Why the F**k Did I Just Watch That Episode of Game of Thrones?

robb-stark-game-of-thrones-red-wedding

*There Will Be Spoilers*

I’ve mentioned this once before but right now it seems especially appropriate: My mother has a thing where she refuses to watch movies and TV shows that are excessively violent. No matter how fantastic a movie or show is — how well it’s reviewed, how seminal it may be, etc. — if there’s even a fair amount of bloodshed in it, chances are she won’t go anywhere near it. When asked why she purposely cuts herself off from some of the most beloved films and television ever created just because of a little violence, she always comes back with the same basic answer: “Why would I want to subject myself to something that will only upset me? The world is upsetting enough.”

I always thought it was kind of silly to think this way. And then I watched last night’s episode of Game of Thrones.

Yes, that episode. The “Red Wedding” episode. The one that, if you’re at all connected on Facebook and Twitter, you know is pretty much the only thing anybody is talking about this morning.

No, I’m not going to blow it for you in detail, although it hardly matters: You’ve either seen it by now or you don’t watch Game of Thrones, and if it’s the former rather than the latter, you’re likely still in shock. And I mean shock. That’s very nearly not an exaggeration. Regardless of whether you knew what was coming, to actually see the fate of Robb Stark, his lovely pregnant bride, and his tragedy-prone mother unfold in one of the most graphic scenes of slaughter ever shown on television was breathtaking in the most profoundly negative sense of the word. It wasn’t simply the blood and the savagery; that we’re used to on Game of Thrones. It was the sickeningly human aspect of it all, the relentless violence aimed not just at destroying forever but at making a statement in the process, and the final, desperate pleas for mercy that went hopelessly unanswered. The entire scene was emotionally shattering not simply for the Stark family, in its last moments, but for the audience as well — we the long-suffering Stark proxies. I’ve never seen anything so flawlessly staged for maximum visceral impact. It was genuinely upsetting in its sadism — something that joins the very small list of filmed scenes that are so disturbing that I hope never to see them again.

Obviously, Game of Thrones is an astonishingly good show, and I’m not saying that I’ll stop watching it simply because the writers and producers of it — to say nothing of George R.R. Martin himself — seemingly have no compunction about trying to send me and everyone else who loves the show into therapy. But last night’s episode did actually get me wondering about why I would, as my mother has said so many times, willingly submit to something so harrowing and tell myself that it’s entertainment. I spend a good portion of my days either combing through tragedy as amplified and disseminated worldwide by news organizations desperate for ratings or listening to craven political leaders and reading the rantings of the acolytes who war over their opinions 24/7 on social media. I do this because it’s part of my job. It’s certainly not something I enjoy. I think that anyone who tells you he or she does truly love hanging onto the words of crazy people and commenting on them at length is at least to some extent him or herself a crazy person. When I’m not writing about politics or media, by the way, I’m producing reality TV. Understand the kind of tortured mess my psyche is?

So when I do something to ostensibly unwind from the lunacy of my day-to-day existence, you’d think I’d want to actually, you know, engage in something fun, or at least relaxing. What you wouldn’t think I’d want to do — what presumably no one who isn’t a sociopath would want to do — is watch an entire family being executed on television in a way that leaves me sitting on the couch for about a good ten minutes following the closing credits with my jaw hanging open like an idiot. What I wouldn’t want to do is what I’m doing right now: pondering out loud what it is that can lead someone to label images of emotionally devastating violence “entertainment” and what it is in me that can accept that and tune in week after week (or pay money to see the same kind of thing at the theater). I’m not being a prude here. I’m just starting to wonder if my mother was right all this time, if maybe I get enough darkness in my everyday existence that I have the right to be pissed off when somebody willfully beats me over my helpless head with the kind of barbarity the Game of Thrones people just did.

Still, I’ll watch again next week. I’ll keep coming back. And maybe that’s what really bothers me: It’s not their fault but mine.

The next time I’m in Florida, I think I’ll make it a point to sit and watch Michael J. Fox’s Doc Hollywood with my mom. It’s one of her favorites — because it makes her smile.

  • Ian Harac

    From ancient myths to Shakespeare to Grimm’s fairy tales to Game of Thrones, our stories have always been violent, gory, and cruel. Only in a few historically brief eras of bowdlerization has this not been the case, and those eras are rightfully remembered as nadirs of the arts. Anyone who says, “This is new!” or “But that was different!” is simply wrong. Not only is there nothing AGOT which hasn’t been seen before in art and literature, but actual human history is filled with real, proven, incidents far worse than anything shown on TV. Our tales do not cause our violent nature; they are the product of it.

  • Peabody Nobis

    I can’t believe all the handwringing. This show has been spectacularly violent from the beginning. Yes, it was somewhat shocking, but so what? It’s fiction, people.
    And am I the only one worried about what happens to Ygritte now? Jon Snow deserted her, and you have to wonder what the wildlings are gonna do to her.

  • GOVCHRIS1988

    I have a good feeling that after the show yesterday, people were holding candlelight vigils and laying flowers at Richard Madden’s house. Yeah, we gotta admit as much as we were warned not to get attached to Ned or Robb Stark, you find that you couldn’t help it. Those two guys were just noble. And usually we are accustomed to good guys not being taken down while the bad guys walk scot free. So seeing that the other night would disturb most folks because of those facts. Though it won’t stop me from watching the series.

  • theronware

    Oh gods, It was so shocking I had a dream about it that night! And I thought Arya would finally see her mother again, damn that was cruel! And the wolves!

  • Clockwork Professor

    When the first episode involved a ten year old boy pushed put a window, I knew the show was not for me. I am not a prude: I grew up on Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, among other things. However, I have found that as I have gotten older, I have become less interested in gut-wrenching. The last really violent movie I saw was Saving Private Ryan, when I walked out of the theater feeling like I was carrying my guts in a bucket. I’ll take my sex raunchy and/or R rated, but I prefer my violence to top out at PG, Avengers-style. The more I hear my friends talking about the GoT episode, the more glad I am that I stopped watching the series, despite my unholy obsession with Peter Dinklage.

  • Carl Pierre

    After reading the books, I’ve become extremely desensitized to character death. It’s like working on a farm: don’t get attached to any of the animals because at one point or another, they’re going to a “better place” (a rule that essentially applies to everybody in the books)

  • blackdaug

    After Ned got the axe, I come to every episode fully expecting every character I like to be hacked to death….but last night was pretty shocking.
    Then again, I intentionally don’t read the books or some comments so that I can get that kind of surprise out of the show.
    Watching my dvr’s of The Borgias and Madmen after an episode like that is kind of a let down though…….

  • Bubble Genius

    I don’t watch GoT, not my cup of java, but I picked up what happened, though. The thing about make-believe violence and other trauma is that when it’s rendered well, it should make you feel the way you feel. The world is, indeed, upsetting enough, and I’ve got more than a foot in your mom’s court. The comfort of it, of course, is that you can still say to yourself, “this isn’t real.” Harder to do in the real world, although not impossible (Faux Snooze viewers, the GOP, et al).

    I do wish, though, that I’d seen #Turkey trending even half as much as #GoT on Twitter. Or at all. Now THAT’S upsetting.

  • RilesSD

    “…sitting on the couch for about a good ten minutes following the closing credits with my jaw hanging open like an idiot.”

    That’s exactly how it left me too. I sat through the harrowingly silent credits open-jawed and still could not believe what had happened. I was actually pissed because right before I started watching Robb’s fate was spoiled for me. A suggested ad for Discovery’s “Klondike” popped up, saying “the King in the North will rise again,” and had a picture of Richard Madden (Robb). Even knowing what was probably coming, I was still caught off guard and left devastated.

    But yeah, I’ll be back. It’s too good of a show to quit.

  • Aaron Litz

    Hell, one thing thatyou should know about A Song of Ice and Fire (the books):

    EVERYONE DIES HORRIBLY.

    Well, pretty much. Don’t let yourself get too attached to anyone.

    Also, you really should have watched the season premier of The Venture Brothers.

  • Lady Willpower

    It was tough. I knew it was coming and was still floored and devastated by it.