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"Game of Thrones" Reminded Me That I'm Old

Aimless anecdote time.

When I was maybe fourteen years old or so, I remember sitting back and reading huge chunks of The Essential Ellison at a small house that my parents were renovating on Maryland's Eastern Shore.  It was my first exposure to Harlan Ellison and I was immediately hooked on his work.

Somewhere toward the back he had an essay wherein he described the difference between "horror" and "terror."  It was a cantankerous rant of an essay - really the only kind that Ellison can write - that boiled down to the idea that good story-telling should focus on the specific details that elicit true terror and suspense rather than simply relying on grotesque gore or unpleasantness for the sake of shock value.  It was motivated by his recent viewing of The Omen, which has a scene where a character is beheaded.

I had not seen the movie at the time (still haven't), but I remember reading his essay and thinking, "Gee, you're not a lot of fun, dude.  Sometimes shock actually is a good thing."  I spent the rest of my time with that book enjoying his fiction and taking all of his opinions with a grain of salt.



(Incidentally, as much as I love Harlan Ellison's work, I'd be terrified of actually meeting him.  I'd be worried that he'd disagree with me on something trivial like whether or not Breakfast of Champions was any good and then he'd start spamming my site with angry comments.)

Anyway.  Fast-forward sixteen years and you get to last Sunday night when I'm sitting at home and Stephanie wants to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

I've got an odd love/hate opinion of this show.  I'd say I can best describe it as "a cranky relationship," which I'll have to talk about some other time.  I haven't read the books and fantasy is not really my genre, but there is much that I admire about the series even if I can't bring myself to get as psyched up about it as the rest of the Internet.

So.  Spoilers ahead for this show that everybody loves and has probably already seen.






The episode in question is the one where Prince Oberyn (Is that the guy's name?  Can't be bothered to look it up.  Prince Not-Antonio-Banderas.) champions Tyrion in a trial by combat.

I'm already pretty certain that whatever happens, Tyrion is not going to die.  At least not for awhile.  (Doesn't matter how shocking you want your story to be - you don't kill off your most entertaining character unless you either have a damn good exit plan or you're okay with losing your entire audience.  It would be like killing Hurley in Season 2 of Lost.)  Since Oberyn is championing Tyrion, I'm thinking that he's safe by virtue of being his defender.

So of course, when Oberyn is killed at the end of the match, it's a shocking enough moment.  I'm still convinced that Tyrion's safe (he still has a few episodes to escape, so no biggie), but wow - that's unexpected!  Kudos to you, show.  You surprised me with a death that I didn't see coming.

Now, then.  Why the hell did you have to be so goddamn gory about it, you piece of shit?

Screw you, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss!  I was sitting down for a night of minor distraction and overly-elaborate story construction, and you had to go and show me a graphic eye-gouging / head-crushing.  I wasn't in the market for soul-scarring imagery from the lower reaches of Hell.

See, I get that you're trying to shock people, and I get that there's a lot of people who already know what's coming up, so you're trying to play little games to mess with their expectations, but there's a major difference between "I'm surprised and a bit rattled by this unexpected twist!" and "I'm repulsed to the point of anger by one of the worst things I've ever had the displeasure to witness in my life.  Also, I'm mildly surprised."

And now that I'm complaining to the Internet about how stupidly over-the-top the scene was and how it went too damn far, I realize that I'm on the other end of that Ellison essay I read sixteen years ago.  Now I'm the cranky old man telling young people that their pop culture is too blood-hungry and not clever.

So now I feel old on top of everything else.  Thanks a lot, dipshits.

I've outgrown my desire to see Shocking Moments.  All I really want from my television, movies, and books nowadays are clever stories that are told well.  Whenever somebody structures a tale in a way that misleads me while still adding up to a fully-realized narrative, I smile and ask for more.

But whenever somebody decides that what we need is an un-simulated fellatio sequence or a series of people being tortured and then sewn together ass-to-mouth, I just start to think that the story-teller is a fame-hungry moron who'd rather be remembered at all than do good work.

So, congratulations, dickheads.  You just made a scene that's going to be remembered as "that horrible gross scene" instead of "that shocking moment where the story changed."  Now go enjoy your forty billion dollars and maybe spend some of that on a better director.

And get off my lawn.