Home > Don't make me hurt you, pissed off and totally ranty > What in the Seven Hells is This: the New York Times Reviews Game of Thrones

What in the Seven Hells is This: the New York Times Reviews Game of Thrones

This morning, I read the New York Times review for Game of Thrones. If you don’t remember the debacle last year, the reviewer enraged many people (women and men) by labeling it “boy fiction.” Upon reading that review, I put on some high heels and read the entire damn GoT series. (You see, up until that point, I’d only seen the show.)

I had hoped, next time, the Times would learn, that perhaps they could dig up a reviewer with an appreciation for the fantasy genre. I was incredibly wrong. This year, we’ve got a man who doesn’t quite understand the major factors behind Game of Thrones. The show, like the books, is about subtlety, the slow reveal, danger, and figuring out who can be trusted.

From the onset, the reviewer (Neil Genzlinger) laments a plotline from last season, where the noble and awesome Ned Stark is beheaded with his own freakin’ sword by the most selfish tyrant since Veruca Salt. Imagine, if you would, Veruca Salt with a crown – and a less appealing temperament. Then, you have Joffrey, the current king of the seven kingdoms. We’ll get to him in a minute. Ned Stark died last season, so why bring him up? The reviewer seems to claim that this is the wrong setup for the series, that the show no longer has a focus. Except in killing Ned Stark, that’s kind of the point. One event set inexplicable changes in motion. It was not the death of the first King, Robert Baratheon. No, it was the unjust beheading of Stark. Additionally, Ned Stark was not the “focus” of the story; he may have been the only sympathetic character in a world full of villains – but he was not the main character. I’m not even sure there is a main character, because this is an ensemble show. The books are the same way; they’re told from different perspectives, resulting in a unique plot construct. The show mimics this structure, which is why it hops around, sharing focus.

Genzlinger goes on to posit that “a seemingly endless number of would-be rulers and the usual sex” doesn’t “give the viewer much to latch onto.” First of all, there are a distinct number of would-be rulers, if you pay attention. No one is entertaining the idea of the stable boy making a grab for the throne. There is no royal rumble. Slowly, we are introduced a handful of people who would rule – each has an actual claim to the throne, although I will forever root for Daeneyrs Targaryen. But that’s just me. What gives the viewers something to latch onto is the intrigue, the political maneuvering, and the individual struggles of the characters. Dare I say, that like any other shows, it’s the characters that people care about, that people pay attention to.

Robb, for instance, with the giant direwolf – has Jamie Lannister held captive. He is now King of the North, which is a title that hasn’t been in existence for a long time. He is trying to avenge his father’s death. To me, that storyline alone is enough to pique a viewer’s interest – or has familial vengeance gone out of style? (See, Inigo Montoya; the Godfather; and even ABC’s Revenge.)

If the series were to focus on a single character, it would lose a great deal of its momentum. Additionally, it would barely be a shadow of its self; changing the structure would effectively change the story – and why on earth would anyone want to monkey with a good thing? Forget the wildly popular books. The series itself did remarkably well last year, and the audience followed it perfectly well. Have we all lost IQ points in the interim? I think not.

At one point, Genzlinger makes the assertion that, “[s]ome people love this kind of stuff, of course, and presumably those addicted to the George R. R. Martin books on which the series is based will immerse themselves in Season 2, just as they did in Season 1,” which make me apoplectic. Using the phrase “some people” is dismissive, condescending, and fairly isolating. Clearly, the reviewer is not “some people,” thus elevating his intellectual status above those who might actual enjoy the series – or, worse yet – the books! However, the assumption that those addicted to the Martin series (addicted? Really? Can I snort books, now?) are the only ones who enjoyed season one, and who will enjoy season 2 – that is painfully inaccurate. I, for one, hadn’t read ANY of the books, until after the first season was over. It was the show that introduced me to the novels, but I had no trouble “immersing” myself in the series. I know several people who never read the books, but LOVE the series.

Now, let’s return to the character of Joffrey, who the author refers to as a sadist, only to admonish that “[i]f you find yourself looking forward to Joffrey’s scenes, there’s something wrong with you.” *sigh* That, sir, is the POINT. You’re not SUPPOSED to like him. He’s a villain. He’s shitweasel. (Thanks for the word, Bill.) He isn’t likeable. He’s a terrible little monster with power. Cringing when he appears onscreen is the point. Joffrey isn’t a nice character, but neither was the Master on Buffy the Vampire Slayer – or the First, for that matter. Villains are meant to make the audience cringe, otherwise they wouldn’t be villains. At least, not very effective ones.

In a lovely move of insult and reader-alienation, Genzlinger goes on to verbally shank the viewers of GoT, stating that the show needs to “expand its fan base beyond Dungeons & Dragons types.” How in the seven hells do we draw a comparison between GoT and D&D?!?! What does that even mean? Is the author referring to geeks? Who, in case he hasn’t noticed, are fairly legion and awesome. I consider myself a geek, folks, but I won’t eat glass or live chickens. There is no basis for that contention, either, unless the author somehow conducted a random sampling of the show’s audience. You don’t have be a die-hard dice roller to appreciate the show. That’s like saying only physicists watch The Big Bang Theory. It is both insulting and nonsensical.

In Genzlinger’s opinion, the series is off-track, and it merely focuses on “a bunch of petty pretenders jockeying for a throne.” Yes, people are vying for power. Robert’s two brothers want to claim the throne. So does Daeneyrs, the heir of the Mad King, who Robert dethroned. But the play isn’t necessarily the thing, darling. Each character has hopes, struggles, and conflicts. Some are internal, some are external and as easily discerned as a sword at the throat. It’s the varied characters and desires that keep the series interesting. I would posit that it’s not off-track, merely that Genzlinger doesn’t appreciate the journey of the show – or the way it’s told. But as I said before, if it were told differently, it would be a different story entirely.

One ancillary point: Peter Dinklage. The reviewer mentions that he now gets top billing “by default,” but fails to explain why he supposes that. He then goes on to mention that Dinklage received an Emmy, despite his role being minor. Here’s the thing, love: it’s not the size of the part that matters; it’s how you play the character that counts. That brief quip seems to imply that the author doesn’t believe Dinklage should’ve gotten the Emmy, which is a) irrelevant and b) if true, inflammatory and obnoxious. Unless, sir, you are part of the Academy, that’s really not your call. Or mine. I only know when I like someone in a role, because I am a layman. You are, too. Unless you have an Emmy in your pocket.

Perhaps, next year, the New York Times might select a reviewer who enjoys the fantasy genre. If all else fails, I’ll do it. I promise not to insult your readers or the show’s audience, which is more than I can for Neil Genzlinger.

  1. April 3, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Excellent commentary, Ali! I’ve only watched a few episodes of the first season and part of the first episode of season two. Yes, I have lots of catching up to do – not to mention reading the books – but I’ve seen enough to know that you are dead on and the NYT reviewer, well, just doesn’t get it.

    Also, Joffery = “Veruca Salt with a crown – and a less appealing temperament.” Cannot think of a more perfect analogy! Also, I laughed out loud when I read it. Great post!

    • April 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      Thank you, Blake! I should’ve cautioned that there were spoilers — I’m so sorry about that! I’m terrible about that, sometimes. *grin* I’m glad that you liked this. 🙂

      • April 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm

        Oh, no worries! Nothing was spoiled for me. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. Jessica
    April 3, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Thank you for writing this. You should send it in as a letter to the editor. If they really are oblivious enough that they don’t realize how offensive they’re being, or what a large group of people they’re being offensive to, they need a huge wake up call.

    • April 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      Jessica, after your suggestion, I tweaked it a little — and faxed it over. I doubt that it will get published (it’s considerably longer than what they normally print), but at least I sent it.

  3. April 3, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    You’d think by now, after the huge success of LOTR and the almost certain success of The Hobbit, that reviewers would have gotten over this condescending attitude towards fantasy. Authors like George RR Martin and Terry Pratchett have proven that the audience for fantasy is much more diverse than a bunch of overweight eternal bachelors living in their parents basement. Creating a believable fantasy world takes a lot of brains.

    I agree with one of the above comments that you should send this in as a letter to the editor. Perhaps then they will get a reviewer who has actually watched the show.

    • April 3, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      I KNOW. Fantasy gets a bad rap, sometimes, but it very successful. I don’t understand the attitude. GoT is a very intricate and elaborate world, with lots of twists and turns. It isn’t a “things explode — the good guy always prevails” plot.

  4. April 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    The whole beheading of Ned would seem like a terrible plot mistake (I don’t get people complaining when the series followed the book) but then in book two, we see how everyone is haunted by this death, and his legacy lives on throughout. (and this geek can’t help but think of Obi-Wan).

    To me, when Ned was beheaded it was like God was killed, (or at least the moral compass was flushed down the toilet) and now all the lesser beings are running into each other frantically trying to restore order. I love your take on the reviewers pseudo and condescending intellectualize. To his point of it being ‘guy-based’ I wanted my wife to watch the series with me, and she walked in at the very moment of the infanticide. Not going to happen now.

    • April 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm

      Ooops, “intellectualism” not “intellectualize”

  5. April 3, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    I tried to leave a long-winded and possibly stupid comment this morning, but WordPress ate it up and spit it out at me. Perhaps it WAS stupid but that won’t stop me from trying it again.

    I think you should totallly be the NYT reviewer of all thing fantasy. I think newspapers and magazines tend to hire one person to review everything in a format. One person to review books, one to review movies, one to review concerts, etc. So the lit fic critic trashes the romance novel and the jazz hep cat doesn’t get Drake, yadda yadda. If I ruled the world, I’d hire fantasy readers to review fantasy books. I know, it’s crazy sounding.

    I used to write for an equine magazine. Since I rode western, I was THE WRITER about all things western. Except I didn’t DO all things western, so I had to learn about reining and heading/heeling, and working cowhorse, etc. I had the good sense to dig deep and find stuff out and NEVER condescend to my audience.

    But that’s just my opinion.

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