In Defense Of The Indefensible Violence On ‘Game Of Thrones’

Spoilers forthcoming

In the wake of the traumatic event in the most recent episode of Game of Thrones which saw the sweetest, most innocent character in the entire series burned alive BY HER OWN FATHER, there’s been a lot of provocative talk about the series. The two sides of the debate can perhaps be best exemplified by the Grantland recap, suggesting that the violence in the episode was “indefensible,” and yesterday’s Slate piece, in defense of the violence.

Grantland’s argument boiled down to “I fail to see what the horrific immolation of a teenage girl added to the narrative in any way, shape, or form,” while Slate fell back on that old canard, “They’re reviving and updating the classical tragedy as a narrative form,” an argument that I found — like many Slate pieces — both enlightening and insufferable.

Both of those arguments, as well as the defense of the Game of Thrones‘ showrunners (who also credited/blamed George R.R. Martin for the development) have mostly offered up talking points for those on either side of the debate. But it’s one of those debates, like the debate between Israel and Palestine, Coke and Pepsi, Genos and Pats, or Tastykakes and Little Debbie that just isn’t winnable. It’s mostly just shouting; no one is likely to change their mind.

But here’s the thing: Neither HBO nor the showrunners need to defend Game of Thrones. It’s their show; they can do whatever the hell they want to do with it, and it’s our decision whether to watch it or not (and keep in mind, it could’ve been worse: We could’ve gotten close-ups of Shireen’s face as the flames overtook her). If the violence is too much, then quit. Some people have. My wife has sworn it off after nearly every episode of the last two seasons, but her Game of Thrones sobriety has only ever lasted exactly six days and 23 hours because she’s right back on the couch when the next episode airs.

The problem with abandoning the series is that once you quit Game of Thrones, you lose the ability to b*tch about further developments. It’s like the internet writer who writes the huge piece about how amazing it was to “cut the cord” or “quit Twitter.” That’s great! But then you don’t have as many TV shows to write about, or anymore Twitter conversations to participate in. You shoot yourself in the foot for one great post. What do you have left to b*tch about? Make no mistake, complaining about TV, movies, and the internet is what fuels 68 percent of all conversations (the other 32 percent is b*tching about your kids, who — like Game of Thrones — sometimes piss you off, but you’re not going to quit them, either).

I watch a lot of shows, and I quit a lot of shows, but the only reason I ever quit a series is because I’m bored with it. I am never bored with Game of Thrones. I find a lot of things about the series problematic (internet word!), and I wish they hadn’t killed off Shireen in such a cruel manner (and I really, really wish that Ramsay hadn’t raped Sansa), but I can’t realistically argue that I didn’t see it coming. After all, this is the show that lopped the head off its presumptive lead in the first season. It’s the show where a pregnant woman was stabbed to death in the stomach, and two other lead characters were murdered, in one fell swoop. You can debate whether Jamie raped Cersei or not last season, but you can’t argue that he didn’t bang his sister on the floor next to the corpse of their son. The characters in this show are messed up in the head, and their actions reflect that. Hey! Remember when Theon spent five minutes trying to cut a guy’s head off, burned two kids alive, and then had his penis slashed off and made into a meal? This show is f*cked up, and we have been complaining that it has gone “too far” since the ninth episode of Season 1.

In fact, through five seasons, the violence on Game of Thrones has only gotten more shocking. If you can’t stomach something even more horrific than Shireen being burned alive, you should probably bail. I seriously doubt that it’s going to plateau at child immolation. There will no doubt be more brutally violent, upsetting death scenes involving beloved characters (Arya ripped in half by the wildling giant!), and when it happens, the showrunners will come out and defend their decisions. Critics will write think pieces saying that the line has really been crossed this time, and people on the internet will swear off Game of Thrones once again…

… until the next week, or the next season, when 99 percent of us will be sitting on our asses basking in another episode of Game of Thrones. We don’t want to miss out on that conversation. We don’t want to lose out on the ability to b*tch about Game of Thrones and revel in its glory. For all of its “problematic” sequences, we don’t want to be watching Halt & Catch Fire when Khaleesi takes flight on the back of a dragon. Can you even imagine that conversation the next morning?

“Hey, bro! Did you see Dany hop on the back of that dragon and escape imminent death? Oh my god, dude. It was so rad!”

“No, man. I missed it. I totally quit that show after they cut off Theon’s dick. But did you, uh, see Joe figure out the sequencing pattern on those old Atari 2600s on Halt & Catch Fire?”

For all of its issues, and for all the complaining we do about Game of Thrones, it’s still the most exciting and one of the most interesting shows to watch — and talk about — in all of television history.