HBO's new series, Game of Thrones, premieres on Sunday. This week, we're featuring five different takes on the show, which is the first foray into fantasy for a network that has built its programming on grimly realistic stories like The Sopranos and The Wire. Atlantic correspondent Alyssa Rosenberg began the conversation, and The American Prospect's Adam Serwer, Mother Jones' Nick Baumann, and Amber Taylor continued it. Now, The Atlantic's Eleanor Barkhorn picks up the thread:
It's appropriate that Game of Thrones is premiering just before Holy Week, the annual run-up to Easter. HBO's new series, based on George R.R. Martin's novels, is a visceral reminder that we live in a messed-up world that needs redemption.
MORE ON Game of Thrones:
Amber Taylor: 'Game of Thrones': A Brutal Fantasy With Mass Appeal
Nick Bauman: 'Game of Thrones': Will Non-Fanboys Care That 'Winter Is Coming'?
Adam Serwer: 'Game of Thrones': When Fantasy Looks Like Reality
Alyssa Rosenberg: 'Game of Thrones': HBO Shows the Ugly Edge of Fantasy
Game of Thrones is brutal, as Alyssa, Adam, Nick, and Amber have already pointed out in their excellent posts about the show. Some of the brutality is blatant: incest, forced marriage, rape, senseless murder, endless war. Some of it is more subtle: The hedonistic ruler who shirks his responsibilities and orders a man to leave his family, telling him, "I'm trying to get you to run my country while I eat and drink and whore myself to an early grave." The bastard son who longs for recognition from anyone in society, let alone his father. The little girl who has the courage to stand up to a petty, self-centered prince—and suffers for it.
All the brutality on display in Game of Thrones has one thing in common, however: All of it is present in our world today, even if the show is set in a fantasy land.
I'm not drawn to stories like this. I was drafted to this panel because I'm a Game of Thrones virgin—I haven't read the books, and before last week, I didn't even know the basic premise of the series. I'm also unfamiliar with both genres the show draws from: fantasy stories like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, and gritty television shows like The Wire and The Sopranos.
The books and TV series I seek out are the exact opposite of Game of Thrones: realistic narratives with happy endings, like Sense and Sensibility and The Age of Innocence, Sex and the City and Entourage. Of course, these stories are really fantasies, even if they star humans who live on earth and have no supernatural powers. They perpetuate the illusion that a rich husband can bring happiness or that good looks and a devoted group of buddies alone can translate into stratospheric career success—ideas that are no less preposterous than the thought that children can fly on broomsticks or that the fate of humankind depends on who possesses a gold ring.