by Isaac Butler
(spoilers, obviously about the first episode. I've read the first three books but try to keep knowledge of things to come out of this post)
So... the Game of Thrones premiere has come and gone and I quite liked it. It's fun to see the novels come to life, and the show is dramatically compelling on its own. Let me just insert a few quick points vis-a-vis this whole project and me as a starting point: I like the books and find them compulsively readable. I do not love them with slavish devotion. I am in general a fan of adaptive freedom, and find that things tend to get choked up when they are too faithful to the source material (see both LORT and Harry Potter). Additionally, I am not one of those people who thinks that it's automatically a good thing for things to get adapted into TV shows or films, particular into films where (as in the Scott Pilgrim movie) the medium is poorly suited to the size of the story.
So I am not one of those people who get angry when source text is diverted from. I think those moments are telling. Scott Pilgrim, for example, was too faithful to some parts of the source material and not faithful enough to others. What's interesting about the books-- that through their expansive dive into Scott's social scene right at the point where it begins to fall apart they require you to read the books against themselves, and that when you do that they become a critique of the whole nice guy loser thing-- was lost in favor of a well directed Apatow movie with fights.
My point is simply that changes from the source material are interesting to examine, and can be an entry in for critique. With something as loyal to the source material as GOT is, there's one scene thus far that diverges greatly from the book. In the season premiere a (creepy but at least nominally) consensual sex scene is turned into an overt rape. For those of you who haven't read the books, I'm talking about Danaerys' wedding night with Khal Drogo.
This is a very important change, even if it looks small. In the television show A Game Of Thrones, Danaerys stands in her wedding gown on a beautiful vista crying. Khal Drogo starts walking around her and checking her out. She cries. He says "no," she asks him if he speaks the common tongue, he again says "no," she asks him if that's the only word he knows, he again says "no," and then he undresses her, she moves her hands to cover herself, he says "no," and then pushes her down on all fours, after which she visibly winces as the camera zooms in on her face and it smash cuts to a new scene.
In the book, after the three "nos" Khal Drogo speaks to her in his language. She can't understand what he's saying but she knows from the tone that it's tender and loving and this comes as a shock. Then he undresses himself. Then he undresses her. Then there's about a page of non-penetrative foreplay done for her pleasure. Then he asks her "no?" and she brings his hand onto her and says "yes."
It's a significant change. In the book, it is meant to be the first moment when a character who has never had agency in her entire life is given a choice about something. It-- combined with a growing love that she has for Khal Drogo-- fuels her character's arc over the course of the novel. It also helps mitigate all the Savage Barbarian race stuff that's floating around the Dothraki. In the television show, it becomes the character's nadir. A character who had never had agency in her entire life is then raped savagely on her wedding night.
I've done some looking around message boards, and it seems to be that there's some subset of viewers who don't understand that this was a rape scene. To me, their point of view is easily dismissable. It's very obviously a rape scene. She doesn't want to have sex. She is forced to have sex. Last time I checked, that's rape.
Then there's a subset that believes that this actually corrects a problem in the book, namely that the sex scene is unbelievable and in a series that is as much about demystifying genre tropes as A Song Of Ice And Fire is, this is one place where author George R.R. Martin falls down on the job. In this reading, the sex scene is the worst kind of bodice ripper sexy savage claptrap, and the writers do the work a service by rendering this scene in this way, as it's much more likely that this is how an arranged marriage like Danaerys and Drogo's would shake out.
The third perspective-- which is mine, although I recognize the validity of the one above-- is disappointed by this shift. The scene felt to me gratuitous, exploitative and degrading of both the character and the actress playing her. It recalled to me this interview that Rachel Griffiths did with Time Out New York when the interviewer asked her how it was switching from HBO to network television and she replied, "People will hate me for saying this, but in some ways broadcast decency standards give actresses certain protections, and I can’t say that I mind that." To take a sexual moment that is the beginning of woman realizing her agency and power and then not only taking that away, but changing it to a moment in which power is further denied her and she's abused seems to me like a poorly thought out decision.
From a narrative structure standpoint, it's also problematic. Unless they're going to change the story fairly drastically, Danaerys and Drogo's relationship is going to need to improve pretty drastically after this point. Which means they'll have to either insert new plot points, or the arc of their relationship will be bullshit. We'll have to wait and see on that score.
This whole thing reinforces a problem with post-Sopranos premium cable. That quality = loveable male sociopaths and women either being degraded or having to appear naked or both. t's problematic, but in an age when they're competing with The Tudors, The Borgias and Spartacus for market share, I doubt it's going away.
For the record, I very much enjoyed the show and plan on continuing to watch it.This was the one place where for me the project falls on its face. There's a great deal of sexual violence in Martin's books, it's one of the main tools he uses to demystify Tolkeinesque heroic fantasy tropes. They're going to have to learn how to handle it in such a way that it doesn't feel too exploitative, pornographic or gratuitous. The wall-to-wall tits and added rape scene in this premiere makes me doubtful they know how to do that, or care to learn.
Again, I think it's valid as well to view the scene as a corrective to a problem in the source material. I don't agree with this interpretation, but I understand where it comes from. I've read people of both genders fall down on either side of it.