Game of Thrones, Agency, and the Arrogance of the Present Day

Peter Campbell has an interesting piece at the Medium on why the Game of Thrones is so popular. As I’ll make clear, I disagree with his thesis resoundingly, but his essay is well enough argued as to serve as what we call in consulting a forcing device: it’s a clear and consistent enough argument so as to push an audience into thinking hard about why they take issue.

Campbell argues that Game of Thrones represents a major break in literature because the characters have agency. By that he means that they have the ability to change outcomes, and many of them work hard to exercise that influence. And he claims that GOT’s success mirrors the increased complexity in our social relations (note that one of his major foundations for comparison is Lord of the Rings, or LOTR):

Storytelling is traditionally reductionist, offering simplified narratives that follow a single protagonist or (worse) force the protagonist into a culturally conceived pattern, such as the Hero’s Journey archetype….Storytellers are starting to jailbreak protagonists from the Hero’s Journey and a small number of authors take it even further. These revolutionaries not only unfetter their main character, but every character…

Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, which the HBO series is based on, fully develops the individual agency of characters. He creates incredibly complex plots with characters that have flaws and make decisions that are half-chance. Readers have been shocked at how characters can be killed off with little notice, but they describe his writing as having “realness” and “humanity.” Anything can happen to any character at any time, but in a realistic way.

I have to stop here and howl in protest. Has Campbell read much literature, as in 19th and 20th century novels, rather than pop page-turners? While some like Dickens tell simple morality tales, you can look to authors as wide ranging as Jane Austen, Flaubert, Graham Greene and Somerset Maughm to find complex characters who evolve. For instance, in Maughm’s The Razor’s Edge, an annoying wealthy snob surprisingly intervenes to save some of the main characters from financial ruin as a result of the Crash. And another major character deliberately, through the most casual act, ruins the life of a romantic rival, even though she is ostensibly happily married.

And if you want to look to historical rather than literary examples of people who sought and achieved influence and are morally ambiguous, why don’t we start with Cicero and Talleyrand? Talleyrand, for instance, was hugely corrupt personally, and sought enormous bribes when he was the Foreign Minister under Napoleon. Yet he managed to not just survive, but play important roles in all of the French regimes from the reign of Louis XVI through the third king in the Restoration, Louis-Philippe, with each regarding him with considerable mistrust.

Talleyrand, who was also a cripple (he had a club foot), was charming, manipulative, pleasure-seeking, famously cool under stress (he’d play cards during coup d’etats while everyone else was fretting) and seen as totally lacking in scruples. Talleyrand was in fact loyal to no particular regime, but as a true patrician, was dedicated to the idea of France. He served the nation even if it meant betraying his current nominal master, such as starting secret talks with France’s enemies when Napoleon was in retreat. Talleyrand singlehandedly negotiated against the representatives of all of France’s opponents, including Metternicht, at the Congress of Vienna, and managed to preserve France’s pre-war borders, an astonishing accomplishment.

And realistic???? How many times in GOT are people resurrected from the dead? That’s one of Martin’s gimmicks I find most annoying. He’ll have a grand bloody scene where a character to whom you’ve become attached, or at least found interesting, is killed in a vivid manner (Martin gets some credit for ringing the changes on how many different ways people can be done in). But about a third of the time, they show up again, and much of the time (think Brienne or Asha) with insufficient explanation as to why they are alive. Boy, one thing I’ll say for Westeros: they may only have swords and maces and crossbows, but their medical technology beats ours hands down.

So what makes GOT different? In more traditional literature, the backdrop is a settled order. Characters have fewer degrees of freedom than in a society in disarray. In fantasy literature, you have some of the same issues of the struggle for influence and the evolution of characters in Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky, where one major plot line involves a first-time meeting in space between two cultures, where one seeks to betray and conquer the other’s side, but is only partially successful, forcing the victors and the vanquished to work together to survive.

So the difference in Game of Thrones isn’t the matter of agency, it’s the density that Martin manage to achieve while retaining credibility. He’s packed plot lines and scopes of activity that in a more traditional novel would have spanned sections of a book into a single chapter. And mind you, we still have a massively sprawling work even with that degree of compression. So in my reading, Game of Thrones is a textbook case where a difference in degree really does wind up being a difference in kind.

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  1. Jim

    Clearly, the referenced author hasn’t read many real classics. You hit it on the head when you mentioned that characters have less freedom in more established societies. Game of Thrones, on the other hand, represents a broken-down world, and in the ensuing chaos, characters definitely have more “agency”, than in much of traditional literature. In such a creation, the author is free to build a very complex world, but that’s not revolutionary. Instead, that’s common in the genre. And the shock aspect of random death (and the oversexualization of the TV show) are merely gimmicks, not real depth.

    Some appreciation has to be recognized, though, for the fact that the Game of Thrones world is so much like our own, the hellish chaos wrought by modern neoliberalism. HBO’s “prestige TV” tends to appeal to more affluent viewers, and I don’t think that this group misses this point, in fact, they likely enjoy it.

    1. Massinissa

      Jesus, those affluent viewers dont WANT neoliberalism to be this violent and chaotic, do they? Surely they realize chaos is the biggest threat to their privileges.

      1. ambrit

        Dear Massinissa;
        It depends on how “affluent” these viewers are. I would posit that there is a large cohort of people today who think they are in the top whatever percentage when they aren’t even close. This kind of managed ‘chaos’ acts as a reinforcement for their magical thinking world view. (“Surely this can’t happen to us! We’re special! Just like Lord Kos. You know, he actually looked at me from out of his limo last Thursday! Man, isn’t life great!”)

        1. Jim

          Exactly, it’s like Lake Wobegon, where every child is above average, or at universities, where the old story goes, every professor thinks they get above average student evaluations (there’s plenty of similar mathematical impossibility stories).

          If you can afford to pay for HBO, you’ll likely think that, no matter how bad things get, you’re just a special “overachiever”, or whatever. And so, you’ll be just fine…or whatever happens on that show.

      2. hunkerdown

        Any sufficiently complex and skillfully executed machination is indistinguishable from chaos, to its targets.

        And I suspect they really don’t mind, because they also believe, if only operationally, that their prestige largely exempts them from subordination to natural cause-and-effect (see the 11-99 Foundation article in Links).

  2. Ditto

    Next up, how Crazy Birds is secretly a sign of true democracy and global peace.

    All jokes aside, one should be careful to avoid deep meaning in pop culture.

    That way lies fools gold.

    1. hunkerdown

      Not if you’re music critic Jes Skolnick, whose existence is entirely dependent upon white girls pretending at twerking being more avidly consumed and vigorously debated than capitalism.

  3. Chromex

    I think the “alive again” -as I read it-is a device that will be fully explained/developed in the final 2 novels. And while they are “alive” their life appears different qualitatively. I look forward to this “reveal”.
    And the whole “alive again” thing hasn’t really gotten going in the tv series so much as the books although it may this season
    I think Martin is pretty clear in his meaning that we have not developed all that much from feudal times and that the scaffolding of feudal culture lies underneath our structure waiting to reappear like a virus.

    1. hunkerdown

      That message can’t exist in storytelling independent of its value judgment. Surely, those who consume that message alongside lots of sensational hot sex would become far more appreciative of the law of rule than those who are not.

  4. allcoppedout

    Well deconstruct the penguin, Derrida lives! Haven’t seen it, other than a promo that screamed ‘tosh’. Ditto, Ditto. Anyway, South Park has pronounced.

    Dork gave us a line more worthy of effort yesterday. It was something like ‘the hectic international competitive manufacturing of the rot they dump on us isn’t’. Not quite his words, but the original set me thinking about the philosophy of language and how they have us over a barrel in bewitchment. So in serendipity I was waiting for Yves’ piece. I spent some time with ordinary language philosophy once, concluding there was no ordinary language in it and meaning might be illusory.

    Wittgenstein [some riches to rags hero] {though his rags had as much to do with poverty as David Bailey’s trousers} once said [something like because I can’t be arsed with academic referencing suspecting it part of our problems in argument] ‘if you doubt everything you end up doubting nothing because you are consumed with the certainty of doubt’. I tried to tell him {fiction, he died two years before I was born} I appreciate a smart ass more than most {but feared homosexual connotation in our relationship and didn’t fancy life in his closet}. He heard Popper coming and reached for his poker [real gossip exists]. A local policeman was present intending to read ‘Ludders’ aloud to his long-suffering wife {real gossip exists, but did cops in those days get that close to suspected homosexuals other than in cottage raids?}. The poker incident was covered-up. Anyway, the cop (who was really Sherlock Holmes in disguise) straightened the poker with a trick he learned from an Indian fakir {fiction} or sent me down to the local smithy {reality genre explanation}. One of Wittgenstein’s students had a photograph of the great man at school with Hitler (The Jew of Linz). We formed a magic circle [fantasy truth model] and discovered WW2 had merely been part of a larger battle between Wittgenstein-on-earth and big bad Adolph {shit that sells books}. Turing had already been forced into suicide {time machine complication} by dismal socially approved epistemic authority. And this the man who had saved us from the demons through the great man’s notion that ‘sometimes a proposition isn’t even justified by another proposition’. I legged it down the pub. The barmaid’s knockers turned the whole experience into a Game of Thrones. And I forgot all about Dork, though some say he haunted the tavern as a Derdida-spectre intent on the destruction of the EU [future calamity threat to keep interest in coming episodes]. This spectre spoke to me on the matter of funding revolution through a swords, sandals, swinging dick and tits series to raise finance for a coming war against the Eurocracy. This is what you have been watching. Yves is just running diversion …

    1. ambrit

      Wait, wait! Do you mean to suggest that GOT is a continuation of “Hercules and the Slave Women?” Oh Gods on Olympus! Hear my plea! Return to us Steve Reeves from beyond the shores of the Styx!

      1. allcoppedout

        I may have been thinking that “our language, even if we are pleased to speak it, has already substituted too many articulations for too many accents, it has lost life and warmth, it is already eaten by writing. Its accentuated features have been gnawed through by the consonants”. And that speech itself is always shot through with the differences and traces of non-present meaning which constitute articulate language.

        Anyway Ambrit, get Susan out of that depressive mood. She’s the only one who knows whether we are going to go to free Herc from slaving women, slave women from Herc or Herc and enslaved women from other slavers. Craazyman’s probably read the ending, so give him a bell. In fact, I’m going to demonstrate some agency and put it all off for a few days. Liverpool are beating Man City ,…

        1. ambrit

          Sorry, but my folks came from Fulham. It’s Fulham all the way. Perhaps up Putney High Street to the local, who knows?
          As for putting it off. That’s another screed of mine lower down.

  5. sufferin' succotash

    If “glorying in the complexity of life” means “abdicating responsibility” then those primitive and childlike Gilgamesh/Odysseus narratives do retain a certain utility. It’s just barely possible that LOR and GOT represent just another iteration of that Rousseauistic fantasizing that has ranged from Huck Finn’s lighting out for the territory to Mel Gibson’s Mad Max. In other words, nothing new here except for the CGI.

  6. Carolinian

    If I can put on my long ago critic’s hat: tv shows succeed to the extent that they have vivid characters that the audience wants to spend more time with. Plot is strictly secondary, and gosh knows whether Martin’s GOT story will ever make any sense. HBO reputedly has a plan in case the showrunners eventually have to take over the reins from the dilatory Martin.

    All of which is to say deepthink not necessary…Game of Thrones is popular simply because it is very entertaining. If there are larger social implications, then they are likely that the show demonstrates the current zeal for escapism, not a questing for social relevance. As readers of this blog know, the public these days has a lot to escape from….

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Can I just say ditto? I would add GoT has revealed people take themselves far too seriously while remaining shallow. South Park had a delightful parody, and I skimmed to see what GoT fans thought of the episode. They were under the impression that the creators of Orgazmo, Cannibal the Musical, and the South Park Movie and the stars of Baseketball were criticizing frontal male nudity in the show w hen it’s clear they were suggesting GoT is full of details and dead end stories which should have been cut out by editors because they don’t advance the story or serve to add to the imaginary world because there are already so many Michael Jordans of swordplay jumping around westeroes that adding an army of lebrons with a reign of terror greater than the dothraki which no one mentioned is a sign of poor writing. It’s obvious that King Robert Baratheon’s line to Cersei about 1 unified army being stronger than 5 is what is going to come back to save the day. Most of the book is distraction from this. I stopped part way into the second book.

    2. Banger

      There is no such thing as “mere entertainment.” I am always amazed how deep is the denial of the unconscious in the west. People reduce everything to discrete departments. This is spiritual, that is political, this is just economics, you paranormal expend use are just hallucinations and entertainment says nothing about culture.

      My heretical view is that entertainment says quite a lot about a culture and it’s collective unconscious. GOT tells us pretty much what our media refuses to talk about and that is that politics is a vicious struggle for power with no holds barred. I suggest to you that is the reality of our contemporary situation. Vicious and powerful men and women competing for more and more and more power using conspiracy, propaganda, murder, torture and mass killings to get what they want. The whole “mistakes were made” and the idea that the CIA/NSA or anyone with power are “defending” our country or the military is “preserving our freedoms” is just patter for the chumps. I can’t really blame predators for being predators– I blame the chumps for allowing it all to happen.

  7. steviefinn

    It is an awful world, but unlike our own awful version there are at least some powerful characters who appear to be capable of making Westeros a better place & despite the carnage there is still hope – I would have great difficulty in finding the equivalent on this planet.

    I wish Elizabeth Warren had dragons.

  8. Charles LeSeau

    “He creates incredibly complex plots with characters that have flaws and make decisions that are half-chance.

    I’d like to know of a single “incredibly complex” plot in the entire series, book or show. Jeez. Even someone with as light a touch as Wodehouse wrote more complex plots than GRRM. Most of what I get out of these stories is more theme than plot – and having read the books I’m way ahead of the show and still don’t see it. The most dominant theme seems to me a mass question of betrayal or loyalty between any two linked characters. Ho hum.

    1. craazyman

      You can see all the hot women in the nude scenes in a single video, which the editors of HuffPo posted to their website as a public service. That saves hours of watching. I don’t know if the hot women get naked in the book, but if somebody is lazy, having them right there on the TV is good. Sometimes visualization is hard work.

      I noticed that the book was published in 1996, which means it can’t be about the way things are today. I bet the author just made it up in his head. Then people read it and looked at realtiy and said “That’s pretty close.” But it’s always like that. You can look at reality and see almost whatever you want to see. Then you can write it down if you want. If you write it down well, you can make people believe you. But it doesn’t mean you’re not making it all up in your head. Nothing is ever completely true.

      I read the first three pages of GOT on Amazon’s Look Inside this Book. It’s not bad. There was a dark and stormy night and a few grizzled dudes with swords. The dark trees were scary and foreboding. I think there was a bright moon in the cold air. I felt I was there! It’s not entirely easy to do that.

      1. allcoppedout

        Damn it, Craazy, now you’ve both ruined it for me and made me too scared to walk the dog! I mean what gnarled them trees in the first place? I showed the clip video of them nekid wimmin to the Labrador, but he still wants his walk in the forest terrors. He claims this is the safer option.

  9. Dan

    This is mostly off topic, but amusing enough to pass along. There’s a movement afoot for moar peen on the show. I have to say I’m sympathetic to that; if you’re going to show lots of skin it only seems fair to have some eye candy for everyone. (Athenae is a big fan and she once referred to it as Swords And Titties. I don’t have HBO so I haven’t seen it, but that’s recommendation enough for me.)

  10. Peter Pan

    I started watching GOT on Friday 4-4-14 (S01,E01) and finished on 4-7-14 (S04,E01). So I didn’t miss anything or have some lapse of memory.

    GOT characters have agency, my ass! GOT characters do not have agency and that is what makes the show popular. It’s the lack of agency! We can relate to it (even though it’s fantasy).

    How many GOT characters have been killed off willy-nilly? How many GOT characters have been manipulated into undesirable situations? How many GOT characters are servants or slaves?

    Agency, my ass !!

    1. NotSoSure

      Some of them do and they are my favorite characters i.e. Peter “Chaos is a ladder and the climb is all there is” Baelish and Varys. And although I haven’t read as widely as Yves, Varys on the surface level sounds similar to Talleyrand ?
      The rest though have complained here and there about the Gods not cooperating with their plans.
      I am a big fan of the books just because Martin is a very good writer IMHO, i.e. he can write about the most mundane stuff and it will still hold my interest.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Not all that many. Talleyrand operated in the open most of the time and was extremely self confident. He always recognized as a player, while Varys is a tool who like many of the GOT characters, isn’t as subordinate as his masters assume.

        Talleyrand was famed for his romantic conquests, which included Madame de Stael.

        1. Ulysses

          I would recommend, to anyone interested in Talleyrand, to read Katherine Neville’s novel, The Eight, in which he plays an important role.

    2. Glenn Condell

      ‘GOT characters have agency, my ass! GOT characters do not have agency and that is what makes the show popular. It’s the lack of agency! We can relate to it (even though it’s fantasy).’

      My sentiments exactly. Mr Campbell has it bassackwards. The Westerosian 1% – the majority of those we see – have some agency, but it is tenuous and temporal. Everyone else is at their mercy. They are too, most of the time.

      ‘Plot is strictly secondary, and gosh knows whether Martin’s GOT story will ever make any sense.’

      ‘GoT is full of details and dead end stories which should have been cut out by editors because they don’t advance the story’

      As if the lack of standard fidelity to plot development and internal story-line logic As She Is Writ is a drawback… on the contrary, it is the messiness and unpredictability, the narrative lines that peter out in tributaries rather than as part of the main river, it is those things that draw me in and keep me there. Life’s like that; it is decidedly not like most of the stories we are told and which are preferred by most. Fantasies and wish-fulfilment escapism counter life’s incorrigible and stress-inducing capacity for discomfort of all kinds and have their place, but some of us prefer a colder bath, and also the space to be able to make decisions about characters and actions without being led to them by the schnozz.

      The movies I have enjoyed most have left me unsure in some way what happened or was meant.. Apocalypse Now, Do the Right Thing, Eternal Sunshine, Memento, Darko, Salo… I can cry at tearjerkers and even cheer along with Dick Cheney at the preemptive fascismo of Ender’s Game with my 8 year old, but I feel a little unclean or guilty afterward, certainly not engaged as I am by works a bit more open-ended..

      This may tie in with a few pieces or links here which have pointed out that excessive hope makes people feel more hopeless, and that those who process more of the less palatable news items that pass by us each day have a more balanced apprehension of reality and tend to cope better with its reverses.

      As I get longer in the tooth I am becoming more and more allergic to the ‘well-made-play’ mainstream, especially those with the against the odds machina, and if there’s redemption, fuggedabout it. Even resolution is a bit suss. Hence a fidelity to a lack of such fidelity can be liberating and thrilling. When Ned lost his head I stood up and shouted at the TV and it is over 40 years since I did something like that. My own reaction fascinated me – I viscerally felt betrayed, shortchanged according to the tropes and mores of the narrative culture I have been marinating in all my life (with the odd exceptions, normally in books) Perhaps if we lived in more harmonious times I’d be content with harmony, but discord and confusion and cloudy prospects seem a better fit right now.

      Sounds like Old Talleyrand would have fitted right in to the GoT scene.

  11. Patricia Marino

    Agree 100% with this post! I’d add as an example Trollope as an example of non-reductive morally complex literature. Unlike his contemporary Dickens he describes characters with multiple aspects, good in some ways and bad in others, struggling with challenging and often ambiguous moral environments.

    1. phichibe

      spot on, as the brits say. put another way, even someone as totally evil as hitler had a redeeming quality – he liked dogs. the truly great authors (the greek tragedians come to mind, and especially shakespeare) all knew that one-dimensional characters are neither true to life nor make interesting drama. i like tolkien but would never argue that he wrote great fiction – nor would he, i think: his true interest lay in creating the various languages of middle earth, which reflected his scholarly interests in the extinct languages of medieval northern europe. grr martin seems to not even have that going for him.

      BTW, Yves, i loved your summary of talleyrand. my mother is french-born, Paris-raised, and she has long conveyed her admiration for the man whom Napoleon once described as a “silk bag filled with ‘merde'” (translation supplied on request but should be obvious in the context ;-). perhaps my favorite quote of talleyrand’s was “pas de zeal”, which may roughly be translated as “avoid true believers”. words to live by, then as now.



      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Actually the best part of that “shit in a silk stocking” story was that Napoleon said it to Talleyrand in front of a huge number of people (I don’t know if this was the exact scene, but I recall it as Napoleon holding court, so on a dais with a large number of officials and retainers before him) as part of a very long diatribe against him.

        Talleyrand was dismissed and it was assumed he was over, that he’d never return to court after such a humiliating dressing down and that was Napoleon’s intent.

        Talleyrand showed up the next day as if nothing had happened.

    1. Peter Pan

      I’m totally in agreement for a God of Tits and Beer. However, women may wish for some other God. For example: God of Fantasy and Romance; God of Cocks and Wine; God of Eunuchs and Manservants, etc.

  12. susan the other

    I have never bothered with GoT because I’m way too lazy, but in the last decade I have been made uneasy by the turn in our mythologizing. I don’t like the new flavor of fiction. Once, it seems, mythology was used to explain events that changed the course of civilization – like the mysteries of metallurgy and the distrust of Hephaestus (sp?). Actually metallurgy is still mysterious, just less so. Thinking about Hamlet’s Mill here. And Robert Graves. You can read Greek Myths until you go cross-eyed and never understand humanity. The turn in our mythologizing that unnerves me now is an acceptance of a new individualism. I’m all for intellectual individualism; but that independence does not translate (for me) into personal gain at the expense of the rest of the world and the devil take the hindmost. This new mythology of human “agency” is the biggest myth of all. And a dangerous one because when they slip through the TTP, next time Congress recesses, with its untouchable tribunal the joke is on us – we are going to be paying corporations for their lost profits because of our uppity personal or national behavior. But then too, I am almost totally paranoid.

  13. Furzy Mouse

    The first 3 GOT books I consider outstanding literature, outdistancing LOTR by miles…and part of its genius is that each chapter takes you into the mind-set and resulting acts of one of the main characters…we live the tale thru their eyes and reactions, and due to GRRM’s fecund imagination and verbal dexterity, we are hooked…as with all great literature…Lambert and I discussed this a bit, and he mentioned that Finnegans Wake is constructed in a similar mode…other than Finnegans, tho, I know of no other literature that has been composed this way…we “become” each of the protagonists as the story unfolds…the tale is utterly about “character development”…not medieval thrashings-about-with-dragons!!

    1. craazyman

      William Faulkner’s “Sound and Fury” is another famous example. Not surprising that it was an anthem of “Modernism” like Finnegan’s Wake. Also collections of short stories that compose up to a novel-like structure, like Sherwood Andersen’s Winesberg Ohio also, which was written around the same time. I suspect the modernists used this device quite frequently, probably much of it is unknown today except the classics. Drama may not count in the genre, but certainly it’s a decomposition of individual points of view and motivations.

    2. Jagger

      I made the mistake of reading Sholokhov’s Quiet Flows the Don for the third time just prior to reading Martin’s 5 books of Game of Thrones. Sholokhov is one of the most beautiful writers I have ever read even though the subject is incredibly dark. And I am reading an english translation of the Russian. So after reading the outstanding literature of Sholokhov, I was fairly unimpressed by Martin. Yet his characters and the plot lines I found very interesting despite what I felt was dull, repetitive descriptive writing-(why so many menu descriptions???).

      Regardless, I found the first three books definitely addictive. But by the fifth book, I really wondered why I was reading the series even though I felt his writing had improved substantionally. In particular, I was disturbed by the increasing casual brutality, torture, etc, etc without the story seeming to go anywhere. The brutality was there from the beginning but in relatively minor doses and balanced out with some “enlightment” by particularly characters. However by book 5, the brutalitytreachery/etc simply dominated. And sure over 500-600 years of medieval history, you can find plenty of brutality and trachery but it was spaced out over 500-600 years and not totally focused into a concentrated 4 or 5 year period as we have in GOT. Sure we can say it reflected aspects of reality but I doubt at this condensed level.

      First three books pretty good but from my perspective now, I am wondering why was I subjecting myself to the bleak never ending brutality and treachery of the last two books? It was almost masochistic and I am not a masochist. And I do wonder what sort of subtle impact it has on the way I enjoy and live life.

  14. allcoppedout

    Labrador not gay, though shows unnatural interest in the coat I walk him in. His best mates are the cat.and various woodland creatures. His devotion to them come some way after his food bowl. I haven’t read much since ‘The Wind in the Willows’ as I was disappointed the ferrets and weasels didn’t win the day. A sequel to Animal Farm is overdue as Snowball escaped through a hole in the hedge. Literature essentially rots the brain in its chronic simplicity, so I seek out Joyce’s fuggy muggy behind the pub door – which rots the brain. They get you all ways.

  15. Jimj

    Mr. Richeter should have given some credit to the Kenyans, as the concept first started there some years ago. It was reported by a CBC reporter at the time; prior to that, I no one in the west had heard of it.

  16. skippy

    GOT is three minds fighting over the TV Trope trigger in an orgasmic attempt to seek profit and fame, George R. R. Martin writes the book [ ], and adapted for television by David Benioff and Dan Weiss.

    So who is David Benioff – Benioff was born David Friedman in New York City. He is the son of Barbara (Benioff) and Stephen Friedman, who is the former head of Goldman Sachs.[1] He changed his name in his late thirties to David Benioff, his mother’s maiden name. He is the youngest of three children. His family is of German Jewish, Russian Jewish and Lebanese descent.[citation needed]

    D. B. Weiss – He is an alumnus of The Collegiate School and a Dartmouth College alumnus and a member of Phi Delta Alpha Fraternity. At age 22, he worked as a club bouncer and then became a high school English teacher at Poly Prep in Brooklyn, New York City. Additionally, he attended the University of California Irvine and Trinity College Dublin, and received a Master of Fine Arts degree in the creative writing program. – snip

    Born in 1971[1] and raised in Chicago, a graduate of Wesleyan University, he earned a Master of Philosophy in Irish Literature from Trinity College, Dublin and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.[2]


    D. B. Weiss was hired to rewrite the screenplay for a film adaptation of Bungie’s game series Halo, based on the script written by Alex Garland. The rewrite was completed in 2006.[4][5] Blomkamp declared the project dead in late 2007,[6]

    In 2003 Weiss and David Benioff, who had been friends since college,[7] were hired to collaborate on a new script of Orson Scott Card’s book Ender’s Game in consulation with the then-designated director Wolfgang Petersen.[8] It was not used.[9]

    Weiss also worked on a script for a prequel to I Am Legend,[10] but that project died also. In May 2011, Francis Lawrence stated that the prequel was never going to happen.[11]

    Weiss currently works with David Benioff, the writer of Troy, on the Game of Thrones television series based on George R. R. Martin’s books.[12] – snip

    Skip… Personally I think the background is much more interesting than GOT itself, a story with out the heavy hand of concocted narratives, skewing more too reality than fiction. Anyone that has spent time within the bowels of the entertainment industry grok “The Producer” aspect and for some mental play time sprinkle it with “Get Shorty” action.

    Skippy…. as soon as ratings slump or another show eats to much viewership… its time to bring out the “Gecko”. They probably have a evolving Frankenstein Gecko paralleling the season[s, ready to be brought to life when needed.

    PS.. GOT the nut of nuts of tropes covered in a candy coating of the “Gawds are Fickle”

    PSS.. Is Martin and mob channeling Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises and those he influenced[?], memes do echo hard.

  17. ambrit

    I’m a bit of an anachronism here in that I usually want some sort of catharsis to transform the readers or audience. Not having cable, (or the excessive bills accompanying same,) I can’t opine on the merits or demerits of the program. I can, however, deduce a lot from the comments and attitudes invoked to validate the comments.
    The first quibble, in my self appointed role of curmudgeon, is with the constantly referred to sexualization of the program. I have read some of Martins’ early work, and didn’t find him to be a nascent pornographer. If the sexual content, and context within which it occurs, isn’t intimately involved with advancing the plot, then it fails the smell test. (If it smells like fish, it’s probably pheromones.) Titillation serves one overriding purpose; the stimulation of the salaciary glands. Advertisers know that Sex sells. A good story simply gives. The really d—ing example here is horror or terror stories. Greater effects can be wrought by inference. When the audience has to engage their imagination and intellect to travel along with the story teller, the final effect is exponentially greater. My favourite example is Fritz Langs’ “M” with Peter Lorrie as the murderer. The scene where Lorrie lures the little girl away with the balloon, around a corner and out of sight, and we then see the balloon rising up above the wall that the two just moved behind brings out true horror. Who wouldn’t feel sick realizing that evil is real. You don’t see a thing. All is invoked within your mind by an association of images. It all becomes mythic.

    1. skippy

      You missed the Spartacus series on Tee Bee… gladiators kill in the arena for glory [theirs and their masters {masters social power booster (manifestation of Rome)}]… next wine, food and sex if successful… replete until wrong gladiator is crossed… Pillage ensues…

  18. datruth

    Everything, in every single art form has been done, and done to death. Art is now about jamming two or more styles together and seeing if it gels, but there is nothing original to explore. Game of Thrones is not a breakthrough in literature or storytelling. That is just a stupid notion.

    1. Glenn Condell

      ‘Game of Thrones is not a breakthrough in literature or storytelling. That is just a stupid notion.’

      Agreed. But its preference for up-ending conventional plot devices and character arcs has rarely colonised the global mainstream before. Its not revolutionary, just refreshing.

  19. allcoppedout

    Finally watched an episode. I should have followed Susan’s advice and been too lazy. I did notice some specialised sociology in the thing – actor-network theory, described from Wiki below.
    Actor–network theory tries to explain how material–semiotic networks come together to act as a whole; the clusters of actors involved in creating meaning are both material and semiotic. As a part of this it may look at explicit strategies for relating different elements together into a network so that they form an apparently coherent whole. These networks are potentially transient, existing in a constant making and re-making. This means that relations need to be repeatedly “performed” or the network will dissolve. They also assume that networks of relations are not intrinsically coherent, and may indeed contain conflicts. Social relations, in other words, are only ever in process, and must be performed continuously.

    Actants denote human and non-human actors, and in a network take the shape that they do by virtue of their relations with one another. It assumes that nothing lies outside the network of relations, and as noted above, suggests that there is no difference in the ability of technology, humans, animals, or other non-humans to act (and that there are only enacted alliances.) As soon as an actor engages with an actor-network it too is caught up in the web of relations, and becomes part of the entelechy.

    On this basis I believe a pack of back-stabbing squirrels will emerge and win in the last episode. Has anyone else noticed their is no agency in the virtual?

      1. allcoppedout

        Lovely RT. They don’t do enough with them puppies (no not tits) though!

        Not sure on ‘Line of Duty’, bit at least you couldn’t tell who’d done what in episode one. Or really by the end either. Subtlety in literature always looks pretty crude to me. Like is says ‘come on were not pathetic teenagers now’ with references to the libidinal. I found Lyotard much funnier. But then, I’ll watch some dire stuff on Soviet bureaucracy just for the punch line at the end that dedicates the film to ‘The Heroes of the French Post Office’,

  20. Roland

    Martin started writing a Game of Thrones during the “silly season” of the mid-1990’s, when his country was still slumbering in the happyland fantasy that globalist neoliberalism might not be so bad after all. “Everyone is fat and drunk and rich,” while like King Robert, everyone is racking up massive debts to fund pointless consumption.

    Martin has an artist’s instinct or sixth sense. He felt that Winter is Coming, so he started writing a fantasy epic about a corrupt summertime world sliding down into chaos.

    I would claim that Game of Thrones is topical, at least in a broad sense.

    But it is nonsense to claim that GOT is unusual for allowing characters agency. To contrast with LOR is poor criticism, too.

    I never cease to be surprised by how few people seem to have actually read the chapter in which the Ring is finally destroyed.

    How’s this for some agency–for a character precipitating some chaos? Read Tolkien:

    “Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use, and it rose clear above the throb and turmoil of Mount Doom, ringing in the roof and walls.

    “‘I have come,’ he said. ‘But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!'”

    1. The Dork of Cork

      For me the LOTR began and ended at the Fellowship of the Ring , the other two volumes were a major disappointment in my view
      More then anything the Fellowship captured the magic of a walk / backpack into the wild woods.

      Afterwards Frodo becomes captured by that deadly mountainer disease – peak fever.

      We not know the climb of the west was a fautasian bargain – a pointless ascent.

      As for Game of Thrones – I have never read it but I imagine its divorced from the babbling brook & beech tress reluctant to shed their leaves.
      As with all youth of today it is self obsessed and materialistic to the point of absurdity.

  21. participant-observer-observed

    GOT youtube clips and previews look like violence feeding frenzy with mostly male cast(e) dominance, so good thing I am a graduate student with no cable…..

    Look to UK for gender-parity in casting and writing subtle, complex characters, which you can see directly on the net in LINE OF DUTY.

    RUN mini-series was good too.

  22. craazyman

    A thought just came crashing across my mind like wave knowing from outside of space and time, right threw the window and the curtain from the outside air, flooding my apartment wall to wall with an amazing lucidity. All I had to do was lay here and watch it. It’s so easy, actually. That’s how I like it.

    Maybe somebody already thought of this 100 times. They probably did,

    Westeros = West + Eros = Western Eros = Western romantic sexuality.

    So that’s why people get chopped up and brought back from the dead. Because that’s how eros and sexuality work in our time. you know how it is. People cycle through romantic liasons with varying degrees of affection, truths, deceits and emotional brutality. people get metaphorically killed and then spring back to life. Etc.

    I’m sure somebody already thought of this. It’s not about politics. All the treachery violence death nudity cunning etc. takes its metaphorical energy from something far more mundane and real and personal, amplified and condensed into energetic metaphors layed (no pun intended) across a narrative compositional structure, which is what literary art is. This is basic stuff.

    1. craazyman

      faaak that map of Westeros on Wikipedia looks just like England and the rest of the map looks like Europe flipped upside down and turned sideways.

      that little island at the bottom. Is that someplace in Scotland or did Ireland shrink?

      Looks like Italy got lopped off. Maybe this is a not-so-subtle form of castration. The Castration of Love, There are no angels by Raphael in ths world, no Botttecellis and not even a Titian. No Beatrice illuming the Paradiso No, the rest of the known world has been made safe for succubi. What a dark vision. Poor Italy, they will miss you when they wake up from their delusions and come crying for their momma. haha ahhaaahahahaha ahha

      1. craazyman

        wow. sorry to drone on but I have a cold virus and i’m home today. maybe this is a metaphor for Eurozone political economy too — in addition to Western Eros. This is what I thought all the time. It’s Raphael vs. Durer, it’s The Trinity and the Eterenal Mother against Durer’s Portrait of Oswald Krell, 4 Horsemand of the apocalypse and woodcuts of melancholy. Somehow I always thought Raphael would win. Too bad I didn’t believe myself and let the ‘smart money’ fool me into selling last year. What a tragedy. Just goes to show you, if you read macroeconomics on the internet you’re just wasting your time. I should have watched Game of Thrones.

  23. allcoppedout

    Feck me sideways, as we might say Craazy. You mean none of it might be real! That all of it might be like a donkey in a medieval religious painting meaning either respect knowledge or feck you? This means the last episode will be some dire thing with Julie Andrews leading singing nuns in libidinal suppression of Nogbad the Bad’s world domination routines. Unless they consult me.

    With my one episode expertise, I Have it as set before and after 1415 (Agincourt – laughingly fictional as neither England nor France existed at the time) in the Hundred Years War of free-lancers and protection rackets. The main characters in that lot didn’t die much either, being ransomed back to life. Only riff-raff got properly killed.

    I propose killing all teenagers would bring a great improvement to television. Most of it seems to be made for them. Take them out of the ratings and we might produce adults who don’t think Jane Austen complex. Good grief! What children come to learn at school. If you stay in English classes long enough to know who she is, it’s too late for complexity in your life. Breasts heave in such a complex manner for Mr Darcy.

    1. craazyman

      I gotta admit it: that’s a brilliant piece of literary criticism and it just came flying in through the window. i didn’t do anything! I just looked up and there it was! That’s how I do all my research, including macroeconomic research. It works better than crunching numbers and confusing yourself with IS, LM, loanable funds, interest rate arbitrage, dynamic stochastic equilibrium analysis and all that hokum, that’s for sure. you can’t make money with that stuff unless somebody is paying you to manufacture it into a pile of nonsense, but there are folks who make a lot of money doing that. Guys like me, we have to get lucky if we want the big payday. Getting lucky is not easy.

  24. OMF

    Danger! Danger, Yves Smith! Economics blog becoming derailed by TV pop culture meta-references! Danger!

    1. ambrit

      Oh fun! I vaguely remember Bill and Ben, the Flower Pot Men. “Wheeeeeee!” Granddad sent us over some Clangers stuff one Christmass. I made a felt clanger for my little sister. She loved it. What do kids today get? Phone apps and highly structured “educational” programs. Since Henson died, even Sesame Street has gone dull.

  25. ChrisM

    I wonder at the lack of distinction of Martin’s book vs. the mediocre HBO TV series. What does this say about the entire discussion?

    Clearly, Martin has completely lost control and cannot regain it in a reasonable time for this series. Thus, any critical reader has long abandoned the series.

    Sad to say, South Park had it right, and the author is cast adrift.

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