It’s no game

GoT6a

There’s a brief respite from all the crudity in the crude Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy Sisters where, to illustrate what a bad time three uninvited party guests are having, we see them “enjoying” a night in with Game Of Thrones (HBO, Sky Atlantic). The buttoned-up host, Maya Rudolph, tells one of her guests off for referring to Prince Joffrey actor Jack Gleason by the actor’s name (“did you know he was the little boy in Batman Begins?”), reminding her that by breaking the spell “you’re not allowing yourself to live inside the fantasy world that they’ve so lovingly crafted for us.” The other guest is reminded of the “no phone policy”, and it is also revealed that they’re drinking alcohol-free wine, they have to take off their shoes, and there are further “rules”. The message is: all the fun is happening somewhere else.

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To love GoT is to denounce “fun” in the traditional sense. It is by definition hard work. You can’t casually watch it. (I’ll never forget the moment on The Culture Show when Lauren Laverne challenged David Simon over the unfriendliness of The Wire to the casual viewer, to which he mischievously replied, “Fuck the casual viewer.”) Rattling on about the new, sixth season, which began in the middle of the night here, but which I watched in comfort the evening after, to Andrew Harrison, Matt Hall and Jude Rogers on the inaugural Bigmouth podcast, I was shocked to discover that Jude follows the saga’s progress by reading online episode guides so that she can empathise with her GoT-addict partner, but doesn’t actually watch it. Having sat on the Best International Programme Bafta jury a couple of years ago, I watched Game Of Thrones literally divide a room, almost down the middle. Jurors – the great and the good of British TV – either loved it, or hated it. It didn’t even make the shortlist that year. Which is an ignominious fate akin to something Ramsay Bolton might cook up for one of his best friends, considering it is regarded by many people as the greatest current show on television. This is how many.

GoTratingsgraph

Correction: that’s how many people legally watch the show on HBO in the States. Beginning with 2.2 million (already a jackpot for cable), it has grown to around 8 million and holds steady. It’s illegally watched by millions, and even though I have nightmares about creative people not being recompensed for their labours, I do like the way certain executives on the production are sanguine about torrents and piracy – after all, it’s illegally seen by superfans, who may well invest at other stages in the product.

Sorry, did I call it a product? Game Of Thrones is a way of life. I’m wary of using words to describe it, as Clive James has done that, at length, in the New Yorker, and it’s free to read online. There’s rarely any point writing about something Clive James has written about. But what I will say is this pertinent thing: Episode One of Season Six, The Red Woman, was perfectly adequate. It did the job. It moved things along a bit. It was an episode of Game Of Thrones. What other show that you love to death would you let get away with just getting from A to B – and sometimes not even get to B? There was once an entire season that was just about getting from one place to another place, but that’s broadly the gist. The Red Woman picked up the ball moments after the end of Season Five, Mother’s Mercy, with a dead Jon Snow in the snow and panic on the ramparts of the Wall, Sansa and rebooted Greyjoy on the run from Bolton, Jamie sailing into King’s Landing with a shrouded Myrcella to reunite with his sister-bride the subdued but vengeful, Margaery in the clink with the “confess” woman (“Confess”), Jorah and Daario in search of Daenerys, and Arya on the streets with those cataract contacts in. Stuff happens: a spear through the back of the head, timely intervention by Brianne and Pod, and a terrifying revelation about Mellisandre being the most memorable. But still we fixate.

GoT6Cersei

Clashes of kings, queens, princes, princesses, high priests and priestesses, lords, ladies, knights, witches, white walkers, wildlings, bastards, eunechs, wolves, crows, dragons, at least one imp and at least one Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and of the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons … a cast of thousands, a vast geography that literally requires a map, umpteen castles, keeps, longboats, dungeons and catacombs, and one iron throne that has borne many a bottom in its time. Clive James was put off by all this guff – and so, on past form, should I have been – but it wins you round with sheer commitment to a set of fat books that millions have read, but which no longer provide a handy guide, as the TV series has overshot author George RR Martin’s text. It’s on its own now. We’re fixating without a safety net, and the “readers”, as I think of them, may no longer lord it over the rest of us, whom I think of as “viewers”. It has been a grand struggle for succession, and the “viewers” are in the ascendant.

GoT6Arya

If you want eye-popping detail, and witty insight, you simply must follow Sarah Hughes’s Guardian episodes recaps, and – if you can bear to look – the comments beneath. Sarah is the one true queen to those of us who take off our shoes, forswear our phones and live inside the fantasy world that they’ve so lovingly crafted for us.

Confess.

 

 

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15 thoughts on “It’s no game

  1. Ha! The warning about looking at the BTL comments on the Guardian is necessary. It used to be fantastic, where people would take the responsibility seriously of having a national platform for their personal views (this is 2005-2006 under Georgina Henry, RIP).

    Now, it’s competition to be ‘funny’, or pointlessly antagonistic, or treat it like a recruiting method for attracting like-minded weirdos. So sad. (Not on your Telly Addict Guardian columns, though – you managed to get the few BTL-ers still around who engage, edify, and question [mostly] without being a dick.)

    Sorry I can’t comment on Game of Thrones having not read the books nor watched the TV series. My free 30-day Netflix is ending soon, and I’ve got loads more Breaking Bad to watch! 🙂

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  2. “Prioritise Breaking Bad!” On it! Season 3, ep 7.

    I was gripped from the opening moments of S1/E1 – what a magnificent opening. What is happening, who is he, where is that trailer, who/what’s in the back, and why is he in his (under)pants?

    Still, not liking that his wife left him. Understand, she’s horrified, and the ‘intervention’ scene was cringe-worthy (I’m by birth an American, so I think I understand that situation in a way that Brits never could – Yanks are hypocritically puritanical).

    Anyways, on it.

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  3. Changing the subject massively; I think that you have enough fans from your Guardian videos to try and make some money from your blog if you wanted to, Andrew.
    Is this of any interest to you at all? I’m not trying to sell you anything and it won’t make you rich, but since there’s no “donate” button then it’s better than nothing, and I’d like you to get some sort of reward for all your work.
    Feel free to delete this comment if you find it objectionable.
    Cheers, Will.

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    • If I’m honest, I feel uncomfortable asking people to give me money. I enjoy blogging. I don’t have to write it to order. I just write when I feel like it, and have something to say. And it’s gratifying that people seem to want to visit the blog. When I used to make the free podcast with Richard Herring, we encouraged people to send us Caffe Nero cards that could be exchanged for coffees. That was quite sweet. But if people want to “donate” they should donate to a charity, not to the self-employed!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s really admirable.
        The only suggestion I can make is that when you send out your emails to subscribers, then don’t include the whole text of your blog. Maybe just a summary.
        If people are interested then they’ll come here to read the full version and that way then you will know how many people are reading which is an ego boost if nothing else, since nobody wants to write stuff without knowing if anyone is reading it.
        Cheers, Will.

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      • I didn’t know I was sending out an email to subscribers. I’ll have to look under the bonnet … (Thanks for the tip-off).

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      • Yep. Sending out emails when you update your blog is fine, but I’m sure that most people just read the post via email in its entirety rather than come here to read it.

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      • Yes. The whole article arrives in my inbox – which I thought was strange because there is no need for anyone to actually visit your site unless they want to comment or read the comments, so you never really know how many are reading your blog. A link would be quite sufficient.

        Liked by 1 person

      • After a lot of messing around, I think I’ve turned off the full text in the notification email and switched to “summary”. I’d love it if you, or any other follower, could confirm that next time you’re auto-emailed, it no longer gives you the full blog entry. Here’s hoping! (And thanks for pointing it out.)

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  4. There is, of course, a concern here that – as you put it – having overshot the books, we now discover that they don’t really know what they are doing. An opening episode that felt like something of a filler is a dangerous strategy; it may pay off but it didn’t feel as though it was setting much up at all (indeed, it seemed to be deliberately trying to close some avenues down, which is understandable but annoying.)
    I still think it’s a fabulous show that will ultimately be remembered for the right things (rather than, say, the gratuitous nudity and gore) but they’ve still got time to mess things up.

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  5. And in one sentence I realised that I’d be back on this blog for every post, regardless of what you’re reviewing:
    “There’s rarely any point writing about something Clive James has written about. ”
    Top man, Mr C.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Just a couple of things I would like to mention…

    Firstly, I would like to thank you for the effort you are putting into keeping telly addicts stabilised on a regular dose of cathodedrone. It is nice to see a writer who thinks that if even one person reads and enjoys then it is time worth spent. Not everything has to be monetised of course, and it is this kind of enthusiasm that makes your stuff worth reading. Writers should always be writing, whether due to a curse or just for practice…

    Fine as your insights are though, I also come here for the comments. With the vlog (I think what those crazy kids call them), a jewel in the golden age of TV, now gone, and posts being writ to fit rather than fulfil a deadline, I welcome the email updates, and as this is a continuation of the community, I feel that you will not suffer from the clicklessness that affects so many men our age. I have subscribed to your Twitter feed, so could get the prompt to come over from there, but I barely use it. As you can attest, I can never restrict myself to 140 characters when six paragraphs will do just as nicely.

    I have nothing to say about Game of Thrones except it was more of the same done well. I don’t think the ‘cloud’ will miss my contribution, as so much has been written about possible theories that George R R (You Sleeping?) really has no excuse not to have ideas for the next instalment. I am not sure how the TV show and future novels can tie in together now… It is bad enough having the book bores in your face when the plot deviates slightly from the tomes of truth, but should he take it off into another direction entirely from the scriptwriters version, the din will become unbearable and people will get all ‘Star Wars-y’ about it, banging on about alternative expanded universes and purist arguments about the way ‘it was intended’…

    I wonder if you have seen ‘Flowers’ on C4? But wonder why you wont fork out for Horace and Pete… I know that as a freelance you are subject to the whims of demand and cash flows can turn from torrent to trickle in an offbeat, but I am basically unemployable and I forked out for it after watching the first episode and it has further encouraged me in my own attempts at writing. I am a Telly Addict, but H+P is more like an off Broadway play. I am already attempting an English adaptation (what can generously be described as fan fiction), though I think you would do a better job. I really feel it could be the next ‘Office’ type crossover though there are few similarities. Pay a couple of quid for the first episode and you will be selling all your trinkets just to see what happens next… The last show I pushed this hard for you to watch was Gogglebox, and now you are a leading authority, so our tastes must converge… I wouldn’t steer you wrong.

    Anyway, if you still are resistant, try ‘Flowers’. Love to hear your thoughts on that also.

    Peace.

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    • I love Julian Barratt, so will try Flowers. If I haven’t leaped on it, it’s because I once pitched a sitcom to a major production company called Flowers, which was about a family that ran a florists. I know this is different, but it rankles, for irrationally personal reasons.

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  7. GoT seems to have luxuriously excelled at taking the long, slow path from point A to point B. The beauty of the show isn’t in the slowness of each step or the length of time between each stride, but in the luxury, richness and depth it provides while somewhat deliberately leaving A behind and getting on to B.

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