A lot has been written about Game of Thrones violence — the blood, the gore, the raping. Some fans can’t get enough, saying the level of Game of Thrones violence accurately represents the books and its quasi-Middle Ages time period. Others say that the amount of hardcore violence is too disturbing for them to enjoy the show.
More than one friend or family member, on separate occasions, has asked me, “How do you watch Game of Thrones?” They ask, because I am not ashamed to advertise the fact that I am a chicken when it comes to scary stuff. I never go to horror movies. I visited a haunted house a total of twice. Once ended with the staff turning on the lights and taking off their masks to assure me, a child, that everything was just pretend. During the other instance, in my teen years, I spent the entire, horrifying time climbing onto my friends, screaming, crying and begging, or some combination thereof.
How do I watch Game of Thrones? Notice, the question is not “why.” Why is an easy answer: It’s one of the best shows on TV. The stakes couldn’t possibly be higher for these characters. And the characters are so well-developed that you simultaneously hate them and root for them. The most beloved characters get killed; a sure sign of a TV show that isn’t afraid to take risks. That risk-taking makes for fantastic storytelling, because, truly, you never know what’s coming next.
But, and this is a Wall-sized “but,” the violence is off the charts. In Season 5, everyone was all “poor Sansa” when the Game of Thrones violence (which was shown off-screen) resonated a little too well for the TV-viewing audience. At the time, I pointed out scads of other scenes that were just as bad, or worse. We’ve seen beheadings, slaughtered babies, people eaten alive by animals, people run through with swords, people burned alive, and rape rape rape.
So, back to the question, now that you have some history: How do I watch Game of Thrones if I can barely stand to watch commercials for Goosebumps? I’ve decided that my return on investment has to be high. The show has to be so good, that it can balance the horror, and Game of Thrones does just that. True, I have fast forwarded through scenes, and watched scenes between my fingers, or closed my eyes and plugged my ears and waited until my husband gave me the go ahead to watch again. But overall, I’m willing to risk my tender spirit for the reward of the story, which examines the basest definition of what it means to be human.
Also, watching Game of Thrones is terribly good for my ego. It is with no small amount of self-righteousness that I watch Cersei take the walk of shame, or that I hope Ramsay Bolton meets a nasty, sticky end. There’s a shy part of me, deep down, where we all keep our guilty pleasures stored, that loves to freely judge every character on Game of Thrones, especially because in real life, I try mightily not to do so. It’s like finding out your neighbor is watering their lawn at 3 a.m. during a drought ban, or your brother-in-law never leaves a tip, or your son’s teacher doesn’t recycle at home, and then braying like a donkey. Because, of course, I’m better than everyone on that show. (Well, not Jon Snow. I’d never be that brave. But that point is moot, no?)
There was a time when I easily watched True Blood, even though it was a gore fest. But there came a point, after Season 4, when the ROI just wasn’t worth it. The story wasn’t good enough, anymore, for me to risk having the willies all night, or jumping out of my skin, or having a bloody image seared on my brain for two weeks. I stopped watching.
Game of Thrones, and all its violence, kicked off Season 6 as strong as ever. So, even though the heroes become fewer and fewer, and the story gets bleaker and bleaker, I will risk the nightmares for the sweet, sweet piousness of knowing I would never f*** my brother.