Over the past couple of months I finally did that thing that I have been saying I would do for the past three years and I watched Game of Thrones. After mainlining four seasons I wanted to discuss everything GoT related that I have tried to avoid up to now, which in turn brings me to a relatively recent prevalent pop culture hot topic; spoilers. I am joined by my Felicity discussion partner Julie Hammerle to look at the many GoT talking points of including spoiler culture, the books vs. the show, nudity, violence, the exquisite costuming and who our Westeros style inspiration is. Speaking of spoilers we talk about everything up to the end of season 4 with a brief abstract mention of the thing that didn’t happen at the end of this recent season.
Emma: Game of Thrones has been part of the pop culture conversation for the past 3 years (18 if you factor when the books was first published as this Buzzfeed “18 things that turn 18 this year” listicle informed me – off topic but Romeo + Juliet makes me feel the oldest) and for most of those three years I have been saying that yes I do want to watch and will catch up soon. Well that finally happened recently and I can now finally stop trying to avoid chat, photos and anything GoT related to stay as spoiler free as possible. In fact spoilers might be a good place to start this discussion as it’s become such a cultural phenomenon with anti-spoiler zealots often shouting the loudest (this essay by Todd VanDerWerff on this subject is pretty great) and it’s pretty hard to catch up on something like GoT without knowing a few of the big story beats.
Brutal and violent death is one constant on GoT (nudity is another, which I am sure we will talk about later) and by killing Ned Stark in season 1 (and book 1) both George RR Martin and David Benioff/D. B. Weiss are sending out a message to say that in this world there is no one who is safe. Sean Bean is the most famous person in that season 1 cast and of course it was a big shock to kill off the star (though Bean’s filmography and this handy montage show that it would be way more surprising if Bean had lived). The season 2 artwork featured Ned’s head on a spike and I saw a lot of people who hadn’t watched S1 complain how this was a major spoiler, however this is a case where HBO shouldn’t refrain from using something that has happened (in a previous season) to protect those who have yet to watch.
This is why I don’t mind that I knew about who died at the Red Wedding (well two of the big ones) or when Joffrey was going to meet his end. Those spoilers are on me as I spend time in a TV heavy discussion area on Twitter and online in general, that is all on me finding out. What I do want to look at in terms of spoilers is how it then impacted how I watched and what it added/took away. I also want to ask you about your position as a book reader and how being in this privileged position in terms of what you know is coming up (or not as they change the material) shapes how you watch.
I spent most of season 1 waiting for Ned Stark to die and even though I knew which episode it happened in, it didn’t take away any of the tension because knowing doesn’t necessarily reduce the desire to see the opposite happen. To bring it back to Romeo and Juliet even though you know they’re both going to die it doesn’t stop you desiring the impossible and for Romeo to see Juliet’s fluttering eyelids before he drinks the poison. So in a similar vein I knew his head was going to get loped off and I still willed it not to happen; it was also fun working out who was going to be behind his downfall (always Littlefinger).
Season 2 is the only one I knew nothing about and I guess ultimately it’s the one with no HUGE deaths. Red Wedding has been a term that I have been so familiar with and yet I didn’t know whose wedding it was going to be or who would be the one behind the killings. I had a good idea that Catelyn Stark was dunzo as this is an image I saw everywhere and Robb’s death was one I was certain of. Knowing that it happened in episode 9 (always episode 9) meant I spent the whole thing with my stomach churning due to the tension and it was the stomach stabbing of Talisa that drew the biggest gasp from me, quickly followed by the shooting of Grey Wind in front of Arya – I have a habit of yelling “Woolfie” at the screen when any of the direwolves appear like I’m a toddler or something so I was particularly upset by this.
If tension and dread sponsored this episode then pure joy was behind the Purple Wedding of season 4. I’ve watched all of GoT with my now fiance (still sounds so weird/too formal) Titch and he’s also had some prior knowledge of certain storylines, though we haven’t wanted to reveal what we knew to each other in case the other didn’t know that bit. Jofffrey’s death is something we had both found out about and in this case I had the upper hand as I knew the how and the when, just not the who. It made this episode more fun in a way as they make Joffrey his most vile self to give those final moments a much bigger punch and so while he is being this disgusting I took pleasure in what was about to happen. Pretty much a reverse reaction to the previous deathly nuptials (also getting heaps of ideas of how not to throw a wedding).
There are many other spoiler points I can reference like how a friend mentioned Tywin’s death as he misheard me saying I was only on episode 8 of the most recent season or how if an actor was on a different show it probably meant their character had met their end (like Jason Momoa). Or how as soon I finished the last episode I immediately looked up what book fans were mad about being omitted (and holy shit LSH would have been an amazing scene to end with). Before I go on any further I want to hand over to you and what you think about spoilers in general and books vs. the show. You know, the easy stuff, haha.
Julie: The reason I started reading and watching Game of Thrones was because of a spoiler. I opened up my Entertainment Weekly a few weeks (days?) after the infamous Season 1 episode and saw a picture of Ned Stark’s head rolling across the ground. That blew me away. I had never seen the show and I didn’t know much about it, but the fact that the biggest actor, the lead actor, could be killed off like that intrigued me.
I started by watching the pilot episode, but it didn’t grip me right away. I had trouble distinguishing the young men from one another, and I just felt kind of lost. So, instead of 86-ing the whole enterprise, I jumped in and started reading the books, so obviously I saw something there that I liked.
The books are my everything, though you wouldn’t know it by the way I read them. I burned through the first book (and immediately watched the first season). It took me almost six months to finish A Clash of Kings. I read A Storm of Swords in two weeks. I let A Feast for Crows linger on my (digital) shelf for almost a year. And then I read A Dance with Dragons over the course of about a month. Apparently I’m very motivated to read the odd-numbered books.
Knowing about Ned Stark’s death didn’t impact my enjoyment either. Like you, I had no idea how we’d get to that point, and I had no idea about the other surprise deaths that would happen along the way — King Robert, Drogo, and Viserys, namely. While people love to talk about the Big Shocking Moments, this show is way more than a few brutal deaths. What happens between the deaths is what makes the show so compelling.
(Though, honestly, part of the reason I read Book 3 so quickly was because I saw someone on Twitter mention that they had gotten to the point in ASOS that everyone “speaks about in hushed tones.” I just HAD to see what that part way. I just had to! And honestly, when Catelyn and Robb got popped in the middle of the book, I wasn’t all that shocked about it. Maybe I was shocked about Catelyn’s death. As far as Robb went, I knew he’d be a goner eventually. I actually thought the show did a better job of mining the tension from the Red Wedding than the book did. Adding the stomach stabbing was horrifyingly potent.)
As the show continues, though, the writers have started to take more liberties with the source material (probably since GRRM is taking his sweet time finishing the series, but don’t tell him that). There are a few characters who are alive in the book, but have died on the show (and vice versa, actually). The Theon storyline in seasons 3 and 4 didn’t happen until the fourth book. The stuff with the crows attacking Craster’s Keep this season was manufactured just to give the Crows something to do (I’m assuming). And heading into the next few seasons, which will focus on two books that are so scattered, geographically and story-wise, I have no idea how they’re going to handle it. And I do have concerns that many of the Big Moments have come and gone. I’m sure the writers feel like they owe it to the TV-only fans to manufacture some new Big Moments, and I wonder what they’ll come up with.
Emma: I rewatched the pilot after the season 4 finale – I was in that post finishing funk and it felt like a good use of my time – and of course it reads in an entirely different manner. On first watch there are so many names and dynamics to take on board, plus something bristles pretty bad about the inherent misogyny that pretty much all of the female characters are subjected to. It’s like when you first watch Mad Men and it’s hard to not react to the situation these women find themselves in. Of course they have power in many other ways (and not just boobs thankfully, though that is also an issue on occasions), but it’s hard to adjust to the overt masculinity that’s on screen. Like straight away Arya was favourite character, pretty much from when she shot the arrow while Bran was failing miserably and Cersei is clearly the HBIC (with Catelyn a close second), it just doesn’t necessarily leap off the screen like that straight away.
In fact I watched season 1 at a pretty steady pace, a few episodes here and there. And then I think I probably watch 2-4 in the same amount of time it took to do the first one. It sometimes takes a while to get into something and it was the moment where Littlefinger betrays Ned that it all clicked into place for me and I understood why everyone is so mad for this show. And you’re right, the deaths can be shocking but it’s how these characters react and adapt to these moments that is far more interesting to watch. Big Moments are easier in a way, it’s the what happens after that is harder and can be way more compelling.
That’s interesting about the books and ha to GRRM’s reaction to that question. I do want to read them, I just know that my current reading pile is ridiculous and I really shouldn’t start something I have already watched, if that makes sense. Maybe when the new book comes out I will catch up.
The position of reader and knowing when the Big Moments are coming can be beneficial, but now those are pretty much done I guess it means book readers might be more concerned, whereas just watchers are blissfully ignorant. It must be kinda fun when they go off book as you’re now in for surprises too. Am I right that the Bran story is now up to date with where the book is? Creepy children and tree people.
I have one more book related question before I move onto more show based thoughts (like how much I want to talk about the costuming, because oh my word are they beyond incredible) and that’s if there are characters/locations that you like on the page and not on the screen or vice versa? Like I’ve grown very restless with Daenerys scenes (except for her costume design and Daario) and never tire of King’s Landing.
Julie: First of all, the ladies. Maybe it’s because I read the books first, but I’ve never really gotten the whole “this show is so misogynist” thing. I actually wrote a post about how the show is very good for women (horn toot). The women in the books and show have to play by the rule of the male dominated society, but they all find ways around them. They all find their way of grabbing for power, some overtly (Dany) and some covertly (Cersei, and now Sansa).
One thing I love about the way GRRM writes women is that he doesn’t treat them as a monolith. Every woman on this show is her own person, fully realized. Do we like all of these women? No, which I think is fabulous. They all have their strengths and faults. He allows them to fail and succeed in equal measure with the men. There aren’t a lot of stereotypical Strong Female Characters here.
Daenerys is the exception. She’s sort of the Mary Sue of the story, and obviously the one GRRM is rooting for. At this point, everything she’s done has been above board and has worked out well for her. And it drives me crazy. Her story is the least compelling to me, in the books and on screen. There’s always been this subtext that Dany is the one who will drag Westeros out of the mess, and I just think that’s too easy and boring. Or maybe GRRM will shock us all (again) and kill Dany in Book 6. I would cheer. I’m a jerk.
As far as the stories I like vs. the ones I don’t on screen and off…Bran’s stuff bores me in the books, but I kind of like it on screen (and, yes, his story is all caught up now). The two POV characters that are my favorites right now in the books (as of Book 5, A Dance With Dragons) were two of the most boring stories early on, in my opinion. Those characters are Jon Snow and Davos. On the show, we haven’t gotten to their ADWD stories obviously, so who knows. But right now those two really don’t do much for me on the show. Jon has his moments, but I’m hoping they’ll really beef up the complexity of his character in the coming seasons. And the Davos stuff, without revealing anything, he ends up going off on his own to places we haven’t been before, generally proving what a savvy badass he is wherever he goes. The show has shown us glimmers of this kick ass Davos, but I want more, MORE.
I’ve said enough. Let’s talk about costumes!
Emma: Woah to the article that prompted your GoT/women viewers piece and I was trying to figure out if the original is satire because it hurts my brain if those are real thoughts.
When it comes to HBO and nudity it is disappointing that it’s generally a whole lot of boobs and not all that much male nudity, my response is eye rolls more than anything – The Leftovers might be setting a new record as I don’t think there’s been any female nudity, brief flashback aside in three episodes. I was surprised to see Theon’s favorite toy before it got lopped off in season 1 so there has been dong on at least one occasion. I am also thankful for the Daario stripping scene to take this down to the most superficial level I can. Sexual violence and the threat of it is something I think that is used too often and the Cersei/Jaime scene made no sense and was incredibly disappointing, particularly when I heard how the book version was different. I know I’ve asked a few book questions already, but how did you feel about this whole debate?
I’m also glad that the power wielded by the women on this show is varied and goes beyond their sexuality. Manipulation is the tool that Cersei has mastered over the years and she’s terrifying. Cersei does have a weakness and that’s her kids, but this doesn’t feel like the usual motherhood cliches that get portrayed on TV time and time again. I’m also really pleased to see Lena Headey up for an Emmy as she’s killed it this season. Strength comes in other ways – Brienne is awkward, but physically strong and incredibly loyal. I’m going to miss the friendship that developed between Jaime and Brienne, but he sure does know how to give a good parting gift and her new armor is very impressive. Arya as I’ve mentioned is my favorite and yet the other Stark sister has gone up in my estimations.
Sansa gets a bit of a raw deal from both viewer reactions (I’ve heard many call her whiny, which she was at first because she was a brat and definitely had a right to be after everything she has gone through at King’s Landing) and the shit she has dealt with. I forgot how young she was playing so when Tyrion asked her age and she said 14 my jaw dropped on the floor. Sansa’s crowning moment comes in the form of Goth Sansa in the last episode we saw her in and this is one of my favorite costumes from GoT’s entire run. I’m really looking forward to seeing what lessons she has taken from her time with Cersei and those imbued on her by her mother.
The ladies of the Tyrell family are also good fun to watch and while I worry that Margaery is in over her head, I enjoy watching Natalie Dormer navigating those treacherous waters and Diana Rigg as Bad Gran (okay Olenna) is incredible. Another Emmy nominations that I was happy to see.
This is a good place to discuss costumes (also Emmy nominated) and I’m constantly in awe with what I see on screen. This is also where the women truly shine as while the armor is of course incredible, it’s the different styles and color palettes that get used for the female characters that stand out. Blue is dominant for Daenerys, the Tyrells and Brienne so am I right in assuming these are their family colors? Red and gold is of course Lannister and the Starks wear much more muted tones (Arya’s got brown down now). It’s all about those fur pelts up north. I do associate green with Catelyn, is this the House Tully color?
This distinctive approach helps for a variety of reasons, partly so you can identify who everyone is and where they fit in this expansive world. Costume is of course used to show wealth and by that extension the Lannister gold is showing just how rich they are and how happy they are to show their wealth. No one likes a show off. Cersei’s dress that featured a metal breast plate is probably my favorite piece on the show so far, I am also partial to Margaery’s plunging necklines and her wedding dress is also a highlight. Daenerys graduating to pants as her power grew is also up there for me. Before I go on, I want to throw it back to you to see what has stood out to you? Whose wardrobe would you like to try in the real world? Maybe for your Mimi going down the park moments.
Julie: First of all, about Jaime and Cersei’s relationship — I was really upset by the rape scene, for obvious reasons, but also because it didn’t feel true to the Jaime character. He is very loyal and thinks of the greater good. He loves his sister; I truly think he does. I just can’t reconcile the character that I’ve gotten to know over the past five books with this guy who would force his sister to have sex with him in front of their son’s corpse. (That was a sentence I never thought I’d type.)
There has been some discussion about the fact that this scene occurs from Jaime’s POV in the book, and maybe he thought it was consensual and the TV show was just supposing it wasn’t, which I suppose makes sense, but it still doesn’t jibe with everything we’ve learned about him.
Also, I love Sansa. She is one of my favorite characters on the show and in the books. I liked her from the start because she’s obviously someone who has a lot of growing to do, and we’ve seen her do it. I also love her relationship with the Hound, which hasn’t been highlighted as much in the show. I totally ship them. She’s the girl who has been looking for a handsome knight to save her. He’s the unlikely brute to do it. (And, yeah, I know we saw that Sandor Clegane was left for dead in the last episode of the show, but even in the books, we’re still not sure of his whereabouts. If you don’t see someone die on this show, assume they’re not dead. Hell, even if you do see them die.)
I looked up the sigils. House Tully is red and blue. House Tyrell is green and gold. Lannister, red and gold. Stark, black and gray, which really goes with the dark, winter motif. House Targaryen is red and black, which doesn’t really fit Dany’s blue wardrobe. I’m assuming the blue is represents her calm demeanor, and maybe that she holds the promise of peace for Westeros. Also, blue is the color of the sky, where her dragons reside (when she’s not locking them in dungeons).
When I dress up like Mimi to take my kids to the park, I want to dress like Cersei. She is The Queen. I know that Daenerys thinks she’s the queen, but no. It’s all about Cersei. She gets the hair and the jewels and the clothes (not to mention the arm candy; Dany can keep Daario). I love the rich reds and golds. She’s the Head Bitch in Charge, and she dresses like it. I think I might need to get this Cersei-esque dress by Ella Zahlan. I’d be the best dressed at the park.
Who’s your GoT wardrobe inspiration?
Emma: Cersei definitely has the best style and that Ella Zahlan dress is perfect park Mimi-like material. I’m going to go slightly left-field with Joffrey as boy did he rock a beautiful patterned cape and half capes well. He definitely has his mother’s style – Jaime also is sartorially gifted – even if he is a massive prick. I think I might miss Joffrey. I am also partial to the Starks styling as while they don’t have much colour in their wardrobe, they still have a lot of flare thanks to their furs (although I’m anti-fur IRL). If I was doing fancy dress I would be Arya all the way as we have similar haircuts now. Plus she’s a badass. And as I mentioned previously, Goth Sansa is one of my all time favorite costumes this show has done – I’m glad to hear you’re a fan of this character too. Do you think they transferred the Hound/Sansa relationship onto Arya? I’m with you on thinking that he probably isn’t dead, even if he was in a bad way when Arya left him.
I also find something rather enticing about the Night’s Watch and Wildling attire; I mean who wouldn’t want to wear something that doubles as a super warm duvet? Clothes that can also be bed linen are my jam, so I’m also weirdly drawn to the Shae’s bed sheet like gown.
One character whose style I was very fond of is Oberyn before his head went pop so I’m looking forward to seeing what Dorne will bring to the style table next season. Also a quick word on the violence of the show as I think this is the first time I screamed at something the show has done; I was pre-warned that something on an epically horrific scale was going to happen in this episode so I was amped for something super gross, but I did not expect THAT.
Is there anything else you want to mention?
Julie: For a second there I thought you were calling Jaime a prick and I was like, “Wait.” But no. You were referring to Joffrey. Carry on.
The Hound/Arya stuff is all in the books. And I completely love the two of them hanging out together. They’re both loners who really have no one else to turn to, so they turn to each other. And they learn life lessons. It’s beautiful.
I’ve never considered clothing-that-doubles-as-bed-linens as a fashion category, but I think it should be the new wave. Maybe we’ll see some of that at NYFW in the spring. With last winter we had, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to carry a duvet with you wherever you go.
About the Dornish, it looks like we’ll be getting a lot more of them next season (minus sexy Oberyn, of course). This show does a great job of giving each new place its own sartorial flavor. Next season, it looks like we’ll be seeing more of Braavos as well (home of the erstwhile Jaqen H’ghar and Syrio Forel, AKA Arya’s teacher). We may spend more time in Theon-land, the Iron Islands, where I expect some Poseidon-like garb to accompany Yara’s battle grays.
As far as the gore goes, it’s something I accept as part of the show, but I could do without it. Sometimes things are better left unseen. I watched Snowpiercer over the weekend; and every time something violent was about to happen, the camera would cut away. It did nothing to dampen the suspense. Less is more for me; but based on the collective reaction to Oberyn’s death this season, I think I may be in the minority.
Emma: Ha, oops yeah that isn’t that clear. I wasn’t too keen on Jaime in season 1, but he has definitely grown on me. The scenes with Tyrion in the jail cell were some of my favorites this show has done. As I tweeted at the time when Jaime kissed his brother on the cheek, it was one Lannister sign of affection that I didn’t mind witnessing.
Wildlings and Crows have got Polar Vortex fashion down and I hope to see a whole range of inspired clothes come the next NYFW.
Super excited for the new lands that will be featured next year and you’re spot on with how different each location/family is. Even the characters that share a color palette like Margaery and Daenerys look incredibly different thanks to cut, embroidery and texture.
As with the Scandal catch up last year, I am very much looking forward to sharing in the wider collective conversation and not having to scroll through endless tweets that I can’t read. That’s going to be fun as while it’s been good talking to people while I’ve been catching up everyone is always in that “oh has that happened” yet mind space where they don’t want to say too much as they might accidentally say something of give away a character’s death through a facial expression. Now to catch up on other things like Fargo (there is always something).
Julie Hammerle is, according to Klout, an expert in the areas of both Morgan Freeman and glasses. Her writing can be found at chicagonow.com/hammervision and you can holler at her on Twitter as well.