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I Hate How Much I Love 'Game of Thrones'

The best show on TV is also the worst. How can that be?
22 August 2017, 5:00am

Note: There are probably spoilers1 in this. Not book spoilers—come on, I'm not that bad—but at least up-to-the-latest-episode spoilers . As they say in Game of Thrones_: "Thou hast been warnedeth, Ser Gregor!"_

Me: I am singing along to the Game of Thrones theme song with a series of ever-increasing duh durr DUHDUH DURR DURRs, I am harmonizing to the vibrato of the TV, I am trying to hit those soaring operatic notes as the camera pans round over Winterfell thru Bravos, I am ramping the volume up to a flawless crescendo and then, as the crown burns bright against the Westerosi sun and the music fades away into nothing, there's me, ten perfect little lute notes or something right at the end, I hit each one pitch perfect while counting them on my fingers, ding ding ding-a-ling ding ding-a-ling;

Also me: I am gasping three, maybe even four times at this season's finale, I am rendered speechless by the sudden deaths of characters I never even knew I liked, the bit before Tommen and the window was just me tucking my legs up underneath me and going, "no no nonono NO," I had goosebumps when they raised their sword and named Jon Snow the King in the North, kill me, please, end my awful suffering, help me so Lord I do care about a TV show;

Me: I am not even a little ashamed to admit that there is a tab open in my browser right now called, "How did Varys travel between Dorne and Meereen so quickly?" because yo, seriously, how? How did he do that? He was in Dorne, walking through palm fronds and little intricate wooden dividers, plotting shit, and I was like: holy fuuuuuuuuuuuck, it's Varys! My boy! And then all of a sudden 20 minutes later he was on a massive fleet of ships and dragons sailing to Fuck Shit Up in the citadel and I was like: holy fuuuuuuuuuuuck, but also hold on did he fly there on a dragon or something, that journey time makes no sense at all, this is sincerely harshing my suspended sense of disbelief that somehow allows me to imagine seven foot dudes can come back as zombies and to reiterate dragons can exist but also what the fuck how in the fuck did this bald little dickless dude get back on that boat so quickly? As it turns out: all the timelines are fuck-de-doodle in Game of Thrones, and they probably just went to Dorne to begrudgingly pick him up like your dad waiting outside a nightclub for two hours in a Vectra, and you can read more about it here, at a link titled, "How did Varys travel between Dorne and Meereen so quickly?";

Me: Sometimes I just watch the Oberyn Martell death scene back a few times for reasons I cannot quite identify but possibly because it itches the same synapses as looking at Rotten.com did back in the day, or that picking your gums does: you know it is bad for you, you know it is eroding an innocent part of you that you will never claw back, but also you can't stop, the need to do it is pathological;

Me: I have read multiple fan theory compilation blog posts;

Me: I also extremely think Game of Thrones is for nerds and that liking it in any way makes you an awful nerd.

So it's a curious thing, really, to consolidate those dual feelings. On one hand—Game of Thrones is for nerds and liking it in any way makes you an awful nerd: this we have mentioned. On the other hand: it's our once-in-a-generation HBO show, it is our Sopranos, our The Wire, this is the show people will bingewatch in one go in a decade's time and will ask us—old and wizened by then—"How did you wait a week between each episode? How did you manage ten months between the seasons?" And we will clunkily turn around on the segway wheelchairs that we'll have by then and go: we had a lot of blogs. The height of current pop culture is also the low. Game of Thrones is many things to many people, but it is also at once the best and worst TV show on the planet.

First, let us touch upon how it is the best: Characters thrive without drawing a sword. Characters thrive by drawing loads of swords, and stabbing people with them, and they die in that good way where hot black blood comes out of their mouths. The base of the show sees the family of good (Stark) triumphed by evil (Lannister), before both sets of survivors spread and contort into something greyer, stickier, morally harder to define: Jaime becomes sympathetic when he makes exactly one friend, Arya becomes a weapon of retribution after spending two entire seasons washing bodies and getting bullied by a girl with a sideways mouth, Sansa goes through a goth phase and becomes ice-cold and hard as nails, all the dogs die. Fundamentally, though, I think what makes Game of Thrones so compulsive is it answers a question we have all, in secret moments, asked: how would I have done back in olden times? Would I have ascended to the thrones, or died ignored in a plague ditch? Example: in olden times, I would be a jester who was famously slaughtered after making a mean joke about the town's beloved pig. Most of us probably would have been low people, extras who died unprepared in battle for a higher Lord or Lady. But Game of Thrones at least allows us to think that—with enough cunning, enough backstabbing and backscratching, if we made the right allegiances and stood on stormy cliffs with perfect posture and said high fantasy things like, "MY LADY OF THE VALE, YOU MUST BE PREPARED FOR THE MARCH OF THE DOTHRAKI"2—that we would succeed. That, with the wind behind us, we could win the game. The game of thrones.

Bad: it is called Game of Thrones and the 'game' of 'thrones' is this constant competition to be King and/or Queen in a made up land called Westeros. That is so lame! Even if you love Game of Thrones, zoom out a minute: that is so, so lame! That is incredibly lame! Here is an actual quote, from the TV show Game of Thrones, about the game (of thrones) central to its core: "When you play the game of thrones, you win............ or you die." Look, here's Cersei spitting it at Sean Bean:

Additional things: northern people keep almost being happy but then they remember they are northern and that isn't allowed, so they snap into the northern gloom, look to the horizon wistfully at the vague area where these zombies made of ice live, and go, "winter is coming"; there was a really emotional bit in this season where it turns out everyone's favorite character was this extremely large dude who can only say one word, and his death was preceded by a sequence where these sort of elf type people made out of tree throw a load of magic grenades about in a tunnel; Jerome off of Robson & Jerome is in it; Charles Dance died while shitting, like Elvis; most of the show's accents seem to fluctuate between Irish and Geordie; a witch made Jon Snow come back to life mainly by being really old and taking a bath; weddings have a higher death rate than the ones on Hollyoaks; a vast percentage of the main dudes left in the show have had their dicks and/or balls cut off; the concept of dogs seems really important, somehow; nobody has killed Robin Arryn yet, inexplicably; one of the characters is just called "Hot Pie"; there is a group of teenage assassins called "The Sand Snakes", which sounds more like a B*Witched era knock off girl group than three girls just sharpening their knives threateningly a lot and saying "you need the bad pussy"; there is a French dude who speaks exclusively in the third-person and can wear other people's faces like a mask due to dark magic from an ill-defined god; everyone is really happy to stab each other up like fucking crazy but also really, really respectful of the line-to-the-throne system of monarchy and don't ever fuck with it at all; for some reason a really high percentage of the trees in this realm are capable of crying blood; Petyr Baelish pads and purrs around Westeros like a fucking cat and yet nobody—not even once—has stabbed him yet; sometimes something good will happen on the show and it will be really exciting and then someone will ruin it by going "BUT THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN IN THE BOOKS." You see? You see now. You see how Game of Thrones is the greatest show on TV right now, but also absolutely the worst thing on earth.

There is something always so absurd about taking fantasy in any way seriously, and I suppose the knot of discomfort I feel about at once loving and hating Game of Thrones is that is makes nerds of all of us. Thing: the act of being a "nerd"—in the modern sense and not the high school sense—is essentially "to like something sincerely." In high school all you needed to do to be classified a nerd was to be ten or 15 IQ points ahead of the general population, and also have a favorite dice. You needed to have seen Star Wars more times than you'd done fingering. That was it. Now, out in the confines of the real world, nerdery has evolved—it's a nuanced thing now, a broad vista, ranging from "dudes with unwashed ponytails and more 'Magic: The Gathering' cards than your little brother" to "anyone who has ever watched more than three episodes of Doctor Who." Now, nerds walk amongst us, like Mance Rayder glamoured to look like Rattleshirt by the Red Witch. I understand that joke I just made! That alone makes me want to die!

The thing with Game of Thrones is that feels at once important and also very not: it is power battles crunching against each other at a geological pace, it is thin analogies for modern politics played out with fire and blood, it feels like a smart TV show even though it's mainly people holding wine glasses with a clawed hand and stabbing each other in the throat. And there, at the heart, is this chewy feeling that it is extremely dumb, that being invested in it is extremely dumb, and the final final finale—some two or three seasons in the future—will actually be shark-jumpingly bad, just like every good TV show's finale is in some way terrible, and this whole big mad endeavor will have been for naught. Until then, catch me rewatching seasons one through six looking for recurring background characters. Catch me buying and installing a door stop with the word "Hodor" laser-etched on it in my home (little joke!). Catch me genuinely thinking about reading the books. Catch me consulting maps and wading deep into fan theories. Catch me on Reddit, for goodness' sake. This show has me so twisted it makes me go on Reddit. Catch me arguing for, and then against, the theory that R+L=J. Catch me hating myself, loathing myself. Catch me in full cosplay at Comiccon as the most misshapen Jon Snow in human history. Catch me waking up early to watch the show in HD from the US so nobody online can spoil it for me. Catch me roaming through Ireland on a Game of Thrones tour, wondering where my life went wrong. Catch me retaking online "Which Character Are You?" quizzes until I am Tyrion. Catch me slowly retreating from the horror of real life into the horror of fantasy life. Catch me singing the Game of Thrones theme, alone to myself in a darkened room, ding ding ding-a-ling ding ding-a-ling.

Follow Joel Golby on Twitter.


1. One of the primary reasons why Game of Thrones is the worst (but also the best) thing in my life is how easily my day or week can be entirely unbalanced and Fucked Up by seeing an errant spoiler on Twitter or the Sidebar of Shame or whatever, and I would not do that to you, Dear Reader, without fair warning.

2. Yes I know there is absolutely no way the Dothraki would get anywhere close to the Vale, seeing as they occupy The Dothraki Sea on Essos, an entirely different continent to the Eyrie, and plus also why would the Dothraki attack the Vale? It makes no tactical sense. This was just a joke for the true heads.

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