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Games of Thrones: Embiggening Men in “Blackwater”

[ 136 ] May 29, 2012 |

The latest Mad Men (“The Other Woman”) presented me with more to think about than I can currently wrap my head around, but so too did the latest Games of Thrones (“Blackwater”), albeit it for very different reasons. So instead of delving into “The Other Woman” or drowning in the sudden narratological shift in “Blackwater,” I’ll focus on a fine point about shot construction in Game of Thrones. Before I do, however, I should note that I’m by no means endorsing the more problematic elements of the show—the racial politics foremost among them—because those strike me as endemic to sword-and-sorcery as a genre, so anything I write about them will inevitably be general and uninteresting to a fault.

If you want a re-cap of the episode itself, I recommend Alyssa’s, but for my purpose all you need to know is that 1) the great Peter Dinklage plays Tyrion Lannister and 2) he commands an army that’s on the brink of being besieged. Tyrion, in the lingo of the show, is a “halfman,” and Dinklage’s height presents difficulties for directors—if they shoot a close-up or medium close-up of him in conversation, his wit and intelligence will be diminished by the fact that his head’s surrounded by a sea of crotches. The typical solutions to this problem are two-fold: have everyone he converses with sit down while doing so (as Thomas McCarthy did extensively in The Station Agent) or shoot him in extremely shallow focus so he’s surrounded by a sea of fuzzy crotches. In “Blackwater,” director Neil Marshall eschews both techniques, employing instead an exceedingly stylized compositional mode that would look ostentatious in almost any other context. To wit:

Game of thrones blackwater2012-05-29-11h57m31s82

The low angle of framing appears natural because Dinklage is the central compositional element in the shot, and because his height has been elevated by the fact that he’s on the stairs. Moreover, the position of his head relative to the top of the frame is a conventional position for heads to occupy on film. That is to say, although he’s no taller here than he ever is, Marshall frames him in a manner that diminishes the significance of his height—visually, Tyrion functions as a “man” in this shot, a fact that’s emphasized by having him look down on Sandor Clegane, a “man” who earlier boasted not only of his love of killing but his size relative to that of another soldier. The subsequent point-of-view shot cements the impression:

Game of thrones blackwater2012-05-29-11h57m33s110

Afraid of the fire that Tyrion unleashed against the attacking force, Clegane returns to inform his king and his commander that he’ll no longer be taking part in the battle. Marshall emphasizes his loss of social capital by shooting him from this high angle. Tyrion may be a “halfman,” but in the eyes of all watching, Clegane is perceived as half the “man” he was. When the camera reverses, another clever element of Marshall’s blocking and framing becomes evident:

Game of thrones blackwater2012-05-29-11h57m34s122

By situating Tyrion half-way down the staircase, he avoids the infantalizing effect of the sea-of-crotches shot. Tyrion doesn’t look like a child about to wrap his arms around his mother’s leg—he looks like a man who’s half-way down a staircase berating an underling. Note again the position of his head relative to the upper reaches of the frame, as Marshall appears to be doing all in his power to prevent the camera from robbing Tyrion of his.

As the scene continues, Marshall’s intent becomes ever more apparent and ever more effective. For example, Clegane and Joffrey Lannister are both afforded medium shots with natural head-placement:

Game of thrones blackwater2012-05-29-11h58m04s157
Game of thrones blackwater2012-05-29-11h58m04s157

The difference in the angles of framing is merely indicative of their respective social standing—although Joffrey will receive a similar treatment when he abandons his defense of the wall at the behest of his mother—but more significant for my purpose is that these are conventional medium shots. However, when Marshall reverses to Tyrion:

Game of thrones blackwater2012-05-29-11h57m50s17

He switches to a close-up that can’t even contain the entirety of his head in frame. Tyrion is bigger than the shot, so to speak, such that at this moment the audience’s knowledge of his height is only theoretical. That is to say, we know that he’s a “halfman,” but his presence on screen is militating against that knowledge. Directors use these techniques to manipulate their audience on a non-intellectual level—think of the rousing effect a bit of non-diegetic music can have on an otherwise mundane scene—which means that the cumulative effect of Marshall’s shot selection here is emotional. Tyrion is enlarged by the manner in which Marshall shot Dinklage. Don’t believe me? Look at him two minutes later:

Game of thrones blackwater2012-05-29-11h58m32s185

His head’s now effectively even with those of the soldiers behind him. How did that happen? I’m not entirely sure, but that’s not the point: as Tyrion prepares to lead his troops to battle to the cry of “Halfman,” Marshall manages to render the epithet inaccurate.

Comments (136)

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  1. wengler says:

    The best part of this episode was Cersei Lannister and her son on the Iron Throne waiting to take the poison. The shots of simply a large closed door and the seeming impending doom about to come through it were very well done.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      I thought the best part was the relationship between Cersei and Sansa, where the drunken Circei actually seems to relate a bit, in her own cruel, egocentric way, to someone who had previously only ever been thing to use for her own ends.

      “I was sold to a stranger, like a horse for him to ride whenever he felt like it.”

      “But you were Robert’s queen!”

      “And you will be Joffrey’s. Enjoy!”

      or

      “Do you know what happens when a city is sacked?”

      She actually thinks of herself and Sansa as an “us” for a brief time, in extremis, when she’s hammered. Not affection or equality, certainly, but the same type of attitude that a master might have to a familiar slave.

      And that was one of the most convincing portrayals of a drunk character I’ve ever seen. Not over the top, but a little too boisterous, a little inappropriate, a little uncoordinated.

      • SEK says:

        I only wish Cersei had taken the poison. That would’ve made the scene hum for me. But, alas! (I do love how the show’s creating an emotional Catch-22 vis-a-vis the Lannisters: I want Cersei to fail as much as I want Tyrion to succeed, but if the latter happens, the former can’t.)

        As for Cersei’s drunken empathy, it struck me more as projected self-pity. She doesn’t care whether Sansa’s raped by Stannis’ men, but she’s capable of imagining her reactions to her being raped by them, and she’s using that image to torture Sansa. It didn’t strike me as a moment of drunken humanity, in other words, because Cersei took far too much sadistic pleasure in frightening Sansa — as well as everyone else who was listening. Marshall cleverly kept increasing the scale of the shot as Cersei got drunk so we could see that more and more of the women were listening to her “performance,” and she clearly relished the increased attention. (I could work up something on the pans in those scenes, as they were impressive, especially when you consider how confined the space Marshall had to work in was.)

        • Sherm says:

          “(I do love how the show’s creating an emotional Catch-22 vis-a-vis the Lannisters: I want Cersei to fail as much as I want Tyrion to succeed, but if the latter happens, the former can’t.)”

          That’s exactly how I feel, and the creation of that conflict has been one of the better aspects of the show this year. They are real lucky to have found an actor as excellent as Peter Dinklage to play that role.

          • John says:

            I think thatgetting Peter Dinklage as Tyrion was basically viewed as a prerequisite to getting the show greenlit

            • Dinklage was one of two actors they didn’t have a plan B for – it was him and Bean or they didn’t do it.

              • elm says:

                They could have gotten Tony Cox for the role and maybe used that as an opportunity to address some of the racial politics questions as well!

                • Left_Wing_Fox says:

                  Unfortunately, that doesn’t really work.

                  Possible spoilers

                  Part of Tyrion’s character is the fact that he is the legitimate Lannister heir, and in every way save one, he is the ideal successor to House Lannister. Changing his race would either require making him simply another bastard with no legitimate claim, OR require changing the race of the entire House Lannister. That would continue to fit right into problematic racial divide between “good” and “evil”. It also might cause some serious issues with the detective work over Joffrey’s parentage.

              • Artor says:

                Exactly. Dinklage & Bean have more charisma & screen presence than anyone else in the cast.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          As for Cersei’s drunken empathy, it struck me more as projected self-pity.

          It’s what a sociopath like Cersei has, in place of what someone with a conscience might feel.

          She doesn’t care whether Sansa’s raped by Stannis’ men

          Disagree. She does care – not for the reasons a normal, decent person might care, but because she objects to the idea of a bunch of lowborn rebels raping “someone like me.” It isn’t just the ordinary fear a woman would have of being raped that’s motivating her, but also what it would mean in terms of class and position.

          I think Cersei’s character is supposed to be deeper than, say, Gregor Clegane’s. Yes, she’s a sadist and was enjoying hurting Sansa, but that wasn’t all that was going on.

          • Murc says:

            Cersei isn’t a sociopath. She’s just an incredible narcissist.

            Honestly, I really wish people would stop using “sociopath” as shorthand for “horrible person.”

            • SEK says:

              Given her treatment of those who oppose her, I think we can safely say that Cersei’s a sociopath, at least according to the WHO. That doesn’t exclude her from also being a narcissist, but that depends on where you think her empathy for Sansa originates.

              • Murc says:

                … huh. I’d been operating under the apparent misapprehension that in order to be a sociopath, you had to not only not have a recognizable moral code, you had to actually be incapable of understanding how other people function under one.

                Also, that list of traits seems… very broad. Hell, I meet like three-fourths of them, as do many people I know. They remind me of those ‘Signs your Teen may be the next Columbine Shooter’ me and my friends would find occasionally when we were in high school, that we’d then sit around laughing at and seeing who met the most criteria on.

            • In terms of what’s going on with Cersei, I think a lot of what’s going on with Cersei is a combination of extreme arrogance drummed into her by her father, extreme levels of projected self-hatred based on her frustrations over her gender, and absolute paranoia driven by knowledge of her destiny.

              Keep in mind, what she was planning for herself and Sansa was to kill herself and Sansa to deny Stannis the privilege of capturing them. Rape she’s incredibly blase about because of how she dealt with her abuse during her marriage (in the books, for example, she looks down on Lollys for falling to pieces just because she got gangraped).

              So I’d say she’s not quite the same as say, Clegane, who was a sociopath from early childhood (in addition to maiming his brother, Clegane is suspected of having killed the rest of his immediate family).

              • Dirk Gently says:

                Some of the sadism she directs at Sansa, I think, is the relish of being able to project onto her of her own disappointment as a young queen. Think back to Season One, where she talks of marrying Robert as “the happiest day of [her] life”, asking him whether they ever had a chance, and bitterly remembering how he called her by the wrong name.

                She’s torturing Sansa because she’s still wounded herself.

      • SamR says:

        Someone on the AV club joked about wanting to follow Drunk Cersei on twitter. Gave a couple examples, the only one I recall was: “Stark girl being boring again #gingershavenosouls.”

      • cotterill says:

        I always thought Cersei saw Sansa as a younger version of herself – a girl who was trained to perform a very specific role, whose training was nowhere near the level it needed to be to prepare her for the realities of the position she would find herself in. The bitterness she exhibits towards Sansa I interpreted as anger at the stupidity and naivety of her younger self.

        • SEK says:

          I think that’s a generous interpretation of her personality. I don’t think she sees a younger version of herself so much as she’s trying to turn Sansa into a version of her current one. If she’s to be an embittered queen, damn it, Sansa will be too. (Granted, there’s evidence that Robert was, for all his flaws, not nearly the soulless beast Joffery looks to be becoming, so it’s likely Sansa will have it worse than Cersei, but that probably just makes her feel like a proud mother.)

          • Sort of. I think she looks down on Sansa because she sees herself as better than all other women and because Sansa is the image of the highborn lady role she chafes at, whereas Cersei sees herself as a survivor who’s gained real political power after a lifetime of struggle and abuse.

            To use Cersei’s terminology, from her perspective, Sansa only knows how to use words and tears to defend herself; Cersei is smart enough to use her mind and her sexuality to get what she wants.

            • cotterill says:

              Oh yeah, she clearly sees herself as more intelligent and pragmatic than Sansa (for good reason, frankly) but she seems to have moments of genuine pity for her and obviously sees herself as Sansa’s mentor, even though those feelings are entirely self-serving and narcissistic.

              She’s mentioned her disappointment with her own upbringing and her personal dreams with regards to her marriage to Robert, so it’s not a stretch to me to think she saw her own foolish hopes and desires echoed in early-season-1 Sansa and her painful awakening to reality in current Sansa.

              • JazzBumpa says:

                Sansa isn’t stupid, but she is exactly what she has been brought up to be, and – at this point – still naive. She’s getting over that quickly, though. She might be the character with the greatest growth and transformation across the entire story arc. Though, in the end, she might be 2nd to Dany.

                I think the series portrays Cersei more sympathetically than the books, where she has no apparent redeeming characteristic. It’s the opposite for Jaime. I developed some grudging respect and even more grudging affection for him as the story progressed. In the series, he seems like a totally evil narcissist.

                JzB

      • Cersei is appropriately a belligerent drunk, and I could swear she was almost hitting on Sansa. A little piece of cake indeed…

  2. rea says:

    I haven’t been watching the show, and never made it through the books, for various reasons, but I have a hard time understandinng how the racial politics of the show could be problematic, given (1) the books are set in an imaginary world, differing from ours in many respects, including races, and (2) nothing about the books suggest that their racial relationships were meant as some kind of metaphor for what goes on in our world.

    • SEK says:

      I studied literature, so I’m not above the assumption that what happens in imaginary worlds reflects/registers/represents what happens in ours. Yoknapatawpha may be an imaginary county, but you’re not going to find many scholars who think Faulkner’s racial politics don’t play a factor in how he constructs the social relations of its inhabitants.

      As for whether they were meant as a metaphor, I’m not going to argue they were — but like most sword-and-sorcery epics, the major players are predominantly white, the savages are predominantly dark-skinned, and when the savages need saving, it’s up to the white people to lift that burden. Like I said, it’s endemic to the genre, not particular to Martin.

      • SEK says:

        (If you want to see this debate hashed out in another genre of film — with the Great Berube, no less! — there’s a long thread about it here.)

        • rea says:

          But Falkner’s world, or the world of King Knog, is supposed to be ours. Martin’s world is supposed to be not ours.

          I our world, there is no race that is inherently good or inherently evil. Hell, the whole concept of race, in our world, is a social construct. But in Tolkien’s world? Or Martin’s?

          • SEK says:

            Tolkien’s world was, in part, his response to the horrors of modern warfare. That he ruminated on them in a fictional world doesn’t mean that world is unrelated to ours. It’s differently related, certainly, but fictional constructs are created by people whose structures of feeling originate in our world, and because our world’s delimited by its social constructions, the fictional ones will, in a variety of ways, manifest features of ours.

            I’m not sure how to how to sum a literary-critical argument in a blog comment anymore, so if that sounds like nonsense, it’s my fault. The short version is that fiction is of our world, even if it takes place in one of its authors devising.

      • sam says:

        I’m not saying A Song of Ice and Fire is beyond reproach when it comes to issues of race, but your statement is demonstrably false. The darkest-skinned people, the Summer Islanders, come from arguably the most “civilized” country in the known world of Westeros. Dany Targaryen’s attempt at “saving” dark-skinned people is repeatedly, roundly, and emphatically shown to be misguided, self-serving, and destructive.

        Again, I’m not saying these books shouldn’t be criticized on issues of race, but you are not doing this. You are just making incorrect statements.

        • SEK says:

          I should admit that I’m about as far as the novels as the show is, so I should’ve said that to date — and with the exception of Xaro — it’s fallen into the conventional traps of its genre. If it upends or subverts them later, all the better. I was mostly just trying to avoid having the same conversation about Game of Thrones that I end up having about the depiction of the Uruk-hai in Lord of the Rings.

          • sam says:

            Understood, though I’m mystified that anyone could interpret any part of these stories as arguing that attempting to “save savages” is worthwhile. I may be missing something, but you mean Dany Targaryen, right? She’s not saving anybody, and she’s a fool if she thinks she is, and this is obvious, at least to me.

            The correct way to look at this, I think, is your larger implied point, especially when it comes to the TV show: why do the vast majority of these people have to be white? There’s no real reason not to cast the different regions of Westeros, which is supposed to be huge, with people who all look different from each other. Yet I doubt it occurred to Weiss, Benioff, or anyone else, because, as you say, they’re still kind of trapped by genre conventions.

            • Murc says:

              There’s no real reason not to cast the different regions of Westeros, which is supposed to be huge, with people who all look different from each other.

              … except for the fact that that’s not how the people of Westeros actually look?

              You have three ethnic groups in Westeros; Andals, First Men, and Rhoynar. Andals and First Men were physiologically similar to each other to begin with (pale skin, but a variety of hair and eye colors, no epicanthic folds, etc.) and have intermarried with each other to the point that the distinctions, even in the North where there are still remarkably pure First Men bloodlines, have blurred together.

              Rhoynar blood (olive skin, dark eyes) is only present in any quantity in Dorne. Hey, guess what, have we seen any Dornishmen yet? Why, no we have not! And in fact…

              I doubt it occurred to Weiss, Benioff, or anyone else

              You are categorically wrong about this. When Dornishmen actually show up next season, especially Oberyn Martell, they have assured the numerous fans who have queried them on this point that they will, in fact, not be played by a bunch of white dudes.

              • sam says:

                Maybe the North Andals could be lighter skinned, and the South Andals could be darker skinned, too. Like I said, it’s a big place, and the overall impression (on the TV show, so far) is that it’s overwhelmingly white. That’s a decision, and a different one could have been made. I don’t think it would completely destroy the verisimilitude if the Tyrells looked different from the Starks.

                But good for Weiss and Benioff about the Dornish. And your basic implied point, that Martin is not creating a typical lily-white fantasy story, is well taken. I just think things should be pushed a bit further, because I’m a commie liberal and like me some diversity.

                • Murc says:

                  Like I said, it’s a big place, and the overall impression (on the TV show, so far) is that it’s overwhelmingly white.

                  … yes! Yes, it is. Westeros is the continent in GoT where the population is overwhelmingly white!

                  The non-white people live on Essos and Southoros. Both of those continents are much, much, MUCH bigger than Westeros and they have a lot more ethnic diversity.

                • Charlie Sweatpants says:

                  “The non-white people live on Essos and Southoros. Both of those continents are much, much, MUCH bigger than Westeros and they have a lot more ethnic diversity.”

                  I can’t comment on fictional geography with which I am only dimly acquainted, but this would seem to reinforce the point that the story deliberately emphasizes the “white” parts of the world. It’s nice that he’s got darker skinned people having their own distinct and impressive civilizations, but we don’t see much of them, do we?

                  Honestly, though, this whole discussion is a bit silly, isn’t it? From what little I’ve read about him, Martin is a big medieval geek. He wants to tell a story about knights and castles, and good on him for making it more than just that by including the context of all the stuff and people that happen to be in other places. But since knights and castles only really happened where the white people were, it’d probably be too diversity-cutesy to make the main part of the story less monochromatic.

                • JazzBumpa says:

                  Not to put too fine a point on it, but the real world analog to Westeros is Western Europe ca 10th-12 century. The people would necessarily be pretty much white – no?

                  SEK -
                  And in no way was Dany attempting to “save” the Dothraki. She’s thrust against her will into a leadership position there, and soundly rejected by them at the first opportunity. She does go on to try to save other peoples – foolishly, and with a similar lack of success. But not because she is white and they aren’t. It’s because they have practices that she finds reprehensible – for very good personal and ethical reasons. In fact, I don’t recall the books saying anything about skin color of residents in Astapor or Mereen.

                  You are imposing a trope on the story that does not exist. It’s clear that you haven’t read deeply into the series.

                  Also, see above comment re: Summer Islanders

                  Love your insights on framing.

                  BTW, if you want to ponder “others” in the story, they are the Stark kids, Dany, and Tyrion, not hoards of non-white savages.

                  Cheers!
                  JzB

                • SEK says:

                  It’s clear that you haven’t read deeply into the series.

                  Especially since I admitted as much. Again, I’m working with the knowledge I have of the genre and what I’ve read/watched so far, and am more than happy to proven wrong as the novels/series progresses.

                • Fats Durston says:

                  But since knights and castles only really happened where the white people were, it’d probably be too diversity-cutesy to make the main part of the story less monochromatic.

                  No, they didn’t only happen where white people were. The fengjian system in ancient China awarded (through ritual performance) armed aristocrats land in exchange for military service. Chinese literature, especially in the sixteenth century, compiled stories of heroic wandering swords-(or staffs-)men who were chivalrous (in the sense of the word that Martin undermines). There were heavy cavalry noblemen in ancient (and later) Persia and Mamluk (crusade-era) Egypt, who received parcels of land in exchange for military service. The definition might be stretched a little to include late medieval savanna kingdoms in West Africa.

                  Castles were built across agricultural Eurasia. They didn’t “only happen where white people were,” either.

                • Charlie Sweatpants says:

                  “Castles were built across agricultural Eurasia. They didn’t “only happen where white people were,” either.”

                  People fought with swords and rulers rewarded service with land all over the place, point taken. But I stand by my comment. I’m not totally ignorant of either East or Central Asian history, and once upon a time I even read “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, which has just as much chivalry, derring-do, and swords with names as anything Martin’s ever written. But “knights and castles” and calling Martin a “medieval geek” is shorthand for the specifically European culture that his story takes as its basis. To take just one example, Jesus isn’t in these things, but there is a decidedly medieval Christian tinge to the way Westeros approaches marriage, morality, sin, forgiveness, etcetera. The architecture, the geography, and the military organization are all taken from explicitly European sources as well. I mean, he has his knights call each other “ser”, what more do you need?

                  The specific European customs and culture are a big part of what makes the story compelling to Martin, and those things, by definition, pretty much only happened in Europe.

                • Fats Durston says:

                  knights and castles only really happened where the white people were

                  I took issue with this phrasing, Charlie, which is more stridently Orientalist (and racist Eurocentrism, as well) than what we’re arguing about Martin.

                  Also, how is the geography explicitly European (there are Dornish deserts; they eat hot peppers in the south)?

                • Commentator says:

                  Well, I always thought of Dorne as akin to Spain with the Rhoynar akin to the Moors.

            • SEK says:

              Understood, though I’m mystified that anyone could interpret any part of these stories as arguing that attempting to “save savages” is worthwhile.

              I’m not making that argument, just acknowledging its existence, as for example and for another. (Short version: Dances with Smurfs is a very racist film.)

      • wjts says:

        …but like most sword-and-sorcery epics, the major players are predominantly white, the savages are predominantly dark-skinned, and when the savages need saving, it’s up to the white people to lift that burden.

        You forgot the inscrutable Orientals from the Mysterious East.

        • SEK says:

          Actually, I covered them when I taught the second episode of Sherlock, the politics of which were so perniciously orientalist I half-expected Fu Manchu himself to pop in and declare victory for the forces of the Yellow Peril.

      • Murc says:

        the savages are predominantly dark-skinned

        We’ve seen three groups so far who could be characterized as ‘savages’; the Dothraki, the clansmen of the Mountains of the Moon, and the people beyond the wall.

        Two of those groups are in fact light-skinned. The people beyond the wall have REDHEADS, for gods sake.

        • SEK says:

          Point taken. I was talking mainly about the Dothraki, because they’re the ones who adopted a spectacular spectacle of very-special whiteness as their savior. (At least, some of them did, and still seem to.) Whether their faith is misguided, I don’t know yet, I haven’t read that far.

          • sam says:

            When Khal Drogo dies, most of the Dothraki take right off to form their own Khalasars. A few stick around out of personal loyalty to Dany. Then she hatches dragons, and the few who are left say, yeah, let’s follow the khaleesi with the dragons for a bit, see how that works out. So no, “the Dothraki” don’t follow her. A few individual Dothraki do.

            You’re not necessarily wrong to criticize the way the book and especially the TV show portray the Dothraki, but you have yet to make an argument that stands up to even minimal scrutiny.

            Personally, I could do with a little less tribal dancing and chanting on the TV show, but that’s a different argument that what you’ve made so far.

            • Hogan says:

              you have yet to make an argument that stands up to even minimal scrutiny.

              If you look really close, you may discover that he hasn’t even tried to. He’s just pointed out that there are such arguments, and provided helpful links so that you can experience them firsthand. Why don’t you do that and then report back to the class?

              • sam says:

                When someone writes, “I was talking mainly about the Dothraki, because they’re the ones who adopted a spectacular spectacle of very-special whiteness as their savior”, I going to go ahead and consider it a statement I can argue with, if it’s all the same to you.

                • Hogan says:

                  “(At least some of them did, and still seem to.)”

                  So yeah, let him have it. I’m just suggesting that there are harder targets out there for you to engage. But you’re right; it is all the same to me.

          • Sly says:

            The Dothraki horde under Drogo, IIRC, numbered in the tens of thousands. In the post-pyre scene at the end of the first season, they seemed to number only a few dozen at most, so it would seem that the vast majority of Dothraki abandoned Daenerys as soon as Drogo died. From there she brought those who followed her to the brink of starvation, on to Qarth where a number of them were killed.

            I haven’t read the books, but it seems to me that the Dothraki are somewhat incidental to where the story is taking Danaerys. I doubt she’ll be even recognized as a Dothraki Queen much longer.

            There seems to be more commonalities in terms of theme with Tyrion and Arya; the outsider who is able to navigate the complexities of society because people’s expectations of them are unjustifiably low. Tyrion defends against a siege while the strong (Clegane) and the powerful (Joffrey) flee, while Arya goes toe-to-toe intellectually with arguably the most powerful man in Westeros, and does so under the guise of a commoner.

            • LosGatosCA says:

              Very smart. I agree with that completely.

            • witless chum says:

              This is right on with the books.

              The thing the show did that was a little extra uncomfortable was cast the Dothraki as a multiethnic, but mostly dark-skinned horde. In the books, they’re a racially homogenous tribal people who look pretty much like Lakota with Mongolian trappings.

              This is probably a budget issue where it’d be hard to turn up a tribe worth of any non-white group of people who look the same enough to staff even the paltry horde seen in the show. (Drogo’s supposed to have tens of thousands of warriors at his command.)

          • JazzBumpa says:

            the Dothraki, because they’re the ones who adopted a spectacular spectacle of very-special whiteness as their savior.

            This is just spectacularly wrong. They only accept her at all because of Khal Drogo, and abandon her when he dies.

            And – you know – the Dothraki aren’t really that dark, for scantily dressed people who spend their days outdoors.

            JzB

          • Alex says:

            The Dothraki are modeled more on the Huns or other caucausian/asiatic barbarian steppe hordes than any dark peoples. Disorganized tribes warring with each other too much who united would pose a grave threat to Rome er, Westeros.

            • Nigel says:

              If I’m remembering correctly, Martin has said they’re a loose mash-up of Mongols and American Plains Indians, so any effort to map them onto a particular barbarian horde or migratory tribe is never going to fit.

          • Nigel says:

            I haven’t read a lot of it, but much of the criticism arises from the portrayal of the Dothraki rather than the story, or even Dany’s role. Whether she’s anyone’s saviour or not very much remains to be seen, but I think it’s worth remembering the medicine woman who basically sacrificed herself to kill Future Dothraki Hitler. Also, though white-skinned, the Targaryen’s came from the east originally. They’re not native to Westeros, though of course, some of the stories told suggest a few waves of migration.

        • Alex says:

          Fucking Gingers. We ought to kill the lot of them.

          • J R in WV says:

            Where did all this Ginger nonsense come from, anyhoo? Totally B-S with no founding docs, like the various nazi anti-Semite publications? Or what?

            Does anybody know anything about where it came from, when and why?

            • Alex says:

              Where did all this Ginger nonsense come from, anyhoo?

              South Park.

              In one episode Cartman has them all rounded up into concentration camps.

            • Left_Wing_Fox says:

              As far as I can tell, South Park made it cool.

              • Alex says:

                Or South Park made it a joke.

                Cartman is making hate speeches against Gingers, saying they are souless, until Stan and Kyle knock him unconscious and dye his hair red, whereupon he leads a Ginger separatist movement and plans to kill all non-gingers, until he finds out he’s not really a ginger, whereupon he pays lip service to the notion that everyone should get along.

      • John says:

        It is absolutely false to say that “the savages are predominantly dark-skinned.” The Dothraki are dark-skinned, but the Wildlings and the Hill Clans (and the Ironborn, who are quasi-savages) are distinctly White.

      • I think GRRM successfully complicates race in a number of ways within the genre, though. For example, the savages aren’t predominantly dark-skinned: the wildlings are really white, the Dothraki are actually a sophisticated cosmopolitan culture, and the faceless supernatural threat are WHITE walkers.

        • John says:

          I’m a bit dubious of the idea that the Dothraki are a sophisticated cosmopolitan culture. They are more sophisticated, and more cosmopolitan, than they’re depicted in the TV series, but I think they do very much fall into the “nomadic barbarian” mold. Drogo, their leader, who has to deal with the people of the Free Cities to such an extent that he has his own giant mansion in Pentos, does not seem to be able to speak any sort of Valyrian, not even enough to have a basic conversation with his new bride. Is this really a mark of a sophisticated, cosmopolitan culture, that even it’s most prominent members are completely monoglot?

          • Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

            Is this really a mark of a sophisticated, cosmopolitan culture, that even it’s most prominent members are completely monoglot?

            Er, yes? What, you think Julius Caesar spoke fluent Gaulish? How many US presidents can converse in a language other than English?

            • William Burns says:

              Like every educated Roman, Julius Caesar was fluent in Greek as well as Latin.

            • John says:

              All of the early US Presidents would have been able to speak French. As English replaced French as the lingua franca of the world, this became less necessary.

              Dothraki is not the lingua franca of Essos, and the relationship between the Dothraki and the Free Cities is not comparable in any way to the relationship between Rome and Gaul (nor is his position comparable to that of a modern US president).

              The Free Cities are much more advanced and civilized than the Dothraki, and it seems like some degraded form of Valyrian is the lingua franca of the continent. And Drogo not only isn’t fluent in it, he doesn’t speak a word of it (“No” is a word he knows in the common tongue of Westeros, not Valyrian). Irri and Jhiqui appear to be the only Dothraki in the story who have any command of it. A genuinely cosmopolitan society would have many people, certainly including its leaders, who are able to at least make themselves understood in the continental lingua franca.

              And, of course, the fact that Dany and Drogo are unable to communicate with one another in a normal way is deeply orientalizing.

              • aimai says:

                The dothraki don’t have any kind of civilization at all–since civilization requires cities. The books stress that all their art is stolen from other communities and thrown, helter skelter, as a form of mere loot, unappreciated for its artistic or craft component, into what is essentially a permanent campsite. They are not “cosmopolitan” in any sense.

                Aimai

                • aimai says:

                  Hm, I’m just checking as the bold doesn’t seem to have come off my comment and I can’t figure out how to get in to make sure it is turned off.

                • Erm, no. Their statuary is reappopriated from other cultures as part of their own cultural theory.

          • See here.

            Put briefly:
            - the Dothraki adopt cultural traits from a number of different cities, while maintaining their own culture outside of the cities.
            - the Dothraki are a well-integrated part of the Essos economy.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Let’s not forget the Hill Tribes.

    • dangermouse@manger.hermionegranger says:

      whether they were meant as a representation of race in our world, and whether they actually are a representation of (the author’s views about) race in our world, are two entirely different questions.

  3. Murc says:

    Am I allowed to be a little bit annoyed at how the TV series is soft-pedaling Tyrion, Sandor Clegane, and to a lesser extent Brienne of Tarth?

    Tyrion, in the books, is supposed to be actually grotesque and severely deformed. Peter Dinklage is a very good-looking man whose case of dwarfism is quite mild compared to book-Tyrions, and they try and emphasize that as much as possible by using the tricks SEK lists and more; they shoot him from the waist up, they make other people sit down in his presence, etc. They don’t do this ALL the time (I am reminded of the scene in S1 where he has to bargain for his life with the clansmen, where the camera work goes out of its way to portray him as the clansmen would see him) but they do it a lot.

    And that’s not really Tyrion, to me. Tyrion is supposed to be this twisted little freak (if you’ll pardon the term) who DOES speak to everyones crotches (more likely their thighs) but managed to get taken seriously on sheer force of personality, cunning, violence, and trickery. I sort of feel like they should be front-and-centering that, instead of trying to make us forget who and what he is half the time.

    And as for Sandor and Brienne, they really prettied them up. Sandor is supposed to be both more extensively and more severely burned than he’s portrayed in the show, not to mention that they keep shooting him with his unburned side towards the camera. (I had similar problems with what they did with Zuko in the live-action Avatar movie.) Brienne is supposed to be, in the words of Martin, “the homeliest woman in the seven kingdoms” rather than someone who would in fact be very pretty if she washed her face and did something with her hair.

    I dunno. It just bothers me.

    • John says:

      I don’t know. I was never sure how much of the idea of Tyrion’s ugliness was due to him actually being ugly, and how much to the fact that dwarfism, as such, is coded as ugly to the people of Westeros.

      And are we really supposed to pretend to be surprised that actors are better looking than normal people? Such is the world.

      • I agree with you about Tyrion, but with Murc 900% about Brienne.

      • Yellow Dog says:

        Exactly the argument I tried, with little success, to make on the westeros.org forums last year.

        It’s also interesting that people who read the books before the series began – especially those who hate Tyrion being portrayed by the attractive Dinklage – are extremely unsympathetic to Tyrion the character, whereas Dinklage’s Tyrion is almost universally beloved. Even though up to now, show-Tyrion’s behavior is not significantly less ruthless or despicable than book-Tyrion’s behavior.

        Same thing with Brienne; GRRM portrays her as disgustingly ugly because that is how a non-feminine woman who defies society’s rules is perceived by people in a medieval society, regardless of her actual appearance. Later events prove this, as those who come to know Brienne personally no longer think of her as unbearably ugly.

        I agree with Murc about Sandor being toned down, but it’s more his personality than his looks – in the books he’s not sad; he’s consumed with anger and bitterness. He doesn’t offer to rescue Sansa; he comes damn close to raping her.

    • rea says:

      Tyrion is supposed to be this twisted little freak (if you’ll pardon the term) who DOES speak to everyones crotches (more likely their thighs) but managed to get taken seriously on sheer force of personality, cunning, violence, and trickery

      Sort of an evil Miles Vorkosigan?

      • Murc says:

        I actually wouldn’t know. I can’t stand Bujold and only got through three-quarters of the first Vorkosigan book.

        (And before people jump on me; I’ve read six or seven of her books, and they ran the gamut from ‘bad’ to ‘breathtakingly dull.’ So I’m not speaking from inexperience here.)

        • Eleanor says:

          Sort of how I’ve always felt about Martin – though I am enjoying dipping into the TV series, the actors are making the characters and situations more interesting to me than the books did.

        • Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

          I’ve read six or seven of her books, and they ran the gamut from ‘bad’ to ‘breathtakingly dull.’

          That’s some impressive optimism there. “Well, the first five of her books were terrible, but maybe, maybe this one will be OK!”

          • Murc says:

            Well, the thing is, I talk and write about popular culture, a lot, and tons of people I know have complete hard-ons for Bujold. And she’s an important author of genre fiction.

            That means that if I want to discuss her intelligently, I have to have a good grasp of her work, and if I want to say she’s total shit, I had better have exampled to back that up.

        • rea says:

          Kind of like my failure to make it through Martin–I’ve tried and tried to read him because everyone seems to think he’s wonderful, and he’s just the sort of thing you’d think I’d like, but it just doens’t work for me.

          My feelings about Martin my be warped by having met him in the 70′s, in a context unrelated to his writing, and taken an intense dislike to him, for reasons . . . I no longer remember. I feel guilty about disliking someone personally for reasons I can’t remember, so I’ve worked extra hard at trying to read his books, but no success.

          • njorl says:

            It is an ambitious series. The trick to enjoying it is to read what he should have written while you’re reading it. When someone says “X” but should have said “Y”, read “Y”.

            I haven’t seen any of the TV series yet, but I can imagine how it would improve on the books. The books seem to be a little carelessly written, and would benefit to more sets of eyes going over them. A screenwrite, a director and an actor all have a chance to think, “That just doesn’t seem quite right.”

    • The problem is that you’re in a *visual* medium, where unfortunately an actor’s looks have to be shorthand for much of their character. On paper, you can create an ugly-but-noble character, but onscreen, it’s way harder.

      They already had a gargantuan task in front of them, which is convincing ordinary Americans in their audience to take a dwarf seriously as a smart, brave, and above all, sexual man who charms the pants off women. If he was ugly, I imagine there’d be no sale. Especially on the last part. The ugly-man-pulls-all-the-hot-women thing crushes suspension of disbelief thing for the female half of the audience. Which ends up just reinforcing fantasy’s image as a medium for nerdy dudes to fantasize about being more awesome than they are, on that turns off everyone else.

      • ajay says:

        convincing ordinary Americans in their audience to take a dwarf seriously as a smart, brave, and above all, sexual man who charms the pants off women

        Wait, he does that in the TV series? That’s quite a departure from the books, in that case.

        • JazzBumpa says:

          Guys –

          They’re whores. He pays. In the books and the series, Tyrion charms nobody.

          The apparent exception is Shay, but she turns out not to be such an exception.

          JzB

          • ajay says:

            Yes, that’s what I thought. Is it that easy to miss in the TV series?

            • Murc says:

              It is if you want to miss it.

              Everyone seems to forget that all those scenes where Tyrion is bantering with Bronn and Shae? He’s bantering with the guy he pays to be his friend and the woman he pays to be his girlfriend.

              Bronn DOES kind of like Tyrion. That’s obvious in both the books and the TV show. But Bronn is out for number one.

              The show doesn’t soft-pedal this, and neither do the books, but people seem willfully blind to it a lot.

    • Alex says:

      Tyrion only became facially disfigured when his nose was cut off at blackwater.

  4. Retief says:

    Parenthetical aside noting racial issues in order to avoid tedious reiteration of discussions of them – not entirely successful.

  5. Alex says:

    But, alas! (I do love how the show’s creating an emotional Catch-22 vis-a-vis the Lannisters: I want Cersei to fail as much as I want Tyrion to succeed, but if the latter happens, the former can’t.)

    This too can change.

  6. cpinva says:

    never read the books, didn’t even know they existed, and only kind of stumbled onto the show one night.

    for my money, dinklage’s character, tyrion, has, so far, the best line in the entire series to date. as they are beating back the attackers in front of the gate, he turns around and realizes that they are about to be attacked from behind by yet another horde. his comment:

    “oh fuck me!”

    i damn near fell out of my chair laughing. it was just perfect.

    tyrion is at once two polar opposites:

    completely amoral, and completely moral. his primary concern is saving his own ass, while at the same time recognizing what a monster his sister has created in his nephew joffrey, and the utter disaster him being king, of anything, has the potential to be. he’s also probably the smartest character in the show, though some of that is the result of others not taking him as seriously, because of his dwarfism.

    as to the racial politics, i honestly hadn’t even really noticed. i’ve gotten the impression that class status and wealth play more of a part in how one is treated, than skin color does. of course, i’m a white, middle-aged male, so that could explain my obliviousness.

    of course the actors/actresses are going to be more attractive then the characters as described in the books. who wants to pay to see ugly people, i can see them for free any day.

  7. Leinad says:

    Always found his treatment of the Dothraki, Qartheen and Mereenese pretty effin’ Orientalist. Not out of any racial animus so much as just not caring about Essos as much as Westeros and therefore slipping more readily into caricature and grotesquery. The TV show has been pretty true to form in that category, though the budget and FCC prevent them showing Qarth in its full glory.

    • silburnl says:

      …as just not caring about Essos as much as Westeros and therefore slipping more readily into caricature and grotesquery.

      Not quite. Westeros is Tolkienesque map-fantasyland, Essos is Howardesque sword-and-sorceryland. Thus the orientalism of the Essos bits is one of the tropes that Martin is playing with in the series.

      The genre-subversion is less obvious in the Essos bits (or less successfully executed perhaps) because Martin has less plot-space for Essos in the early books, but my reading of Martin’s intent is that he’s as much about deconstructing Conan as he is about deconstructing Frodo.

      Regards
      Luke

      • Fats Durston says:

        The genre-subversion is less obvious in the Essos bits (or less successfully executed perhaps) because Martin has less plot-space for Essos in the early books, but my reading of Martin’s intent is that he’s as much about deconstructing Conan as he is about deconstructing Frodo.

        Maybe I’m just missing it (and I haven’t read Dance of Dragons, yet, or read any Conan), but I don’t see any deconstructing. I see Orientalist tropes in Essos (decadent elites, inscrutability, faceless hordes). The only example I can see fitting your argument is the Summer Islanders’ sexual freedom (trope: lascivious Africans) being used to critique the prudishness of the Westerosi.

        Other than the dwarf jape at high fantasy, I also read the novels more as a critique of the tales of Ivanhoe and Arthur.

        • Anonymous says:

          OK, this spoils way past where the show is but… the slave warriors (as an adopted Guatemalan, I can never remember what they’re called because I just think of them as Kaibiles) recovering their identity en masse is more a subversion than a reproduction of common tropes.

          • Fats Durston says:

            SPOILERS below:

            The Unsullied do (re)gain their (quasi-)freedom, or at least identity as individuals, but it’s only at the direction/instigation of a westerner (sorry for my ignorance of Conan examples), and this is surely not a subversion of historical/genre fiction cliche (see Dances with Wolves and Avatar, as mentioned above). The historical analog of the Unsullied seems to be the Mamluks, who (sometimes) were agents of their own liberation.

            • Jameson Quinn says:

              As to Kaibiles versus Mamluks: I’m sure the Unsullied draw from both, but the story about eating the pet dog very clearly comes from the (80s-era) Kaibiles. It’s really the stereotypical “color” story about the Kaibiles (aside from putting everyone in the church and then burning the town of course).

              Second, Dany is from a family not native to Westeros. She’s essentially Valyrian, with little blood mixture (because of incest). But OK, that makes her part of a colonial elite, so I guess you can code that as “western”, though in Conan-land that (plus of course being female) would certainly be enough to class her as an oriental exotic.

              Third: I understand that you can see that story as reproducing Conan tropes too, but I still see it as subverting them. The unsullied are hardly innocent but courageous and wily natives in the mold of Dances with Smurfs. As a trope, they are very much one-dimensional bad-guy henchmen (again, Kaibiles), and so giving them some degree of agency seems to me to count as something new.

    • Fats Durston says:

      SPOILERS to follow:

      Agreement on all of Leinad’s points, but I’d argue that racial animus is not a necessary component of late Orientalism; i.e., GRRM is not unlike many well-educated Westerners today who still usually conceive of “Asians” (of all sorts) as “exotic” (because of culture now, not race) rather than just a different normal. The novels read as though Martin’s read some recent historiography with regards to class and (albeit a little less carefully) gender, but not histories of race or the globe. One example is the comparison of the Westeros wedding scenes vs. Daenerys’ to Drogo. Deaths occur at all three, but none of the Dothraki are horrified by the killings whereas the “westerners” are. The untenable assertion that slavery would be banned a society based on a rigid class hierarchy where lower levels exist to work for the upper, of course exists in the west. (In real history, contemporary Chinese smallholders typically had far more freedom.)

      • Dirk Gently says:

        Completely agree with this sentiment, as well as those by Fats Dunston above. Orientalism is rarely deployed maliciously or consciously, but it seems fairly evident in this books, and if anything is magnified in the TV series. “Race”, we should remember, is a moving target, whereas the essentialism and prejudice attached to it is as old as civilization.

      • Murc says:

        GRRM is not unlike many well-educated Westerners today who still usually conceive of “Asians” (of all sorts) as “exotic” (because of culture now, not race) rather than just a different normal.

        You know that Martin thinks Asians are “exotic?” Got a quote there? ‘Cause the text doesn’t support that.

        Doesn’t this kind of put him between a rock and a hard place, though?

        I mean, how do you ‘win’ here? If he makes everyone on the planet white, he gets slammed for a lack of diversity. If he makes the entire planet culturally homogenous, he gets slammed for being dull.

        Serious question. If I’m building a world of this type and I want some cultures that are going to appear alien and different (and hopefully awesome) to both my readers and to my protagonists, what am I supposed to do? It seems like the best bet is to portray said cultures as actually CULTURES (as opposed to just one or two superficially exotic traits) and the people in them as PEOPLE rather than OBJECTS.

        And that’s what Martin does. What more is he supposed to do, beyond that?

        • Fats Durston says:

          I mean, how do you ‘win’ here?

          I should say that even if I’m complaining about this element, I think the world-building is spectacular in the novels, among the best ever in fantasy fiction.

          Some of the Orientalism may just be GRRM hewing closely to the viewpoints of westerners observing easterners, i.e., his characters are orientalist, but he is not. However, he doesn’t give many clues that this is the case.

          Most “modern” moralities exist only in the culture of the westerners. Dothraki soldiers go around raping women; it’s part of their code/rights of war. While Westerosi soldiers rape too, it’s against their legal code. (Similar: enslavement) Salladhor Saan, afro-oriental, talks about raping Cersei as part of his price. There seems to be no one powerful and truly honorable in Qarth, whereas King’s Landing has a few. The decadence of eastern leaders puts to shame even the Lannisters. Drogo has a “face as hard as a bronze shield” or “copper mask” or “face as still and cruel as a bronze mask.”

          • Murc says:

            Some of the Orientalism may just be GRRM hewing closely to the viewpoints of westerners observing easterners, i.e., his characters are orientalist, but he is not. However, he doesn’t give many clues that this is the case.

            Well, the clue comes from the fact that Martin tends to present all of his cultures without value judgments. There are CHARACTERS who believe in the supremacy of their particular culture and way of doing things, but as often as not those characters are true scumbags.

            There seems to be no one powerful and truly honorable in Qarth, whereas King’s Landing has a few.

            Name two. I challenge you. And we spent maybe a hundred pages in Quarth, which is a city that doesn’t really give a fuck about Daenerys, our viewpoint character. I saw nothing in the text to suggest that Quarth is any worse than in Westeros.

            Salladhor Saan, afro-oriental, talks about raping Cersei as part of his price.

            Saan is an admitted pirate and outlaw, and there are plenty of white dudes in the books who are very open about enjoying a bit of rape.

            The decadence of eastern leaders puts to shame even the Lannisters.

            Well… yes. The eastern cultures tend to be older, stabler, and wealthier than Westeros. This is something that promotes decadence. Your point?

            Drogo has a “face as hard as a bronze shield” or “copper mask” or “face as still and cruel as a bronze mask.”

            And any Khal who DIDN’T act like that would be swiftly murdered because he’s showing unmanly weakness. Drogo wasn’t an idiot. Again, your point?

            • Fats Durston says:

              SPOILERS BELOW

              There seems to be no one powerful and truly honorable in Qarth, whereas King’s Landing has a few.

              Name two. I challenge you.

              Ned. Ser Barristan. Davos (though he’s only in the Bay). Tyrion. Brienne. (And outside King’s Landing: Ned’s boys, some of the crows, Dondarrian’s crew)

              The eastern cultures tend to be older, stabler, and wealthier than Westeros. This is something that promotes decadence. Your point?

              That this is standard fare for Orientalist depictions. Stabler or more stagnant? Do the following characterizations apply predominantly to Westeros or Essos? Despotic, disorderly, tribal, stagnant, fanatical, lazy, hedonistic, deceptive, feminine (males), sensual, and passive.

              Westerosi, though they have magic/religion, also have technological maesters, while easterners have warlocks and maegi. (irrational) Saan says, “Men of Westeros are always rushing…” (lazy) The men of Qarth wear beaded silk skirts, while Tyroshi men dye their hair and paint their nails.(feminine) The story of Astapor reads like a colonizer’s history of independence: a white girl frees the slaves and they fall upon one another as soon as she leaves. (disorder) The slaver cities haven’t changed since the Valyrian conquest. (stagnant)

              Martin often shows the hypocrisy of the Westerosi knightly code, but he never flips the stagnancy or sensuality or depotism of the East on its head. There are no emancipationist Dothraki. There is not one single prudish Summer Islander. There’s no Ghiscari Republic.

              • witless chum says:

                There’s Bravos. Pretty much Venice, but founded by escaped Valyrian slaves, with its most peculiar religion and hatred of anything magical or dragon-related.

                SPOILERS

                It’s also the city in Essos we get the best look at because Arya is down there in the thick of it, compared to the view Dany gets from the top of a pyramid in Slaver’s Bay.

              • ajay says:

                There seems to be no one powerful and truly honorable in Qarth, whereas King’s Landing has a few.

                Name two. I challenge you.

                Ned.

                OK, that’s one. Who lasts about a month in King’s Landing before he’s beheaded.

                Ser Barristan.

                Who turns against the king he’s sworn to protect, and then DOES IT AGAIN to the next king but one.

                Davos (though he’s only in the Bay).

                Not in King’s Landing.

                Tyrion.

                Who murders his own father, conspires against his own sister, and gives serious consideration to killing his own nephew.

                Brienne.

                Brienne is truly powerful? In what way?

              • ajay says:

                Do the following characterizations apply predominantly to Westeros or Essos? Despotic, disorderly, tribal, stagnant, fanatical, lazy, hedonistic, deceptive, feminine (males), sensual, and passive.

                Pretty much all of the above apply to Westeros.

                Despotic? Randall Tarly. Joffrey. Roose Bolton. And, for that matter, even Ned Stark, who is literally judge, jury and executioner in his own lands. A just despot, we hope, but still. The place is an absolute feudal monarchy. Despotism is a feature, not a bug.

                Disorderly? There is a massive civil war going on in Westeros for pretty much the whole series. Civilisation has all but broken down. Compared to that, the cities of Essos are peaceful.

                Tribal? Yep, tribal or rather family loyalty has succeeded any kind of national feeling. Not to mention those disturbingly swarthy savages to the north of the Wall. Oh, wait, they’re white. Well, they’re coded swarthy.

                Stagnant? Look at pretty much every description of the decline of the Wall and the Watch. And the whole point about the dragons having died out. And the gradual decline of the Targaryens. This is a civilisation on the wane.

                Fanatical? Stannis, maybe? And the Watch, for that matter?

                Lazy? Everyone’s responses to the threat north of the wall for the first half of the series.

                Hedonistic? Renly’s court. All the descriptions of ludicrous banquets and tourneys.

                Deceptive? EVERYONE, pretty much.

                Feminine males? Robert Arryn, Joffrey, Renly, even Sam Tarly at first.

          • jameson quinn says:

            It’s beyond debate that, though George Martin does a lot of world-building, he’s no Ursula Leguin; he’s not above taking shortcuts. The Dothraki are Mongols, most Westerosi are Europeans, the Dornish are Arabs, the hill tribes are Celts. And yes, Qarth is some Conan-style Oriental capital; something vaguely Persian.

            But it’s really easy to take this critique too far. There’s no Ming the Merciless, nobody who’s just inscrutably evil (or good, for that matter). Martin does work to humanize people with actual screen time.

            And the thing about rape… actually, throughout history, an abhorrence for rape is indeed the exception, not the rule. Look at Genji; in impeccably civilized Japan (probably more civilized than anything Europe had for at least 700 years after it was written!), Genji can casually force his way into women’s beds (and indeed kidnap a 7-or-8-year-old girl whom he later marries), and while they all seem to acquiesce once he gets there, that’s because he’s the impossibly-handsome protagonist; a real-life Genji who acted like that would certainly be a rapist, though he would have some civilized obligations to his ex-victims. And of course, Cersei knows that even in Westeros, when cities get sacked, women get raped, and there’s no consequences for the rapists. So… can’t really fault Martin on that count.

          • Commentator says:

            “Salladhor Saan, afro-oriental, talks about raping Cersei as part of his price.”

            Not a good example, as he’s not black in the books.

      • Murc says:

        The untenable assertion that slavery would be banned a society based on a rigid class hierarchy

        De jure slavery is banned in Westeros for religious and cultural reasons, not practical ones. I do think its a bit untenable they don’t appear to have serfs (I’ve checked the books closely and found zero references to the smallfolk being legally bound to the land) but not having slavery… I’m curious as to your assertion that this is ‘untenable.’ Happened all the time in the real world.

        • Lurker says:

          Yep. And even in the Westeros, there should be more local variation in the actual status of the smallfolk. Although they were, in any case, saddled with heavy burdens, their actual obligations and customary rights would have enormous local variation. As an example, in the 13th to 16th century Sweden, it would not be untypical for three neighbouring peasant villages of the same province to have even three different tax codes, applied in a stable manner for centuries.

          Thus, even if you did’t have serfdom in general, you would surely have something akin to it in a province or two. With the seven kingdoms, you should have at least seven “common laws” and dozens of provincial systems of legal customs.

  8. Lurker says:

    Actually, considering the world of Game of Thrones, every population should be relatively homogeneous racially, outside a few port cities. The reason for this is that there is rather little international migration, and thus the populations are relatively isolated. Any additions to genepool by random migrants are at the “passing-white”, “passing-black” or “passing-Asian” level in a few generations. There have been no major population movements for centuries, thus any culturally homogeneous population is also genetically homogeneous.

    This goes especially for the high families of Westeros. They are constantly intermarrying, and even if the Starks had looked different from the Tullys a few centuries ago, they would have been homogenised by now.

    So, there is no racial diversity in a stable agrarian society.

  9. J R in WV says:

    Some of Geo RR Martin’s stuff I could wade through without dispair… others, not so much. How can you write about all these exciting events, fall of nations and cultures, corruption of great families, sexual and moral depravity, swords and sorcery and mysterious past catastrophes, etc, etc, and still be boring?

    And I don’t think the FCC has much to say about cable channels, not like broadcast TV. Remember, we’ve seen rowdy sex several times, so bordellos and such should be easy, if that’s what you were talking about.

    The Series is much more interesting than the books, anyways, which I think most have agreed upon, not so?

    • Nigel says:

      God, no. Storm of Swords is the best fantasy epic novel ever, and while I love the show, the racial politics are nothing compared to the gender ones. It’s not the main female characters, though some of the changes have unavoidably robbed at least Catelyn of agency here and there, but that happens to male characters too. However the often gratuitous nudity and nasty sex, while not absent from the books, is eye-rollingly bad in the series, and often used as a sort of ornament while one character or another explained what was going on. ‘Sexposition’ was coined just for GoT. The bulk of season 2 hasn’t been that bad – though even Blackwater had a gratuitous nude prostitute. So, no. The books are brilliant and fun; the show is great but has a few serious flaws.

    • witless chum says:

      Nope. I love the books, both as a good story and more structurally with how Martin uses the POV structure. (Allegedly, decisions of which POV character to use to tell which story were much of the hold up in him getting the last two books out.) And the fun he has playing with the expectations of the epic fantasy genre.

      The books will probably still be read in 50 years. The show? I doubt it. Maybe I can’t judge it fairly because I know everything that’s going to happen backwards and forwards, but I just haven’t seen it as anything but decent adaptation. And fine performances aside, it’s the kind of story better told as a book.

  10. wkwilis says:

    You get castles, and cathedrals, in Ethiopia.

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