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