In the Wellthisiswhatithink household everything stops for Game of Thrones.
We love the characterisation, the plotting, the utterly brilliant set and costume design, and the whole gloriously bodice-ripping nonsense of it all.
But after a fair bit of gratuitous full frontal nudity to wake up your Monday evening (women only of course, no willies on display), some of the funniest lines ever delivered by a character in fiction – most from dwarf Tyrion Lannister, who is surely author G.R.R. Martin’s finest creation with lines like “It’s not easy being drunk all the time. Everyone would do it, if it were easy.” – it seems that the producers of the TV series think their appeal is running out of puff. Or at least apparently so.
Last week the showrunners inserted a most unpleasant rape as Game Of Thrones aired another dark plot twist. Ever hard-done-by and innocent fan favourite Sansa Stark was brutally assaulted by sadistic Ramsay Bolton.
The character of Ramsay is no stranger to barbaric acts, of course – who can forget the grim scene where he cut off Theon Greyjoy’s penis as part of a torture ritual? But many were shocked at what they saw as a gratuitous piece of sexual titillation that notably wasn’t in the original books, and which again portrayed a key central character as nothing than a mere sexual plaything for horrible men. As one tweeter observed, virtually the entire show right from Episode 1 Series 1 has consisted of a “Who’ll be the one to rape Sansa?” mystery. Well, now we know the answer.
Sophie Turner, the 19 year old British actress playing Sansa, quickly piped up that she liked the scene because of the acting stretch it gave her, admitting she ‘secretly loved’ filming the brutal scenes, and the books’ author also opined that rape is a reality and we shouldn’t shy from showing it. Nevertheless a storm of blogosphere and twittersphere disagreement broke over the show’s head.
This week, however, the show went one better. Er, worse.
In a scene which is also genuinely disturbing, Stannis Baratheon takes the advice of the perfectly horrible Melisandre to burn his own beloved daughter the Princess Shireen at the stake – she being about the only genuinely likeable character in the entire series – to summon up some ju-ju from the God of Light that will get his army out of the mess that he has got them into.
The scene was apparently intended to alert viewers to the danger of religious fanaticism. But it is frankly hard to see it other than a brilliantly well-acted and extraordinarily unpleasant piece of horror schlock.
In his own words, Stannis basically tells Shireen that he’s not responsible for the horror that is about to come. “The choice is no choice at all. (A man) must fulfil his destiny and become who he is meant to be, however much he may hate it.” Shireen wants to help her father in any way she can and says so, not knowing – as the audience suddenly realised to its distress – that she’s now up for being burned alive as a result.
As Stannis hugs his daughter, he mutters, “Forgive me.” So trustingly, Shireen walks off with her recently received toy stag in her hand to her terrible fate. Through the bitter snowstorm, Melisandre is waiting for her, stake behind her in the distance. In that moment, Shireen suddenly knows what was about to happen, and tries to run away but is restrained. She screams – piteously – for her watching parents to save her.
Cold as ice, Melisandre, being the one person who really needs to die this season other than Ramsay, according to many viewers, reassures the terrified child this is a “good thing.” She lights Shireen on fire and watches her die.
Her hopeless mother Selyse belatedly tries to save Shireen and breaks down as she watches her baby girl go up in flames. Silly trollop. Grim-faced Stannis looks broken and uncertain about the (awful) decision he’s just made. He turns away from Shireen’s burning flesh. Aaaaaand …. cut.
Internet reaction has been, if anything, even more distressed than the previous week.
Well, we will stick with Game of Thrones in our household if only because we love the graphics, some of the humorous characters who leaven their wickedness with a good dose of laughter, the gratuitous nudity, the staging, the music, and much more. It’s very well done, and consistently entertaining.
But as for burning innocent young children at a stake – and letting us hear their hideous screams for mercy for what seemed like forever – well, on balance, we think that’s a step too far. Yes, human sacrifice was a feature of primitive societies, and particularly sacrifice of noble kin, so it has historic validity. And it surely makes a point about fanaticism.
But we can still hear her screaming. And it will take a long time for the image to leave our minds, if ever. As will the beheading in the arena that was in the same episode. That was about as graphic as it is possible for a moment to be as well.
Our point is simple: it would be a shame if GOT deserted its plotting and wit and marvellous art direction and all the rest and became merely a vehicle for shock.
Incidentally, it must be reported that the acting in this and other scenes was up to its usual superb standard. Carise van Houten is effortlessly horrid as Melisandre, Stephen Dillane is purposefully Macbethian and vile as Stannis, and the 16 year old British actor Kerry Ingram who plays the ill-fated Shireen has been compelling watchable since her first scene, not because she chews that scenery all the time, but precisely because she doesn’t.
Her sweet nature – which fellow cast members have said is not forced – has imbued her role with charm and emotional depth, especially as she is afflicted with the awful Greyscale, leaving half of her left cheek and most of her neck covered in cracked and flaking, gray and black skin, which is stony to the touch. Lord knows how long the poor kid had to spend in makeup every shooting day.
Anyhow, as an interesting aside, she could empathise with someone with a nasty illness because in real life Ingram has a form of osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. Having regularly fractured her bones, she requires periodic infusions to reinforce them.
So – next week is the final episode of this series. Doesn’t time fly when you’re putting your brain out for lunch watching popular TV? We dread to think what fun will be sprung on us this time. We’re reasonably sure someone really important will die. We thought it might be John Snow last night, but then he’s probably safe for a bit because his story still has so many loose ends.
Just so long as it isn’t Daenerys Targaryen played by the ineffable Emilia Clarke. That will have us flicking to channel to … to … well to just about anything, honestly.
You have been warned, HBO. Leave Khaleesi alone.