After mentioning to a buddy of mine about how much I was enjoying Game of Thrones despite certain reservations I was having, he went off on a rant about the general lack of quality in the fantasy arena, whether on the page or on-screen, how mature consumers of fantasy were too often out of luck, forced to read books for kids or seek satisfaction in other genres. As he wound down and admitted my concerns about Game of Thrones were valid, he asked me to name one other fantasy franchise that is doing it better.
He had me stumped on that one.
Because when Game of Thrones is on its game, it’s a whole lotta fun. The general antics of the Lannister family, particularly Tyrion, are a wonderful representation of the incestuous courts of Europe of previous centuries, a constant whirl of gossip, lies and back-stabbing – with the occasional bloody, out-and-out front-stabbing as well – that is the real war behind the grand battles fought in fields and keeps. Arya Stark’s journey from eager kid to burgeoning revolutionary has been well mapped, and she is a survivor in a family that has done its best to get itself killed off. And, best of all, the messianic rise of Daenerys Targaryen from an afterthought in a royal family in exile to the mother of dragons, freer of the slaves and leader of what is about to become the most terrifying and dominating army in Westeros (at this point, I should probably note I’m only at the end of season 3, so season 4 is not in play for this piece).
The problem is all of the boring bullshit you have to put up with to get to the good stuff. Sansa Stark is never interesting on her own, occasionally becoming a worthy diversion when she is swept into someone else’s drama, such as her marriage to Tyrion. Yes, she represents the royal child raised to marry into a match that will serve some political scheme, which makes her important as a symbol, but it also makes her wholly uninteresting as a character. I have a hard time caring about Stannis Baratheon’s storyline, in large part because it’s mostly him acting inconsistently while the red witch and his right-hand man bicker like a couple of girls in the junior high bathroom. Plus, I honestly don’t believe he’ll rise to power, so it’s increasingly difficult to care what schemes the Plankton of Westeros has going on. I cheered during the “Red Wedding” because now I never have to hear Rob Stark whine, grouse and pout again. Rob was dull and managed to make the wrong, most self-destructive decision nearly every time, and it’s a shame his head wasn’t chopped of instead of his daddy’s. And why, God, why am I still forced to watch the misadventures of Theon Greyjoy? So far, all he has contributed to the show is the supposed death of the youngest Stark boys and that “Dude, it’s your sister” moment when he feels up Yara. My time is being wasted whenever the story focuses on him.
But in the end, the big-picture payoff continues to be worth it, even if the journey sometimes gets in the way. So I am hitched to the fate of Westeros, for good or ill.