I’m slowly working my way through The Game of Thrones on television.
Yes, I know. I’m behind the times. Tell me something new.
For a long time I swore I wouldn’t read the books until George RR Martin was either finished with the series or dead, because every novel in the series is a thousand pages long with a multi-year gap between each one, which means that by the time the last one comes out I will have no recollection of the first several and that’s just not a rereading project I want to undertake. Martin is also 70 years old and clearly not a health fanatic, so it was an open question whether I wanted to go down that rabbit hole at all. I was not entirely sure he was ever going to finish this project. I’m still not.
But then a couple of things happened.
First, Kim, who has seen every episode, insisted that I needed to see the television show because it is excellent in every conceivable way – from its cinematography to its writing to its acting and on beyond zebra. Yeah, yeah, I said. “It’s got boobs,” she replied. “Lots of them.” What can I say? She knows me well.
And second, she also insisted – and here I had no quarrel, since I too hold this belief – that I needed to read the books first, before watching any of the show.
So a couple of summers ago I read the books. All of them. Or at least all of them in the main sequence, as well as the giant, lavishly illustrated backstory coffee-table book that is the Westeros version of The Silmarillion in that it covers the extensive history of this world from its earliest moments and drops you off right as the main story opens. There are a couple of prequel books I haven’t gotten to yet that I’m sure I’ll take care of eventually, since we do own them, but I figured I had read enough to watch the show now.
Plus, the books have a curiously fractal quality in that they portray a world of constant shifts and ebbs and flows but if you step back a bit you’ll find that nothing really changes. Kingdoms rise and fall, characters emerge and either survive or are killed – often in stunningly brutal ways – but if you step back a bit the overall picture never changes. So really, once you get a sense of the place, you can just move forward.
They’re remarkably well written books, it has to be said, despite a singular absence of humor throughout. Other than Tyrion and his many dry asides, I can recall only one actual joke in the entire six thousand pages that I’ve read so far. I still have hopes that Martin will finish the series – he’s been promising a new book since at least 2012 – but the wait grows long.
I actually lost a Facebook friend over that fact, to be honest. A mutual friend had posted something about Martin doing something that was Not Writing, and I made a sarcastic comment along the lines of “Why is he doing anything other than Writing? Get back to work!” which was intended as a satire on the sort of moron who actually makes such comments seriously. This particular friend – an author by trade, part of a larger group I belong to and not someone I’d ever met in person – either didn’t catch the sarcasm or didn’t want to be friends with someone who would make that particular sarcastic comment and out the door I went. Oh well. I never bothered to clarify why. People have a right to curate their friends list how they want.
So Kim and I have been chipping away at the television series.
I have a hard time watching scripted anything these days, no matter how good it is. I usually find that I need to get up and walk away fairly early on, and the most I can really do in one sitting is two episodes so binge-watching really hasn’t been much of an option either. The chipping goes slowly, in other words.
But we are making progress. We abandoned all pretense of productivity last night – Kim spent the weekend running labs with her Online students and I spent most of the last several days almost but not quite sick with some kind of winter crud that isn’t bad enough to make me not do things but is bad enough to make doing them more of a chore than they should be, so we were both mentally fried – and we finished Season 4, Episode 4. So only 2.5 seasons to go to be caught up to the present, which might happen in time for the Final Season sometime next month and it might not.
If it doesn’t I will have to abandon social media entirely until I do catch up, which might not be such a bad thing.
You do get to like the characters, some of them, even though none of them are particularly good people. Tyrion, of course, as he is the main humanizing point-of-view character in the series. Ser Davos. A few others. I do like The Hound in a perverse sort of way – he is what he is and makes no pretense otherwise. When Arya yells at him because he’s okay with murdering people but won’t stoop to thievery, for example, he simply shrugs. “Man’s got to have a code,” is all he says.
I still don’t understand why the men of the Night’s Watch, up in the frozen north, refuse to wear hats, though. Seriously, dudes. It’s cold up there. But give Martin and his screenwriters credit – unlike every single movie involving Middle Earth, Westeros apparently does believe in handrails.
So we press on. When I left them, all was its usual bloody chaos. I’m sure the chaos will continue, even as the specifics change ever on.