Some Game of Thrones cosplayers (Photo via Kyle Nishioka)
Earlier this week, Games of Thrones – AKA the thing that people on the internet now love more than anything else in the whole world – returned for another series. For some reason, it's a show that people have only ever felt comfortable describing to me IRL in alliterative comparisons: "The Wire with wizards", "The Sopranos with swords", and so on. I haven't watched it yet, and, to be honest, I probably never will.
And it's not because I don't have Sky Atlantic, or because every time I've tried to torrent something I've just ended up with a frozen download bar and tons of pop-up ads for dick pills. It's because I have an innate aversion to anything that can be described as "fantasy".
We all know the cliches of the fantasy fan: the Games Workshop employee who sighs when children don't know how to play the game properly. The people who found their cultural Garden of Eden in the graphic novels section of Waterstones and the T-shirt aisle of HMV some time in the late 90s. Their cultural trajectory took them from Redwall, to Red Dwarf, to Reddit and now they argue loudly in small-town rock pubs about how Bruce Lee died. They hate fashion in all its forms, yet they yearn to look different. To get round this, all of their clothing must refer to something else. Be it an oversized Alan Moore-style amulet purchased from a free catalogue in the back of Metal Hammer, or one of those “Afraid of the dark, lagerboy?” T-shirts.
The mission statement of Game of Thrones, though, is that it isn't just meant for those people. It's for people who like True Detective, Donna Tartt and The National. It's sexier, it's full of great actors, it's about politics and people die all the time. Hey, you can talk about it at parties and people won't laugh at you! But as much as its audience protest that GoT isn't just for people who love arguing about UKIP and dragons, my aversion to anything that could be described as "fantasy" runs far deeper.
In truth, I really don't care if Game of Thrones is more like "Mad Men with magicians" than Dungeons & Dragons, or whatever. It's a lifelong problem; the same one that made me fall asleep in the first Lord Of The Rings film, walk out of the second and completely ignore the third (not to mention The Hobbit, which even people who loved LOTR seem to have swerved). It probably held my literacy levels back for several years, when instead of swapping Discworld trivia with my friends, I was reading MATCH!, but at least I can hold my hand up and say I've always known Muse are shit, so swings and roundabouts, really.
Maybe I'd be a better person if I could put aside my prejudices and learn to appreciate the scope, escapism, narrative skill and subtle humour that fantasy fans eulogise. But I don't think that's the problem here, because I've never had a particularly limited cultural imagination; as a kid, I loved Ghostbusters and was probably one of the few people I knew at the time to actually enjoy The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. I didn't spend my adolescence asking how much "killing" films had in them before deciding whether to watch them, I never rewound the lesbian kiss moment in American Pie 2 and my reading level did eventually mature to the obligatory "cool books" stage of Kerouac, Salinger, Ballard, PKD, et al.
Even as I grew up and discovered booze, girls and nu-metal, I found myself getting into all sorts of things that people who tend to like the fantasy genre also tend to like, whether I was trying to decipher the Architect's speech in The Matrix: Revolutions or anything in Twin Peaks. I'm absolutely fine with any kind of paranormal activity, occultism, devilry – whatever, as long as the word "orc" is never used in any capacity.
The lineage of fantasy in this country is one I've just never been able to buy into. It's a lineage that encapsulates everything from the music of Pink Floyd, those books that you need dice to read and the taste of Doom Bar. I've always seen it as a culture that tends to be adored by people who can't quite deal with the chaos of the real world: its genocides, its heartbreak, its dogging, its endlessly evolving fashions and its religious zealots. People for whom there's no more aspirational image than Bruce Dickinson landing his plane in the garden of a Somerset pub, removing his sunglasses and swigging a tankard of Iron Maiden real ale.
There are people who will call me a luddite for not being able to stomach fantasy. But is it really me who's the luddite here, or is it the people who went to bed every night for a year counting the days till they could go see a film called The Desolation of Smaug? I guess my real problem is that most things fantasy-related seem to come from a very conservative, dated worldview. They remind me of caravan holidays, pubs where the landlord wears corduroy, school trips to Saxon theme parks, people who wear "SMEG OFF" T-shirts, Nigel Farage.
Perhaps if Games of Thrones were set in truly mythical or futuristic lands, I could buy the escapism part a bit more. I didn't have a problem believing in Blade Runner, but GoT and most fantasy seems to be merely a bastardisation of 1930s pastoral England, with West Country accents, rolling green hills and endless talk of "grog". If Middle Earth really is a place on Earth, it's a place where "scrumping" is still classified as a street crime.
Then there's the problem of sex. Lord of the Rings – despite featuring Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom and Liv Tyler – managed to totally eschew anything remotely sexual, save for a bit of cleavage and some brief kissing towards the end. As far as I can tell, Pink Floyd have carved out a career by pretending that sex doesn't exist, and I'm pretty sure there are no blowjobs in Discworld, either. Game of Thrones apparently has loads, as everyone tells you literally every time you bring it up. Good job – identify the problem and put tits and balls on it. Maybe if Tony Robinson got his dick out on Time Team it might attract the same vast number of illegal downloads as GoT. Or who knows, maybe it wouldn't.
To me, it seems that these books, films, songs and TV programmes about people with weird ears running around mountains smashing each other over the head with swords are created for people who have trouble understanding other human beings. While the Music Room Crew back at my secondary school were wigging out to The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, I just couldn't get past the Tolkienisms and mythological allusions. Granted, I couldn't relate to Chronic 2001 that much, either, but that seemed like a document of a world that actually existed somewhere, rather than some ridiculous boarding school fantasy.
Also, where are all the ethnic minorities in Lord of the Rings? It's a fairly common, trolly thing to say, an accusation levelled at a lot of fantasy stuff and probably a point made by a thousand bad stand-ups. But that doesn't mean we should discount it. After a bit of googling, the common justification seems to be that these tales are written as part of English lore. But hold on guys? I thought it was supposed to be fantasy? It's cool to have an orc, some dragons and tons of midgets, but no black people? It just seems a bit "problematic" to me.
Like I said, I haven't actually seen Game of Thrones. And who knows – maybe it is great. Maybe one day I'll be able to get past all of my prejudices, perhaps during a re-run on SyFy years down the line. But, for now, I just can't get past those fucking orcs.