of a founding empereor who supposedly reigned 75 years and died at 126.

  62. 62
    Alverant

    @tyrion #51
    Here’s my twist, the three dragons need no riders because not only are they intelligent, they are actually transforming alien robots in disguise. They have a choice to help the people or leave. The final scene is when the robot dragons look at humanity and decide the setting is not worth saving. In the TV show there’s a lot of Michael Bay style explosions for no reason and a fade to black.

    Seriously though “gritty” should not be used as a synonym for “nearly everyone is a psychotic monster”. GoT isn’t “gritty”, it’s the other thing.

  63. 63
    Dhorvath, OM

    Alverant,

    it’s the other thing.

    And that’s why I stopped reading.

  64. 64
    viggen111

    I expect Martin’s plan for wrapping up the series is to have a giant asteroid smash into the planet in the final chapter, turning it into a cinder of ash and magma, spiraling into its sun for a final “pfffft.”

    George R.R. Martin has a plan? Me thinks you give him way more credit than he is due. A third grader with a matchbook as a plan…

  65. 65
    Zigbot

    I haven’t seen the TV show, but I’ve read the series (admittedly with a lot of page skippage in the last two books). I used to consider myself a fan, but now my perspective is pretty much exactly PZ’s, except that I get pressed when I hear fans praising the lopsided brutality of Martin’s universe as “realistic” and “subversive.”

    I don’t begrudge anyone liking this series, but way too many SFF fans seem to think that “realism” = lovingly detailed violence against women. Whenever someone complains about the rampant rape and objectification in this series (or any of the copycat series that have been popping up lately like grim little daisies), the objection always I hear is “But it’s realistic!” I disagree. I find it voyeuristic.

    Doesn’t anyone find it weird how, just like the lovingly detailed gay sex that only ever happens between women, these lovingly detailed rapes only ever seem to happen to women and are presented in a really, well, male gazey way? Here in real life, the most realistic setting there can be, men and boys are victims of rape, and I hear they also sometimes enjoy fucking each other consensually. And yet these dudely rapes all happen off-screen, and when we hear about them they’re presented as discreetly and detaillessly as Renly and Loras’ affair. In my opinion, the narrative presents a lot of the rapes and sexualized humiliations of the women in it (prime example: Cersei’s walk through the city) as exciting little thrills for the straight male reader, which is why there’s such an ironclad NO HOMO double standard about it. There’s nothing particularly realistic about that. It’s just gross.

    Similarly, you could say that a bunch of the seemingly gratuitous suffering in the books is GRRM hammering in his theme that war sucks for the serf class. Some random peasant is always being tortured, or starved, or murdered, or raped, or all of the above. And yet their suffering never seems like much more than scenery dressing. The reader isn’t made to identify with them (except for the token, doomed redshirts of the prologue chapters). Instead, we spend all our time following a bunch of nobles around, listening to their witty banter, keeping track of their plans, and learning about all the pine nuts they have in their food and the exact ways they fantasize about raping their sexy, uppity sisters. It rings hollow after a while.

  66. 66
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Nope, haven’t read the books, haven’t seen a single episode of the show.
    It doesn’t seem like something I would enjoy.

  67. 67
    koncorde

    Watched the first season, hadn’t read any of the books (still haven’t). I kinda enjoyed the series because it’s nice to see fantasy get a budget, but have no inclination to watch or read more. The whole structure is contrived, one death away from complete anarchy or a final solution to everyones’ problems – but always everyone is completely self absorbed (even while talking about someone else).

    A big issue I have is that literally everybody is too stupid to make the right decision – ever (apart from the background characters in Kings Landing). Tyrion is the most logical, but even he is comically adept at bumbling from one screw up to another.

  68. 68
    scourge99

    At least its refreshing to not know who is going to “win” at the end of the day. You don’t even have to know anything about James Bond, Captain Planet, or Star Trek to know that the good guys always win in the end and survive. Or at the very most, is injured or meets a tragic end at the season finally. With GoT, you can’t really guess who will or won’t be around at anytime or in what capacity they will be left in, good or bad.

  69. 69
    fredbloggs

    I couldn’t hear most of the reactions, but my dog barked a lot.

  70. 70
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    I’ve only read the books, and seen one episode of the series. I suspect a lot of the glossy rapiness might be extra for TV. I don’t know why “Cersei’s walk of shame” is being discussed; she’s riding high & doing just fine in the books up to the Red Wedding. Did they juggle with the time sequence for TV?

    Several women are viewpoint characters, and they are fully active and engaged in their world, in many different ways. Some try good woman compliance; Cersei does sexual manipulation; Sansa does hiding once her illusions are beaten out of her; Brienne & Asha & Arya & Ygritte all fight physically in their different ways; Daenerys is an anti-slavery war-leader. Even minor characters wheel & deal & struggle. Gilly organises her own escape from slavery. Olenna plots behind the scenes to save Margaery from Joffrey. Nymeria is a knife-fighter. Meera is a huntress. Arianne is a schemer and potential ruler. And who knows what Catelyn & Melisandre even are?

    I don’t think anyone has to like it or enjoy that kind of fiction, but I really can’t see how they fit into the “cannibal llama” false cliches. The women *are* fighting here. It’s not remotely all male heroes with women, cattle and slaves.

  71. 71
    Nick Gotts

    All the defenses against PZ’s critique given here just serve to remind me why I don’t read fantasy!

  72. 72
    Kagato

    Reminds me of complains that followed Mass Effect 3′s ending

    I think a lot of the complaints about the ME3 ending were because they kept promising that “your choices matter” and “you won’t just get an A, B or C ending”… when that’s exactly what they ended up with — only it was “red, green or blue” instead, and you actually got the same ending with a palette swap and slightly different voiceover.

    There was lots of other things people hated about the ending, but the fact that there was only one possible outcome despite the promise of “choices” and multiple endings was what seemed to piss most people off.

    (Disclaimer: I haven’t personally played ME myself, but I’ve seen quite a few videos and articles discussing it.)

  73. 73
    Nick Gotts

    Jon Snow: alive, and boss of a whole military order. – jonharshman

    You surprise me. I didn’t know British journalist-presenters led such exciting lives!

  74. 74
    scimaths

    way too many SFF fans seem to think that “realism” = lovingly detailed violence against women. Whenever someone complains about the rampant rape and objectification in this series (or any of the copycat series that have been popping up lately like grim little daisies), the objection always I hear is “But it’s realistic!” I disagree. I find it voyeuristic.

    Yes, exactly this. Adolescent male sociopath fantasy about a world they think they’d like to live in. Hot chicks and rape ! Woohoo ! Gore and more gore ! Edgy realism for super subversion !

    It’s nothing new at all.

  75. 75
    Kagato

    You surprise me. I didn’t know British journalist-presenters led such exciting lives!

    What was hilarious for me when I last searched for Jon Snow (it’s since been fixed) — Google gave me the summary box for the journalist, but illustrated it with a photo of the actor playing the character!

  76. 76
    laurentweppe

    Yes, exactly this. Adolescent male sociopath fantasy about a world they think they’d like to live in

    Isn’t “You Really Do Not Want to go and live here” a recuring theme of the books?

  77. 77
    Gregory Greenwood

    Suido @ 42;

    I would also add that evolution is an equally messy way to improve something, having had a big argument last night about the importance of evolution in determining which gender is better at parenting. Gah. Education is so powerful it makes any biological differences moot. I hate fetishization of evolution in that manner.

    Let me guess – the person you were discussing this with was heavy into a form of evo-psych that basically presents evolutionary biology as unavoidable social and cultural destiny? I find it annoying when anyone completely ignores the ‘nature versus nurture’ elements of social behaviour, and simply defaults to ‘evolution did it’ (said in the same tone and with the same lack of introspection or thorough thought as ‘god did it’).

    This suggests that the status quo is, if not entirely immutable, then only capable of change over lengthy evolutionary timescales, and so the subtext is that it is entirely pointless to work for social justice within human timescales of a couple of generations. It is all too often a rational for apathy toward the gross social iniquities that plague our society, and so unsurprisingly is often put forward by people who already have plenty of privilege to fall back on. It is an unpleasantly laisser-faire attitude toward institutionalised injustices.

  78. 78
    Gregory Greenwood

    scimaths @ 74;

    Yes, exactly this. Adolescent male sociopath fantasy about a world they think they’d like to live in. Hot chicks and rape ! Woohoo ! Gore and more gore ! Edgy realism for super subversion !

    It’s nothing new at all.

    While I don’t doubt for a second that there are nasty dudebros out there who think that way, it is important to remember that just because an author depicts a society in a certain way, it does not mean that they are holding it up as any kind of ideal or endorsing it in any way shape or form. In the same way that a crime writer can write about a serial killer without having a ‘yay for murder’ mentality, or an author can base an entire series of books around the exploits of an anti-hero (who almost certainly considers their own actions fully justified or even ‘righteous’ within the fiction) without suggesting that this fictional character’s sense of morality and personal motivations are by any stretch of the imagination ‘right’ even in the context of that fictional world, still less in any broader sense, then when it comes to fictional world-building it is entirely possible for an author to create an entire imaginary society that is utterly horrible and where life is nasty, brutish and short without ever suggesting that this is how actual society should be.

    While some fictional worlds are written as utopias that the reader is supposed to consider to be desireable outcomes for our real world society – the Federation from Star Trek springs to mind* – this is not invariably the case. Many fictional worlds are very dystopian without any suggestion that this is the outcome for our society that the author aspires to, and that is just as well. If all we could write about is ideal cultures, then literary creativity would be sorely restricted. Historical fiction would have to disappear as a genre overnight, for instance. As laurentweppe says @ 76, a major thread of the boooks is precisely the idea that this is not the kind of society anyone should want to live in. That some people might think it would be great says rather more about them as deeply twisted individuals then it does about the author of the books.

    ———————————————————————————————————————-

    * It is also worth noting that these attempts to write society ‘as it should be’ can often betray worrying blind spots in the author’s own sense of social justice and inclusivism. Which is more problematic – a brutal fictional society that the author sets stories in without in any way endorsing what is clearly intentionally written to be a broken system, or an author who tries to write a shining utopia and winds up revealing just how much their privilege effects them by excluding entire social goups that don’t even register on their minds at all?

  79. 79
    carlie

    The Mellow Monkey, I really liked that llama essay. Thanks for linking to it.

    I can’t say anything at all about GoT. I read the first book. Well, I read the first chapter or two, then skipped to the end, then went back and hit some in the middle, then eventually forced myself to finish all of it. And I like fantasy. It just seemed really paint-by-number to me; oh, here’s this kind of character, here’s this kind who will probably do that, yep, that box is checked, here’s this one we always see. I didn’t get any spark of interest at all. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for that kind of thing that week, I don’t know.

  80. 80
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Suido:

    The subversiveness is only with regard to story telling conventions.

    In that, and that alone, I appreciate GRRMs books. They are genuinely unpredictable because he’s done away with constructing story arcs and making the characters develop. Its more realistic in its depiction of humanity than almost any other fantasy novel.

    This. That is exactly why I love these books. I am bored of the standard sterilised version, where the author tries to demonstrate how awful and violent the society is by having strangers in taverns tell the hero about awful stuff they’ve heard about, but without ever illustrating said awful stuff. You cannot have an awful and violent society without the POV character ever being involved in or directly affected by said awful stuff.

  81. 81
    iiandyiiii

    PZ is incorrect, the books and the tv show are awesome :)

    Although I get that they’re not for everybody.

  82. 82
    Eric R

    I read the first three books and I don’t see myself going any further to be honest. I am fine with the brutality in Westeros but after finishing book three I felt the conclusion of the story was not one iota closer than it was on page one of book one. Oh yes. stuff happened but that was about it.

    It felt like that never-ending Wheel of Time series which must be on book 256 by now, contemplating the color and texture of Rand al’Thor’s droppings.

  83. 83
    rq

    I read the books through lots of sustained effort. The first one was really good, and I loved it, which is why I even bothered continuing (even with Eddard Stark’s death).
    (I think Jon Snow is not Eddard Stark’s bastard son at all, rather he’s the bastard son of Eddard’s sister and Rhaegar (Daenerys’ dead brother), and where that may lead him (third dragon, death, leader of the Others), I don’t know.)
    Also, I’m of mixed views about the women and their portrayal, so I won’t go on at length, but suffice it to say that Dany’s image was ruined for me when she fell for that idiot in colourful clothing because I would have thought her smarter than that, but maybe that’s part of the charm. Arya’s doing reasonably well, but getting tedious.
    It’s the more-and-more characters bit, with too much going on all over the place, that gets to me. I know, to show a story it’s nice to show all sides, but there are extremes, where it just becomes difficult to follow (never got past Wheel of Time Book 3, I think, if even). A lot of the later events really do feel like they’ve just been plunked down for the sake of some kind of action that will confuse everyone and (once again!) change the direction of things (once again!). That’s war and turmoil, though, I suppose.
    Oh, and anyone else reading the series find a similarity between dragonsteel and Damascus steel? Just thought it interesting!

  84. 84
    Rob Grigjanis

    laurentweppe @61:

    They claim to have been around for thousands of years. You know, like the Imperial House of Japan

    Do the Yamatos have to reconcile their history/genealogy with dozens of other Houses, including some which are hostile?

  85. 85
    redmcwilliams

    I’m getting really tired of Game of Thrones hipsters. No, we haven’t all read the books.

  86. 86
    crocodoc

    What plot is everybody talking about? This series is totally based on the premise that history in Westeros is not determined by a great schemer in the background but by conflicts by so many different individual interests, tribes, religions, by accidents, mistakes, schemes that sometimes work and sometimes don’t, it’s utter chaos. Different POV characters have totally different views on the same event. Even if GRRM finds a good point to end his tale I’m sure it will not be the end, with the righteous king finally claiming the throne, a great wedding and everybody looking into a bright future. Looking for a “plot” in this Gordian knot of entangled individual storylines is just like looking for “purpose” in evolution.
    Oh wait, that’s why many people don’t like evolution either.

  87. 87
    Alex

    I’m getting really tired of Game of Thrones hipsters.

    Yeah, random people on the internet posting stuff nowadays, so annoying.

  88. 88
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    85 redmcwilliams

    I’m getting really tired of Game of Thrones hipsters. No, we haven’t all read the books.

    Hipsters? Not the word you’re looking for there.

  89. 89
    Scaevola

    @72 Kagato
    Another of the complaints about the ME3 ending was that it basically ignored and destroyed the themes that the series had built up thus far. *Some Ending Spoilers Here*

    For most of the series, a lot of the stuff-between-the-lines was about demolishing the Star Trek ‘planet of hats’ trope, where each alien race has one defining feature and is exactly alike. It says that people are individuals, not stereotypes, and can come together with other individuals, even if the two cultures/tribes/alien races should hate each other. The big one that’s referred to in the end is the Geth, a collective of robots. A part of the second game is all about understanding and cooperating with the Geth, some of whom were the faceless enemies in the first game.

    This is all destroyed by the ending, which says to the player that ‘cooperation between organics and synthetics is never possible.’ This is obviously true given your own experiences in the game thus far, yet your character blindly believes what some deus ex machina character he or she met five minutes ago tells him in the last scene. It’s this ignorance of the themes established thus far in the series, including the elimination of meaningful choice, that made the ME3 ending a bad ending. It would be as if, as crocodoc @86 says, aSoIaF ended with a simple good vs evil battle and everyone gets married and lives happily ever after. That simply ignores the development, world, and story that had happened thus far.

  90. 90
    Owen

    I was under the impression that the whole series was more or less based on the Wars of the Roses, in which horrendous things happen and basically everyone is climbing all over each other to be the king of the hill of all the other dead bodies. Now, I haven’t read the books or seen the show but my money’s on whichever character most closely maps to Henry Tudor.

  91. 91
    aaronbaker

    The frequent female nudity in the show IS gratuitous (but that’s a feature of the show, not the books). Cersei’s walk of shame, if and when it occurs in the series, might have gratuitous elements as well; but in the book it makes perfect sense as a means by which a powerful woman could be (and was) humiliated in a rigidly partriarchal society–e.g. any country in Medieval Europe.

    Incidentally, there IS a male rape (or attempted rape) in the series, inflicted on the unfortunate Theon Greyjoy.

    Also, there are scenes of consensual male homosexual activity (not common on American television for sure!).

    This series is totally based on the premise that history in Westeros is not determined by a great schemer in the background but by conflicts by so many different individual interests, tribes, religions, by accidents, mistakes, schemes that sometimes work and sometimes don’t, it’s utter chaos. Different POV characters have totally different views on the same event. Even if GRRM finds a good point to end his tale I’m sure it will not be the end, with the righteous king finally claiming the throne, a great wedding and everybody looking into a bright future. Looking for a “plot” in this Gordian knot of entangled individual storylines is just like looking for “purpose” in evolution.

    Exactly right. This is one reason I love the books (and show). “[A]ll this vicious chaos will not advance the plot one bloody bit.” Clearly hyperbole; the plot advances, but slowly and agonizingly, without an obvious pattern, as in–say– a real war.

    To be perfectly honest, I love the books (and the series) for their brutality as well–which was the norm for political activity in a pre-modern society such as this one (and of course in plenty of modern societies, too). An unflinching account of how human beings actually behave in a given crisis has always appealed to me, and, as someone else observed, the brutality (the realism) of the books (and series) are quite subversive of the typical themes of heroic fantasy. .

  92. 92
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    Zigbot @ 65: I appreciate your thesis and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. Also, please send address for delivery of 1 (one) Internets, finish of your choice (satin-finish extra).

    That is to say, yes, exactly. Gritty realism in GRRM seems to mean “lovingly detailed descriptors of every rape of every woman ever as many times as we can think of new people and ways to rape her, and also occasionally off-screen rapes of men and boys or homosexual sex, but not in any way that you, the Default Human (aka White Straight Male SF Reader) will be even slightly uncomfortable with. And dragons, zombies, and other realistic historical things, which excuses the brutal misogyny because Realism!”

    Thanks anyway. Read the first book, made a token attempt at the second, broke my rapeyness counter by page 35 or something, threw it away and found something that didn’t spend all its time reinforcing how incredibly awful it was to live in TotalMedievalRealismLand … if you happen to be a woman. And occasionally engaged with the woman’s point of view on the whole thing, as opposed to author-stand-ins for what he thinks people who’ve been raped think about. Charles Stross is usually good for such a trip, or Cory Doctorow, or any of a thousand women writing awesome fantasy that meets at least as high a “realism standard” as the world of white walkers and dragons.

  93. 93
    A. Noyd

    Rob Grigjanis (#84)

    Do the Yamatos have to reconcile their history/genealogy with dozens of other Houses, including some which are hostile?

    No. In fact, the reason the Japanese imperial dynasty could have continued unbroken for a few thousand years is that for most of history it played a ceremonial role rather than one with any real power. No one overthrew it because no one needed to. So rather the opposite of GoT.

  94. 94
    Gregory Greenwood

    Scaevola @ 89;

    This is all destroyed by the ending, which says to the player that ‘cooperation between organics and synthetics is never possible.’ This is obviously (not) true given your own experiences in the game thus far, yet your character blindly believes what some deus ex machina character he or she met five minutes ago tells him in the last scene.

    ********SPOILER ALERT******

    I think you are missing a ‘not’ from that sentence (included in italics above), given that it is entirely possible, if you have a high enough reputation and are a generally nice sort, to convince the Geth and the Quarians to work together to rebuild their homeworld and create a new shared civilisation. While Legion ceases to exist as a discreet platform when he/she/they return to the Geth program collective (‘dies’ seems to be too biological a term to be an accurate description given the nature of the Geth as groups of learning, networked programmes operating physical platforms), the war stops, the two sides learn to cooperate, and both groups contribute forces to the final battle with the Reapers.

    As you say, with such experience under your belt, it doesn’t make much sense that Shepard then meakly goes along with the idea that social and political reconcilalition and coexistence between sapient biological and AI beings is impossible without choosing one of three really impaletable options – either AI genocide (Red Space Magic), the enslavement of all the Reapers (sapient beings in their own right, lets not forget, whose servitude is guaranteed by Blue Space Magic) or *drumroll* Green Space Magic!!11! */drumroll* that acheives some poorly explained, Kurzweillian-esque galaxy-wide integration between artifical and biological life (hey, don’t look at me – I didn’t write this stuff) known as ‘synthesis’ that is itself very ethically questionable, amounting to a consent-absent violation of the bodily autonomy of every being in the whole of Council Space and beyond, all in the name of an ambiguous ‘greater good’.

    The most annoying part of all is that there isn’t even an option for the type of rousing ‘Shepard Speech’(TM) of the sort that has been employed throughout the entire saga up to that point, where (if you have built up enough Paragon points/Reputation through earlier actions) Shepard uses empassioned oratory to argue for a better solution, and thereby convinces the adversary de jour to change their mind without a shot fired. It makes a mockery of every aspect of in-universe continuity and also renders hollow the whole concept that lay behind the Mass Effect franchise – a saga in which player choices ultimately matter.

  95. 95
    mythbri

    @CatieCat

    as opposed to author-stand-ins for what he thinks people who’ve been raped think about

    Zigbot finally put it into really good words for me, but they’re exactly right. The third-person omniscient narrator, even when writing the POV of female characters, is undeniably heteronormatively male. The narrator makes sure to let the readers know exactly how the female character’s breasts are doing at any given moment.

    You know who’s working hard to include real, different types of people in her writing? Tamora Pierce. The second book of her Beka Cooper series, Bloodhound, includes a transwoman, as well as several gay and lesbian characters. REAL gay and lesbian characters, not intended to titillate straight people. People would call this “sanitized” compared to ASoIaF, but Pierce writes YA fiction and is constrained by the genre. Bad things still happen. But it’s not despair porn, as another commenter put it.

  96. 96
    aaronbaker

    That is to say, yes, exactly. Gritty realism in GRRM seems to mean “lovingly detailed descriptors of every rape of every woman ever as many times as we can think of new people and ways to rape her, and also occasionally off-screen rapes of men and boys or homosexual sex, but not in any way that you, the Default Human (aka White Straight Male SF Reader) will be even slightly uncomfortable with. And dragons, zombies, and other realistic historical things, which excuses the brutal misogyny because Realism!”

    I think we must have read different books. The books aren’t, in fact, full of descriptions of rapes–and such rape as is described is not depicted “lovingly,” or in a way to reinforce male white self-satisfaction.

    I’d have to see some actual evidence before charging the author with misogyny, and this is not that evidence.

  97. 97
    Nick Gotts

    They are genuinely unpredictable because he’s done away with constructing story arcs and making the characters develop. – Suido

    Ah. You mean he’s a lousy writer?

  98. 98
    mythbri

    @aaronbaker

    he books aren’t, in fact, full of descriptions of rapes–and such rape as is described is not depicted “lovingly,”

    There’s a reason that HBO changed Danaerys’ age from 13 to 16. And yes, her statutory rape by the man she was forced to marry is described “lovingly.” (In before BUT REALISM BECAUSE 13-YEAR-OLDS GOT MARRIED IN YE OLDE DRAGON/ZOMBIE/MAGIC TIMES!)

    The rest of the time, rape is hardly described at all. It is nothing. It is just something that happens, or something that the particularly “bad” characters do to prove how bad they are. Nothing is said about the throwaway, nameless victims of the casual rapes that occur on a chapterly basis, unless that victim happens to be a major character or related to a major character in some way. And sometimes, even the related-to-a-major-character rape victims simply vanish, unimportant.

  99. 99
    Scaevola

    Gregory Greenwood @ 94

    Curses, foiled by a missing ‘not!’ Yes, I was referring to the Quarian-Geth cooperation that you could achieve by your own actions, yet in the ending you couldn’t try to find a better solution than Red, Blue, or Green Explosions. You’ve explained it pretty well.

    And what’s worse about it, is that while a better writer group could have pulled off something about the meaninglessness of choice in a videogame and made it work, the ME3 ending just reeks of bad writing. For an example of a good game where the player’s choice is ultimately meaningless and yet supremely meaningful is the ending of MGS3.

  100. 100
    Paulino

    Up to the Storm of Swords I was enjoying ASoIaF quite a lot. But after that, as my wife put it, it turned into a series of “dramatic chipmunk” moments. I’ll read it to the bitter end, but mostly out of stubbornness.

  101. 101
    redmcwilliams

    I think hipster is the perfect word to describe the Game of Thrones Bookclub. Hardly a day goes by that there isn’t someone on at least one of the various internet sites I visit that isn’t expressing contempt for us mere mortals who only came to the story through the TV show.

    “Ugh, you were shocked at the Red Wedding? I knew that was going to happen like at least two winters ago.”

  102. 102
    laurentweppe

    Another of the complaints about the ME3 ending was that it basically ignored and destroyed the themes that the series had built up thus far

    I already gave my detailed opinion on Mass Effect on in the last comment here. Short version: I was very happy and satisfied when the series’ quasi-fascistic heinleinesque tripe was turned on its head in the finale.

    More generally, one thing which is especially grating with RPGs in general, and Bioware’s RPGs in particular (appart from their tendancy to screw up the PS3 version of their games) is that often all the careful world building ends up being Kung-Fu-Jesued by the overpowered protagonist at the end of the story.

    ***

    I think hipster is the perfect word to describe the Game of Thrones Bookclub

    Hipster metal

  103. 103
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    I’m with aaronbaker on the amount of rape in GoT. I’ve read the books and am watching the series, I don’t recall there being a gratuitous amount, though there is certainly enough to make you uncomfortable. It’s descriptions also are graphic and shocking; certainly not “lovingly described”. Again, he’s trying to represent a world that is harsh and violent, and he does so very well. It’s supposed to be shocking and horrific.

  104. 104
    mythbri

    It’s supposed to be shocking and horrific.

    Unless it happens to one of the “bad” characters. Then it’s just desserts.

  105. 105
    Gregory Greenwood

    Scaevola @ 99;

    Curses, foiled by a missing ‘not!’

    Being undone by AWOL words is always annoying, doubly so when it reverses your intended meaning.

    And what’s worse about it, is that while a better writer group could have pulled off something about the meaninglessness of choice in a videogame and made it work, the ME3 ending just reeks of bad writing.

    It really doesn’t work at any level, and the retconned extended endings still don’t do anything to address the underlying problem that the conclusion just doesn’t make any sense at all with regard to the established continuity even within the third game in the franchise, let alone gelling with Sovereign’s motivations in the first game.

    For an example of a good game where the player’s choice is ultimately meaningless and yet supremely meaningful is the ending of MGS3.

    But that isn’t the worst part – the Mass Effect games aren’t, in my humble opinion, ‘bad’ games at all throughout the vast majority of their collective content (annoying planet scanning game mechanics aside). It is only in the last ten minutes of the third game that they throw it all away, and it is done so needlessly – there are any number of better ways in which the situation could have been handled/salvaged.

    They could have had the option for a ‘Shepard Speech’(TM) moment that I mentioned in my last comment.

    Shepard’s earlier actions in the game could have lead to a situation where thrid parties, perhaps helped and/or inspired by Shepard, arrive to offer other solutions (perhaps involving lots of firepower).

    They could have explored the possibility that Shepard’s repeated exposure to Reaper tech has lead to nascent Indoctrination, and so he or she is unable to entirely trust their own perceptions, and so is hallucinating the whole thing. This both explains Shepard’s inconsistent behaviour and the surreal tone of the entire ending sequence. Whichever of the three options you choose, the actions of some other character jolts Shepard back to full consciousness, and (s)he finds that;

    1) If you chose the ‘destruction’ ending, you are about to shoot yourself in the head.

    2) If you chose the ‘control’ ending, your hands are inches away fom exposed and sparking power conduits.

    3) If you chose the ‘synthesis’ ending, you are standing precariously on the very edge of a lethal drop.

    With your indoctrination temporarily in abeyance, you must then seize the opportunity to act in a fashion that actually fits in with the established continuity and the character of your Shepard.

    So many better options – I am at a loss to explain why none of them were chosen by the writers.

    Not that I am bitter, you understand. Oh no, not bitter at all…

    ;-P

  106. 106
    crocodoc

    @104 mythbri

    Unless it happens to one of the “bad” characters. Then it’s just desserts.

    Who might be such a “bad” character in GoT, please?
    The great thing about this series is that every single character has motivations and views that you might sympathize with or despise. OK, Gregor Clegane could be an exception but even what happens to him is not written in a way that provides satisfaction. It’s really not a “justice has been done” situation.

  107. 107
    aaronbaker

    The rest of the time, rape is hardly described at all. It is nothing. It is just something that happens, or something that the particularly “bad” characters do to prove how bad they are. Nothing is said about the throwaway, nameless victims of the casual rapes that occur on a chapterly basis, unless that victim happens to be a major character or related to a major character in some way. And sometimes, even the related-to-a-major-character rape victims simply vanish, unimportant.

    I don’t actually think they do occur on a chapterly basis (though I admit it’s been several years since I read the first four installments). Is the lack of much attention to the rape of minor characters evidence of misogyny, or could it just be that the victim is–well–a minor character?

    As for statutory rape, it nonetheless remains a fact that the concept didn’t exist in a society like the one described by Martin. I do agree that an author could describe Daenerys’s forced marriage in a leering and misogynistic fashion. But is that what Martin did? I didn’t think so at the time, but I’ll concede I should have another look at it. I actually thought Martin was trying to do something much more difficult (by the lights of us moderns): to describe a forced marriage that developed into something consensual. Such marriages certainly existed in, say, Ancient Greece or Medieval England—so it wasn’t contemptible, in and of itself, for Martin to try. What’s all-important is the manner in which such that subject is treated.

  108. 108
    Scaevola

    @103 Gregory Greenwood

    But that isn’t the worst part – the Mass Effect games aren’t, in my humble opinion, ‘bad’ games at all throughout the vast majority of their collective content (annoying planet scanning game mechanics aside). It is only in the last ten minutes of the third game that they throw it all away, and it is done so needlessly – there are any number of better ways in which the situation could have been handled/salvaged.

    Yep, it’s because I love the ME series so much that I’m so saddened by the terrible ending.

    Anyways, back to ASoIaF. Somewhat in response to @104 mythbri and @106 crocodoc, one of the things that most attracted me to this series is indeed its resistance to black-and-white characterizations. One of the big moral conflicts of the series can be summed up in a meeting between Davos Seaworth and the Red Priestess Melisandre. Melisandre feels that everyone is either elementally good or evil, saying ‘if half of an onion is rotten, we call it a rotten onion.’ Davos believes that most people have elements of both in them, and that’s one cannot simply say that there are bad guys and good guys. The focus on Jaime Lannister in Storm of Swords is a big example of this. Jaime’s thoughts and actions in his POV chapters don’t excuse what he did earlier on, but calling him solely evil is oversimplifying.

  109. 109
    mythbri

    @aaronbaker

    But is that what Martin did? I didn’t think so at the time, but I’ll concede I should have another look at it. I actually thought Martin was trying to do something much more difficult (by the lights of us moderns): to describe a forced marriage that developed into something consensual.

    Let me give you my impression of Danaerys’ forced marriage to Drogo, and when you re-read that portion yourself, perhaps it will be with a different perspective.

    -Danaerys’ brother makes a big point about Drogo’s preference for young girls. Remember, Danaerys is 13.

    -Danaerys’ brother threatens her with terrible things if she doesn’t go along and satisfy Drogo.

    -At the wedding, the “entertainment” are casually raped in a murder/orgy that’s supposed to show how savage Drogo’s culture is.

    -On the wedding night, Danaerys is so terrified that she is crying in fear, until Drogo presses the magic clitoris button that makes her all of a sudden consent to sex. Apparently this erases the fact that she’s 13 and being married against her will. Do you think Drogo would have respected her “No”, which it was made clear he understood, if she had said it that last time? I don’t.

    -Pretty much every night after, Drogo fucks Danaerys whether she likes it or not, paying absolutely no attention to her enjoyment. Danaerys only stops this because she’s forced to seduce Drogo, in order to have the chance to have the sex on her terms.

    This was my impression.

    ….

    @crocodoc

    Cersei’s humiliation was mentioned right in this thread, as being a “perfect” way to put her in her place. Cersei is not a liked character.

  110. 110
    busterggi

    Bah! I’m a fan of the Wild Cards series and I say that GoT is spinach and the Hell with it!

    Except for the boobs.

  111. 111
    Cynickal

    I haven’t seen the show or read the book. I just noticed that my name had scrolled off the Just Posted column so I just want to point out hipsters suck.
    So does your favorite author.
    Your local sports franchise is inadequate as well.

  112. 112
    aaronbaker

    Well, I’ll re-read it.

    if you’re referring to MY comment about Cersei’s humiliation, my point was quite different: it’s the kind of punishment that was inflicted on (even) powerful women in Medieval Europe, and so it “ma[de] perfect sense” in that way. Since punishment is inflicted in the books with so little connection to actual desert, I certainly didn’t see it as “putting her in her place.” What I was mostly thinking was: Well, those priests have made an obviously fatal mistake.

  113. 113
    crocodoc

    @mythbri

    Cersei’s humiliation was mentioned right in this thread, as being a “perfect” way to put her in her place. Cersei is not a liked character.

    Really? Sure, she’s not likable at all but did you enjoy her humiliation? I couldn’t, simply because GRRM carefully lays out that exactly what she had been fighting all her life now descends on her. It was actually the first time that I pitied her when I read that.

  114. 114
    Inaji

    Alethea:

    A beautiful princess being married off to a handsome prince is just NOT a fucking happy ending

    But it doesn’t have to be all rape all the time, either. Jim Hines’s Princess series is delightful and happily subversive when it comes to idiotic princess tropes.

  115. 115
  116. 116
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    mythbri

    Danaerys’ brother makes a big point about Drogo’s preference for young girls. Remember, Danaerys is 13.

    And I think it’s worth pointing out–since GRRM reeeeeeaaaaally loves him some marrying off little girls–that consummating a marriage with a very young and politically valuable bride was an historically uncommon practice. With maternal death in childbirth so high, there was a lot of concern about getting a bride pregnant too young. If she had political value and the match was to cement some alliance, then you were going to be damn sure her body was developed enough to survive childbirth. Forced marriages of barely pubescent girls does happen and has happened throughout history, but when you’re basing your world on Fantasy Europe, inserting child marriage repeatedly is not a choice based on history. From the late 14th century into the 19th century, the average age of marriage for Europeans was 25, with bride and groom close in age.

    People will often look at things like Romeo and Juliet and assume that the very young ages of the characters reflects attitudes about marriage in Europe at the time. Ironically, one of the themes in the story is what tragedies can occur when a father forces his daughter into marriage too young. Had Capulet not attempted to marry his daughter off at fourteen, she would not have made the choices that ultimately led to her death. (Dying in childbirth isn’t nearly as romantic as the star-crossed lovers, of course.)

    This isn’t historical realism, but mythology at best.

  117. 117
    mythbri

    @crocoduc

    Sure, she’s not likable at all but did you enjoy her humiliation?

    No, I didn’t. Humiliation is one of those things that I always feel vicariously. I can’t watch or read about someone getting humiliated without feeling a lot of empathy for them.

    But I’ve spoken with other people who have read the books who think that the bitch got what she deserved.

  118. 118
    Eric Allen

    re: Mellow Monkey @116

    Thank you!

    I don’t read hyperviolence and grimdark. I have not read the ISoIaF books, and I have seen only the first episode of GoT. I have, however, read a LOT of history, and especially medieval European history. In my experience, much of the “But it’s REALISM!” arguments are based not on actual history, but popular (mis)conceptions about history. In other words–”scaly Llamas”, but for history, not women.

    Yes, the European Middle Ages on which much fantasy is based was comparatively brutal, but it often wasn’t as truly hopelessly awful as we in our modern post-enlightenment society assume it was.

    Let’s take a very brief look at some of the common “REALISM!” tropes used to illustrate the “TOTALLY REALISTIC BRUTALITY!” of medieval settings: slaughtering everyone in a town, city, settlement, etc. and the whole idea that women were sexually and socially subservient to the will-rape-anything-that-moves men.

    Did horrendous slaughters where thousands of people were put to the sword happen? Yes. They are mentioned by primary sources. But, when they are mentioned, the slaughters are described as being exceptional and horrible. People at the time knew it was a bad thing. And more often than not, the people describing the horror were not witnesses, but people separated from the events by as many as hundreds of miles and hundreds of years, often describing the “great injustice that was visited upon the kind, peaceful people of X by the horrible, evil people of Y”.
    Context is everything.

    Were women subservient and sexually submissive to the big, strong, rapey males? Rapes certainly happened (as they always have), but they were illegal and prosecuted (when they could be proved–much like today there was a lot of victim-blaming and “boys-will-be-boys” excuses. Times haven’t changed that much). The role of women varied considerably from place to place and time to time (after all, the “Middle Ages” covers several centuries of history). However, in the 14th century and earlier, women were business owners, important government ministers, social leaders, guild members, and more. They did much everything men did and contemporary chroniclers mention this with not a hint of irony or indication that these women were abnormal or doing anything out of the ordinary.
    (This is not to say it was anywhere close to a feminist ideal or that the sexes were even seen as “equal”, just that things might not have been quite as dire, at least in the ways we now-a-days assume).
    It was more the ideals and cultural re-writing done in the Renaissance (and later again in the early 20th century) that marginalized the role of women and retroactively rewrote their involvement in Medieval history.

  119. 119
    Eric Allen

    Ok, that block quote totally didn’t work. That “Thank You!” was supposed to be in response to The Mellow Monkey’s statements in #116, especially “This isn’t historical realism, but mythology at best.”

  120. 120
    Gregory Greenwood

    Reginald Selkirk @ 115;

    The article you linked to was unintentionally hilarious. I particularly liked the bit where the author talks about how some christians think that the books/show can be instructive as to what the world would supposedly be like without their sky fairy;

    That, in turn, has prompted intense debates about whether Christians should watch “Games of Thrones” at all, or whether the show’s only possible virtue is depicting how the world would look if Christ had never been born — or what it could look like if Christianity disappeared tomorrow.

    I always thought that the many nasty, violent, brutal and patriarchal religions of the fiction – the religion of the Seven that basically functions to legitimate royal power and the political status quo by keeping the masses compliant; the brutal and patriarchal Old Gods; the religion of the rather Yahweh-esque R’hollr with its rituals of burning those who don’t play ball and its absolutists, simplistic black and white concepts of morality (although its attitude toward sex is less messed up thjan that of christianity) – all seem to draw heavily from xianity and the other Abrahamic faiths in one way or another, particularly with regard to their nastiest, most abusive and oppressive elements.

  121. 121
    Ichthyic

    These are books in which the actions of the characters are totally meaningless

    Notice the title of the book series:

    “A Song of Ice and Fire”

    It indeed pits characters ignorant of the history of their land against the tidal forces that actually drive it.
    The books actually do a fantastic job of driving this message home time and time again. In fact, my only real complaint about the books is that Martin feels this overwhelming need to repeat the lesson at least three times in every book.

    I disagree that Martin is making ANY commentary about our society, in any specific, directed sense.

    He’s telling the story of a land of fantasy, where the very seasons themselves are tilted by “ancient spirits”. The “humans” in the story are merely the reactors to the underlying tidal forces.

  122. 122
    Eric Allen

    Watching a piece of driftwood carried by the waves can provide entertainment for a while, but we soon tire of this and begin to imagine stories where the driftwood has at least a modicum of control over its course. Then the entertainment can last as long as we desire.

  123. 123
    Ichthyic

    well said Eric.

    it will be the epitaph of the series, if indeed Martin ever finishes it.

  124. 124
    vaiyt

    I am just bitter and fed up with fantasy that pretends itself “subversive” while reproducing current historical myths, stereotypes and prejudices, and tries to sell itself as “realistic” while picking and choosing very carefully what they deem so.

    Why do white men have to call all the shots in GRRM’s world, when it wasn’t even remotely true in the period of time he’s evoking? Why is his world-building “innovative” and “realistic” when it’s set in the same sanitized pseudo-European setting of all of his peers? Why does GRRM’s novels have to reproduce, in the name of “realism”, the same fucking patriarchal and racist bullshit seen in the “conventional” fantasy it’s “subverting”? Oh, it doesn’t subscribe to typical fantasy tropes, big whoop. Am I supposed to give GRRM a medal for avoiding being a slobbering Tolkien imitator? That’s not some fucking lofty achievement. ASOIAF merely manages to not suck as much as most of the fantasy genre IN ONE ASPECT, while being perfectly conventional in so many others.

  125. 125
    ismenia

    I’ve read the first book and seen the first episode and I just found it frustrating. At first I was really enjoying it but I just felt that everything that happens is really just an excuse to put the characters into horrible situations for the readers’ titillation. e.g. Catelyn taking Tyrion to her sister’s castle even though she knew they would have to travel through country so perilious they would be lucky to survive (and despite knowing that abducting the Queen’s brother and executing him after a distinctly unfair trial could cause a war and/or dire retribution for her family. Then keeping Tyrion in a cell intended to drive the occupant to suicide as though they could afford to have him die in custody. It was basically an excuse to have fun describing that horrifying scenario.

    I’ve read far worse in terms of brutality and horror but this made me a lot more uncomfortable and irritated because it was so gratuitous.

  126. 126
    archi

    Why does GRRM’s novels have to reproduce, in the name of “realism”, the same fucking patriarchal and racist bullshit seen in the “conventional” fantasy it’s “subverting”?

    Big picture is that all those patriarchal honorable men like Starks die miserably. The hero and main protagonist is a woman growing and developing herself with every book, strong and successful leader who frees slaves just because she despises slavery.

    Most liked character is a dwarf. Freedom loving and most democratic wildlings are portrayed in a good light. There’s not one religion but many. Other races are not inherently evil – Children of the Forest, giants.

    War is on the other hand inherently evil, there’s no justification for it. It’s destructive, brings only misery, death, hunger and pain. There’s no glory in it. Violence in the end leads only to more violence, not to fame, glory, riches, peace, justice or some greater good. It’s a view of a pacifist.

  127. 127
    danielbjorkman

    @ vaiyt 32:

    Yes. That.

    Honestly… I am still a (somewhat reluctant and disillusioned) fan of ASOIAF, but anyone who is still talking about how groundbreakingly “realistic” it is hasn’t been paying attention to what’s been happening since the first book was published. These days, the market is absolutely flooded with fantasy stories that twist themselves into knots to avoid being fantastical and, for that matter, to avoid being anything like stories. Good versus evil? Haha, so childish – we’ll just make every character an utter bastard, because that’s realistic! (and never mind that that’s not what “grey morality” means – it’s supposed to mean that no one is entirely good or entirely evil, not that everyone is evil) Story conventions! We scoff at such things – let’s just make the whole story completely random and pointless, just like real life!

    Basically, if I want a fantasy story with a beginning, a middle, and a happy end, I am increasingly screwed. And yes, since vaiyt mentioned it – if I want to not hear “raperaperaperape” for hundreds of pages in a row, I am even more screwed.

    It’s not just GRRM’s fault. There was just something in the air in the late nineties – Joss Whedon was another pioneer in the doctrine that it didn’t matter if a plot twist was interesting or made for a better story, all that mattered was that it was unexpected (and preferably someone should die in it). And yes, I am a reluctant and disillusionised fan of him, too.

    And for anyone who says that it’s good to see just how low people can sink because we need to remember our capacity for evil, I say yes, that’s… partly true. But progressive people have an annoying tendency to think that if everyone would just recognise that they were bad, they would immediately repent and become good – ignoring the fact that being good is difficult and complicated and amounts to more than just saying the exact opposite thing to what the most despicable shithead you can find says. People need to see what goodness look like before they can aspire to it, and that’s something that that damnable shiny-happy-sparkly fantasy is very suited to do – but hardly anyone seems to feel moved to write stories about our capacity for goodness right now.

  128. 128
    Amphiox

    If I wanted to entertain myself by reading about gritty, realistic sequences of randomly horrible events happening randomly to random horrible people without any overarching narrative or conflict or plot or character growth, I could just read real-world history.

  129. 129
    Gregory Greenwood

    danielbjorkman @ 127;

    People need to see what goodness look like before they can aspire to it, and that’s something that that damnable shiny-happy-sparkly fantasy is very suited to do – but hardly anyone seems to feel moved to write stories about our capacity for goodness right now.

    I wouldn’t say that ‘shiny-happy-sparkly fantasy’ is very good at conveying meaningful ‘goodness’ either – while less overtly bloody and violent than Martin’s stuff, such stories tend all too often to be shot through with nasty patriarchal tropes (‘brave, manly heroes’ rescuing ‘fainting damsels in distress’, weaker/younger male protagonist characters ‘finding their power’ by ‘manning up’ in the face of adversity, usually be means of violence), major veins of often not at all subtle racism (the grossly overused fantasy trope of brutish, animalistic orks that have a distinctly tribalistic feel to them, right down to the use of war drums, versus beauteous, graceful, highly civilised and very, very white – indeed downright aryan – elves, along with JRR Tolkien’s infamous decision to make the ‘wicked men’ who fought for Sauron distinctly dusky of hue, doubly so when compared to the very European looking and lilly-white ‘men of the West’) and misogyny (every damsel in distress/princess and her Prince Charming trope evah), and a tendency to solve all society’s problems with the pointy end of a sword, since killing the easily identified ‘Dark Lord’ and his minions (because ‘bad guys’ always obligingly have horns and like to buy all their clothing from the local Black Platemail Boutique(TM), naturally) always fixes everything; just find the most reviled group in society, kill them, and the sun will emerge from behind the storm clouds and everything will be just fine, and do it all in the name of ‘honour’/'truth’/'justice’/fantasy god(s) that are clearly stand-ins for good ‘ole Yahweh – you can’t go wrong.

    I am not really convinced that any of that amounts to a depiction of any kind of ‘goodness’ that is, you know, actually good for society and in particular marginalised groups. Well, unless one wants to subscribe to the sort of religious, patriarchal concept of ‘goodness’ that paints killing the right sort of ‘bad’ people as the ultimate measure of moral action…

    Whatever else one may say about ASOIAF, at least Martin’s writings don’t pretend to be morality plays that seek to convey important moral messages about how to be decent people, and instead wind up being patriarchy manuals that wrap themselves in the cloak of promoting ‘goodness’ – Martin doesn’t even try to hide the (admittedly rather gratuitous and problematic) nastiness in his fictional world.

  130. 130
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    Gregory in Seattle @ #5

    If you read A Song of Fire and Ice as what a fantasy society very likely would be like in reality, you will see that Martin is subverting the genre and turning it into a commentary of how modern society glorifies the quest for power at any cost. It’s pretty subversive.

    LOL

    No. Martin admits, on several occasions that he has no vision or even interest in these books. They aren’t planned to go anywhere and I very seriously doubt if he planned them to be subverting a genre (they’re not). Subverting a genre is what Steven Erikson did. It’s very nice of you to suggest that Martin is doing anything intentional other than forming sometimes meaningful sentences that barely construct a terrible world wherein anyone is likely to die, murderously, at any moment. Just about the only clever thing about these books is the ‘game of thrones’ and that’s not even original. I’ll say more clearly, in regards to the idea that these books subvert the fantasy genre, that killing archetypal protagonist characters is not genre subverting and it definitely isn’t when the author has no appearance of even knowing that he’s writing a story.

    No, I’m no fan of Martin. I can appreciate someone being a fan. I cannot accept an analysis of these books that suggests that Martin is being intentional at all.

    Gregory Greenwood @ #129

    Martin doesn’t even try to hide the (admittedly rather gratuitous and problematic) nastiness in his fictional world.

    He couldn’t begin to try. He’d have to have had a thought about it in the first place.

  131. 131
    IngisKahn

    George RR Martin:

    All the major things have been planned since the beginning, since the early 90s, the major deaths and the general direction of things. Obviously, the details and the minor things have been things that I’ve discovered along the way, part of the fun of writing the books is making these discoveries along the journey. But the general structure of the books has been in my head all along.

  132. 132
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    archi

    The hero and main protagonist is a woman growing and developing herself with every book, strong and successful leader who frees slaves just because she despises slavery.

    A preturnaturally pale white woman travels around, informing brown people that slavery is bad and then liberating them from the slavery they were too stupid to realize was bad before.

    Based on this, I can only assume The Help and The White Man’s Burden are also subversive and groundbreaking.

    Oh, thank you! Thank you, white people! I’m so glad that GRRM has the guts to do what so few have and show us how white people from another continent might save us.

  133. 133
    aaronbaker

    The only comment I’d make at this time is to say here, if I didn’t make it clear before: I continue to believe Game of Thrones is a quite accurate portrayal of late Medieval political violence. I say this in response to people who’ve mentioned any number of facts about Europe in the Middle Ages that aren’t mirrored in Martin’s books.

    I admit I know nothing about the average age of girls given away in Medieval dynastic marriages. I was making a perhaps unwarranted assumption based on Ancient Greece (I culture I did study professionally). Much less is known about marriage patterns in Greece–but marriage girls around the onset of puberty is what the experts I’ve run into agree on (this would usually be around 14 or 15)–and I haven’t yet run into a Greek (or Macedonian) preference for a later date in dynastic couplings–though maybe there was such a preference..

  134. 134
    Gregory Greenwood

    The Mellow Monkey @ 132;

    A preturnaturally pale white woman travels around, informing brown people that slavery is bad and then liberating them from the slavery they were too stupid to realize was bad before.

    Oh yeah – that bit really is nausea-inducing. Martin makes a big deal that Daenerys, as a Targaryen, has not just blonde hair, but actually the ultimate in platinum-blonde silver hair (blonder than blonde!) along with exceptionally pale skin – she really couldn’t be any more fantasy-white if she tried. And then it is this character that rolls up in Essos and says ‘slavery is totes bad!’ to people who, having suffered under the brutal oppression of nasty* local slavers for centuries, might just have an inkling of this themselves. And of course, Danaerys ‘liberates’ them in part by killing the soldiers defending those slaver cities… who are probably mostly endentured slave soldiers themselves (awesome liberation-technique right there; kill the very people you have taken it upon yourself to save from the slavery you have assumed they are too stupid to realise is bad/are too weak to resist themselves), and all the while her own army is made up of mostly of slave soldiers who, while she claims to have ‘freed’ them, have been trained brutally almost from birth to follow orders without question, and probably follow her mostly because they have no where else to go. It’s the deeply offensive ‘Mighty Whitey’ trope all the way.

    And all the while, what Daenerys thinks of as her own lands in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, which are supposedly so much more civilised in her eyes, and would never tolerate slavery (just look what happened to Mormont the younger!), is full of people like Littlefinger who use women as… disposeable sex slaves. But they aren’t so crass as to actually call it slavery, so that is apparently completely different.

    I suppose it is possible that Martin is building up to Daenerys experiencing the realisation that Westeros really is in no different, and certainly no better, than the cities she has sacked in Essos, and the point is that it was arrogant of her to interfere in another culture based on her assumption of her own superiority.

    Then again, this is George R.R. ‘you think this is hideously and gratuitously brutal and nasty? Wait until you read the next chapter!’ Martin – maybe he intends to have her use her stay-glow super-whiteness to bring her brand of ‘enlightenment’** to the merely ordinary-white denizens of Westeros as well, having first cut her teeth effortlessly liberating the darker-skinned denizens of the likes of Yunkai from the slavery they are appartently supposed to be stupid to oppose themsleves.

    As you say, it is all getting very ‘The White Man’s Targaryen’s/Mother of Dragon’s Burden’.

    ———————————————————————————————————————-

    * And brown, of course brown – white slave traders? What a notion! Well, apart from Ser Jorah Mormont, but his greedy wife made him do it, dontcha know, and Eddard Stark wanted to chop his head off for it, so that is totes different… *retch*

    ** One wonders if there will be anything left of the Seven Kindgoms after she is done ‘fixing’ them like she is trying to ‘fix’ the cultures of Essos?

  135. 135
    aaronbaker

    “marriage for girls” I should have written.

  136. 136
    laurentweppe

    A preturnaturally pale white woman travels around, informing brown people that slavery is bad and then liberating them from the slavery they were too stupid to realize was bad before.

    A preturnaturally pale white woman who is the inbred descendant of a nation of dragon-riding sorcerers who used their powerful magic to forcefully maintain millions in slavery and preserve their decadent empire who clumsily tries to correct the abject legacy of her ancestors. No one ever called Moorcock a white supremacist or a reactionary for having imagined Melniboné and Elric, so why would Martin be brought down in flammes for doing the same thing?

  137. 137
    aaronbaker

    Well, I do think the Great White Deliverer Trope needs to be retired.

  138. 138
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    IngisKahn,

    Thanks. I just spent all morning reading recent interviews where Martin says essentially the same thing, essentially contradicting things he said in the past regarding the series.

    I was being a bit hyperbolic but, as a reader, it is difficult to believe that Martin has put much thought at all into the direction of the series. And even if he did plan it all out and even if he does like his work to be ‘unpredictable’, the substance of the plot is actually thin on the ground and the climax of the story, not for lack of imagination on my part or the part of other …disillusioned readers, is difficult to see. If, ultimately, there is no point to it and that was Martin’s intention, well, I hope he stays away from writing that type of ‘story’ ever again.

  139. 139
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    laurentweppe

    A preturnaturally pale white woman who is the inbred descendant of a nation of dragon-riding sorcerers who used their powerful magic to forcefully maintain millions in slavery and preserve their decadent empire who clumsily tries to correct the abject legacy of her ancestors. No one ever called Moorcock a white supremacist or a reactionary for having imagined Melniboné and Elric, so why would Martin be brought down in flammes for doing the same thing?

    Ah, I see. White people have dominated the public conversation about fantasy, therefore their privilige blindness means there’s no racism in fantasy.

    No, that’s not how it works. There are a whole bunch of racist ideas interwoven throughout many, many fantasy novels. It’s just that the people who generally notice and complain the loudest–People of Color–aren’t necessarily listened to that much. Requires Only That You Hate has a lot of reviews of sci-fi and fantasy from the perspective of a WOC. It can be a slap in the face to people who have never looked at these books from that point of view, and it’s one that’s sorely needed.

    I actually really like the character of Daenerys. I can be critical of and analyze the problematic aspects of something while also enjoying it, after all. She’s very entertaining, but the race/slavery baggage in the universe shouldn’t be ignored just because it’s a different universe. It was written and is being read in our universe.

    That doesn’t mean GRRM is a white supremacist, but racist tropes have influenced him. Making note of that is not trying to take him down in flames.

  140. 140
    mythbri

    That doesn’t mean GRRM is a white supremacist, but racist tropes have influenced him. Making note of that is not trying to take him down in flames.

    Nor, I’d like to point out, is noting that GRRM has built a disgustingly patriarchal, rape culture world. Sexist tropes have also influenced him. This doesn’t make him a misogynist, but it bothers me that a lot of fans of his books are more amenable to racial criticisms than they are to gender criticisms.

  141. 141
    Gregory Greenwood

    laurentweppe @ 136;

    A preturnaturally pale white woman who is the inbred descendant of a nation of dragon-riding sorcerers who used their powerful magic to forcefully maintain millions in slavery and preserve their decadent empire who clumsily tries to correct the abject legacy of her ancestors. No one ever called Moorcock a white supremacist or a reactionary for having imagined Melniboné and Elric, so why would Martin be brought down in flammes for doing the same thing?

    I would like to echo The Mellow Monkey’s comment @ 139; it is very easy to like Daenerys:- she is tough and adaptable, she turned a situation where her truly repugnant arsehole of a brother sold her into de facto sexual slavery in return for an army to her advantage. After Drogo’s death – a man she had grown to love, as problematic as that plot line itself can be – she picked herself up, and rapidly developed the political, military and leadership skills to keep her new Khallassar alive in an extremely hostile environment. She has overcome one obstacle after another through her own grit and determination, and without any bloke doing the heavy lifting for her.

    All this is true, but none of it counteracts the problematic issue of the use of a white character as a messianic saviour of dark skinned people from bondage; a highly toxic device in fiction. I do not think that this is a case of Martin being a white supremacist, or consciously employing racist tropes. This is a combination of Martin’s unexamined privilege, paired with his preference for an unrelentingly brutal and violent style of fictional world-building, combining to create an (in my opinion most likely unintentional) ‘perfect storm’ of toxic racial imagery.

    Daenerys is a curious character. She is simultaneously both refreshing and fascinating – as a capable female character and leader who incinerates established tropes of what female fantasy characters are ‘supposed’ to be capable of with all the ease and potency with which her dragons breath fire; but also wearisomely familiar – as yet another ‘white saviour’ character who embodies a whole host of problematic ideas, written by an author who is almost certainly not deliberately being racist but who simply hasn’t stopped to think how this plotline will look to people who don’t share his unexamined white privilege. And this is perhaps unsurprising given that, as Mellow Monkey points out, that voice of white privilege has been dominant in the fantasty and SF genres from pretty much the get go.

  142. 142
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    Good point, mythbri.

    Relevent: The Rape of James Bond

    To briefly return to A Song of Ice and Fire: The Black Watch, an all-male organisation that’s a bit like the Catholic church and a bit like the military, has a bit of a bullying problem. Some of the recruits are explicitly “rapers.” But none of the bullying turns sexual, not even from characters who have form as perpetrators of sexual violence. None of the boys suffers rape. Neither do any of the male peasants who are taken prisoner at various points by various factions. Despite being smaller and weaker than most of his male peers, Tyrion does not get raped, nor is he made to fear rape, either when captured by enemy noblemen or surrounded by hundreds of violent, volatile outlaws. They threaten to kill him, even to mutilate him, but not to rape him. Why not? Isn’t this supposed to be a grim, ruthless, realistic world?

    Men, if you’re feeling a bit queasy at the idea of so many beloved characters suffering rape – if you’re feeling creeped out by someone enthusiastically arguing in favour of them being raped because it’s too bad if it upsets you, it’s realistic… Well, hi. Welcome to the world of women.

  143. 143
    Gregory Greenwood

    mythbri @ 140;

    Nor, I’d like to point out, is noting that GRRM has built a disgustingly patriarchal, rape culture world. Sexist tropes have also influenced him. This doesn’t make him a misogynist, but it bothers me that a lot of fans of his books are more amenable to racial criticisms than they are to gender criticisms.

    +1

    Being concerned about the influence of sexist tropes on Martin’s writings is not the same thing as saying that his books should never have been written at all, that all copies should be burned, or wanting to drag him to the nearest town square, lock him in stocks, and pelt him with rotting plant matter.*

    As for people’s greater willingness to accept racial criticisms rather than gender criticisms, is it possible that for some reason gender privilege is still, even here on Pharyngula, more ‘invisible’, and thus more ‘acceptable’ to people, then racial privilege is?

    I can say from my own experience that I became aware of the problem of racism, and had some dim concept of what socially constructred race privilege might be, some years before I became conscious of the widespread and toxic nature of gender privilege in society.

    ———————————————————————————————————————-

    * Hey, it’s still better than what happened to poor old Sean Bean’s character at the end of Season One.

    Do his characters ever survive until the end of anything other than Sharpe?

  144. 144
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    Do his characters ever survive until the end of anything other than Sharpe?

    Just being hypothetically named after a Sean Bean character while still in the womb guarantees death.

  145. 145
    mythbri

    @Gregory Greenwood

    As for people’s greater willingness to accept racial criticisms rather than gender criticisms, is it possible that for some reason gender privilege is still, even here on Pharyngula, more ‘invisible’, and thus more ‘acceptable’ to people, then racial privilege is?

    I don’t know how to explain it, really. My vague and ill-formed thoughts center on the “Argument from Realism” that has already been discussed. Progressive people who want to be conscious of their various societal privileges, who have done the research will recognize that the Mighty Whitey or White Savior trope is just that – a trope. A narrative. Something that many people believe, or at least don’t see any reason to challenge, but is nevertheless not actually true. We see that the history books have been written by members of the dominant cultures, which necessarily erases the histories of the oppressed cultures.

    The recent film Lincoln centers primarily on the Washington wheeling and dealing, the politics, and the conviction of the white people in power to make freeing black slaves more concrete than the Emancipatoin Proclamation. The people of color were merely in supportive, helpful roles.

    And yet we know that people of color fought just as hard – harder, for longer – for their own freedom, and demanded to be recognized as people.

    And even though I said earlier, in response to the supposed subversiveness of GRRM’s books, “That’s not subversive. That’s history.”

    What if it’s not history? The Mellow Monkey has already pointed out that having a 13-year-old girl marry a grown man is probably not as “realistic” as people evidently believe it is.

    Why do we reject the racist narrative, but embrace the sexist narrative as “realistic”?

  146. 146
    Gregory Greenwood

    The Mellow Monkey @ 144;

    Just being hypothetically named after a Sean Bean character while still in the womb guarantees death.

    Note to self; if it ever comes to pass that I father children with an amenable lady out there somewhere, ‘Ned’, ‘Boromir’ and ‘Richard’ (Shape’s first name – just to be safe) should probably all be out as a baby names…

    ;-)

    ———————————————————————————————————————-

    mythbri @ 145;

    What if it’s not history? The Mellow Monkey has already pointed out that having a 13-year-old girl marry a grown man is probably not as “realistic” as people evidently believe it is.

    Why do we reject the racist narrative, but embrace the sexist narrative as “realistic”?

    I have had a disquieting thought – it seems to me that it may be that the notional sexual ‘ownership’ of women is so deeply entrenched in our culture, and is far more common and normalised today than the idea that people can legitimately be treated as chattel based upon the colour of their skin, that the idea of women being treated as disposeable property is still seen as ‘realistic’, as monstrous as the notion should be to anyone with a functional moral compass. The contempoprary version of the idea seems to be expressed as placing great value on ‘fidelity’ in relationships and the idea that anything sexual that is done by or to a woman with/by anyone other than her husband/lover is principally an affront against her husband/lover’s ‘honour’ as a man. As an example, the sick notion that the rape of a woman is a crime not mainly against the person and autonomy of the victim, but rather against the ‘honour’ of her male relatives, first her father/brothers/uncles etc, and then her husband after ‘ownership’ is ‘transfered’ through marriage.

    If the mentality that women are fundamentally still in some way a class of ‘sexual property’ is still widepread, at least with regard to relationships, then that might explain why sexist narratives that remove agency from women could be seen as more ‘realistic’ by some people – society still constructs heterosexual relationships as including the transfer of male ‘honour’, and their sense of the worth in their masculine identity, into the person of the woman – the idea that honour ultimately resides between a woman’s legs, as nasty as that turn of phrase is.

    The very notion makes my skin crawl, but it would certainly help explain a lot of the nastier aspects of our socity’s attitude toward women.

  147. 147
    mythbri

    @Gregory Greenwood

    Does Sharpe actually die? I watched several of the movies, but never read any of the books. I always felt that was the one character Bean has played that doesn’t die within the course of the movie/series/episode.

    If you’re familiar with Canadian/U.S.ian TV, Michael Shanks is like the Sean Bean of TV. He dies lots of times on Stargate SG-1 alone. ;)

    ….

    honour ultimately resides between a woman’s legs

    So we’ve distilled our ideas of human ownership down to specific body parts, rather than whole bodies.

  148. 148
    laurentweppe

    It’s the deeply offensive ‘Mighty Whitey’ trope all the way.

    The Mighty Whitey trope is built upon the notion that the eponymous character is succesful because he is white. It expresses either implicitly or explicitly that his white skin (and often blue-blood) are the outer signs of his inherent superiority.

    On the contrary Daenery über-whiteness is used as a short-hand for “Scion of corrupt aristocratic family”: The Targaryan are not Mighty Whiteys: they’re moronic whiteys whose rule lasted only because of dragons and wildfire, and if Daenery is neither stupid nor insane, it’s because she lucked out. That’s why the trop is subverted and not played straight “all the way”

  149. 149
    Gregory Greenwood

    mythbri @ 147;

    Does Sharpe actually die? I watched several of the movies, but never read any of the books. I always felt that was the one character Bean has played that doesn’t die within the course of the movie/series/episode.

    The Sharpe character hasn’t died yet in the books, but Bernard Cornwall has said he is still thinking about returning to the book series, and Sean Bean has often said that playing Sharpe is one of his favourite roles and he would like to do it for as long as he is able, so the jury is still out on this one, hence the ‘playing it safe’ postion. Given the ‘Sean Bean Effect’(TM), the future prospects for Sharpe do not look good…

    If you’re familiar with Canadian/U.S.ian TV, Michael Shanks is like the Sean Bean of TV. He dies lots of times on Stargate SG-1 alone.

    Yup – he ‘does a jesus’ a couple of times in the show if I remember properly, ‘ascending’ (a wonderfully silly concept in the show) only to later return to a human body.

    So we’ve distilled our ideas of human ownership down to specific body parts, rather than whole bodies.

    Horrifying, isn’t it – the modern face of a person as chattel.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. And to think that people believe that slavery is a thing of the past merely because the plantations are gone.

  150. 150
    Gregory Greenwood

    laurentweppe @ 148;

    The Mighty Whitey trope is built upon the notion that the eponymous character is succesful because he is white. It expresses either implicitly or explicitly that his white skin (and often blue-blood) are the outer signs of his inherent superiority.

    On the contrary Daenery über-whiteness is used as a short-hand for “Scion of corrupt aristocratic family”: The Targaryan are not Mighty Whiteys: they’re moronic whiteys whose rule lasted only because of dragons and wildfire, and if Daenery is neither stupid nor insane, it’s because she lucked out. That’s why the trop is subverted and not played straight “all the way”

    I agree that there is the whole concept that “when a Targaryan is born, the gods flip a coin” – to do with madness born of inbreeding – is a factor in the story, but isn’t it also true that the original Targaryan conquerors – Aegon, Rhaenir and Visenia, if I remember the spellings correctly – were considered great military thinkers and the foremost survivors of Old Valeria, who went on to almost single-handedly defeat everyopne who opposed them and become the architects of the ‘modern’ Westeros in the continuity?

    Doesn’t Daenarys’ near immunity to injury by fire and her ability to become the Mother of Dragons also flow from her aristocratic Valerian bloodline? While the family later degenerated, there is still the idea that Rheagar was thought to be the ‘last dragon’ – the embodiment of the original power and nobility of his house reborn, and it is strongly hinted that it may in fact be Danaerys who is in truth the last dragon, doubly so since she brought true dragons back into the world for the first time in centuries. So I don’t know if I would agree that her über-whiteness only signifies her association with the failing dregs of House Targaryan afterall, and could just as easily be a link back to her house as it was at the height of its (violent, expansionist and colonial) power. That does sound an awful lot like inherent (and in this fictional world of the supernatural, magical) superiority to me.

  151. 151
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    The Targaryan are not Mighty Whiteys: they’re moronic whiteys whose rule lasted only because of dragons and wildfire, and if Daenery is neither stupid nor insane, it’s because she lucked out.

    They’re white people whose special whiteness is tied to special abilities that strike awe and fear into the hearts of others and make them naturally superior, and they maintain their special whiteness (and the special abilities) by keeping their blood pure. They’re really white people from a land of slightly less white people where selling slaves is punishable by death, while all those dirty brown people in other lands are busy enslaving other brown people. And a True Targaryan with those special, special abilities born of her oh-so-pure blood is now running around freeing those brown people.

    Nobody is accusing Martin of being a member of the KKK. It’s just a little bit absurd to try to deny the influence of our world’s lengthy, lengthy history with racist ideas.

  152. 152
    archi

    @The Mellow Monkey

    A preturnaturally pale white woman travels around, informing brown people that slavery is bad and then liberating them from the slavery they were too stupid to realize was bad before.

    Based on this, I can only assume The Help and The White Man’s Burden are also subversive and groundbreaking.

    Oh, thank you! Thank you, white people! I’m so glad that GRRM has the guts to do what so few have and show us how white people from another continent might save us.

    And what made you think that in ancient world pale white people were not slaves?!

  153. 153
    Gregory Greenwood

    archi @ 125;

    And what made you think that in ancient world pale white people were not slaves?!

    While enslavement of white people (most usually by other white people) certainly has happened throughout history and continues to happen to this day when one takes into account things like sex trafficking, the Mellow Monkey was specifically referencing the problematic use of the ‘Mighty Whitey’ trope with regard to ASOIAF in this instance, and as I and the Mellow Monkey have both noted above, the extreme whiteness of the Targaryans in general and Daeranrys in particular (and its link to their aristocratic Valerian bloodline and the supernatural powers it conveys) is a significant theme in the books.

    These elements of the book are problematic in the contemporary world when considered in the light of toxic racial politics and memes. That white people have historically been enslaved is really neither here nor there with regard to this.

  154. 154
    Amphiox

    Daenerys does subvert the Mightey Whitey trope. But just because you subvert a racist trope does not mean that your subversion itself is not vulnerable to being influenced by racist thinking, or racist privilege.

    There are many ways to subvert a trope, and every subversion must contain within it some seed of that which it seeks to subvert. When you subvert a trope you have to play some aspects of it straight even as you bend others, or it is not a subversion, but a whole new trope entirely.

    It is the details of the how and the why of the subversion that makes all the difference.

  155. 155
    aaronbaker

    Of possible relevance the White Deliverer or Mighty Whitey or whatever else you want to call it Trope:

    As opposed to the TV show, does Martin ever say that any of the dwellers in his cities of the Eastern continent are brown-skinned? He certainly tries to suggest a Middle Eastern ambiance, but the Valyrians (who are pretty clearly pale-skins) are Easterners themselves.

    Clearly the makers of the show want brown-skinned dwellers in the East. Are they reading Martin correctly here?

  156. 156
    brucegee1962

    I have read precisely zero Martin. I could not name any of his characters, and I don’t know anything about the plot other than that there’s a bunch of intrigue in some sort of fantasy setting. But even I knew that you weren’t supposed to get too attached to any of the characters, because anybody who was particularly sympathetic was going to get killed.

    The fact that this came as such a big surprise to so many viewers of the show suggests that, not only have they not read the books, they also haven’t even talked to anybody who has read the books. Which is pretty darn depressing.

  157. 157
    Brad Emery

    Amanda over at Pandagon has written a couple interesting articles dealing with GoT. I strongly encourage reading them :)

  158. 158
    archi

    @Gregory Greenwood

    Monkey was specifically referencing the problematic use of the ‘Mighty Whitey’ trope with regard to ASOIAF in this instance, and as I and the Mellow Monkey have both noted above, the extreme whiteness of the Targaryans in general and Daeranrys in particular (and its link to their aristocratic Valerian bloodline and the supernatural powers it conveys) is a significant theme in the books.

    This whiteness is somewhat unnatural as her power, it’s more like being an albino among white people.

    And you forget that Daenerys was abused and sold by her own brother. She wasn’t embraced as a leader but left to die by Dothraki khalasar when Khal Drogo fell. She is powerful because she has an army of former slaves, castrated men, think about it. “Mighty Whitey” trope doesn’t apply.

  159. 159
    aaronbaker

    What appears to be Amanda Marcotte’s biggest post on GOT is here: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/06/05/game-of-thrones-offers-an-complex-nuanced-critique-of-patriarchy/

  160. 160
    Gregory Greenwood

    archi @ 158;

    This whiteness is somewhat unnatural as her power, it’s more like being an albino among white people.

    I would still argue that it is an extreme whiteness that is explicitly depicted as a mark of a powerful, aristocratic bloodline that, while it later fell on hard times, was still a scion of what is clearly supposed to be the superior Valerian civilisation. The image of a superior caste of really, really white people, whether ‘unnatural’ ir not (this is still a fantasy novel, complete with dragons and necromancy-practicing walking popsicles, remember), is very problematic, especially when it is one of those superior ultra-white types who takes it on herself to strike the shackles from a nation of brown slaves enslaved by other brown people.

    And you forget that Daenerys was abused and sold by her own brother.

    Yes – Viserys was a jerk who used a forced political marriage to secure access to military forces to try to reclaim the Iron Throne, but Danaerys seized the opportunity to turn that bad situation to her own advantage, something that the supposed ‘beneficiaries’ of her anti-slavery largesse are denied the agency to do for themselves in the narrative. I fail to see how this makes a white character’s one woman crusade to free dark skinned peoples from slavery, that they are apparently incapable of escaping from themselves, any less problematic.

    She wasn’t embraced as a leader but left to die by Dothraki khalasar when Khal Drogo fell.

    Trials that she overcame in part through her own grit and determination, but also by virtue of her near mythical status as ‘Mother of Dragons’ – a feat made possible by her aristocratic Valerian bloodline and her probable status as the Last Dragon – so we are right back to an innate superiority that links directly back to her über-whiteness.

    She is powerful because she has an army of former slaves, castrated men, think about it.

    And army of dark skinned slaves that have stood as the greatest slave soldiers in the known world for centuries, before this white character came along and freed them within a matter of a few days – this system stood for a vast span of time, and no dark skkinned person could do anything to stop it, but Danaerys basically fixes it with an adolescent dragon and some slick fast talking in an afternoon. How is that not an expression of the ‘Mighty Whitey’ trope?

    And her army is an army of slave soldiers trained from birth to obey their owner without question, who now quite probably follow her at least in part because they know nothing else, and have no where else to go. They couldn’t free themselves, and now they allegedly voluntarily and to a man choose to follow their ‘great white saviour’ rather than having any independent livers of their own. This still strikes me as rather problematic. At best it makes Danaerys a gross hypocrit, using the very weapons of a a slaver regime herself, with nought but a fig leaf of illusory freedom to justify that action. Perhaps Martin intends to hang a lantern on this in the later books, and make it more of an issue as part of the character development of Danaerys, I don’t know, but as it stands, it makes for rather queasy reading.

    “Mighty Whitey” trope doesn’t apply.

    I’m sorry, but you will have to do much better than that to convince me. I am not saying that this is conscious or intended on the part of Martin, I am simply pointing out that it does seem as if racist tropes have influenced his writing, and that this should not be ignored.

  161. 161
    jenndyer

    I expect Martin’s plan for wrapping up the series is to have a giant asteroid smash into the planet in the final chapter, turning it into a cinder of ash and magma, spiraling into its sun for a final “pfffft.”

    Actually, I think that would be awesome. I like the books and I also like the series middling well. But I think it’d be a great statement about life in our universe. :)

  162. 162
    laurentweppe

    what is clearly supposed to be the superior Valerian civilisation

    Valyria never seemed so superior to me: before finding their dragons, they were seen as not worth conquering by their more advanced neigbours, and after that, they spent their times plundering Essos while maintaining their colonial empire so centralized that it took one single volcanic eruption to destroy their civilization. Awed I am not.

    ***

    Danaerys basically fixes it with an adolescent dragon and some slick fast talking in an afternoon

    I’m sorry to say, but after four episodes of Kraznys’ “Tell the bitch this, telle the bitch that”, watching said bitch answer “Oh, by the way, you’ve been insulting me in my native tongue the whole fucking time” before incinerating him was way too awesome for me to care

  163. 163
    Gregory Greenwood

    laurentweppe @ 162;

    Valyria never seemed so superior to me: before finding their dragons, they were seen as not worth conquering by their more advanced neigbours, and after that, they spent their times plundering Essos while maintaining their colonial empire so centralized that it took one single volcanic eruption to destroy their civilization. Awed I am not.

    The Valerians certainly weren’t a nice bunch, but after their downright meteroric rise to power they were depicted as the most powerful and dominant civilisation that the world of ASOIAF had ever seen – the mightiest exponents of magic, the only civilisation to ever tame dragons, the finest metalurgists…

    and architects…

    and scholars…

    Admirable? No? But they were still more advanced and sophisticated than any of their competition, and that superiority of power was linked pretty expllicitly to the notional ‘power’ within their bloodline, which seems to be symbolic for their ethnicity as über-white Valerians.

    However unethical they were, they were the biggest players in the game of fictional power politics for hundreds of years, and even the remnants of their culture were able to conquer the inhabitants of what would become the Seven Kingdoms and then forge Westeros with relative ease.

    I’m sorry to say, but after four episodes of Kraznys’ “Tell the bitch this, telle the bitch that”, watching said bitch answer “Oh, by the way, you’ve been insulting me in my native tongue the whole fucking time” before incinerating him was way too awesome for me to care

    Oh yeah, I loved that scene – Kraznys was nasty, dfisgustingly misogynistic peice of work who got exactly what he deserved. But however much enjoyment I may have derived from the look of shock on Kraznys’ face, and his subsequent incineration, that didn’t eliminate the slightly queasy feeling I got about the deployment of a variant of the ‘white saviour’ trope.

  164. 164
    laurentweppe

    the mightiest exponents of magic, the only civilisation to ever tame dragons, the finest metalurgists…
    and architects…
    and scholars…

    All their greatness came from their powerful magic, magic comes from dragons, and the Valyrians happened to live near their natural habitat. It always seemed to me that Valyrians had not “earned” their great power and influence but simply won the geographical lotery.

  165. 165
    Amphiox

    Oh yeah, I loved that scene – Kraznys was nasty, dfisgustingly misogynistic peice of work who got exactly what he deserved. But however much enjoyment I may have derived from the look of shock on Kraznys’ face, and his subsequent incineration, that didn’t eliminate the slightly queasy feeling I got about the deployment of a variant of the ‘white saviour’ trope.

    Keep in mind, though, that the Danaerys-Kraznys plotline follows a different trope, and has nothing to do with the “Mighty Whitey” trope.

    Lots of different, not necessarily related, tropes usually go into the characterization of major characters in complex fiction….

  166. 166
    Amphiox

    It seems to me that another trope is at play vis-a-vis the Valyrians, a trope that is very common in fantasy literature.

    Namely, the trope of the Golden Age of Ancient Precursors who were more advanced, more powerful, more learned, more everything compared to the present day (within the fictional work).

    That the Valyrians were also lucky bastards who did not really “earn” their power and prestige would count as a partial subversion of that trope.

    That the Valyrians fell from grace and became a rump remnant of mostly inbred idiots plays the ancillary part of this trope fairly straight.

  167. 167
    Gregory Greenwood

    laurentweppe @ 164;

    All their greatness came from their powerful magic, magic comes from dragons, and the Valyrians happened to live near their natural habitat. It always seemed to me that Valyrians had not “earned” their great power and influence but simply won the geographical lotery.

    I see your point. Isn’t that social privilege in a nutshell – an accident of birth/circumstance being presented as an earned superiority?

    ————————————————————————————————————————–

    Amphiox @ 165;

    Keep in mind, though, that the Danaerys-Kraznys plotline follows a different trope, and has nothing to do with the “Mighty Whitey” trope.

    Lots of different, not necessarily related, tropes usually go into the characterization of major characters in complex fiction….

    Agreed – no complex fictional character can ever be rendered down to the personification of any single trope.

    And characters like Kraznys getting their comeuppance is one trope I can happily get behind…

    @ 166;

    It seems to me that another trope is at play vis-a-vis the Valyrians, a trope that is very common in fantasy literature.

    Namely, the trope of the Golden Age of Ancient Precursors who were more advanced, more powerful, more learned, more everything compared to the present day (within the fictional work).

    That the Valyrians were also lucky bastards who did not really “earn” their power and prestige would count as a partial subversion of that trope.

    That the Valyrians fell from grace and became a rump remnant of mostly inbred idiots plays the ancillary part of this trope fairly straight.

    You are right that the Valerians embody the ‘Golden Age’ trope. In that sense, the Valerians undertake the ‘fading elder race’ role usually occupied by the likes of elves in much high fantasy.

  168. 168
    laurentweppe

    Isn’t that social privilege in a nutshell – an accident of birth/circumstance being presented as an earned superiority?

    Completely. In fact, Daenerys is a type of character often found in fiction: the hyper-competent aristocrat in the middle of a corrupt court who raises against his/her peers’ corruption: Remember this guy?
    These characters are very useful when it comes to establishing who’s the good guy: since they’re from the upper-class, they can’t be accused of envy or lust for riches and status, since they already have all that, and since they’re often way more competent/ressourceful than their opponents, they can’t merely be dismissed as the incompetent family blacksheep jealous of his relatives’ higher skills. It’s also a way to throw a jab at the aristocratic power-structure: “See? The system is so crooked, corrupt and decadent that it can’t even witstand the mere existence of one aristocrat as noble & virtuous as s/he’s supposed to be

  169. 169
    archi

    @Gregory Greenwood 160

    I would still argue that it is an extreme whiteness that is explicitly depicted as a mark of a powerful, aristocratic bloodline that, while it later fell on hard times, was still a scion of what is clearly supposed to be the superior Valerian civilisation. The image of a superior caste of really, really white people, whether ‘unnatural’ ir not…

    Bloodline doesn’t make someone powerful in this fantasy world, nor the titles, kings die like flies. Even possessing magical artifacts doesn’t do that, you have to know how to use them and use them in the right way. Valerian civilization is not superior, it does not exist. It’s like being descendant of Mayan kings or Roman senators hundreds of years later.

    Yes – Viserys was a jerk who used a forced political marriage to secure access to military forces to try to reclaim the Iron Throne, but Danaerys seized the opportunity to turn that bad situation to her own advantage

    More than a jerk and he plain and simple sold her for an army not an alliance. She was no more than a teen bed slave. She didn’t have control of the situation merely was lucky.
    Daenerys in first books was a contradictory figure to those powerful women like Cersei or Catelyn. She was free because her husband and master died and Dothraki tribe abandoned her.

    Trials that she overcame in part through her own grit and determination, but also by virtue of her near mythical status as ‘Mother of Dragons’ – a feat made possible by her aristocratic Valerian bloodline and her probable status as the Last Dragon – so we are right back to an innate superiority that links directly back to her über-whiteness.

    But her brother and deceased family members were as white but didn’t have this magical power. So it’s not bloodline nor whiteness. And she doesn’t change because of her family name but because of trauma, dragons and “fire trial”.

    Danaerys basically fixes it with an adolescent dragon and some slick fast talking in an afternoon. How is that not an expression of the ‘Mighty Whitey’ trope?

    She buys them and frees because she despises slavery but hardly fixes the problem. Slave revolution is a disaster. Violence leads to more violence.

    Slaves are not only brown people. It’s said that most of them or at least substantial amount are captives sold by Dothrakis from the north. The same apply for Unsullied.

    I am simply pointing out that it does seem as if racist tropes have influenced his writing, and that this should not be ignored.

    There’s no problem in The Lord of the Rings, good higher races are fighting bad corrupted races but in ASOIAF world there’s no such thing. Arguments about racism are just not convincing. World Martin describes is appalling but there’s no clue that he is trying to say “but it’s great”, no nostalgia for chivalry, honor, white christian patriarchal Europe and so on.

  170. 170
    Crissa

    Jet Boy Lives.

  171. 171
    busterggi

    Crissa – we have to get together to watch The Jolson Story sometime.

  172. 172
    danielbjorkman

    Gregory Greenwood @ 128:

    Not that anyone’s likely to see this late a reply ever, but…

    Two words: Mercedes Lackey. And I’ll add my current favourite Kristin Cashore while I’m at it. And all sorts of other fantasy authors who try to instill progressive messages in their works, whether I personally enjoy the way they go about it or not. (Robin Hobb feels that the world would be much improved if people got eaten by dragons more often. I strongly disagree with that, but it’s certainly not your standard brave-hero-slays-monster-hurray way of looking at it, no one can deny that much)

    Yes, “optimistic” fantasy done badly becomes just a reaffirmation of the moral superiority of Western manly-men. But then, as has been pointed out frequently in this thread, gritty fantasy done badly (and frequently even when done well) just becomes a reaffirmation of the physical/situational superiority of Western manly-men (as in: “maybe they shouldn’t be in charge, but they are in charge, and everyone else had just better learn to live with it!”). And a story where capital-G-Good and capital-E-Evil are major factors does provide an excellent opportunity to look at just what separates one from the other. The fact that many authors don’t make use of it, or just have very warped ideas about it, does not change that fact.

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